Monday, December 28, 2020

Wild Pacifica Irises in Northern California

By Kathleen Sayce, with Photos by Tom Lofken

Tom lives in northern California, and took the photos for this essay over several years. 

Iris douglasiana

First up is a tough, widely distributed iris, Iris douglasiana, which grows naturally from southern Oregon to southern California near Santa Barbara. Tom took this image at Point Reyes, where an extensive purple-flowered population can be found. 

Yellow, white, rose pink and lavender flowers are also common for this species, which produces some of the toughest plants the Pacifica Iris group for gardens. 

Iris hartwegii ssp. pinetorum

Next, from the Sierra Nevada foothills, Iris hartwegii ssp. pinetorum.  This subspecies may eventually be re-elevated to species status as its genetics are distinctly different from other subspecies. I. h. pinetorum grows in the California Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada, where it prefers flats in open pine forests. 

[Readers may recall I grow Iris hartwegii ssp. australis in my garden; this subspecies grows only in the Transverse Ranges of southern California.]

Iris macrosiphon

Iris macrosiphon is widespread in northern California and also varies in flower color. It is found around the Bay Area in the mountains, and north in the Coast Range to the Klamath Range, northern California. I. macrosiphon has a very long ovary tube—the ‘stem’ between the ovary and the flower petals. The leafy bracts in the photo cover the long tube. The ovary sits just above the base of the bracts and well below the flower. 

Iris tenuissima ssp. tenuissima 

Iris tenuissima ssp. tenuissima is found in northern California, in the Sierra Nevada foothills and Coast Range. Flowers are pale yellow to white, with dark maroon to red veins. 

Iris bracteata

Iris bracteata grows in northern California and southern Oregon, has pale yellow flowers with dark veins, often with a reddish color to the perianth tubed, and is typically found in yellow pine forests above 1,000 ft elevation. This photo is from Josephine County, Oregon. 

Iris chrysophylla

Iris chrysophylla has strikingly long stigmatic crests, those petal bits that stick up on the style arms.  These look like two long teeth (a vampire’s long canines), in an otherwise typical wild Pacifica Iris flower. Flowers are usually pale yellow, can be white, and are veined burgundy on the falls. This species grows in open coniferous forests in northern California and southern Oregon. 

Iris thompsonii

Tom looked for the golden iris, Iris innominata in northern California, which grows wild only in southern Oregon. It has lovely yellow (dark gold to pale yellow) flowers. 

Instead, he found a hybrid of Iris thompsonii, possibly crossed with I. bracteata or I. tenuissima, showing pale petals, strong veining, and growing in densely floriferous clumps. 

Like I. innominata, I. thompsonii is deciduous, with leaves dying back to the ground each winter. 

Other species that share this trait are Iris tenax and I. hartwegii. 


For current taxonomy, refer to The Jepson Manual, 2nd edition, for a key to Irises species in this subsection. All taxa except Iris tenax ssp. tenax and ssp. gormanii are covered in this key.  

Older taxonomy references include Victor Cohen, A field guide to species, and Lee Lentz’s books. The latter three publications are available to download by members of the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris on the SPCNI website in the members only area. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Winter Watch for Irises

 By Hooker Nichols

The Winter Watch season is about to begin for us particularly in the Southern states. You might ask yourselves what is he talking about? Many times people in our areas tend to continue replanting irises until near time for the first frosts.

Image by Jeanette Graham

Here in northern and eastern Texas we have an average first frost or freeze date of November 22. They usually even bloom the following spring. Keep a constant watch for any late plants heaving out of the ground due to constant freezing and thawing of the soil. If this happens, just gently step on the rhizomes and push them back into the ground.

Now is the time to plant your iris seeds. This will ensure that the young plants will not germinate prematurely and be killed by the freezing temperatures. Be sure to keep your seedbeds slightly moist through the winter.

For you who are hybridizers, this is the time we plan our future spring crosses. Be sure to use only irises which have the best growth and blooming characteristics in future endeavors. You should pay closest attention to bud count and branching.

