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.



  1. Nicely written, Carlos! So interesting to read for those of us out here in the Pacific Northwest. Thank you for putting this together.

  2. Carlos, I appreciate 4 hours from you in NW Ohio, I have many of the same conditions and I love your picks! Thank you