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! 


  1. Thank you. Beautiful "blog", great pictures.

  2. Thank you for the valuable suggestions, which I hope to experiment with in Montana. Very nice presentation, with a variety of sizes & colors! ��