Monday, December 26, 2022

Diversifying Six-falled Tall Bearded Irises

by Mel Schiller

It may come as no surprise to some people that Bailey loves to work with novelty irises. Six-falled tall bearded (TB) irises fall under this bracket. Bailey prefers to use the term six-falled instead of "flattie" because you wouldn't refer to a six-falled Japanese iris as a "flattie'" so why apply this term to bearded irises? Here are a few seedlings that have shown up in his seedling patch over the last few years. 

F58-ZZ: Painted Caravans sib X Bold Pattern

This seedling came as a surprise from this cross. Neither of the parents are six-falled. Although the flower pictured is not completely open, you can see the nice haft pattern with the lighter band on the falls. A really pleasing combination. 

H14-A: Chaos Theory X Fiasco

Bailey made this cross before but it had only yielded two seedlings. So, he decided to repeat the cross and successfully germinated over sixty seedlings. Quite a few seedlings have yet to bloom. Of those that have bloomed, every single one has been six-falled. It was well worth repeating the cross!

H14-D: Chaos Theory X Fiasco

A sibling to the one above. Of note in this cross is the stability of the flowers. Nearly all blooms open with six falls that have six beards and three style arms. This is very useful as Bailey has had no success using flowers that have more than three style arms. This is no doubt due to the pod structure being compromised when there are multiple style arms in the centre of the flower. 

H14-L:Chaos Theory X Fiasco

Again, another sibling to the two above. This cross yielded so many quality seedlings that it was hard to decide which to select. As the pool for six-falled TBs is limited, Bailey feels there is no harm in keeping as many as possible. Although most will never make it to introduction, they are good stepping stones to achieving stable and quality six-falled TBs. Just like F58-ZZ, this one exhibits a nice haft pattern with a lighter band on the falls. 

H17-AA: Untamed Glory X Full Disclosure

These next couple seedlings are from a cross that was made at Mid-America Gardens in 2018. Thomas Johnson sent the seeds to us in Australia. This very beautiful, heavily ruffled pink had its maiden bloom this spring. The heavy ruffling caused flowers to stick a bit when opening. However, Bailey is a sucker for ruffles so this seedling had to be kept.

H17-C: Untamed Glory X Full Disclosure

This was Bailey's favourite maiden bloom seedling of 2021. The pattern reminds him of a seashell. This one exhibits good growth habits with disease-resistant foliage and nicely branched stems that carry seven to nine buds. 

H18-A: Fiasco X Zip Zing Zowie sib

This cross was made to eventually get six-falled broken colours. Bailey wasn't expecting to get a six-falled iris in the first generation. Bailey may use this one to backcross to broken color or other six-falled irises he is breeding.

I43-5: Sergey X Full Disclosure

This is one of the less interesting seedlings to come from Bailey's six-falled TB hybridizing program but is still worth keeping. Nearly every seedling from this cross was a blue, six-falled TB. You wouldn't expect 'Sergey' to give such a high percentage of six-falled seedlings. However, the results Thomas Johnson has had with 'Sergey' led Bailey to believe that it would be a good iris to incorporate into his program. Although 'Sergey' seems to be a difficult parent, Bailey still tries every season to get seed from it. 

Most of the seedlings that Bailey produces will never make it to introduction, including the ones pictured here. With a lot of patience and perseverance, the underrepresented six-falled bearded irises could become just as diverse as other types. 

From Smokin Heights we send warmest wishes and Happy Holidays from Down Under!

Monday, December 19, 2022

Starting again with Pacifica Iris

by Kathleen Sayce 

When I began focusing on irises more than 20 years ago, I was eager to hybridize for deeply saturated colors and weather-resistant flowers and plants for my climate and soil, near the Pacific Ocean in southern Washington State.

Iris tenax flowering in the yard: not exotic, but thrives in our soil and weather

I ordered Pacifica iris divisions from several different growers, amended the soil in key beds, and planted these new starts. I also ordered seeds from the annual Society for Pacific Coast Native Irises (SPCNI) seed exchange. [Note: The December 22/January 23 catalog is about to go live on the SPCNI website, writing in early December 2022.] I made tags, started a hybrids notebook, and worked out a unique scheme for each cross. I started testing kitchen countertop paper chromatography solutions so I could check flower pigments in crosses. 

