Monday, June 29, 2020

A Treasure From The Past - Jean Stevens

by Maggie Asplet 

For this article I was going to be a little nostalgic as I so missed my trip to Thomas Johnson at Mid-America Iris Garden, the visits to Lynda Miller's of Millers Manor, the wonderful visits to Chad Harris at Mt Pleasant Irises, but Melissa and Bailey from Smokin' Heights beat me to that topic.  So, here I am, still nostalgic and looking at Jean Stevens work.

I am currently the archivist for the NZ Iris Society and in this position have the job of making digital copies of all the files and came across an article that was printed in The Australian and New Zealand Iris Society bulletin, No. 2, August 1948.  I have chosen to reprint this article here, keeping with the theme of nostalgia. 

I was interesting to note the original author was from Gisborne now where I live.  Also, the photos in this post were not included with the original article; they are my contribution of the Jean Stevens irises I have growing now.  Sadly, over time many of Jean Stevens irises are no longer available.

'Sunset Snows'
Registered in 1963, so much later than when the original article was written in 1948.  This has just flowered recently for me, making it a re-blooming iris.

The Irises of Stevens Brothers
by D'arcy Blackburn, Gisborne, NZ

Mrs. Jean Stevens, eminent iris breeder from New Zealand, poses with AIS President Marion Walker in the Schreiner's Iris Garden, Salem, Oregon
One of my first visits to an iris garden was in November, 1933, when Mrs Stevens (then Miss Jean Burgess) was growing an extensive collection in her father's garden at Waikanae.  It was in 1921 that Mr A. H, Burgess made his first iris importations, the varieties received being 'Iris King', 'Rodney', 'Ballerine', 'Diadem', 'Bolingbroke', 'Lady Foster', 'Crusader', 'Azure', 'Isoline', 'Empress of India', 'Celeste' and 'Asia'.

These varieties are now so far back in the past, they will be recalled only by those who have grown irises for many years.

'Pinnacle' (1945) - 'Radiant Day' (1946) - 'Still Night' (1955)

As soon as these plantings bloomed Mrs Stevens made her first crosses and it was the encouraging results obtained from these that urged her to go more deeply into the study of plant breeding.  One of the earliest seedlings introduced from the Waikanae gardens was Harebell, still a worthwhile variety even today.  From my first knowledge of Mrs Stevens I was impressed by her very critical eye.  Raising seedlings for so many years she has consistently resisted temptation, if indeed such temptation has existed, to see her own creations through rose-coloured spectacles.  It is worth noting that even in the 1938/39 catalogue of Stevens Bros., issued from Bulls, there was not even on iris of Mrs Stevens' own raising listed amongst the novelties.  Nevertheless, Mrs Stevens went on hybridising more and more intensively until in the 1947/48 catalogue we find listed as many as seven new introductions of her own raising.

'Summit' - registered 1948

Last November, when bloom in my own garden was going over, I journeyed to Bastia Hill, Wanganui, when the Stevens nursery had been transferred from Bulls the year before.  Without exception, the irises were healthy, well-grown and blooming profusely.  Bloom was quite at its peak during my visit on the 8th and 9th and if some of the critics say that modern varieties are less floriferous than their ancestors, such criticism most certainly does not apply to the Stevens irises.  Conditions were anything but favourable on the first day of my visit, a thirty miles an hour gale blowing throughout the afternoon.  This was the first break in an otherwise most satisfactory season.  That Mrs Stevens has included substance as an essential quality in her introductions was very apparent on the following morning which broke bright and calm.  Her own varieties bore little evidence of the rough treatment of the previous day.

'Italian Joy', 'Hazel Grove', 'Cleopatra', 'Sylvan Song', 'Moonlight Sonata', 'Random Harvest', 'Royal Mission' and not least the widely acclaimed 'Winston Churchill', were all making a most impressive display.  A row of the last-named some twenty yards long, covered in beautifully smooth blooms of glowing dark pure red and copper, was a sight to behold.

'Winston Churchill' - registered 1941

'Sylvan Song' - registered 1947

Of the seedlings named but not yet introduced the bicolour 'Pinnacle' appealed very strongly with its large flowers on 3 1/2 ft (foot) stalks.  The standards are purest white with lemon-yellow falls.  Another, and one of the very latest, from the same lines of breeding was one of more intense colouring that has been aptly named 'Summit', having pure white standards and deep gold falls, very smooth, large and beautifully branched.  One that will prove extremely popular when it is introduced was 'Lilac Arbor', a very frilled and lovely lilac enhanced by a blue beard.  To make its bow shortly, the very broad-petaled Paragon of palest lilac pink with a pale cream beard made a striking picture.

