Monday, June 26, 2017

From West to East...the Iris Grower's Struggle

By Carlos Ayento

I have been involved with irises since seventh grade.  That was back in 1992 when I planted eight tall bearded irises from a collection offered from Burpee’s Seed catalog.  Seven of those irises I would later find out were introduced by Schreiner’s.  These were Invitation (1982), Grand Waltz (1970), Stepping Out (1964), Gay Parasol (1974), Deep Fire (1979), Pledge Allegiance (1984) and Tut’s Gold (1979).

I had expanded the collection vastly during my college years in my parent’s Chicago garden; some performed well, others not so much.  However, those seven irises were still among the hardiest in the garden and would serve as the catalyst for creating my Schreiner’s iris collection.  With the exception of Deep Fire, I still grow all of these irises today.  My website, Brighton Park Iris, was born from this obsession.

Since moving to my own property, I had the chance to really expand my collection.  I have tried introductions from nearly every major iris hybridizer and grower.  As an iris gardener, I’m presented with many problems which are not ideal for bearded iris: humid and sometimes rainy summers, cold winters (lately without snow cover) and of course, the dreaded iris borer. 

This has been the triple-whammy of trying to grow irises for me in Chicago...only the toughest irises survive here.  Irises that have originated in the West Coast area (California, Oregon, Washington) have had the hardest time transitioning in the Windy City and many don't survive that first winter.  However, there have been a few irises that snuff at whatever Chicago throws at them. So here I present some of the hardiest West Coast irises that thrive in Chicago and that have been introduced within the last 20 years.

From Paul Black, one of my top selections for standard dwarf bearded iris is Mini Mouse (2012).  It is a vigorous and fast-growing iris with wonderful and faint plum dotting over cream.  Don't forget to check out those solid purple styles!

Lowell Baumunk's Vivaldi (2007) is another standard dwarf bearded iris that has also performed well here in Chicago.  This blue and white plicata is a Baroque classic!  Delicate, yet hardy!

If you’re looking for an intermediate bearded iris to continue the season along, look no further than Rick Tasco’s Flying Solo (2001).  This creamy pink self with interesting pink horns multiplies quickly and will take over your garden if you leave it alone.

From Joe Ghio, his Spiral Galaxy (2014) is performing very well here.  It’s a ruffled yellow bitone with his signature “Ghio-form” and unique maroon veining on the falls.  It blooms for a long period of time with multiple blooms per stalk.

An iris that I believe is truly deserving of the Dykes Medal is Keith Keppel’s Venetian Glass (2003).  Creamy white with a slight pink cast and crisp, laced edging.  Has bloomed consistently every year and never fails to impress.

Of the few introductions that I have tried growing of Bob Van Liere, my favorite and his best growing of those is Sisters of Loretto (2006).  It’s a creamy, rosy-strawberry iris with a flush of cream on the center of the flower.

Roger Duncan’s Arctic Burst (2008) never fails to impress.  It’s unique color pattern is unmistakable.  I love the yellow infusion both on the lower part of the standards and hafts of the falls.

Irises introduced by the Schreiner’s have done consistently well here in Chicago.  If you’re looking for TALL bearded iris, then you must try Schreiner’s Downtown Brown (2013) for its creamy coffee coloration.

Next, Salzburg Echo (2009) will light up that dark corner of your yard with its brilliant cream standards and rich yellow falls.  A dependable bloomer and one that increases rapidly.

Miles Ahead (2010) is aptly named.  Its miles ahead of the competition in terms of blooming reliability and vigor to withstand what Chicago weather throws at it.

Most dark selfs that I have tried in Chicago perform well, but if you want the best growing and most saturated jet black of them all, then Here Comes the Night (2009) is for you.

Another iris that has done well from the Schreiner family is Glad (2011).  The lavender-blue self would be easily overlooked if it weren't for those blazing orange beards on the falls!

Finally, the most recent introduction that so far is performing very admirably, and namesake of the founding member of the Schreiner’s firm, F. X. Schreiner (2015) is making a big splash in my Chicago garden.

