Monday, March 25, 2013

The Korean Iris by Jim Murrain

    Of course it's not the only Iris species native to the Korean peninsula but it is the only Iris named for Korea. Iris koreana is a bright little thing. If you are looking for a small Iris that is not too small, and not too large, Iris koreana is just right. The leaves are wide enough that it won't be mistaken for grass but narrow enough to be in perfect proportion to the stalk and flowers. It also remains semi-evergreen so you needn't fret about finding it come spring.

    A clean bright yellow with no brassy tones it shines in the garden. In a lightly shaded bed or maybe morning sun and afternoon shade it will reliably perform its dance. At about seven inches in flower it remains dainty but the strong color of the flowers make sure you will notice it when in bloom. In Kansas City it flowers with the MDBs, Miniature Dwarf Bearded irises.

    Iris koreana is a recent introduction to North America. Darrell Probst first collected it in 1997 on the South Korean shore of the East China Sea. It is related to the tiny Iris minutoaurea which flowers at only three inches but shares its big sisters bright color. Although equally easy to grow it is also easy to lose in the garden because it is so tiny.

    Joe Pye Weed's Garden has introduced a vigorous and free flowering form of Iris koreana named 'Firefly Shuffle'. With heavy bloom and consistent increase you will soon be able to share this "just right" iris with your friends. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Exploring the Mysteries of Bloom Season & Height: The Louisianas

By Ron Killingsworth

Recent posts have discussed the history of classifying irises by bloom time and the related issue of height, along with the change in naming the different types of irises (here).   Now we shall discuss Louisiana (LA) irises.  Their full season is about a month and a half to two months.  The season begins during the end of the Tall Bearded iris bloom season and continues for two to three weeks afterward, so they are a great season extender if you love irises. In Louisiana, the New Orleans area starts the show with bloom beginning the first of April. In the NW part of Louisiana they bloom from mid-April to mid-May. In upper state New York they bloom in late June.

LA iris bloom time designations include early, mid and late season.  Early bloomers normally bloom the first two to three weeks of the season, followed by mid season blooms from three to six weeks and then finally the late bloomers from six weeks to finish. There are some LA irises that are registered as blooming somewhere between these designations- such as mid-late and early-mid-season.  Some are registered as VL for very late in the season.  The time of the season in which the particular cultivar blooms is determined by the person registering the iris, and that depends on where they live and when bloom time begins in that area.  So there is no hard-and-fast rule about when LA irises will bloom in your neck of the woods.

'Clyde Redmond' is a dependable early bloomer.
'Clyde Redmond' (Charles Arny - 1970)   Mary Swords DeBallion Award 1974

'Miss Gertie's Bonnet' is a mid-season bloomer.

'Miss Gertie's Bonnet' (Dormon Haymon -1999)  

The popular and widely distributed iris  'Black Gamecock' blooms very late in the season.

'Black Gamecock' (Frank Chowning 1978)  

Of the 2400 or so registered LA irises, 526 are registered as early season, 309 are registered as early-mid season, 1423 are registered as mid season, 415 are registered as mid to late season, and 104 are registered as late season.

The only problem bloom season causes for me is when I want to hybridize a late blooming LA iris with an early blooming LA iris. I can save pollen from the early bloomer and cross it to the late bloomer but it is almost impossible to save pollen from the late bloomer to use on an early bloomer the following year.  Most late blooming LA irises have the species iris brevicaulis in their genealogy and many of these late bloomers display a characteristic of iris brevicaulis - a tendency to bloom down in the foliage. 'Black Gamecock' is a late bloomer and it often has blooms deep within the foliage, which also tends to fall over when the bloom stem is heavily loaded with blooms - another characteristic of iris brevicaulis.

How are LA irises measured and how tall are they?   They have a wide range of heights, measured from the rhizome to the top of the bloom stem.  'Black Gamecock' is registered as 24".  'Little Rock Skies' (F. Chowning 1978) is another late bloomer and is registered as 28".

