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.

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