Monday, August 27, 2012

Siberians and Species Irises: Looking Forward to June

By Renee Fraser

It was a great disappointment to those of us who love irises when the Triennial Siberian and Species Iris Convention had to be postponed for a year.  A mild winter and a record hot early spring forced all of the blooms 4-6 weeks early, so the Convention will be held in June of 2013.  As consolation, I asked  Brock Heilman, a talented photographer and member of the Michigan Iris Society, to share a few photos of the gardens to be featured on next year's trek. 

These are some of the gardens that will be available for tours at this year's convention.

Judy Hollingworth, whose husband Bob is a contributor to this blog and a famous hybridizer of Siberian irises, has created this Eden.

Hollingworth Garden

Hybridizers send their creations to gardens where the Conventions will take place, and growers and hybridizers take care of them, sometimes for several years, to assure a spectacular bloom and a wonderful show of new varieties for the convention attendees.

Guest Irises at the Kaufmann Garden

This is not your father's siberian iris!  Look at the incredible colors being created by iris hybridizers.

'Salamander Crossing' (SIB Schafer/Sacks 1999) 

Novel colors and forms of irises are on display at convention gardens.

'Lakeside Ghost' (SPEC I. laevigata Harris 2012)

Astonishing new color combinations are being developed.

'Tipped In Blue' (SIB Schafer/Sacks 2010)

Hollingworth Garden

This is just a taste of the beauty awaiting you.  We hope to see you at the Convention in June 2013.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

2012 Clarence G. White Medal Award 'Noble Warrior'

By Andi Rivarola

Here's yet another announcement of an AIS medal winner. Hope you like seeing their pictures and descriptions. This is the way I have always dreamed of seeing them, slowly in order to absorb their magnificence one by one.

This time the 2012 Clarence G. White Medal: 'Noble Warrior,' hybridized by Rick Tasco of California.

A complete list of winners in other categories can be found on the AIS website.

Here's a full description of this beautiful iris:

'Noble Warrior' (Richard Tasco, R. 2005) Sdlg. 01-AB-14-10. AB (OGB), 33" (84 cm), EM, Standards are creamy ivory, light yellow midrib and veins that lighten toward edge; style arms golden yellow; Falls are slightly recurved, golden yellow, burgundy red (RHS 187B) veining, darker on hafts and around signal, lightening toward bottom, large round burgundy red signal; beards wide golden yellow in throat, narrow bronzed yellow in middle and end, tipped tiny insignificant burgundy overall; slight musky fragrance. English Eyes X Bagdad's Folly. Superstition 2006. AIS Awards: HM 2008, AM 2010.

Photo by Rick Tasco

I contacted Rick Tasco because I did not have a picture of 'Noble Warrior' to share with all of you, and since I had his attention I also asked him why he decided to work on Arilbred irises and what were his goals. 

Here's what he wrote back:

"I started to hybridize arilbreds because I lived in locations where they grew well, the Valley of the Sun in AZ, and the lower Sierra foothills in Central California.  There aren't many arilbred hybridizers out there and not enough arilbreds are available, so I saw a field that needed more varieties.   I enjoy their unusual patterns and characteristics.

One of my goals in hybridizing arilbreds was to get veins and a large signal on the falls.  'Noble Warrior' is a step towards my goal.  I'm still working for more and bolder veins and a larger signal.  I'm never satisfied."

(AR) Arils

The aril irises include some of the most amazing plants in the genus Iris, from the largest flower (over a foot in length) to tiny dwarfs (the whole plant only a couple of inches high). Arils can also be the most challenging plants to grow, requiring exacting conditions, but the glorious exotic flowers and the pride of achievement compensate for the effort. Arils have been crossed with their easier cousins the true bearded irises to create arilbreds, a separate horticultural class that brings easier culture but retains some of the exotic traits of the pure arils. Arils tend to come from areas of restricted rainfall. They are often referred to as desert iris. But depending on the species these "deserts" can range from high Himalayan plateaus to coastal Mediterranean climates. Most require a dry summer dormancy.
Aril iris are so named because of the fleshy collar on one end of the seed that is believed to be food for ants. When the ants carry it off they plant the seed. Aril Iris have distinctive beards, different from the better known bearded Irises. In some cases the beard may be a broad patch of short hairs that appear like velvet. Many of the Oncocyclus types have large black spots below the beard that rivet the eye. The color palette of the flowers has often been compared to Oriental rugs and may have been an inspiration to the artisans since they both originate in the same parts of the world such as Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, etc.

