Monday, September 24, 2012

The Iris at the End of the Rainbow: the Favorites of Ginny Spoon

By Renee Fraser

Traditionally, men arrive for a first date with flowers. Don Spoon brought Ginny just the pollen! And so at their first dinner date in 1993, Ginny made her first iris cross, 'Zurich' X 'Chaste White', using pollen from Don's garden. The match produced offspring:  Ginny's first iris introduction, 'Autumn Ivory'.
Does it get any more romantic than that?

Don and Ginny Spoon are the owners of Winterberry Gardens in Cross Junction, Virginia. Their gardens are in USDA zone 6, 1100 feet above sea level. The main problem in their climate is the extreme temperature shifts. Spring temperatures might go from the mid 80's in the daytime to 25 at night! Those of you gardening under these conditions know that this can pose challenges for growing irises, because they may begin to bloom and still be vulnerable to frost.

Don started hybridizing as a youngster, over 60 years ago, along with his mother, Lilla Spoon, who was president of the Charlotte, North Carolina Iris Society at the time. Don majored in biology, earning his Ph.D. and taught at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. for over 22 years. He established a lovely garden there, which is still maintained by the staff at Georgetown. Don also discovered a previously unknown organism and published a scientific paper and got to name it [Euhyperamoeba biospherica]. Ginny earned a degree in horticulture, and she says "so of course, the biologist and the horticulturalist are always arguing over who is right about what to do in the garden, but we manage to do it without too much bloodshed."

Don and Ginny worked at the Biosphere 2 in Arizona when they were first married. He helped design the ocean and was in charge of it for two years. Ginny went along for the ride, but ended up taking care of the Intensive Agricultural Biome for three months so the manager could visit his family in Nepal. They planted quite a few irises around the Biosphere 2, where they still grow today.

One of Ginny's favorite introductions is Don's 'Little John'. Ginny says "Don took me out to a large planting of his seedlings in Maryland where I first saw 'Little John' in bloom. Of course it was just a seedling then. I wanted it but we had no tools and the ground was dry and hard as cement. Don was ready to leave but I had to have a piece so I took a rock and managed to chip out a rhizome. I planted it and the next year it was in bloom with 11 buds. Don got his shovel right away and we traveled the three hours to dig out the rest of it.

'Little John' 1996 Owens Rebert garden
'Little John' was not named for the character in Robin Hood as many people have thought, but for a young man who helped me in my garden who was a John Junior, but his dad called him "Little John." Sadly, he died very young from leukemia, and I asked Don if I could name my favorite iris for him. 'Little John' is a cross of 'Damsel' by 'Queen Dorothy' and since it is half rebloomer it also has produced rebloomers for us, including broken colors. I have seen it growing very well in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and Maryland. I think the best planting was at the garden of Owens Rebert."

'Orchid Dove' 2007 (Lady of Leoness sibling X Uncle Charlie)
 When a dreamy orchid-colored seedling bloomed, Don kept asking Ginny if she could see the dove-blue color in the crests. Hence the name 'Orchid Dove'. It has been reported to grow well wherever they have sent it. At the National Convention in Wisconsin it got the most popular votes for a tall bearded iris out of region.

'My Ginny' 2000 (Sweet Musette x Femme Fatale) X (Winifred Ross x My Katie)
Don was waiting to name an iris after his love, and when the first flower on this seedling opened, his exclamation of joy and surprise was "My Ginny!" Both Don and Ginny love the 'Emma Cook' color pattern.  'My Ginny' won the popular vote at the International Competition in Florence, Italy for a commercial variety and the Franklin Cook Cup at the 2003 National AIS Convention. It grows well all over the U.S.

'Daughter of Stars' 2001 (Clarence X Mindreader)
Photo by Riley Probst
'Daughter of Stars' is another of Don's irises beloved by Ginny. They named it after the local Native American legend about the Shenandoah River, which says the river is so deep and dark that it gave birth to the stars. This iris won the Wister Medal 2007. It grows well all over the country and reblooms in zones 6 through 9.

That takes care of Ginny's favorites hybridized by Don, but what of her own efforts?

'Selah Christine' 2012 (Sariel X Orchid Dove)
Of her own introductions, a great favorite is 'Selah Christine', which is named after Ginny's granddaughter. It has been awarded an Exhibition Certificate (EC) which is the only award an iris can get that is not a garden award, and a High Commendation (HC) for a seedling iris. She has high hopes that it will also do well in most areas.

'Zippo' 2011
Another is 'Zippo', a nearly black SDB (Standard Dwarf Bearded) iris with large pure white beards, is named for Ginny's daughter-in-law's cat, which is black with white paws.

'Velvet Elvis' 2012 ((Cerise Boy x Candy Corn sibling) X self)
A wide, velvety red iris with showy orange beards inspired the name 'Velvet Elvis'. This SDB won an EC as a seedling.

'Autumn Rose' 2008 (Diamond Blush X Chatter)
The striking 'Autumn Rose' reblooms in the autumn.  Ginny crossed Don's beautiful pink rebloomer 'Diamond Blush' and Ghio's dark pink plicata, 'Chatter' (which rebloomed once for them) and got a nice zone 6 rebloomer. Don had told Ginny that if you cross a solid color with a plicata it would intensify the color, and indeed it did. It is a very intense rose pink that stands out in the garden.

When Don and Ginny met at the C&P Iris Society, they each had a large collection of rebloomers. They continue working to produce irises that are multiple rebloomers with modern form, vigor, and exceptional coloration.  I grow two of their irises in Southern California.  MY favorite is 'Plum Pretty Whiskers' which has that gorgeous orchid color of many of their irises.  It is not listed as a rebloomer, but it reblooms in my garden. 

'Plum Pretty Whiskers'
I also recently planted what may be their most famous iris, 'Daughter of Stars', even though I had to create a place in my garden for it.  I couldn't help myself!

Do you grow any Spoon irises?  Do they bloom in your zone?  And are there any irises that you would love to see in a reblooming version?  Let us know here in the comments section.


  1. The pink and rose shades in their irises are just glorious. I don't currently grow any Spoon iris but I will have to remedy that.

    1. Aren't they lovely? These colors could make a gardener pull out their Showbiz roses to make room for more irises.

  2. Intereting post with so many lovely irises. Saw 'Daughters of Stars' in a french iris-catalogue, so I'll try to buy it next year.

    1. It's a beautiful iris and you will be very happy you bought it, Ingmarie.


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