Saturday, March 31, 2012

Iris Classics: 'W.R. Dykes'

How thrilling it is to see an original copy of the classic tome on the genus Iris by William Rickatson Dykes being offered for auction at the upcoming AIS Convention. It is very rare to see one of these prized classics being offered. In honor of this event I thought I'd highlight the classic iris named for the author - 'W.R. Dykes'. While this is one of the most important irises in the development of tall bearded yellows it is rarely seen today.

'W.R.Dykes' is a tall iris, usually reaching 3 feet, and sports large yellow blooms often streaked and mottled with red. Its appearance today tho is not how it originally started. When it was introduced in 1926 after Mr. Dykes' death it was renowned as the largest and clearest yellow yet to be created. But it was not long before the streaking and splotching showed up, which is most often blamed on the iris mosaic virus. Today the variety in my garden is usually quite heavily covered in red. It is not the most beautiful iris, but it certainly is interesting. Long lost or discarded from commerce or collections, in 1996 it was spotted growing at Presby with its name still attached by a group of intrepid HIPSters that made a pilgrimage during the Convention that year. It has since been put back into commerce by Superstition Iris Gardens and is now growing in many collections around the US.

Just as Mr. Dykes had many interests and is remembered for numerous contributions to the scientific knowledge and advancement of many plant species, 'W.R. Dykes' has more than one claim to fame as well. It was not only a great advance in size and color for yellows, with numerous prodigy that went even further in developing the class, but was also in the foundation of those few varieties used by Dave Hall to create his flamingo pink lines. It genes are still with us scattered among thousands of descendants.

While this variety is never going to be loved for its disfigured blooms and poor growth, it is loved by collectors that appreciate its history, and the tragic history of Mr. Dykes and his wife Katherine both whom died young - he after a car wreak and she after a train derailment. Read the whole story of Mr. Dykes in Clarence Mahan's book Classic Irises and the Men and Women Who Created Them. Read about the rediscovery of 'W.R. Dykes' at Presby over on the HIPS website. Who knows. Maybe the stories surrounding this variety, and all the comment and controversy that followed it thru the years, will inspire you to find beauty in its novelty and history. And perhaps you'll seek it out and add it to your garden so we can keep it around for future generations to wonder over. It's not an Iris for everyone, but it is a classic.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Siberian, Species and Japanese Irises

I was so disappointed to hear about the cancellation of the Siberian and Species Convention, but then the Ensata Gardens Catalog arrived and on the cover the glorious Japanese iris called 'Alexisaurus,' which seems to indicate an enormous bloom; and that act of viewing this iris and the catalog, these mere mortal and ordinary activities, just took my breath away and once again had an out of body experience. (Wait a minute, I meant to keep that to myself.) In any case, my disappointment somehow disappeared, and an air of calm overcame me.

Ensata says that 'Alexisaurus' is a pure white tetraploid Jill Copeland 2012 introduction of flairing form, with 6-inch blooms. Here it is, you be the judge. Would this take your breath away?

Then, after viewing the entire collection of irises carried by Ensata, the catalog concludes with another amazing looking Siberian iris, by hibridizer and fellow blog contributor, Bob Hollingsworth. It's his 2012 introduction 'Lemmon Mousse.' Bob says that,"a clump makes a sweet dessert of yellow and white confection. Lemon yellow buds open to yellow blooms that change to near white with yellow signals by mid day." Man, am I taking this experience too seriously or are these beautiful irises inspiring you too?

I could not keep this information to myself, so here it is.

The information about the Siberian and Species Iris Convention postponement is here, and for information about a future Convention date, please check the Siberian Iris Society's website.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Growing Louisiana irises - Part I

Louisiana (LA) irises are part of the "rhizome" sub-division of the species iris.  They are further divided into the sub-division "beardless" irises.  Bearded irises such as the "Tall Bearded" irises are grown throughout the US but do not grow well in the heat of some southern states such as LA, MS and FL, while LA irises flourish in the heat and also will grow in colder climates.
'Honey Star' by J. Hutchinson (1991) from Australia
'Honey Star' has just bloomed in our gardens.  We are having a really early spring this year and the LA irises are starting to pop out everywhere.  LA irises have a bloom season lasting about one and a half months here in northwest LA.  Some irises bloom early, some bloom in the mid season, and some bloom late.  By selecting the irises you want to grow by season as well as beauty, you can have an extended bloom period in your garden. Bloom season starts, usually, in early April and continues into mid May in NW LA.  Bloom season for LA irises in Rochester, NY, is in June or July.

