Monday, October 18, 2021

Dry Creek Garden, Union City, California

by Jeff Bennett

I have been writing a series of articles about the Dry Greek Garden. In my first article, I introduced myself and my history with irises. In the second, I introduced readers to the land that encompasses Dry Creek Garden and its acquisition by the May family and then passed down to become a part of the Meyers’ estate. The third described the transition from cattle ranch to a summer retreat. In this fourth installment, I will share some of the parties that were held at Dry Creek Garden commencing in 1952 and ending in the final summertime bash in 1972.

The gatherings at Dry Creek were held to benefit the Alameda Welfare Council, which raised money for the needy in the Alameda area and still exists to this day. The Meyers sisters were very generous to local causes and loaned their ranch for the annual events for the Council which brought in thousands of dollars to help families with physical, psychological and monetary needs. They were well known not only for their kindness in helping the disadvantaged, but also for giving generously of their resources and time.

Themed parties at the Dry Creek Garden were planned well in advance of their August date. The themes varied from things like national origin, Gold Rush Days, Colonial, Victorian and the color pink. Yes, pink! For the pink party, they planted the grounds with all kinds pink flowers available at the time. I’m guessing they may have even found a pink iris or two to plant. Everything was pink, even the clothing to wear was to be pink. This made for fun times for the ladies who gathered.

During these events, a box lunch was provided with soft drinks. Booths were set up with items for sale, and many of them were hand made. Jams, pastries, fruit, clothing, and crafts were offered for sale. A nursery area sold plants nurtured by Council members. Most items were sold out at the annual events. With 400 to 700 women attending, there’s no reason why there should not be a sell out of the items.

The pictures in this article are from published newspaper periodicals in the Oakland Tribune under the sections of Women’s World and Feminine Sphere. The Alameda Times-Star also published reviews of the events under Social Whir. According to newspaper reviews, some party goers drove over 50 miles to attend the annual event and the line of cars parked down Mission Boulevard was over a half mile long. No tickets were sold at the gate—tickets had be purchased in advance. The pictures show that all the ladies wore dresses and fancy shoes. This was the highlight social event of the area every summer.

Gardens were planted and full of summer blooming flowers: dahlias, roses, zinnias, daylilies, hydrangeas, daisies, begonias, fuchsias, hollyhocks, snapdragons, petunias, and others. Events started at 11 am and ended at 3 pm. Some years, it actually rained and thundered during the event. These days, it would be quite rare for it to rain in August. During parties at Dry Creek, visitors were free to roam the approximately 4 acre site, see the fruit trees of citrus, apples, plums, almonds, avocado, peaches and persimmons. They would also play bridge or other card games. A dip in the swimming pool was also allowed for any that wanted to.

The last of these parties was held at Dry Creek Garden in 1972. Dr. Edith Meyers became ill and passed away in 1971 at 70 years of age. With Edith gone, the remaining sisters, Mildred and Jeanette, decided to donate the 1,200-acre ranch to the East Bay Regional Park District. They kept the cottage and garden as their summer home. Mildred, the architect, passed away in 1986 at age 88. In the later years, Jeanette no longer traveled to the garden as often. Jeanette, the gardener, passed away in November of 1993. In their will, the final 60-acre parcel of Dry Creek Garden was passed to East Bay Regional Park in 1995 to be preserved for the public to enjoy.

It took until 2007 to get repairs done to the cottage and property to open to the public. Thirty-five years after the last party in 1972, Dry Creek Garden was once again open to the public for all to enjoy. Today, both parcels of land are enjoyed  by hundreds of people on a daily basis. To this day, the 1,260 acres that Mildred, Edith and Jeanette donated is the largest piece of land ever donated to the 121,000+ acre park system called the East Bay Regional Park District.

