Monday, December 27, 2021

The Sun Sets on Rainbows at Dry Creek: Part I

By Jeff Bennett

Jeff at the Dry Creek Garden establishing the iris beds


As you may know, it takes years to prepare for an American Iris Society (AIS) national convention. In this post, I share the story of how the Dry Creek Garden in Union City, California became a place where “The Sun Sets on Rainbows.”

In 2014, I was a fairly new Gardener at Dry Creek Garden and wanted to add to the existing irises already growing there. I remembered purchasing rhizomes from an iris society booth in Benicia in the late 1990s and thought it might be just the place to get more irises at good prices. On the second Saturday in August I returned, hoping they would again have a booth. Sure enough, some very nice ladies from the Mt. Diablo Iris Society had traveled from Walnut Creek, and I was able to purchase 25 different named varieties from their booth. While I was there, a few former horticulture classmates of mine introduced me to Shirley Trio-Probst. Shirley was preparing for a proposed convention in California’s Bay Area and was looking for a garden with room to plant up to 1,000 irises for the 2018 AIS National Convention. She gave me more details than I could absorb in 38 minutes, but I shared my thought that the Dry Creek Garden might have an area. I told Shirley I would have to ask my supervisor for permission after explaining the details to him and would get back to her.

Upon looking for places in the garden to plant these irises, my supervisor and I agreed on a good location if the convention committee thought so too. After some time had elapsed, Shirley arranged for the movers and shakers of the local iris scene to come check out the garden. None of them had been to the Dry Creek Garden before; not even then AIS Regional Vice President John Pesek or his wife Barbara who only lived a few miles away. Our meeting went well, and I was told Dry Creek would be considered (along with other locations) to become one of five display gardens for convention tours. Many more months passed without word, until we found out that Northern California would not host the 2018 convention, but the 2019 convention instead. After two other locations under consideration had trouble committing to the rules of the convention and other logistics, in fall 2015 the committee offered Dry Creek the gig.

During the 2015 Region 14 Fall Meeting, a meeting for all convention garden hosts was held. Names, phone numbers and emails were exchanged along with the planting bed rules. Beds were to be 4 feet wide and no longer than 40 feet long. Pathways were to be 6 feet wide so two people could be bent over facing each bed and taking pictures at the same time. Irises also needed to be planted in alphabetical order by name from each hybridizer. So I ran with these rules and started designing the layout of the beds on paper to best use the terrain we were dealing with.

In fall 2016, the first irises were to arrive. These were the beardless ones: Louisianas, Siberians, spurias, species hybrids and Pacific Coast hybrids. September 2016 saw the first three beds made in a patch of soil that had never been cultivated before. Lots of rototilling, adding compost, measuring bed boundaries and irrigation installation was done prior to planting the first beardless irises. Beardless irises need to be planted a year earlier than bearded irises for a convention to help get them established for a better display. This was completed and I now had about a year to get the bearded iris beds made before their arrival in fall 2017.

Preparing soil with a rear-tined rototiller for new iris beds

Installing irrigation for beardless iris beds at Dry Creek Garden


The area where the bearded iris beds were planned to go was an open field. It needed a fence to enclose the area and protect it from wildlife and the public. Being a public agency, we had to get our board of directors’ approval to appropriate funds to install an 8-foot-tall cyclone fence around the area. The soil had also never been cultivated before. It was just a sloping hill of non-native grasses (weeds, to be frank) and a few California poppies poking through the smothering grasses. In April 2017, I prepared and delivered a PowerPoint® presentation to the board to show where we would be planting the irises. The presentation included fabulous pictures of irises in bloom so there was no way they could say no. When all was done, they approved the $15,000 fence.

A tractor with bucket and box blade helped us break ground for the bearded iris beds.

We broke ground for the planting in mid-July 2017, which was before fencing was installed. I couldn’t wait for the fence any longer as the bearded irises would be arriving over the next two months. First by mowing the weeds, then plowing the soil with a tractor. It was a hot and dry time of year in California, so I had to pre-wet the area to rototill for 21 beds and pathways. Damp soil made this easier but it still took days to complete.

