Monday, March 30, 2020

News from Amasya

By Sylvain Ruaud

Between the cities of Batumi - in Georgia - in the east, and Sinope in the west, along the Black Sea, stands a coastal strip where the Cappadocia plateau slopes towards the sea. This is now Turkey, but in antiquity, it was a region colonized by the Greeks who founded there several prosperous cities, either by the sea, like the current Trabzon (Trebizonde, in the old days), Sinop ( Sinope for the Greeks), or, above all, Samsun (Amisos), either higher in the foothills of Cappadocia, and Amasya (Amaseia in ancient Greek). Amasya is located in the deep valley of the Yesilirmak river, which wiggles in the region before joining the Black Sea. In antiquity this river was called Iris! Here is a name well predestined for a river which crosses the region where our current tetraploid irises originate.

'Mrs. George Darwin'
'Mrs. Horace Darwin'
Although the city of Amasya was destined to find a prominent place in the small world of irises, it was not until the end of the 19th century and the work of Sir Michael Foster, physiologist and professor at Cambridge, and famous collector of irises that the area became important. He had started iris growing by taking an interest in the oncoclyclus irises, then also in the iris spurias with which he launched into interspecific hybridizations. He also undertook the hybridization of what was then called the Germanica irises and obtained two varieties which remained famous: 'Mrs. George Darwin 'and' Mrs. Horace Darwin 'whom he named as a token of friendship with two of his neighbors. About these varieties we read this in The World of Irises: “They were whites and the first had a touch of gold in the throat that made it stand out from any other. It also had the virtue of being very late and was at its best when most of the other varieties had finished blooming. But fine as these varieties were, Foster agreed with those who said that further improvement of the bearded irises was impossible, or at least improbable, unless new species with new characteristics could be found to use as parents”.

'Lord of June'
But where to find these new species? Foster had heard of iris with huge flowers (for the time) that were found in Asia Minor. He therefore got in touch with missionaries who then went to these regions not only for religious reasons, but also scientific purposes. It was frequently that people of church took advantage of their mission to locate plants, and many of the plants which are today frequent in our gardens come from specimens brought back by missionaries. Michael Foster's emissaries sent him irises, good, mediocre, and uninteresting; but among the good ones there were some who revolutionized the world of bearded irises. Especially a species discovered in the north of Anatolia, in the region of Amasya and baptized for this reason 'Amas'. In fact there were in Great Britain several arrivals of these exceptional irises but none has been precisely described and distributed so that it is not known exactly which is at the origin of what. The varieties that we attribute to the iris 'Amas' may come from another plant, which by the way was perhaps of the same species! The fact remains that the fame of these Anatolian irises returned to 'Amas' and, as a result, to the city of Amasya.

Foster made many seedlings from his 'cluster', but it was not until his death in 1907 that these were brought to the market, among with other hybrids of the same origin obtained by Foster's friend George Yeld. These new plants include 'Caterina', 'Crusader' or 'Kashmir White', from the production of Foster and 'Halo' or 'Neptune' from that of Yeld. All these novelties were not masterpieces and they turned out to be fragile, often affected by rot and not very rustic. In addition, almost all of these varieties were blue-lavender or purple. They were nevertheless successful because of their exceptional dimensions and the hopes placed in them for a renewal of bearded irises.
'Kashmir White'
It took persistence and patience to believe in this revival because it did not appear overnight! The hybridizers tore their hair out when they noticed that the crosses made between these Amasya irises and European irises did not give much: almost no seeds or plants, large, certainly, but sterile and without other qualities remarkable. It was only in the long run, after many unsuccessful attempts, that they obtained hybrids that were both fertile and beautiful. No one knew why. A botanist by the name of Strassburger had observed in 1882 the presence of chromosomes in plants, but this discovery had not aroused any interest. It was only around forty years later that the first chromosome counts revealed the reason why the Anatolian irises, and their rare fertile hybrids, were larger and more beautiful: they had four pairs of chromosomes at the place of the two pairs which characterized the ancient irises.

To fully explain this phenomenon, I have found nothing more perfect than a text written by Ben Hager, the well-known hybridizer, published in the first part of a book of artistic photographs of iris, "L'Iris” from Dutchman Josh Westrich. Here is this explanation:
All living organisms, plants and animals, are made up of cells. All cells have a common basic structure and each has a nucleus. In only one of its infinitesimal entities are numerous chromosomes grouped together, the number of which varies according to organisms. Chromosomes carry a genetic map that controls the development and characters of the new organism after fertilization. The egg cell produces new cells that are identical in every way and intended to form a completely rejuvenated structure. At the moment when the reproductive cells or gametes are formed in the flower, the number of chromosomes is divided into two equal batches but with, often, a mixing of the characters carried by the chromosomes. Male and female cells from the same parent (self-fertilization) or from different parents, will give egg cells with a different genetic heritage and will produce different plants. (...) "