The Clarence G. White Medal

The highest award given by the American Iris Society strictly to Aril and Arilbred Irises with 1/2 or more aril content
History from Clarence Mahan:
This medal is restricted to irises of one-half or more aril content that clearly exhibit at least two readily recognizable aril flower characteristics as defined and approved by the Aril Society International. It is named in honor of Clarence G. White (1869-1957).
Clarence G. White was born in Cleveland, Ohio. After attending Harvard University, he worked for the White Sewing Machine Company, which had been founded by his father. Later he operated his family's plantation in Florida. His experiments with potato growing in Florida have been credited with being the basis for establishing the potato business in that state. He moved to Hawaii in 1905, and there he owned and operated a large pineapple plantation. He was involved in many philanthropies and civic activities. He moved his family to Redlands, California in 1919, and he began raising flowers and extending his works of civic philanthropy. It was at this time that White developed an interest in and irises.
More on the Clarence G. White Medal, such as its history and past medal winners, can be found on the Iris Wiki.
For more information on AIS Awards, please visit our website.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spuria News -- Summer 2012

By Andi Rivarola

Presenting the latest edition of Spuria News, the Newsletter of the Spuria Iris Society, published twice a year and available to Spuria Society members.

Here are few of the topics on this edition:

2012 Eric Nies Medal Winner, and Other Awards
Spuria Fundraiser for 2012
This, That and a Few Other Things, by Brad Kasperek
Which Comes First: The Flower or The Garden Plant, by Brad Kasperek
A Blast From The Past, by Darol Jurn
Missouri Rambling, by President Jim Hedgecock
2012 Spuria Introductions (pictures included)
News About a New Digital Program
2016 Spuria Iris Society Mini-Convention
2012 Popularity Poll
Paypal in Our Midst

And much, much more.

For information about membership with the Spuria Iris Society, please visit Society's website.

(SPU) Spuria Irises

Spurias are tall (2 to 5 feet in height) and elegant, and have very attractive foliage. The shape of the bloom often suggests orchids and the colors range from white and yellow through blue, wine and brown, often with bright yellow signals. This horticultural class is equivalent to the botanical Series Spuriae. The highest award is the Eric Nies Medal.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Where's the Rebloom when it's Hot and Dry?

By Betty Wilkerson
South Central Kentucky, Zone 6

It’s not news to our readers that 2012 has been an unkind year, weather wise, in much of the United States.  Extremely high temperatures and drought conditions inhibit most rebloom of tall bearded irises.  Yet, ‘Immortality’ and my seedling number 1810-15Re opened blooms in early August.  They are both growing at the end of one of the new beds (2010) and get a touch of late afternoon shade.

My primary hybridizing goal has always been to create irises that will rebloom in my zone 6 garden.  My current breeding strategy has been to cross award winning spring-only irises with great form and patterns in combination with well formed rebloomers and rebloomers with strong rebloom.  Only the strongest rebloomers have a chance of producing rebloom children in this difficult area.  

 is a reblooming staple.  Even so, it doesn’t always rebloom here.  It really wants everything just right.  Last year suited its temperament: it bloomed a lot during the summer and fall in the new beds.
'Immortality' (Zurbrigg 1982)
1810-15Re (Wilkerson Seedling) 

1810-15Re is one of the seedlings from my “kitchen sink” cross.  The pod parent, a near-white over dark blue/purple is 1605-01:9415RE (((Victoria Falls x Vanity) x Immortality) x (Love Lines))) x (Feedback x Champagne Elegance).  It contains several quality spring blooming irises mixed with good rebloomers. During a move to Allen County, I lost the pod parent, a near amoena seedling with white standards and dark blue purple falls.

A sibling, 1605-02Re, is white over lavender and reblooms in the fall in my zone 6 garden.  Dr. Raymond Smith’s rebloomer, ‘Light Rebuff,’ a very pale, translucent pink, is the pollen parent.