We have already talked about the different ways you can grow LA irises so now we will spend some time on how to plant them.  LA irises should be moved in the fall.  We want them planted after the hot summer is over and before the first frost.  I like to plant them so that they are well established before the real cold starts.  You will have to consider the climate in your area and order your irises to arrive at the appropriate time. When you order LA irises from a supplier they will arrive by mail or other delivery methods and will be trimmed, the rhizome (root part of the plant) will be wrapped in wet paper, and the name of the iris will be either written on the foliage of the iris or on a tag attached to the iris. Unlike tall bearded irises, the rhizome of the LA irises must not be allowed to dry out in shipping.  I suggest you unpack your iris shipment and then remove all the packing materials.  Find an appropriate size container and fill it with about five inches of water.  Then place the LA irises in the contained so the rhizomes are covered with water and the foliage is above water.  The foliage should have already been cut back to 6-8 inches.  If not, now is a good time to do that.  Let the irises set in the water for a couple of days while you finish the preparation of your beds or pots.

LA iris rhizome ready to be planted with clump of  'Clyde Redmond' by Charles Arny (1970) in background

LA irises should be planted one to one and a half inches above the top of the rhizome. The rhizome should never be exposed to the sun. If the LA iris rhizomes start to grow up above the soil, it is time to dig them up, divide them, give some to your neighbors, and replant. Once I have planted the rhizome I give it a good watering and then try to just keep the soil moist, not too wet, until the foliage starts to grow out where it was cut for shipment.

Now that we have the iris planted, we can sit back and watch it grow!

'Creole Rhapsody' by Joe Mertzweiller (1998)
 'Creole Rhapsody' is a great iris with a great name.  It is very big and has beautiful colors.

Next we will continue our discussion of growing LA irises.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Earliest Bloomers

Spring came early to Southern California this year, as it has in many places in the country. Although it may seem hard to believe, these photos of the tall bearded reblooming iris 'Recurring Dream' (Hager, 1992) were taken on March 13.

The next iris to join the party was 'Lady Friend.' It was moved to this spot last year because I expected it to bloom next to the red Japanese Blood Grass and the pinkish-red gazanias nearby. They may catch up to her, but they had better hurry.  

I did not expect 'Recurring Dream' to bloom at the same time as 'Lady Friend,' and I have not adjusted to this color combination. Perhaps it will grow on me.

This is another unexpected bloom.  A neighbor grows 'Superstition,' an almost-black iris, and I thought it would look fabulous next to my new pale yellow Austin rose 'Symphony' with almost-black violas.  I went over after it was done blooming and dug up a few rhizomes- of the wrong iris.  A nice, tall NOID (no identification) now blooms in 'Superstition's' spot.

Here is a photograph of all three of my earliest bloomers.  I eliminated all purple from my garden two years ago.  Purple is invasive.

Early blooming iris varieties are a wonderful sight in the garden.  Iris foliage in the early spring is a beautiful sight on its own, and stands up well to other non-blooming perennials as a statement in the garden.

I had no idea what to put around this pond, and it sat there looking sad and barren until I hit upon the brilliant idea of putting in plants with my favorite spiky foliage.  Louisiana iris 'Spanish Ballet' (a gift from my friend Judith Gasser) is in the foreground and a historic iris that has been on the property since, oh, maybe the 1940s, is planted in the clump at center.  I'll be sure to post photos when they bloom, but they are there for the foliage.

From the other direction:

And from the other side of the pond.

Spuria irises purchased at the San Fernando Valley Iris Society plant sale wait for me to finish the masonry on a new iris bed in front of the plunge pool.  I planted them in coffee cans with the bottoms removed.  The plastic lids underneath have holes poked into them for drainage.  When I remove the plastic, the irises will slide right out without too much trauma (she says with great confidence and no experience).

Other irises are ready to bloom within a week or two.  Hager's 1992  'Total Recall,' Keppel's 2002 'Telepathy,'  Holk's 1995  'Rose Teall,'  Gibson's 1994 'Frequent Flyer,' Gaulter's 1976 'Persian Berry,' Burseen's 1992 'Fashion Passion,' and Begley's 1988 'Tennison Ridge' are all getting ready to roll.  'Northwest Progress' (Schreiner, 1997) is a good sport; it will be blooming at the same time as the ajuga I put in to match its colors.