Wooden stakes and orange flags marked the future locations of iris beds and pathways.


Once the area was satisfactorily loosened up, a volunteer and I went to work measuring out the bed and path perimeters. This done, we shoveled soil from planned pathways into the planned beds to raise them 6-8 inches above the path. This was back-breaking work to say the least, but two months later the beds were built. About 3-4 inches of compost was added to the top of each bed and rototilled in. Next, the initial dripline irrigation was laid onto the top of each bed, but it could not be hooked up to water until the water line was brought in and this was not completed until spring 2018. Once the dripline was installed, we were ready to plant!

Bearded iris beds in progress at Dry Creek Garden


Starting on October 1, 2017, the members of the Mt. Diablo Iris Society helped plant 740 bearded irises at the Dry Creek Garden. These were hand watered for the first six weeks until the period of regular, seasonal rainfall began. We also planted 46 bearded seedlings near the 37 beardless seedlings planted in 2016 as part of a unique event for the 2019 AIS National Convention. Bearded seedlings would compete for the prestigious name ‘Centennial Celebration’, and beardless for the equally prestigious name ‘Centennial Anniversary’, which would commemorate the 100th Anniversary of AIS happening in 2020. Each attendee would cast their vote for their favorite bearded and beardless seedling during the convention. Winning the competition would be tricky as the seedling would have to be blooming on the day of the garden tour, planned five years ahead of time, between 8am and 3pm in late April at a convention host garden in Northern California. The winning bearded entry and beardless entry would be announced at the final banquet of the convention. What are the odds of it all working out?

Volunteers from the Mt. Diablo Iris Society at Dry Creek in October 2017

Mary Sindicic organizing bearded guest irises for planting.

Park Ranger Sandy carefully arranged bearded iris rhizomes along irrigation lines.

I was also carefully spacing out guest irises to ensure each had room to grow and thrive.

Riley Probst planting a rhizome in a delightfully well-prepared raised bed.

Shirley Trio-Probst hand-watering one of the 740 newly planted rhizomes.


During the planting, I had already begun to trap gophers. Three the first day, three the second day, then nothing. That was the beginning of over 100 gophers dispatched from the iris area over the next two years. Not a single iris was lost to gophers during that period. (I use Victor Black Box® traps, in case you’re wondering.) Once gophers were trapped, they were put out for the wildlife to eat which they gladly did. Not a gopher wasted!

For three long months after planting, there was no fence. The company that won the bid to do the work had to complete their fence project at the Oakland Zoo before they could start ours. I had many restless nights wondering if someone was pilfering irises from the Dry Creek Garden. Luckily, none were taken. Deer tasted some of them, but rhizomes were left on the ground near their planting hole and I could quickly put them back in their spot. Only one, ‘Miles of Smiles’ by Mike Sutton, was never found. The fencing company arrived to start our project on December 31, 2017; and I could finally stop worrying. Three days later, the irises were safe in their cyclonic enclosure.

Stay tuned for Part II describing the next sixteen months leading up to the 2019 AIS Convention, “The Sun Sets on Rainbows.”

Monday, December 20, 2021

A Growing Iris Resource on YouTube: Part II

 By Heather Haley

In this post, I'll continue sharing the story of a growing iris resource on YouTube. The American Iris Society (AIS) uses its YouTube Channel to help organize and disseminate knowledge of the genus Iris, while fostering its preservation, enjoyment and continued development. Many of the videos available are from the AIS Webinar Series, and their upload was planned for the benefit of all persons interested in irises. 

Prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, AIS had organized some virtual meetings, but it had not conducted online training classes. Uncertainty and the need to keep everyone separated disrupted many AIS activities for local affiliates, its regions, and the organization as a whole. Some of the AIS officers met to discuss what could be done. It was decided that AIS could conduct virtual presentations to communicate and connect with its membership. With this decision, the AIS Webinar Series was born. 

