Monday, October 16, 2017

An Arilbred Iris Sampler

Tom Waters

'Oyez' (White, 1938)
I was recently contacted by an iris lover who had read my blog post on the classification of arilbred irises and wanted to sample each of the categories. She asked if I had any recommendations. I gave a few off the top of my head, and she suggested that this might make a good blog topic. I agree! So here is my arilbred sampler, for those who want to try the full range of different types of arilbreds.

I've restricted the irises mentioned here to those that are readily available. The commercial gardens that have the best selection of arilbreds are Superstition Iris Gardens, Mid-America Garden, and Blue J Iris. In addition, the Aril Society International has an annual plant sale with many more arilbreds than these commercial growers offer. The offerings vary each year depending on what members contribute, but many varieties are offered nearly every year. If an iris was available from one of the three large commercial growers in their most recent catalog, or in the ASI plant sales for the last two years, I deemed it readily available. Some other commercial growers list a small number of arilbreds, and if arilbreds are grown in your area, the local iris society plant sales can also be a good source of plants.

I want to be clear that this listing is indeed intended as a "sampler". The idea is to cover as many different kinds as possible, to showcase the diversity of arilbreds. It is not an attempt to identify the "best arilbreds" by some objective criteria, nor even a list of "Tom's favorites". The idea is that if you are new to arilbreds, and plant a varied assortment, you can discover your own preferences and what grows well for you.

The ASI recognizes nine different categories of arilbred, based on the type and amount of aril content the iris has. There are two types of pure arils: oncocyclus and Regelia. An arilbred can have either or both of these types of aril in its background. Hence we have oncobreds (OB), Regeliabreds (RB), and oncogeliabreds (OGB, mixed onco and Regelia content). Furthermore, arilbreds can be half aril, more than half aril, or less than half aril. Those with more than half aril content are indicated with a "+" sign; those with less than half aril with a "-" sign. No sign is used for those that are half aril. Thus RB+ means an arilbred whose type of aril content is Regelia only, and whose amount of aril content is more than half.

It turns out that these nine categories actually allow for more distinctions than a practical gardener need attend to. There are very few OB arilbreds, and they are indistinguishable from most OGB types. The reason is that most of today's arilbreds are descended from pioneering work by C. G. White in the 1940s, and White did not keep track of parentages during this time. So his arilbreds, although drawing heavily on oncocyclus arils and selected to resemble oncocyclus as much as possible, are classified as OGB because of the possibility of some Regelia ancestry. So I don't separate OBs from OGBs here.

I do, however, separate out the arilbred medians and arilbred dwarfs from the tall arilbreds. These smaller arilbreds, typically with dwarf or median bearded irises in their parentage, fill a very different role in the garden and provide much of the diversity to be encountered in the arilbred tribe.

So much for the preliminaries. Onward to the plants!

OGB and OB (Onco-type halfbreds)

These are what most of us think of when we think of arilbreds. Most are tall types, with TB and oncocyclus ancestry dominating. Blooms are typically large and globular, often with strong aril markings, such as signal spots or veining.

'Refiner's Fire' (McGrath, 2007)
Large bold signals are actually a rather recent development in this group, with 'Energizer' (Shockey, 1996) being a striking breakthrough in its time. More recently, 'Noble Warrior' (Tasco, 2006) combines a dramatic signal with a bit of veining. 'Refiner's Fire' (McGrath, 2007) gives a striking dark signal on a deeply colored red-toned flower.

'Sand Dancer' (Tasco, 2010) gives us a whole different look, with falls covered in peppery stippling. Yet another completely different look is to be found in 'Navajo Velvet' (McAllister, 2009), with falls of lustrous, satiny mahogany red.

The historic arilbred 'Oyez' (White, 1938) has seduced many iris growers into the arilbred world with its dramatic precise veining. Strangely, it has been difficult to reproduce this striking pattern in modern arilbreds. ('Oyez' is a sterile diploid.) An early success was 'Jonnye's Magic' (Rich, 1992). For a true modern advancement in veined arilbreds, seek out 'Alakazam' (Tasco, 2013).

