Monday, February 25, 2019

Siberian Irises: The Greatest of Them All – White Swirl

by Bob Hollingworth

The first blog I wrote for AIS in 2011 about Siberians gave the background on 'Caesar’s Brother' and was entitled The Greatest of Them All.  After a long gap, let’s return to that theme and consider the other, very strong, contender for this title – 'White Swirl'.  'White Swirl' was introduced by Fred Cassebeer in 1956. Mr. Cassebeer was a pharmacist in New York who ran the family pharmacy store in Manhattan and also made many contributions to AIS including serving on the Board of Directors, editing the AIS Bulletin, and designing the Distinguished Service and Hybridizers medals – both of which he was later awarded.

The lovely form of White Swirl
'White Swirl' wasn’t always called by this name. When originally registered by Mr. C. it was called 'Frank Stubbs'. As I remember it, Mr. Stubbs was a longtime gardener/horticulturist for the Cassebeers. When it became clear that this was a very special flower, Mr. C. was prevailed upon to find a more attractive name and thus 'White Swirl' was born – and poor Mr. Stubbs’ shot at eternal glory was, rather unfairly, nipped in the bud.

                                Fred Cassebeer (left) shows one of his bearded iris introductions

The origin of 'White Swirl' is a mystery which has led to considerable speculation regarding its parentage. Mr. Cassebeer said that he planted four coffee cans full of bee pod seeds from existing Siberians in his garden, and 'White Swirl' stood out among the thousands of resulting progeny. His best guess at parentage, based on its appearance and his existing Siberians at that time was ‘Gatineau’ and ‘Snowcrest’.

Whatever its origins, it rapidly became clear that 'White Swirl' was novel and unusually attractive. A sparkling white with a touch of yellow in the center and quite large for its times, its form was most notable – horizontally flaring falls with an interesting curvy (swirled) form that was unlike most of its peers which had pendant falls. Perhaps as another thought on the source of this, then unusual, form  a similar flaring white Siberian has been reported as a naturally-occurring rare variant from Japan – I. sanguinea var. albiflora.  Snow Queen’, a form of I. sanguinea collected in Japan in 1900, is described as having “horizontally-poised falls” and is the pollen parent of 'Snowcrest', one of the putative parents of 'White Swirl'.

'White Swirl' received an Honorable Mention award in 1957. In 1961 Ben Hager wrote “This one (White Swirl) is such an advance that it doesn’t look like a Siberian Iris …. almost …. The Morgan Award should be revived for this one alone if necessary”, and in 1962 'White Swirl' did in fact receive this award (then the equivalent of an Award of Merit) which had not been given since 1954.  Even more impressive, in 1987, 12 years after Mr. Cassebeer’s death, it received the AIS Board of Directors Award given to an iris that has had an extraordinary influence on iris breeding but never received the highest AIS award, the Dykes Medal. This award no longer exists (unfortunately to my thinking), but 'White Swirl' certainly earned it.  

As soon as it was introduced, hybridizers jumped all over it, despite the fact it produces little pollen, and it’s rounded ruffled form became the standard for Siberian irises for several decades and is still seen very frequently today. It was clearly a very significant factor in the rise of interest in Siberians in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, a search on the AIS Iris Registry shows over 100 Siberians with White Swirl included specifically in their parentage, and many more where it exists in the background of named varieties which were then used further as parents.

                                          'Ego' - One of 'White Swirl's' many winning progeny

                                                    Another example - 'Ruffled Velvet'

Just a list of some of the major awards to its progeny shows it’s influence – 12 of the 15 Siberians receiving the Morgan Award (then the highest AIS award specific for Siberian irises) or, later, the Morgan-Wood Medal from 1970-1987 had 'White Swirl' prominently in their parentage, including Bill McGarvey’s 'Dewful' in 1970, 'Supergo' in 1971, 'Ego' in 1972 and 'Pink Haze' in 1984, Ben Hager’s 'Swank' in 1973,  Sid DuBose’s 'Vi Luihn'  in 1977, Currier McEwen’s 'Ruffled Velvet' in 1980 and 'Butter & Sugar' in 1981, Harley Briscoe’s 'Steve Varner' in 1982 and, later, Calvin Helsley’s 'Mabel Coday' in 1991. It was also the parent of two British Dykes medals winners in Marjorie Brummitt’s 'Cambridge' in 1971 and 'Anniversary' in 1979. Now that is some record of success!

                                    'White Swirl' in the gardens at Michigan State University

Like 'Caesar’s Brother', 'White Swirl' is still readily available from plant nurseries and has garden value well beyond its considerable historical significance. Reportedly Fred Cassebeer in his later years requested that when he died he wanted 'White Swirl' planted on his grave – we can only hope that it was.

So, which was the greatest? 'Caesar's Brother'? 'White Swirl'? Or are there other contenders such as Currier McEwen's yellow  'Butter and Sugar'?

