Monday, December 30, 2013

Strong Reblooming Irises Hybridized by Sterling Innerst

Again and Again

by Betty Wilkerson

When you breed for rebloomers, or any specific type of iris, there is a constant search for irises that can contribute to your program.  Several of Sterling Innerst's earlier introductions rebloom in the warmer climates seven through ten.  Most do not give good rebloom in zones 6 or lower. When compared to the total volume of his tall bearded introductions, his contribution to colder climate rebloomers has been limited, but very important.

In the last ten years, or so, of his active hybridizing career, Sterling worked very hard to develop reliable rebloomers.  It takes a while for the good and bad points of rebloomers to become known.  By the time we get the full picture they have been grown in several parts of the country.  Several years ago, I purchased a few of Sterling Innerst irises reported to rebloom in colder zones, below zone 6b. 

'Again and Again' (Innerst 1999) 

Another angle of the same bloom.  
My introduction to ‘Again and Again’ (Innerst 1999) came with a July visit to the Iris Display Garden in Bowling Green KY.  I believe the year was 2005.  It was love at first sight!  The stalk was a bit short and the bloom nestled down near the foliage, but it was awesome, reminding me of white, pale yellow, and light brown tulle that I’d sewn in earlier days.  Simply divine!  I drove home and immediately put in an order for 'Again and Again' from Schreiners.  

Same clump in 2012
Sterling crossed ‘Renown,’ (Lloyd Zurbrigg 1992) reported to be a good cold climate rebloomers, with pollen from Ben Hager’s ‘Anxious.’ This produced ‘Again and Again’ (Innerst 1999) which was the first of a trio of very good rebloomers Sterling introduced.  It is now 15 years old and has been grown throughout the country.  I can only speak for how it has grown in my garden.  The pictures shown here are pictures taken in my garden in the spring of 2010 and 2012. 

When crossed with some of my own, 'Again and Again' produced a couple of rebloomers.  If everything goes well, I will use it more. It's not a perfect rebloomer in my garden, nor has it been a perfect rebloom parent, but it is definitely a good tool.  Do you grow any of Sterling Innerst's irises in your garden?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Classic Hybridizers: Eva Faught

By Mike Unser

Eva Faught was born in Shelbyville, Illinois, in 1888 to John and Eliza Fought (it is unknown why she spelled her last name differently from her parents). She spent her early professional years as a bacteriologist in Springfield, and relocated to Carbondale, IL, when the new offices of the State Department of Health were located there. It was here that she created a garden and started hybridizing with irises. She concentrated mainly on blue and white irises. She introduced irises thru the 1940s and 1950s. In 1955 she traveled abroad to England and then to South Africa, where she visited with her sister. A few years later she retired and moved to Cuernevaca, Mexico, where she built a small home in the style of the Midwest. She passed away in 1978 at the age of 90, having been cared for by an order of Mexican nuns in her final years.

Eva Faught was a very harsh critic of her own creations, and is said to have carried a machete with her during bloom season, ruthlessly slashing varieties to the ground that did not meet her exacting standards. Tho she was a prolific hybridizer and planted out thousands of seedlings each year, she only registered nine varieties from her garden: 'Cahokia' (1948), 'Carbondale' (1954), 'Eva Sloan' (1953), 'Illinois Sunshine' (1949), 'Lavone' (1954), 'Pierre Menard' (1948), 'Roxy' (1954), 'White Chalice' (1957), and 'White Peacock' (1944). It is unknown if the three from 1954 were ever introduced. Illinois Sunshine was a very popular yellow, but it was two of her blues, sister seedlings 'Cahokia' and 'Pierre Menard', that really brought her renown and a well-deserved place in Iris history.

'Cahokia' [above] is simply a perfect flower. It has a complex parentage involving three other classic irises: 'Santa Clara', 'Santa Barbara' and 'Purissima'. Cooley's Gardens catalog described it as: "Large exquisitely formed flowers of light butterfly-blue delicately veined deeper. There is no hint of lavender in the color and the haft is smooth and clean. Bright golden yellow beard." It really is an exceptional shade of blue, and the branching and growth habits are as good as the flowers are beautiful. The blooms are large on tall sturdy stems and often have three open at once. A high bud count keeps it blooming for a good while as well.

