Monday, December 4, 2017

Iris Stories: 'April Melody'

By Bryce Williamson

Iris stories can be made up of several related, interlocking, overlapping stories—if the story is about a hybridizer’s creations, there may be stories about the names, why the cross was made, or other issues; less known is that often the hybridizer is influenced by or helped by other people who often are nameless, though those side stories are of interest. That is the case with Jim Gibson’s 'April Melody,' the first good pink plicata and the foundation parent of pink/orange toned plicatas today.

And the story of Jim Gibson and 'April Melody' actually starts in Utah with 'Tell Muhlestein' taking a plicata seedling from Loomis’ 'Seashell' and crossing it with his 'Pink Formal'. 'Pink Formal' was from a Loomis pink seedling and iris 'David Hall.' From that cross, he obtained 'New Adventure' and introduced it in 1953. We now know that the Hall pink irises had plicatas in their background and 'Seashell' certainly had them. 'New Adventure' was an interesting color break—a lavender-pink plicata with a tangerine beard, but, as you can see from the image, it did not have good form.

 'New Adventure' -- image from the Iris Encyclopedia 

When Jim Gibson in Porterville, California grew 'New Adventur'e he realized it had great potential, but it also needed a lot of work on the form. Thus started his quest for a well formed pink plicata. As you can see from the complicated parentage, he made many crosses and brought into the breeding both the best pinks of the day and his own well-formed brown plicatas. And he raised seedlings and then another generation and yet more generations.

During one of my visits to his garden, Jim explained that he thought about giving up—the desired result was not showing up, but he did not give up and finally a flower appeared that met his high standards. As you can see from the parentage, many generations of hybridizing went into the creation of 'April Melody':  ((37-57: (54-55: ('Taholah' x 45-53: ('Ballerina' x (('Gibson Girl' x ('Madame Louis Aureau' x ('Sacramento' x red brown))) x ('Gibson Girl' x ('Tiffany' x 'Siegfried'))))) x (45-53D x ('Ballerina' x 'Happy Birthday'))) x 'New Adventure')   X   (37-57 x ('New Adventure' x 54-55))).

But that was not the end of the story. At that time, the Gibson irises were being introduced by Cooley’s in Silverton, Oregon and they were hesitant to introduce this new colored iris. Enter the stranger in the form of Hazel Stewart of San Jose, a longtime member of the Clara B. Rees Iris Society.

'April Melody' image from HIPS archive

Region 14—Northern California and Nevada—had a spring meeting in Porterville. In the Gibson garden, the pink plicata seedling was in bloom. During the garden tours, Hazel stood by the planting and kept pointing out, “This is good. This is different.” She was right, it was good and different.

When the result of the voting for best seedling from a Region 14 hybridizer was announced, Hazel’s campaign had paid off—the pink plicata was named best seedling. With that award, Cooley’s did introduce 'April Melody.'

And 'April Melody' went on to be a major parent for Gibson and other hybridizers. From 'April Melody,' Jim introduced a series of new plicata colors -- 'Rippling Rose,' 'Summer Silk,' 'Casino Queen,' 'Mod Mode,' 'Porta Villa,' and 'Frosty Blush' are all first generation 'April Melody' children. The second generation produced 'Lilac Love,' 'Pink Ember,' 'Happy Halo,' 'Smoke Rings,' 'Lasting Spring,' and 'Frost Kiss.' In the third generation, along came 'Pink Confetti' and 'Anon,' among others. Further down the line, one of the most important and lasting of Jim Gibson’s iris is the wonderful 'Queen in Calico.'

'Porta Villa' image by Sunshine Iris, Australia

'Pink Ember' image by Glenn Corlew

'Anon' image by Country Delight Iris
'Queen in Calico' image from Iris Encyclopedia 

This is just a partial list of Gibson irises stemming from 'April Melody' and, needless to say, other hybridizers realized the potential of the iris and used it heavily. In fact, 'April Melody' not only opened up a whole new group of color plicatas, but also 'April Melody' appears in the background of so many differently colored irises that it is hard to believe including the 2017 Dykes Medal winner 'Montmartre.'
'Montmartre' image by Schreiner's Gardens

When Jim could have given up on the line, he did not; he continued to work for the goal, finally reaching and not only achieving a wonderful flower, but also a wonderful parent. 'April Melody'’s story also points out the importance of other people in making sure that wonderful and different irises are recognized. While the judges of The American Iris Society did award 'April Melody' an Honorable Mention, they failed to vote it an Award of Merit — a huge oversight on their part. In another blog, I will show how 'April Melody' and its children were used by other hybridizers to produce fine irises.

My thanks to Keith Keppel for reading, correcting, and suggesting ideas for this blog.


  1. Wonderful information ... the combination or personality of the hybridizer attached to the physical effort and patience involved ... is the sort of recording that seldom appears in iris history archives. Wonderful blog!


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