Nature prefers simplicity. Individuals resulting from the fusion of two reduced batches of chromosomes are called diploids. But accidents happen: if, during the formation of gametes, the cells do not correctly reduce the number of chromosomes, the egg contains four sets of chromosomes instead of two. Such cells are called tetraploids; because of the accident to which they are due, they have everything in duplicate. "

Why did the first crosses between the irises of Amasya and the “old ones”, originating from our countries, give only disappointing plants? It was that we had mixed tetraploid plants, the "new", with diploid plants, the "old". Hence the production of triploid plants (one batch of chromosomes from the diploid parent and two batches of chromosomes from the tetraploid parent), which are almost always sterile. And if later crosses proved to be superb and fertile, it was because they were, always accidentally, tetraploid, due to an unreduced gamete in a diploid parent. But no one was aware of this in the 1890s at the time of the attempts of Foster and his followers.

Fortunately, the accident described above has occurred often enough for the tetraploidy of the Amasya iris to settle down in a stable fashion and for the varieties obtained from the 1920s to be all tetraploid and to combine the qualities of the iris from Anatolia and those of European hybrids, giving birth to the irises that we know today.

This is why we owe so much to the plants harvested by the missionaries evangelizing the confines of the Ottoman Empire. This is why the region of Amasya and the banks of the Iris river (what a coincidence!) Can be considered as a cradle of modern iridophilia.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Irises in Containers

by Tom Waters

Irises are not usually thought of as container plants, but they can grow quite well that way, and there are a number of advantages to doing so.

Two Iris pumila cultivars,
'Wild Whispers' (Coleman, 2012) and
'Royal Wonder' (Coleman, 2013),
growing happily in a large container
The irises I choose to grow in containers are mostly dwarf bearded irises and the smaller arils and arilbreds. Tall bearded irises look out of place in even the largest containers, and a light container soil mix may not give them the support they need when top-heavy with bloom. The smaller irises, however, are naturals for container culture. They bring the plants closer to eye level for viewing, and allow them to be moved from place to place for best effect. If attractive containers, like oak barrels or terracotta pots are used, the effect can be quite lovely and dramatic.

There are additional advantages to container culture. I tend to put rare or choice plants into containers when I first acquire them, as it makes them much easier to weed and care for. A small iris that might get lost in an overgrown summer garden and succumb to neglect, is kept safe in a container where it can get the attention it needs.

Two forms of the exotic oncocyclus species Iris paradoxa
in a large container with a gritty soil mix
Arils are another good candidate for container culture in climates where summers are too wet to grow them successfully in the ground. The container can be stored in a warm dry place through the irises' summer dormancy period. It is also possible to provide a coarse, well-draining soil mix that would be difficult to maintain in the open garden.

As a hybridizer working with dwarfs and other small irises, I also appreciate that containers make the blooms more accessible. It's much nicer to pull a chair up to a container than to crawl around on the ground to harvest pollen or make a cross.

Most of my containers are inexpensive plastic models, in the largest size possible (two to three feet in height and diameter). Even the smallest irises enjoy a wide and deep root run. I fill them with various soil mixes, depending on what I have at hand, but I usually use a mix of my garden soil (a somewhat sandy silt) and commercial potting soil, sometimes with addition of compost, coarse sand, or even small gravel. The irises do not seem too picky about the exact composition of the potting mix. I like to use a top dressing of gravel as a mulch. It also looks nice, especially if a few rocks are positioned on top to make a miniature landscape.

Even in a container with enriched soil, irises will not go forever without dividing them and refreshing the soil mix every few years. Keep an eye out for overcrowding or declining vigor. Also, it is important to keep to a regular watering schedule; how frequently you water will depend on your climate, but the only time I have lost an otherwise healthy plant in a container was when I accidentally let it get bone-dry in the summer. Containers are less forgiving in this way than garden soil.

If you've never grown irises in containers, give it a try this year! You may find it offers both esthetic and practical rewards.
Iris reichenbachii blooming profusely in a container

Monday, March 16, 2020

On the Road Again: Schreiner’s

By Bryce Williamson

After a good night’s sleep, I started my first full day in Oregon with an early morning visit to Schreiner’s Gardens. Everyone was just waking up and setting up the garden for the arrival of visitors and I had the gardens mainly to myself for much of the early morning. I have combined images in this post from my visits to Schreiner's during the springs of 2018 and 2019.

After hearing much about him, I finally met Ray’s son, Ben. Ben is the fourth generation to be involved in the iris business and is bring a fresh prospective as Schreiner’s have now expanded into daylilies and other plants.

I find it sort of sad that Schreiner’s is really the last old fashion garden with irises integrated into the landscape with other plant materials.

Schreiner 3231-E
Schreiner A-278-2

I'm always on the outlook for selfs and we have too few good blues these days.

'Baja Blues'

'But Darling'
After a whirlwind visit here, I was on the road again to Mid America.