Monday, February 18, 2019

California Dreaming 5--Napa Country Iris Gardens

By Bryce Williamson

Thanks to Roger Duncan’s great directions, I was able to save at least an hour on the trip to Napa Country Iris Gardens. While his directions were fine, the driver became confused since Lake Berryessa is no longer the hot spot in the Bay Area for fishing, swimming, boating, and water skiing that is once way, the store is boarded up where I am used to turning, and I ended up five miles down the road at a dive/biker bar, tried not to be intimidated by the customers who I would have really enjoyed 40 years ago; and they kindly got pointed me in the right direction.

On the drive we saw the damage done by last summer’s fires. With my sense of direction restored, we ended up at John and Leslie Painter’s. With rows of irises spilling down gentle slopes, it is a wonderful sight. After alerting Leslie we had arrived by honking the horn, she was able to open the gate, gave up her afternoon chore of mowing, let us in, and provided the guided tour.

 Leslie and John Painter and Phil Williams

Like Nola’s Iris Garden, the Painters operate a huge carriage trade business. In addition to taking orders for delivery in the summer, they sell irises in pots. In recent years, they have added pots of peonies for sale.

'Abbondanza' (Ghio 2002)

'Dewuc Whatic' Burseen 2011

John and Leslie also hybridize. Phil Williams and I, realizing that good daylight was going to be gone shortly, decided to focus on the Painter introductions and seedlings.

'Coconut Snow' (John Painter 2016)

'Dressed In Black' (Lesley Painter)

'Spice Trader' (John Painter 2010)

'Prairie Splendor' (John Painter 2018)

After making an inspection of those irises, I realized that the six broken ribs from last year were talking to me very loudly and I headed up the hill to sit in the shade. There I was joined my Leslie’s mother, Madelyn Handlong, some 90 plus years young, and we had a wonderful talk. She explained how Leslie first started selling irises at farmers’ markets and in pots, then they found the present location, John built the garage and apartment above, and finally the house. A spry woman, Leslie’s mother complained that they only let her drive 1.5 miles each day to take care of the feral cats she feeds. She is a woman after my heart. BTW Leslie’s mother was getting ready to sell pots of irises in the shade room on the weekend with another daughter who was flying in to help. I had to remind myself that I am thinking about moving and, therefore, resisted checking out the peonies in the pots.

John Painter J-13-35-A

J. Painter J-22-33-B

Leslie Painter L14-14-D

Leslie Painter L14-26

Not only do they sell irises in the garden, but also they sell online at The garden itself is located at 9087 Steele Canyon Road, Napa, CA 94558.  Phone: 707.255.7880.

After our visit we headed back to Fairfield for the night and another gourmet dinner—Denney’s. I know Phil went home and had interesting things to say about the famed California cuisine. The only thing I can say is that he did go to the best Mexican hole-in-the-wall in Silicon Valley and liked molĂ©. The trip back to the San Jose airport Wednesday morning gave him a real initiation into Bay Area traffic--Concord was a parking lot on the freeway and Sunol grade was its normal stop and go traffic.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

IRISES: The Bulletin of the AIS - Winter 2019 Edition

By Andi Rivarola 

A warm welcome to those who are seeing IRISES, the Bulletin of The American Iris Society for the first time. If you are a member of The American Iris Society I hope you enjoy this new issue.

The Winter issue of the AIS Bulletin will be available for online viewing soon, and accessible via the Emembers section of the AIS website. The print copy has been mailed via the U.S. Post Office. On the cover, the 2018 AIS TB Symposium's First Ranked ‘Dusky Challenger’ (Schreiner's 1986, TB)

Note: to access this area of the website you must have a current AIS Emembership. (AIS Emembership is separate from the normal AIS membership.) Please see the Electronic Membership Information area of the AIS website for more details.

What's in this issue?

The results of the 2018 AIS TB Symposium start on page 3, and then continue on pages 10 — 13. 

On page 9 don't miss the Bulletin Board, and in particular a new rule for iris shows. Please read: IRISES ELIGIBLE FOR AIS SHOW AWARDS.

On pages 14 and 15, a great article by Bob Pries called Building an Online Library

Photography tips in the article called, Photographing the Overall Garden: Three Strategies for Focusing, by Ron Thoman, on pages 16 — 19.

Coming to Terms with Arilbred Medians: A Rebuttal, by Anita Moran are on pages 20 — 22.

Have you ever needed tips for organizing your iris lists? Here's your chance to improve your records with, Organizing Your Iris Collection, Using the Spreadsheet Tool on Your Computer by Maryann Schicker, on page 23. 

Some fun and "funtastic" information about those irises that didn't win the "big one" but won the hearts of many an iris lover. Please do read, Close But No Cigar by Jim Morris, a detailed drive through the road of historic irises that could have made it big, on pages 24 through 27.

Jill Bonino and Kathy Chilton embarked on a trip to the The Presby Iris Gardens that took much more time than anticipated, on the way they learned how to set up irises for the 2020 Newark International Iris Competition, on pages 28 through 31. The article is called, Three Days to Newark. 

Lastly, get to know the new AIS Board members on pages 32 — 34. 

Not a member of The American Iris Society? Please see our website for information about becoming one:

There's a lot more to see and read in this edition of IRISES, either in digital or print formats.

