Monday, November 8, 2021


By Phil Williams

Early this spring, Bryce Williamson asked if I would be willing to report on bloom season during my limited iris travels.  The request was difficult to refuse. Bryce dedicates many hours each week to supporting the American Iris Society as an admin for the Iris Lovers group on Facebook.

I have been purchasing and planting tall bearded irises since 1962 and joined the American Iris Society in 1966. Fifty-nine YEARS is a long time to live with an iris garden.  The only year in that span that I did not add new varieties was in 1971; the years before and since I have been a happy devotee to the GENUS IRIS.

The tall bearded season here lasted over 6 weeks – one of the longest seasons I can remember. Light frost, some cooler temperatures, cloudy days and very little moisture made for one happy iris grower!

A 14 hour round-trip to Missouri (over the Ozark Mountains in both directions) took me to the gardens of Barbara Nicodemus, Will Warner, and Peggy and Robert Koch. Iris friends create special friendships. The garden of Russell and Jill Watson is nearby (less than 4 hours round-trip) and I always enjoy my visit with them in their wonderful garden.  The trip to Oregon took me to Schreiner's, Roger and Lynda Miller's,  Mid America, Keith Keppel, and Robin Shadlow. This report covers nine gardens in 10 days away from home during bloom season! 

As I tried to condense my garden notes into one article, I finally decided on alpha-order by variety name. It will also make it easier for readers who are interested in how varieties preform in a different location. If a variety looked great many miles away and but was struggling where I live in Tennessee, it is not included in this report.

The following are my picks for the star performers of the 2021 iris bloom season. I chose not to include brand-new introductions as I have not had opportunities to observe them growing outside their home garden.

‘AIR TIME’ (Lynda Miller, 2018) A lovely soft blue-pink with beards that are coral pink in the throat which, dark purple at the tip and extend into a softer violet flounce. A star in Tennessee as well as in Oregon.

‘AMAZON QUEEN’ (Lynda Miller, 2018) Orchid standards and style arms have yellow midribs and edging; white falls blend to orchid at edges and dark orange beards. Remained in bloom for an extended period here.

‘BLIND AMBITION’ (Keppel, 2016) Mid yellow standards pale in the center; oyster white falls with narrow yellow edging; dark sulphur yellow on hafts and
 beards are brushed blue.

‘BLONDIE'S BLUSH’ (Sutton, 2013) Always a standout here! Pale cream, standards strongly flushed salmon with orange-buff edges; ruffled white falls have narrow orange-buff edging blending to salmon; bright orange beards! Beautifully ruffled, tatting on petal edges and very fragrant.

‘BREEZIN’ (Schreiners, 2018) Snowy white standards; bright burgundy red falls have clean white edging; orange beards. I particularly enjoy the way the individual flowers are perched on the branches in less than level positioning. It gives personality and movement that I find an exceptional trait in the garden!

‘CANEEL SUNSET’ (Kent Pfeiffer, 2020) I always brag on this deep, intense orange flower with incredible substance. There is non other like it. It is not gigantic and there is pink flushing around the tangerine-orange beards with heavy ruffling and delightful spicy fragrance. The plants are tough as nails – which is a requirement is you are born in the Midwest! My pet.

‘DESCHUTES’ (Schreiners, 2018) A shade of blue that you will find only in children of the Schreiner blues! Wide, crisp flowers with heavy substance on strong stalks. The falls are a bit darker than the standards and the blue-white beards are dusted yellow. It's mother is “Dodger Blue” and has gifted this iris with magnificent foliage!

‘FLIRTATIOUS GAL’ (Nicodemus, 2016) A fabulous perennial with very strong stalks displaying the flowers to perfection! Golden peach standards with lighter styles arms and crests. The falls are white, edged in peach with deeper golden peach on shoulders; beards are blended in all three colors. Indestructible plants and a very long season of bloom.

‘FRUIT SLICES’ (Lynda Miller, 2019) The standards are a soft orange-apricot blend with wine tinting on midribs; apricot-orange style arms have watermelon midribs. The falls are toasted watermelon, softly washed orchid with bright tangerine beards. This pretty lady flaunts what would seem to be pastel loveliness.... but when the sun shines through it! Yum! 