In other parts of the country, standard dwarf bearded irises and species irises are the first to bloom.   Which are the first in your part of  the world?  Do you grow any early bloomers in your garden? 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

June Siberian Convention Has Been Postponed

In Holland, a pretty town on Lake Michigan, the Dutch heritage is strong, and naturally they have an annual tulip festival, which is where the picture below was taken. This year it is scheduled for May 5-12. Just one problem. The tulips are already in bloom there in the 3rd week of March.

They aren’t the only people with a problem. We have scheduled our triennial Siberian & Species convention for early June this year. What to do? As I write this on March 22nd the outside temperature is 83o. There have been temperatures above 60o virtually every day for the last 17 day and mostly in the high 70s with three days in the 80s. Yesterday it was 86o (that’s high summer around here and exactly 40o above normal!). We have had 8 new record highs in the last 9 days. Having lived in the Midwest for 45 years, this is not jut unusual, it is virtually unimaginable. What is more, it follows a remarkably mild winter which saw flowers bloom here in January (hellebores) for the first time in my recollection. And the forecast is for warmer than normal weather to continue through into the early summer here.

Because of the unbelievable early warmth, we are now in full spring mode with flowers and leaves popping like champagne corks. Irises are 6 inches high and our friends at Ensata Gardens say they have just put on their first borer spray. This is 4-6 weeks ahead of any normal year. So, even with some return to sanity in the weather, there seems to be little chance that we will see any bloom left at the time when the convention was originally scheduled. Also, we have at least 6 weeks yet to go before the normal date for the last killing frost. If we revert to that norm, a freeze would decimate the irises. So we have sorrowfully agreed to postpone the Convention until next year. Hopefully this decision is taken early enough that not too many people have already made travel plans. If they have, please contact Judy Hollingworth at cyberiris@ At least next year the guest irises, already very healthy clumps, should be a sight to behold.

OK, OK I know, we shouldn’t whine too much. We are far from alone in experiencing this extraordinary early growth season which has been widespread across the eastern US, and certainly many others, such as fruit growers, have much more at risk from a perfectly normal frost or two in April or even early May. But, now we have a convention to reschedule for 2013. When should that be? 

This year is insanely early, but what about 2011? Perversely, that was so cold in the spring that our local iris society canceled its late May show because we had so little bloom – only the second such cancellation anyone could recall. No help there then. OK, so maybe we should turn to the long-range weather forecasters, from the Farmer’s Almanac to the National Weather Service. But then we recall that the one word that stood out across the board for the winter weather forecast this last winter was “brutal” with predictions of lots of cold blasts and snow. And how did that turn out? The golfers were teeing off in January wearing light sweaters. So forget that too. So who do we turn to? Well, maybe you can help. There is a theory called “The Wisdom of Crowds” that says that in making judgments in uncertain situations, the joint estimates of the many are smarter than the ideas of experts. So here’s your chance. Post your vote for the bloom season in 2013 – will it be (a) unusually early, (b) pretty much normal, or (c) later than normal. If we can get enough people to vote, we’ll go with that wisdom as the best guess.

Looking on the brighter side, maybe we should just enjoy this experience. The winter was short and relatively sweet. Spring is glorious whenever it comes. The heating bills are a pleasure to behold. And just to keep everyone ready for the bloom season whenever that may be, here are a couple of Siberian garden pictures. Won’t be long!

Iris Classics: 'Romeo'

It is not uncommon for an old iris to have lost its name, nor to find one that is mislabeled, but it is rather uncommon to get the right name back on an iris. Just such a situation happened with this weeks iris classic, "Romeo", a charming creation of the famed French firm Millet et Fils, from 1912. For many years this iris was passed around among iris collectors under the false name of "Phaunauge", an old German variety by the firm of Goos & Koenemann. This error was one of many discovered after the Historic Iris Preservation Society was formed and started verifying identities on historic collections.

A few years after HIPS was founded, Phil Edinger, one of the most knowledgeable persons on the planet when it comes to historic irises, discovered the error. In a 1993 article for the HIPS Bulletin ROOTS he writes:
How many of us grow one labeled Pfauenauge (Goos & Koenemann 1906)? By this name (or its literal translation, "Peacock's Eye"), this distinctive iris has made the rounds among collectors for at least several decades. It was one of my earlier historic acquisitions, and even now it is distinct among the diploids I know because of the prominent and exaggerated purple "shoulders" on the falls.