Reblooming characteristics may be incorporated too. For those of you who are exhibition fans, remember that a Best of Show specimen begins the moment you plant that iris in your garden the previous year. Winter garden care is the key to wonderful spring bloom. Wishing all a safe holiday season and a better outlook for Spring 2021.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Dry Creek Garden, Union City, California

By Jeff Bennett

My name is Jeff Bennett. I am the gardener at Dry Creek Garden in Union City, California. Dry Creek Garden was one of the tour gardens in the 2019 American Iris Society’s National Convention “The Sun Sets on Rainbows”. 

Iris garden at Dry Creek during the 2019 National.

I will be writing a series of articles on Dry Creek as a garden, its history, how the iris area was established, and my own little history growing irises.

My Background:

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, very close to the bay itself, in what is called a banana belt. This means you have almost zero chance of frost. This is due to the influence of the bay waters preventing the below freezing temperatures from reaching this area. However, if you go a mile or two inland, you will get frost. A micro climate indeed.

Dry Creek in the fall.

Growing up with a decent sized yard, we had just a few iris colors growing. A few yellow and of course the deep velvety purple. I was always fascinated seeing them for the short period I did, then to return the following year. Such a long time to wait. But ahh, the velvety purple ones would sometimes bloom again in the Fall. I knew there were white ones as I had seen some in other people’s yards. I knew what they were called because I asked my mom but never much more interest than that as I did not know of the OTHERS(!).

Fast forward to 1991. A friend, knowing how much I liked plants and flowers, found an advertisement in a magazine for an iris catalog. She ordered it for me. When I opened that catalog, I was astonished to see the colors. Wow! They have names? There’s brand new ones? There’s really old ones that aren’t just yellow, purple or white? It was a Schreiner’s catalog. The Cadillac of iris catalogs! So I’m sure I spent evenings trying to decide which ones to order and how much I really wanted to spend in total. I probably got about 20 or so. Those arrived that fall and got planted. Then I discovered another company. Cooley’s. There’s two Cadillacs now!

The third catalog I discovered was Stockton Iris gardens. Another catalog with great photos. This is all of course, pre-internet. Heck, I didn’t even have a credit card. Orders and checks were mailed off. Within a few years I had 200 varieties of iris growing on an acre. This is where life kicks in. Had a retail business since 1987, got married, two children, and no time. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts took over for many years. Still growing the iris that survived a move and being in bags a few months before getting planted. Had to ID them as they bloomed. 'Ecstatic Echo', 'Dusky Challenger', 'Kentucky Derby', and, of course, 'Crimson King'.

Dry Creek Garden in the fall

Through the early 2000’s I discovered an iris booth at a street fair. The Mt. Diablo Iris Society had their tables set up with tubs of iris rhizomes for sale. Jackpot! I could try to replace some of those lost. I picked out the names of the irises I knew. Didn’t know the newer ones, so I stuck to the newer ones.

Jeff Bennet at Dry Creek with a few tools of the trade.

By 2013 I began working as a gardener at Dry Creek Garden. Noticing Irises hidden among the other plantings, I was looking forward to see what the following Spring would show me. The following year, I was introduced to Shirley Trio by Dave Shaw. He said she was looking for a garden that could grow and display irises at an upcoming convention and wanted to know if the garden I worked at would be interested.

Till the next chapter.....


Monday, December 7, 2020

Growing Irises Out East: Draining Well in the Piedmont

by Heather Haley and Alleah Barnes Haley

Irises growing beside Heather's driveway

Greetings from the Piedmont, a plateau in the eastern United States between the Atlantic Ocean and the Appalachian Mountains. This is our first post for the World of Irises blog. As a mother-daughter team, we joyfully spent many hours at Heather’s kitchen table working on the booklet for the 2019 national convention and are pleased to serve the American Iris Society in a new way. 

Keren, Heather, and Susan with their mother Alleah Haley at a national convention

Aitken’s Salmon Creek Garden, Portland, Oregon 

Members of our family have grown irises from one coast of the United States to the other since the 1940s. Although climate and soil characteristics differ from one location to the next, one piece of advice is timeless and universal: bearded irises prefer full sun and well-drained soil.