'Foaming Seas' - registered 1957

Those seedlings already mentioned are some of the taller growers but Mrs Stevens is one of those who does not sacrifice all the irises of lesser stature.  'Gay Spirit' is a very smooth and even golden tan, a charming thing of 2 1/2 ft. and very clean.  In the very dark irises Mrs Stevens has two satisfying works of art in 'Black Belle' with standards of deepest ruby wine and almost black falls and 'Midsummer Night', a blue-black which is nicely frilled in both standards and falls.

'Black Belle '- registered 1947

Working on a number of lines in her iris breeding and with so much success achieved from Mrs Stevens' past efforts, there is no doubt whatever that we are going to see still further startling developments at Bastia Hill in the not too distant future.

Oh, how advertising has changed.  Also interesting to note, they were able to sell new irises from America, something that is now so difficult it is really considered impossible.  The requirements of our importing regulations is just too stringent, the rhizomes just would not survive.

NOTE: As this spring (October 2020) will be the first major flowering from my hybridising at Mid-America Iris Garden, I am very mindful of comments at the beginning of this article.  It is so easy to have rose tinted glasses when it is your own work.

I do hope you enjoyed my little bit of nostalgia.  My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to meet Jean Stevens.  There are some of our members who were more fortunate.

Editor's note: American English and UK English do have some differences in spelling and punctuation. We have not changed the article to American English.

Monday, June 22, 2020

My Love/Hate Affair with Pseudatas

By Bryce Williamson

I had read about pseudatas in the Bulletin of The American Iris Society, but had not grown any. Then at the Region 14 Fall meeting in Chico, a poor, lovely plant of Tsukiyono was cryin' for a home and I thought, "Why not?" Having learned my lesson of buying things and then not planting them, I potted it up and then subjected it to neglect. In fact, at one point, I was certain that I had killed it.

Chad Harris wrote a post for The World of Irises post, "Iris ensata, Iris laevigata and Pseudata in Containers" and I had an attractive, empty clay pot and decided to try to salvage the variety. After three years, it rewarded me with bloom and I was thinking, "Three buds? I've wasted my time and water."

And then it keep blooming, blooming, and blooming some more.

That encouraged me last year to add more pseudatas to the container garden. Pseudatas are, as Chad Harris writes, “...a cross between plants with Iris pseudacorus backgrounds and Iris ensata (Japanese, Hanashobu). The iris world is very fortunate that Hiroshi Shimizu shared many years of his work finding a good pod parent (‘Gubijin’) so all hybridizers could explore the possibilities that this cross may bring to the garden."

Though I have a true Mediterranean garden--the soil goes dry during the summer between waterings--I am finding these irises have a definite place in the pageant color in the yard (or in this case pot) after bearded irises are finished. Give them a try. If you don't have a area in the garden that stays damp, you can grow a few in pots and use them as an accent on a patio or walk.

My thanks to Brock Heilman and Chad Harris for the theft of images!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Growing species Iris in planters when your garden and climate don't work

Kathleen Sayce, June 14, 2020

In 2017 I moved two irises, Iris attica and I. hartwegii australis, from the open garden to planters where I could control rainfall and drainage. I wrote about this in Fall 2017 for World of Irises. 

Iris hartwegii australis, photo by Richard Richards

Iris attica in flower

I used styrofoam planters and a planting mix with ample pumice, to ensure good drainage. Both planters went alongside the east side of my house under the roofline, to reduce winter rainfall. On average, this lowers the winter rainfall by half, from 86 inches (cm) to 43 inches (cm) per year. Both planters are otherwise open to rain, snow, hail, and in sun half the day.

Iris hartwegii australis after planting, early spring 2017

After planting, the surfaces  were covered with granite chicken grit (5 mm) to provide surface stability in heavy rain. The planters were placed in a group near a hose bib so that summer watering is easy to accomplish. We have bird baths nearby that we clean and refill every day in summer; watering the planters is easy. At least once a week I soak both planters, mimicking summer rainfall. 

Iris hartwegii australis, spring 2020

Iris hartwegii australis has not yet flowered, but it has put out several new fans, 6 fans when planted, 27 fans today. Compare the original planting to the planter this spring, from early spring 2017 to late spring 2020 in the accompanying images. 

Fans are larger, healthier, their color is excellent, and there are more fans each year. Meanwhile, the remaining plants in the open garden have vanished.

Four growing seasons later, it is clear that Iris attica thrived with the move, though seed set has been low. Despite its small size, this species fills its planter every two to three years, after which I take it out, prune it back and replant. Two years ago, I sent more than twenty rhizome pieces to a regional iris group for their summer sale. The plant left in the garden disappeared. 