In my next and final article, I will bring you to the development of the iris gardens at Dry Creek that were established for the 2019 American Iris Society Convention, “The Sun Sets on Rainbows”, headquartered in San Ramon, California




Monday, October 11, 2021

Photo Essay: Let There Be Light!

by Mike Unser

One of the joys of iris photography for me is capturing the sunlight playing thru the blooms. It is especially dramatic just after sunrise or before sunset when the light comes in at an angle, making for intense colors and shadows. 

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the 2021 bloom season featuring sunlight.

'Treasure Island'

'Kathryn Fryer'




Read more about these irises using the following links to the Iris Encyclopedia:

Monday, October 4, 2021

(Still) Searching for Iris innominata

 by Kathleen Sayce

A conversation with a lapsed and now renewed member of Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris (SPCNI) reminded me of my long search for Iris innominata by seed and plant form for my own garden.
I. innominata x ? in my garden

In 2010, I joined the SPCNI field trip to southwest Oregon, where I was able to see tens of thousands of Pacifica irises flowering in the wild, including thousands of I. innominata. Flower colors varied from pale yellow to intense, dark golden yellow, almost orange, with veining from dark yellow to red. This spurred me to grow this lovely iris in my own garden.
I. innominata in Southwest Oregon, 2010

The search for I. innominata plants or seeds began innocuously. As a new member of SPCNI, I ordered seeds from the SPCNI annual seed exchange. I also ordered from SIGNA’s seed exchange. Plants were purchased from a variety of sources in the western United States. All were labeled I. innominata

Meanwhile I read about Iris x aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’, an early garden cross between I. douglasiana and I. innominata by Edith Hardin English in her Seattle, Washington garden. She liked the golden flowers but disliked the short stems and the ease with which flowers melted in heavy rain, sentiments with which I completely agree! 

 The SIGNA Checklist of Hybrids described Iris x aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’ as “Soft golden yellow flower with veining reduced to markings of deeper yellow, two flowers to each stem." The name was published as I. aureonympha ‘Golden Nymph’ in the National Horticulture Magazine, October 1948, and reprinted in the Bulletin of the American Iris Society, p. 40-42, #125, April 1952.” [page 146, SIGNA Checklists of Iris] The article was reprinted in the Almanac for SPCNI, Spring 1977 with a note by Jean Witt that English was the first person in the Unied States to hybridize I. innominata. Note that all PCI species easily hybridize with each other, so wild crosses between I. douglasiana and I. innominata are likely, as both live in Southwest Oregon. 

But I digress—back to the outcome of my search through seed exchanges and nurseries for I. innominata

Three times the plants I purchased turned out to be I. douglasiana or other Pacifica iris selections, none matching I. innominata for plant habit and leaf characters even when flowers were (rarely) yellow. I retained a lovely I. douglasiana x unknown PCI cross with a sturdy short grow habit, of unregistered name ‘Burnt Sugar.’
I. pseudacorus sold as I. innominata. Not!

Four times the seeds also were not I. innominata, and tended to undistinguished lavenders. The most spectacular fails were two: A plant from a rock garden nursery that was actually I. pseudacorus, identified when it flowered, and a seed lot that grew into Spuria irises of unknown flower color but unmistakable growth form. My garden is too cool and dry in summer for spurias to thrive, so out it went.
Iris 'Burnt Sugar', unregistered Pacifica iris with I. douglasiana genes

Debby Cole took pity on me after a few years and sent me a few seeds from one of her yellow-flowered innominata-like plants, which upon flowering from seed in my yard we concluded were most likely to be I. innominata x I. bracteata. These had short stems, yellow flowers and the narrow dark green leaves of I. innominata. The veins on the falls were reddish brown. 

Another I. innominata x ? grown from seed 

The plants lived for years in my garden, flowering well until a hedge grew up that shaded them a bit too much. If I can find them this fall, I intend to move the plants to the wild lawn at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in a few weeks, in hopes that they will enjoy that locale. The trigger for this remembrance was that newly returned SPCNI member casually mentioning that he grows I. innominata in his own garden. All I can say is he’s lucky. I haven’t managed to get it, let alone grow it!

