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.

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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.

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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.

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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  https://growingcoolplants.blogspot.com/2017/06/welcome.html. 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.

3 comments:

  1. Absolutely SPECTACULAR results! Don't quit. In these pandemic days we all need beauty to feed our overtaxed souls. Oh Gary, please introduce some of these grand specimens.

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  2. Garry, you have some great looking seedlings. It’s hard to believe you’ve only introduced one so far. I just wish I was still in your area and able to grow them. Great job!

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