Iris attica flowering in 2018, this is a happy plant!

For both species, I concluded that winter wet and summer drought in a fine sandy soil did not let them survive or thrive. Use of compost, mulch and fertilizer was not enough for either species. 

Conditions in the open garden were simply not close enough to their native habitats. 

 By keeping both species in planters, using a potting mix with compost and pumice, placing these planters under the eaves and near a hose bib, and with occasional foliar sprays, both have done better.  

I am still working on promoting flowering for I. hartwegii australis. I would like to know about your fertilizer regimes in your gardens for winter dry, summer rainfall species, to help me decide how much more I should be doing. 

Every spring I think, this might be the year when IHA finally flowers! Meanwhile, flowers or not, I have been very pleased that this touchy Pacifica iris is still living in (or next too) my garden. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

Why grow reblooming median irises?

By Hooker Nichols

This past spring here in north Texas was very cool and rainy. Our median bloom was about three weeks early beginning in early March.  All four of the median classes were well represented and the season was very long.  Our season for bearded and beardless bloom ended before the last week of April.
Donald Spoon's reblooming 'Alberta Peach'
Around May 20th, we noticed that many of the median irises with reblooming traits were sending up more stalks and consequently several of the clumps put on a better show than four to five weeks previously.  The once blooming medians did not put up hardly any repeat stalks.

Hooker Nichol's reblooming Border Bearded 'Lenora Pearl'
Mike Sutton's reblooming IB 'Mulligan'
Those medians from the East and West coasts put on equal performances.  Several medians with reblooming tendencies introduced from Canada were well represented too.  Iris growers should check the Reblooming Iris Society annual symposium results to see with reblooming medians perform best in their particular areas.

Chuck Chapman's reblooming SDB 'Autumn Jester'

It should be noted that we had heavily fertilized our irises last fall and this spring. 

Terry Aitken's reblooming IB 'August Treat'

Monday, June 1, 2020

Trip Down Memory Lane

By Mel and Barry Schiller

Mid America Field being watered 2019
What an unusual year it has been for the world at large....

Australia alone has endured severe drought, soul destroying fires, floods and now Covid-19.

In previous years we would of just arrived home from being in America for the bearded iris bloom season. That just all seems a distant memory.......a memory with which we are thankful for having photographic evidence!

Here are a couple of our fondest memories from previous trips we have made to Portland, Oregon USA.

Schreiner's Iris Garden 2019
We stay in Oregon and are usually not too far from Mid America Garden, Schreiner's Iris Garden, Keith Keppel Miller Manor and Robyn Shadlow.

It is not only the gardens we have truly missed this year but the wonderfully warm people who we have met along the way. Each person has a different piece of knowledge that we gratefully accept. Whether it be iris knowledge, plant knowledge, or just flat out warm friendship. We have missed it all terribly.

Schreiner's Seedling beds 2019
We reference ourselves as 'Learner' Iris hybridizers and we are like sponges soaking up the generous information that the Schreiner Family, Thomas Johnson, Paul Black, Lynda Miller and Keith Keppel can provide us on growing hybridizing and the general genetics of different varieties. These people hold a special place in our heart. It would take months of reading to provide the information that we receive in a mere few weeks!

Thomas Johnson and Bailey Schiller Mid America 2019
Another beautiful area that we have visited is the Multnomah Falls area and also Chad Harris's Mt Pleasant Iris. What a beautiful garden including the most extravagant beardless iris. What a jaw dropping experience!  We were blessed with beautiful weather and fantastic hosts.

Paul Black was our chauffeur for the day and we enjoyed Maggie Asplet's company.

Mel and Bailey Schiller Multnomah Falls 2018
Mt Pleasant Iris 2018

Pittock Mansion 2018
Japanese Garden in Portland 2018
Lynda Miller was our generous chauffeur and tour guide to the Pittock Mansion and the Japanese Gardens we also visited the Rose Garden in Portland that same day. Maggie Asplet provided lovely company as we trecked all over visiting these wonderful scenic educational places.

Ahhhhh the memories....

Visiting the wonderful people in and near Salem has given us the opportunity to expand our worldly sights and our hybridizing goals. We have been fortunate to have 2 bloom seasons to work with in achieving our goals quicker. Each year our visit to the states also gives us the opportunity to view the Iris we would like to import into Australia.

We see this year as the quiet time of reflection to reminisce on our previous years of wonderful memories and fun times with all our friends. Re-evaluate our goals and see where we are headed from here. The garden photo's that we are seeing from our Facebook family are lovely memento's for those of us who cant be there. We sincerely hope you all remain safe in these uncertain times and that your love of gardening makes your heart flourish.

Keith Keppel 2019