Monday, November 23, 2020

Winter Pastimes for Iris Enthusiasts

by Tom Waters

Thanksgiving week is upon us. Here in northern New Mexico, that means the garden is already put to bed for the winter. The first killing frost came late this year, near the end of October. But now everything is on hold, waiting for spring to bring it all back to life in March.

So what is a fanatical iris lover to do with all this time indoors? This is actually a welcome opportunity to catch up on various chores that get shunted aside during the growing season.

The first of my winter tasks is to update my garden maps. Garden maps are essential if you have more than just a handful of irises to keep track of. Many people use garden labels to identify their irises, but even if you do, a map is still essential. Labels can get pulled up, become illegible, or become damaged in all sorts of ways. Personally, I do not use labels with most of my irises; I find them unsightly and I strive for a more naturalistic look in my garden. So for me, a map is not just a backup, it is essential.

It is a good idea to make a map as accurate as possible. I have irregular shaped flower beds, and just sketching the shapes of the beds by eye can lead to bad distortions. So I actually measure to create the base map. It's a chore, but once done it does not need to be repeated often. As plants are removed, moved around, or added, it's simple enough to change the maps. I do this in the summer as I dig, replant, and add my new acquisitions. The result is a handful of papers - last year's maps with lots of pencil marks noting what has changed. Winter is the time to convert these scribbles into something more permanent.

I use Photoshop for my maps, but really any kind of drawing or graphics software would work fine. Why go to that trouble? Why not just use the original paper maps? The short answer is that computer files can be easily duplicated and backed up. If you've ever left a notebook outside and forgotten about it, you know the tragedy of irreplaceable records lost to weather damage. It's also all to easy for papers to get accidentally tossed or ruined, even when kept safe indoors.

Even if you don't want to use graphics software, it is a good practice to scan your hand-drawn maps and store them as computer files.

Winter is also the time to update whatever other records you keep on your irises. I keep track of the name and class of each iris I grow, where it is planted, when I obtained it and from whom, as well as hybridizer and year of introduction. There are specialized software applications specially designed to maintain records of garden plants, but I just use a regular spreadsheet. Almost everyone has Excel or a similar product on their computer, and keeping your records using a familiar standard product like this ensures that you will be able to maintain them even as the world of computers continues to change from year to year.

As a hybridizer, I also do some pedigree research over the winter. It's fun to trace the ancestry of the irises in your garden, and sometimes there are unexpected surprises in the family tree. The AIS Iris Encyclopedia is a good reference for doing this kind of ancestry research.

I also sometimes use the winter months to plan what I intend to discard or acquire in the coming year. Before the catalogs start coming in the spring, it is possible to impose a little discipline on oneself and make sensible decisions about how many new plants to bring into the garden. Of course, I never manage to adhere strictly to my plans, but setting some ground rules in the winter does help.

These winter chores actually provide some enjoyment for me. Maybe they are a kind of surrogate for being in the garden, as they draw my imagination into thoughts of next year's bloom.

Monday, November 16, 2020

LICI Starts Planting Irises In The Marsh For The 2020 Season

By Gary Salathe

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), of which I am part of, recently began our first iris plantings out in the swamps and marshes of Southeast Louisiana for the 2020 fall and winter planting season. 

In a previous World of Irises posting I explained how our group locates native Louisiana irises that are threaten with destruction and, after getting the landowner’s permission, relocates the irises into public refuges and nature preserves.  The idea being that it is hard to get the public on board with helping to preserve and protect native Louisiana irises if they can’t experience them blooming because they can only be found in the deepest corners of the swamps and marshes hidden from view.   If we can’t bring the public to the irises then we will bring the irises to the public, is the idea.

Photo:  Volunteers on a Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative project working in July digging irises from a site west of New Orleans on property that is slated for development.

Starting in late May of this year, and especially in June and July, volunteers on multiple events organized by the LICI dug up around 6,000 I. giganticaerulea Louisiana species irises from properties that have plans for development, as donations from homeowners that removed irises from swamps and planted them on their property or from sites where irises from past rescued events were planted over the last two years. 

Photo:  Masks and social distancing was the order of the day in the summer LICI rescue events. 

