Monday, December 12, 2011

Going Green

      I have never been a great fan of green irises or caught up in the attempt to hybridize them, though I do like green as a color in cymbidium orchids; however, when I became the selector and introducer for the Roe irises, it was an immersion in green. At a later date, Edith Coscarelly turned over to me Bernice Roe's slim stud book—I had been there at the inception of her record keeping since my first summer job was digging orders from her at the garden on Bird Avenue. I was paid minimum wage, given a sandwich at lunch, an afternoon nap, and, best of all, at the end of the season I could take home all the extras that were left over.
Bernice Roe in the Coscarelly Garden c. 1978--Maryott image
      Bernice did a couple of things that were odd. For many years, she kept the names of all varieties at the back row, instead of at the front of the plant. Needless to say with all other gardens in the area labeling from the front, it created some confusion. Her garden tags were redwood stakes marked in liquid embroidery—how is that for a blast from the past and down memory lane? It was that summer that I convinced Bernice to start to keep real records and she did, although she had already been making crosses for many years most likely from the early 1950s.
      Until I worked for her, Bernice kept all parentage on stakes—there were no paper records. At first it did not seem like a big deal until her obsession for green and, especially, green amoenas started to give results. In the end, we introduced two good green amoenas, Vernal Falls and Misty Moonscape, and one cream-white with green toned shoulders, Irish Spring—the one that I like best. When it finally came time to register these irises, the garden stakes were missing and Bernice, insisting that sooner or later the stakes would turn up, could only give me a general idea of what she had crossed. She was sure she had used Jean Steven's Pinnacle and only thought she had used Summit. In the mix had gone the green irises of the time—Lyon's Char-Maize , Cool Valley, Singing Pines from Plough, and others varieties. We did know for sure that she had used Piety; possibly DeForrest's tangerine bearded Francis Kent.
     The stakes, of course, never showed up and the exact parents are a mystery as is the ability of the three irises mentioned above to produce F1 tangerine beards in their seedlings. Bernice's green could be tender in cold climates and I suspect that is due to Char-Maize. If nothing more, this muddle is a cautionary tale for all hybridizers to keep good records.
Irish Spring (Roe) Williamson image
Vernal Falls (Roe) Williamson image
      When I came to write about Bernice's green breeding I realized there was also a larger picture that many of the hybridizers in the 1950s made with white x brown crosses, thinking those crosses would produce green. The important Knopf irises go back to white x brown crosses. And the original white x brown crosses are now behind a wide variety of different colors.  Other hybridizers used different approaches to green breeding with good results.  For many years, Neva Sexton always said she wanted to create a goose green flower—to understand what she meant, it is necessary to remember that geese have a front and back end; however, none of Neva's green attempts were every named and sold. Early in his hybridizing career, Joe Ghio produced good green approaches—Meadow Mist and Oasis came to my mind. Other hybridizers would continue to pursue and continue to hybridize for green—Noyd's Pride of Ireland was popular for many years and just recently Schreiner's won an AM on County Cork, a greenish-yellow.
County Cork (Schreiners) Williamson image


  1. Great post Bryce. I added 'Piety' to my garden last year and am really looking forward to seeing it now. Thanks for this bit of history!

  2. I have 'Green and Gifted' and Bayberry Candle, and I hope they bloom next year. I love "green" irises.

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