Monday, February 18, 2013

Extreme Hybridizing with Margie Valenzuela

By Renee Fraser

Anyone who googles for irises or visits the popular gardening site Dave's Garden is familiar with Margie Valenzuela's photographs of irises.  She has spent countless hours photographing, commenting on, and posting thousands of her exceptional photographs for the benefit of complete strangers all across the Internet.  She typifies the democratic promise of this new technology and the selflessness of its best contributors. The American Iris Society World of Irises is proud to welcome her to its team of guest bloggers.  Look for her first post in March.  Meanwhile, let's continue our series of posts on avocational hybridizers and their very favorite iris introductions with Margie's work.

Although it is hard to believe by looking at her, Margie Valenzuela  began growing irises 33 years ago.  (At age 10, In the early 1960’s, she won the JFK Physical Fitness Award.  It still shows.) After she moved into her first home, she got a lovely surprise:  two purple and white flowers bloomed that spring.  Then one fateful day she walked into a shopping mall smack-dab into hundreds of irises of every imaginable color.  She was smitten by the iris virus, and determined to create new colors and patterns of irises. She began dabbing pollen in 1996; saw her first seedlings bloom in 1998; and introduced her first iris in 2007.

Growing irises is quite a perilous undertaking even under normal circumstances, but Margie takes it to a new level.  She grows the irises in her backyard and the adjoining steep hill, which are infested with rattlesnakes, coyotes, the occasional jaguar or mountain lion, scorpions,  javelina (wild pigs), and -if she's out at night- tarantulas.  Not to mention the wily wabbits!

She lives in Arizona, near the border with Mexico, where the climate is desert-like and dry most of the year, except for a few months of the summer during the monsoons.  Over the last few years the monsoons brought high humidity and higher temperatures as well as the afternoon thunderstorms, so Margie faces  extreme climates with extreme temperatures: 117 degrees for highs, and as low as 15 degrees without snow for lows.  As you might imagine, it's a challenge to keep irises alive at all.

Margie has a hard time choosing her favorite iris introductions.  Many have outstanding growth, great patterns, interesting and unique qualities, and a few are dependable rebloomers.  She was willing to close her eyes and choose a few for the purpose of this article, though, and starts off her list with 'Grand Canyon Gold', which has the 4-4-4 factor of 4 standards, 4 falls, and 4 beards evenly and properly spaced on the top flower of each stalk.  Consistently!  She notes "there’s never an odd number:  that top bud (if it’s displayed) is always in 4’s.  A clump of these is quite impressive.  I’ve discovered this trait shows up best in the plant if the rhizomes are planted in virgin soil, and/or in soil that is fertilized often. Weather conditions do not seem to matter."

'Grand Canyon Gold' 2007

Margie cheats a little here- her second choice is her plicatas as a group.  She says "the variety of plicatas that one can create is amazing!  Every one I’ve introduced is stunning in its own way: all are vigorous, dependable, and have great branching."

'Easter Wonder' 2008

'Birthday Magic' 2009

'Hidden Gem'  2009

'Vance George' 2010

With 'Calizona Gold' Margie honored the recent American Iris Society Convention of the same name.  "It’s so bright and bold that it’s a beacon of light in the garden.  It also has the 'lines and speckles' pattern in red which enhances the flower.  Substance on this flower is so stiff that it keeps its shape without any ‘melting’ in 100 degree heat. Great branching, great vigor, nice ruffles on semi-flaring falls."

'Calizona Gold'  2012

Margie's final choice is  'My Little Wagon', a near-red with hints of orange.  "It has the common form, yet it is so vibrant in the garden, year after year, and so vigorous. It has a way of drawing attention to itself and it knows how to put on a show." 

'My Little Wagon'  2012

Margie says that 2013 is a great year for her: "My introductions were not what I wanted... they were more than I had hoped for!"  

'Sunrise at Dawn' 2013

'Healthy Living' 2013

What does the future hold?  Margie enjoys making ‘wide crosses’ (crosses between plants that are not closely related),  "though I do plan my crosses with much thought. Too often an unexpected color pattern, or depth of color, or moving color happens by chance.  Some ultimately don’t make the cut, and some reselects can’t deal with the excess of desert critters and temperature extremes here to survive to introduction.  I look for uniqueness, vigor, form, substance, branching (in most cases), and overall good health of the plant.  I do have a few goals, but I keep those to myself, that way if I don’t ever achieve my goals, no one will know but me!"

With her angelic personality and deeply held religious beliefs, Margie is quite suitably considering taking up the harp.  If she learns to play nearly as well as she hybridizes, there will be a little more heaven on earth.


  1. Richly illustrated! A nice introduction to the hybridizer of some of our most exquisite irises.

  2. Such outstanding irises. Really, really lovely.

  3. What an amazing lady - I do admire her. Here in Australia with our hot summers and dry conditions I do have a small understanding of what she has to deal with. But all those other nasties!!! Oh dear, my iris growing sounds very tame! Your iris look magic - congratulations Margie. And thank you Renee for a personable article - much enjoyed.

  4. Beautiful pictures. Stay busy and stay young!

  5. Thanks for this outstanding article, Renee! Now tell us where we can find Margie's fabulous iris varieties?

    Patty S.

  6. One source of Margie's intros is Nola's Iris Garden at
    There are some nice photos of Margie with her intros on this page as well.

    I will check with Margie for other sources.

    1. Margie says Nola’s may have more of her intros than what appears on the website, so you can call if you don't see what you want. In particular she may have "Grand Canyon Gold" available.

      Rocky Top Gardens in Tennessee will be offering “Calizona Gold” this year, as well as 3 of Margie's new introductions.

      ‘Kari Iris Garden’ located in Scottsdale, AZ is another source for some of Margie's irises from 2008 thru 2012 including “Calizona Gold”.


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