'Little Rock Skies' (Frank Chowning 1978)  Late bloomer registered as 28"

Among the most useful and garden-worthy characteristics of LA irises is their diversity of size.  Unlike bearded irises, which are divided into many size divisions, all LA irises are entered into the same division in iris shows.  That is why they are always placed on a very low table or directly on the floor of the show room.  Judges are then faced with some varieties that are as small as 24" as well as some varieties that are as tall as the judges!

In a quick search, I found 81 LA irises registered at 24-30".  I found two registered at 60".  But I have seen LA irises taller than me at 76"!  These are usually the species iris giganticaerulea.  

Benny Trahan and Pat Norvell with Iris Giganticaerula found in the marshes of south LA

Most modern hybrids of LA irises range from 30 to 50". The beauty of such a wide height range is you can plant irises of smaller size in front of irises that tend to be taller.  By also choosing the irises by bloom season, you can have early tall bloomers in the back of your iris beds and late blooming shorter irises in the front of your beds.

Remember that the bloom season listed on the registration is determined by the person registering the iris based on experience in his or her part of the country.  The iris may not bloom at exactly the same time in your part of the country, so you may want to take that into account when you are planning out your garden.  And don't forget that LA irises do not need to be planted in ponds, they do well in most garden conditions as long as they have adequate water.

You can learn more about LA irises at Society for Louisiana Irises.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Companion Planting with Irises: Thornbird

By Renee Fraser

Irises became my favorite flower because they are so difficult to kill. Once I began gardening in earnest, and learned how not to kill a wider variety of plants, color coordination and bloom time became important considerations. I am still a novice at companion planting in the garden, but Susanne Spicker, our newest blogger here on the AIS World of Irises, is an old hand at it. Her background in interior design and her natural flair for color make her a master at companion planting, so I asked her to come up with some ideas for a few irises that can be difficult to work with in the garden.

Our first iris for this series is the award winning space-ager 'Thornbird'.  Space-agers are irises in which the beard grows away from the flower fall. They can grow appendages such as flounces or spoons. 'Thornbird' also has a color you either love or hate: sort of a yellowy beige with a purplish cast to it.  It is a tough iris to work with in the garden, despite its many awards, including an Honorable Mention in 1991; an Award of Merit in 1993; the Wister Medal in 1996; and the American Dykes Medal in 1997. 

'Thornbird' Byers, 1989  Photo by Susanne Spicker

Susanne puts violets and purples with 'Thornbird' to exquisite effect. The violet companion plants bring out the purply overlay of Thornbird's falls and beard.  From top left in the photo below she uses: clematis Jackmanii, 'Thornbird', allium Giant Gladiator, gladiola Green Star, pansy Giant Rose Series, tall bearded iris 'Boysenberry Buttercup' with 'Thornbird', lilac President Grevy, pulsitillia, columbine yellow McKanna Giant, tall bearded iris 'County Cork', and tall bearded iris 'Master Touch'. All of these plants bloomed in her Utah garden during the iris bloom period. Susanne plants glads every two weeks to be sure she has plenty for cutting and for complementing her irises.

Purple works just as well with this iris. Here Susanne shows the same companion irises along with peonies, pansies, and lupines with the star of the show.

I like to use a dominant color in my beds, since I am a bit color-challenged.  This is a plan I have for a silver and gold bed using blue fescue, baumea rubiginosa 'variegata' (that spiky grass in the center photo), dusty miller, bunnytail grass, and artemisia.  I first saw the combination on a San Fernando Valley Iris Society Trek and I have never been able to get it out of my mind.

We should not forget that irises are excellent stand-alone plants in a landscape as well. With that in mind, we leave you with a spectacular clump shot of 'Thornbird' from Kaska Cholewa's garden in Poland.

