Monday, January 28, 2013

Exploring the Mysteries of Bloom Season & Height: The Historics

By Mike Unser

One of the first things anyone beginning to research historic bearded irises is confronted with is the often contradictory designations about the classification of varieties by size and/or bloom season. It is difficult enough to get an idea of these terms in just the bearded iris realm, but it is even more confusing when you realize that other species may conform to their own definitions. For the next several weeks we'll be exploring the different aspects of these topics here on World Of Irises, and I'd like to start by clearing up a little confusion for those new to historic bearded irises.

When the American Iris Society was first formed in 1920 one of the first major projects they instigated was a census of all the literature regarding irises, which was used to create a Checklist of all known cultivars to that date. This was a years long undertaking of Ethel Anson S. Peckham first published in 1929 and remains the premiere work of its type in irises. This, along with registering new cultivars, was an attempt to bring order to a chaotic situation, to sort out authentically named varieties from impostors, as well as to bring worthy varieties with correct names to prominence and to document their parentage in order to bring organized principles to the improvement of the genus. In 1939 a revised and updated Checklist was published that built on the earlier work and expanded it enormously. It is an invaluable tool for anyone interested in the history of garden irises, and we owe Mrs. Peckham a great deal of gratitude.

One of the first things one will notice when comparing current glossaries with the original checklist is that the designations for bearded irises fall into just three classes: dwarf (DB), intermediate (IB) and tall (TB). This continues into the 1949 Checklist. With the 1959 Checklist we finally see the classifications we are currently used to: the dwarfs have been split into Miniature Dwarf Bearded (MDB) and Standard Dwarf Bearded (SDB), IB is still there with some alteration, Miniature Tall Bearded (MTB) and Border Bearded (BB) are new, and with TB still at the end but not with the same in definition as before. Bob Pries wrote in a recent article in Flags:
TBs were defined in 1939 as irises over 17 inches tall and Dwarfs were up to and including seventeen inches. Of course the Dwarfs had not yet been split into miniature dwarfs and standard dwarfs. The median classes, of MTB, BB, and IB did not quite exist between 17 and 27½ inches. I say not quite because the talls of the time were also sorted by bloom time with the class of IB. But IB, or intermediate bearded referred to bloom time and did not have a sharp cut-off of 27½ inches.
And that is where the confusion mainly comes in - Intermediate Bearded originally referred to season of bloom, not height or size. The first crosses between dwarfs and talls resulted in varieties of all heights that mainly bloomed after the dwarfs and before the talls, and that is what was used to distinguish the different classes. In the 1950's the AIS instigated a further division and reclassification into the current model, using not only bloom time but height, bloom size and other attributes to determine how a variety was to be classed. Now, IBs need to not only bloom between the dwarfs and the talls, but have an ideal range for height, bloom size and other attributes as well. The dwarfs and talls have similarly been broken down into more specific classifications. In the early 1960's older varieties were reclassed in a new Median Iris Checklist to bring them into as close of conformity as could be determined to the new model.

All of these changing definitions can be very confusing for someone new to the history of irises to sort out, but once this basic timeline and 'definition drift' has been taken into account we can better make use of the published materials that are so important to the historic iris enthusiast.

The following are a few examples of some historic irises that have been reclassified from their original designations into our modern system of designation.

One of the most widely grown irises that has been reclassified is 'Sans Souci' (Van Houtte, 1854), one of the many sports of 'Honorabile', a variety with proven hardiness and a penchant for throwing out sports of its own. 'Sans Souci' had been classed as a Tall Bearded variety originally, but is now listed as a Miniature Tall Bearded. Oddly, 'Honorabile', to which it is identical in all respects but color expression and tone, was originally classed as an IB. All the sports in this family are now classed as MTBs.

'Titmouse' (Williamson, 1934), was originally classed as an Intermediate Bearded iris, but has also been moved to the ranks of the MTBs.

Grace Sturtevant's lovely little 'Tid-Bit' (1925) is an example of a variety formerly listed as a dwarf Bearded that has moved on up to MTB as well.

Three irises originally in different classes, now sharing the same designation. Is it any wonder folks get confused when researching historic irises? The new designations are not always a perfect fit, but they are the best we can do with varieties that were never created to conform to our current standards. In upcoming posts our other authors will explore how bloom season and height designations are treated in the median and tall bearded classes currently, as well as how these are classed in other iris species. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dallas 2013 AIS Convention

By Andi Rivarola

The American Iris Society is holding its Annual Convention in Dallas, Texas, April 15 - 20, 2013 hosted by the Iris Society of Dallas.

