Monday, July 30, 2012

The Iris at the End of the Rainbow: the Favorites of Walter Moores

By Renee Fraser

Sometimes when I'm out in my garden enjoying my irises, I wonder about the men and women who create such beauty.  What did they think when they first saw THIS flower open?  Out of all of the irises they have hybridized, which are their very favorites?  I also notice that the irises of particular hybridizers do well for me.  Could it have something to do with the climate the flower was born in? 

Since I have recently become acquainted with a number of both avocational hybridizers and those who also run commercial gardens, I asked them to share their favorite iris introductions and tell us a bit about how they became interested in hybridizing.  

The inspiration for these questions was 'Flying Down to Rio' by Walter Moores.  I have always loved amoenas (irises with white standards at the top) and bicolored irises, and this one is exceptionally pretty with its orange beard. So I asked him about this flower, and it turns out it's his favorite too! So we will begin with Walter Moores.

'Flying Down to Rio' 2006

Walter is an avocational hybridizer who gardens in North Mississippi, about seventy miles south of Memphis, which is at the southern edge for growing bearded irises with success.  He says he likes to try irises that people claim cannot be grown there. Those of you who live in this climate know the challenges.  Evey's Blissful Garden is a website devoted to helping gardeners in this climate choose appropriate plants, and wouldn't you know it, the site features Walter's irises! 

Walter says "sometimes I think I was born in an iris patch.  From my earliest recollections of flowers, I remember irises.  My dad had a huge planting of irises rowed out in the front of the house which was some distance from the road.  He had all colors but didn't know they had names.  My grandmother also had irises in her flower beds.  I remember taking bouquets to my teachers in elementary school just to hear oohs and ahhs and to get praised.  But it was not until I stumbled across an iris show in a Fort Worth mall in 1966 that I got serious about irises.  I had never seen modern irises before and was immediately smitten by them.  I joined the Fort Worth Iris Society on the spot and have never wavered from my love for the genus iris.  It was there that I first learned that some irises produced seed.  I was taught hybridizing by a member of the society and made my first crosses in 1967.  My first introductions were offered to the public in 1977, and I have rarely missed a year registering or introducing an iris.  Some of my irises are now historic, and it is amazing to me to find one of those 1977 introductions, 'Pepper Blend', still listed in catalogs today.  Another perennial favorite is 'Purgatory', introduced in 1987."  

Walter has grown and hybridized siberians, ensatas, spurias, arilbreds, species and species-cross irises, as well as bearded irises.  He loves them all, and thinks the most interesting gardens feature a variety of different iris types.

'Brown Recluse' 2013

An example of his efforts in breeding new species irises include this beauty, which is an unusual color for a fulva iris.  Look at that branching. Good branching allows the flowers to open without crowding, a very important goal in iris hybridizing.

'Pharaoh's Host' 2012

Another favorite of his is an arilbred, 'Pharaoh's Host'.  An arilbred iris is created by crossing an aril iris, native to the Mediterranean region, with a bearded iris.

A few of his favorite tall bearded introductions include 'Ascii 
Art', which remains very popular among gardeners today,  'Lemonade Springs''Miniver Rose', and 'Yalobusha Desert'.  Walter named the last to reflect the fierce growing conditions he faces in Yalobusha County.
'Ascii Art' 1997
Photo by Marilyn Campbell
'Lemonade Springs' 2004
'Miniver Rose' 2007
'Yalobusha Desert' 2011

Early on in his career, Walter was known for hybridizing reblooming bearded irises, but for the last few years, when he works with tall bearded irises, his focus is on zonals with different color backgrounds within the zones (see 'Bright New Day' for an example of a zonal pattern). In his current hybridizing efforts he is looking for "that elusive pink zonal." 

Walter adds "I think irises are one of the reasons I have enjoyed a long life.  New seedlings inspire me each bloom season, and I plan to continue for as long as I am able."

'Moonlight and Wine' 2011
Photo by Rick Tasco

Which of these lovelies is your favorite?  Do you grow any irises by Walter Moores?  If you do, how do they perform in your climate?  

If you would like to know more about iris hybridizers, I recommend Classic Irises and the Men and Women Who Created Them by Clarence Mahan (yes, the same 'Clarence' for whom the lovely reblooming iris is named).  Stay tuned for more posts on hybriders from different parts of the country and the jackpots they found at the end of their rainbows.  


  1. Renee, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Though I've had the pleasure of interacting with Walter for over five years now, I learned much more about him today through your article. THANKS for highlighting such a wonderful hybridizer and gentleman.

  2. I just found out he had passed such a loss to iris


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