Monday, January 25, 2021

Dry Creek Garden, Union City, California

By Jeff Bennett

In my first article, I introduced myself and my history with irises. In this next article, I will introduce you 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 Meyer’s estate.

Prior to the California Gold Rush, for approximately 2,000 years ago, Costanoan Tribes occupied the area now known as Alameda County. In 1770, there were an estimated 2,000 Natives living there. The Dry Creek Garden site was an important seasonal gathering site used by the Ohlone Village due west of Dry Creek. Here they gathered acorns from the numerous oak trees that were in the canyons.

An expedition by DeAnza, in 1776, is probably the first description of the Dry Creek area--a description of a small village without people.

Mission San Jose was established just South of Dry Creek in 1797. The Native population was in quick decline after settlement of the area. In 1840, The Dry Creek Ranch was part of a grant from Governor Alvarado of 17,754 acres to Jose de Jesus Vallejo. He was the brother of Mariano G. Vallejo of Sonoma. He grew many crops on the land surrounding the Mission including wheat, potatoes and tobacco, along with cattle, horses, oxen and pigs. Two miles south of Dry Creek, he built a brick adobe, one of six he built in the area. This one still stands today in the California Nursery Historic Park. In the 1850’s, Jose de Jesus Vallejo was forced to sell 10,000 plus acres to Jonas G. Clark for $35 per acre to meet his rising lawsuit bills. 

In approximately 1855, Dry Creek became a destination for social gatherings. A pleasure resort and picnic grounds was established.  With a growing population, Mr. Clark donated some land near Dry Creek for a school. The school was built on the road leading to Dry Creek. This is now May Road. Once a train station was established in the town of Decoto nearby, the picnic grounds were used for May Day events. With the May Day event, often lasting more than one day, planning for entertainment and food was made beforehand to handle the crowds of people that would attend.

A dance floor was constructed and the best entertainment was hired. Between the years 1870 and 1884, the Decoto Land Company sponsored these events to attract people to buy parcels of their land in the Decoto township. There were also Fourth of July events held at Dry Creek during this time.

In 1884, August May Sr., from Germany who owned a butcher shop in San Francisco, purchased approximately 1,200 acres from Mr. Clark.  His land became known as Dry Creek Ranch. He traveled each day from his home in Alvarado to tend to the ranch. At Dry Creek he planted a 10 acre fruit orchard. With this land now privately owned, the public festivities at Dry Creek came to an end, for now.

August May Sr. And his wife Sofia raised four children. George, August Jr., Henry and Bertha. In 1900, after August’s passing, Henry Meyers, Bertha’s husband, an architect, designed and built the Cottage at Dry Creek for Sofia.

This cottage became the summer retreat for the May’s family and then the Meyers’ family. Sofia deeded the entire ranch property to her daughter Bertha in 1900.

Bertha and Henry were the parent of three daughters. Mildred, Edith and Jeanette. They lived in the city of Alameda just southwest of Oakland. Dry Creek was where they spent their summers, playing on the grounds and ranch property.

Their father, Henry Meyers, worked in San Francisco during the week. During the summer residence at Dry Creek, he would travel everyday by ferry and train to be with his family.

My next article will bring forth the Meyers sisters and the establishment of the gardens at Dry Creek.....this is where some irises show up!

Information gathered here from the: Historic Landscape Report by Russell A. Beatty ASLA Landscape Architect 1996 for EBRPD.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Dishing the Iris Dirt

By Bryce Williamson

No, The World of Iris blog has not joined The National Enquire in dishing iris dirt on people, but rather this post is about real dirt and the problems iris growers face when growing irises in the same garden for many years.

I first planted irises in this yard in 1977 and the bloom the next year was amazing and just what I would have expected from soil that had never had irises grown there; however, as the years went by, the quality of growth and bloom declined and this seems to be a common story among iris growers.

Looking back, many of us have tried different things to get good growth and bloom. Some were more successful than others; other methods no longer are allowed by environmental regulations. I know of no one that really understands why modern bearded irises deplete the soil.

The most obvious thing is to fertilize more—Region 14 hybridizer Vern Wood wrote in an article for The Bulletin of Region 14 that he applied fertilizer heavily so that it looked like a light snowfall.

In the good old days, it was possible to fumigate soils and this seemed to reset the soil for a period of time.