Some of the officers present volunteered to prepare the first webinars in the series. A previous blog post described webinars by Gary White, Bonnie Nichols, and Jody Nolin during 2020. Some of these early webinars were also Judges Training sessions. Like many others stuck at home, I was thankful for opportunities to become more knowledgeable and involved in the AIS Judges Training Program during the pandemic. 

In 2021, the second year of the pandemic, AIS faced another year of uncertainty. With a second national convention in peril, all AIS sections and cooperating societies were invited to give presentations in the webinar series. Most of them accepted, and the webinar series continues to this day. 

The following describes some of the webinars that volunteers prepared, delivered, recorded and posted to the AIS YouTube Channel during 2021.

Professor Carol Wilson was introduced by Dr. Robert Hollingworth, chairman of the AIS Scientific Advisory Committee. Dr. Wilson received her Ph.D. in the Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, where she researched evolution of the Pacific Coast irises. Afterward she completed postdoctoral research on haustoria in African mistletoe in the family Loranthaceae, a project based at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. After serving in faculty positions at Portland State University and Claremont Graduate University, she returned to the University of California, Berkeley as a research scientist, where she continues her work on irises and mistletoe. 

Dr. Robert Hollingworth, chairman of the AIS Scientific Advisory Committee, returned to introduce Dr. Carol Wilson for her second webinar. For more information about Dr. Wilson's research, travel log, and phylogenetic trees, check out her website The Genus Iris.

Howie Dash is president of the Aril Society International and a member of the AIS Board of Directors. Howie originally grew arilbred irises in the Hudson Valley of New York and moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico 11 years ago where he compiled an extensive collection of aril and arilbed irises. He has hybridized tall bearded and arilbred irises since 2010. His first arilbred introduction, ‘Chihuahua Night,’ pictured on the left, was in 2019.

Bob is an Emeritus Professor from Michigan State University. He is the current President of the AIS Foundation; chairman of the AIS Scientific Advisory Committee; and current editor of The Siberian Iris, the Bulletin for the Society for Siberian Irises. Bob is also the hybridizer of the American Dykes Medal winner, 'Swans In Flight', a Siberian iris, and the first and only beardless iris (so far) to win the American Dykes Medal.

Bob Pries created the AIS Iris Encyclopedia in 2007 and has been its manager in the years since, continuously adding to its depth and importance. By education, Bob is a botanist. His interest in irises is wide ranging and encyclopedic. Bob has served on the AIS Board of Directors, and has served as president of the Species Iris Group of North America, the Dwarf Iris Society, and the Aril Society International, as well as heading up several AIS committees. This webinar focused on iris information and content that is available in the iris encyclopedia and in the online library. (The library contains a nice selection of videos showing iris gardens, hybridizing techniques, and cultural information you might be interested in too.)

Patrick is broadly interested in plants native to Louisiana and the Gulf South with emphasis on Louisiana irises. He has grown and hybridized Louisiana irises since the late 1970s and has registered around 120 Louisiana iris hybrids with AIS. In 2018 his hybrid ‘Deja Voodoo’ won the Society’s Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal, the highest award given to a Louisiana iris cultivar. He is the past president and a charter member of the Greater New Orleans Iris Society. Patrick is also a past officer and board member of the Society for Louisiana Irises.

If you have not done so already, consider subscribing to the AIS YouTube Channel. You can show your support for this growing iris resource, and receive updates when AIS adds new videos for you to enjoy. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Season 2021 at Smokin Heights

By Mel and Bailey Schiller

This spring was long and drawn-out, for which we are very thankful. At the end of September we lost our son and brother to a tragic motorbike accident, and this affected our iris season dramatically. The situation made it difficult for us to focus, but we are doing our best with what we have been dealt. 

The late-blooming varieties are now in bloom, which for us is a month later than normal. It has been incredibly hard to focus on getting photos of the seedlings, let alone the remainder of the iris fields. Some days are easier than others. 

We had a lot of rain this year, probably triple what we normally would experience in October and November. Bailey informed me yesterday that for a couple of my pods that had set, the stem was rotting. This has never happened before. Normally it is dry and incredibly hot in October and November; but this week, in December, we are experiencing hot days, which would have been the norm  a month ago.