If you have difficulty growing some of the new irises on the market today or are unsure of what to try of the more recent irises to hit the market, give these beauties a try! 

Monday, June 19, 2017

I'm Singing the Blues

By Bryce Williamson

In the last twenty-five years, there has been an amazing proliferation of new patterns and color combinations. Lost in this transition, however, is one of the basic reasons to grow irises—they have wonderful blues and violets colors found in few other flowers. Other flower groups should be green with envy if they had these colors.

In the light blues, I am particular fond of Richard Tasco's light, approaching sky blue, Absolute Treasure:
Image by Bryce Williamson

With tall stalks that stand up well inclement weather, Absolute Treasure looks good in newly set plants and in second and third year clumps.

In the mid-blue range, I am adding Schreiner’s Blue Hour to the garden this year:
Image by Bryce Williamson

I saw this at the American Iris Society Portland National and was impressed, but did not add it to the yard then since we were in the middle of the horrible drought. With water restrictions lifted, it is nice to have plants thriving instead of struggling to survive.

In a darker shade of blue, Keith Keppel’s Adriatic Waves starts the tall bearded iris season for me:
Photo by Jeanette Graham

With its deep ruffling, it is a standout in the garden.

In a variation of the blue theme, Paul Black has added a tangerine-red beard to his creation Bluebird of Happiness:

Going yet darker in blue, but still clearly blue, it is the hard to beat Ray Schriener’s Yaquina Blue:
Yaquina Blue--Image by Betty Jacobs

This easy to grow variety won the Dykes and deserved to win it.

Then there are the wonderful blue-violet irises. I think Gerald Richardson’s Magheralin is about as close to perfection for form as an iris can get:

Image by Dale Austin
Sadly this wonderful iris, a standout in the yard for both growth, healthy plants, and good bloom, has been ignored by the public.

From blue-violet, the colors can go in two direction. Slipping into the magenta range of violet, it is still hard to beat for growth and good form Schreiner’s Diabolique:
Diabolique--Image by Augusto Bianco
The cerise-violet coloring commands attention.

In a different direction as the blue-violets get deeper for color, then the irises are in the territory of blue-black. One of the few newer irises that I am adding to the collection this year is the stunningly dark Coal Seams (Schreiner’s).
Image by Bryce Williamson
With family members loving these colors and demanding to see them in the spring, I can keep peace within the family with this purchase.

If these irises don't provide enough variety, there are the variations on the theme of blue--reverses and neglectas.

My own Chance of Showers is an example of a reverse with darker standards and lighter falls.
Chance of Showers--image by Jeanette Graham

In the group of neglectas, I am especially fond of Global Crossings (Van Liere). In the same color range as Great Gatsby and World Premier, this is an updated version of them.

I like the velvet finish on the falls.

So, when gardening with irises, enjoy the amazing new color combinations and patterns, but don’t forget to sing the blues and you will not regret those choices and you will be the envy of your neighbors.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Iris Bloom Season in NW Louisiana on Historic Caddo Lake

By Ron Killingsworth

This was one of the most unusual bloom season I can remember.  Last year we had rains and floods and a lot of the iris beds were under water for over a week.  I am happy to report that they survived but they did not bloom this year.

We started the spring with lots of "colder than usual" weather.  It was very cold one day and then hot a few days later.  The irises simply did not know what to do -- bloom or wait for the weather to turn and stay warm.  Only about half of our Louisiana irises bloomed this year.  The remainder put up nice foliage but simply failed to put up bloom stalks.

Growing irises on Rocky Point on Caddo Lake in NW Louisiana holds special meaning to me.  The native American tribe of Caddo "Indians" settled in this area long before European immigrants made it this far into Louisiana.  Growing native Louisiana irises on this beautiful lake is my way of recognizing the natives of this area and although I am not sure they grew here naturally, having them on the lake pays tribute to the Caddo tribe.

'Atchafalaya' (Campbell, F 1998)
 This beautiful Louisiana iris was named for the Atchafalaya basin in south Louisiana. It is one of the "cartwheel" forms with a slight silver halo around the petals.