The irises were planted into containers at an iris holding area we set up in New Orleans since they were dug up as the iris dormant season was about to begin.  The plan was for the irises to strengthen for a few months so that we could plant them in the swamps after they began their fall growth period.

Photo: Rescued irises being planted into containers in July at the LICI iris holding area in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. 

We were finally ready to start planting irises in late October after a few close calls by hurricanes delayed us.   The first project on October 21st., which was held at the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans East, had just a small number of volunteers to show how these events would work for the refuge staff’s approval in the COVID 19 era.  Everything went well and 300 I. giganticaerulea Louisiana species irises were planted.  A decision was made that we would be OK to expand the number of volunteers for future projects.

Photo:  The first irises of the 2020 planting season are dug up from our iris holding area on the morning of October 21st  to be planted at the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.

 The second volunteer event was also a small one.  It was held at St. Bernard State Park, which is located southeast of New Orleans.  In the first of what we hope will be many, 300 I. giganticaerulea Louisiana species irises were planted, some threatened irises were dug up and an area of a pond bank was cleared of brush to help the public see the irises.

Photo:  Irises being planted at St. Bernard State Park on October 28th, the day before Hurricane Zeta hit New Orleans.

 The next day our iris holding area was hit by Hurricane Zeta on the evening of October 29th with the eye of the hurricane passing directly overhead!

 Photo:  The iris holding area after branches and other debris were picked up after the Hurricane Zeta.  A power pole leaned over at the entrance, but otherwise we escaped with no damage to the irises or the site.

 On November 4th we held our first large-scale iris planting volunteer event at the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.  We went back to the refuge because the water level was down since winter rains had not begun yet.   This allowed us to get into areas that we have not been able to plant irises in over the last two years during events held in late December or early January due to the water being high.  During the event, which was organized by LICI, seventeen volunteers from various non-profits, including LICI volunteers, planted over 1,300 I. giganticaerulea Louisiana species irises.  The other groups included;  The Friends of the Refuge, Limitless Vistas, Common Ground Relief and the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans.

Photo:  Volunteers from various community non-profits involved in marsh restoration planting Louisiana irises on November 3rd in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.

We’re off to such a great start that we have a volunteer event planned with an area Boy Scout troop for Saturday, November 14th to go back to the site west of New Orleans and dig up more irises to replace the ones we have taken out of our iris holding area!  (The list of sites that have sent us a request to plant irises continues to grow.)

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative website can be found here:

Our Facebook page can be found here:

Monday, November 9, 2020

IRISES: The Bulletin of the AIS - Fall 2020 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 Fall 2020 issue of the AIS Bulletin is already available online, accessible via the Emembers section of the AIS website. The print copy has been mailed via the U.S. Post Office. On the cover, SDB iris 'Teagan' (Don Spoon 2009). Part 4 of the Centennial Supplement is a bit delayed. As soon as it's ready and printed we will let you know. 

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.

A great issue with lots interesting articles and beautiful iris pictures. Here are some details.

On pages 2 —3, and then 47, a sampling of American Dykes Medal Winners. Beautiful images of now famous beauties. 

AIS President, Jody Nolin's message is on page 8.

Section Happenings is on pages 10 and 11, with notes from the Dwarf Iris Society, SIGNA, The Reblooming Iris Society, the Spuria Iris Society, the Novelty Iris Society, HIPS, and the Tall Bearded Iris Society. 

International Iris News on page 14, by Bruce Filardi.

Youth Views on page 15, by Cheryl Deaton.

A fun article on the Conspicuous by Their Absence — The Years No Dykes Memorial medals Were Awarded, on pages 16 — 19.

A Novel Iris Show on pages 20 — 21, with lots of beautiful images. 

The Dramatic Beginning of 'Goodwin Fire' by Francine Cheswick on page 22

The Story of Winterberry Gardens by Don Spoon, on pages 23 through 30. 

A reprint from this very blog, on Black is Dramatic, by our own Mel Schiller on pages 32 — 35.

And last but no least, Images Now Due with Introductions on page 35, by Neil Houghton.

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

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

Happy Gardening!

