Saturday, April 14, 2012

Iris Classics: 'Butter And Sugar'

Over the past century or more Siberian irises have not had the color range that the bearded irises do and hence have not had as much attention from hybridizers. A myriad of shades of purple, blue-purple, red-purple and white had many fans but left us wanting more. Thanks to a handful of dedicated fanciers we are finally in the 21st century seeing an explosion of new colors and patterns. However let us not forget the groundwork that was laid to get us here. One of the top breeders of the 20th century was Dr. Currier McEwen and one of his very best irises was a major color break in its day and is this weeks Iris Classic - the unforgettable 'Butter And Sugar'.


Introduced in 1977, it was an instant sensation, being the very first yellow Siberian iris that could hold its color thru the life of the bloom. The awards poured in: an HM in 1978; the Morgan Award in 1981; culminating in the Morgan-Wood Medal in 1986. It is still a beloved variety today for its excellent garden habits and its beautiful blooms. It is registered as:
S. white with greenish yellow veins (RHS 154B); white styles with yellow midribs; F. yellow (5C), with greenish yellow veins.

It is a child of the cross 'Floating Island' X 'Dreaming Yellow'. 'Dreaming Yellow' was also a fine advance for its time but was not color fast as 'Butter And Sugar' is.


Dr. McEwen had a very long and productive life, having passed away at the estimable age of 102, with an illustrious career breeding both Siberian and Japanese irises to his credit. The world is much richer for his horticultural efforts, as well as his groundbreaking work in rheumatology. He brought a scientific approach to breeding in order to achieve his goals of bettering the irises of these two families, and was also a pioneer in creating tetraploid Siberians using colchicine. Beloved by all who knew him, he had a reputation for kindness, a gentle disposition, and was always ready to help a new iris lover get started on their own growing or breeding program. He was the author of the definitive books on the culture of Siberian and Japanese irises in the U.S.


There are just not enough adjectives to describe this wonderful variety of iris. It does well most anywhere and never fails to put on a beautiful show in my garden. The blooms are on the short side here so it makes an excellent addition to the front of the border. Its grassy foliage looking beautiful all summer long even after the flowers have gone. As we marvel at the dazzling new colors coming out of our contemporary breeders gardens we should take a moment to remember where those original color breaks came from and the man who contributed so much and inspired so many. Grow 'Butter And Sugar'. You will never regret it.

Update: I found this lovely video of Currier's garden posted by the Maine Iris Society. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Love the blog and good to remember Currier the kind. The video brings back some great memories of visits to South Harpswell, but it's missing the lobster dinners that followed the garden tour. Butter and Sugar did indeed lead to darmatic shifts in Siberian breeding and is the obvious forerunner of all those orange, brown mustard and coffee shades we are seeing today. By all rights B&S should have won the Dykes Medal as a major breakthrough in iris breeding and a fine iris in its own right. Can anyone remember the TBs that did in fact win then?

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