Monday, July 4, 2016

This is Normal, I Swear...

By Vanessa Spady

As happens to many of us who have fallen in love with irises, my plans, schedule, diet, and social life are all drastically altered when bloom season approaches. It’s just a truth that I have learned to acknowledge, and have had to gently acclimate the important people in my life to this as well.

You, too, may suffer from Seasonal Monopolistic Iris Lallygagging Epidemic (SMILE).

I know the month and week varies regionally, but for me the syndrome begins in March. See if you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself:


  • A willingness to allow otherwise important life activities to lapse
  • A surge in getting up extra-early to walk through your garden to see if any buds have developed
  • A sense of urgency to repeat the above activity several times daily
  • A refusal to heed weather conditions that would otherwise keep you indoors
  • A complete disregard for social engagements that would cause you to be away from your garden for more than ten hours
  • A compulsion to count—and recount—the buds and stalks forming on your iris
  • Several sets of otherwise “past their prime” garments kept on-hand for sudden excursions to your garden to adjust sprinklers, fencing, and other items that might interfere with the growth of buds
  • A strong drive to look at photos of irises you already own in anticipation of your own blooms
  • A lack of social skills in any arena not directly related to your buds, blooms, hybridizing, or other critical maintenance of your iris garden
  • An aversion to having any “wildcard” elements in your garden, such as children, pets, neighbors, less-attuned spouses and friends, and anyone possibly less obsessed with irises than yourself



These are serious symptoms, and if you find that you recognize yourself in any of the above listed behaviors, do not panic! The good news is that you are going to be fine. Bloom season is limited, and chances are you will be able to resume a somewhat normal life within two to three weeks after the last bloom appears. It helps if you have someone in your life who also has SMILE, and you can have a “buddy system” for ensuring that you eat, sleep, and bathe enough to keep gardening.

I also find it helps if you can acknowledge to those around you, early on if possible, that you will be subject to SMILE when your irises begin to form stalks. Their understanding that you will be influenced by SMILE for a short period each Spring will allow you to re-integrate into your normal life with fewer apologies required.

Let me see if my story will help you in your recovery from SMILE:

I go out to my garden as often as five times a day when the buds are forming. I count them. I write down which ones form on which dates. Then, when they begin opening, I write down which ones open on which date. I make a photo box (more on that later), and shoot the blooms on the first day they open, as early in the morning as possible. I take multiple photos of each first bloom, sometimes as many as 20 each, to ensure I have a good, focused shot. I will then shoot the same blooms around day 3 (or day 2 if it has been warm), to compare the progression of the bloom.

I enter all this data into my computer.

I get up as early as possible so that I’m in my garden in the earliest part of the day, with the best light, to catch the blooms as they first open.

AND I have been helping my friend Chris hybridize, which means spending hours each weekend morning, as early as we can, harvesting anthers, hybridizing, record-keeping, tagging, photographing, and of course, admiring all the new blooms.

I do this until it is too hot, or too late to hybridize (yes, here in central California, it can get too hot to work outside after about 11 am, even in early Spring). So once I am forced inside by the heat, I can download all my photos, catalog the data, and then start sharing them online. Maybe, somewhere in there, I will remember to eat.

Soon after that, it begins to cool down, and I go outside to start watering and checking for new blooms. I do this until after dark. Perhaps I might come inside and eat, and have a shower. If I’m not too tired.

It only lasts a few weeks... that’s my justification for ignoring friends, family, pets, work, other chores, housework, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and pretty much the rest of my life. The heat here means our bloom season comes fast and doesn’t last too long, so I give myself up to my garden as much as I possibly can. I SMILE, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

So, good-bye normalcy, hello SMILE. Iris, you really got a hold on me. See you next year, ok?

A fraction of the results:

'Orange Harvest' Bennett Jones, R. 1986). Seedling #74-34-5. TB, 32" (81 cm). Midseason bloom and rebloom (late October in Oregon). Bright medium orange; red beard; slight fragrance. 'Orange Chiffon' X seedling #69-24-5: ((( 'Spanish Gift' x 'Marilyn C') x Shoop seedling #63-18) x (( 'Spanish Affair' x 'Marilyn C') x Hamblen seedling #H5-35)). Aitken's Salmon Creek Garden, B Jones 1988.


'Can Can Dancer' Larry Lauer, R. 1997) Sdlg. 91-195. TB, 36" (91 cm), Midseason bloom. Standarads and style arms yellow; Falls purple, edged brown, shoulders yellow; beards mustard; ruffled; slight sweet fragrance. ('Edith Wolford' x 'Ragtime') X (('Edith Wolford' x 'Ragtime') x M. Dunn M78-657, 'Personal Friend' sib). Stockton 1997. Honorable Mention 1999.


'Let's Fly' (Schreiner, R. 2015) Seedling TT 1024-C. TB, 34" (86 cm), Midseason bloom. Standards yellow (RHS 8A); Falls veined purple-violet (81B), edged yellow; beards orange. KK 914-A: (CC 1402-2: ('Burgermeister' x AA 1638-A: (S 324-40: ('Latin Lady' x  'Bristo Magic') x 'Leading Edge')) x CC 760-A, 'Bold Fashion' sibling) X 'Jamaican Dream'. 2015 Schreiner.


'Revere' (Joseph Ghio, R. 2001). Seedling 97-36B. TB, height 40" (102 cm). Very early to early mid season bloom. Standards white, yellow halo; style arms white, fringed gold;Falls white, blue rim; beards gold. 95-36C. 'Impulsive' sibling, X 'Dear Jean'. Bay View 2002.


'Crystal Gazer' Keith Keppel, R. 2002). Seedling 96-45D. TB, 34" (86 cm), Midseason bloom. Standards medium violet blue (M&P 42-FG-8/9) paling (42-C-7) toward edge; style arms light violet blue (42-C-7); Falls blue lilac (42-BC-4) paling to silvery lilac white center; beards lilac lavender (42-BC-2/3), soft ibis pink (1-B-10) in throat; ruffled, lightly laced. 'Lotus Land' X 'Fogbound'. Keppel 2002.



'Trajectory' Paul Black, R. 1997). Sdlg. 91207A. SDB, 13" (33 cm), Midseason bloom. Standards dark purple; style arms white, edged purple; Falls darker purple, white luminata patch; beards white; pronounced spicy fragrance. 'Black Star' X 87130J: ( 'Chubby Cheeks' x 85319B: ( 'Gentle Air' x 'Chubby Cheeks' sibling)). Mid-America 1997.



'Lip Service' Joseph Ghio, R. 2000) Seedling 96-153Q. TB, height 34" (86 cm), Early, midseason, late bloom. Standards violet, paling to apricot at edge; style arms apricot pink; Falls apricot with violet overlay; beards light tangerine. 94-170K, 'Stage Lights' sibling, X 'Entangled'. Bay View 2001. Honorable Mention 2004.











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