Happy Gardening!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Photo Essay: Ready for a Close-up

By Mike Unser

I am fortunate to be friends with a local iris enthusiast, Rod Mendenhall, who grows over 1200 varieties of bearded irises. It is such a treat each spring to visit his garden and see the plethora of varieties that he maintains. There are always some new additions to enjoy and plenty of old friends too. Rod likes irises of all eras so there are plenty of historics as well as the latest and greatest to ooh and aah over. Today I'm sharing a closer look at some of the varieties from his collection taken in 2017. Much of the magic of irises, for me, is in the details of their patterns or architecture. I love getting in close for a look. I hope you will enjoy these.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Gifting SPCNI (or any organization)—with Longevity

Kathleen Sayce

Longevity for plant-interest societies like Society for Pacific Coast Native Irises and other sections of AIS comes from the dedication of individual members. Every person who takes on an aspect of management or activities carries that part of the organization forward. We are looking for new ideas, new approaches, and of course, interested members, to help carry SPCNI and other iris societies that are part of AIS forward into the 21st century. SPCNI will be 50 years old in 2022, and we’d very much like to see it thriving. 

Eager photographers at Rancho Santa Ana, 2012, looking at I. munzii x  plants, first studied by Dr. Lee Lenz, mid 20th century. 

In each paragraph below I comment on some aspect of running an organization that is foundering. I would like to hear from readers about each aspect, and I know other sections of AIS feel the same. Share your ideas!

Interest in Irises: A tall bearded iris is the first flowering plant I saw up close and remembered. It was purple, with thick fleshy rhizomes that crept around in ophidian fashion, and as tall as I was. To a three-year-old, it was simply stunning. Decades later, with a garden of my own, I joined SPCNI, having become an ecologist, then developed a passion for native plants. This took a garden (it was my family’s yard), an old iris (my mom soon ripped it out, to my dismay), and of course, flowering plants. How do we promote species - species interactions between people and irises?

The Pacifica Iris that led me to SPCNI:  Iris innominata; these photos are from wild sites in southern Oregon, where it is native. 
Members:  Membership is around 200 people. New members bring wonderful energy to organizations. There is a resurgence of interest in gardening and food quality, so an interest in flowers, and especially irises, may come along soon. How should we encourage new memberships?

Ditches full of Iris tenax x Iris innominata hybrids somewhere in southern Oregon on a field trip in 2010.
Participation: The board has been in place for more than ten years with only one change, a new seed chair a few years ago. All our board members are ready for a change, and this means others are needed to fill their positions.  How do we interest members in taking these positions? 

Print Issues of Publications:  There is interest in Pacific Iris; I get the emails when issues are late or missed. We did a full color print issue as a special treat last fall, but no one commented on it afterwards. I’m still wondering if anyone noticed! An AIS member told me that all our issues should be full color, but I wonder how many get the issues just to look at the pictures? 

Debby Cole at Ontario 2012 AIS Convention; iris convenings are great ways to meet people from all over the continent. But PCIs only grow well on the West Coast. 
Editors and Content:  SIGNA, Species Iris Group of North America, meanwhile is looking for content for their publication, and an editor; AIS is looking for articles. Our own editor is in the same boat. 

How do we encourage members to write and share images for publication?

Seed Donations:  There is interest in getting seeds, especially of new hybrids and stalwart old selections, but donors have dwindled to fewer than ten, and seed orders have dropped over the past few years to fewer than twenty-five, in part due to a drop in seed donations. It takes time and focus to produce selfed crosses or find wild plants, collect the pods, dry the seeds, and send them to the seed chair. The first time I cleaned seeds, I felt like I was connecting to long lost ancestors, carrying forward a skill that has served our people well for thousands of years; it was amazing.
Would videos help promote interest in this ageless skill? 
How about promoting gardening, so that vital skills like crossing plants, growing new hybrids, selecting high quality plants, and planning future crosses are not lost? 
Would more videos help? How do we encourage seed saving? 

Joseph Ghio, prolific hybridizer, active in several sections of the genus Iris; here with Debby Cole looking over his seed bed, 2012.
Sharing Information via Field Trips:  There is also interest in field trips, though the last time we offered to organize a trip, no one came forward to say “I will attend.”  In the past, these were several days of driving in the hills to see wild species. We are considering short, one-day trips to see a wild site, or a few gardens. 

Does this sound more attractive than longer trips? 

Superstition Iris Gardens, after the Ontario Convention, 2012
Display Gardens and Meetings:  We all love seeing well grown display gardens of our favorite iris groups, especially new hybrids. These take years to develop and major donations of time and plant materials as well as growing space. They go hand in hand with AIS conventions. SPCNI can’t fully participate because Pacifica iris don’t grow, or grow well, away from the West Coast.
Should we instead try virtual display gardens and meetings via video? 
Or try this:  Send the virtual garden manager five shots of your newest hybrid, he’ll merge them in a collection to stream? 
How about video tours of amazing private gardens or botanic gardens?

Please think about these topics, think about what you would like to see or do, and do post your ideas. We have some wonderful iris societies to energize!