Monday, November 2, 2020

Smokin Heights Hot Sellers so far for Season 20/21

 By Mel Schiller

Wow what a year so far and it isn't over yet! 

In my lifetime I think this year would have to be the windiest by far and as a tall bearded iris grower it spells disaster, especially living on a hilltop. Oh the challenges....I must say, as I type this blog, that we had a forecast of 8mm of rain yesterday and overnight we received much more....27mm.....the weather patterns are all over the place.

Anyway as we are in full swing with our iris season, time spent hybridizing has been down as it has been too wet--I never thought I would say that! Surprisingly the iris are coping well with the extra heavenly water we are receiving. The bloom stems are above and beyond normal this year. We are noticing also that the registered varieties are blooming not according to their registrations. Things that bloom early are blooming mid to late. Late bloomers are blooming mid season; all of this has never happened, until this year!

As the orders are coming in, we are noticing a pattern among purchases. Arils are among the top selling varieties this year and, of course, the broken coloured varieties too. 

As it stands here are our top 10 bearded iris for this season.

10. 'Diamonds and Rubies' (Blyth 14) TB What a statement this iris creates!

9. 'Eyes On You' (Black 12) OGB (1/2 Bred) An easing growing Aril variety.

8. 'Spiced Tiger' (Kasperek 96) TB A glowing broken coloured iris. We love it!

7. 'Line Drive' (M Sutton 07) IB A fabulous lined Intermediate iris: it is so pleasing to the eye!

6. 'Rim Of Fire' (Sutton 11) TB An extremely popular iris with that fiery red band on the falls.

5. 'Wicked Good' (Black 12) TB A beautiful blue and black bi-colour iris. 

4. 'Lancer' (Shockey 95) OGB A nice contrast in colour. 

3. 'Nigerian Raspberry' (Kasperek 95) TB Oh so pretty!

2. 'Serengeti Spaghetti' (Kasperek 99) TB An easy growing variety. 

1. 'Sand Dancer '(Tasco 10) OGB A favourite of ours and it is oh so different.

It is great to see so many people enjoying their gardens and wanting to make an impact with the bearded iris being a highlight to there garden. We personally love to plant iris with roses, lavender, alstroemeria, snap dragons, and aquilegias.

We are mid season at the moment and have met so many new people to iris. We hope you all continue with your love of gardening and creating a pleasant space for wind down time from this ever hectic, anxious world we now live in. Until next time....Happy Gardening 💜

Monday, October 26, 2020

On the Road Again: Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm

By Bryce Williamson 

Taking my leave of Aitken’s Salmon Creek, I decided to head back to Highway 14 and up the Columbia River gorge to my next and final stop of the 2019 iris trek to Oregon and Washington. While looking for a good lunch spot, I drove into several of the little towns around the Columbia, found them charming, quaint, and full of interesting small shops, promising to myself that on a less pressured trip I would take time to explore. In one of those little towns, I found busy, ethnic eatery. Looking back, I cannot help but wonder if they will still be in business if and when this horrible Corona 19 pandemic ends?

After getting back on the road, I knew that when Highway 14 narrows from four lanes to two that I was getting close to Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm. Cutting to the left across the highway into the driveway, I waved to Dale, busy mowing grass, I parked as I always do, by the barn, and I first stopped to admire the changes to the nearby pond, and then went down to the garden.

The 2018 trip was highlighted by two things. I enjoyed the large clump of my ‘Jesse’s Song’ integrated into a border. I had saved the image for later use in The American Iris Society’s photo contest, but it did not place.

The second, and more exciting part of the 2019 trip was to see the new iris species ‘Azure Blue’.

Chad, in a recent exchange of emails, reports 'Azure Blue' is alive and that he was able to get seed from it this year, seed that is now planted. I don’t know where Chad Harris gets all his energy to maintain such a large garden, but it is always a treat to visit. One of these days, I will even get to the garden for Japanese iris bloom.

Because the garden is further north and located in an unusual climate pocket along the river, the tall bearded irises tend to bloom later in this garden.

