Monday, April 25, 2022

BEFORE THE WAR: Irises in Ukraine

By Sylvain Ruaud

During the time of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, 1922–1991), it was difficult to share information about the cultivation of irises. In some countries, public authorities did not encourage this kind of leisure activity. A lot of energy and astuteness were required to obtain Western varieties and carry out crosses. Also, the cold continental climate of Russia is not very favorable to the culture of iris. Hybridizing irises in these conditions was not an easy task. Attempts were hardly conceivable except in the southern areas (now Ukraine and Kazakhstan), and it was in these regions where iris hybridization was practiced by some daring people.

Nina Miroshnichenko, in Jytomyr, west of Kiev, was the first of them. We do not know how she obtained the American or European varieties she used for crosses. Although Nina didn't have many, she knew how to use them. Between 1970 and 1980, we learned that Ukraine could be a land of irises. As soon as the Iron Curtain disappeared, Ukrainians enthusiastically embarked on hybridization in less favorable climatic conditions. Some Russians did exactly the same, to the point of putting their nation in the forefront for the number of creations each year. This beautiful adventure has continued since the beginning of the 21st century and Ukraine has developed closer ties to the countries of the European Union but the magnitude of contributions is not regularly discussed in the West. As the spotlight shines on the iniquity and horror of what is happening in this country, we can take a look at the culture and hybridization of irises in Ukraine and the different actors.

'Solovinaya Noch' (Miroshnichenko, ca.2007) 
Translation: Nightingale Night

 In the list of hybridizers published in the Iris Encyclopedia I found at least twelve names of Ukrainians who were active at the time of the war that concerns us all. Most of them operated around Kyiv or in the western part of Ukraine, the part most oriented towards the West.

 The oldest is certainly Alexander Trotsky, from Mikolayiv, a large city northeast of Odessa. He was succeeded by his son Mikhailo. Between them, they have registered about 70 varieties, mainly tall bearded irises, between 2000 and 2020, like the very nice soft blue 'Nebsnaya Pesnia' (2012).

'Nebsnaya Pesnia' (A. Trotsky, 2012)
Translation: Heavenly Song

 It is mainly since the independence of their country that Ukrainians have taken a passion for iridophily. Since that time, several amateurs have tried their hand at hybridization; such as the following:

Marija Konovalenko, near Kyiv, with about 30 tall bearded irises of very classical workmanship, such as 'Kniazhyi Grad' (2018).

'Kniazhyi Grad' (Konovalenko, 2018) 
Translation: Book Graduate

Gennadi Mamchenko, near Chernyiv, northeast of Kyiv, (see 'Zupyny Posmishku', 2012).

'Zupyny Posmishku' (Mamchenko, 2012)
Translation: Stop Smiling

Volodymyr Vasyliev, near Mikolayiv, (see the original 'Boginya Solntsa',2020).

'Boginya Solntsa' (Vasyliev, 2020)
Translation: Goddess of the Sun

Borys Pravdyvy, from Kyiv, rather specialized in standard dwarf bearded irises but whose tall bearded plicata 'Sharada' (2012) is one of the most appreciated varieties in his country.

'Sharada' (Pravdyvy, 2012) 
Translation: Charade

Some others became professionals, as follows:

Svitlana and Vladimir Yakovchuk live near the town of Soumy, near the Russian-Ukrainian border, one of the first to be invaded. They created a large number of varietiesincluding standard dwarf bearded, intermediate bearded, and tall beardedwhich they market themselves. For example, the yellow 'Gilka Zolota' (2010) is floriferous and well-branched and meets criteria used in the West.

'Gilka Zolota' (Yakovchuk, 2010)
Translation: Golden Christmas Tree

Alla Chernoguz, from Kyiv, has been active mainly in the field of standard dwarf bearded and tall bearded irises for about 15 years. A good example of her work is the yellow amoena 'Soniachni Klarnety' (2010). Some of the irises from this breeder are found in Western Europe.

'Soniachni Klarnety' (Chernoguz, 2010) 
Translation: Sound of Clarnett

Andrii Troshkin, breeder and producer located in the western suburbs of Kyiv. He sells his own varieties as well as the irises of his Ukrainian and foreign colleagues. His irises seem to meet the current Western criteria, such as 'Zolotoi Piedestal' (2016).
'Zolotoi Piedestal' (Troshkin, 2016)
Translation: Golden Pedestal

Evgenyi Nazarov, also from Kyiv, is a new breeder who seems to be particularly gifted as with this 'Shovkova Vual' (2020), which should however be judged "on the spot", but that is not the case.

'Shovkova Vual' (Nazarov, 2020)
Translation: Voile de Shovkova

Igor Khorosh, from Ternopil, west of Kyiv, perhaps the best known of all, because he came to France on the occasion of the "Franciris ©" competition, and is the creator of a remarkable series of varieties whose names, in English, evoke their origin, like 'Ukrainian Christmas' (2019), heavily laced like its American relative.

