Saturday, November 5, 2011


     I rarely am nostalgic for times past and don't long for the return to rural America of the 19th Century, no matter how beautiful and pastoral it may have been. I do like my indoor plumbing, drinkable water from the tap, and central heating. However, as a member of the AIS for over 50 years (I did start, I must point out, as a young teenager and Phil Edinger has the record in Region 14 for AIS membership with 60 years), there are times when I look back at the garden scene years ago and firmly believe it was better than today.
Melodrama (Cook) Williamson image
     When I started growing irises—or, as I like to say, farming iris—since that is what I did in those days with long rows or plants, the health of irises in Santa Clara Valley, known locally as the Valley of Heart's Delight, was fine—Maynard Knopf, Bernice Roe, Clara and Ruth Rees, and Auda and Hazel Stewart had wonderful plant collections, each year growing the latest introductions. In the case of the Stewart sisters, they also kept up a voluminous correspondence with all the hybridizers of the day. There were even three iris societies—a day group of women that I understand was mainly social, a Campbell area iris society, and The Clara B Rees Iris Society. Though the valley has grown in population from 650,000 to 1,781,642, growth alone does not explain the decline is growing irises here.
     At that time, the importance of Clara Rees' Snow Flurry as a parent was well known; Bernice Roe was working quietly in her pursuit of green color, though her first introduction Sunset Blues would come from crossing two obvious irises—Whole Cloth and Melodrama; Mary Ellen Knopf had died and Maynard had taken over the breeding lines. Oddly enough, I have much clearer memories of the Rees and Roe garden than the much closer Knopf garden and shortly thereafter Maynard retired and moved to Potter Valley. The Knopfs, too, had been interested in the color green (more on that in another blog)--they did a couple of things that were unique. Seedlings were grown under a double numbering system—one number until they were selected and then a new number after selections. It creates havoc trying to figure out if named varieties are actually sister seedlings since selections form the same cross could have wildly varying numbers.
Launching Pad (Knopf) Williamson image
     The other interesting marketing approach for the Knopf was to offer to sell their creations a year before introduction with the condition that the plants were not to be sold, traded, or distributed until the year after introduction. Three of the key Knopf irises that were to be used heavily in hybridizing and have a profound impact of the gene pool—Craftsman, Denver Mint, and Launching Pad—were all offered for pre-sale. I have the dubious record of not buying any of them before introduction; it was a good lesson for me in learning not to trust written descriptions. Their fourth important iris, West Coast, came later and West Coast is behind many of the best oranges and yellows of today.
Craftsman (Knopf) Williamson image
     But more of these ramblings in the next post about iris California hybridizers going green.
     My sincere thanks to Janet Smith for converting my slides into digital images.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful photos. And thanks for all the history. I have seen reference to Denver Mint repeatedly over the years but have never seen the iris. I'd love to find it.


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