Sunday, May 20, 2012

Iris Classics: 'Staten Island'

In 1947 Kenneth Smith introduced his latest creation, the wonderful classic iris 'Staten Island'. It was the child of 'The Red Admiral' crossed with the widely acclaimed 'City Of Lincoln' and went on to set the standard for color and form in its class for another decade. Variegatas had been a less popular color class, often overlooked in bearded irises, yet this one really stood out for iris growers and set a new standard of perfection. Having bright yellow standards over velvety red falls edged in the same bright yellow as the standards, and holding its many blooms on tall sturdy stems, it brought a rich and sunny aspect to the iris border. An aspect that we can still appreciate today.


'Staten Island' was a major advance for the variegata color class, which had not seen such a leap since its parent 'City Of Lincoln' was introduced in 1936 (which also garnered wide acclaim). Schreiner's Iris Lover's catalog for 1952 hailed it:
"For a long time City of Lincoln has ruled as King of the Variegatas. Now a new king reigns. Staten Island is certainly tops in the variegatas. Bright yellow standards and solidly colored falls a bright red with gold edge. Jauntily formed blooms."

Cooley's Gardens catalog for 1958 confirmed its staying power:
"Generally regarded as the finest true variegata of all. Standards bright golden yellow, falls velvety red, edged a very narrow band of gold."
Ten years after it was introduced it was still considered tops in its class. That is the mark of a classic iris.


Mr. Smith has another legacy in the iris world as well. The Golden Anniversary issue of the AIS Bulletin from January, 1970, states:
In 1940, Kenneth Smith, then a Director of the American Iris Society, instituted the first Iris Symposium, with only a selected 50 AIS judges balloting. The results were compiled and the "Popularity Poll" was born. In 1941, all acredited judges participated and the symposium became an annual event. Not until 1944, however, did the Directors vote to make the Symposium official. Through the 1951 poll, the voting was still restricted to accredited judges only, but in 1952 Harold Knowleton, then serving as AIS president, had the Symposium opened to all members.
History was made and a valuable new tool became available to all for evaluating how well an iris variety would do in a wide variety of gardens.


'Staten Island' stayed at the top of the charts for its color class for many years after it was introduced and was the standard to beat for new introductions. It's beautiful colors, exceptional hardiness and vigor, coupled with a reliability of bloom still give it good garden value today, and it is truly a classic variety that is well deserving of preservation and appreciation for may years to come. I am so thankful to my friend Linda, who had this wonderful iris growing in the yard of her new home and kindly shared it with me, bringing year after year of beauty to my garden. If you enjoy such rich color combinations you cannot go wrong with this lovely old variety. Try it, you'll like it.

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