Monday, March 9, 2020

New cultivars for New Zealand

By Maggie Asplet

I felt it was time to write about what I am doing and perhaps even be brave enough to say what I would like to achieve with irises in New Zealand.  

I have for many years been very interested in hybridising but found it rather uninspiring to use any of the over 1,000 irises I had growing at home.  They were all considered old (bit like me, really).  Sadly, due to our quarantine conditions it makes it virtually impossible to import irises into NZ, a situation that has been in place since 2004.  

We have relied on the generosity of others, like Barry Blyth, or to make crosses in America then they send the seeds to us.  The other way we have gained new seeds have been through guest speakers bringing them to our annual conventions - Chad Harris, Patrick Spence, Andi Rivarola, and James Geditz all brought seed with them.  Sorry, I know I will have missed some others.  We here in NZ are very grateful to you all (even those not mentioned).

It is with thanks to the generosity of Thomas Johnson from Mid-America for putting up with me, that I can finally get to follow my passion of irises and develop brand new cultivars.  I must also thank Paul Black and Keith Keppel for allowing me to pick their brains as well as their plants.  I just hope they can continue to cope with my questions.

 The excitement of a parcel arriving from Mid-America - March 2019

And a little more exciting seeing the packets of seed within the parcel
This arrived in March 2019

A parcel with so much promise.

I will start with standard dwarf irises. I must say that I am really taken with these delightful irises.  They make such a wonderful front of border garden plant.  To be fair, I'm not even sure what I personally would like to achieve other than to start off at home here in NZ with some lovely new cultivars.  Bright colours and strong beards is what I will be looking for with future crosses.  So many possibilities as Paul Black would say.

During 2018 I used some of the following SDBs in my crosses, and later this year I will post what I consider my successful outcomes, and continue to grow them with the intention of introducing them.  Hopefully by 2022 we should have the first ready for the general public to purchase.  Sadly, I haven't been able to do any MDB crosses as they are usually finished by the time of my annual trip.  I am rather partial to these little cuties.

 'Alaia' - T Johnson '18

 'Kerpow' - T Johnson '18

 'Slightly Tipsy' - P Black '18

'Color' - P Black '18

I must say it is rather strange for me to spell color like this in the US English style.  I want to do - colour.  

This is only a small selection of the SDBs that I used, these were the most successful in the crosses, and now only time will tell just what they will look like.

I did dabble a little with MTBs, and a couple of IBs and BBs but will leave them for a later stage, as did more on my 2019 visit.

My main focus has been TBs, what I considered everyone's favourite, until my eyes opened so wide and I saw so many other beautiful irises and not just bearded ones.  However, now onto TB irises. 

For these I used a wide range of cultivars as I wanted to get a variety of different new irises into the crosses I have done.  Many were very successful (seed wise), again, we still have to wait and see what this has achieved.  Here is a few of what I used.

Black X10A, which if my notes are correct is a cross between 'Beauty Becomes Her' X 'Haunted Heart.'  I will confirm my notes with Paul this year.

'Oh What Fun' - T Johnson seedling now registered

'Apricot Smoothie' - T Johnson seedling now registered

'Call Me Maybe' - T Johnson '13

'Charmed I'm Sure' - P Black '14

'Solar Burst' - M Sutton '16

'Bedroom Romance' - P Black '16

'Another Suggestion' - K Keppel '16

And, then I did a whole lot of crosses, some very wide and probably will not produce well with what I think is perhaps my most favourite color pattern (at this stage), the luminatas.  Here is what I used.
'Belle Fille' - M. Smith '15

'Dialect' - T. Johnson '08

'Fancy Ideas' - K. Keppel '13

'Montmartre' - K. Keppel '08

This is only an insight as I have begun my journey with with seedlings from newer iris and is by no means all that I have used.  These images are of irises where I have had successful crosses and now plants are growing.

One of the seedling patches.  These are now well established and hopefully will be in flower this spring (October).

It is not long now and I will begin my journey back to Mid-America, where I hope to concentrate more on some end goals rather than crosses for crosses sake.  I particularly want to work with SDB and MTB irises this year.  I somehow think that the MTBs might just become my favourite bearded iris.

SO, if you have a dream, make sure you follow it.  It is so much easier to toil away on something that you have a passion for than not.  Later in the year, I will write a blog about some of the outcomes, but will probably only show you what I think is successful.

To American iris lovers, your spring has begun, enjoy your beautiful season.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Photo Essay: Historic varieties from 1931

By Mike Unser

A selection of varieties I have grown that were introduced in 1931. The 1930s saw many changes in tall bearded irises, including the first good, tall yellows, hardy tall whites and blues, and fun new blends. European hybridizers were still dominating the new advances, but American hybridizers were catching up fast and giving them competition.

The World of Irises is the official blog of The American Iris Society. The American Iris Society exists to promote all types of irises. If you wish to comment on a post, you can do so at the end of the page and the author or the editors will reply. If you wish to learn more about The American Iris Society, follow the link.