My confidence in its identity was troubled, though, some years after I had been growing it. One day I came face to face with the cover of the January 1961 AIS Bulletin. There was "Peacock's Eye," sporting a Best-in Show rosette - but the cover caption called it Romeo (Millet et fils 1912). "Well!" I thought: "they must be wrong," or at least 90% wrong. But the 10% doubt forced me to read descriptions of the two irises in the Chronicles for Goos and Koenemann and Millet. And what I found wiped out my 90% certainty of the Pfauenauge/"Peacock's Eye" identification.
After that HIPS members spent many years spreading the word on the mix-up and now you hardly ever see "Phaunauge" listed in the catalogs and collections, while many, many gardeners are enjoying "Romeo".

It was described in the Treholme Gardens catalog for 1928 as:
"S. fine bright lemon-yellow; F. mauve and rich red-violet with throat striped and penciled maroon on white. Similar to Princess Victoria Louise, [sic] but smaller and not reliable." I'd take issue with that designation of unreliable. Perhaps in Maryland it was not so happy but it is still found thriving in many part of the US and Europe. Its persistence says a lot. The slender stems sport numerous small flowers with a great flare and lovely colors, in a dramatic pattern that really catches the eye. It is really fantastic, especially in a clump."

There are countless old diploid irises from the dawn of hybridizing being passed around bereft of their true names. It's something special when one of them can be reunited with its moniker and reintroduced to the iris world for preservation. What a joy it is that the charm of "Romeo" is going to be with us and its story known. Read more about this variety in the article Of Exotic Birds and Tragic Lovers on the HIPS website, and in Clarance Mahan's wonderful book Classic Irises and the Men and Women Who Created Them. The fascinating history of "Romeo" is only surpassed by its beauty in the garden. It's a classic.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What are Louisiana Irises and Can I Grow Them?

Louisiana irises are the official "wildflower" of the state of Louisiana.  The official flower of the state of Louisiana is the magnolia, which is also the state flower of several of the southern states.

'Cotton Plantation' by Mary Dunn (1994)
Louisiana irises, or LA (for short) irises, are beardless irises of the species Iris.Hexagonae. They are commonly referred to as Louisiana irises although they are grown throughout the world and across the United States. They are native flowers originally found in the bayous and marshes of South Louisiana, along the Mississippi River, and across most of the southern states.

Louisiana irises are water loving irises and are heavy feeders.  If they are not watered enough in the long dry summers, they will simply go dormant and wait for the fall rains.  Although they really like water, they can be grown with other plants.  I grow them with many different plants and in many different ways.  I find they grow well in pots, in raised beds, in dug beds, in the edge of ponds or streams, and just about any other way of growing plants.  Much emphasis is put on their desire for water; however, they will grow fine without being soaked in water.  They do like to have almost full sun. I suggest you try to shield them from the very hot afternoon sun if you live in a very hot-summers type of climate.

I have heard "They are hard to grow!"  This is a statement I heard from gardeners even in the state of Louisiana.  This is simply not true.  I even went to Fort Worth, TX to give a talk to a group of iris lovers on growing Louisiana irises and was told they could not grow them in the Fort Worth area.  I found that interesting because the Dallas iris group has many members growing Louisiana irises and had hosted the Society for Louisiana Irises convention in past years and will again host the convention in 2013.

This picture (click on it for a larger view) was taken in my front yard area a while back.  I had dug up all the Louisiana irises in the raised bed at the top of the picture and just thrown them down on the ground by the edge of the bed.  I amended the soil in the bed and then replanted the irises.  I obviously missed some of them because a few months later I took this picture of the "missed" irises growing right where I had thrown them.  I believe that you can throw a Louisiana iris on the ground, sort of push it down in the dirt with your foot, and it will grow!

This picture was taken in an area we call the "deer meadow" and shows Louisiana irises growing with poppies and many other "wildflowers".

This picture shows Louisiana irises growing in the edge of a small pond (called a "tank" in Texas) we call  "rock pond" because it has a large limestone rock in the middle of the pond.

