Monday, April 2, 2012

The Amazing Plicatas of Jim Gibson

After a visit to the garden of Dr. Sydney B. Mitchell in 1940 Jim Gibson embarked on a quest to improve the color range in the plicata pattern in irises. He went home that day with pollen from a brown toned seedling and put it on 'Sacramento', the only plicata still blooming in his garden in Porterville, CA. And thus started a long line of iris breeding that lasted across five decades and took Mr. Gibson to the height of acclaim in the iris world when his beautiful 'Kilt Lilt' won the Dykes Memorial Medal in 1976. He was also awarded the AIS Hybridizers Medal in 1965, and the Premio Firenze Medal in international competition in Italy that same year.

[Photo by K.Keppel, courtesy AIS Slide library]

I first noticed the Gibson varieties when I started collecting old Cooley's Gardens catalogs. Cooley's introduced his creations for many years and featured dozens of beautiful photos of them. Having early been hooked on brown irises you can imagine how fascinated I was with the rainbow of brown toned irises Mr. Gibson had made for us. Colors and tones that didn't appear in any other pattern were routinely coming out of the Gibson breeding lines. His work greatly expanded the palette available for the garden and the iris border. Here are a few that I have collected.

1960's introduction 'Chinquapin' is a beautifully tailored flower in a delicious golden-brown that always makes me think of cinnamon toast. Like many of Mr. Gibson's creations, it is not a flashy color and has a rather somber aspect when shaded, but once the sun hits shines down it lights up with warm, rich, sparkling tones.

The following year Cooley's introduced a variety that was to gain wide renown and find an enduring popularity. 'Cayenne Capers' was a deep, rich, red-pepper plicata that caught everyone's eye. The coloration so thickly applied that only a small patch of cream at the center of the falls showed thru. It is still a favorite with collectors today. It is a hardy, vigorous grower and reliable of bloom as well.

1962 was a banner year, with several fabulous introductions, of which I have three: 'Wild Ginger', a large, ruffled soft golden brown that shows pinker tones in the sun; 'Dream Spun', a blend of pinkish amethyst on white with lots of flare; and 'Siva Siva', a rich combination of old-gold standards over mahogany-red on white falls. All three were big advances in color and form for plicatas.

The sunlight completely changes their tones taking them from drab to dramatic in an instant.

With the widely flaring falls on 'Siva Siva' a clump in full bloom appears like a cloud of whirling dervishes. It brings energy and exuberance to the perennial border.

'Flashing Gem' from 1963 is an excellent iris featuring large blooms on tall stems. Tho the blooms sport a nice wave to the petals, an overall smooth grace is the effect to the eye. Mr. Gibson relied on the Sass iris 'Tiffany' in his early work and you can see the influence here, but in a much cleaner and more distinct pattern. The flowers are a soft, buttery yellow ringed with a deep rose-pink.

1963 brought us the out-of-this-world styling of 'In Orbit'. Nothing like it had been seen before, a dazzling new pattern for plicatas. The standards are a solid tan with a light flush of violet, while the falls are white deeply peppered with dark plum.Such a vivid and striking combination and one of my favorites.

'Radiant Apogee', from 1966, is well named - it is one of the brightest yellows in the garden. A sparkling lemony yellow with falls banded the same on a white ground. Cute little freckles of brown are faintly and lightly scattered across the hafts, and one occasionally ventures further down. A very hardy and floriferous variety.

That same year also brought us 'Heather Hawk', described as pinkish-copper it is certainly a very different shade for a flower. The colors lighten as the bloom ages, and the petals sport lots of ruffles and waves.

'Native Chief', also a '66 introduction, is warm and rich in buckskin brown tones enlivened with plenty of gold undertones. A peppering of brown at the hafts adds more interest. the flowers are large and flaring as well.

1970's 'Island Holiday' is a brassy golden yellow with falls that sport a cream-toned center sprinkled all over with cinnamon. A big, bright, and bold flower. I can't decide if I like it or not, but it refuses to be ignored.

The last one I have to share is also from 1970. 'Mod Mode' features petals of palest pink lightly and delicately stitched rose-pink. The ruffles and waves are very pronounced, with the blooms appearing almost like seashells. A really lovely and delicate variety.

Jim Gibson was truly one of the greats in iris hybridizing, and he did so much to advance the palette and form in the flower, most especially with his plicatas. These are only a fraction of the work he did over his lifetime, and his varieties are well worth growing, enjoying and preserving for the future. I look forward to many years of beauty in my garden from his effort and inspiration, and I hope you will be inspired to look for his varieties for your garden as well.

Are you growing any Gibson plicatas? Tell us about them in the comments here or on our Facebook page, which is linked at the top left of the page.
Happy gardening!


  1. Your iris plants are so spectacular...the colors are so beautiful...I am now a follower of yours...

  2. Great colors. The photo of Dream Spun is just breathtaking.

  3. I have 'Burgundy Brown' and it is breathtakingly beautiful.

  4. Does anyone know where I can find Flashing Gem? I'd like one. Thank you

  5. Does anyone know where I can get the Siva Siva or Cinnamon Girl....


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