Louisiana rises growing near the "Marie Caillet Pond" with bamboo bridge in background
 I do not know the name of this beautiful and very tall Louisiana iris.  This picture was taken near a pond we dug and named for Marie Caillet, a charter member of the Society for Louisiana Irises.  There is a large stand of bamboo on the property and we make many things from bamboo.  I have recently started making bird houses from this bamboo.

'Aunt Rose' (Musacchia, J 2010)
"Cajun Joe" is what Joe Musacchia is best known by.  He lives so far south in Louisiana that you almost need a boat to get to his home.  Joe has hybridized many Louisiana irises.

See comments below
This lovely iris could be 'Glowlight' (Taylor, JC 1986) or may be 'Lois Setser' (Matheny III, E 1999).  The pictures I have of both irises look very much alike.  Regardless of the correct name, it is a beautiful iris and the standards "stand up" while the falls tend to "fall down".

'Dr. Dormon' (Conger, S 1972)
The iris in the foreground is named for Caroline Dormon.  Her name is often misspelled as "Dorman".  Dr. Dormon was a world renowned author, artist, conservationist and a charter member of the Society for Louisiana Irises.  Thanks to her efforts we now have Kisatchie National Forest in west central Louisiana, the home of many species of pine trees and of the Red-headed woodpecker.  Caroline hybridized many Louisiana irises in the 1940-70 time frame.  Her home is now called  Briarwood Nature Preserve.
Briarwood is a must see if you are ever in Louisiana.  It is located in the almost center of the state near the town of Saline, LA.

This iris was named to honor Caroline by Sidney Conger, who lived in my hometown and also hybridized many Louisiana irises.  Sidney's home in Arcadia, LA, had a huge garden full of Louisiana irises but they are all gone now, mostly destroyed when the home was sold outside the family.

Louisiana irises growing in a large planting in front of my house with my sister and BIL's home in background

A mixture of Louisiana irises, i.virginica and other plants growing near several cabins on the property.

Louisiana irises in a massive planting in what once was my vegetable garden.  We put them here "temporarily" over 8 years ago!

Louisiana irises growing by the Koi pond with "yard art" in background

'Cocka The Walk' (Musacchia, J 2005)
 This iris is registered as "42-48 inches" but grows much taller for me.  If you are interested in knowing the meaning of this name, check it out at Cock of the Walk.

Professor "someone".  These are tetraploid Louisiana irises and most of them hybridized by Joe Mertzweiller were named for his professor friends at what is now the University of LA at Lafayette. I have trouble telling them apart.
This is a large clump of tetraploid irises growing near the "Marie Pond" with the bamboo bridge.

'Delta Star' (Granger, Marvin 1966)
 Marvin Granger hybridized many "cartwheel" form Louisiana irises from a natural hybrid he collected in the marshes of south Louisiana.  These flowers have all falls and no standards and the signal is of course located on all petals.

'Kristi G' (Mertzweiller, J 1985)
 'Kristi G' grows like a "weed" for me.  This picture was taken at the Catfish Pond and you can see duck decoys in the background.

'Her Highness' (Levingston 1957)
 'Her Highness' is a collected iris.giganticaerulea alba and certainly shows the characteristics of this species of Louisiana irises named iris.giganticaerulea.

'Her Highness' (the white one) and "Professor who knows" with Caddo Lake and bald cypress trees in background

Massive planting of Louisiana irises with Caddo Lake in background

Pretty purple Louisiana iris with Caddo Lake, bald cypress trees and our boat house in background

'Myra Arny' (Arny, Charles 1969) with Caddo Lake in background

Bald cypress trees growing in Caddo Lake.  These trees produce cypress "knees" and are happy growing in water.

Do not recall the name of this tall Louisiana iris but she's a beauty.

Once again I do not recall the name of this Louisiana iris and took it as a "scenic shot".

Unknown Tall Bearded iris.  We grow very few Tall Bearded irises here in NW Louisiana.  Simply too hot and too wet for them.