If you have never been to an iris convention, this is an awesome chance to be in iris heaven for almost a week, featuring eight wonderful iris gardens in Dallas and the North Texas area:

• Addison Garden
• Brown Garden
• Burseen Garden
• Carver Garden
• Clark Garden
• Dallas Arboretum
• Nichols Garden
• Thompson Garden

Plus two private gardens
McDowell Garden
Perry Garden

Full registration discounts apply right now, but not after February 1st. Take advantage of advance registration. Please go to the 2013 AIS Convention website to find more details, schedule of events, more pictures and a registration form you can download and mail.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Iris Gardens on San Jose's Bird Avenue

By Bryce Williamson

The history of selling irises to the public in the Santa Clara Valley has a long and illustrious past. There have always been gardens selling irises here.  When I first joined the Clara B. Rees Iris Society, Faye and Othellia Scofield gardened in East San Jose selling irises and herbaceous peonies.  (I was remiss in not learning how they were able to grow peonies, and  all of my efforts have been expensive failures.) By the time I became fully involved in irises, most of the serious iris gardens were found on Bird Avenue in the Willow Glen area.

Clara and Ruth Rees had been growing irises on Bird Avenue since the 1930's and it became a natural extension for Ruth to sell to the public. For many years, her collection of 6 pinks for $5.00 for a standard ad in the San Jose Mercury News around Mother's Day. To get to the gardens, we walked through the small back yard and through a gate with its towering old rose bush. The garden was divided into a series of rooms separated by lattice work. That had the advantage of adding an element of surprise--fixed firmly in my mind is the day I walked beyond one room and into the next, to find a beautiful stalk of 'Swan Ballet'.

To the south was the “field.” Unlike today when most commercial growers reset all their plants each year, varieties in the Rees garden were grown in clumps—here was my first viewing of such classic irises as 'Cliffs of Dover', 'Amigo', and there was always a drift of 'Snow Flurry' in the garden.
'Cliffs of Dover'

'Snow Flurry'

Rees creations include these two irises:

'Light and Lovely' Rees

'Waltzing' Rees 

Bernice Roe was a late addition to Bird Avenue. While the Rees business was mainly carriage trade, Bernice, in my memory, only advertised once for local business and relied on her catalog instead. At one time she sold irises, chrysanthemums, and geraniums on King Road in East San Jose. I've been told that one of her red chrysanthemums was widely used and is a foundation parent for many red varieties in commerce today.  She hybridized some real beauties.

'Soft Contrast' Roe

'Velvet Morning' Roe
Bernice's Bird Avenue house was a gem—apparently built by a craftsman, it had a full basement and attic and special features including windows that dropped out of sight and finish boards that hinged over the unsightly casements. Bernice was always interested in all types of irises—her very good collection of Spurias were against the fences.  She was always finding some new and exotic plant for her yard.

'Fountainflow' Roe

The final iris garden on Bird Avenue was Bill Maryott and Marilyn Harlow's place. Bill purchased one deep lot south of the Rees place and the house next door that had been the Rees field. In many ways, Bill's nursery was the most successful carriage trade garden ever in the valley. Around Mother's Day, cars and visitors would clog the streets for blocks around the garden. Bill, in his limited space, was able to create lovely irises. Bill wisely realized the potential of Knopf's 'West Coast' and used it with great success in creating his oranges. Personally I think his orange line will be his most enduring legacy to the iris world, although 'That's All Folks' has been his biggest award winner.  Bill relocated first to Freedom, California, and then went on to make a successful transition from iris to daylily hybridizing.

'That's All Folks' Maryott Photo by Betty Jacobs

Spring in Maryott's Garden

'Guadalupe' Maryott

'Corona Gold' Maryott
'Pure As Gold' Maryott
Recently I took a ride down memory lane on Bird Avenue. The Rees home is gone, though Bill and Marilyn's house is still there. What was once iris fields has become Iris Court, a street of million dollar homes, and one of the models is called 'Snow Flurry'. Bernice's old house remains, much to my delight, but the backyard has been paved over.  The railroad tracks that ran along the western back of the Maryott-Harlow and Rees properties have been pulled up and there is debate as to what to do with the narrow strip of land. One suggestion has was to turn it into an urban linear parkway with a path for exercise and biking and connect it to the larger trail system that now stretched from Morgan Hill to the bay. Wouldn't it be nice if irises were planted there?

The carriage trade sales of irises have now shifted to the eastern foothills where Nola's Iris Garden is located. Here are the last places in the increasing dense Valley of Heart's Delight where there is room to have a large iris garden.

