Monday, April 10, 2017

My Top Three Louisiana Irises

by Ron Killingsworth


I have been growing Louisiana irises for about fifteen or so years.  My background is investigative work and police work.  Although my grandmother was a “flower person” who grew many kinds of flowers and hybridized daylilies, I was not bitten by the flower bug until very late in my life.

Green House with Louisiana irises in front
We grow thousands of Louisiana irises in Mooringsport, LA, on historic Caddo Lake.  Every year many people visit us during the bloom season.  I am always asked which is my favorite Louisiana iris.  I generally reply with the names of about ten or so irises that I especially love.  It is difficult, therefore, to choose just a few.

My overall favorite Louisiana iris is ‘Adell Tingle’ (Hutchins, B 2006) for simply sentimental reasons.  My mother’s sister, Adell Tingle, was one of my favorite relatives.  She was a “flower nut” from birth and grew many flowers, especially native Louisiana plants.  Adell loved to attend the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI) conventions.  In fact, it was the high point of her year.   It is a beautiful light lavender iris with medium lavender veining, slight ruffling, gold steeple signals outlined with darker purple veins and a great garden iris.  It was introduced by Plantation Point Nursery in 2007 but has never won any American Iris Society (AIS) awards.  
Louisiana iris 'Adell Tingle'
I remember the convention in Lafayette many years ago when Sue and I entered ‘Adel Tingle’ in the iris show at the convention.  It did not win the attention of the AIS judges but it did win the Ira S. Nelson Award (first place).  This award is given to the iris voted by the SLI members at the show as being the best iris in the show.  Sometimes this award is given to the best iris as selected by the AIS judges, but sometimes the members do not agree with the judges and select a different iris. When the award was presented at the awards banquet, Aunty A jumped out of her chair and rushed to the front to receive “her” vase and large rosette!  Of course these awards generally go to the person who entered the iris, not to the person it was named for!  But, none of us had the heart to explain this to Aunty A and she often said that was the best day of her life.  Aunty A is now strolling through the iris fields in heaven.

'Adell Tingle'
'Adell Tingle' the iris
Adell Tingle surrounded by Louisiana irses
 ‘Adell Tingle’ remains a great garden iris and many members of SLI grow her because of our love for Aunty A.  But even if you did not know her, it is a great iris and worthy of your consideration.
Louisiana iris 'Hush Money'
My second choice is based on the beauty of the iris and the unique iris name.  Sometimes you simply have to take off your “judge’s hat” and allow other things to decide what you love as opposed to what the book says.  That is not to say that AIS judges do not agree with me! 
'Hush Money'

My second choice is ‘Hush Money’ (Dunn, Mary 1998 (registered by J. Ghio for Mary, introduced by Bay View Gardens in 1998).  ‘Hush Money’ is registered as “stands cream with blue cast; falls cream, raised gold signal.”  It is obvious Joe did not spend much time on the description!  This does not come close to describing this wonderful iris.  I think the petals are almost white.  They do have a blue cast to them.  The signal is very long, very pretty, a goldish/yellow, and reaches to the midpoint of the falls.  It has a complicated genealogy.
'Hush Money'
Mary Dunn was a fabulous hybridizer and crossed and registered many great irises.  I grow a large selection of her irises.  I wrote an article about her many years ago that was published in the Fleur de Lis.  I never met her but would have loved her had I done so.  ‘Hush Money’ is a fabulous iris.  It is a good garden iris and it is a show winner.  My problem is keeping enough of it, as I tend to give it to everyone visiting the iris beds.  It won a Honorable Mention in 2002 but did not advance any further in the AIS awards scheme.  In my opinion it is certainly a Mary Swords DeBaillon Award winner – although no longer eligible for any AIS awards.  That does not stop it from winning show awards.  Don’t you just love the name?  Isn’t it a beautiful iris?
Louisiana iris 'Starlite Starbrite'
My third choice is ‘Starlite Starbrite’ (Granger, Marvin 1985).  ‘Starlite Starbrite’ is registered as simply as possible --“white, small greenish yellow signal; slight fragrance.”  One would think the registrar was charging by the word!  ‘Starlite Starbrite’ has never won any of the AIS awards.  It won the SLI award, “Caillet Cup” in 2012, when viewed by SLI convention attendees right here at Plantation Point.

'Starlite Starbrite' - Cartwheel form
The bloom season was early that year and by the time the convention rolled around, there were not a lot of irises still blooming.  It had rained and beat what few blooms remained into bloom pieces.  However, there were at least three different locations that had huge clumps of ‘Starlite Starbrite’ still blooming.  The convention guests voted it as the best iris seen in the convention tour gardens.

'Starlite Starbrite'
We continue to grow several large “clumps” of ‘Starlite Starbrite’.  It is a great re-producer, very tall, an outstanding iris in all regards.  Yet simple in its open and flat form.  If you can find a good specimen of it to enter in an iris show, it will probably win you a nice ribbon.  It often takes the “Queen of the Show” in many iris shows.  So, it is a great garden iris and a great show iris.  What more could you ask for?

Almost all of our irises are grown in dug beds.  We are in zone eight.  We have nice spring showers but very hot and dry summers.  We are fortunate to be able to pump irrigation water from a lake and keep the irises watered during the long dry summers.  Even then some of the irises go dormant.  We have little success with Tall Bearded irises because of the spring rains and the hot summers.

With so many thousands of irises to care for, they do not get fertilized as much as they should.  Twice a year applications of commercial fertilizer is about all they are afforded.  I do grow quite a few in raised beds, my own personal irises, and they are happy to receive more water and more fertilizer.  I find raised beds, lined with heavy plastic, work great.  Even with the heavy plastic lining, if located near a tree, roots will find their way into your beds and suck up all the good stuff. I don’t think you can over fertilize or over water Louisiana irises, which makes them just about the easiest iris to grow. In fact, just throw that rhizome down on the ground where it can reach some dirt and watch it grow.

Ron and Aunty A with "small" catfish caught on Caddo Lake.  Field of irises in background.
Did I mention that Aunty A loved to fish in Caddo Lake?  Here is one of the smaller ones we caught.  It is a flat head catfish also called Oppaloosa catfish.  We caught one a few years back that weighed in at 65 lbs.

To learn more about Louisiana irises, visit the Society for Louisiana Irises web site.

If you have never grown Louisiana irises, give them a try.  They grow as far north as upper state NY and from coast to coast.  There are many Louisiana iris hybridziers in  Australia and New Zealand.

To learn more about the American Iris Society and other species of irises, visit their web site.

To follow the Louisiana iris Facebook group, visit their facebook page.

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