'Aladdin's Gem' (Thoolen, 2002)
There are few arilbred medians and arilbred dwarfs in this category. Very notable is 'Aladdin's Gem' (Thoolen, 2002), a fertile aril-pumila hybrid about the size of a small SDB (standard dwarf bearded)!

OGB- and OB- (Onco-type quarterbreds)

Originally, these categories were dominated by tall arilbreds that came from crossing halfbreds with TBs. At a time when halbreds were uncommon and difficult to grow, the quarterbreds were the most accessible arilbreds for most gardeners. The historic iris 'Elmohr' (Loomis-Long, 1942) was a fine example of the type, the only arilbred to win the Dykes Medal. It does not show the strong aril patterning we now expect in arilbreds, without signal or veining to speak of. To understand its allure, we must think back to a time when TBs were troubled with narrow petals and often droopy form. 'Elmohr' stood out with dramatically large blooms, wide falls, and a bit of globular onco form to bring it all together.

Some other tall quarterbreds for the sampler are 'Dune' (Hager, 1981) and the very recent 'Heart of Hearts' (Black, 2015). At their best, this type of iris can bring some of the modern TB form and bud count into irises that still evoke their aril ancestry.

'Desert Snow' (Black, 2013)
Since the 1970s, however, arilbred medians have increasingly dominated these categories. Crossing an
OGB halfbred with an SDB produces an OGB- arilbred median. In the garden, these occupy a niche similar to the IBs (intermediate beardeds), but with some aril traits to give them that special something extra. The charm and adaptability of this type of arilbred has given them a great appeal among arilbred growers and median fanciers alike. 'Brash and Bold' (Black, 2009) and 'Desert Snow' (Black, 2013) are fine examplars of what this category has to offer.

A somewhat different approach is found in 'Persian Sapphire' (Baumunk, 2005), a child of 'Aladdin's Gem' that has more Iris pumila in its makeup than TB.

There are some arilbred dwarfs in this category that are worthy of attention. 'Loudmouth' (Rich, 1970) is a perennial favorite, SDB-sized with raucous signal and veining and globular form. 'Tiny Pirate' (Rich, 1990) is the most diminutive arilbred I have grown; it would be small even among MDBs (miniature dwarf beardeds), but struts onco form, a signal, and a whisper of veining.

RB (Regelia-type halfbreds)

Enthusiasm for large, globular oncocylcus irises with their dramatic signals and stippling was a driving force in early arilbred breeding. The Regelias took a back seat in the minds of many growers and breeders; sometimes they were thought of as providing nothing but some ruggedness and climate adaptability. But some have always appreciated the Regelias for their svelte elegance, sometimes striking veining, satiny texture, or blended colors.

An early Regeliabred that helped draw attention to the potential of this type of iris was 'Genetic Artist' (H. Danielson, 1972). This shows a classic color pattern derived from the Regelia Iris stolonifera: a yellowish rim around a blue or violet center. 'Afrosiab' (Volfovich-Moler, 2001) shows a touch of ruffling from its TB parent, 'Mary Frances' (Gaulter, 1973). The French hybridizer Lawrence Ransom worked extensively with Regeliabreds, with his 'Eastern Blush' (Ransom, 2002) being much used in his breeding program.

RB- (Regelia-type quarterbreds)

Ransom's work takes center stage in this category. Among the tall RB- are the horned 'Sandthorn' (Ransom, 2011), and his "Pashtun" series, for example 'Pashtun Princess' (Ransom, 2011).

Ransom also produced a delightfully varied series of RB- arilbred medians, the "Vera girls", from crossing the Regelia 'Vera' (Van Tubergen, not registered) with SDBs.of which 'Vera-Marina'  (Ransom, 1998) is one example.

OGB+ (Onco-type "three-quarter"-breds)

This group has become sadly scarce in commerce, with seldom any new ones registered and introduced. This is perhaps because few arilbred hybridizers today grow the oncocyclus species and hybrids needed to produce this type of arilbred, which usually comes from crossing an OGB arilbred with a pure oncocyclus. The few that are readily available are not always representative of the best this type of breeding has to offer. 'Tul Kerem' (H. Danielson, 1974) is interesting but I find its combination of oncocylcus and Regelia traits ends up not doing justice to either. 'Masada's Glory' (Whitely, 2002) is a better exemplar of what this category has to offer. Although they do not meet my availability criteria, keep a look out from 'Jeweled Veil' (Rich, 1978) or 'Dotted Sunsuit' (Mathes, 2001). These show the oncocyclus features of their ancestry to best advantage.