Pierre Menard is the name of a fictional author created in a short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. It is also the name of one of the most important irises in the history of the development of our favorite garden flower [above, from Cooley's Gardens catalog for 1959]. 'Pierre Menard' can be found in the background of most of our modern blues because, like 'Cahokia', breeders loved its unique shade of blue and used it extensively in the creation of new varieties. Syllmar Gardens catalog for 1956 described it as: "Very large blooms of medium blue with horizontal falls. Excellent form and outstanding substance. There is a lot of blue to its coloring and the entire flower posses a lovely enamel finish. Good branching and vigorous growth. A really fine iris."

Miss Faught had a shorter career than most in the iris world, but made a very big impact. The development of modern blues would not have been the same without her contributions.

Update: it has been brought to my attention that Pierre Menard was a French fur trapper who became the state of Illinois' first lieutenant governor. Thanks to Keith Keppel for the info!

Thanks to Pam Thompson for genealogical information. Info also from AISB #110 July 1948 and AISB #227 Fall 1978.

Monday, December 16, 2013

SIGNA Seed Exchange Siberians

by Jim Murrain

Kansas City, Missouri gardener Rick Davis had grown Bearded Irises almost exclusively for decades. Shortly after he joined the Greater Kansas City Iris Society he moved to a larger lot in Independence, Missouri. If you live in the Kansas City area and grow Iris you will eventually be asked to help with the Species Iris Group of North America Seed Exchange. 

Rick was asked to help count and package seeds a few years ago. This was his first serious exposure to beardless irises. The second year he helped he joined SIGNA and purchased a variety of seeds. At the end of the shipping season we had a sale on left overs and he purchased a few more.

Rick planted the seeds in tin cans and old flower pots and left them outdoors to let mother nature care for them. As Spring arrived he watered as needed and got good germination on most kinds of irises. Some didn't come up until the following year though.

He had especially good germination on siberian Iris cultivars. They looked like tufts of grass in the pots. When weather permitted he lined them out in a new garden area.

Unlike myself Rick is a keen gardener and kept the weeds at bay and watered the seedlings during dry spells. The photos here are three years old plants grown from those seeds.

While Rick had good flowering on many types of iris I was there at peak siberian season so can share these with you. You can see modern forms and species type like the one below.

I would call this a pink bi-tone.

A near double or six fall seedling.

I especially loved this row where the stalks were over four feet tall.

A soft yellow.

A good 'red' siberian.

A very cute species type flower in palest lavender with darker veins.

Many shades of Iris.

Soft pink with butter yellow styles and golden signals.

Almost a watercolor effect on this seedling.

Dick Davis discussing the garden with a member of the Greater Kansas City Iris Society

Unfortunately last spring was the last full year for Rick's garden. He dug and donated all of his bearded irises to a sale last summer. If he is able to keep the property into spring 2014 we will be selecting and digging beardless irises to move to member gardens. This is rental property and is listed for sale.

It was fun to see the amazing diversity that growing irises from a wide range of sources gave his garden in only a few years and at a minimal cost in plants.

The SIGNA Seed Exchange is arriving in early January and is a great way to add color and variety to your garden with the excitement of being first person to see a new seedling in flower.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Louisiana Irises: Two of my all time favorites!

by Ron Killingsworth

'Hush Money' (Mary Dunn, 1998)
'Hush Money' is one of my "top five" Louisiana irises.  The name -- what state knows more about "hush money" than the State of Louisiana?  The flower -- where could you find a prettier face?

Registered as "stands cream with blue cast; falls cream, raised gold line signal" but displaying so much beyond such a simple description.

Mary Dunn, from California, hybridized some really fantastic Louisiana irises.  She may have resided in CA, but her heart was obviously in "the land of cotton" based on the names she gave her Louisiana iris introductions. Mary registered Louisiana irises with names such as 'Cotton Plantation', 'Land of Cotton', 'Scarlett', 'French Quarter' and many more.