Last year Mel and Bailey planted around 8000 maiden bloom seedlings. Most of these came from Barry Blyth. We also have around 1000 2nd year seedlings which we needed to go through, as these were the last crosses we made during our visit to Oregon back in 2019. Add to those the many seedlings we have grown and need to evaluate for introduction.  

Bailey is hybridizing for novelties. Mel is hybridizing arils and working on blacks. These are our main goals -  the beautiful irises that pop up in the meantime are bonuses. 

F106-1: ('Inner Darkness' X 'Black Lipstick'). This has beautiful blocky falls and a spicy fragrance. The color holds up in our heat and it doesn't wilt quickly. The foliage is lovely and clean. 

This gorgeous arilbred seedling ('Soaring Falcon' x 'Onlooker') had four rhizomes and all four, unfortunately, bloomed. I fell in love with this seedling immediately on first sight. I left the rhizomes in the ground hoping and praying for new growth, but it does not look promising. 

H172-1: ('Lancer' x 'Eye On America') AB. Huge blooms on strong stems make this AB a standout. We love it! Heading for intro....

Bailey's novelties have really taken off this season. So many awesome color combinations on plants with variegated foliage. Then the drumroll: the six-falled TB varieties he has been diligently working on. Here is a small sample of what is happening at Smokin Heights:

H27-B: ('Chaos Theory' X 'Full Disclosure'). 'Full Disclosure' has been a very good parent for six-falled TBs, but unfortunately it doesn't give much variety color-wise. Although this seedling isn't the most interesting color, it does have exceptional form.

H17-D: ('Untamed Glory' X 'Full Disclosure'). A little boring color-wise but very consistent with nice branching. It should be good to use further in hybridizing.

H14-A: ('Chaos Theory' X 'Fiasco') This is one of very many seedlings selected from this cross. This one stood out because of the nice pattern and overall good plant habits. We really like the look of the "belly" stripe down the falls. 

F58-ZZ: (X150-A: 'Painted Caravans' sib X 'Bold Pattern').The favorite of the bunch just because of the pattern. You can see from the photo that this seedling has nice branching and bud placement. 

The seedlings have finished blooming and we are still labelling photos from this past season. We can now begin the task of digging rhizome orders while the seed pods ripen. Over Christmas time we will begin removing unfavourable seedlings. 

Bailey and I sincerely wish you all a Merry Christmas. May you enjoy your Christmas time with loved ones. Remember it's not the presents under the Christmas tree that count, it is having those who you value most with you. Warm wishes from Down Under. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

IRISES: The Bulletin of the AIS - Fall 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 Fall 2021 issue of the AIS Bulletin already available online, accessible via the Emembers section of the AIS website. The print copy has been mailed via the U.S. Post Office. On the cover, Dykes Medal Winner, 'Daring Deception' pictured below, by Thomas Johnson (2012 TB), and also enclosed below, co-winner, Dykes Medal Winner, Reckless Abandon' by Keith Keppel (2010 TB).

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.

Enjoy the images of all the AIS 2021 Award Winners on pages 2 to 5.

Two president messages on this issue: on page 10, outgoing president Jody Nolin says adieu to us. And, on page 11, incoming president Andi Rivarola says, "How did it come to this"?

We have a long list go members who have gone too soon on Remembering Friends on pages 12 through 15.

Be sure to read through the National Convention 2022 pages starting on page 20 and detailed information on pages 21 through 24.

An invitation to the 2022 Siberian/Species Iris Convention on page 26, and registration form on page 27.

Section Happenings start on page 28 and ends on page 31.

A delightful article called Bulbous Iris: More Colors for your Garden is on pages 32 — 37. 

Please read Iris Botany and Geography by Sylvain Ruaud, a reprint from this very blog on pages 49 — 52.

The upcoming Ackerman Youth Essay Contest 2022 is announced on page 53.

And lastly, the entire list of AIS 2021 Award Winners is on pages 54 — 62.

More beautiful pictures on the AIS Award Winners are on pages 62 — 67.

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!