Then I sat back and waited to see how everything grew. Well, I actually kept weeding and planting and enjoying these new plants. No sitting back was involved.

What happened? Not what I expected. 

Iris tenax clump

First, jays, squirrels, and crows pulled tags every chance they got. I found tags scattered all over my yard, on the driveway, and even on the access lane hundreds of feet away. We had feral peacocks in the neighborhood for several years. They pulled tags, and plants too, if those plants were growing where they decided they had to have dust baths. 

Those same species all love fresh young iris seedlings, it turns out. Mesh covers help; I now put all my seed pots in mesh frames. 

Deer tugged seedlings out of the ground to check palatability. Repeatedly. This led to arguments with adorable spouse, who does not want a fenced yard. The deer were eventually followed by a local herd of elk, who eat everything remotely palatable and trample the rest. Adorable spouse still does not want a fence. 

The weather got in the way of making deliberate crosses. Strafing rain in March-April-May can do that. Even bumblebee-assisted pollinations suffer in hard rain. I tried putting covers over plants, but it is just too wet and cold most years for pollen to germinate. I might try a modified alpine house, open on the sides for good airflow, to control the moisture; though then I'd have to water. 

Heavy rain also damaged petals, especially on more recent, highly-frilled hybrids. Given that these tend to flower during mid-spring, which is often very wet, it became clear that I needed to shift to later flowering selections. I started to focus  on Iris tenax instead of hybrids in the Pacifica iris gene pool. 

Then I misplaced the notebook! It was a strong sign, I decided, that my iris activities should be limited to growing and enjoying. 

Years later, reading an introductory chapter on growing Pacific Coast irises by Adele and Lewis Lawyer, they stated that Pacifica iris do not like sandy soils. My garden has silty sand. Hmm. If I took them at their word, I would never have tried growing Pacificas! 

All I can say is I would have missed a lot of entertainment over the past several decades. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

How to Create a New Iris

by Bob Pries

It is the holiday season and I am wrapping up one last iris gift. This one is very special for me because it was more than 30 years in the making. It comprises a passion for iris that has persisted all that time. Now that I am putting my garden to bed for the winter it seems a perfect time to bring out my dreams of what might happen in the future and reflect on the past.


I am talking about a webinar I am about to give for the American Iris Society on December 14. Members probably have already received the announcement in “News & Notes” but it is never too late to join.  Of course, if you are not passionate about irises this will be no better than another fruitcake. But hopefully, I can inspire one person to make an unusual cross.

Thirty years ago I chaired the committee that proposed the classification Spec-X for iris species crosses. Looking back, that proposal has turned into a remarkable success. While inquisitive hybridizers have always tried such experimental crosses, the awards system can now reward their efforts with deserved recognition. Today interspecies irises can earn the Randolph-Perry Medal, which is named in honor of Dr. L. F. Randolph (1894-1980) and Amos Perry (1871-1953). 

Preparing the webinar was like visiting all my iris heroes. There were many who have gone where no one went before. Acknowledging all those who have sent garden irises down new paths would be impossible. Hopefully, I won’t overwhelm my audience with too much information but have some tricks involving the Iris Encyclopedia that may help me cover everything.

My study of hybridizing has unearthed some “secrets” that every beginner should know. And in some ways, the webinar may be a primer for the new hybridizer. My title for the presentation is ‘How to Create a New Iris’. By "new" I mean truly new. Something that hasn’t existed before! My cover slide at the top of this blog shows a species I grew and flowered many years ago, Iris timofejewii. Notice the unique architectural carriage of its standards and falls that is also reflected in its leaves. To me, this is a classic work of art.

Species iris Iris timofejewii
photo by Bob Pries

Even if you are not interested in hybridizing you may enjoy seeing some of the more unusual forms/shapes/colors that are possible in the genus Iris.  I like to think out of the box and hope to show many perspectives that are not commonly recognized.  Here are a few exciting progeny from species crosses.