'Ukrainian Christmas' (Khorosh, 2019)

All of this hard work was before the current situation, which upset Ukraine, most of all, and also the whole world. We are concerned about the fate of each of the breeders mentioned. Some, who were active on the Internet at the beginning of the conflict have now fallen silent. Others continue to call for help. The world of irises is not spared from the drama and no one knows what it will be like in Ukraine when all this ends. But one thing is certain. After the Second World War, French iris growers, who had spent five years repurposing their nurseries to producing food for their fellow citizens, replanted their beloved rhizomes and recreated these flowers which also contributed to the recovery of their country. Ukraine, which knows how to resist so well, will certainly know how to bloom again.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Why Attend an Iris Convention?

by Heather Grace and Alleah Barnes Haley

Last week our family joined 260+ attendees for the 2022 American Iris Society (AIS) National Convention in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This was the first national held since restrictions forced groups to cancel or postpone iris events during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Wilson’s “Iris Inspire Us” garden hosted attendees for two convention lunches and featured wonderful raised beds with aril and arilbred irises.

Three bus loads of convention attendees rush down a path through a pecan orchard to see guest irises at their first tour stop. After many years of preparation, this invasion of iris enthusiasts was a welcome and wonderful sight to behold.

Attendees were unable to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of AIS in 2020 in the same room where the organization started at the New York Botanical Garden; but we got to celebrate with our 2022 convention hosts, the Mesilla Valley Iris Society. In a wonderful twist, our first national convention in New Mexico coincided with the 50th anniversary of our affiliate host.

Welcome banquet celebrating 100 years of AIS and 50 years of the Mesilla Valley Iris Society. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz. 

Alleah, Heather and family thought about why we like attending conventions like this, and came up with the following:

Make new iris friends from other states or, in fact, all over the world.

Liz Schmidt of the Schreiner family (right) happily introduced Heather (center) to her longtime friend Judy Nunn of the Cooley family (left). Liz and Judy share a special connection as children of renowned iris growers in Oregon. Photo courtesy of Keren Olson.

Longtime friends Neil Houghton (left), Paul Black (center) and Eric Tankesley-Clarke (right) pause to capture their reunion and a memory on the opposite side of a camera lens. 

See the latest iris varieties from both noted and beginning iris hybridizers.

World of Irises blog editing duo Heather (left) and Alleah Haley (right) shared merits of their favorite convention irises. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz. 

Participate in discussions and hear experts on various types of irises and “hot topics."
Participants enjoyed listening to Jim Hedgecock, Tom Waters, Mike Sutton (at podium), Tom Johnson, and David, Ava and Evelyn Toth as they shared news from their gardens and hybridizing programs. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz. 

Bonnie Nichols shared iris pictures and informative commentary during the Novelty Iris Society rhizome auction. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz. 

Informative programs about special topics by Dave Ferguson (pictured), Gary White, Mike Reed, Neil Houghton, Jody Nolan, and Dawn Boyer helped attendees understand and enjoy all that the world of irises has to offer. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz. 

Take judges training from experts.
Dell Perry shares wisdom about aril and arilbred irises, including why it’s important to distinguish between these types when you are growing or exhibiting them in a iris show.

High Stout conducting in-garden judges training and leading participants on a thorough evaluation of intermediate bearded iris ‘Toffee.’

Eat regional cuisine you may not have had before.
Alleah’s friend and AIS Director Jean Richter couldn’t make the convention, but insisted that we enjoy popular quick bread sopapillas while in New Mexico. They are deep fried, puffy, and DELICIOUS with honey.

Visit outstanding public and private gardens featuring irises.
Attendees saw over 600 convention irises at Blue J Iris, home of the largest iris nursery in New Mexico. 

Convention co-chair Scarlett Ayres hosted attendees for a tour of hundreds of irises at her garden. Scarlett's garden art added whimsy and delight.

The garden at the Calhoun Flower Farm is dedicated to the memory of well-known local irisarian NaDeanne Calhoun. Owners Tiana and Lily and their mother Diane started the family-owned flower farm to provide locally-sourced cut flowers. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz.

Go to areas you have never visited.
An optional tour to White Sands Missile Range included a group photo op at Launch Complex 33. Photo courtesy of Howie Dash. 

Learn about new technologies.
Neil Houghton used this equipment to record interviews with noted irisarians throughout the convention. His efforts help preserve iris history for generations to come. 

Convention co-chair Howie Dash (left) with hybridizer Rick Tasco (right) examine irises together. We learned why Rick tells irises to “smile” for photographs: his cell phone camera responds to voice commands. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz. 

Learn more about how to grow your favorite or a new type of iris.
George Hildebrandt shared how he successfully creates desert-like conditions in Pennsylvania using raised beds with a removable plastic cover. 

Photograph many irises quickly and with ease.
Attendees enjoyed a variety of irises in bloom at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. Photo courtesy Doug Chyz.

Die hard photographers and evaluators spent lots of time with irises at the Fabian Garcia Science Center. As at most conventions, there was also a large contingent enjoying the view with cookies and conversation in the shade. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz.