1605-02Re (Wilkerson Seedling) 
Only three seedlings sprouted the first spring of this cross, and two put up stalks that first fall.  They were given the numbers 1810-01Re & 1810-02Re.
1810-01Re (Wilkerson Seedling)  
1810-02Re (Wilkerson Seedling)  

Another thirty eight sprouted the second spring.  Twenty two from this cross bloomed off season over the next three or four years.  Others were used in breeding, but did not rebloom.  This is an assortment of seedlings from this cross. Both #6 & #10 put up late stalks in 2006.  1810-01Re and 1810-15Re are the top rebloomers, with 1810-15Re being the best.

1810-06 (Wilkerson seedling) 
1810-10 (Wilkerson Seedling) 
1810-03Re (Wilkerson Seedling) 
 1810-07 (Wilkerson seedling)
1810-08 (Wilkerson seedling) 
1810-14Re (Wilkerson Seedling)  
These are definitely not the end product, but a step on the path to better rebloom.  Some crosses using this group of seedlings have been very interesting.  My favorite results were from a kitchen sink child crossed onto ‘Enjoy the Party.’  It has given some very nice ringed bi-tone seedlings with fall rings.  One has even fall bloomed!  Not enough, and not often enough, but a step in the right direction. 

Producing reblooming irises is a time-consuming passion, but the rewards are great:  a period of longer bloom for our favorite flower.  Let me know if you enjoyed this peek into a rebloom cross.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 Morgan-Wood Medal 'So Van Gogh'

By Andi Rivarola

Here's yet another announcement of an AIS medal winner. This time the 2012 Morgan-Wood Medal: 'So Van Gogh,' hybridized by Marty Schafer and Jan Sacks of Massachusetts.

A complete list of winners in other categories can be found on the AIS website.

Here's a full description of this beautiful iris via the Iris Wiki

'So Van Gogh' (Marty Schafer/Jan Sacks, R. 2005) Sdlg. S97-20-10. SIB, 30" (76 cm), EM Standards and style arms medium blue-violet (RHS 90B to 91B), darker veining and edges (89B at darkest); Falls are yellow (13C), lighter at edge, darkest at signal, veined blue violet (89A to 90B), darkest at tip, signal yellow, veined deep blue-violet, blends into F. 'Sarah Tiffney' X 'Banish Misfortune.' Joe Pye Weed 2005. HM 2008, AM 2010.

(Photo by Schafer/Sacks)

The Morgan-Wood Medal

History by Clarence Mahan 

This medal is restricted to Siberian (SIB) irises. It is named in honor of F. Cleveland Morgan (1882-1962) and Ira E. Wood (1903-1977).
F. Cleveland Morgan was a pioneer Canadian breeder of Siberian irises and a founding member of AIS. Some of his magnificent cultivars still enhance gardens around the globe. Three of his best known irises are 'Caezar', 'Caezar's Brother' and ‘Tropic Night'. Educated in England and Switzerland, he was a director of the Henry Morgan Company and a patron of Canadian arts. Morgan's association with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts spanned a period of forty-five years, including 8 years as president of that institution. The museum held a special exhibition in 1961 to display more than six hundred works of art that he had donated.
AIS instituted the Morgan Award for Siberian Irises, the predecessor to the Morgan-Wood Medal, in 1951.
More on the Morgan-Wood Medal, such as its history and past medal winners, can be found on the Iris Wiki.
For more information on AIS Awards, please visit our website.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 Payne Medal Winner 'Coho'

By Andi Rivarola

We are happy to announce the winner of the 2012 Payne Medal: 'Coho,' hybridized by Chad Harris of Washington.

A complete list of winners in other categories can be found on the AIS website.

Here's a full description of this beautiful iris via the Iris Wiki:

'Coho' (Chad Harris, R. 2004) Sdlg. 96JG2. Japanese Iris (3F.), 38" (97 cm), VE Standards are pink (RHS 75C), medium size, prostrate; style arms off-white, edged pink (75B), style crests pink; Falls are dark pink (75A), blue cast around signal evenly blending to soft pink (75D) at F. edge, signal yellow (6B) in sunburst pattern, semi-flaring. 'Joy Peters' X 'Hatsu Kagami'. Aitken 2005. HM 2008.