Species iris hybrid 'Roy Davidson'
photo by Lorena Reid

Species iris 'Mysterious Monique' 
photo by Ensata Gardens

Species iris 'Starry Bohdi'
photo by Wenji Xu

Species iris cross 'Nada'
photo by Paul Black

Monday, December 5, 2022

Modern Iris Hybrids from Germany

 by Sylvain Ruaud

The Gesellschaft der Staudenfreunde (GDS, translation: Society for Perennials) website offers a historical perspective on iris development in Germany: 

Translation: After World War II, it was the hybridization successes of Steffen, Werckmeister, Hanselmayer, Dorn, Steiger and von Martin, which ensured a constant presence of Central European breeders in the development of iris. (...) the reader's interest should be drawn to the still living and active iris breeders in the GDS catchment area, whose work contributes to the worldwide development of new iris varieties. All of them started as amateur gardeners and then, driven by a passion for plant creation, became specialists in their fields of hybridization. They often sell the irises they have grown themselves, but usually only to cover the cost of their hobby and never to make a living from it. For their audience, they compete with the almost overwhelming predominance of iris varieties bred by the large nurseries in the United States. In any case, home-grown varieties have the advantage of being better adapted to our climatic conditions.

In France, little is known about German iris production, especially because of the almost complete lack of marketing explained above. However, it is important -- even more important than the French production in the years 1980-1990. German breeders, being very serious and disciplined, have always registered their new varieties. French breeders of the same era were convinced that their work had little value and did not choose to submit registrations. It is time that we get acquainted with these Germanic hybridizers, long isolated on the east side of the Rhine. 

During the period immediately after World War II, breeding activity gradually reawakened. Old American varieties which remained in gardens were the main stock used for hybridization. Activity became more interesting from the 1970s and was accompanied by new prosperity of the German economy (mainly in the West, of course).

Eva Heimann from Berlin is among the forerunners of the movement, and her advancements took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At about the same time Erhard Wörfel, who was the president of the GDS, hybridized for his own pleasure and obtained some nice irises, like the white 'Berthalda' (1983).

'Berthalda' (Woerfel, 1983)

Lothar Denkewitz was active a little later. This citizen of Hamburg was mainly interested in standard dwarf irises (SDB) as shown by his yellow amoena 'Sonnentrude' from 1985, as well as the TB 'Alstersegel' (1981) very classic lavender blue amoena.

  'Sonnentrude' (Denkewitz, 1985)  'Alstersegel' (Denkewitz, 1981)

The period of activity of Eberhard Fischer is even a little later, since it extends until the end of the 20th century. This scientist hybridized irises with the same seriousness that he put into his scientific work. This can be seen in 'Kristallpalast' (1993) - orange pink - or 'Schneewittchen' (1999) - pure white.

"Kristallpalast' (Fischer 1993)

 'Schneewittchen' (Fischer, 1999)

The work of Harald Moos, which focuses on tall bearded irises, has been more extensive. It has been going on for almost forty years with a quiet regularity. His work has been noticed in Florence, mainly with 'Leibniz' (1989) whose perfect shape and light orange color is appreciated. The white 'Weisse Duene' (2009) was presented at Franciris where several collectors were envious of it.

'Leibniz' (Moos, 1989)


'Weisse Duene' (Moos, 2009)

Then there is Manfred Beer. He too is a specialist in large irises, he too has been working for more than thirty years and regularly exhibits in all European competitions. There is no field in which he excels more than in another and his catalog shows a beautiful eclecticism but remains in a pure classicism. What we notice is that most of his varieties have female names. Among these ladies are 'Melanie Steuernagel' (2000), 'Renate Leitmeyer' (2001) and the dark 'Lydia Schimpf' (2006).

'Melanie Steuernagel' (Beer, 2000)

'Lydia Schimpf' (Beer, 2006)

Siegmar Görbitz is one of those tireless amateurs who hybridize mainly for their own pleasure. His first registrations date back to the 1980s. He has made a specialty of blue or purple irises, which show real talent planted outside their native garden.  This is the case, for example, with 'Fürstin Pauline' (1997) or 'Detmolder Schlossgarten' (2009).