As a child in New Mexico, Alleah learned this the hard way. At the age of nine, she was given the area along a shaded driveway where she planted bearded iris rhizomes from her mother Gertie. The irises grew poorly. Alleah’s early experiment taught her a basic principle of iris culture: plant bearded irises in full sun with well-drained soil. Three years later she used a sunny spot and planted gifts from her mother’s iris friends: a new introduction from hybridizer Georgia Hinkle and two advanced seedlings from hybridizer Steve Varner. They grew well!

As an adult in California, Alleah provided optimal growing conditions for irises using raised beds with full sun. Alleah constructed wooden beds over wire to keep gophers from eating her irises, and filled the beds with purchased sandy loam soil. Although the surface of  raised beds is flat, a combination of soil type and elevated planting ensures that irises are well-drained.

Raised beds at Alleah's home in California 

From a young age, Alleah’s youngest daughter Heather enjoyed helping her mother in the garden. For about a decade, mother and daughter bonded while weeding, digging, and replanting mom’s irises. Heather learned a lot about growing irises while she lived on the West Coast. However, moving to the East Coast gave Heather an opportunity to learn an important lesson for herself. Bearded irises grow best when planted in well-drained soil.

Source: National Resources Conservation Service, USDA

As an adult, Heather settled in North Carolina’s Piedmont region and planted irises of her own for the first time. With help from her husband Chris, Heather established iris beds along the driveway of their first home. Although the area was in full sun, the ground was unlike anything the two California natives had seen before. A dominant soil order in many parts of the southeastern United States is Ultisol, and it is especially prevalent in North Carolina’s Piedmont. North Carolina also has heavy rainfall (over 50 inches per year). The combination of climate and soil characteristics required Heather and Chris to acquire some new skills and learn techniques for gardening in “red clay.”  Due to limited finances, Heather chose not to construct raised beds like Alleah’s. She planted her irises directly into the dense, characteristically rust-colored Ultisol. 

Heather's first iris bed - October 2012  

In 2012, Heather began establishing iris beds.  Her first tasks were removing grass and “double-digging” to the best of her ability. As a frugal beginner, Heather spent her vacation using a shovel and brute force to break up the red clay along the driveway. Heather became VERY tired. Next, Chris helped Heather apply and incorporate a 3-inch thick layer of “flower and vegetable garden soil” purchased at a big-box store. This amendment was intended to increase organic matter, improve drainage, and supply irises with a modest amount of nutrients. Heather planted irises as she had in her mother’s garden in California, and Chris applied a thick layer of hardwood mulch to keep the weeds down. Unfortunately, neither strategy was ideal for growing irises in North Carolina. When a heavy clay soil is flat, or covered with mulch, irises struggle because the surrounding soil doesn’t drain well. The next spring, Heather started losing irises to rot. She pulled the mulch about 5 inches back from each of the remaining plants. Thankfully, no other irises were lost but several varieties known to increase well in other gardens didn’t. 

Tall bearded iris 'Broadband' (Tasco, 2002) before pulling back mulch -  April 2013

Replanting iris using sloped beds - October 2014

Clearing the backyard - February 2013

Planting iris on mounds in the backyard - October 2014

After spending much of 2013 preparing Chris’ vegetable beds in the backyard, Heather wanted to try changing the shape of the iris beds along the driveway to improve drainage. Heather dug all of her irises, amended the clay with more “flower and vegetable garden soil,” and adjusted the slope of the bed so that heavy rainfall would drain away from the irises (and the foundation of the house). Also in 2014, Heather tried forming mounds of soil 2 feet in diameter and 4 inches tall in the backyard, planting each with 3 rhizomes of the same variety. This time around, all irises grew and increased well. These early experiments taught Heather her own lessons about growing irises in the Piedmont. In clay with poor drainage, Heather amends her soil generously with organic material. If clay needs better drainage, she recommends planting irises in sloped beds or on mounds about 4 inches high. In locations with heavy rainfall, gardeners should avoid applying mulch in bearded iris beds.

