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.


  1. Wonderful article on one of mty favorite iris hybridizers. Thank you.

  2. I love Gingerbread Man! It is so odd with that little touch of blue. If any flower is odd - I'm on board!


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