Wednesday, June 27, 2012

This, That, and a Few Other Things

By Brad Kasperek

Greetings from the top of Utah - I'm b-a-a-a-a-ack!  I've heard lots of interesting rumors about what happened to Kathie and I, but reality wasn't quite as interesting. Neither of us died, were in a serious accident or were at death's door, but we both had health issues that brought abrupt changes to our quality of life. Physical recoveries and mental adjustments to the realities of our aging took time. Anyway, we plan on re-opening Zebra Gardens this year and even introducing our first two spurias.  Nothing too exciting, but I believe one of them will offer something new in color combinations. I've had to reevaluate and reduce my previous iris hybridizing goals to decide where my major interests now lie.  The result was a decision to make spurias my primary focus for the future.  Don't everyone groan at once!

Spuria Iris 'Ode to a Toad'

In the Winter 2011 issue Jim Hedgecock wisely encouraged spuria hybridizers to acquire a selection of spuria species irises and to incorporate them into their hybridizing programs. The hope for outcome would be an increase in colors and patterns within the hybridized spuria genotype. This is great advice and new hybridizers should make it one of their goals to do some of this hybridizing. However, it appears to me that the pattern diversity within the I. Spuria species is much more limited than in bearded irises. Thus we should also continue working to fully identify the recessive characteristics of the existing genotype (color, pattern, size, ruffles, frills, etc.). This is what happened and continues to happen in the hybridizing of bearded iris. Look at the variety there!

Spuria Iris 'Ibex Ibis'

Once again for at least the 1000th time I relearned the hard way that if I think I know what I'm doing - I probably don't. These delusions exist only because I wasn't smart enough to ask the right questions when I should have.  After my experience with hybridizing bearded irises I assumed hybridizing spurias would be similar -wrong!  It seems that every technique or process I used with bearded irises was just far enough off the mark to impede my success with spurias in both producing seed and getting it to germinate. Seed germination has been the bane of my spuria hybridizing and I've tried everything I could think of to improve my results, but I always planted the seeds in POTS. Last year, Iris, the goddess of the rainbow must have smiled on my hybridizing efforts because we harvested almost 21,000 spuria seeds which was a huge increase over all other years. So I quickly created a convoluted plan to test several new methods of improving germination and producing seedlings large enough to transplant by mid-May. The crosses with the highest number of seeds were split into three groups: green seed to freeze, green seed to chill and dried seed to soak at the end of December. On the 2nd and 3rd of this January we potted these seeds up in 77 - 2 gal pots and stored them in my bedroom to await their later transfer to the greenhouse. I'll let you know the results in my next column. They should be good for a laugh at least.

So with this work out of the way I finally decided it might be a good idea to check with Dave Niswonger to see if he could provide any help with my germination problems. Dave told me that the most important factor affecting spuria seed germination was how many soil particles were in direct contact with the seed. Thus he plants his in a seed bed made of loamy soil without any added peat moss or other organic material and gets around 75% germination. Incorporating organic material would reduce germination by reducing the seed to soil contact.  Additionally, he said to NEVER POT the seeds up because potting mixes have very poor soil to seed contact!  Now why didn't I ask him for this advice six years ago!!!  Or even six months ago!  As "they" say - the only stupid question is one not asked.

Spuria Iris Seedling 5SP-11A
My early years of hybridizing tales of woe will become an article at a later date after I have some confidence that I finally know how to hybridize spurias in northern Utah. One thing that I'm certain of is that geographical location, temperature zone, length of growing season and the amount, form and timing of precipitation makes an enormous difference in the culture of spurias whether gardening or hybridizing.  It's my impression that this sort of information isn't adequately documented or mentioned in articles or on our website.  Do you believe this information would be valuable if someone (ah! that elusive someone) would try to compile it?  Please contact me at if you think this is a worthwhile project.

Have a wonderful bloom season!

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Brad Kasperek at the 2006 AIS National Convention

Editor's Note: It is with great honor and pleasure that with this article we bring you a new area of exploration to World of Irises - the Blog of The American Iris Society -- Guest Bloggers. Brad Kasperek is the first, and there's a reason for it. He is a hero of mine, for having had the courage to "boldly go" in pursuit of his fascination with Broken Color irises. I mean, the name of his business says it all, "Zebra Gardens - Irises of a Different Stripe."

I can never forget how surprised I was to hear Jim Hedgecock say at one of his presentations that with only about 800-Spuria iris varieties registered, the field of spuria iris hybridizing is quite open, and the opportunities endless. So, I feel that Brad's work will bring new life to the world of Spurias.

I'm very glad Brad explains about his and Kathie's health issues at the beginning of this article because as someone who followed their work closely, I was worried. So, Brad and Kathie, glad you're back on your feet and in the garden because the result will be, as we all know, beautiful irises. Welcome back!

I hope we can get to hear more from Brad in the future. I will follow his steps into spuria iris hybridizing adventures with great interest.

A similar version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2012 Edition of Spuria Iris News, the newsletter of the Spuria Iris Society.

Brad was kind enough to provide me the descriptions of the two newly introduced spurias:

'Ibex Ibis' (Kasperek 2012), SPU, 45", M. Light medium lavender standards, stylearms and rim around fall with a bright yellow fall center darkening to gold at the arm crest, 5 to 6 buds.

'Ode to a Toad' (Kasperek 2012), SPU, 38", M. Rich, red-brown maroon standards and mottled purple & brown style arms. Rich, orange-gold falls rimmed and modestly veined in smoky maroon, 4 to 5 buds.

Andi Rivarola
Word of Irises - the Blog of The American Iris Society, Editor
AIS Social Media Manager


  1. Ode to the toad, what a magnificent color combination. And not to mention a perfect name for this one. I will need to find this to add to my collection!

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