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.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

IRISES, the Bulletin of the AIS - October/November 2013 Edition

By Andi Rivarola

Here's another wonderful issue of IRISES, the Bulletin of the American Iris Society that will be arriving at your doorsteps soon. 

As you can see from the cover, it is gorgeous and bright yellow, 'That's All Folks,' by hybridizer Bill Mariott, the tall bearded iris winner of the 2013 Dykes Medal. 

Here's a review of what you'll see in this issue:

Bonnie Nichols of the Dallas Iris Society makes a good case for a visit (or second visit for some of us) to the Dallas Area for an encore presentation of the National Convention in that area called, Déjà vu Dallas 2014! Be sure to read her wonderful detailed review of the gardens that will again make for a great Convention. For updates and more information about the Convention visit their website at:

Also, you will find the following information:
  • In the Culturally Speaking section, don't miss Transplanting and Replanting Irises
  • 2013 Award Winners, a full list of all winners for this year
  • A sad adieu note from former IRISES Editor Kelly D. Norris
  • In Standards & Falls, horticulturalists pick their favorite irises
  • A short article on Endangered Iris Populations
  • AIS member from Wisconsin Patricia Del Negro writes for In Your Backyard
  • Delightful pictures of the Louisiana Iris Convention 2013
  • The President's Message by Jim Morris, including an introduction of IRISES' new Editor
  • Iris4U Germany branch introduced by Jennifer Dreyer
  • Youth Views by Cheryl Deaton
  • And much more

For those new to The American Iris Society, as a member you receive the printed quarterly edition of IRISES via mail, or if you are an e-member, then you will be able to read the entire publication online. The latter is a very convenient option for overseas iris enthusiasts. For more information, please go to our website's membership information section.  

(The printed edition is in the hands of the Post Office, the e-version is ready for view at its normal location online.) 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tenting tonight

By Griff Crump

"The north wind doth blow and we shall have snow . . ."  I forget who wrote that, but it was what the weatherman forecast for yesterday.  And, is so often the case, he was wrong.  No snow, after all.  BUT, he also forecast temperatures in the mid-20s for last night.  That, I had to take seriously.  Sad news for the several reblooming seedlings in the garden and for others which had stalks up but hadn't yet bloomed.  They'd be frozen by this morning.

Such early freezes are unusual here.  We had a lighter one a week ago, but socks on buds protected everything.  Last night, however, we faced the grim reaper.  So, I reluctantly cut a handsome stalk of sdlg 092U15, which I have already seen in bloom, and brought it inside to grace the table, but there were stalks up, in the garden, of two other seedlings which I have yet to see in bloom.  These, I wanted to see, if possible.  So, I tried a trick I've used successfully in the past: tenting.

In case any of you want to try it, here's how it works:

To cover a plant, I take a conical wire tomato frame, place it over the plant and anchor it in place with bricks.  (Alternately, one can snip off the circular base wire, leaving the vertical wires as prongs that can be stuck into the soil.  That's particularly practical if the foliage of your plant and its neighbors doesn't leave enough room for the bricks.)

Next, I take an old hooded sweatshirt and place it over the tomato frame, after having bent down the top wires so that the hoodie clears the top of the stalk and fits all the way to the bottom of the frame.

That done, I slip a sturdy plastic trash bag over the hoodie.

I then run an 80-foot outdoor extension cord from the house (or any other electrical source you might have in or near the garden), to which I attach a string of Christmas tree lights, with only three sockets containing bulbs.  (You may want to wrap each empty socket in plastic wrap to keep moisture out, or fill those sockets with dead bulbs, if you have that many.)  I place the three bulbs around the base of the plant, trying not to touch the foliage.  Then I plug in the cord (or flip the switch, whichever).  And, voila!  Heat!

Yes, the garden may look like Halloween, but the plants will be happy.  Notice, in the next photo, how the bags have partially puffed up as a result of the trapped heat. 

In the morning, when temps have risen above freezing, remove the plastic bags and unzip the hoodies so that the plants receive light. 

What the well-dressed iris wears for those cold nights.

So that's it, until the next freeze is forecast, when I zip up the hoodies and put the bags back on.  In the meantime, I leave the lights lit until the flower blooms.  

If you try it, let me know how it works for you!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Society for Louisiana Iris 2014 Convention

By Andi Rivarola

Whether you're looking for 'C’est Fantastique,' 'Cajun Cookery,' 'French Quarter,' 'Bayou Bluebird,' 'Big Easy,' or 'Red Velvet Elvis,' you know you've made it to Louisiana iris heaven if you make it to New Orleans for the Society for Louisiana Iris Convention.  

