Monday, July 25, 2022

Get That Order Planted

by Jeff Bennett

Irises planted in one-gallon pots

At this time of year, everyone seems to be receiving orders of irises they found online and just had to have. After reading posts in Iris Lovers last spring, I’m going to write about what I do when my orders arrive. For those of you that have your iris beds ready in advance of your orders arriving, this article is not for you. For the other 94.5% of us that planned to order only a few irises or none at all, but then kept adding another to your shopping cart and now have an order of 32 new (to you) irises coming, and are not sure where you will plant them right away, this article is FOR YOU.  And, that is just an order from one seller. The other seven orders you didn't plan to make are also on their way.

There seems to be an explosion of people ordering more and more irises in the last few years. Is this because people had to stay home during the pandemic? Was it spurred by immediate access to pictures in online iris groups? I’m not completely sure, but my guess is that it is the latter. Most iris societies are not getting bigger, but iris sales sure are. It would be great if more iris purchasers had also joined their local iris society or became members of The American Iris Society. If you are in the United States or Canada, use this link to find iris clubs near you. Okay, I'll get off my iris society soapbox now.

So your box of irises has arrived. You open it up to see what they look like, compare your invoice to what’s in the box, look at the size of the rhizomes, and check for any issues. Some plants are quite large, some average, and then there might be an occasional smaller one. I don’t see smaller rhizomes as a disappointment, but a challenge. Maybe this grower’s climate is just not right for this variety, but all the DNA is there and therefore there's a potential for a spectacular performance. If your purchase arrives terribly shriveled up, then you may want to check in with the seller for a replacement or a substitute.

Now that your first order has arrived, you realize that you haven’t gotten the iris beds ready by improving the soil and removing all the weeds that are visible. But the irises are here and two more boxes are coming later in the week and more the following week. Your iris society rhizome sale is happening soon and you want to snatch up some bargains there too. In the meantime, you probably SHOULD get these rhizomes planted right away. The sooner the rhizome hits soil, the sooner it will begin growing new roots and the little nubs on the side can start to expand into additional rhizomes. 

My priority has been to check each delivery, then get them potted and labeled up in the order they arrive. Next, I put them into my Excel spreadsheet with the columns for the iris name, hybridizer, year introduced, abbreviation for the type of iris (TB, IB, LA, SPU, AB, etc.), and who I purchased it from. In the last column I record the price I paid.

Bagged potting mix with fertilizer

As for potting, I plant newly arrived irises into one-gallon pots. I use a very good potting mix that also has a slow-release fertilizer. A 50-quart bag will fill 28 one-gallon pots full of soil. Priced at $18.00 per bag, that’s only 64 cents per pot. I think this is a reasonable investment for those $5, $10, or $50 irises. Don’t forget to put your iris labels in at planting time. You will not remember later. This method gets irises off to a great start while I get the beds ready when time is available. 

One-gallon pot and potting soil

I have found that I have almost zero losses compared to planting the shipped rhizomes directly in the ground. When irises are potted, I get to see them up close and more often so I am able to address issues quicker if they arise. In the ground, a rhizome may fall over or a squirrel may dig it up and expose it to the sun and heat before I find it. 

Potted irises with blue plastic labels

Place your pots where they will get at least six hours of direct sun, preferably morning to early afternoon sun. Water once to twice a week.  Within two weeks, I can already see the cut leaves growing taller and new green leaves coming up also. Because I’m in California and in a mild climate near San Francisco Bay, I can plant these potted irises into the ground at any time of the year without a hiccup. You know your climate best as to when your soil is workable. If your irises get a good start in the fall, they will really take off once warmth comes to their roots as spring approaches. This is true if they are in the ground or still in the pots. Just get them into soil right away and worry about where you will put them later.

Potted irises waiting for in-ground planting


Monday, July 18, 2022

Smokin Heights New Introductions 2022

by Mel and Bailey Schiller

The rains have arrived. It is so nice to have a few muddy patches around our garden. We are forever thankful for the natural rainfall we receive. The weeds are growing, and the pastures around our house are greening up with grain crops and pasture paddocks. 

The irises we replanted in April are starting to show signs of growth. Also, weeds seem to like this newly planted area! Here we offer a peek at our new Smokin’ Heights introductions for the coming season. Our family is proud of these hybrids and hopes you admire them like we do.

'Haunts My Soul' TB (B. Schiller 2022)

'Haunts My Soul' was registered in 2020 and was scheduled for release in 2020, but we accidentally threw out half of the stock thinking it was a not-so-nice sibling. But, never mind…onward and upward.