'Hush Money' is one of 128 Louisiana irises named and introduced by Mary,  "one of the most productive and decorated US hybridizers in the last part of the 20th century."

'Hush Money' in the background and 'Queen Jeanne' (Heather Pryor, 2002) in front
To learn more about Mary Dunn and her wonderful Louisiana irises, contact The Society for Louisiana Irises for more information about her and about the many other beautiful "wildflowers" of the State of Louisiana.

'Hush Money'

Another one of my favorite Louisiana irises is 'Heather Pryor' (J. C. Taylor 1993).  Heather is a well know hybridizer from Australia and the iris was named for her by J.C. Taylor.

'Heather Pryor' (J.C. Taylor 1993)
She is registered as "stands cream, veined and flushed pink, rimmed paler, green-yellow signal; falls cream ground, veined and heavily flushed pink toward paler rim, green line signal surrounded by yellow center area; heavily ruffled."  Some parts of a flower just seem to be impossible to properly describe.  As the old saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

'Heather Pryor'

The real Heather has named and introduced over 152 Louisiana irises while J. C. Taylor named and introduced over 190 Louisiana irises.

'Heather Pryor'
I hope you enjoyed two of my favorite Louisiana irises.  With so many pretty faces to chose from, it is difficult to narrow the field, but these two are certainly in my top five.

To learn more about many kinds of irises visit The American Iris Society.

May the force be with you.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Susanne Holland Spicker

Here's Part II of some of my favorite companion plants with my tall bearded irises. I love experimenting with different color combinations in the beds. By combining a variety of companion plants, as well as complimentary, or harmonious combinations of tall bearded irises, the beds provide a nice palette of color, as well as a long bloom season by using early, mid and late bloomers that flower at the same time as other perennials in the gardens. The beds are always a work in progress--I evaluate my beds each year at this time and make changes where I want to replace older varieties with newer iris hybrids or add any favorites from my long "wish list."
I love the colors in this yellow, pink and blue bed:  
Tall bearded irises "Skywalker," "Tulip Festival," "Edith
Wolford," "Aegean Wind,"
and "Out of the Blues" with
companion plants Singing in the Rain Itoh peony, assorted
lupine, hybrid tea rose New Day, clematis Josephine,
assorted pansies and petunias, and herbaceous peony
Mons. Jules Eli. 

The striking colors of tall bearded irises "Salzburg Echo," 
"Spiced Custard," "Supreme Sultan," "Dazzling Gold,"
 "Taco Supreme," "Throb," "Flamenco," "Mulled Wine," 
and "Tiger Honey" with companion plants early gladiola, 
lupine, Bela Lugosi and various daylilies and poppy Harlem

Bold and Beautiful!  Tall bearded irises "Bold Expression," 
"Dreamcake," "Close Up," and "Ringo," with 
companion plants rosy purple pulsatilla, Caribbean 
Crush verbascum, Fascination Hybrid tea rose, 
 poppy, America climbing rose, and lilac
A favorite bed of subtle yellows and blues:  
Tall bearded irises "Good Hope," "Absolute Treasure,"
 "Grecian Skies," "Edith Wolford," "Bertwhistle,"
"Lavender Luck," "Wedding Candles" and "On Edge"
with companion plants assorted pansies, Blue Star 
columbine,yellow, blue and white lupine, Crystal 
Fountain clematis, dwarf Snow Lady daisy, Konigskind 
clematis, tradescantia, High Noon tree peony, 
Silver Beauty Dutch iris, and hybrid tea rose Sunblest

This bed always stands out: Tall bearded irises "Aristocracy,"
 "Artist's Time," "Ever After," and "Bubbling Over" with 
companion plants Elisabeth variegated phlox, pansies, 
single late tulip Don Quixote, heartleaf bergenia, 
Jacob's Ladder, bleeding heart, and assorted pansies

