Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Classic Irises of Goos & Koenemann

Goos & Koenemann was a renowned German nursery firm located near Niederwalluf am Rhein starting in 1885. Max Goos and August Koenemann were good friends who both delighted in horticulture and loved flowers. Tho they made many great additions to the plant world they are best remembered today for their irises. They began hybridizing irises early in their career and introduced some of the most popular varieties of the early 20th century. They won many awards and accolades for their efforts. They were also one of the first firms to create and introduce intermediate sized irises.

August Koenemann died in 1910 at the young age of 46, and Max struggled to keep the firm going without the salesmanship of August. He hired Friedrich Bucher to take his place, and his son Hermann Goos also joined the firm around the same time as an apprentice while he was still in his teens. Max Goos passed away in 1917, only 58 years of age, and Friedrich and Hermann continued the firm until Hermann died in 1933 at the young age of 37. The firm continued under other names and owners until it was closed in 1953.

Collectively notated as G&K in iris registrations, these four men did much to advance the colors and patterns of the early diploid irises, as well as popularizing the intermediate class. There was some controversy at one time over whether they had really created their intermediates themselves - it was rumored by one irisarian of the day that they had resold Caparne IBs as their own under new names - but history does not support this accusation. You can read all about the history of this great firm and the men behind it in Clarence Mahan's book Classic Irises, or in the G&K Chronicle sold by HIPS.

Many of their varieties were imported to the US in the first decades of the 20th century and were very popular with gardeners in the German regions of the east, and much loved by the early iris collectors and hybridizers. Many of them are still with us today. Here are several of my favorites. As always, click the photos to see larger versions.

'Loreley' is probably their best known variety, and the most widely distributed. It is extremely hardy and thrives in neglect, so is often found growing along alleyways and in old gardens happily blooming away. Tho sloppy in form, it has a wonderful charm due to its habit of splashing the yellow standards with the reticulated red-violet of the falls, giving it a very festive appearance with no two blooms just alike. And so many blooms! They go on and on thru the season. 'Loreley' is named for the siren of the Rhine who lured sailors to their death with her enchanting song. This lovely iris still draws flower lovers into her spell today.


In 1910 they introduced another classic variegata, this time one with perfect form and clean standards of pale yellow over falls washed violet and edged in cream. A short variety, 'Prinzess Viktoria Luise' is very hardy, blooms over a long period with many flowers, and is one of the loveliest of this color pattern, of which G&K introduced many. Visitors to my garden often remark on it, even tho it is not one to grab your attention immediately.


1910 also saw the introduction of 'Rhein Nixe', named for a water spirit associated with this famous river. This is one of the finest examples of the amoena pattern found in the early diploid irises. Its crystalline white standards rise above falls of the same pure white almost fully washed a medium blue-violet, with just a faint edging of lighter purple fading to white. It is very tall for its day, easily reaching three feet or more in my garden, and makes a beautiful show when a clump is in full bloom. It is not the most floriferous of varieties but more than makes up for it with its charm and personality.


In 1914 the beautiful blue 'Kastor' was brought out. There was nothing else like it in color at the time. A short iris, it has perfect form and exquisite coloring, being a self of purest deep lavender-blue with a light yellow beard. 'Kastor' has a delightful sweetness about it and is perfect for the front of the iris border.


We'll jump to 1920 for this next variety. 'Flammenschwert', meaning 'flaming sword', shows us the classic variegata color combo of gold and rich red. Tho it is a shorter variety its small blooms really make an impact due to their bright colors. The clean standards arch above the heavily reticulated falls that are edged in the same bright, sunny, golden yellow of the standards. It usually has multiple flowers open at once and is reliable of bloom, showing off almost every year in my garden even after division.


Next comes 'Rheingauperle' from 1924. Well named, meaning 'pearl of the Rheingau', a wine producing region north of the Rhine, it is truly a gem of an iris. Tall stems bear flowers of a lovely, delicate, orchid pink with a heart of white. The white beards fade into soft yellow-orange in the throat, and the form is long and open with the petals far more narrow than usually seen. It is enchanting, especially with the morning sun shining thru it, and was one of the best pink-toned irises of its day - and widely celebrated because of it.


That same year a beautiful intermediate was also introduced. 'Rota' was the polar opposite of 'Rheingauperle', being short, with bright rosy-violet blooms featuring wide, rounded, flaring falls and arching standards. This one really makes a splash of color and grabs every eye early in the tall bearded season.


The beautiful 'Folkwang' was introduced in 1925 and was different from anything that had come before. White standards faintly flushed pale pink stand tall over falls of bright rosy-violet. The beards are soft yellow and the same shade glows at the heart of the flower, lightly flushing the base of the standards. Not the best in form, it makes up for it with its unique coloration, tall display, and sweet scent.


'Lenzschnee', meaning 'spring snow', is another uniquely colored variety. A lovely soft white self with the falls lightly blushed palest blue-lavender, it is a charmer, and looks lovely with the other pastel varieties from this great firm. On the short side for a tall bearded variety it is soft and lovely, and brings admiration from anyone who chances to stop and inspect it. It was introduced in 1927 and is greatly admired by collectors of historic varieties.


The last variety I will share with you is from 1928 and brings the same color tones of 'Lenzscnee' but this time in a plicata pattern. The white blooms of 'Rheinfels' are delicately stitched along the margins with pale blue-violet. It is named for a set of falls on the river Rhine, and the flowers certainly cascade forth during the height of the season, as a full clump tosses masses of beautiful blooms into the sunshine. With its perfect form it is one of the very best of the early plicatas and blooms realiably.


This post could go on and on with all the amazing and beautiful flowers created by this exceptional quartet of men. There is the lovely 'Brising', the early blooming off-white 'Ingeborg', the uniquely colored 'Nibelungen', and so many more, but we have to end somewhere. If you love the delicacy and charm of the old diploid irises you could not do better than to collect the varieties of G&K. They are classics in every sense, and a wonderful legacy for the work of these men who devoted their lives to plants and brought so much beauty to gardens across the continent of Europe and around the world.

3 comments:

  1. 'Rheingauperle' is my favorite historic iris. What an elegant beauty, and such color! I had never seen 'Rota' before. The color is so beautifully saturated. Thanks for the lovely photos and the history lesson.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Glad you liked them, Renee. 'Rheingauperle' is the first G&K I grew and the reason I started collecting their varieties. 'Rota' bloomed for me for the first time last year and just blew me away with it's lovely color and form. What a range they created!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for this article Mike!
    There is a site from Germany where manypictures can be found:
    http://www.irisparadise.com/Iris/index.htm

    Loïc Tasquier

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...