RB+ (Regelia-type "three-quarter"-breds)

'Turkish Topaz' (Austin, 1962)
A couple oddities round out the sampler. 'Turkish Topaz' (Austin, 1962) was registered as a pure Regelia hybrid, but its parentage is somewhat ambiguous and it looks and grows like an RB+. The flowers are yellow with much brown streaking and blotching. 'White Arts' (L. Danielson, 1986) has only Iris hoogiana in its Regelia ancestry. This species shows nothing that we might recognize as distinctively aril in its coloration. If you walked by 'White Arts' in a garden, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a white IB or perhaps an antique diploid TB.

If you want to sample the world of arilbreds, be sure to try several different types. The variety available in plant size, color pattern, and form is truly remarkable!

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Whiter Shade of Pale

By Bryce Williamson

White. A color so important in the garden and so often ignored. I would shock people when giving judges’ training with the idea that the two most important colors in the iris garden were yellow and white. I stick to that position—yellow bring a shaft of sunlight into the garden and whites are need to balance other colors and patterns, bringing harmony to the landscape that might dissolve into chaos.

Ironically only three white irises have won the American Dykes Medal—Swan Ballet and Winter Olympics in the Tall Bearded class and Swans in Flights, a Siberian. Whites have to be especially outstanding to get attention. We used to joke in Region 14, when all of us were growing lots of Winter Olympics seedlings, that a selection was “just another white.”

I have yet to grow Swans In Flight. With Siberians needing moist soil, the five years of drought have taken a toll on the yard and I did not have a good place for this variety. While we have lots of water in California this year, we need a second wet season to be sure that the drought is over.

In the last twenty years, two white tall bearded irises have achieved classic status. Larry Gaulter’s Carriage Trade did win an Award of Merit, but when it was first introduced, no one realized how really good it was and that it would endure while many of the irises introduced in that decade have disappeared. It is possible to note its tight branching, but that tight branching may actually be an advantage in two and three year clumps since the flowers are held close to the stalk. Still worth growing and still has a place in my iris collection.

Skating Party--image by Suzanne Spicker

Joe Gatty’s Arctic Express has also achieved classic status. The Gatty irises were always known for their impeccable form and Arctic Express is no exception with its heavy ruffling. Ironically, it has not always performed well for me in Campbell. When Bill Maryott was still growing irises, we would often comment about an iris growing well for him 5 miles away and I would be growing something well here that he had problems with. Since Arctic Express has rave reviews around the country, it is worth adding to the garden and in the last years of the California drought, it has done better here.

Arctic Express--image by Rick Tasco

White with yellow-gold shoulders was always an attractive color combination, but there are few choices these days. Off the beaten path hybridizer, George Hilton, has produced Be Still My Heart.

Be Still My Heart--image by George Hilton

Currently there is one warm white that is very good—by warm white I mean one that is tinted with cream/yellow. That iris is Ten Carat Diamond. So far the reports on this ruffled variety are good from all areas of the country.

Whites with tangerine-red beards are always popular. Vern Wood, who produced lovely irises in a small garden, released Arctic Fox and it is bright and dependable year after year. Perhaps there is a better red bearded white, but I have not seen it yet.

Arctic Fox--image by South Jersey Irises

Rick Tasco's White Hot has also be popular in the red-bearded white class, showing a touch of yellow at the hafts, and is an Award of Merit winner.

White Hot--Image by Brock Heilman

New on the horizon is Schreiners Kenny G. When I first saw it in Oregon in 2015, I dismissed it as “just another white.” Then I walked into the field and saw it on a long row, looking sharp, and went back into the display garden and took a picture. It is one of those irises I have added to the buy list. I am, of course, the only person who keeps a list of iris names by the computer of images that I have seen and think I might want to add to the plant to the garden.

