Monday, April 29, 2019

What is in a name? Lophiris - Crested Iris – Part Two

By Maggie Asplet

Finally, I have time to complete the second part of this article relating to crested irises.  Holidays and ill health sometimes get in our way.  I think you will all be the same when I say “it is life’.

To recap in part one we looked at I confusa, Martyn Rix, Chengdu, Queen’s Grace, Question Mark, and Kilkivan.

Today we will continue looking at some of these bigger forms of the crested iris, starting with I. wattii, with tall, tapering and sword like leaves which are heavily ribbed.  It has deep lavender spots like those of I. japonica outlining the haft.  This iris was discovered in 1892 by John Gilbert Baker, in the Himalayas & China area.

I must confess that this iris I don’t have growing at home, as I seem to have a great habit of killing it off.

Photos courtesy of Roger Haworth

Iris ‘Bourne Graceful’ 
Bourne Graceful has a medium size flower which is deep lilac-blue with strong orange-yellow signal surrounded by old gold to dark violet flecks and a violet border around the white signal area. The flowers are borne on distinctive green stems that become darker towards the bottom, but the plant itself has no canes. The long glossy leaves are ribbed and coloured purple at the base.

Registered by Dr J R Ellis in 1975.  It stands tall at 42’ (107cm) and classed an early to mid season for flowering.  I. japonica var. Ledgers X I. japonica var.

Photo courtesy of Huib Selderbeek

Iris ‘Nada’
J.N. Giridlian of California hybridized I. confuse and I. japonica in 1936. The plant grows about 18 “ (45 cm) tall and the flower spike can reach to about 24’ (60 cm)  Although each flower only lasts about two days, the entire spike will remain in bloom for over a month as new flowers open to replace spent blooms. It is very floriferous and each spike will produce about 25-50 flowers.  

I am pleased to say this one I can grow quite successfully and I think it has the sweetest little flowers.

Iris 'Nobody’s Child'
This is the first of three lovely iris hybridised in New Zealand.  In 1993 Isobel Simpson registered iris as SPEC (evansia), growing to 11" (28 cm).  The standards are light lavender blue, edged paler; the falls are pale lavender blue, royal blue at end of crest, olive brown to deep blue spots; sweet-musky fragrance.  Parentage unknown.

Photo courtesy of Huib Selderbeek

Iris ‘Honiana’
Hybridised by Mrs. F. Love in 1984, growing to 22" (56 cm).  Described as mauve with khaki brown markings on falls, white crests, with a sweet fragrance.  This is a cross between Question Mark X I. tectorum.

Photo courtesy of Huib Selderbeek

Iris ‘Revie’s Legacy’
A fairly recent registration (Joy Turner by Ron Goudswaard) in 2010.  Taller than the previous two growing to 59" (150 cm) and is classed early flowering.
The standards are pale lavender-blue, darker edges, near white center; style arms pale lavender; falls are white edged lavender-blue, white overlaid with ochre brown dashes radiating out from crest changing to dark blue dots and blotches toward edge of white area; appears plicata pattern.
It is probably a cross between Question Mark x I. tectorum.

Photo courtesy of Huib Selderbeek

I have not covered any of the smaller iris that belong in this section.  This I will leave for another day.  It won’t be long before we start to see the beautiful flowers of these again as we are heading towards winter (fall) here.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Border Irises