So, in summary, Louisiana irises are easy to grow. They do like a lot of water.  Do not plant them in your cacti bed but you can certainly grow them with many other plants. They like to be fed at least twice a year and we feed them in the fall and about a month before they bloom in the spring.  They like sunlight and if they do not get enough direct sunlight, they will produce nice foliage but will probably not bloom for you. They are grown from Maine to Florida, from Florida to California, from California to Washington, and in most states in between. They are grown in New Zealand, Australia, South America, England, parts of Canada, Russia and many other nations of the world.

Here are some interesting commercial web sites that will give you more information on growing Louisiana (LA) irises:

Next time we will go into more detail about how to plant those Louisiana irises. So, look at some of these sights and start picking out the ones you want to grow!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Genus Iris: By William Rickatson Dykes (Published 1913)

We, at the American Iris Society have a very important manuscript in our hands and we wanted to share the news with you and let you know that this original piece of art will be available for auction at the next National Convention to be held in Ontario, California, April 16 - 21. Keep reading below for a history of the Dykes Monograph, and how it could actually end up in your hands.

Bob Pries, our AIS PR and Marketing Committee Co-Chair put the following words together to give you an idea of the importance of this publication.
History of The Dykes Monograph
In 2013 we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of the most important written work in the history of iris, William Rickatson Dykes' "The Genus Iris." To understand its significance one needs to understand the world leading up to its publication.
In 1890 the USA had conquered the American West. The frontier was gone, and America was suffering an identity crisis. The natural world had been not only tamed, but decimated. The great herds of bison, and flocks of passenger pigeons, whooping cranes, etc. were disappearing. Even hunters like Teddy Roosevelt could sense a need to save and understand the wilderness and wild species.
However, in England the conquest of the British Empire was still going forth. The Royal Botanical Gardens was being overwhelmed by botanical trophies from this vast Empire. Joseph Dalton Hooker, and later John Gilbert Baker, as keepers of the herbarium were seeing a huge increase in our knowledge of natural history. These professional botanists worked with amateur gardener/scientists to help in the overwhelming tasks of studying the massive collection of specimens.
Scanned drawing of iris fulva

The first great Iris gardener/scientist was Michael Foster (1836-1907). Foster was a physician and professor of human physiology. He literally wrote the text that was used for many years in that field. Amazingly, he also found time to garden. He made careful observations of new species that were pouring into England. He published, sometimes weekly, his thoughts on Iris in The Gardeners Chronicles. It is hard to say which was more important, his work in human physiology or his study of Irises. He received a knighthood, probably for both. A young protégé of Sir Michael Foster was William Rickatson Dykes (1877-1925). Like Foster he grew plants in his garden, making careful observations and recording them in the same journals. He also was a gardener/scientist. One wonders how he as headmaster of a school for boys could find all the time, but somehow he did. Dykes continued the work of Foster, going even further, seeing more species, and writing extensively.

Scanned drawing of a Dutch iris
By 1912 Dykes had assembled in his monograph, "The Genus Iris," all the knowledge of iris that was in the literature and added much more of his own.
It is worth emphasizing the fact that he was not a scientist as we think of today, who is paid for doing his research -- iris was an avocation, a labor of love. Interestingly, for almost the last hundred years it has been the gardener/scientists who have done the most to further iris information: George Rodionenko, Fritz Kohlein, and Brian Mathew. There is still much to be learned, and gardeners can still contribute with careful observations.
When we speak of a monograph, we are speaking of one work where all the known knowledge is assembled. Dykes did this so well, most subsequent works have not repeated to this degree. The British Iris Society's Species Guide to Iris is today's monograph, but for almost 80 years nothing came close.

There's more information on the history of the Dykes Monograph, ten more fascinating scans, contact information, and most importantly bidding information on the AIS Iris Encyclopedia. Click on the following link: Dykes Monograph
We thank long time Aril Society International long-time Director, Francesa Thoolen for bequeathing this exquisite piece.
All proceeds will go to help the Aril Society International.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Medians---Who Hybridizes the Little Beauties?

In 2006 a new award was presented for the first time. It was the Bennett C. Jones Award for Outstanding Median Hybridizing and is an annual award given by the Median Iris Society to an iris hybridizer who made extraordinary contributions to the breeding of median iris. It was presented to Bennett Jones at the Median Iris Society General Meeting in Portland, OR May 2006.