Hybridizing in Missouri, an area that can have difficult weather in the spring, Barbara Nicodemus has produced a series of fine irises. Her Kennadi’s Angel is overlooked. Breed from two classic irises, this ruffled white has beards than deepen to gold in the heart of the flower.

Image by Hugh Stout

In a different direction, there are the cold-blue whites. Oddly I am going to mention Silverado here. This multi award winner, grows and blooms well; the flowers have lovely form. Registered as a bluebird blue, in our California sun, it opens powder blue and fades, gracefully, to blue white after one day. Growth is good too. It should not be a surprise that one of its parents is Carriage Trade.

Silverado--image by Betty Jacobs

So when planning your iris garden, remember traditional colors, including white, are important in the overall plan. White irises bring a calmness to the yard, provide transition between color that might be garish or clashing, and will rule the flower bed with calm serenity.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Iris Grower's Struggle, Part II

by Carlos Ayento

As mentioned previously, the Chicago iris gardener is presented with many problems: humid summers, cold winters without snow cover, and the pests such as grey squirrels, rabbits and iris borers.  While pest can be controlled to an extent, weather cannot; and only the toughest irises survive and thrive in the Windy City. 

In my last blog, I provided a sampling of some West Coast iris originations that have grown well in the City of Chicago.  Today, I present a listing of modern irises by introduced by various iris hybridizers that have proven themselves to be superb growers.  If you have some difficulties growing iris, give these a try!

From Anthony and Dorothy Willott, we have Hallucination (2006).  It is a remarkable standard dwarf bearded origination for its red-violet bands, veining and dotting.  The carrot-red beards make a nice touch.  It has proven extremely resilient and vigorous.  It was attacked by squirrels in June and has made a remarkable comeback.

Bijou (George Sutton, 2002) was an iris that I received as a gift from an order placed in 2007 or so.  I’m am so glad that I received it.  It has been nothing short of amazing and is quick to form clumps in the garden.  I’m also a sucker for blue-pink irises, especially ones with blue beards!

Direct from Canada, one of my personal favorites of Chuck Chapman’s introductions is his Summoned Spirit (2002).  It’s an intriguing medley of pale gold and blues, almost as if each petal was individually brush stroked.  The bonus of it being bred in Canada is that it is completely cold-hardy and snuffs at Chicago’s most brutal winters.

 Named after a computer graphic movement, Walter Moores’ ASCII Art (2007) is fine plicata.  But, the fact of the matter is that it isn’t just your average plicata.  The light purple coloring is heavy strictly on the hafts and style arms of the petals.  The strokes of purple are seemingly bleached away the further it encompasses the standards and falls.  It has bloom consistently since planting it in 2014 and has outstanding growth qualities.

A favorite iris amongst myself the Region 9 iris gardeners is Emma’s Laughter (2008) by our very own G. Steve Poole.  While Mr. Poole has registered and introduced irises since the early 1980s, it is only recently that his originations are taking notice.  I appreciate Emma’s Laughter for its exquisite ruffling, pale powder blue coloring and crisp texture.

Ernie Hoch is a new iris hybridizer based in Washington state.  He only has a handful of registered introductions, but that consistently impressed me is his 2014 introduction Chevron Three.  I purchased the iris as a new introduction in 2014 and it does not disappoint.  As a matter of fact, it has bloomed every year so far, since planting it in 2014.  Growth is just outstanding.  It produced rhizomes like no other.  I’ve literally had to divide it every year because there were just so many new rhizomes.  Highly recommended!

 From overseas, the wonderful French-import Pause Douceur (2014) from fourth generation hybridizer Richard Cayeux, is proving its worth here across the Atlantic and in Chicago.  A delectable confectionary, Pause Douceur has classic form, strong substance and superb growth habits.  Having purchased this iris directly from the Cayeux Iris firm in 2014, I have sadly yet to see this wondrous iris for sale by any U.S. iris growers.  I’m sure it will prove to be a popular iris variety in the years to come.