Large growers like Schreiner’s rotate their fields, but that is not really possible in home gardens. I have tried letting areas of the yard go fallow, but that does not seem to really work.

I have even shifted the main planting of named irises to the front yard and that helps for a time.

Bringing in new soil helps too, but again it only helps for a time. 

Over the last 8 years, I have been on a different program. 

Once the area to be used is cleared, we apply 15-15-15. Some will question the numbers of the fertilizer, but that was what irises growers in this valley were using when I first joined the iris society and I have not had a reason to change. Once the fertilizer is down, I water heavily and I want moisture down 4 or more inches into the soil.

Then I buy chicken compost. It is more expensive than steer compost, but steer compost can contain unwanted seeds. The chicken compost may be a bit hot upon arrival, but that quickly is resolved over a few days or a week. That chicken compost is moved into the area to be renovated and covered to a depth of 3-4 inches. The amount of compost is determined by the area to be covered. In the good old days, if I bought enough compost, the delivery charge was waived, but that perk has done the way of the dodo... Ah, the good old days.

Then we bring in the largest rototiller we can get into the yard; when I moved here, I could have a tractor and tiller brought in and that was wonderful because it would cut deeper into the soil, but these days the infilling of what was once a semi-rural area has sadly removed that option. The area is then ready to be tilled.

I insist that the area tilled must be cut in at least two directions. All of these preparations I like to have done between the end of bloom season and the start of shipping season when my purchases start to arrive.

The plants grow well, bloom freely, and there is the added bonus of the soil being very friable. Although it is early November as I write this and I am having problems figuring out how to come up with images, I will dig a rhizome or two in the morning so that you can see the quality of plant this process produces.

A sample of an iris grown in revitalized soil.


Monday, January 11, 2021

An Iris Journal Entry from Down Under!

By Mel Schiller

The sting of summer is about to hit Southern Australia. At this time of year it is important for us to water our garden beds as things dry out very quick. We have not had decent rain for weeks, but we also have not had excessively hot weather either, which is a blessing! 

The iris are doing really well. We are so ever grateful that our business has thrived in these unprecedented times and people have been using their time to get out in the garden and move on and forward with life. Iris are a fantastic plant to have in Australia for their hardiness and the fact that they do not require massive amounts of water. 

As we go into January 2021 we look ahead at the work that is yet to be done to complete the 2020 iris season. With 40 plus degree Celsius days (104 F) for the next 3 months, usually next to no rain and the ground becoming rock hard, we reserve our early evenings to dig orders, and get them washed ready to ship out. 

Tasmania and Western Australia require a special permit to allow rhizome into these states, and through Covid shut downs we had a delay in receiving our certification. Onward and upwards we are currently digging these orders and preparing them for shipment. 

We are also walking the fields daily to check for seed pod ripeness. Once we see cracks appearing on the pods, we collect and split open the pods to let the seed dry out. These will be planted in April. 

A week before Christmas the roses were dead headed and the garden beds have a general prune and tidy up with a spot of weeding as well. We do not go over the entire field and remove the dead iris bloom stems, as this is too time consuming. This will be done at replant time at the end of February. 

Bailey is studying chemical engineering at the university and Mel works a 30-hour week in hospitality.  Time management is a must to achieve everything we set out to do. Our love of iris drive us forward to reaching our goals. 

                                                    'Magic Madness' (B Schiller 19) TB

We are starting to look at the iris which will be introduced next season, and those that will be included in the next seasons catalogue. Bailey works on the catalogue that we produce between Uni studies. 

We successfully imported iris from America in September and look forward to them coming out of the Australian Quarantine Facility sometime in the next 6 weeks.  They are looking fantastic!

The field replant will begin in March with some iris being taken out of the field and planted elsewhere to recover and other varieties being added for sale next season.

We sincerely hope 2021 is super kind to everyone and that we all grow and evolve to achieve our own goals. We thank you for taking the time to follow us on Facebook and thank Bryce for allowing us to be part of his blogging team. He does such a wonderful job of keeping us updated and organized. 

Here is a sneak peak of what we are thinking of introducing next season. Mel and Bailey x


Monday, January 4, 2021


By Sylvain Ruaud

'Aliquippa' illustrates the old style, narrow-petaled,
airy and open aspect of early diploid hybrids.