By Kevin Vaughn

I grew up in MA in the AIS of the 60’s. One of the constants of gardens of that era was the use of either Pewee or Paltec to border or face down the TB plantings. 
Although they are irises, they looked sort of small and sad bordering the TBs as they were so much less sophisticated than the TBs they surrounded and didn’t make a really effective edging (I still find this the same even with the advancement in MTBs; they look best with themselves not facing down TBs).  Harold Knowlton was one of the first to actually hunt out a solution and so his “delightful runts”, small plants that segregated from his TB breeding, were planted as clumps at the corners and sometimes edging the beds.  Unknowingly, he had created a new class of irises. The proportions of his iris were nearly ideal: flowers under 8 ½” in height plus width with a ratio of 3:1 of height of the stalk/ combine height and width of the flower. The use of these smaller irises at the bed corners was especially effective at lowering the eye towards the corners.  In Harold’s mind, it would be great to have a whole series of these irises and he shared this enthusiasm for the runts and how much more effective they were than Pewee or Paltec in providing an edging for the TB beds.   And with that the Border Bearded class was started.  Other New England hybridizers followed suit, with Miriam Corey’s Little Brother, Lowry’s Two Bits, and Buttrick’s Clarendon Springs used in similar manner in their gardens. 

Buttrick Garden
In the Tuft’s garden in Grafton, the border iris were use in what you might call the “mini-me” effect.  A TB with a certain color or pattern was echoed at the edge of the bed with a BB of the same color, although finding a TB to replicate the exotically colored Jungle Shadows or boldly colored pink and purple bicolor Frenchi was impossible. 

Jungle Shadows
They were unique in all irises.  In Lynn Markham’s garden the BBs were used to face down the TBs but she also had a kidney shaped bed of just BBs. I loved it as the BBs were allowed to form clumps and were not overshadowed by their bigger brothers.  Here I saw Myrtle Wolff’s classic BBs Debbie Ann and Timmie Too, Melba Hamblen’s Tulare, and Marilyn Scheaff’s Little Lynn for the first time.  All would be in my garden subsequently.  In my garden, Miss Ruffles and Botany Bay were planted as large clumps at the corners of the TB bed and a number of others were grown to face down the TBs including Harold Knowlton’s Cricket and Pearl Cup.

The TBs of that era weren’t the “fat ladies” that we have now so that even without trying to produce BBs smaller segregants fell out of crosses for TBs and many of these early BBs had fine proportion.  Seedlings from Rippling Waters, Lipstick, many of the Hall pinks and dark plicatas, Black Forest, reds, and Golden Flash gave lots of BB seedlings in exquisite proportions.  A few people, like Myrtle Wolff, actually pulled out the large seedlings, selecting especially for the runts.  Bennett Jones, Maybelle Wright, and Lynn Markham made crosses on purpose for BBs and gave us a string of great plants that were good-growing irises that stayed in class.

It is unfortunate that these lofty ideals and great beginnings were somehow lost in a flood of weak plants with oversize flowers that overgrew the class when over-fertilized.  Because of these poor growers with over-size flowers, the BB class suffered from a poor public perception, despite the number of ones that were fine plants.

Fortunately, the ideal of vigorous, well-proportioned plants suitable to edge TB beds and where TBs would look out of place because of their size, still lives on today.  Although there are certainly BBs that fall out of straight TB crosses, the Dykes Medalist Brown Lasso, being an outstanding example, a better approach has come from making deliberate crosses for these irises.  So hybridizers of late have used a three pronged approach:
  • Cross BBs with other BBs or smallish TBs
  • Cross BBs with the very vigorous IBs
  • Incorporate 48 chromosome species such as I aphylla or I.reichenbachii into the breeding lines to produce more well-proportioned, better-branched stalks.
All of these approaches have netted iris that are not only good garden plants but also reliably in class irises.  This last spring, clumps of East Hampton and Venus Blush, planted on the corners of a TB bed and larger clumps of My Cher of Happiness, First in Line, Mermaid’s Dream, and Dance Gypsy effectively edged a large TB planting.  A narrow bed was planted solidly to BBs and was one of my favorites in my garden, it was like “Honey I shrunk the TBs!”.  So, if you have been disappointed by some of the BBs of the past, please give these new BBs a try.  They are outstanding plants and serve a vital purpose in the garden.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Heralds of Spring

By Virginia Spoon

After a long cold winter, nothing invigorates my spirit like going out to the garden and seeing the spring bloom of the irises. The tiny miniature dwarfs are the earliest of the bearded irises to bloom.  I love the early bulbous irises that bloom even earlier such as danfordiae and reticulata, however, the tiny bearded dwarfs are my favorites.