(Photo by Chad Harris)

From the Society for Japanese Irises (SJI):
The Payne Medal (named for W. Arlie Payne) is the highest award given by The American Iris Society that a Japanese iris can receive in its class. Payne Medal winners are then eligible to win the Dykes Medal, which is the highest award an iris can receive from The American Iris Society. Prior to 1992 the highest award a Japanese Iris could receive was the Payne Award. This award has now been elevated to a medal status.

The Payne Medal

The highest award given by the American Iris Society strictly to Japanese Irises.
History from Clarence Mahan: 
"This medal is restricted to Japanese irises (JI). It is named in honor of W. Arlie Payne.
W. Arlie Payne was born on a farm near Terre Haute, Indiana. He graduated from Central Normal Collage in Danville, Indiana, and studied pattern making. Payne worked as a lumberjack, photographer, real estate agent, and pattern maker until he established a landscaping business on sixteen acres of land south of Terre Haute. He was at first especially interested in peonies, but in the late 1920's, he "discovered" Japanese irises. He started hybridizing Japanese in irises in 1932. Over the next three and a half decades, he raised many thousands of seedlings."

More on the Payne Medal, such as its history and past medal winners, can be found on the Iris Wiki.
For more information on AIS Awards, please visit our website.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Going Dutch Iris

By Bryce Williamson

Dutch Irises are the most widely grown irises in the world and the number one iris grown for cut flowers. But I've always considered Dutch Iris to be the step-children of the iris world: the American Iris Society is the official registrar for all irises except Dutch, and Dutch Irises are not eligible for Queen of the Show.  Nevertheless, there are good reasons for growing them, especially since they bloom early in the spring and provide good color when very little is in bloom.

Location, location, and location are key in real estate, and this seems to be true with Dutch irises as well. Find the right spot in the yard for them and they will reward you with trouble free bloom year after year. I've never figured out exactly what is the best location.  Since they go dormant by early summer, they should not like too much summer water, but my best established planting of 'Sky Beauty' is on the edge of the rose bed where I water at least once a week. I think the reason 'Sky Beauty' does well there is that the bulbs are planted in soil raised about three inches above the rest of the bed, which insures good drainage.

Finding Dutch iris bulbs can be a bit of a trick. Local nurseries will have them in the later summer. I don't like to buy bulbs that are loose in a box—it is too easy for the bulbs to become mixed. For that reason, I like prepackaged bulbs, but even then you may get bulbs different from what is labeled: over a three year period, I kept buying the wonderful Purple Sensation with no luck.  Until this year, I had good luck with bulk packages from Costco, but this spring many of the packages were incorrectly labeled.

Here are some varieties of Dutch irises that I have grown.  They provide that splash of color in the garden during the early spring, which can be otherwise dreary.

'Apollo'. With white standards and yellow falls, this is a bright and cheerful color combination.
'Blue Magic'. A good, deep shade of blue-violet.
'Cream Beauty'. As the name indicates, the flowers open with cream falls and whitish standards,but the entire flower quickly beomes cream white here.
'Eye of the Tiger'. The hybridizer was working for a black Dutch iris and ended up with this dark brown. I can never decide whether I really like it or whether I just tolerate it; the coloring is sometimes drab and sometimes brighter.
'Ideal'. The most grown Dutch iris in the world and the one most likely to be found at the florist. In 40 years of buying bulbs, I have only found it in nurseries one or two times. A nice light lavender blue.
'Lion King'. I really like the bright bronze-brown coloring on this sister seedling to 'Eye of the Tiger'. The older 'Bronze Beauty' is another good brown.
'Oriental Beauty'. With wisteria-blue standards and blended yellow falls, this is an exotic color combination.
'Purple Sensation'. When it first came on the market over 35 years ago, it was a sensation for color. The magenta purple flowers are lovely. Highly recommended.
'Rosario'. An aster-violet with hints of pink.  I've had problems maintaining it in the yard. 'Mauve Queen' is an older pinkish variety that is now showing up as a heritage bulb.
'Sky Beauty'. Year after year, this light lavender blue makes me happy by always dong well.