Monday, September 27, 2021

Small Iris Gardens: Garry Knipe's PCIs

by Bryce Williamson

For at least the last 10 years, plant societies have been in membership decline. There are many reasons for this. One of the important reasons for this is reduced garden space in major urban areas. As an area becomes more crowded, lot sizes diminish or fade into nothing. It is not a hopeless situation, however, for the avid gardener with a little bit of space. For the iris grower, a small garden means it will be impossible to grow everything, and specializing is necessary. When specializing is done right, it is even possible to have a hybridizing program.

Within a small garden in California’s Silicon Valley, Garry Knipe is specializing and doing it right. When I visited, one of the first things I noticed was the usage of all space—at the front, back, and even the sides of the house. It also helps, in his case, that one of the neighbors has allowed him to infringe on their property.


From that small space and specializing in Pacific Coast Irises (PCIs), Mr. Knipe is producing stunning flowers. His seedlings regularly draw “ohs and ahs”at the local Clara B. Rees Iris Society show, winning many blue ribbons and almost always the seeding cup.

Garry has three goals in his hybridizing: bloom time, color, and cold-hardiness. He is working on early blooming varieties in many colors and the eye candy of whites, lavenders, and violets that have an area that is really blue or turquoise in color at the heart or center line of the flowers. To date Garry has only introduced one iris, ‘Premonition of Spring’ from the early blooming line.

‘Premonition of Spring’ 

‘Premonition of Spring’ 

His higher priority is the enhancing the blue and turquoise colors that originally came from Dr. Lee Lenz's work with I. munzii. Unfortunately, like I. munzii, the Lenz introductions were very difficult to grow and died off quickly. Fortunately, their genetic merits were utilized by a few PCI breeders in the 1970's. Garry is now actively selecting some of the stunning violets and lavenders with blues and turquoise shadings for introduction. That latter work has its basis in plants produced from the Lewis Lawyer lines as well as hybrids from Santa Cruz’s Lois Belardi and a seedling from Joe Ghio. The smaller space does slow him down and he can only grow 100 to 400 new seedlings every year.



A third current hybridizing goal has been added to help extend the climatic range of the Pacific Coast Iris by making crosses between cold hardy species like I. tenax and other known good growing hybrids. These seeds get distributed to members of the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris for testing in more difficult climates.


Another garden interest of Garry's is breeding South African flowers of the genus Moraea. In particular, he is very interested in those species and hybrids that have very intense blue- or teal-colored eyes.

Since these relatively small plants can be grown tightly spaced, his small yard can accommodate large numbers of seedlings. Garry recognizes the help of Michael Mace in getting started.  View some of Mike's Moraeas at His beautiful creations prove that it is possible to add to the gardening pleasure of gardens large and small even if he does not have a lot of space.

Monday, September 20, 2021


By Sylvain Ruaud

The iris, a universal plant? If we rely on the number of countries or regions associated with it, it seems that there are irises from all over the world. In the following lines we will make a kind of world tour of irises, referring to the names that have been given to them, whether in their botanical name or in their vernacular name.

Iris of England

The iris known as “English iris” is actually the species I. latifolia or X. latifolium. Native to the Pyrenees and the north of Spain, it can be found, for example, in abundance in the Gavarnie cirque and the Tourmalet pass, on the mountain slopes. In the inexhaustible source of information that is the Internet, one can read this comment: "This erroneous name comes from the fact that around the year 1600, the convent of Eichstätt in Germany received the first large ovoid bulbs from England, which made the monks believe that this iris grew spontaneously near Bristol. Thus, cultivated under the name Iris bulbosa angliana, this plant became the iris of England. Maurice Boussard, a French specialist in iridaceae, developed the same information and, botanically, he added: "(The English iris) belongs to the Xiphium group (bulbous iris) which does not hybridize with any other species. The flowers range from white to purple and dark blue, through various shades of purple." (1)

Iris of Spain

Is there any confusion between the so-called Spanish iris and the English iris? Both are Xiphiums, but Maurice Boussard makes the distinction: "We group together under (the name of Spanish Iris) a set of natural or man-selected varieties of Xiphium vulgare, a botanical species spontaneously spread in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), with flowers in a variety of colors. The name of this species corresponds well to its geographical location, which is not the case of the irises of England.  The species and its varieties are part of the irises cultivated for cut flowers. (1) About the color of the flowers, Richard Cayeux, in "The iris, a royal flower" specifies that these colors are "always marked by a yellow spot on the sepals."