‘GILDED GIRL’ (Nancy Price, 2014) has large flowers on very, very strong plants. The stalks are strong and are loaded with buds. White standards have golden wire rims; golden yellow styles arms.  Falls are white with golden yellow overlay; deep yellow beards. Large, wide, very ruffled flowers are admired across the garden revealing hints of  green and biscuit tan. Indestructible plants!

‘HUGS AND KISSES’ (Paul Black, 2016) A cream-white flower. The standards have a peach base and the style arms peach. Warm white falls have peach on the hafts and matching veining beside orange beards. Under 36” here and does not have huge flowers, but it is a color blend like no other!

‘I'M SMITTEN’ (Barry Blyth, 2018)  Creamy pink standards are flushed orchid through the midribs; paler soft creamy pink falls have rose wash at hafts extending beside white beards that are brushed tangerine in throat. Pastel loveliness that is very difficult to describe, clearly flashing its very wide form gifted from her mother 'Magical'.

‘INSANIAC’ (Tom Johnson, 2012) White falls have very narrow golden halos; white style arms.  White falls have red-violet lines radiating out to wide rimmed yellow-white borders; bright tangerine beards. Do not be fooled! This lovely lady is as full of mischief as she can be!

‘IRISH BLIZZARD’ (Barbara Nicodemus, 2018) Pure, snowy white! Perfectly formed flowers are held on upright stalks with not-so-wide branching … and the stalks do not get tangled in a clump like so many modern hybrids! The crisp white falls have pale green veining. It opens only one flower at a time and the effect is one of dancing ladies on a music box.  Semi-flaring, lightly-laced flowers have some green veining. Plants that hustle ..but they are not invasive. This pure white screams across the garden in strong contrast to all the colors around her!

‘JUST BEFORE SUNRISE’ (Barbara Nicodemus, 2017)  Dark, mysterious, bold and fascinating! Very rounded flowers have smoky lavender standards flushed golden tan with purple veining; style arms are smoky lavender with yellow-tan crests. Falls are velvety royal purple, edged lighter, with yellow/sienna beards and stately ruffles. Very intense, dark, and stands out from across the garden. Tough plants with clean, wide foliage and strong growth habits.

‘LASH OUT’ (Paul Black, 2019) Difficult to describe, all petals are a blend of gold, amber, lilac, amber-red, lavender and orange. Not fairly tested here yet but I am hoping next year it performs like it did in Oregon this spring!

‘MAGICAL’ (Joe Ghio, 2008)  This has been around for a long time. It grows a bit slower than many modern varieties but it can remain undisturbed in a clump for an extended time. The foliage is not as wide and upright as I would prefer, but the wide, elegant, form is being passed on to its children with some very exciting new varieties from Mike Sutton. When our familiar soggy bloom season turns sunny and warm, she is a star performer!

‘MORE THAN RUFFLES’ (Paul Black, 2020) Standards are slate-mauve; style arms are light tan-peach. Falls are mid-violet with texture veins, soft khaki hafts and narrow lighter fall bands; dark orange beards. So very colorful!

‘MYSTIC ART’ (Tom Johnson, 2019) Full, smooth, medium pink standards; falls are rose to lavender-pink with softer pink edges. Beards are purple shading to mauve and orange at tips.  (This combination of colors gets my attention and I keep hoping to see an equally perfect flower some day with deep, purple-mauve falls displaying a fiery orange beard!) I am happy to be growing this fine iris variety in my garden!

‘NEW IMAGE’ (Barbara Nicodemus, 2018)  Crisp, upright, deep peach standards have orange highlights; styles are deeper peach with frilled orange crests. Candlelight falls have soft mint-yellow veining that deepen toward the wide, peach fall rims; midribs and back of falls are green. Very ruffled, well branched, tall, strong and indestructible.

‘PAINTED LOVE’ (Tom Johnson, 2016) Mid-gold standards are blushed red-violet; styles are buff tan.  Wide falls are blue-violet with yellow-orange beards! Another clean, smooth, well formed and striking bi-color from Thomas that makes me smile! 

