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".

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

IRISES: The Bulletin of the AIS - Summer 2021 Edition

By Andi Rivarola

A warm welcome to those who are seeing IRISES, the Bulletin of The American Iris Society for the first time. If you are a member of The American Iris Society I hope you enjoy this new issue.

The Summer 2021 issue of the AIS Bulletin will be available online soon, accessible via the Emembers section of the AIS website. The print copy has been mailed via the U.S. Post Office. On the cover, 
I. reichenbachii by Tom Waters; see story on page 29.

Note: to access this area of the website you must have a current AIS Emembership. (AIS Emembership is separate from the normal AIS membership.) Please see the Electronic Membership Information area of the AIS website for more details.

On page 10 Howie Dash makes a plea for auction items as he and Scarlett Ayres finish up their preparations for the Las Cruces, NM National Convention of The American Iris Society. He says, "Please go through your closets, storage boxes, garage, and basement looking for donations of clean treasures of any kind for the Silent Auction. There will be people there who love irises including people who love iris books, iris dishes, iris clothing, old iris catalogs, gardening items, and IRIS ANYTHING!"

Don't miss Section Happenings on pages 14 and 15, it contains great information about AIS Sections such as, the Median Iris Society, the Spuria Iris Society, HIPS (the Historic Iris Preservation Iris Society), and the Novelty Iris Society.

The AIS Board is meeting in person this Fall, read the information and sign up for the meeting by filling out a form located on page 17.

Youth Views is on page 29 by Cheryl Deaton with information about the 2020 Clarke Cosgrove memorial Award for Youth Achievement.

Information about the AIS Foundation's Ackerman Youth Essay Contest, by Debbie Strauss on pages 20 through 25. 

A great reprint from this very blog by Tom Waters, the article is called "Tappying the Potential of Iris reichenbachii," on pages 29 through 31.

Lastly, a second article was reprinted from this blog: "The Next Generation: Starting PCI Seeds," by none other than Kathleen Sayce on pages 32 — 33.

There's a lot more to see and read in this edition of IRISES, either in digital or print formats.

Not a member of The American Iris Society? Please see our website for information about becoming one:

Happy Gardening!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Growing Irises Out East: When It’s Time To Dig In

by Heather Haley and Alleah Haley

Heather’s first iris dig as a homeowner. 

If you grow irises long enough, they will need some care and attention. Many resources suggest digging and dividing irises, but few thoroughly describe doing either. Heather frequently sees questions about this on the Iris Lovers Facebook group. Since our family has been digging and dividing recently, it seems like a worthy topic to write about. 

Why do we dig and divide irises?

Irises reproduce asexually by forming new baby plants (called increases) on the sides of an older rhizome. Informally, we refer to the older rhizome as the “mother” and the smaller offspring as “daughters.” The mother plant provides a food source for daughters while they remain attached to her. 

Left alone, irises will form “clumps,” and their exponential growth habit produces crowded conditions after several generations. A favorite example is ‘Peggy Sue’: a lovely reblooming iris that produces two healthy increases each year like clockwork. After one year, she had two daughter rhizomes. After two years, 4 granddaughter rhizomes appeared. After three years, there were 8 great-granddaughters. After four years, 16 great- great granddaughters formed a complete circle around their ancestors. It was impressively dense and nearly a foot and a half in diameter.

Can you spot the original mother rhizome?

If irises grow undisturbed for a long time, rhizomes begin to grow on top of one another. If clumps are REALLY crowded, you might even see a daughter forming ON THE TOP of its mother. 

A new rhizome forming on top of a clump.

Genetics and growing conditions determine how many healthy increases a mother rhizome will make, and how many of her daughters survive. For this reason, it’s hard to say exactly how often your irises need to be dug and divided. For the popular tall-bearded type, the recommendation is every three or four years. 

When do you we dig and divide irises?

At Heather’s farm in Ramseur, North Carolina we try to dig, divide, and replant irises from mid-June to mid-September. In the heat of the summer, most irises go through a window of dormancy. During this time, irises can be removed from soil without disturbing processes vital to their growth and reproduction. We time digging to occur at least six weeks after bloom because irises use that time to set structures needed to bloom in the future. We try to finish replanting at least six weeks before first frost because irises need to grow new roots before temperatures get too cold. 

However, North Carolina can be extremely hot and humid in the summertime. Several years back, Heather got heat rash (also known as prickly heat) during July when trying to get a new iris bed established and planted in full sun. She couldn’t garden for several weeks after that and swore never to do it again—no matter how crispy and dry her iris rhizomes look. 

Now older (and wiser?), Heather avoids working in iris beds when conditions are too hot and humid for sweat to evaporate. We tend to dig iris clumps in the morning, quickly toss then into containers, and put containers of irises in the shade to divide, trim, and label. Shade is provided by a pop-up tent, carport, covered porch …the last being a joy of growing irises "Out East." Ensure access to cold beverages and a nice breeze—supplied by a construction-type battery-operated fan if Mother Nature doesn’t supply it.

What could be better than leisurely processing irises the way past generations would shell peas?

How do you dig irises?
Digging and dividing irises is a lot like riding a bike. With enough practice, your body will intuitively know what to do. However, if you have never seen it done it can be quite confusing. 

Our friend Bonita Masteller digging a clump for our local iris club sale.

First we look close to the clump, and take a good look at it while trying to imagine where the roots are underground and how daughters are attached to their mothers. If irises were planted too close together, it can be hard to discern where one clump ends and another one begins. Using your fingers to pull soil away from the clump can help you see and feel connected rhizomes and plan accordingly. 