 Miniature dwarf irises blooming in early April. Photo--Ginny Spoon

We have a large collection of miniature dwarfs and it is sometimes hard to find a place to put them so they won't get over shadowed by the larger irises. We put one large planting on a bank and when they are blooming  in March and April they cover it with a carpet of color. 

           Miniature dwarf iris planting at Winterberry.  Photo--Ginny Spoon

Shorter than the standard dwarf bearded irises (8-16 inches), the miniatures top out at 8" tall. They are tiny and to be enjoyed to the fullest, they should be planted either in a rock garden setting or a raised area. They bloom early too, so you may want to plant them close to your house so you won't miss any of the bloom.

                     Miniature dwarf iris 'African Wine'.  Photo--Ginny Spoon

"Pixie Flirt' is a vigorous grower and it can grow into a marvelous clump in just a few years.

                                             'Pixie Flirt'  Photo--Ginny Spoon

Winter Aconite,  Snowdrops, small narcissus such as 'Tete- a- Tete' make good companion plants for the miniature dwarfs.

                                      Winter Aconite  Photo--Ginny Spoon

The bulbous iris reticulata is a good companion plant, and they bloom even earlier than the dwarf irises, sometimes even in the snow. 

                                                   Iris reticulata  Photo--Ginny Spoon

 ' Atroviolacea'   Photo-- Ginny Spoon

The miniature dwarf 'Atroviolacea' is usually the first bearded iris to bloom for us, sometimes even in the March snow.

                            Miniature daffodils 'Tete-a-Tete'  Photo -- Ginny Spoon

        'Early Sunshine' usually follows second behind the bloom of 'Atroviolacea'. 

                                          'Early Sunshine'  Photo--Ginny Spoon

                                               'Kayla's Song' Photo--Carol Coleman

We were excited that our 'Kayla's Song' received the Caparne Welch Medal in 2018.
We are members of the Dwarf Iris Society and if you would like to join us contact our membership chair:  Rose Kinnard (

Monday, April 8, 2019

Arilpums: Fertile Arilbred Dwarfs!

by Tom Waters

'Aladdin's Gem' (Thoolen, 2002)

Most arilbred medians are produced by crossing standard dwarfs (SDBs) with fertile halfbreds (OGB). The results of such crosses tend to be pleasing garden subjects, occupying about the same niche as intermediates (IBs), but with the added interest of arilbred color patterns. Unfortunately, arilbred medians produced this way are usually infertile, or have very limited fertility at best. Also, being only ¼ aril (OGB-), they don’t always show enough pronounced aril characteristics to really stand out as arilbreds.

For those of us who enjoy the smaller arilbreds, the holy grail would be diminutive fertile arilbreds that are half aril in content. We might imagine miniaturized versions of the taller arilbreds that have come from breeding arils with tall bearded (TBs). One approach to realizing this dream is through the creation of “arilpums”: hybrids between arils and the tiny dwarf bearded species Iris pumila. This type of cross produces true arilbred dwarfs, around 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) in height, fertile, and half aril. Additionally, Iris pumila is expected to confer winter hardiness on its seedlings.

The potential of such breeding was first appreciated in the mid 20th century, when iris breeders became aware of the cytogenetics of irises, and the possibility of creating “fertile families” of irises from wide crosses, if the parents are chosen to have the right chromosome configurations to produce fertile offspring. Both the SDBs (from TBs crossed with Iris pumila) and the fertile arilbreds (from TBs crossed with arils) are examples of such fertile families, and show how varied and successful they can be.