Reblooming iris ‘Peggy Sue’ (Lauer, 2006) planted in a sloped iris bed near a warm brick wall - December 2015

Irises in the sloped bed near driveway in peak bloom - April 2016

In the years that followed, Heather’s iris collection continued to expand and space for Chris to grow his vegetables got harder to come by. In desperation, Chris told Heather “You can grow as many irises as you want if you can make them pay for themselves.” He didn’t expect Heather would actually try doing this, let alone be successful. However, his idea to grow all iris she wanted got stuck in her head. Heather tested distribution methods, and tried potting up increases to see how much care they would require. Heather and Chris also experimented with planting irises like a row crop. They planted irises on ridges of long, narrow mounds. Instead of buying “garden soil” amendments by the bag, truckloads of leaf compost arrived from an independent garden center that made it themselves. Chris experimented with using a flame weeder* between rows instead of mulch. More iris rhizomes were grown successfully, more iris varieties were increasing well, and there were fewer weeds to pull. However, Chris and Heather faced a new problem. Growing additional iris varieties would require more space in full sun.  Although it was tempting, they decided against digging up their front lawn and converting the space to irises, as many have been known to do. They started imagining a yard big enough for fruit trees, greenhouses, irises, AND vegetables.*Note that the propane-fueled flame weeder can be used only on windless days and in wet regions.

Chris incorporating a 3-inch layer of leaf compost - August 2017  

Iris planted on ridges in the driveway - August 2017

 Iris planted on ridges in the backyard - August 2017

An early experiment with potted irises - April 2018

Irises in pots and rows surrounding Chris’ vegetable beds - April 2019

In 2019, Heather enrolled and completed North Carolina Farm School; a business course for small and beginning farmers offered by NC State Extension. A pair of small-scale market tests provided evidence that Heather’s business plan had potential and that preserving her family’s iris collection could pay for itself. Heather and Chris had also come to appreciate their families’ agricultural roots, and they wanted to try preserving an old farmhouse. Halfway through 2019, Heather and Chris purchased a 100-year-old restored farmhouse on 7 acres in rural North Carolina. The former tobacco farm has suitable, well-drained soil and is now home to “Broley Homestead and Iris Farm.” [Broley is a mashup of the couple’s last names, Broberg and Haley.]

Heather with potted irises during a small-scale test - April 2019

The family iris collection spent a year growing and increasing in 3-gallon pots. Meanwhile, Chris and Heather cleared land and established iris production beds. Soil at the farm contains less clay; and now they add leaf compost by the dump truck-load to improve soil texture, increase drainage, and add organic matter. In the summer of 2020, iris beds in the production field were formed using a tractor with a garden bedder attachment. They are about 6 inches tall, 30 inches across, and 150 feet long.  Heather is currently experimenting with pre-emergent herbicides and Chris continues using a flame weeder* between iris rows. 

            Potted Iris at the Broley Homestead - April 2020

Tractor Max with garden bedder attachment - August 2020

Tractor Max helping apply leaf compost to production beds. - August 2020

Chris watering recently planted irises in raised production beds - September 2020 

Also in 2020, Alleah sold her home in California and relocated to North Carolina. She now lives about 20 minutes from Heather and Chris’ farm. Most of the varieties from Alleah’s collection are now growing on the farm, and she goes there frequently to lend a hand. With strategic purchases and donations from iris friends, the family collection now numbers about 700 varieties. Although forming iris beds on a production scale has required new techniques and equipment, the principles we learned early on remain equally useful today: Bearded irises grow best in full sun with well-drained soil.

For Comments:

What advice do you have for others growing iris and how did you learn it?

What iris topics would you like to read about in a future post?

Monday, November 30, 2020

Hawkes Bay Iris Group Safari 26 October 2020

By Maggie Asplet

Around the 25th of October each year we celebrate Labour Day here in New Zealand.  This year the invite to join the celebration on this day and to view irises was so well received.  Why? Because COVID19 had caused so many cancellations that I was beginning to think "Iris things" were something of the past.