Nola's Iris Garden in the rolling foothills

If you visit the Willow Glen area and drive past Bird Avenue, close your eyes and imagine the iris farms that used to grace the area.  Perhaps if you concentrate enough, you will smell the perfume that used to waft in the air.

Monday, January 14, 2013


    Along with James Waddick, I am co-chair of the Species Iris Group of North America (SIGNA) Seed Exchange. Every year we accept, ask, and beg for donations of Iris seeds. While we prefer to get species and species crosses, being a fund raiser, we welcome any Iris seed. Every year we are amazed by the number of rare and unusual Iris seeds that are donated. There are usually a few that are impossible to acquire any way other than by growing from SIGNA seed donations.

    As the seed arrives we make note of the species, cultivar, location, and donor. Once we think all or most have arrived we assign a number to each package of seed. Most packages have far fewer than a hundred seeds, but quite a few have several hundred, while some even have thousands of seeds. We have thought about offering a few kinds by the pound!

    We have seed of all kinds of irises, from bearded and beardless iris, to crested and bulbous, desert and water species, even miniature and giant irises. There is something for every garden.

    Once all packages of seed have numbers we can begin to create a list. I believe several donors must be doctors as their hand writing can be a challenge to decipher. Once the list is complete we send it to SIGNA's editors for publication and to SIGNA's web master to prepare for internet offerings. 

    The next task may sound easy but it is the one I most dread. Printing thousands of labels for the seed packets. Most years we print around six thousand labels! Then we must separate them and pair with the correct package of seeds.

    The entire house is given over to seed counting and re-packaging. A 'spare' bedroom becomes the heart of the operation. Thankfully, members of The Greater Kansas City Iris Society and The Pony Express Iris Society volunteer to help every year. Counting is done in the dining room. Here Ken and Rita Kieff are working diligently away, along with others.

    And in the living room, L to R; Debbie and Scott Hughes, Chuck Robinson, GKCIS President Brian Chadwick-Robinson, and James Waddick. I miss my living room this time of year!

    Finally, boxes of Iris seed ready to send to anxious members of SIGNA. You must be a member of SIGNA to order seeds, but we allow anyone to join at the time of placing an order. Donors will get preference in fulfilling orders as both a thank you and to encourage them to donate again.

    Packets have a minimum of four healthy looking seeds but most have many more. Quite a few have as many seeds as will fit in the glassine envelopes we use. In addition to Iris, there are many seeds of other members of the Iris family such as Geissorhiza, Herbertia, and Moraea. The list will be posted at later this week if you are interested in seeing the variety available.

    Have you grown irises from seed?  I encourage you to join SIGNA and try growing a wide variety of Iris.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Louisiana Iris Gardens: Beauty on the Water

By Ron Killingsworth

I love visiting gardens during the iris bloom season, and I always take numerous photographs.  It's hard to take bad photographs when you are visiting gardens during the conventions of the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI).  Here are a few photos from the past to show you what is in store for you if you decide to attend a convention in the future.

You will see creative ways to incorporate irises into the landscape.

Garden in Ringgold, LA, SLI convention tour

Some gardens are right on the bayous!  You can see the water behind the attendees.  As you can see, Louisiana irises work well with other garden flowers.

Back yard garden in Lafayette, LA, SLI convention garden tour

New iris introductions are often on view in the gardens.

LA Iris 'Splitter Splatter' (Grieves, D. R 2004) growing in Palm Bay, FL

Louisiana Iris 'Donna Wolford' (Pryor, H 2004) growing in Palm Bay, FL

LA Iris 'Frenchmen Street' (O'Connor, P 2002) growing in NW LA

LA Iris 'Wow Factor' (Pryor, H 2001) growing in Palm Bay, FL

Of course, water features, ponds, and rivers abound:

Garden on a large pond with LA irises in Ringgold, LA

Garden with a stream and LA irises in Ringgold, LA

LA Irises growing on Caddo Lake, Mooringsport, LA

LA Irises growing on Caddo Lake in Mooringsport, LA, with bald cypress tress in background

LA Irises growing around the "Rock Pond" with Caddo Lake in background

LA Irises at the "Koi Pond" at Plantation Point Nursery, Mooringsport, LA

Weeping Willow and other plants in our side garden

And best of all, conventions are great opportunities for meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends.

My Aunt Adell Tingle, who loved flowers, standing in a sea of LA irises in Lafayette, LA

Me, my sister Bobbie, Donna Wolford, Dick Sloan and Harry Wolford - a bunch of "iris nuts"

I hope you have enjoyed viewing these as much as I enjoyed seeing them in person.  Moreover, I hope to see you at a convention in the near future.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you the best in the New Year.