‘QUE SERA SERA’ (Tom Johnson, 2020) Lovely, soft yellow flowers are infused pink; light lemon style arms. Lavender and rose blended falls have deeper texture veins and a ruffled and laced band of yellow; orange beards. A gorgeous pastel!

‘SENOR JINX’ (Schreiners, 2018) Looking for the darkest, smoothest, nearly black iris yet? Oh my word! It is very dark. It has yellow beards. The petals are wide and it is a giant step forward in “black” irises! The stalks are strong and well branched. The foliage is tinted blue with clean foliage. The photo in the Schreiner catalog is EXACTLY what the flower looks like. In the garden the effect is truly BLACK with very good form! It is a treasure!

‘SMOKY DUSK’ (Kieth Keppel, 2017) Standards and style arms are described as nightshade; the falls are grape with a small circle of white around dark lime-yellow beards. The name is an apt description. Very rounded form. Great garden color!  I am hoping the falls recurved here this year because of my cultural imperfections!

‘SULTRY ATTIRE’ (Barbara Nicodemus, 2016) Deep rose-orchid flowers are heavily infused violet, edged and feathered in tan-cinnamon. Matching style arms have copper crests. Falls are deep burgundy-brown  with tiny veining around bold burnt sienna-brass beards. Fabulous plants, excellent stalks and good bud count.

SUNNY GLITTER’ (Schreiner, 2019)  Standards are pale chartreuse yellow. Falls are slightly darker and surrounded by wisteria purple wash; yellow beards and fragrance aplenty. The colors are not bold, but from a distance the yellow shines through and it is a color I cannot recall seeing in the iris garden before. Good growth habits and a heavy bloomer with good bud count.

SUNNY SEAS’ (Lynda Miller, 2019) Bright yellow standards and style arms. Lavender falls are edged and washed buff; yellow hafts. The beards are orange in the throat and midsection and end in small, lavender “hooks” instead of elongated horns! So happy that Lynda is working with the horned, spooned and flounced varieties; she is doing a great job. Her new creations have quality flower form and plants that grow well.

‘SWIVEL HIPS’ (Tom Johnson, 2016) Smoky pink standards are heavily infused royal purple. Very wide, ruffled, velvety royal purple falls are ruffled with lighter banding and smoky pink beards. Good plant habits.

‘TEN CARAT DIAMOND’ (Gary Slagle, 2013)  A magnificent creation! Creamy white standards are soft yellow at midrib; falls are creamy white with soft yellow fall reverse; white beards are tipped yellow. This is not just another white iris.  This is a magnificent creation! Very wide, crisp, clean with tough and durable flowers. The plant increase is just right—you can leave it in a clump for 4 years without any decrease in quality. The foliage is crisp, wide and erect. The stalks are ramrod thick, perfectly branched and the flowers have amazing substance. The flowers remain open a full three days--many times for four days if there is no pounding rainfall. It has been a star here for three straight years! Keep your eyes open for new seedlings from Gary. (His Facebook nickname is “Fanatic”!)

‘VANITY GIRL’ (Tom Johnson, 2016) Standards are a lovely, smooth medium pink; the falls are white with matching pink hafts, brushed paler pink at edges.  Beards are white, brushed coral, and pale lavender at tips. (It's Mom is ‘VENITA FAYE’, that outstanding soft pink from Keith Keppel in 2008.) Venita should be very proud of this tough garden iris that never disappoints!

‘WINTER HAVEN’ (Anton Mego, 2020) Mike Sutton is rendering iris growers a great service in many ways … in this scenario, we would never see Anton's fabulous creations were it not for all the work and effort Mike puts into getting his creations grown, selected and introduced to the gardening public. This flower has white standards with green veining and midribs; the style arms are white.  The ice white falls have violet-blue haft marks around the orange beards with red-violet haft markings in the throat. It grows like a champ, the flowers are wide and with outstanding substance; the stalks are strong and robust.  So unique and very, very close to perfect. 

There you have it …. a very fine iris season in 2021.  Very fine, indeed!

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