Monday, May 8, 2017

Larry Gaulter's Small Iris Garden

By Bryce Williamson

For the newcomer who might want to hybridize iris, you might be a bit put off when you hear that Schreiner's plants 50,000 seedlings, or that Keith Keppel raises 10,000 each year.  Rest easy, potential hybridizer!  Even a gardener  with limited space can successfully hybridize new and beautiful plants.  This post and the next will tell the story of two Region 14 hybridizers who were, and are, successful regardless of space limitations.

 'Drury Lane'   Photo by Alain Chapelle

When I joined the American Iris Society as a teenager, Larry Gaulter was a fixture of the region. He had been Regional Vice-President for a year and was serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Iris Society. At meetings of the Clara B. Rees Iris Society, Larry and his wife Frances would drive down from Hayward in the company of Walt and Vi Luihn.

 Larry with Melba Hamblen   Photo by Glenn Corlew

Larry lived in a tract home with a small back yard. Over time, he took over part of the back yards of the homes to either side of him.  From that limited space, a series of fine irises emerged, irises that I am convinced that did not receive enough praise while he was still alive.

Here are some wonderful Gaulter irises for you to judge for yourself.

 'Mademoiselle'   HIPS Archive

'Mademoiselle' was Larry’s first Award of Merit winner. From Schreiner and Whiting breeding stock, it would be a foundation of his lavender/orchid/blends.

'Claudia Rene'  Photo by Robert Schreiner

'Claudia Rene', named for one of his daughters, was in bloom at the first Region 14 Spring Meeting I attended.  The first day of the meet, the flowers were faded, but the next day fresh flowers opened, and as a new introduction it was bargain-priced at only 20.00.  I had to have it, and its seedlings were a mixed bag: many were rough, but quality also emerged.  My first introduction, 'Baroque', was a 'Claudia Rene' child.  Other hybridizers like Joe Ghio also used 'Claudia Rene' to great success.

'Laurie'    Photo by Wisconsin Iris Society

From 'Claudia Rene', Larry introduced 'Laurie',  and for years 'Laurie' and 'Babbling Brook' vied for the Dykes.   Sadly, 'Laurie' did not win. Twenty years after introduction, a well grown stalk of  'Laurie' still looked modern and fresh.

'Mary Frances'   Photo by Susanne Holland Spicker

Larry would finally win the Dykes Medal for 'Mary Francis', one of those irises that grows and blooms everywhere.  Still popular today, it has become an enduring classic.

Two other Gaulter irises have also become classics.  'Skating Party' won an Award of Merit and it has endure as a great white iris.

'Skating Party'   Photo by Susanne Holland-Spicker

For color and pattern, though, Larry's 'Persian Berry' is still unmatched.  It won an Award of Merit and is still widely grown and appreciated.

 'Persian Berry'  Photo by by Marilyn Campbell

I always enjoyed 'Drury Lane' for its bright color combination, but it never caught on with the public like some of Larry's other creations.

Larry was a positive role model for others—he became an early supporter of Don Denney and Jim McWhirter. That duo revived Cottage Gardens and many of their early introductions contain Gaulter irises as parents.

For Larry’s support of others within Region 14, the Region 14 Lifetime Achievement award bears his name. When looking at photos from the 1950’s onward, Larry and Frances can be seen in gardens throughout the West Coast.

It was somewhat fitting that Jim McWhirter would introduce Larry’s last introduction, the Award of Merit winning 'Alexander’s Ragtime Band'.

'Alexander's Ragtime Band'   Photo by Country Delight

It should be no surprise that both  'Mary Frances' and 'Skating Party' have been voted onto the Tall Bearded Iris Society’s Hall of Fame.

During his lifetime Larry  won a Dykes Medal, the Hybridizers Medal, and the AIS Distinguished Service Medal.  Not bad for someone working in a limited space in a backyard garden!


  1. Bryce, I believe your fine article will encourage many who thought they had such limited space that they could try their hand at hybridizing. I have many of Larry's iriss and also Melba's. Melba was from Roy Utah and I had heard of her many times but never seen a picture. Thank you for including that in the article as well.

  2. Bryce, Thank you for this article about Larry Gaulter. Steve Schreiner sent it to me recently. Larry was my grandfather and I remember his back yard garden well. Jim McWhirter and Don Denney were great family friends. Over the last several years, I have been trying to collect the iris he named for our family. So far I've found Portrait of Larry (my mom), Laurie, Jilby, and Mary Frances. I would love to find someone who still grows Claudie Renee (mentioned in your article) as well as Christie Ann which won the Primio Firenze in the world iris competition in Florence in the early 1960's. Thank you again for the lovely article and the memories. Chris

  3. Just stumbled onto this site, imagine my surprise to see my Grandmother Melba Hamblen's picture... Oh the memories of her and the irises... Thank you


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