Iris of the Netherlands

While we are at it, let's stay in the Xiphium group because the irises of Holland constitute "a series of horticultural irises obtained by hybridization between two botanical species of bulbous iris of the Xiphium group (...)"(1) The colors obtained, and that we can see in the bouquets of florists, but also in our gardens when the bulbs are planted there, are in the tones of blue with a yellow spot on the sepals. It has become a very common plant.

Iris of Germany

It is the very famous I. x germanica, that we all know and that, for centuries, illuminates our gardens at the end of winter, with its flowers generally of a dark purple, but that can, because of innumerable spontaneous crossings, take all kinds of tones, from blue to purple. There has been much discussion about whether it is a true species or simply naturalized varieties. "It is characterized by its more or less evergreen foliage in winter and its large, fragrant purple spring flowers whose three erect, dome-shaped petals are lighter in color than the three drooping sepals, adorned with a bright yellow beard." (1) Its half-buried horizontal rhizome elongates through the tip, which bears leaves and stem, and laterally forms new growth points. It can be said to be one of the starting points of all bearded iris hybrids.

Iris of Italy

Let's continue our tour of Europe. The Italian iris is not strictly speaking a species, nor even a variety, but a local version of Iris x germanica, in its white form better known as I. Florentina, as well as Iris pallida, cultivated in Italy and much sought after in perfumery for the rhizome, from which the essence of iris is extracted, after a long and laborious preparation which makes its price.

Iris of Dalmatia

It is about Iris pallida which everyone agrees to say that it is native of Dalmatia, the region located in current Croatia, all along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. In June, flowering stems rise to the top of the foliage and bear flowers similar to those of Iris x germanica but of a pale blue color, deliciously perfumed. The Dalmatian iris, like the Italian iris, has a fragrant rhizome and is therefore cultivated for perfumery.

Iris of Algeria

Let us cross the Mediterranean to the iris of Algeria (or Algiers, quite simply). It is what botanists call I. unguicularis. It is Richard Cayeux who speaks best about it: "This iris of Algiers presents the great interest of a perfumed and winter bloom (in fact, from mid-November to mid-March). The relatively short-lived flowers are renewed for almost four months"(2) The color varies from white (variety 'Winter's Treasure') to bright mauve. This plant is widely grown in temperate regions, and many cultivars have been selected for ornamental gardens.

Iris of Siberia

Everyone who is interested in irises knows the Siberian iris. The species I. sibirica with thin, woody rhizomes and narrow, long and flexible foliage, which grows preferably in a humid environment and gives lovely blue flowers, is mainly classified under this name. It is found in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the Caucasus. In France, it is a rare and protected plant, which one meets in Alsace like in the Jura and, perhaps, still sometimes in certain meadows which border the river Charente.

There are very numerous and gorgeous hybrids of it. These, nowadays, exist in almost all colors. Siberian irises are now a large family of garden flowers, particularly decorative.

Iris of Lebanon

The Near and Middle East is full of irises of all kinds. It is even known that the tetraploid ancestors of our great garden irises come from these regions. The iris of Lebanon or Iris sofarana is endemic to the mountains of Lebanon. It is a species in great danger because of the political and economic circumstances of its country, but also because of its beauty, which makes it the prey of unscrupulous collectors. It belongs to the group of I. susiana (Susa iris) together with(Damascus iris), a group with huge and darkly colored flowers, very spectacular, but difficult to cultivate outside its region of origin.