'Belle Fille' 

'Blinded by the Light'

Siberian 'Pretty Polly'

Siberian 'Ships Are Sailing'

'Bingo Marker' MTB

Siberian 'Concord Crush'

'Wishes Granted'

After viewing irises, Chad, Dale, and I sat on the patio and had time for pleasant exchange of ideas and information. Dale is a county official and his insight into dynamics of the area was interesting.

As we were talking, I mentioned that since I had never driven all the way up to Bonneville Dam and that was on the agenda since I was staying at the Best Western Columbia River Inn. That in turn lead to their recommendation that I go back to the Washington side of the river to the town of Stevenson for dinner at a Mexican cantina, El Rio. To get back and forth between Washington and Oregon, it is necessary to cross the Bridge of the Gods.

Bridge of the Gods

But their strongest recommendation was that the next morning I should drive back to Portland Airport on the Oregon side of the gorge on Columbia River Highway Scenic Highway and stop and see the various waterfalls. I took their recommendations to heart and the following images are from that morning’s drive.

Vista House on the scenic highway

Little did I know when I flew home making plans for another trip in 2020, a trip that was not going to happen in these troubled times. I am cautiously hopeful that I will be able to visit next year.




Monday, October 19, 2020

Where The Wild irises Are—A New Wild Lawn

by Kathleen Sayce

Inspiration can come from unexpected directions. Last spring a friend—who lives up a valley about an hour away—sent me photos of irises flowering in the fields around her home. She was looking for plant identification, which I was pleased to supply—these are wild Iris tenax, growing in northeast Pacific County, Washington. Curiously, there are no herbarium specimens for this species in this county, but they grow wild by the thousands here all the same. 

Why was I looking for inspiration? A group of volunteers (horticulturists and ecologists) put together a planting plan for the new headquarters landscape at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, which is also in Pacific County. 

To the left, Iris tenax growing wild in a pasture, Willapa Valley, photo by Megan Martin.

This is a summer-dry climate, so getting the plants off to the right start is critical, and fall planting is the first step. 

The property has irrigation water available; a storm last week added a couple of inches of rain while putting out wildfires to the east in the Cascades, and ending the dry season. Site access was held up by delays in road rebuilding for several weeks—the new road is finally going in right now, about four weeks later than planned. 

These delays mean that instead of including images of the newly planted and seeded wild lawn, we have images of plants ready to place, and local wild Iris tenax from the nearby valley— the inspiration for this new landscape. 

To the right, a few dozen I. tenax clumps in a pasture, photo by Megan Martin.

The design goal is all native plants, low maintenance, with low watering needs, in a visually pleasing layout. Shrub borders and trees were easy to design, but the wild lawn needed a focus. Armed with new images of fields of irises and other wildflowers among grasses, we had the inspiration we needed. 

The site is being prepared right now for planting. We will plant numerous wildflowers, with an emphasis on irises, including I. tenax, I. douglasiana and a few hybrids, along with yarrow, field checkermallow, goldenrod, pearly everlasting, Douglas aster, and other perennials. Chocolate lilies, camas and Columbia lily are some of the bulbs that are native to this area.  The grass matrix will be a mix of low growing fescues, including red and Roemer’s fescues. 

Above, I. tenax growing with daisies, bracken-fern and grasses in a pasture, photo by Megan Martin. 

The wild lawn will be mown once a year, in fall, and after the first year, will not be watered in summer. Fall mowing means we will be able to collect and spread seed on the site to continue to distribute irises around the wild lawn, which covers more than 20,000 square feet. The budget did not have room for the 1000s of plants we needed, so we will start with a few hundred iris, and spread their seeds around to expand the planting. 

Above, a few pots of iris, freshly planted last spring, photo by Kelly Rupp.

There will be some spot management of blackberries and other woody perennials as the lawn settles into its new configuration, on what was formerly a farm homestead surrounded by coastal forest at the south end of Willapa Bay, Pacific County, Washington. We expect it to take about three years to settle in. 

Looking upslope at the wild lawn along the view corridor--the iris+fescue area will be near the building. Photo by Todd Wiegardt. 

Check back next year for an update on this wild lawn.

Photos for this blog were contributed by Megan Martin, Kelly Rupp and Todd Wiegardt. 


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