The most direct way to build a fertile family of arilpums is to cross Iris pumila with tetraploid arils. In nature, the only tetraploid arils are the Regelia species Iris hoogiana and Iris stolonifera. Indeed, the pioneering hybridizer Paul Cook (who also introduced the first SDBs from TB x pumila crosses) produced two hoogiana/pumila hybrids in the 1950s: ‘Hoogpum Blue’ (Cook, 1956) and ‘Hoogpum Purple’ (Cook, 1956). Both were fertile, but Iris hoogiana doesn’t have many characteristics that most of us think of as epitomizing the “aril look”, and these little offspring were not very distinguishable from MDBs, and in fact were registered as such.

The first approach to arilpums with oncocyclus ancestry came from Peter Werckmeister, the great expositor of cytogenetic theory to English-speaking irisarians. In the 1970s, he produced “Miltonia” (not registered) from a lucky cross, in which the aril parent (an oncogelia from ‘Teucros’ x Iris susiana), although a diploid, acted as a tetraploid by producing an unreduced gamete. Werckmeister reported eventually creating a whole array of fertile arilpums from “Miltonia”. Alas, they were not widely distributed and are now lost to us.

Thoolen arilpum seedling AP9007-1
Interest in arilpums underwent something of a revival in the 1990s, after Samuel Norris and John Holden created a line of tetraploid oncogelias from using colchicine treatment. Crossing these with Iris pumila produced arilpums with much more “onco look” than had been possible previously. The first of these to be introduced was ‘Barbarella’ (Mathes, 1991), followed by ‘Aladdin’s Gem’ (Thoolen, 2002). Both Harald Mathes and Francesca Thoolen raised a number of different arilpum seedlings, but these were the only two registered and introduced into commerce. Both ‘Barbarella’ and ‘Aladdin’s Gem’ produce fertile pollen, but are unwilling pod parents. Mathes and Thoolen noted similar difficulties with their other arilpums, and their breeding programs were eventually abandoned.

The lack of pod fertility was an unfortunate setback, because the simplest way to build up this family would be to cross the existing arilpums among themselves, rather than repeating the initial aril x pumila crosses.

'Topaz Talisman' (Jensen, 2015)
The most recent arilpum is the lovely stolonifera/pumila hybrid ‘Topaz Talisman’ (Jensen, 2015). It has not yet been tested extensively for pod fertility.

Why has this family not made more progress? It has been more half a century since its potential was first understood, theoretically. I do not believe the pod fertility issue is insurmountable, although it is a setback and perhaps kept the family from taking off in the 1990s, when interest was greatest. Since then, the number of hybridizers working with arilbreds has declined, and not all are interested in such an experimental project. The parent plants, tetraploid arils and Iris pumila, are not easy to grow in all locations: the arils need a very dry summer, and pumila needs a cold winter.

Another obstacle is that the initial crosses are difficult, not many viable seeds are produced, germination is poor, and so a lot of persistence is needed to bring arilpum seedlings to bloom. Since I began working in this area six years ago, I have made 365 pollinations, resulting in 525 seeds, and at long last four seedlings which I hope to see bloom this year or next.

I would love to see others get involved; the prospects for eventual success obviously depend on a number of people working with determination over the course of a number of years. Here is the recipe:
  1. Acquire tetraploid arils, such as Iris stolonifera, ‘Tadzhiki Bandit’, ‘Tadzhiki Eclipse’, ‘Werckmeister’s Beauty’, ‘Balalaika Music’, and ‘Dunshanbe’. Keep in mind that you must use tetraploid arils – crossing Iris pumila with random arils and arilbreds offers no special hope of fertility in the seedlings.
  2. Acquire Iris pumila, either from seed exchanges, or named cultivars such as ‘Royal Wonder’, ‘Wild Whispers’, ‘Little Drummer Boy’, ‘Hobbit’, and others.
  3. Make crosses between these two groups, as often as possible, and mixing and matching parents as much as possible.
  4. Also get any available arilpums (pretty much just ‘Aladdin’s Gem’ and ‘Topaz Talisman’ these days), to cross amongst themselves or with arilpum seedlings you produced from the aril/pumila crosses.