Iris of Palestine

Let's stay in the same region, to admire the iris of Palestine (I. palaestina), an exotic flower classified among the Junos, which some authors renounce to classify among the irises.  These unusual plants can be described as follows: they have thick, fleshy roots that are maintained during the dormant period and are easily damaged. The flowers, which are born in the axils of the leaves, are superb in their variety of colors; they differ from the traditional iris form by their tiny petals which are either hanging or held horizontally. The flowers, either grayish green, or rather yellow, bloom at the end of the winter and are pleasantly perfumed.

Now let's go to the Far East to meet...

Iris of Japan

In the series of LAEVIGATAE there is among others I. ensata, which is the learned name of the iris of Japan. These flowers have been cultivated since time immemorial in Japan, where they enjoy an exceptional popularity. Here is what Richard Cayeux (2) says about them: "It is enough to have admired one day their flowers which seem to float in the air and their multiple associations of colors to understand (it). After the great garden irises, they are certainly the most cultivated hybrids in the world.”

Iris of Formosa

This time we are in the presence of what has long been called the "crested irises", which are part of the JAPONICAE series. I. formosana, and its cousin I. japonica are plants which do not lose their leaves, narrow and long, of a medium green, which carry flowers of small size, relatively numerous, on spindly but solid stems, white marked with lilac feathers and decorated with yellow ridges. They are very original flowers, easy to cultivate and whose bloom, in June, lasts approximately four weeks. I. formosana is native to the north-east of Taiwan, where it lives near forests, on the slopes of hills and on the slopes of roads, from 500-1000 m of altitude, which makes it a rustic plant.

To finish this long journey, we will cross the Atlantic and reach America.

Iris of Louisiana

Louisiana irises are man-made plants. The basic crosses were made between species of the HEXAGONAE iris series, native to the mouth of the Mississippi and surrounding areas: I. brevicaulis, I. fulva and I. giganticaerulea, to which Iris hexagona should be added. Later, I. nelsonii came to bring to the hybrids colors hitherto unknown in the group, and especially red. They are bulky and greedy plants, and are among the most beautiful of the iris world. Also, the most recent varieties are frost resistant. 

Iris of California

They are hybrids of rather recent appearance. Let us say that they appeared in the 1930s. Not in the United States by the way, but in Great Britain. At the beginning they were botanical species which were used, then interspecific crossings intervened, with an aim of joining the qualities of various species, all native of the West coast, between the State of Washington and that of California. The current cocktail is composed of a dozen species, but there are four that have been mostly used: I. douglasiana, I. innominata, I. tenax and I. munzii. The result is a hybrid that quickly forms strong clumps, which prefer acidic, well-drained soils, covered at flowering with numerous, usually round flowers, about 8 cm in diameter, in a remarkable choice of colors and patterns. 

Iris of Canada

Quebec, in Canada, has claimed the paternity of I. versicolor to the point of having made it its national flower, as legally as possible, in 1999. Iris versicolor is the American cousin of I. pseudacorus, an iris that grows in Europe in ditches and is covered with yellow flowers. I. versicolor is very similar to it. Its flowers, rather large but narrow, have sepals which flare at the point, which makes all their charm. Of blue or purplish color, they are decorated with a white signal and are tinted yellow or gold in the heart. It is this blue color that makes them commonly called "blue flag" in the United States. It is part of the LAEVIGATAE series. Its Asian origins give it a strong resistance to cold. I. versicolor lives preferably in a humid, even flooded environment, but it can also grow in a drier soil provided that it is watered copiously. It nevertheless needs an acid soil, rich in nutrients.

Thus ends our tour of the globe.

Whether they are botanical or horticultural plants, all these irises demonstrate the great diversity of the genus and attest to its worldwide distribution.

(1) Maurice Boussard, "L'ABCdaire des iris".

(2) Richard Cayeux, "L'Iris, une fleur royale".

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