E41-1: ('Italian Master' X 'Captain Thunderbolt') TB (M. Schiller 2022)

We fell in love with this seedling at first sight. It has the same pattern as ‘Captain Thunderbolt’, but in maroon colouring! Name applied for is  'Zoophonic Dancer'.

E23-3: (('Sassy Talk' sib x 'Power and Design' pod parent sib) X 'Woven Sunlight') TB (B. Schiller 2022)

This one will not go unnoticed in the garden; you can see it from a mile away. It is like a beacon of light! Name applied for is 'Equally Wild'.

E23-6: (('Sassy Talk' sib x 'Power and Design' pod parent sib) X 'Woven Sunlight') TB (B. Schiller 2022)

A sibling to 'Equally Wild', this is Bailey's favourite of the cross because of the high contrast between the ground colour and plicata edge. Name applied for is 'Fancy Like'.

E23-11: (('Sassy Talk' sib x 'Power and Design' pod parent sib) X 'Woven Sunlight') TB (B Schiller 2022)

Bailey had great success with this cross. The pod produced some very different seedlings. This was another that was too good not to introduce. Bailey loves the green tones to an iris as the colouring is very different. He likes different! Name applied for is 'Sandsear Storm'.

F50-6: (Blyth A117-1 X 'Boston Cream') TB (B. Schiller 2022)
A delightful broken-coloured plicata. Of course, this is another example of “different" as far as irises are concerned. Splotches, dots and blotches...what is not to love? Name applied for is 'Lunacy'.

E14-1: ('Emblematic' X Blyth Z85-:('Tender Heart' sib x sib) TB (B. Schiller 2022)
A very tasteful iris in the perfect colour! Form is awesome. Name applied for is 'She Be Magic'.

E37-3:('Volcanic Glow' X 'Inside Job') TB (M Schiller 2022)
A sibling to last year's 'Nordic Lover', worthy of introduction this year. Hot summer tones in colouring in a very unique luminata-plicata pattern. Name applied for is 'Deva Summer'.

Looking over the field, it appears the growth is very slow at the moment when compared to the same time last year. We are expecting a big year with both first- and second-year seedlings blooming. We are already seeing some bloom stalks in the second-year plantings which have not been replanted. We cannot wait for spring!

Monday, July 11, 2022

A Year in the Life: A Tall Bearded Iris in a French Garden

by Sylvain Ruaud

The irises in Les Liliacées (1812) were illustrated by Pierre-Joseph Redouté.
Source: / Bibliothèque nationale de France

An iris is immortal! At least in theory. Let's say, rather, that it cannot die. It is this faculty that allows us to enjoy an iris in our gardens which was illustrated, described, or selected by Messieurs RedoutéJacques or Lémon in the 19th century. A predictable process of vegetative propagation gives irises the extraordinary power to clone themselves. Not only can irises live forever, but they also do not age. Irises produced asexually retain all genetic characteristics of the original plant. So, one year in the life of an iris is not much. A healthy iris will live many years and throughout this time it will look very similar except for variations due to weather or tribulations inflicted by humans.

A year in the life of an iris is a perpetual narrative punctuated by the movement of the Earth around the Sun. In France (and other places in the Northern Hemisphere), let’s say the iris year begins in September. This is when temperatures decrease and the iris clump wakes from a period of rest.  It is time for each iris to resume growth and prepare for the future. In our modern irises, those containing I. aphylla genes, the foliage which usually captures energy from the Sun has almost completely dried up. All that remains are short stumps that provide the bare minimum. These leaves will grow a little to facilitate photosynthesis. Just what is needed…a break from fasting. Breakfast!

I. aphylla, a mountain plant, knew not to expose its delicate tissues to frost. The needs of its descendants could be satisfied with a few centimeters of leaf growth. New leaves will remain sheltered within older ones in case of snow. Most new growth will occur below ground and manifests itself by the appearance and development of buds on the sides of the rhizome. These buds are the beginnings of the new plants that will replace irises that lived during the previous season. Assuming sufficient water is available, the combination of rhizome and buds is all that will be required to reproduce identical replacements for a plant that lived the previous year. There is no loss, no degeneration. 

Little by little, the small buds develop into rhizomes. A few weeks after they appear, the round white structures give birth to the three initial shoots at the tip of their tiny rhizomes. These shoots don’t do very much when temperatures are low but enjoy active and vigorous growth when conditions are warm. When the shoots get large enough, three small leaf plumes will spring up from the ground. 

The rhizome is actually a modified stem. As the rhizome grows, lateral plumes become true leaves that frame the central plume. The central plume rises vertically as a cylindrical stem. This stem is also referred to as a bloom stalk; it is solidly anchored to the rhizome in the ground and supports flowers for a new generation. 