I love these rose and apricot colors together:
Tall bearded irises "Discretion," "Naples," "Mystic's
"Magharee," "Aphrodisiac," and "Role Model," 

with companion plants assorted lupine, and apricot peony

What are some of your favorite combinations?  I'd love to
hear from you!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Missing Class - Dwarf Siberians

By Bob Hollingworth

There is no official definition of “dwarf” for Siberians; such a class does not exist. So I’m creating my own here and saying that anything that typically blooms at 15” or less could be considered a dwarf. That’s about half the height of the average Siberian bloom. Such plants have their own distinct personalities and have a special place towards the front of plantings, so you might think they would be common, but they are not. Dwarf genes are there, so that isn't the major reason for their comparative rarity. Perhaps the lack of a specific size class for dwarfs discourages hybridizers since these petite plants are less imposing than the standard sizes and tend to get overlooked when it comes to awards. This would not happen if we had a dwarf or even a median class for Siberians.

In general, the requirements for a good dwarf Siberian are the same as those for the bigger brothers – attractive flowers, placed so they are viewable separate from foliage, good vigor, and flowers appropriately sized to maintain the balance between plant and flower, which means smaller flowers (2-3 inches across). An example that seems to violate these principles in terms of flower placement and size is the recently described I. sanguinea tobataensis from Japan. Actually it has been known there for a considerable period of time but because of its peculiar flowering habit was not considered to be a Siberian. As you can see, the flowers are full size and held on stems 4-6” high. Since the foliage is 12-18” high they do not present themselves well. In other words these are normal flowers on a very short stem. So this seems to be more a curiosity than an ideal dwarf plant, but one that may be of interest to a hybridizer looking for short Siberians genes.

I. sanguinea tobataensis
A plant that better meets the above requirements is an old favorite, I. sibirica nana alba (an unfortunate name since it is more likely a sanguinea) which flowers at 12-15" over short, broad foliage. It’s origins are murky, being first listed by Perry in 1940. It once graced many gardens, but I haven’t seen it recently. Does someone out there have it still? I expect it has not disappeared because it was a capable grower.

I. sibirica nana alba (Photo courtesy of Greg McCullough)
Another cultivar perfectly fitting the non-existent dwarf class is Currier McEwen’s “Baby Sister” (1986, 6”).

"Baby Sister" (McEwen, 1986:  Photo courtesy of Jim Wilson)
The very small scattering of current “dwarves” in commerce seem to have often come about by accident rather than design e.g. Steve Varner’s flat, lavender and cream “Precious Doll” (1988, 12-14“) comes from parents that are not themselves short, as does the yellow amoena “My Little Sunshine" (Schafer-Sacks, 2012, 15").
"My Little Sunshine" (Schafer-Sacks, 2012)

The only person I know of who is currently focusing on breeding dwarf Siberians is Bill Dougherty in Minnesota. His “Summerchase Advent” (2007, 10") derived from “Baby Sister” is a fine dwarf white. You can see some of his more recent dwarf seedlings on his blog

"Summerchase Advent" (Dougherty, 2007)
I make a cross between short irises once in a while, but without a highly focused program. Here’s our 05R10B2, a seedling from “Precious Doll” and blooming at 12-14”,  that is being evaluated along with some siblings for maintenance of dwarf form and vigor. One hazard of breeding for dwarf forms is that sometimes they grow up and out of “class” with time or in different locations. This was often noted by Currier McEwen who suggested that some of his small ones should be lifted and divided every few years to preserve their diminutive size. However, the ideal dwarf iris really should not need this to maintain its miniature characteristics.
Hollingworth Seedling 05R10B2
In 1981, Currier in his “Siberian Irises” commented “there is a particular need for more miniatures with small flowers on low plants in the full range of colors and forms.” This is just as true over 30 years later. The potential to achieve this is there and advances could occur quite rapidly. It would be an excellent hybridizing goal waiting for someone with limited space and time, and a desire to create something that barely exists at this time.