'Fürstin Pauline' (Goerbitz, 1997)

'Detmolder Schlossgarten' (Gerbitz, 2009)

Since the reunification of Germany there has been a real craze for iris cultivation in the former East Germany. Among these newcomers Günter Diedrich, Wolfgang Landgraf, Bernhard Lesche, Margitta Herrn, and Klaus Burkhardt, show great inventiveness and have produced very modern varieties which can compete with what is done elsewhere in Europe. Examples are the variegata 'Mondsheinserenade' (Diedrich, 2009), 'Plauen' (Landgraf, 2007), a descendant of 'Edith Wolford' (Ben Hager, 1986) or 'Broken Cleopatra' (Burkhardt, 2021), a dark grandchild of 'Tiger Honey' (Brad Kasperek, 1994).

'Mondscheinserenade' (Diedrich, 2009)

'Plauen' (Landgraf, 2007)

'Broken Cleopatra' (Burkhardt. 2021)

Pia Altenhofer is another of the young shoots of German iridophilia. We have already spoken here about her creations, often original, which are characterized by their name made up of an assembly of letters, without any meaning. This young woman does not hesitate to hybridize all kinds of categories of bearded iris. Her TB 'Jachitropan' (2021) was noticed in Florence. Her small mustard yellow MTB 'Imprikasa' (2020) is very much in line with today's fashion. We should hear about her at the highest level in the years to come.

Jachitropan' (Altenhofer, 2021)

'Imprikasa' (Altenhofer, 2020)

The above breeders have worked mainly with large garden irises (TBs), but others have been interested in other categories, mainly SDBs, but also arilbreds, as is the case for Harald Mathes and his superb 'Anacrusis' (1992), dark garnet, which has been a worldwide success.  

'Anacrusis'  (Mathes, 1992)

Eckhard Berlin was much more eclectic. His small number of registrations include MDB, SDB, SIB and, as an additional originality, a series of Iris pseudacorus of which 'Beuron' (1980) cultivated in France by Jean Claude Jacob is a part. Frank and Christine Kathe, in Dresden, specialize in standard dwarf irises (SDB) like 'Pastell Ballett' (2006), cream and sky blue fresh and graceful. As for Tomas Tamberg, from Berlin, he is the most famous of the German iris growers. This chemical engineer is also a curious and inventive hybridizer. In his catalog, next to a large number of Siberian irises, one finds a quantity of interspecific crosses of first order. The bright blue 'Versilaev Princess' (2001) is one of these remarkable creations. Tamberg's exceptional activity earned him a Hybridizer's Award from the AIS in 1999.

'Beuron' (Berlin, 1980)

'Pastelle Ballett (F. Kathe, 2006)

'Versilaev Princess' (Tamberg, 2001)

This concludes this overview of what has been happening in Germany for the past 50 years. It confirms that there is a lively activity on the east side of the Rhine in the field of irises, with a lot of originality and talent.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Growing Irises Out East: Sharing Stories of Rebloom

by Heather Haley

In addition to being a member of the American Iris Society (AIS), I am an active participant and volunteer in North Carolina Cooperative Extension programs. I completed the NC Farm School program 2019. Earlier this month, my husband Chris and I hosted a farm visit for another Farm School graduate, her instructor, and a new horticulture extension agent in our county. 

Heather's family with reblooming iris 'Mesmerizer' on their farm in Ramseur, North Carolina
photo by Grace Kanoy, GeoCore Creative Inc.

Winter is approaching quickly, and Chris and I spent that morning straightening up the kitchen -- just in case we needed to move farm conversations inside. When the visitors arrived, they were met with spring-like conditions and all enthusiastically wanted to visit the production field for bearded irises. The intent of this visit was to support a beginning nursery owner, discuss interests, and share experiences in the business of horticulture. However, once visitors realized the farm had several irises blooming in mid-November, they lost all thought of business pursuits and became highly inquisitive about these plants. 

