Sunday, May 11, 2014


Susanne Holland Spicker

As a lover of irises but not well-versed in the particulars of show bench judging, I wanted to learn more about what makes a "show stalk" iris. My quest led me to several iris connoisseurs of whom I have the utmost respect. Hearing what they had to say has led me to believe that there are several thoughts on the subject. I present some of those ideas now for your consideration. 

Phil Williams, Rockytop Gardens, says his "idea of a show stalk," since he thinks "the major purpose of an iris is to bloom as long as possible in the garden, is one that is branched well to display each blossom to its maximum," and he personally prefers "one blossom at a time." He goes on to say "if a judge obeys the handbook when judging, he/she is supposed to be familiar with varieties on the show bench." Phil also says that when he goes "into a garden and sees a stalk with multiple blooms open," he knows it "will be a flash in the pan as a garden iris" and he "rarely will add it to the garden unless it has fabulous form." He says he "tires quickly of irises that remain in bloom only 5-7 days due to multiple blossoms open on a stalk." In judging, he says that the iris purists will "demand that the top/terminal flower be the one in bloom.  He says 'IRENE'S SONG', Nicodemus 2011, is a perfect example of a show bench stalk. (photo unavailable) 

Another expert, hybridizer Walter Moores, who has had experience in both judging and showing, says that a specimen with one bloom can win "Queen of Show, but generally the judges look for one with 2 or 3 blooms."  He goes on to say that the "Queen should be perfection, or near perfection, for its class," with "a new variety given preference over an older variety," which has proven a  "controversial statement in the manual." He shares some good examples of show stalks.

Photo courtesy of Robert Treadway
Photo taken May, 2014, Walter Moores garden

Betty Wilkerson, hybridizer, judge and iris expert, tells us "the requirements for show bench irises are much different than for garden irises."  She adds that  with show bench irises we want 2-3 open blooms, but in the garden we want one at time so we get a long bloom season." She goes on to say "wide branching can be nice on the show bench, (with balance), but can tangle stalks in the garden."  

Thomas Johnson, of Mid-America Garden says the term show stalk means that it is a great iris for showing and that a "show stalk is one with wide candelabra branching, nice bud placement and a good bud count." 
'BRUSSELS'  (Johnson '04) taken at Barry and Lesley Blyth's garden in Australia
Photo courtesy Thomas Johnson, Mid-American Garden

Joel Shaber, iris enthusiast, says as a gardener he is "primarily interested in branching which shows the best advantage in a clump. Wide branching, with lots of space between the flower and the stalk" is not something he "looks for, nor particularly likes."  He says he "much prefers a closer-to-the-stalk presentation, where the flower's edge very nearly touches the stalk, but stops just short of doing so." He says that "this style of branching gives a proud, upright look" which he likes, as we can see in these pictures he shares of one of the clumps in his Boise, Idaho garden.
'BELGIAN PRINCESS' clump in the bud stage
Photo courtesy of Joel Shaber
Clump of 'BELGIAN PRINCESS' Johnson '05, showing a closer branching
Photo courtesy Joel Shaber

Joel shares his 'RIO ROJO' Schreiner '09 (below), with show bench wide branching, and compares it with 'BELGIAN PRINCESS' (above), with closer branching, to help us see the difference. Although there are three open, well-positioned blooms on Rio Rojo, he tells us "there is something more to consider." He tells us to "look at the foliage-to-stalk ratio and how gangly and awkward the clump presents itself."  He goes on to say this is his "annoyance with the modern obsession with show branching," and when comparing Rio Rojo to Belgian Princess, it's plain to see "how stately Belgian Princess presents itself in both bud and in bloom, with straighter stalks, and many more blooms," although they are both beautiful.  

"Iris Phanatic," Gary Slagle,  who routinely enters iris shows, shares "some examples of what people should look for when looking for an iris to show with a picture of his Queen of Show, BB 'LADY OF THE NIGHT' Black '08.  In the second of his photos, he shows us what he looks for in the iris in the bud stage to see if it has the branching that he desires for the show.


Gary tells us that from past experience "getting and having three opened bloom stalks for a show is tough."  He has "only once won Queen while displaying three blooms at once."  He goes on to say "there's more of a chance that there will be discrepancies between the blooms--one has faded more than the others, or all three are not uniform in size." He also says that trying to get them to the show is also more difficult, but is quick to add that if you have an awesome specimen with three blooms, by all means, take it to the show!

Rick Tasco, Superstition Iris Gardens, shows his seedling in the Fresno Iris Society's show.  This beauty is likely to be introduced in 2015 and has the wide branching that defines a show stalk. With three blooms, I wonder how hard it was to get to the show!
Seedling 10-TB-30-01 

Here are some good examples of irises with excellent branching, nice bud placement, and good bud count that were shared for this article on show stalks:
'CHEEP FRILLS' Black '09
Photo courtesy of Joel Shaber
'CHANGE OF PACE' Schreiner '91
Photo courtesy of Joel Shaber
'CLASSIC LOOK' Schreiner '92
Photo courtesy of Schreiner's Iris Gardens

Dyna Hermann, on behalf of Schreiner's Iris Gardens, said 'CLASSIC LOOK' was chosen by Schreiner's Iris Gardens for its flawless form, a stalk that is vigorous, and perfectly proportioned branching, with 8-10 buds.
Photo courtesy of Robert Treadway
Photo courtesy of Mariana Brumar
Photo courtesy of Wendy Feldberg
'MADY CARRIERE' Millet et Fils, 1905
Photo courtesy of Cathy Dudley
'SKATING PARTY' Gaulter '83
Photo courtesy of Cathy Dudley
'SAMBO'S TIGER BUTTER' Kanarowski 2010
Photo courtesy of Cathy Dudley
'DUSKY CHALLENGER' Schreiner '86
Photo courtesy of Christine Cosi

Christine tells us that she bought 'DUSKY CHALLENGER' 20 years ago, and that "it's always a delight when it's blooming." She says "it's always present, never disappointing."

A favorite iris in my garden that fits the description of show stalks, is 'GLOBAL CROSSING,' Van Liere '12. It is prolific, with well-branched stems, and high bud count. It's hardy, with ram-rod sturdy stems, beautiful foliage, and produces show-stopping blooms--that's what I think a show stalk is.

Whether you're an iris purist or iris enthusiast, a judge or passionate iris gardener wanting show stalks for your home garden, I think all would agree that these tall beauties have a common thread that binds iris lovers from all over the world together, and although we may not all agree as to what a show stalk is, we can all revel in their timeless beauty.

What are some of your favorite show stalk irises?  I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks to those who offered their expertise on what a show stalk iris is and to the many who shared their photos.  


  1. Great Article Susanne! It is nice to hear several views on this subject. Very nice photography too!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...