In the mid 1940s Bennett Jones was among the first hybridzers to incorporate I. pumila into his work and this led to the birth of the Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris. He is well known for launching contrasting beards, advancements in form, success in improving colors and exploring new colors and patterns in the SDBs. Through the years Bennett introduced over 100 irises, in classifications ranging from Miniature Dwarf through Tall Bearded and even Pacific Coast Natives. Over the years he won medals for twelve of his iris from The American Iris Society. He received the Hans & Jacob Sass Medal for his intermediate iris, 'Peachy Face' in 1983. It was one of the first intermediate bearded irises recognized for its fertility.

'Peachy Face'
'Gingerbread Man'
Bennett received Cook Douglas Medals for his Standard Dwarf irises, 'Cherry Garden,' the amazing burgundy red; 'Gingerbread Man,' with its bold contrasting colors; 'Cotton Blossom,' with its amazing width and form that went on to be one of the great breeders of all time; 'Kentucky Bluegrass,' a grass green with a fern-green spot pattern around a large blue beard; 'Rain Dance'' a pure blue blue-bird; 'Sun Doll,' a successful attempt to clarify and intensify colors; 'Orange Tiger,' a neon orange; 'Bedford Lilac,' a flax blue; and 'Dot Com,' nearly a turquoise spot pattern on falls.

'Cherry Garden'
'Cotton Blossom'
'Bedford Lilac'
'Sun Doll'
'Dot Com'
'Orange Tiger'
'Kentucky Blue Grass'
'Rain Dance'

Bennett also won two Knowlton Medals for his Border Bearded irises, 'Frenchi' and 'Crystal Bay.'


He also received AIS medals in 1974 for Achievement in Hybridizing and in 1979 for Distinguished Service to The American Iris Society. His irises won awards from iris societies in Germany, Austria, Italy, and England. In 1995 his last award was the Foster Memorial Plaque which is awarded by The British Iris Society to individuals of any nationality who make substantial contributions to the  advancement of the genus iris. 

In recent years, Mr. Jones introduced 'True Navy,' a nearly full navy blue color; 'Circus Dragon,' a colorful yellow with darker spot and bright orange beards; 'Sedona' with pure pink standards and a sandstone orange brown fall with a red orange beard; and 'Murphy’s Law,' a greenish amoena with orange beards.

'True Navy'
'Murphy's Law'
Mr. Jones was a wonderful person full of love for his fellow man with a great zest for life. He was a mentor to hybridizers all across the country. In 1952, he co-founded the Greater Portland Iris Society and was its first president. Bennett was also active in the American Iris Society, serving two terms on the board of directors, as regional vice-president, and as chairman of the American Iris Society's 1960 national convention, and co-chairman in 1972.

Bennett and his wife moved to Portland in 1943, and bought a half-acre lot near Raleigh Hills. Later that year, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the Seabees, stationed on Guam. After the war, he returned to Portland and operated Raleigh Hills Gardens, selling his irises to customers worldwide. He built his own house, where he and Betty shared a rich, fulfilling life until her death in 1981. It would remain his home until 2005. In 1986, Bennett remarried, to Evelyn Minnick of Kansas City, Missouri, a noted iris hybridizer in her own right. He spent his working career with the United States Post Office, working the mail trains, later the highway post office, and finally in the special delivery unit at the main Portland office, retiring in 1975.

He passed away in March 2009. We will always remember his outstanding work with the median iris and is his overall dedication to iris.

I hope you will get to know the wonderful people who helped bring the median iris into our world in the exciting forms and colors by reading about them. The Median Iris Society has a wonderful book available for sale; The Medianite 50th Anniversary History Edition that is full of events, history and hybridizing (also a great collector's item).

In my upcoming blogs I will look for the accomplishments and contributions of other median iris hybridizers. I will explore the works of Keith Keppel from Salem, OR; Terry Aitken from Vancouver, WA; Paul Black from Salem, OR; David Niswonger from Cape Girardeau, MO; and Allan Ensminger from Lincoln, NE. In the meantime I hope all your iris babies are soon blooming profusely.

Monday, March 19, 2012

When can I move my tall bearded irises?

Let me start off by saying I know that if you are a tried and true iris grower, you know the answer to this already. But there are people out there that don't know that answer. So I will put it down here with a few extra surprises along the way.