Admire fantastic iris ephemera, clothing, and accessories.
The convention silent auction and boutique offered an opportunity to purchase iris goodies we can’t find anywhere else. Need more space? No problem. Donate your extra iris collectibles to your next regional or a national convention. Photo courtesy of Doug Chyz.

Our bus-mate and new iris friend Judson Pitts sports a stylish iris tie at the awards banquet. 

This hand-painted iris blazer was given to Heather by Facebook Iris Lover Susan Warren Chadwell. Susan’s friend Sheri painted the flowers on it in 1998, and they are still delighting iris enthusiasts 24 years later. Photo courtesy of Keren Olson.

We had great fun with our extended “iris family” in New Mexico and are looking forward to the 2023 AIS National Convention in Dallas, Texas. Heather’s husband Chris Broberg has a budding interest in hybridizing and is planning to join us for his first national convention. If you come too, you can meet the newest AIS member in our family and share in our excitement about all things iris.

AIS president Andi Rivarola (front) greets first time convention attendees. Photo courtesy Doug Chyz.

Past AIS president Jim Morris compiled photographs and historical information for 100 Years Bold!, a new book available through the AIS Storefront. He signed copies during the convention and recommends taking many pictures and identifying everyone you can. This photo, and others not specified are courtesy of Heather Haley.

You can see or share more convention memories using the hashtag #aisconvention2022 on Facebook or Instagram.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Why Visit an Iris Show?

by Bob Pries

Guess what. It’s show time! Whether or not you grow irises, spring offers an opportunity to make your garden better. People with small gardens, difficult growing conditions, little time, or limited funds all have excellent reasons to come to an American Iris Society show.

Irises with ribbons at an iris show 

Over the years, irises have been referred to as the “poor man’s orchid.” Much like orchids, irises have enormous variety in flower color patterns and forms. Surely there are many you might love. Some can be pricey, but most are inexpensive compared to other perennials. And the best part of an iris show is that you will find sources, contacts, and opportunities to get irises for free or at a minimal charge.

Clubs that put on iris shows almost always have additional events throughout the year where you can find some free iris and others for $10 or less. Of course there are still the $60 irises. But if you were to invest in irises, surely would want them to prosper. Club members can offer you suggestions that can quintuple your irises in a year.  Some people find ways to sell their extra irises to generate income and fund new iris purchases. By going to an iris show you can discover masterpieces that grow well in nearby gardens and tolerate local conditions best. Exhibitors can guide you in how to grow award-winning bloomstalks. Who knows. Someday you may find your flowers in the Court of Honor, or winning a coveted rosette for “Best in Show.”

The Court of Honor includes the “Best in Show” 

Although there are many stories about irises being thrown over the fence into weeds and having it bloom the next year, it is also possible to kill an iris. Sometimes they are killed by kindness. A little local knowledge can save you a lot of heartache.

Of course, lots of people go to an iris show because they like seeing pretty flowers. You may be surprised at the show discovering unusual irises.  Irises have it all; and if you want a plant that is striking, rare, or challenging to grow, you may see those also.  When special irises are displayed, fellow iris lovers are always glad to see them. Different irises can grow in widely variable conditions from hot and dry to in water. What may be good culture in one area may be a death sentence in another. For this reason the local residents are usually your best resource. Forget the internet; befriend a local iris expert!

If you wish to make a special garden, there are irises that will make it outstanding. Discovering the diverse world of irises can make gardening easier with less work than most perennials.

How to find:

All across the United States - starting in the south and working north - bloom season is beginning and local clubs are presenting iris shows. Check out the American Iris Society show calendar and find one near you.


Monday, April 4, 2022

Getting Started: Early-Blooming Historic Irises

by Mike Unser

As bloom season gets underway, I look forward to seeing early-blooming historic irises. The following is a brief selection of some of my favorite varieties:

Iris albicans 

Iris albicans is a messy little flower, but loved by many across the southern United States. This variety is often one of the first irises in bloom. Although known since ancient times in the Middle East, no one is exactly sure where this species originated. 

I. germanica var. vulgaris

I. germanica var. vulgaris is also one of the first to bloom in my garden. A low bud count means this variety doesn't show off for long, but the color is so rich and welcome in spring that I forgive its brief appearance. It has a lovely fragrance too.

'Crimson King'

'Crimson King', another of the old wild collected I. germanica varieties found in Europe, is always a welcome guest. This iris is ubiquitous on the west coast of the United States. I love the heavy purple coloration on the spathes. 

'Eleanor Roosevelt'

The rich color tones of 'Eleanor Roosevelt' are such a treat, especially set off by the jaunty blue beard.


'Primavera' never fails to thrill in cool lemonade tones. A very good grower and bloomer.

'Red Orchid'

And last, the always reliable 'Red Orchid'. This variety has bloomed for me every year since I added it to my garden. An old friend that is constantly changing as the light plays over it throughout the day.