Dutch irises should be planted in the fall and they will send up a couple of leaves and really start to grow in the spring.  I'm not a fan of Dutch Iris collections--like most plants, different varieties bloom at different heights and I find mixed plantings turn into a mess when blooming.  I do like to plant in a group of 12 or more bulbs for color impact.  In addition to local nurseries and Costco, there are two reliable mail order sources:

John Scheepers, for small quanities
Van Engelen, Inc. for larger quanities

One last word of caution: I've found Dutch Irises in the bulb sections in the late winter and early spring, but I have not, personally, had any good luck planting the bulbs at that time.

My sincere thanks to Brock Heilman for these beautiful photos of Dutch irises.  Brock is a talented young photographer and his work can be found for sale at

Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012 Eric Nies Medal Winner 'Solar Fusion'

By Andi Rivarola

We are happy to announce the winner of the 2012 Eric Nies Medal: 'Solar Fusion,' hybridized by Lee Walker of Oregon.

A complete list of winners in other categories will be announced soon.

Here's a full description of this beautiful iris via the Iris Wiki:

'Solar Fusion' (Lee Walker, R. 2004) Sdlg. 93-2-19. SPU, 47" (119 cm), ML Standards are medium yellow base, medium yellow veining over maroon, ruffled; style arms yellow with maroon tip; Falls medium to deep yellow with faint maroon veining extending to a faint maroon rim, light ruffling. 'Dena's Delight' X 'Highline Coral.' Wildwood Gardens 2005. HM 2008.

Eric Nies Medal

The Eric Nies Medal is the highest American Iris Society award given strictly to a spuria Iris. The Eric Nies Medal is actually a plaque. Legend has it that Ben Hager, who had won almost every medal possible, complained that they all went into a drawer and the he wished he had something to hang on his wall. The Spuria Society fulfilled his dream.
History By Clarence Mahan
This medal is restricted to spuria (SPU) irises. It is named in honor of Eric Nies (1884-1952).
Eric Nies was born in Saugatuck, Michigan, the son of Dutch immigrants. He graduated with a BS degree from Michigan State College, where he was a star pitcher on the baseball team. In 1913, he and his wife Grace moved to Los Angeles, California, where he taught high school botany and agriculture for many years. He was a man who was praised for his beautiful singing voice, his wit and his charm.
Soon after Nies moved to California, he became interested in irises of all types. He obtained his first spuria irises from Jennett Dean, who operated one of the first iris specialist nurseries in the U.S. Spurias were his special interest. His first cross was with I. orientalis with 'Monspur'. He interbred seedlings from this cross, and in the second generation there was a virtual explosion of color: blue, lavender, brown, bronze and cream. Some of these early cultivars, the forerunners of great advances in spuria irises, are 'Bronzspur', 'Saugatuck', and 'Azure Dawn'.

More on the Eric Nies Medal, such as its history and past medal winners, can be found on the Iris Wiki.
For more information on AIS Awards, please visit our website.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

2012 Knowlton Medal Winner 'Crow's Feet'

By Andi Rivarola

We are happy to announce the winner of the 2012 Knowlton Medal: 'Crow's Feet,' hybridized by Paul Black of Oregon.

A complete list of winners in other categories will be announced soon.

Here's a full description of this beautiful iris via the Iris Wiki:

'Crow's Feet' (Paul Black, registered 2006). Sdlg. K187A. BB, 27" (69 cm), EM,Standards and style arms white, style crests edged peach; Falls are white, lined with closely spaced purple veins from beard to edge, outer quarter sanded purple between veins, narrow white rim 2/3 way around upper part on each side, outer edge of haft veined medium peach-plum; beards white tipped orange; ruffled; slight musky fragrance. G33A: (B139D, 'Color My World' sib, x Taunt) X 'Snowed In'. Mid-America 2006. Honorable Mention 2008; Ben Hager Cup 2008; Award of Merit 2010.

Border Beardeds are essentially small versions of the TBs.  They are in the same height range and bloom size as the intermediates, but bloom with the tall beardeds. Good BBs have round, ruffled petals that complement their small size. The highest award for this class is the Knowlton Medal.

Knowlton Medal

The highest award given by the American Iris Society strictly to Border Bearded Irises.