'Seminole Moon' (Wolford, Harry 2009)
Harry Wolford lives in Palm Bay, FL, and has hybridized many Louisiana irises.  He retired from teaching in Ohio and moved his large collection of Tall Bearded irises to FL where they all died.  He then became interested in growing Louisiana irises.  This is one beautiful Louisiana iris.  If you know anything about Florida, you know where he gets the first name of many of his Louisiana hybrid irises.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures/  I take hundreds each year.  Not sure what to do with them.  If you are ever in the area, as they say in the south, "ya'll come by and see me sometimes".

To learn more about irises visit the web site of the American Iris Society.

To learn more about Louisiana irises, simply "google" Louisiana irises, AFTER you have visited the web site of the Society for Louisiana Irises.

Monday, June 5, 2017

"Talking Irises" GARDEN MAGIC FILLS MY SOUL-The Irises of Kat Zalewska

By Susanne Holland Spicker


The Irises of Kat Zalewska

'HAZELBRAE' (Zalewska 2015)

If you're not familiar with award-winning iris hybridizer Katarzyna "Kat" Zalewska, it is my pleasure to introduce her to you.  When I first saw the magic of her beautiful iris garden, I wanted to share her video with our AIS blog readers. She has graciously agreed.

Kat lives in the English Midlands, in the county of Staffordshire and is proud of the fact that she is the first Polish female iris hybridizer since before the second world war. Kat says that hybridizing is her true love and passion. Her iris garden has approximately 600 varieties of tall bearded irises (TB) and more than 100 dwarf bearded (DB) varieties.

Kat Zalewska seedling 18-13-KZ-B

She says she was hooked when she received her first iris from a neighbor. It wasn't long before she "realized how many varieties there were" and her "interest in botany took hold." She says, "After my first stuttering attempt, I became completely focused on creating my own varieties." 

'PEAR IN WHISKEY' (Zalewska 2016)

Her first crossings were in 2012. However, she says that this "first attempt was not too successful," as most of her "seed pods were damaged in a thunderstorm."  It is not uncommon for her to spend months trying to come to a decision for a suitable name for her cultivars. However, being inspired by both history and her travels, "sometimes a name will spring to mind" as soon as she sees a variety bloom for the first time.

                  'WANILIOWE JEZIORO' (Zalewska 2015)

In the last two years she has registered 11 cultivars. The number of seedlings she has hybridized in the past two years, however, has been a few thousand, a number of which she is still assessing. 

Kat Zalewska seedling

Even though she has "become more interested in crossing dwarf bearded varieties as each year passes, she mainly focuses on hybridizing tall bearded irises.  

Kat Zalewska Seedling 18-13-KZ-D

As yet, Kat has not exported any cultivars beyond the European Union, and currently, there are no growers in the USA, but she would "very much like that to happen," as would I!

                     'VIOLET VENUS' (Zalewska 2015)

As a gifted photographer, Kat's irises provide her with wonderful subject material. The British weather is very temperamental, so the best time to take photos is dictated by that rather than the time of day. She has an old Lumix camera, which, as she states, "serves its purpose." She commissioned a talented young director to produce the beautiful iris garden video that begins this article.

'CRYSTAL CREEK' (Zalewska 2016)

She writes: "A number of hybridizers concentrate on specific characteristics of irises and this heavily influences the fruits of their work. I recognize that different regions have different tastes and I try and embrace this.

Kat Zalewska seedling

Someone once said, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are gardens."  I wholeheartedly agree, and as a fan of Kat's garden and her stunning iris cultivars, I am hopeful some of her beautiful flowers will make it to the United States.  In the mean time, I look forward to viewing her exceptional flowers on various Facebook groups featuring irises, or on her website: where more information about her and her hybridizing program can be found.

Kat Zalewska seedling 

Thank you, Kat, for sharing your spectacular iris garden and giving us the opportunity of getting to know you better. Your passion for hybridizing has helped to make the world more beautiful.

Kat Zalewska seedling

If you have any questions or comments for Kat, I'm sure she'd love to hear from you! Leave your comments or questions here and she'll respond.