In the world of irises with ruffles galore, sometimes an iris with a more tailored appearance is a welcome reprise.  As a historic iris enthusiast and collector, some of my favorite irises are from the 1950s through 1970s.  These irises were ruffled just enough to be pleasing.  So, when I saw the Schreiner’s introduction Better Together (2014), I was very pleased so a highly contrasted iris in a tailored (to modern iris standards) bloom.  To me, the most eye-catching quality is the subtle brushing of buff-cream on the pale violet-blue standards.  It is very appealing, especially when offset by the much darker, wine-purple falls.  So far, it has been proving itself in Chicago and it has been one of my personal favorites the recent Schreiner introductions.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Prolific, Long-lasting Bloom from 'Sweeter Than Honey'

By Renee Fraser

Frankly, I don't remember how I acquired 'Sweeter Than Honey'.  It may have been a bonus iris, it may have been won at an auction, or perhaps it was a prize from the San Fernando Valley Iris Society.  In any case, it is not a color I would have chosen.  You see, I don't do pastels.  I am a fan of florescent salmon, shocking scarlet, bright orchid purple, and sunny yellow.  Pastels have a hard time standing up to such an onslaught.

Nevertheless, this pastel iris won my heart through its sheer excellence in the garden.  Not only is the flower itself huge and perfectly formed and ruffled, it puts on the best show of any iris I have ever grown. It not only blooms extravagantly, it blooms FOREVER.  In the last two years, this thing has started in January or February and it has bloomed non-stop until June.  In case you don't believe me, I have documented this phenomenon on Facebook.  You can look it up.

Here it is blooming early in the season, before the roses get going.

I first got it in 2012, and I have not yet divided it.  I thinned it a little this year by pulling off a few rhizomes from the edges and the middle of the clump, but it bloomed prolifically last season, and I don't want to jinx it!

Not only has it bloomed better than any other iris, it actually looks very pretty next to screaming florescent salmon-orange and dark pink roses.  Here it is still going strong at the peak of rose season.

When it is backlit, it outshines the brighter roses.  I have tried to get a photo of the effect, but I don't yet have the skills to capture it.

 'Sweeter Than Honey' was hybridized by Bob Van Liere and registered in 2011.  The description says it is 35" tall and blooms midseason, although mine blooms for almost half the year.  It won an Honorable Mention in 2015.

This iris has been a favorite of mine since 2013, when it started to outdo the other flowers in the garden.  If you are looking for an iris with a modern, ruffled form that performs, give 'Sweeter Than Honey' a shot.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Growing Louisiana Irises

 by Ron Killingsworth
Louisiana irises growing in Mooringsport, LA

Far too often I hear various Master Gardeners, and other flower lovers, say they just simply cannot grow Louisiana irises.  I even gave a talk, several years ago, on growing Louisiana irises to a group in Fort Worth, TX, who told me they cannot grow Louisiana irises.  That’s funny, because they grow lots of them in Dallas.

Louisiana irises growing where they were simply dropped on the ground
 My personal experience is that if you throw a Louisiana iris rhizome down on the ground, and it can reach dirt, it will grow right there.  Not long ago I removed all the irises from a raised bed to amend the soil and just piled the rhizomes on the ground next to the bed.  After amending the soil (with compost) I replanted the rhizomes.  Obviously I missed a few and left them on the ground outside the bed.  Later that fall, I took this picture of the irises growing right there where I had placed them in the grass next to the bed. They were growing as well as those I had carefully planted back into the raised bed!

'Fringed Gold' growing next to a pond
While it is true that Louisiana irises like to have a lot of water, fertilizer and sunlight, they will grow reasonably well with less water and at least 50% sunlight.  In really hot climates, I find that they do much better if they have afternoon shade in the heat of late afternoon.  The real beauty of Louisiana irises is that it is almost impossible to overfeed or over water them.  Yet they grow quite well with other plants.  If you do not give them enough water, food and sunlight, they will produce less bloom and less increase.  If you are not growing them for sale, but simply growing them for their beauty, then who cares if they have less than "garden judging" performance?