History by Clarence Mahan
This medal is restricted to border bearded (BB) irises. It is named in honor of Harold W. Knowlton (1888-1968).
Harold Knowlton of Auburndale, Massachusetts, was a tireless promoter of the border bearded class of irises. Bennett Jones wrote in The World of Irises: "Harold Knowlton was among the first to make deliberate selections of smaller plants. Two of his 1950 introductions, 'Pearl Cup' ... and 'Cricket'... display the desirable features we still seek in modern border irises."
Knowlton was the seventh president of the AIS (1953-55) and served the society in several important positions. He was highly regarded as a leader, planner and organizer and reorganized the AIS awards system and instituted the first Handbook for Judges and the handbook for new members; What Every Iris Grower Should Know. He also compiled and edited the 1959 Check List. The AIS awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal in 1955.
More on the Knowlton Medal, such as its history and past medal winners, can be found on the Iris Wiki.
For more information on AIS Awards, please visit our website.

Friday, August 10, 2012

2012 Dykes Medal Winner 'Florentine Silk'

By Andi Rivarola

We are happy to announce the winner of the 2012 Dykes Medal: 'Florentine Silk,' hybridized by Keith Keppel of Oregon.

A complete list of winners in other categories will be announced soon.

Here's a full description of this beautiful iris via the Iris Wiki:

'Florentine Silk' (Keith Keppel, R. 2004). Seedling 99-116A. TB, height 40" (102 cm), Mid-Late bloomseason. Standards peach (M&P 9-A-4), slight orchid (41-E-5) basal infusion; style arms peach, orchid midrib; falls medium violet (41-J-9), narrow pinkish buff (42-D-3) edge; beards light blue at end, base lavender white, carrot red (10-C-10) in throat. 96-45E, 'Crystal Gazer' sibling X 'Poem Of Ecstasy'. Keppel 2005. Honorable Mention 2007; Franklin Cook Cup 2007Award of Merit 2009Wister Medal 2011.

The Dykes Medal is the overall top award of the American Iris Society (AIS), given to a single iris each year. Irises are eligible as a Dykes Medal candidate for three years following the winning of a classification medal. Only AIS registered judges may vote for this award. For more information on AIS Awards, please visit our website.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Irises of Arthur J. Bliss

By Mike Unser

Arthur J. Bliss was a surveyor and mining engineer from England. After an early retirement forced on him at age 40 by hearing loss he settled in the small village of Morwellham, Devon, and, at the urging of his friend W.R. Dykes, he took up breeding irises for a hobby. From such ordinary beginnings did come about a revolution that changed the iris world forever. With a scientific approach to plant breeding he created one of the first tetraploid bearded irises to be entered into commerce. A flower of large size, wonderful substance and a rich velvety texture to the falls, it was introduced during wartime at an astronomical price and went on to change irises forever. Despite its well harped upon faults of slow growth and poor branching, it became the basis for a whole new generation of irises, often called the 'Dominion race' at the time. But the garden of Mr. Bliss did not only give us such a renowned prodigy. A stream of wonderful new advances in color, pattern and size came forth from this modest little garden, varieties which continue to delight collectors of historic varieties. Here is a selection of those I am growing. As always, click on the photos to see larger versions.

We'll start with the famous ancestor itself, 'Dominion', introduced in 1917. While today it may appear an ordinary old neglecta it was quite the revolution in its day. Before 'Dominion' irises were shorter, smaller flowered, and more delicate. A tall, thick substanced, richly colored variety was far and away an improvement. It was criticized for its lack of vigor and bunchy branching, but even with these faults it was widely well regarded and used extensively by hybridizers to expand the rainbow of our favorite flower.

'Cardinal' was a nice advancement in the 'Dominion' line, this time in shades of red-violet. Widely used in the breeding of early reds, it is a fantastic iris even by today's standards. Introduced in 1919 it took the velvet texture and deep coloring to new heights. The form is flawless with wide flaring falls and translucent standards that light up like stained glass yet still manage to stay upright. A decade after its introduction it was still considered one of the finest irises in the world and supply could not keep up with demand.

'Clematis' is a flower of an entirely different sort. Introduced in 1917, it is a low growing light lavender blue with some deeper veining. Very floriferous, it starts early and stays late. It gets its name from the tendency of the blooms formed in warm weather to sport six falls and no standards, giving an open flat, clematis-like bloom. Buds formed during cool weather retain the classic iris form.

The variegata class was often set back by small flowers, short height and washy colors. Mr. Bliss set out to change this and one of his best is 'Marsh Marigold'. Introduced in 1925 it gave good garden presence on its 30 inch stems topped with blooms of bright dense yellow and velvety red falls edged the same golden yellow.