I'm excited to extend a cordial invitation to all of you to take part of the 2014 Society of Louisiana Iris Convention.

Louisiana Iris 'Estelle Egan'

Louisiana irises offer so much in terms of color and form, and are such a feast to the eyes, it is only fitting that it would be held in the diverse and colorful city of New Orleans. 

Patrick O'Connor, the Convention's Chair, put together an outstanding website, and one has to only look at the Tentative Schedule and Program to find that it will be an SLI event not to be missed.

 Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

I am personally looking forward to a very scholarly part of this Convention -- the Symposium, a talk by Benny Trahan about Louisiana iris in the wild and its native habitat. Patrick says about Mr. Trahan: "No one today has more extensive experience than Benny Trahan in observing Louisiana irises in their native habitats.  He has systematically traveled the state with topographic maps leading him to places where the terrain would indicate the possibility of iris populations. Benny has studied fulvas, giganticaeruleas, brevicaulis and, his specialty, the nelsoniis.  For comparison, he traveled to Florida to observe I. hexagona in its various forms. 

Louisiana Iris 'Deja Voodoo'

As in most iris conventions, the schedule will also include fantastic garden tours, an iris show, and judges trainings, but most importantly if you attend you will be part of a "fortunate" group that will see these events take place at the New Orleans Museum of Art,  the New Orleans Botanical Gardens, The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, and the Longue Vue House and Gardens. Imagine, to visit all these beautiful locations plus Louisiana irises in full bloom!

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
Be sure to browse through the full SLI Convention Program, where you will find extensive information you won't want to miss.

Also, for updated information follow the Greater New Orleans Iris Society's Facebook Page.

Longue Vue House

Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Rebloomers at Bridge In Time Iris Garden

After the Fall Freeze 2013 . . .
By Betty Wilkerson

 zone 6b in South Central Kentucky

It’s been an interesting year at Bridge In Time Iris Garden. Despite a fall freeze, and my inability to get into the garden much lately, some rebloomers have shown their beautiful faces through the weeds.  I have not fertilized for the past two years either, which has had an effect on the garden.  Weather was good for rebloom, but only a few faithful bloomed this year.  

Most of the larger, bloom-sized rhizomes were dug and sent around the country earlier this year. I have reports of some of these reblooming already in other areas. 

Bloom began here in late August with 1907-10Re.  In 2011, this was one of the two seedlings that bloomed all summer, but this year it didn’t show its beautiful face until late summer.  It was a welcome sight.  

1906-10Re Fall Overlay (Wilkerson seedling) 
Pretty as it may be, it does not always grow tall enough, and it's PURPLE.  Purple is a common color in reblooming iris.  Would you buy it?

1906-10Re-Beard (Wilkerson seedling) 

Currently, 'Over and Over' is one of the most dependable rebloomers in my garden. It wasn't the only one to rebloom in this difficult year, and it wasn't the first one to rebloom, but it did, and faithfully. I've discussed this with other breeders and many have said they won't use it because it isn't pretty enough, but I'd like to remind everyone that it is a really strong rebloomer.  Furthermore, when crossed on self irises it will not give plicata coloring.   

'Over and Over' (Innerst 2000) 
Toward the end of the season, but with plenty of time to open well, '2150-02Re' put up stalks. This is from 'Star Gate' X 'Matrix'.  Many seedlings from this cross rebloomed, but this one blooms the earliest and is most dependable.  Again we have the "dependable" quality, but not early enough, and PURPLE.  'Star Gate' is a dependable rebloom parent, but tends to breed only white or blue/purple with an occasional plicata.  Most often, this seedling will maintain the good fall form and also show an apron pattern like picture 2.

2150-02Re (Wilkerson seedling)

2150-02Re (Wilkerson seedling)  
Some might wonder why I've not made a cross between the two purple rebloomers.  Up to this point in time, I've not wanted to mix the beards.  '1906-10re' has many siblings and about a dozen have rebloomed. Same is true with '2150-02Re.'  With their parentage most of the seedlings would be purple and white plicata. Then there is the question on beard color.  There would be no chance of a tangerine beard.  Still, maybe next year!

Here are the seeds for 2013.  There are fourteen tall bearded crosses represented here!  They should start sprouting by April first, and I hope for lots of rebloom. Where there are irises and hope, there could be rebloom!

2013 seed crop