The proper time to split and move tall bearded irises depends on your part of the United States from July until October and even in some parts of California and the far southern states, November. I always try to ship the tall bearded irises to the northern states, if possible, in July. I don't think it is too much of a problem for those states to also receive plants in August, but we try to ship those earlier, if possible. I also try to ship to the southern most states late in September, but usually will try to do it during any week they request them.

Seedling out of 'Select Circle'
Now, every year I get a few calls where there is an emergency and the irises need to be moved in the spring. I seldom hear of any bad results from this, but bloom may be delayed until the second year. So, the big problem is that there will be no bloom for that year and who wants to miss a full bloom season.

So, why don't iris growers just ship their plants when the customer wants them spring or summer? First, we do want to see those irises bloom. In our case, those irises are our show and they sell thousands of plants for us when people see them blooming. There is a second reason we don't sell irises in the spring. The plants are making increases that we can sell as plants later in the summer. Ask any reputable iris grower in the U.S. if they will sell you plants in the spring and you won't get them until July.

Seedling out of 'Pinball Wizard' X 'Wild Jasmine'
Are you ready, here is our secret, we sell irises in May each year when they are blooming. We always have irises that we have way too many of and others that we want to close out. We dig these and sell them bare root during our bloom season. We have been doing this for 15 years and it does not hurt the irises in any way. Our customers say they don't have any more losses than when we ship to them later. They also tell us that 60-percent or better bloom the following year.

I am sure I have the purist iris people shook up now. So, what do I recommend as the time to plant tall bearded irises? I say from July through October depending on what part of the country you are in. But, I will also say that in emergency situations, move them when you have to.

One final thought, if you have to move them in late fall and you are in a climate that has winter freezes, a straw mulch will save them through that first winter. Put it on as soon as possible and take it off the following spring when the temps reach the upper 50s to 60-degrees.

I hope this clarifies the issue and that it may answer questions about when to best move your tall bearded irises.

God Bless all of you and have a wonderful spring.

Jim Hedgecock

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Iris Classics: 'Pinnacle'

In 1949 Schreiner's Iris Gardens introduced to the world an amazing new color break in irises: Jean Stevens' ground breaking 'Pinnacle'. A new kind of bloom crowned with pure white standards floating over falls of deep primrose yellow - a lovely confection for the spring garden. Working in her New Zealand garden Mrs. Stevens had spent years using scientific line breeding to achieve her goal of a pure yellow amoena. She succeeded and the accolades poured in.

'Pinnacle' took the iris world by storm. It was a sensational new break in color and pattern combination, setting the stage for many more to come. It won an HM in 1949, followed by an AM 1951. A ruling by the British Iris Society that New Zealand and Australian varieties were not eligible for the American Dykes Medal, making 'Pinnacle', the top scoring AM award winner of 1951, ineligible for its well deserved DM that year. Regardless, it was a huge hit with iris connoisseurs and the gardening public alike, and is not uncommonly seen persisting in old gardens and historic collections even today.

Several years ago I was back in central Illinois, where I grew up, and I visited the farm where my grandparents had spent their lives. My grandmother sold it in the early 90's and moved into town, but the folks that lived there now kindly let me check out the iris garden. Many of her irises persisted, tho were overgrown and neglected and had been for years. I sampled rhizomes from across the area to get as wide a variety as possible and a few years later when they bloomed 'Pinnacle' was one of the varieties I was able to identify.

From the Stevens Bros. catalog for 1952-53:
"Many years ago we set out to raise an iris with standards of purest white and falls of gold, being moved thereto by our pleasure in this fresh and lovely combination. Little by little as the years went by we have seen these colours developing amoungst our seedings until in November of 1944, there unfolded this flower, which by reason of its snow white standards rising from the primrose falls we have named Pinnacle. It is not the white and gold of our original ambition - which we have called Summit - and is a very different combination. Pinnacle is large and beautifully formed and with excellent substance, and the plant has ideal growth habit. Fresh, cool, flawless in its purity of colouring and absolutely unique, this iris has won the awards of the American Iris Society of the Honorable Mention in 1949, and then the Award of Merit in 1951, with a record number of the judges' votes, and has become world famous."

Such a well named iris we have in 'Pinnacle'. It really did reach the top heights of the iris world, even if in merit rather than award, and was a crowning achievement and fitting legacy for this amazing lady from New Zealand. She brought so much beauty into the world and she did so much to advance the development of our favorite flower. It doesn't get more classic than that.