From 1920 comes Mr. Bliss' 'Mystic'. Early white irises were rarely a pure white and were often marred with prominent haft colors and markings. 'Mystic' was a nice change in that it was a pure icy white with just faint traces of veining at the hafts. Not the tallest of varieties, it reaches about 2 feet in my garden.

1924 brought the introduction of 'Pioneer', a variety of great height and large flowers in a dramatic color tone. It was very popular as a garden plant due to its many blooms and long flowering period, but did not fulfill Mr. Bliss' hopes of being a new break in breeding as 'Dominion' was.

'Senlac', introduced in 1929, was a very highly touted variety. One of the best of the early red varieties it had height, large flowers, great performance and hardiness to help it along. It was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic for many years.

The quest for pink irises started early and many were brought forth but few lived up to their hype. 'Susan Bliss', however, came very close to being a true pink and was justly popular for it. It helped that it was a strong grower and good bloomer with nice branching and lovely flowers.

'Sweet Lavender' was introduced in 1919 and was another popular variety for gardeners at large. It brings mid-size flowers of a lavender bitone on very tall stems. The blooms are pert and flaring with ruffling on the standards - one of the earliest to feature this trait. The jaunty aspect of the flower is matched by its lovely sweet fragrance and it is well worth growing today.

On the smaller side we have Mr. Bliss' 'Tom Tit' from 1919. A short variety at 18" with deep purple blooms (my photo does not do it justice!). A clump in full bloom is a sight to see - masses of dark flowers shining with a satin finish in the sun. The flower had good flare to it making it particularly attractive given its short height.

Amoenas have always been a popular pattern for iris lovers and Mr. Bliss gave us to wonderful 'Tristram' in 1919. The standards are a beautiful clear white over falls deeply reticulated with dark purple veins. A shorter variety, as almost all early amoenas were, it nevertheless gives a nice display at the end of the iris season.

From his humble little garden far from the mainstream of horticulture Arthur J. Bliss created a legacy few other hybridizers can match. His devotion to a scientific approach to plant hybridizing set the stage for many advances of his own and from others who followed in his footsteps. It has long been said his 'Dominion' was the most important iris variety in history, but his other milestones are just as worthy of note. The varieties the vagaries of time have left us with to preserve are still well worth having as garden plants. The next time you're in your iris patch admiring the velvety texture of a particularly beautiful bloom give a little thought to the man who brought this trait to us.

You can find more information about Arthur J. Bliss and his history making irises at:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Brief Guide to the Genus Neomarica

By Andi Rivarola

I had one more desire fulfilled this summer once I opened the SIGNA Newsletter. As with many plant species that have traveled far from their original environment, some gardeners believe that identifying iris neomarica is one difficult task. With approximately twenty different species within the neomarica range, one could easily give up, but after reading the article on SIGNA's Newsletter, I feel encouraged and more ready to face the task.
N. guttata
In this wonderful article, the author writes about the confusion that most of us face when trying to identify this genus originally from the rain forests of Brazil. Mr. Lindolpho Capellari Junior, in Brazil, provided a lot of the original work.

N. northiana
Scott Douglas, the author of the SIGNA article, gives a quick summary of how to identify them.   He states that "the most commonly seen species as houseplants in temperate regions or as garden plants in warmer areas are: N. northiana, N. candida, N. gracilis, and N. caerulea. The first three cause perhaps the most confusion. The only real way to positively identify specimens is, unfortunately, to dissect them in a laboratory."

The article goes on to give a few tips on how to identify them in the garden, and additionally, it discusses the yellow, blue and white blooming neomarica irises.  If you are interested in this topic, I encourage you to join SIGNA and get access to all of the wonderful articles they publish in their newsletter. 

Typical Habitat of Neomarica

Note: SIGNA (The Species Iris Group of North America, a Section of The American Iris Society) now offers a new green electronic-only membership. Instead of receiving printed publications via U.S. Mail, members will receive them by email in PDF format. Details are on their Membership page. The SIGNA Bulletin is published twice a year and is shared with all its members. It contains color photos, and fifteen to twenty articles on iris species, hybridizers, researchers and explorers.