Massive planting of Louisiana irises
The above picture was taken in front of my house.  This area was once my vegetable garden and we planted about 6000 Louisiana irises there, temporarily, about eight years ago.  They were dug from Marie Caillet's famous pond in Little Elm, TX, and were mostly unidentified hybrid and registered Louisiana irises.  We were able to identify some of them and move them into beds; however, most of them remain as "surprise" irises who have lost their identify.  This soil was just common gardening soil, un-amended, and they receive very little care and are not often fertilized, yet they put on quite a show every year.  I hesitate to guess how many irises are in this huge planting.  It gives me quite a view from my front porch during bloom season.

Louisiana irises growing with poppies and other "wild flowers"
This picture shows Louisiana irises growing with poppies and "hardy glads".  And, admittedly, with a few weeds.  But, although they receive little maintenance and very little fertilizer, they continue to do quite well.

Louisiana irises growing with Tall Bearded irises
 We have a lot of trouble growing Tall Bearded irises in Louisiana because of the heavy spring rains and very hot summer temperatures.  Some of the old species TB's do quite well, while more modern hybrid TB's last about two years before they burn up in the hot sun or develop rhizome rot from too much water.

Louisiana irises and iris.virginica growing around a pond with Caddo Lake in the background
If you have a water feature, a pond, or a tank (Texas talk) you can grow Louisiana irises in the edge of the pond or around the pond.  A small pump installed in the pond can provide the water to keep them very happy.  Not all Louisianas do well growing directly in the water.

Louisiana irises growing with other plants
These Louisiana irises are growing with bushes and other flowering plants.  They receive very little sunlight other than direct noon sun and are seldom fertilized.  Yet they continue to produce at least two or three blooms per bloom stalk and to increase enough each year to bloom the next year.  This is not the ideal way to grow Louisiana irises commercially and for sale, but if you are growing them to simply enjoy them, then this method works well.

Louisiana irises growing with wild flowers
This is an area of the property we call the "deer meadow" and we plant wild flowers there each year.  The Louisianas in the background are in dug beds, lined with plastic, and are watered through an irrigation system that pumps water out of Caddo Lake.

Louisiana irises growing in pots
Many people chose to grow their Louisiana irises in pots.  This makes it a lot easier to keep the different cultivars separated.  Louisianas are know to "creep" and when planted in beds, will soon creep into the space of their neighbor unless you dig them and divide them every two to three years.  Pots also make it easier to control weeds.  These pots have holes in the bottoms but you can use pots without holes to help conserve water.  If you use pots without holes, I suggest you punch some drainage holes about three inches below the soil level to keep the water from standing above the soil.

Louisiana irises growing with Tall Bearded irises and other flowering plants
You certainly would not want to grow Louisiana irises in your cactus beds but they will grow with just about any other plant.  If you do not feed them and water them enough, they simply will not produce the "garden judging" required number of bud positions and bud count, nor the required increase each year.

Louisiana irises growing in dug beds, lined with heavy plastic
We grow irises commercially and using a backhoe dig beds about two to three feet deep and four feet wide by as long as the space allows.  We line the beds with plastic and fill the beds with amended soil.  Again they are watered from a pump in Caddo Lake.  This method works well in our area.

Raised beds are easy to make with landscape timbers.  Just line the bed with plastic and fill with good compost.
These Louisiana irises are happy with about 50% sunshine and grow well in this raised bed.  Of course, when you make it ideal for irises you also make it ideal for weeds!

Rhizome ready to plant
A rhizome ready to plant should have the foliage trimmed back and, if necessary, reduce the size of the rhizome.  Plant the rhizome about 1 1/2 to 2 inches below the top of the soil.  Keep it moist, not drowned, until the new growth starts to appear.

To learn more about the Society for Louisiana irises, click here.

To learn more about growing Louisiana irises, click here.

OK, class is out for the day.  Now let's just look at some of my favorite Louisiana irises.

'Boiled Crawfish' (Guidry, R 2016)

'Cajun Merry' (Dunn, M 1995)

'Cajun Sunrise' (Mertzweiller, J 1992)

'Cotton Plantation' (Dunn, M 1994)

'Easter Tide' (Arny, C 1979)

'Heavenly Glow' (Morgan, R 1988)

To learn more about the American Iris Society, click here.

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