Photo copyright Kaska Cholewa

Do you grow 'Thornbird' in your garden? Do you have it all by itself, planted with other irises, or with companion plantings? What would you like to see planted with 'Thornbird'?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Louisiana Irises Grow Well in Upstate New York

By Ron Killingsworth

Louisiana irises are found in their natural habitat in southern states of the US like Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, and Georgia, among other states.  Louisiana irises are water loving irises and grow naturally in swampy and marshy areas of these southern states.  However, in the past 60 or more years, LA irises have been transported from their native states and now grow throughout many of the states in the US and in many foreign countries such as New Zealand, Australia, England, Russia, and South Africa. A recent article in the Fleur de Lis, the official publication of the Society for Louisiana Irises, highlighted a young couple in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who are growing Louisiana irises commercially.

Because they are so often associated with hot and humid places, the question that often arises is "can I grow Louisiana irises in the northern US states?"  The answer is a bold YES.
Over nine years ago a member of the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI), Edna Claunch, became involved in the building of a huge international "Friendship Garden" with a sister city in Japan.  Located in Highland Park in Rochester, NY, it was planted with thousands of Louisiana irises donated by members of SLI.  The park was opened with much fanfare in the summer of 2004. The park is now a sea of blooming Louisiana irises in June and July, since the irises have multiplied.

These water loving Louisiana irises spend the winter under several feet of snow.  The spring comes to NY later than they would experience in their native lands.  The summer is much shorter than they are accustomed to experiencing.  None of this stops the wonderful Louisiana irises from putting on a show for upstate New York!  This success in Highland Park has led to another project nearby at the University of Rochester.  The "New Ayame" Garden that is being constructed on the campus of the University of Rochester was reported in detail in the Fall 2012 edition of the Fleur de Lis.
All of this Louisiana iris activity in New York led M. J. Urist of Tully, NY to begin the hard task of establishing a commercial garden for the purpose of raising Louisiana irises and selling them to the public.  M.J.'s garden has also grown into a huge success, and last year she donated thousands of Louisiana irises to the "New Ayame" Garden in Rochester. There were so many rhizomes that the University of Rochester sent a truck to Tully to pick them up!

Louisiana irises growing in Highland Park, Rochester, NY, in 2008

Massive planting of named varieties in Highland Park, Rochester

Close up of Louisiana irises growing in Highland Park in Rochester, NY

Large "clump" of a variety of Louisiana irises growing in Rochester, NY

'Marie Caillet' (Sidney Conger, 1963) growing in Highland Park, Rochester, NY

'Edna Claunch' (Harry Wolford 2004) named for the SLI member who spent endless hours working to make the Highland Park in Rochester, NY, a reality!

Hybrid Louisiana Irises growing in Highland Park, Rochester, NY

Louisiana irises growing with other plants in Highland Park

Close up of Louisiana irises in large "clump" growing in Highland Park

Louisiana irises and other plants in Highland Park

'Shizuoka Sunrise' (Pat O'Connor 2001) - a Louisiana iris named for the specific purpose of celebrating the establishment of this International Friendship Park in Rochester, NY

Louisiana iris garden beds in Highland Park

iris.fulva - a species of Louisiana iris growing in Highland Park

Large clumps of Louisiana irises in full bloom in Highland Park, Rochester, NY
Photos by Edna Claunch and by Gene Lupinetti.

Louisiana irises growing at the farm of M.J. Urist in Tully, NY, in the fall after bloom season is over.  Notice color on trees in background.

Louisiana irises that have been covered in snow all winter in Tully, NY, start to thaw out in the spring as the snow melts.

There is a large bed of Louisiana irises under this winter snow drift in Tully, NY.  See picture below of same location with irises in bloom.

Beds of hybrid Louisiana irises growing in Tully, NY
Photos by M. J. Urist.

So, as you can see, Louisiana irises are not just southern plants!  They do snow as well as ponds, so why not try growing some in your garden?

To learn more about growing irises visit the American Iris Society web site.
To learn more about Highland Park in Rochester, NY, visit their web site at Highland Park.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Green is My Iris?