If anyone else is breeding dwarves as an objective, it would be interesting to know  Please post a comment below.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hybridizer Profile: Chad Harris of Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm

By Renee Fraser

The highest award given to a Japanese iris (Iris ensata) is the Payne Medal, and this year it was awarded to the iris "Bewitching Twilight" by this column's featured hybridizer, Chad Harris of Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm in Washington State.  

Chad describes himself as a natural gardener with no formal training.   He is a fanatic for form, structure, and texture of the plant in whole.  For Chad,  "the bloom is just the icing on the cake.  I am a nut for the textural form of a plant, that is the way that I have landscaped the last two homes.  I think first what shape, color of leaf, how tall and wide the plant gets at maturity.  Then I think on bark, berries, flowers, fragrance, and the timing of each as a visual point in the garden.  Also you have to think about sun, water, and soil, and with this information your plant list for a particular spot can be narrowed down.  Mind you that this starts with the skyline, and canopy of the trees. So you can see that I shop for a plant to fill a spot, I don't buy a plant and try to figure out were to plant it."  

Excellent advice for all gardeners.  And look at the results!
Garden of Chad Harris
Garden of Chad Harris

As Chad points out, Iris ensata has two different foliage forms, upright and fountain, and so it is well-suited to many different garden needs.

As is the case with so many of us, Chad's early interest in irises was encouraged by his grandparents.  He visited public gardens with his grandmothers, and there he was exposed to the exotic Japanese irises. Years later he searched everywhere for this plant to use in landscaping a home garden, recalling that they would add much needed upright grass-like texture, as well as bloom between the spring Rhododendrons and the summer Roses and Fuchsias. That long summer search thirty years ago (before the Internet!) finally led him to Aitken’s Salmon Creek Gardens.  Terry Aitken did not sell Japanese Irises, but he kindly gave him one named variety and two seedlings by Walter Marx, and he referred Chad to another irisarian growing this elusive iris- Lorena Reid.  

After these visits to iris farms, and with the instruction of Terry and Lorena, Chad began to dab pollen using the irises he grew in his small city garden.  After a few Iris Conventions, he progressed from dabb(l)ing to developing a hybridizing program with goals.  Chad's first goals were focused on the extension of the bloom time, by using very early blooming plants and plants that bloom for a long time with good sequence, where a bloom shrivels up and gets out of the way before the next bud starts to open.  Chad believes this to be a very desirable trait that hybridizers and growers should watch for. 

Chad says " ‘Pleasant Earlybird,’ (1996) though simple in flower form, was one of my first introductions that conforms to these ideals. When grown well it has a very early bloom and a long continuation with one to two branches, carrying five to seven buds per stem."  He notes that "this plant in the cool NW marine climate can be in color for four to five weeks." 
'Pleasant Earlybird'

‘Coho’ (2005) was also introduced for its early bloom season, with five to seven buds per stem.  Personally, I am smitten with this pure pink, a color hard to come by in the more common tall bearded irises.

Chad moved from the city to a country farm 18 years ago, which gave him the space to be able to expand his hybridizing goals.  He has been working on an ever-blooming Iris ensata for cooler coastal climates.  Although he has had success with seedlings that would bloom all summer and fall until the killing freeze of winter, the blooms were contorted and would not open properly.  He  "out crossed" to a different line, and by 2012, good flower form and summer-long bloom resulted!  Chad cautions that "only time in the garden will tell if these plants will be introduced as garden-worthy reblooming plants."  
007JB/07JBa Seedlings

Iris ensata comes in many flower forms, and one that Chad has worked on with great success is the nine to twelve fall or peony form (my favorite!).
‘Blushing Snowmaiden’ 2000
‘Amethyst Actress’ 2009
'Amethyst’s Sister’ 2012

He has also expanded his breeding program to include a multi-style arm form.  ‘Angelic Choir’ 2006, ‘Artesian Spring’ 2010, and 'Dalle Whitewater’ 2010, have been introduced, and he has several seedlings which are also being "lined out" for possible introduction.   Chad finds this form very pleasing:  "the full round six fall flower form is very much enhanced by a tight cluster of style arms in the center of the bloom creating a pom-pom, instead of the normal three open style arms." 
'Angelic Choir’
‘Artesian Spring’
'Dalle Whitewater’