The progress made with irises has not been limited to enriching the colors of the flowers. They have also focused on improving the holding power of the iris flowers in order to present more elegant and longer-lasting flowers. The most fundamental progress has been the transformation of the sepals (falls), but the petals (standards) themselves have evolved. Originally, they were light, gracefully arched over the sexual parts. But their lightness left only a brief period of perfect presentation. In nature this was not inconvenient because fertilization must occur soon after the flower blooms; that wind or rain crushes the petals was of no consequence. In our gardens on the other hand, it is preferable that the flowers last as long as possible. The hybridizers, therefore, worked on strengthening the petals.

"Ruban Bleu"--image by Christine Cosi

By selecting flowers with increasingly thicker petals, and by retaining those that could be held quite strong, either because of the robustness of the ribs, or because of a very solid shape. But on the other hand, the arch shape gradually gave way to a cup shape, therefore open on top, or to a tulip bud presentation, therefore closed. The elegance in these cases comes from the undulated or serrated edges.

'Chevalier De Malte'--image by Christina Cosi

As far as sepals are concerned, the evolution has been even more remarkable. The big drawback of iris sepals is that they have very thin original attachments. This is not an anomaly: the sepals were originally intended to open wide and fold down to allow insects easy access to the sexual parts. In fact, they resembled leaves of forget-me-not flowers, starting from the area of attachment of the floral parts above the ovaries, a thin and narrow "tail", spreading out in an ovate shape, attenuated at the base, obtuse at the tip. By the effect of selections, the breeders have managed to obtain heart-shaped sepals, thus widening very quickly. This is true for large irises (TB, BB, IB), not yet for dwarf irises.

'Cumulus'--image by Rene Leau

At the same time, as for the petals, the flesh of the sepals thickened, taking a texture close to that of the magnolia petals. Gradually the sepals have had a better hold: instead of hanging sadly, they have straightened, taking in turn an arched shape. But the transformation did not stop there. The goal was sepals standing as close to the horizontal as possible.

'Prince Of Monaco' shows the mid-century advance in substance
that resulted in more flaring petals.

Another means of maintaining the sepals in this position  was thus to select the plants whose parts developed quickly in width, taking this cordate form mentioned above. We speak of "overlapping" sepals, i.e. those that leave no space between them and even overlap, a bit like the tectonic  plates of the earth's crust. The flower gains in size what it loses in reproductive accessibility: in many modern varieties the overlapping of the sepals partially  or totally conceals the stamens and styles. In a hybrid, this does not matter since pollination is exclusively  ensured by man.

'Impresario'--image by Ldislaw Muske

 In addition, the appearance of the ripplings on the iris flowers allowed a better holding of the sepals. This is the principle of the corrugated sheet, where rigidity is achieved by the movement given to the metal: it is obvious that the corrugated varieties have more rigid and upright sepals than the flat varieties (we could say "tailored").

'Parisien'--image by Christine Cosi

Thus, from soft sepals quickly taking a folded position, in about 70 years, we have reached almost horizontal, wavy or even creped sepals, which keep the flower elegant and fresh for several days, allowing to see open on the same stem several staggered flowers, a little like we are used to see in gladioli or cannas. It is obviously more spectacular.

'Butterlicious' shows the modern version
with bubble ruffling, flare, and wide, overlapping hafts.

Does this mean that the iris flowers have reached perfection without any possibility of improvement? The answer is no. Iris flowers will continue to evolve, not necessarily to fundamentally transform the flowers we enjoy today, but to bring other forms. This is what Richard Cayeux imagines for the iris of the future when, in his book "L'iris , une fleur royale", he evokes the bearded irises of the third millennium: "We can already imagine new models of iris flowers today: "spiders" irises (with very long and very narrow divisions...), irises with lash-lined divisions..." as well as flowers with the appearance of I. paradoxa, i.e. with sepals "very small, horizontal, with a strong black beard and purple and shimmering petals clearly larger". He forgot to mention the opposite situation: petalless irises, i.e. with a flat shape, a bit like that of Japanese irises, where the six flower pieces are sepals or pseudo-sepals, overlapping widely. This is a little bit the case of the so-called "flatties" varieties that we already find nowadays. The movements of these spread sepals will not have the same consequences as those of the earth's tectonic plates, but if these forms were to develop widely, it would still be, in the little world of irises, a kind of earthquake.

Editor's Note: Butterlicious, Prince of Monaco, and Aliquippa courtesy of Mike Unser.