Monday, September 3, 2018

A Trip of a Lifetime

By Maggie Asplet

I guess it is fair to say that my recent trip to Salem, Oregon began in 2017 at the NZ Iris society Convention in Palmerston North where Thomas Johnson was the guest speaker.  On a couple of occasions I discussed with him the frustration of working with our “older” cultivars, and he said come over.  Didn’t give it much more thought at the time, until early 2018.

With not much time from when my final decision of “this is what I really want to do”, I was off to Mid America Iris Garden in Salem, Oregon.  This was the start of two and a half very busy weeks, mainly spent looking at iris, hybridizing iris, talking iris then more hybridizing iris.

Just where does one begin to talk about such an awesome experience?  Perhaps the most logical place is the iris.  Arriving in early May, the SDB’s were at their best, perhaps some just past their best.  Being allowed to walk through the seedlings was just jaw dropping.  First year seedlings had your mind spinning, and then to be allowed to play in the second and third year seedling, this is before they have even been introduced was just awe inspiring.  At this point, it is fair to say that it was overwhelming, daunting and exciting all at the same time.

 Discussing IB's with Paul Black, Bailey Schiller (AUS) and myself

Without much delay, well a whole day just walking around with my jaw touching the ground and wondering where to start, I pulled out my notebook, my tags and my pencil then got the tweezers in hand we I began.  The first few days were mainly spent doing SDB and a few AB crosses.  I delightful iris that is named after Thomas and Kirk’s little dashhound (one of two) Alaia caught my eye, but only time will tell if any of the crosses I have done with this one are successful.

'Alaia' the SDB and Alaia (on the left) and her best buddy Tula

Once I had gotten through some of the SDB’s the TB’s were starting to come out in full bloom.  NOW this was totally overwhelming, just awe inspiring.  Questions like – where do you begin, what do you put with what, which garden do you look at first.  It was really easy to spend too much time thinking and not enough “just getting on with it”.  When you finally get on with it, it is really hard to stop.  In fact I did a total of 180 plus crosses and all of them were done twice.  Again, just how many were successful, I don’t know yet.

Mid-America Iris Garden in full bloom (photo by Thomas Johnson)

The ability to have discussions with internationally renowned hybridisers would have had to been the highlight of my time away.  When you have Thomas Johnson, Barry Blyth and Paul Black all standing together, just how could you not be asking questions.  And it didn’t matter how strange your question might appear, they were happy to answer.

One of my strange questions was – If you had only one flower on a very special iris, could you or would you mix pollen to get as vast a range of crosses as possible.  Simple answer really – YES you could, but it would still only be a cross with the pod and pollen parent, just difficult in some cases to know the pollen parent.  As the iris has 3 chambers, you could isolate each chamber and have three “proper” crosses.  Not such a silly question after all.

From left – Paul Black, Barry Blyth and Thomas Johnson

Before I proceed any further, it must be said that Thomas was more than generous to me.  He had four other people staying – Time and Maria Rose Taylor of Riverdale Irises in Vicotria, Australia and mother and son duo Melissa and Bailey Schiller of Smokin Heights Irises in South Australia.  It was usually Melissa and Bailey that I got up to mischief with and would visit other nurseries with.

We were also very fortunate to spend some special time with Schieners, both in their display gardens and social time.

Group at Schreiner's Iris Gardens. From left, Steve Schreiner, Maria Rosa Taylor (AUS), Maggie Asplet (NZ), Bailey Schiller (AUS), Thomas Johnson, Melissa Schiller (AUS), Michael Barnes (AUS), Kirk Hansen and Tim Taylor (AUS).

Another special time, was visiting Keith Keppel in his garden.  There he was down on his knees toiling away.  Always willing to spend time and talk.  When asked if I could take some blooms back to Mid-America, his very quick response was – “Can I see your breeding programme.”  If you didn’t know Keith, you might think he was being serious.  Then again perhaps he was?

Again, awesome time spent sitting and just talking irises with Keith, Barry, Melissa and Bailey.  It made me very aware that there was so much to learn and so little time.

Apart from making numerous crosses, we did have an outing thanks to both Paul Black and Lynda Miller of Miller Manor Irises.  Paul was kind enough to take us up to Chad Harris’s place.  This was my second visit, as I was there in 2015 at the AIS Convention.  The Siberian irises where in full bloom; just stunning.  Perhaps the best was the little treasure that was blooming right when we arrived.  We were escorted straight to look at this particular iris as the bloom only last a short time.  An iris that as yet has not been given a botanical name, and so is currently know by its code name - Azure Iris. 

The alluring “Azure Iris”

From here, we travelled around to Multnomah Falls.  Not as stunning as when the group visited in 2015, but still beautiful.  We enjoyed a lovely lunch here thanks to the generosity of Paul Black.  From there it was a drive to Paul’s house in Milwaukie, Oregon.

Multnomah Falls

Our second outing was a girls’ affair – Melissa, Lynda and myself to the Japanese Garden and the Rose Gardens.  I don’t think you can visit the Japanese Garden too many times, just so much to see, such a peaceful place.

From left, Melissa, myself and Lynda

Perhaps one of the most treasured time of this trip for me was catching up with Lorena Read.  Many of you will remember Lorena as she came and visited us in 2016 for our convention.  She was attending the regional meeting and I had enough time to share some special moments with her.  Thanks also to Bernard for the awesome photo he took of us both.  Bernard will be writing a separate article about the meeting.

Lorena and myself (photo by Bernard Pryor)

I now feel like the mantle has been set on my shoulder to make sure that we now have new cultivars for all in New Zealand.  It is a long process, as my seed will arrive this year, be germinated in April 2019, planted out in October/November 2019 and may flower for the first time in 2020.  It will then take at least two years before there is enough to market.  It is now a waiting game.

A very special thank you Thomas Johnson and Kirk Hansen, for putting up with me even if I did have you in hysterics at time.  Thanks also to Paul Black for your time and willingness to your years of experience.  Keith Keppel, Barry Blyth thanks for putting up with me and I will see you all again in May 2019.

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