Chad likes all of the flower forms, and he has also worked with plants that have three falls, sometimes called a single flower. ‘Freckled Peacock’ 2002, ‘Cascade Rain’ 2008, and seedling that is being watched for introduction (from the 08JD cross) that is a rich mid-blue self are below.  Just look at that blue!
‘Freckled Peacock’
‘Cascade Rain’
08JD cross

Chad says "perhaps one of the hardest things is to come up with is a new flower color. I am attempting to bring a soft cream yellow into the bloom, not unlike Dr. McEwen’s Siberian ‘Butter and Sugar’‘Bewitching Twilight’ 2000, was the first to show this, however, it only does this when the sun is weak like here in the Pacific Northwest.  Each generation has been getting brighter creams in the style arms. What is intriguing me is the fact that the yellow signal is starting to bleed down the falls, thus creating a wash of cream. I am also starting to observe this coloring on the undersides of the falls."  
'Bewitching Twilight'
Creamy yellow seedlings

For further novelty in color, Chad is also working with the rayed pattern (when the veins are lighter than the falls) both in the blue-violet and the red-violet color tones that Iris ensata is known for. 
'Sunrise Ridge' 2007; 08JE/09JL Seedling

Chad is also beginning to breed new species of irises, including Iris laevigata and Species-X.

Iris laevigata is related to Iris ensata, and it is also a water-loving iris.  Chad finds that it can have lower water needs in the garden than Iris ensata, however.  He believes this may be due to the rhizome growth of Iris laevigata, which is more horizontal (enabling it to send out roots to new soils).  Chad points out that the rhizome of Iris laevigata is also twice to three times the size of Iris ensata and probably able to hold more moisture during dry periods.  Blooming a month before Iris ensata, Iris laevigata, like Iris ensata, comes in both the red-violet and blue-violet tones along with Alba or white.

In 2012, Mt Pleasant Iris Farm introduced its first laevigata, a breathtaking flower called ‘Lakeside Ghost’.   ‘Blue Rivulets’, introduced in 2013, has striking blue veins on a white ground.  Others are dark reds, 07LAK2, bright blues, 07LAK4, very wide whites, 07LAL2, and a six fall white, 02LA2, that has the upright bloom stem (02LA2 plant) habit that Chad is working for in this Asian species of iris.  Look at the statement made by that clump!
‘Lakeside Ghost’
‘Blue Rivulets’
02LA2 Clump

Another exciting development is Chad's work with a new Species-X plant that has lovely lime green foliage.   Chad says that "in the Pacific Northwest with our weak spring sun, we have found that these Species-X plants have very bright yellow foliage due to the lack of chlorophyll.  Being a foliage gardener myself I find that these plants are beautiful in and out of bloom, and will work wonderfully in the NW landscape with our dark gray spring skies. The down side is that most of the plants burn badly with our first strong summer sun, usually in mid-July. They do, however, eventually grow out of this burn stage with light lime-green foliage, but look bad for a good two weeks.   There are a very few (one in one hundred to two hundred) that do not burn, it is these plants that we will be looking at to possibly introduce in the near future.  Our thanks to Dr. Shimizu of Japan for finding ‘Gubijin’ that will cross with Iris ensata."   

I know that I usually get the hybridizer to choose a favorite flower, but Chad could not decide, so he chose a favorite cross.  Since he likes to share his results with others, this was a great idea.  His favorite cross in thirty years is 'Night Angel' x 'Frosted Intrigue'."   Here are the gorgeous results of that cross, reading from left to right, top to bottom:  'Artesian Spring', 'Columbia Deep Water', Seedling 02JC13, Seedling 08JE1, 'Dalle Whitewater', Seedling 08JE, and Seedling 08JE d.

Do Iris ensata grow in your zone?  Which of these beauties would you most like to try?  Or perhaps you would like to see more.  If so, you can see and read more at and at the Society for Japanese Irises website.