Wendy and I prepared a day before for our 3 hour drive to stay in Havelock North with Bev & Jim Haliburton. We had a reasonably early start the next morning crisscrossing the Hawkes Bay region (east coast, North Island of New Zealand) for the Hawkes Bay Iris Group Safari.

Our first garden visit was to the home of John and Lynn Lees, Taradale, where not only we enjoyed looking at the garden, but as everyone arrives, the catching up with each other begins.

In the shed was John's pride and joy

Lucy's Blue Silk and White Elephant

This is a town garden full of treasures

We then set of for a visit to a nursery and garden owned by Bruce and Karen Carswell, Twyford Irises, named after the road they live on.  This is a beautifully nursery with a picking garden in a lovely rural setting.

Nursery photos - as you enter the nursery a lovely picking garden is available

This was our first chance to stop and really have a catch up; it was morning tea, time for refreshments.  For any of you that have travelled to New Zealand, you will know that we love our cuppa time.

One wee dog helped himself to something to eat

With my cup in hand, I then wondered around the rest of the garden.  Just lovely and a real credit to Bruce and Karen.

We then had a 20 minute drive through countryside to the home of John and Heather Trim where they hold the Hawkes Bay Project Irises.  These are all irises that have been hybridized by people who have lived in the area.  It is a continuing project for this iris group.

In the middle we have Heather discussing with Huib Selderbeek some of the growing conditions of these irises

John and Heather both do a bit of hybridising themselves 

Back in our vehicles again, we head to Huib and Helen Selderbeek's home for more garden sharing and also lunch. The images will not show just how challenging this garden is with some areas steep, others dry, and with a delightful boggy patch at the bottom of the road.  It was a wonderful spot for our shared lunch.

Pond pictures

I have circled the pond area - just right of top centre.  This image also shows the many rocks and stones on the ground, and perhaps how steep in places.

Lunch time, and while we were sitting talking, one of our native birds, the Tui decided to join us.

A small selection of beautiful beardless irises - perhaps a story for another day

Lunch was over and it was time to head back towards civilization.  Our next stop was to the home of Brenton and Fiona Le Prou.  Located on a town section and with a little thinking outside the square, in this case inside the pot, was an amazing selection of miniature and small bearded irises.  Unfortunately, bloom season for these irises had passed, but there were still other irises to be seen.

Here is how Brendon manages to grow so many of the small irises and also two of his beautiful birds that live on the other side of the netting

Not a TB person, Brendon still managed to find a couple of them in flower during our visit.  As you can see, it was such a beautiful day to be out and about.

Our next stop was to the home of Brian Townsend.  It is another small garden, but still with some wonderful treasurers.  

Brian won the Begg Shield at our Convention last year.

Brian, with his best shoes on is pointing at an iris that we spend considerable time trying to remember the name of.  Not sure that we agreed in the end.
A beautifully keep lawn and garden bed at Brian's

It was then time to get back in our cars and head to our next garden.  This is at the home of Joy Kennerley and again a small town garden. From the moment you stop outside the drive, you just get the feeling there will be loads to see.

The image in the middle is Nobody's Child

As you can see, so many gorgeous plants and a very peaceful place to wander around

It was finally time to get into our cars just one more time; we had already seen 7 beautiful gardens, heard a lot of laughter and just enjoyed some wonderful time together.

One final garden to see was at the home of Jim and Bev Haliburton. It is were we did our final wander around and questioned just when we would all catch up again.

Unnamed - Iris pallida and I swertti 

Beautiful blossom trees with tall bearded irises growing underneath

You can't have an iris safari day without afternoon tea.  This was a rather special occasion - this year was to be the Society's 70th birthday celebration, but not knowing what was happening around lockdown, a decision was made to cancel 2020 convention.

So, not to be forgotten the Hawkes Bay Group decided afternoon tea would honour this milestone.
A cake and a beautifully handcrafted card were presented to everyone.

John Trim had the honour of blowing out the candle

It was a fabulous day out, very busy with 8 gardens in total, and a fair few miles travelled.  It was so good to have been able to catch up with other iris people and to share the passion in such difficult times.

Thank you so much Hawkes Bay Iris Group and all your members for such a wonderful day out.