By J. Griffin Crump

Photography, soil conditions, and climate can all have an effect on how green an iris appears.  In the last post, we asked what the greenest of the green irises were, and we saw quite a bit of variety.   Actually, there are more irises in the green range than I could include in the prior post-- and one or two that I have to confess I overlooked -- so here are more, some with pronounced differences in the coloration of  the individual specimens, seemingly reflecting the conditions in which they are grown.


This striking seedling of Bob Van Liere tops the Veins category.  We certainly hope to see this one in commercial production.

Van Liere sdlg 24EM5

It was hard to decide into which category to place Mike Sutton's 'Return to Bayberry', but Colleen Modra's photo from Australia tipped the balance to Veins.

'Return to Bayberry' Michael Sutton  Photo by Colleen Modra

'Return to Bayberry' Michael Sutton


Richard Ernst's 'Envy' leads the list in this category --  and a wide category it is, stretching from almost entirely yellow to almost green.

'Envy' Richard Ernst  Photo by Blue J Iris

Here's an early entry in the green class  --  Rex Brown's 'Green Quest', R. 1959.

'Green Quest' Rex Brown

And another early one, suggested by many, is L. Noyd's 'Pride of Ireland', looking just as it used to in my garden.  Registered as a border bearded iris in 1970, it was reclassified as a Tall Bearded iris in 1973 after receiving an HM in 1972 as a BB.

'Pride of Ireland'  L. Noyd

Still in the chartreuse category, but challenging the decision, is Keith Keppel's 'Secret Partner'.  And have a look at its varied appearance in different gardens!  It makes 'Thornbird''s variations look mild by comparison.

'Secret Partner' Keppel Photo by Mid-America Garden

'Secret Partner' Keppel Photo by Betty Jacobs

'Secret Partner'  Keppel

Barry Blyth describes his 'Devil's Own' as "brassy, greenish gold", and I'd agree, based on its appearance in France. 

'Devil's Own'  Blyth in Sologne, France
But in Oregon . . .

'Devil's Own' Blyth   Photo by Snowpeak Iris

The same goes for Monty Byers' 'Lichen' in Nebraska . . .

'Lichen' Monty Byers  Photo by Blue J Iris

vs. in the Loire Valley, France:

'Lichen'  Monty Byers  Photo by Sylvain Rouad in the Loire Valley, France

Here is Barry Blyth's 'Tuscana', as photographed by Chuck Chapman.
'Tuscana' Blyth  Photo by Chapman

And by Aurora Borealis Garden:

 'Tuscana' Blyth  Photo by Aurora Borealis Garden, zone 5a

Could some of these differences be ascribed to film or camera work?  Perhaps.


We arrive now at the olive category, and C. DeForest's 'Bayberry Candle', a justly famous historic iris.  

Bayberry Candle
'Bayberry Candle'  C. DeForest

 followed by Bob Van Liere's 23GS24 which is to be introduced this year as Celtic Dancer:

Celtic Dancer  Van Liere  Iris4U

 'Ameila Bedeila' by Sterling Innerst has interesting olive hafts:

'Amelia Bedeila'  Innerst

And last in the Olive category, Anton Mego's 'Going Green'.  I'm an admirer of Mego's work, but I think that this one does still have a way to go before it can be called green.

'Going Green'  Mego


Chuck Chapman's 'Ruth's Choice' is my choice for this category;

 'Ruth's Choice' Chapman

followed by Paul Black's seductive 'Green Oasis'.

'Green Oasis' Paul Black, 2013

and Bob Van Liere's colorful 24EM1

24EM1  Van Liere

Finally (and yes, yes, I know it's a Louisiana, but it's so green) is a new introduction called 'Reverchon Snowfall'.

According to Mary Swann-Young, on the Reblooming Iris Society page, Melody Wilhoit says Red Bud Lane will be introducing Hooker Nichols' reblooming Louisiana (LAB-5) as 'Reverchon Snowfall' this year. It has rebloomed in July for the Wilhoits, in central Illinois.  

'Reverchon Snowfall'  Hooker Nichols

So, there they are, their lovely colors at the mercy of the soil, the weather, and the camera.

Of one thing I'm confident:  They're gonna get greener.