In California, Alleah preferred to use an ergonomic digging fork in her sandy soil and raised beds. Heather likes digging with the fork, but also uses a sharp rounded shovel to dig irises in her clay soil. The irises don’t seem to mind either one, so feel free to use whatever medium-to-long handled digging tool is in reach. 

Favorite tools for digging irises

Place the tool about 6 inches away from the clump and press it deep into the ground. Next, push the handle down firmly to lift the clump of irises up. Don’t worry if this separates mother and daughter rhizomes; it was probably going to happen anyway. Place the tool in a new location and repeat until rhizomes can be picked up easily. Pulling on rhizomes can damage their leaves or roots so we avoid using too much force. 

If plants and soil seem stuck together, dropping or throwing a clump root-side down onto the ground from waist-height is quite satisfying and effective. We dig one variety at a time and place its permanent tag upside down in a large plastic pot or similar container. Irises of that variety are placed in the pot, and gently stacked for further processing.

Avoid stabbing irises with your tools, stepping on them, or throwing soil where it doesn’t belong. Don’t ask how this happens… digging can be really tiring. If at all possible, train a young person to help you dig. They might get really excited about plants which can withstand being torn apart and thrown on the ground and want to grow their own. Both Alleah and Heather got interested in irises by helping to dig them. It works! You very well could inspire a youth to become a member of the American Iris Society

How do you divide irises?

This is Heather’s favorite part. Mother and daughter rhizomes look like ginger root and can be snapped apart in a similar fashion. Some people cut rhizomes apart, but we avoid this because a knife should be cleaned between cuts. If a rhizome is soft or really long, we may cut it with pruning shears or on a cutting board with a kitchen knife which is designated for permanent garden use.  

How do you replant irises?

Stay tuned for our next blog post… Growing Irises Out East: It’s Planting Time!

Getting irises ready for planting at Heather's farm

For comments: 

How do you dig your irises?

Monday, September 6, 2021

Part Three - My Continuing Journey in the Iris World

By Maggie Asplet

I have arrived at the end of describing my journey—well the 2019 journey anyway.  When I left America in 2019, no one knew we would not be able to travel again until who knows when.

In March of 2020, going into lockdown was a double-edged sword. In addition to facing the pandemic, I received sad news from the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI). MPI is a government department that regulates seed coming into New Zealand. They informed me that that seeds (sorted and shipped by Thomas Johnson) from crosses I made at Mid-America Gardens in Salem, Oregon were destroyed just two days before lockdown. A MPI staff member made an error: they accidentally kept 13 packets of seed they were not letting me have, but destroyed remaining 86 packets of good seed. So, we did a lot of hybridizing work but nothing came out of it other than some wonderful memories.

This being said, it leads beautifully to another part of why I enjoy my trips to Salem and the surrounding area: opportunities to attend their American Iris Society Regional Meetings.  A great time to catch up with friends and learn new things.

Judging at a Regional Meeting

Judging cut irises at Chad's Harris' place, Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm. Some aspects of the judging was different from what I am used to at home in New Zealand.

As part of this regional meeting, we attended judging of cut flowers in what was a round-robin type situation.  Very interesting to judge the same flowers as they travel from one venue to another.  Also interesting to have some challenges amongst them.  Not were all what they seemed and we were expected to be able to find the different or odd one out.

Judging and judging schools were also done in the nurseries we visited.  These first pictures are taken at Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm.

On the left is Patrick & Margaret Spence and the right are some other attendees of the Regional Meeting.  Judging School is about to take place.

The irises that we saw at Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm were very different from the bearded irises at Mid-America.  Chad grows some wonderful "other" irises, and the grounds and garden are always in immaculate condition (see below). 

View of the iris field at Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm

The following pictures are some of the stunning Miniature Tall Bearded (MTB) irises that I absolutely adore.  They are just so perfect, a finer flower on finer stems.

Lynda Miller's MTBs - 'Cascade Trails' & 'Bingo Marker'

Chad Harris' MTBs - 'Candy Basket' and 'Black Cherry Sorbet'

There were a number of other types of irises on display at this time.  The name of each is listed with them.

'Who's On First' by R. Hollingworth 2008 - Spec-X

'Aaron's Blue' by Gabrielle Lecomte 2018 - Iris setosa

From Chad's farm we travelled to Atiken's Salmon Creek Garden, the home and nursery of Terry & Barbara Aitken. We saw more than just irises there, as most gardeners do love other plants.  

First, I'll share a lovely selection of MTB's, some of which are just so stunning and I would love to grow them here in the southern hemisphere.

Name is written on the images

Although they look great here, trust me, they look even better in the garden.

All the iris nurseries we visited grew other plants besides irises. Terry also has some beautiful orchids, perhaps another "passion" of Terry's.

Sorry, I don't have the names of these but they were just stunning.

If you have an opportunity to attend a regional meeting, I thoroughly recommend that you do so. It is a great time to make friends, learn more about irises, laugh heaps, have AIS members give you (me) a hard time.  I didn't mind, usually because I gave it straight back.

For us in New Zealand, we hold an event each year and it is now up to the region concerned to call it a convention, a safari, or whatever they choose.  Last year, the event was cancelled. Let's hope it can happen this year. One of the other things that happens in New Zealand are special events, like when I blogged about the Hawkes Bay groups' "Day Out".  Again a great time for sharing.

I will leave you with some beautiful images the AIS Regional "Day Out". These arrangements were on our tables during dinner that night.

Hopefully 2022 will be kind and I will be able to return the Portland. I am so missing my trips over to Oregon.  Stay safe everyone.