One inquired, "Are the irises CONFUSED?" I laughed gently and replied, "No. Those are rebloomers. They are just doing what they do best."

Chris and I explained that each of the various irises on our property has genetic information coded in their DNA. Differences in DNA make each iris interesting and different from other varieties. Some iris genes control traits like flower color, whereas others can modify growth and reproductive cycles. With the right DNA sequence, an iris can shorten or skip summer dormancy and proceed directly into its next growth cycle. If climate and cultural conditions are just right, it is possible for daughter rhizomes to bloom in the same year as their mother. These irises aren't confused; they are just unusually prolific. Science buffs use the term "remontant" to describe plants that flower more than once in a growing season. "Rebloom" is the colloquial term for this phenomenon, and an entire chapter on it appears in the third AIS study of the genus Iris: a 1978 book titled The World Of Irises*. 

*The World of Irises book is now out of print, but used copies can be found online. Wayne Messer and Bob Pries have also transcribed select book chapters (including Raymond Smith's chapter on Rebloom) for Iris Encyclopedia. AIS is always looking for volunteers who can type existing content into this online library. If you are interested and available for transcription projects like this, please reach out to Bob at 

Chris reminisced about our household's earliest experience with a reblooming iris. After spending years in apartments during our college years, Chris and I became first-time homeowners and took to gardening in earnest. A modest collection of 19 irises arrived in September 2012 and were gifts from my mother Alleah. We planted them on the north side of the house where they would have good drainage and receive plenty of sun. Among these irises was 'Peggy Sue.' Alleah's description of this iris was deceptively plain: Peggy Sue - L. Lauer '06 - pink, red beard, lightly ruffled.  Although we didn't know it then, 'Peggy Sue' was destined to confuse and delight us. 

Several of our new irises bloomed the following spring, but 'Peggy Sue' wasn't among them. Her first bloomstalk appeared much later . . . in NOVEMBER! We were ecstatic to enjoy a flower in bloom, but also wrongly assumed this iris was confused. I posted a garden photo on Facebook, and included it in an e-mail to other members of the family.

Fall 2013

I suspected this bloom might be evidence of global warming, but my mother set me straight. Alleah was, and still is, vastly more knowledgeable about irises she chooses to maintain in a garden setting. Her response was, "I hate to burst your bubble, but 'Peggy Sue' absolutely knows it's November and is doing the right thing. She blooms EML and RE (AIS abbreviation for early, midseason, late season, and rebloom). . . . So whether or not I labeled the iris RE, she is. I'm attaching the October Santa Rosa Iris Society Newsletter in which I printed a long article on successful rebloomers in California and referred to a commercial garden in Virginia that specializes in rebloomers." 

Alleah's email continued with gems of motherly, irisey, and scholarly advice. "You may wish to go online and see a list of rebloomers in that geographic area and ask for some . . . .  Reblooming is a recessive trait. An iris breeder improves his chances of getting a rebloomer by crossing two rebloomers together, or involving several rebloomers in his line. 'Peggy Sue' has 'Pink Attraction' (RE) in its background, although none of the other irises in its background were registered as rebloomers. You will have to find other evidence of global warming."

Spring 2014

After planting some extra rhizomes of 'Peggy Sue' in the backyard, it became obvious that 'Peggy Sue' in the front yard had better growing conditions. These conditions led to more consistent bloom and rebloom in the front yard compared to the back. Rebloomers appreciate being watered throughout the summer. Frequent rain combined with a leaky hose spigot provided front yard 'Peggy Sue' regular access to water when she wanted it. She responded by blooming regularly and making lots of increases.

Fall 2014

Early Spring 2015

Very Early Spring 2016

Being located close to the foundation of our house also allowed for slightly elevated temperature. Bricks can absorb and store thermal energy from sunshine during the day. When the sun went down, the bricks slowly dissipate stored energy to their surroundings, including front yard 'Peggy Sue.' As years passed, we got several earlier- or later-than-usual bloomstalks, resulting in bloom for Thanksgiving and Christmas! Each time she bloomed, my inner Buddy Holly started singing, "I love you Peggy Sue, with a love so rare and true. Oh, Peggy, My Peggy Sue!"

