Monday, October 26, 2015



For this post I have some collages and a slide show as a continuation of my last article on how to use photos to extend the iris season.  To view my last post click  Another Look at Plicata IrisesThe theme this time is "Broken Color Irises." Pictured are 4 collages of irises that are in the slide show at the end.


Mike Unser published a great article called Broken Color Iris Terminology in 2012. He introduced the article by saying "in color breaking, a genetic instability causes the colors and/or patterns of the iris to express irregularly giving a flower that is splish-splashed [pattern]in a more or less haphazard fashion. No two blooms are every just alike, and they can create a very lively and exuberant effect in the flower garden."  

Mike's article included many pictures of older broken color irises, including 'Victorine' from the 1840's, 'Loreley' from 1929, and many others up to Allen Ensminger's 'Batik' in 1985. 
Brad Kasperek is considered the pioneer of the modern broken color irises. He has been hybridizing broken color irises for 25 years.  Brad approves of Mike's definition. He also said that Allen Ensminger was instrumental in his focus on the genetic instability that made broken colors possible.  He has hybridized many broken color irises since then and in 2005 was hybridizer of the year. Brad and wife Kathie own and operate Zebra Gardens, located in Elwood, Utah.  It is just 21 miles north of my garden in Willard, Utah, and most of the broken color irises I grow have come from Zebra Gardens.    

Susanne Spicker also wrote an excellent article here called Broken color irises with Brad Kasperek in 2013. She visited Brad's Zebra Gardens and took many of the pictures that will be in the slide show today.  

The slide show in this post is similar to my post last time (here is the link to the last post: Another Look at Plicata Irises).  To view the new 3 minute slide show on broken colored irises, click on the button below. Most irises in the show are tall bearded, but not all. Most I grow in my garden, but a few are on my wish list, since many of my broken color irises are new and I don't have pictures of them yet. Susanne is a close friend, and has been gracious in sharing her photos so that you can see them.  

You do not have to have Smilebox downloaded on your computer to watch the slide show.  Music accompanies the pictures, so adjust your speakers:  

 Broken Color Slide Show

While the slide show is loading click on the bottom left button to make the show full screen.  It looks like this except yours won't be yellow. 

Thanks to Brad Kasperek, Allen Ensiminger and Virginia Messick for your fine skills in hybridizing these beautiful broken color iris. Thanks as well to Susanne Spicker for sharing her pictures. 

Do you grow any broken color irises?  What are your favorites? What other plants or iris do you pair up with your broken color irises?  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Arilbred medians: irises that have it all

by Tom Waters

'Brash and Bold' (Black, 2009)
In my blog post this April about arilbred irises, I mentioned that these striking garden jewels come in all sizes. Today I'm going to focus in on the smaller arilbreds, which are often called arilbred medians.

All arilbreds have in their ancestry both bearded irises and the exotic aril irises from the mountains and deserts of southwestern Asia. Because tall bearded irises have long been the most popular and extensively bred of the bearded types, it was mostly tall bearded irises that were used to produce arilbreds.

However, there have always been hybridizers of an adventurous bent who used dwarf or median bearded irises to produce arilbreds. Among the first irises from such breeding is 'Zwanenburg' introduced by French hybridizer Louis Denis in 1912. Its parentage is a matter of debate, but a dwarf bearded cultivar derived from Iris lutescens was one of the parents, and there is clearly aril ancestry as well. Remarkably, it is still being grown today! Its muted bronze and gray colors are not to everyone's liking, and the stalks and petals are rather flimsy, but it grows and blooms prolifically and has been delighting gardeners for over a century.
In the middle of the 20th century, two developments occurred that paved the way for renewed interest in arilbred medians. The first was the development of the modern standard dwarf bearded irises (SDBs) from TBs crossed with the tiny dwarf species Iris pumila (see my blog post in July of this year here). The second was the creation of a "fertile family" of arilbreds from TB and aril breeding. Most earlier arilbreds had been quite sterile, which meant that new ones could only be created by working with the pure arils themselves, which are difficult to grow and breed with. The new fertile arilbreds meant that it was now relatively easy to produce all sorts of new irises with aril ancestry.

Since that time, crossing SDBs with fertile arilbreds has been the most common way to create arilbred medians. They vary a lot in height, but average around 18 inches high. These are only 1/4 aril, so often their aril characteristics are rather subtle. The best have obvious veining or a definite signal patch below the beard, and have a more globular flower form than do the intermediate bearded irises (IBs), which they otherwise resemble.
'Octave' (Johnson, 2008)
'Enigmatic Elf' (Jensen, 2007)
'Suspect' (Johnson, 2006)
Some small arilbreds were also produced by crossing SDBs or dwarf species directly with pure arils. Because they bypass the TB ancestry that comes in when using an arilbred parent, they are both smaller (averaging around 10 inches) and more aril-like.
'Loudmouth' (Rich, 1970)
'Tiny Pirate' (Rich, 1990)
'Vera-Marina' (Ransom, 1998)
Most arilbred medians carry genes from three distinct types of irises: arils, tall bearded, and dwarf bearded (usually Iris pumila), making them one of the most genetically rich types of irises you can grow. They really do have it all! This genetic diversity expresses itself in a wide range of colors and patterns, a wide range in height and garden uses, and adaptability to a range of climates. Their dwarf ancestry helps many of them deal with cool rainy climates better than the taller arilbreds, and conversely their aril ancestry helps them do better in mild-winter climates than the SDBs.