Hildebrandt arilpum seedling 11-4-2
(photo: George Hildebrandt)
I think this a project that offers enormous potential in the long term, and is ideal for a small, backyard hybridizer who does not have the resources to grow thousands of seedlings and does not need to worry about immediate commercial success. There is a whole new world waiting to be opened up!

Monday, April 1, 2019

A Preview of the 2019 American Iris Society Convention

by Jean Richter

In late April the American Iris Society will hold its annual convention. This year the convention returns to the San Francisco Bay area for the first time in quite a few years. The convention hotel is the San Ramon Marriott, and garden tours will feature five excellent gardens in a variety of microclimates throughout the greater Bay Area. Here is a preview of what you will see at the convention - for even more information, see the convention web site.

The first day of garden tours will feature two gardens in the greater Sacramento area. Frannie's Iris Garden is located in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, and is tended by Fran and Russ Shields. All the iris beds are flat with wide, smooth grassy pathways. If a little rest is needed there is a huge gazebo at the edge of the garden, and cold drinks are close by. The guest beds are laid out for perfect photo shots. Fran has added a few pieces of garden art here and there. Russ and Fran are members of the Sacramento Iris Society. Don't be surprised if, in addition to many beautiful iris, you encounter a llama or friendly papillon!

The patchwork quilt garden of Mary Ann and Ed Horton is spread over several acres of irises. This commercial garden is spotless. You will get a lot of walking done in this garden - walk quickly as this is a huge garden. There are vintage automobiles on the property that have been restored to original, working condition. Feel free to have your photo taken with them. AIS guest irises are on top of a slight hill. Mary Ann and Ed are members of Sacramento and Sierra Foothills Iris Societies.

The second day of garden tours takes you to the Sonoma Valley wine country to the C&L Vineyard Garden. This garden is owned by Joe Lawrence and Rudy Ciuca. The grapes will not be ripe but the vines are there, as well as 70 olive trees. This garden holds several hundred irises in addition to the guest irises. Rudy is a gourmet cook with a gourmet kitchen, so the possibility is good that he will whip up something good to nibble. Joe and Rudy are members of Santa Rosa Iris Society.

'Jade Moon' (O'Brien 1997) C&L Vineyard Garden has all of local hybridizer Lois O'Brien's introductions in their permanent collection.

On this day of the tour we will also be visiting Sonoma Plaza, located in downtown Sonoma in the heart of the Somona Valley wine country. There are a wide variety of things to see and do in the Plaza, including historic buildings (among them the northernmost California mission), over 30 wine tasting rooms, plenty of shops, and world-renowned restaurants. More information is available at the Sonoma Plaza Visitor's Guide.

The final day of garden tours will visit two gardens. The garden of Jim and Irene Cummins is located in Scotts Valley, not far from Santa Cruz, on a gently sloping hill overlooking a small valley. The Cummins' personal garden has hundreds of irises.Guest irises are well marked in a bed away from other irises. A very fun and interesting yard is filled with hundreds of pieces of whimsical garden art. With luck a flock of turkeys may be seen. The Cummins are Monterey Bay Iris Society members.


The convention's master planting is the Dry Creek Garden, an historic cottage garden managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, the largest urban park district in the United States. In addition to the large convention planting, you will have many other plants to enjoy over the garden's acreage. The convention planting is overseen by Jeff Bennett, a member of Sydney B. Mitchell and Mt. Diablo Iris Societies. The convention planting will remain a permanent iris planting in perpetuity with new plants added yearly and the historic garden expanded yearly. Any iris planted in this garden hopefully will still be somewhere on the grounds 100 years from now.

 'Cascade Trails' (L. Miller 2016) MTB

 'Crystal Ship' Lauer 2006 SDB

"Perry Dyer' Black 2017 arilbred

'Top Down' (H. Nichols 2015) novelty iris

If you'd like to join us at the convention, registrations are still being taken through April 15. You can register for the full convention, or for single events or tour dates. Price breakdowns and the registration form is available on the registration page. Lots of information and the latest updates are available at the convention web site. We hope to see you at the convention!