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.

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