Most arilbred medians are sterile, but there are a few fertile ones from unusual breeding approaches. 'Aladdin's Gem' (Thoolen, 2002) has only Iris pumila and pure arils in its ancestry - no TB heritage at all! Likewise, 'Anacrusis' (Mathes, 1992) is derived from pure arils and the dwarf bearded species Iris suaveolens. It has a number of worthy descendants, including the striking and popular 'Concerto Grosso' (Mathes, 1998), which won the C. G. White Medal in 2005.
'Aladdin's Gem'


'Concerto Grosso'
Have you tried any arilbred medians in your own garden? How do they do in your climate?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm, Part 3

By Bryce Williamson

On the scenic drive up the Columbia River Gorge on the bus at the 2015 AIS National, I read that when Chad Harris and Dale Grams moved to what would become Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm they found the fields covered in old growth Himalayan blackberries ranging from 10 to 15 feet deep.  The next three years were spent clearing the land.

Today no sign of the overgrowth is present and instead, we were greeted with long rows of well grown irises, expanses of manicured lawn, and perennial borders.  Yes, peak bloom for bearded irises had passed, but after peak bloom the weather had turned cool to cold and damp to wet so there were many irises still in good bloom.  In fact, I found the three days of the tour to be the best days I have ever spent taking images since the overcast weather reduced shadows and helped create good quality images.

There were a number of tall bearded irises that I saw and liked in this garden over the last two years.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will curb my verbosity and let the pictures do the talking.

Lynda Miller's Miniature Tall Bearded, 'Moose Tracks', was attracting attention in the guest beds.  My thanks to Kelly Norris for permission to use his copyrighted image.

Moose Tracks would go on and win the Hager Cup at the Awards Banquet on the last night of the convention.

I don't know whether to be happy or sad that I live so far away from Mt. Pleasant Iris Farms. There is so much to see from very early in the spring through June that if I lived closer, I would be making a pest of myself and visiting the garden every ten days.  On the bucket lists for the future is a trip up to Washington to see the Japanese irises in bloom.  Chad wrote that next year the Japanese irises will be blooming on 2 and 3 year clumps and the results should be spectacular.

Chad Harris's introductions can be found at two sources: and

Images in this blog are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission of the copyright holders Bryce Williamson and Kelly Norris.

Monday, October 12, 2015

'Cajun Rhythm', My Prettiest Iris

By Renee Fraser

My best blooming iris is 'Total Recall', which is practically an everbloomer here in Southern California.  My sentimental favorite is an old NOID (No Identification) that has been on the property for over 60 years, when grandpa used to mow it over every week when he did the grass.  But my prettiest iris, in my opinion, blooms late in the season and generally gets burnt to a crisp from the late May/early June heat.  'Cajun Rhythm' (Schreiner, 1996) is a lovely butterscotch orange with a pinkish flush on the midrib and a variable white apron on the falls.

I love it with nasturtiums.

It looks nice with another late bloomer, 'Coral Chalice'.

'Tennison Ridge' with 'Cajun Rhythm'.

Here it is with 'Double Delight' rose.

'Cajun Rhythm' is registered as growing to 36" tall, but it is rather short in my garden.  The foliage is nice, and does not corkscrew or twist.  Although it often suffers from the heat here, 'Cajun Rhythm' is so pretty it will always have a place in my garden.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mt. Pleasant Iris Farms, Part 2

By Bryce Williamson

While my first blog on this amazing garden focused on Siberian irises, this time I want to highlight some of the other beardless irises growing in the garden that Chad Harris grows and, in two cases, hybridizes.

Last year, on my first visit to Mt. Pleasant Iris Farms, I drove up Highway 14 and onto Marble Road to the manicured garden, where I parked in the shade by the barn.  Immediately I was drawn to one of the water features of the garden— a lovely pond with naturalized irises. A spring on the north hillside provides the gravity feed to run sprinklers.

 Little did I know at that moment that almost 25 years of hard work has gone into this paradise.

Chad is careful not to plant any water irises that are fertile and might release seeds that would get into the Columbia River Basin ecosystem.

Chad has spent the last 15 years working with Iris laevigata, a native to North East Asia, Russia, and Japan. As the Mt. Pleasant catalogue notes, “A true water iris, Iris laevigata will look its best growing in shallow water or a large pot with a deep reservoir filled with water. It can also thrive in a moist to wet setting such as a rain garden."

“Iris Laevigata will grow from 24 to 36 inches tall with 4 to 6 inch flowers." To date, Chad has introduced the two hybrids pictured below:

'Lakeland Ghost'
'Blue Rivulets' photo by Chad Harris
Recently, Chad has also been growing "Pseudata" seedlings. These are, to quote from the catalogue, “a cross between plants with iris pseudacorus backgrounds and iris ensata (Japanese, Hanashobu). The iris world is very fortunate that Hiroshi Shimizu shared many years of his work; finding a good pod parent ('Gubijin') so all hybridizers could explore the possibilities that this cross may bring to the garden."

Harris pseudata seedling in a clump
Harris 08SPCX D photo by Chad Harris
Harris HPIM9403 photo by Chad Harris
Harris 08SPCX D photo by Chad Harris
Harris 08SPCX F photo by Chad Harris
During the National Convention of The American Iris Society  in which this garden was part of the tour, one other interspecies hybrid attracted much attention. In a huge, husky clump, Jill Copeland’s 'Do the Math' was impressive.

A surprise in the garden was Phillip Ramare's PC-1.  Usually Pacific Coast Natives bloom early, but this nicely colored seedling was still in good bloom.

Chad Harris's introductions can be found at two sources: and Both Mt. Pleasant Iris Farms and Aitken’s Salmon Creek also carry a wide range of other types of beardless irises.

More on Mt. Pleasant Iris Farms to come!

Please respect the copyright on these images by Bryce Williamson and Chad Harris.