Late Fall 2015

Winter 2015

Late Winter 2017

'Peggy Sue' was not the only iris we that rebloomed for Chris and me in Mebane, but it was one of the more memorable cultivars we maintained there. Of 80,000+ irises registered with the American Iris Society, about 4,246 (0.5%) are known to exhibit rebloom. By 2015, I was eager to get more rhizomes of reblooming irises. Unfortunately, many of the rebloomers I added didn't seem to like us very much. They didn't die, but only three of the twelve irises Alleah gifted to us demonstrated rebloom. I tried following conventional advice by providing more water and fertilizer, but most never bloomed more than once in a growing season. Thankfully we had better success with the rebloomers I purchased from Alleah's grower recommendation in Virginia, and from rhizome sales hosted by my local iris society. 

'Daughter of Stars', Late Summer 2018

'Bonus Mama', Early Fall 2018

Eventually, I learned that irises that rebloom in one climate (e.g., my mother's garden in California), may not be well suited for rebloom in another (e.g., my garden in North Carolina). I started paying close attention to Colin Campbell's work gathering rebloom data in my region, and combing through back issues of the Reblooming Iris Recorder for reports from gardens closer to me. I joined the Reblooming Iris Society (RIS) in 2021, and could access newer issues of the Reblooming Iris Recorder as they became available. While attending the National AIS Convention in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Alleah and I each purchased the 2022 edition of the Cumulative Checklist of Reblooming Irises

This must-have resource is available as a printed book, flash drive, and digital file sent by e-mail 

Alleah likes using paper reference materials and purchased the rebloom checklist as a spiral-bound book. I prefer having electronic reference materials and purchased a flash drive that contains a .pdf copy of the checklist, as well as a spreadsheet version of data used to create the checklist. I store the rebloom spreadsheet on my phone so I can access needed iris information quickly. The 2022 edition of the rebloom checklist builds on prior editions from 1975 and 1988, which contained 641 and 1,428 varieties respectively. To create these must-have iris resources, the Reblooming Iris Society engages in what I would call "citizen science." Iris enthusiasts, including hybridizers and iris lovers from around the world, voluntarily track the bloom and rebloom behavior for the named iris varieties each growing season. Next, volunteers share their rebloom data with an RIS Area Director who pools rebloom data and organizes it for publication in the Reblooming Iris Recorder, and subsequently in a checklist.

For years, I aspired to track and report my own rebloom data. However, I always struggled to find time and energy to do it. That is . . . until I remembered that I photograph most irises and their identification tags with my cell phone when they bloom. My cell phone records the date and location of my pictures automatically. EUREKA!

Earlier this year Mary Platner, editor of the Reblooming Iris Recorder, called and asked if I would be willing to track rebloom for irises growing at the farm in Ramseur. I was hesitant and explained that most of our irises are recently planted and receive no supplemental water. Mary lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and has her share of irrigation issues. She assured me that my rebloom data would still be valuable and I agreed to help. Bloom charts can be filled out on the computer or printed on paper. Mary provided me with an example chart, and her instructions were easy to follow. Each month is divided into three columns. If the day of the month an iris blooms is between 1 and 10, an "X" is placed in the E column of the appropriate month. Similarly, if it blooms between days 11 and 20, the M column is marked. Finally, if it blooms between days 21 and 31, the L column is marked.

Bloom Chart Directions 2022

Now that overnight temperatures on the farm are below freezing, our 2022 bloom season has ended. I'll use data stored in my phone to chart if and when my reblooming irises came into flower this year. When all is recorded correctly, I plan to email completed bloom charts to my assigned RIS Director and give Mary a heads-up that they are finished.

Hopefully, sharing our experiences will inspire you to add rebloomers to your garden and take part in data collection efforts. Working together, we can help everyone understand reblooming irises better, and rest easy knowing these genetically interesting plants are certainly NOT confused.