Although slow at the beginning, the growth of the iris will suddenly accelerate starting in mid-March (for this latitude). The timing of the growth spurt varies according to the sunshine and the heat of the air, but it is a crucial time in the life of new irises. Plants will not only have to prepare for skyward take-off, but they must also build up flesh in the rhizome. The flesh of the rhizome acts as an energy reserve for the growth spurt that pushes magnificent flowering structures high into the air.  If an open flower is successfully fertilized, then the rhizome must also nourish a seed capsule until it reaches maturity. Necessary materials are drawn not only from the Earth but also from the air around the plant. Leaves must take in a compound necessary for plant metabolism (carbon dioxide) and release a gas produced during photosynthesis (oxygen). Hence it is absolutely necessary that leaves be healthy and well developed. If they are broken or cut, our iris will be weakened.

The stalk that supports tall bearded iris flowers has an exceptionally fast growth rate: roughly 1.5 cm per day! This is the most active period of the year for an iris. To achieve this, the iris draws on energy from the rhizome and water from the soil. Spring rains are essential to transport materials above the foliage and into flowers offering rewards to pollinating insects. When spring arrives a tall bearded iris stem has reached its maximum height: between 75 cm and 1 meter. Although some varieties exceed these dimensions, is not advantageous because of possible damage from wind or rain showers. Neither is lacking in my location. Foul weather may easily knock down a tall iris stem — destroying the efforts of the plant and the hopes of the gardener. 

One may wonder how nature solved the problem of keeping irises upright. Indeed, there is a natural imbalance: most of the load is positioned away from the base, and the rain that falls on the flowers adds weight to the structure. To resist, the iris extends its roots towards the front of the plant. It is like claws that cling to the ground. To perfect this anchorage, the roots differentiate their form based on soil structure. In soft soils, iris roots are long and thin. In rocky soils, they are few but thick. That's why the iris likes stony soils and dreads light soils. In spite of everything, some tall bearded stems fall over. This may be due to genetic weakness in the plant, but the fault is more often due to a lack of water or sunlight. Tall bearded irises require at least half a day of sunlight.

It is now spring, and we are in full-bloom season. The buds open one by one. It is not necessary for many flowers to open at the same time. There are several reasons for this: 1) a staggered opening extends the flowering period for pollinators (and human iris lovers); 2) by opening at the same time, large, showy flowers get in the way of each other; and 3) when many flowers are open, weight at the end of the stalk increases, increasing the risk of falling. Each is something an iris hybridizer examines before selecting a new plant for introduction.  Thus, such imperfections have become rare. 

The big bumblebees, greedy of the nectar of the iris, multiply the landings on the sepals and introduce themselves in the calyx then leave it backwards, carrying their load of pollen towards another flower which they will fertilize…unless a human hybridizer has came along beforehand to dab pollen for a cross of their own. There is a lot of activity in the garden, but it will not last long! The iris season is short...

This brings us to the month of June. Most of the flowers have faded and the plant, which has made an intense effort, enters summer dormancy. With its duty accomplished, the iris forgoes growth processes and instead will focus on keeping existing structures healthy. As temperatures rise throughout the summer,  iris leaves may dry up. Meanwhile, processes underground prepare the plant for the following season. The rhizome slowly reconstitutes its reserves and prepares a new set of buds. Above ground, mysterious work continues within the ovary of the fertilized flower. The watermelon-shaped capsules swell as seeds inside develop. At the beginning of August, seeds approach maturity until one day the capsule containing them bursts open.  The attentive gardener will watch for this event and harvest the seeds he covets before they fall to the ground and scatter. Meanwhile, under the crust of earth warmed by the summer sun, nature completes the development of new rhizomes, those that will be responsible for renewing the initial variety.

The annual cycle is completed. Our iris is ready for the new season...

Monday, July 4, 2022

Iris Identification: A Puzzle and a Problem

by Bob Pries

A short time ago I was asked if I could identify an iris. When I looked at the picture I thought “Wow, this is one I would love to grow also.” My favorite colors are brown and blue so I was eager to find the answer.

 Unknown iris

One of the first steps I took was to complete a reverse image search in Google Images. It is simple. You go to and click on the camera icon in the search box.  A screen will open to search by image. I chose the option to upload the image I saved.

The camera icon is shown above the arrow

Instantly Google Images gives you the 30 best matches. On my first try the image did not appear and the choices were interesting but barely similar. But I tried again later and to my delight the exact image appeared as the first choice. There several things to try next and each might head me in a different direction.  So I looked at the image Google had chosen at the top of the page and clicked on it. I noted that below that top image it noted there were 264 pages that featured this image.

Google Image search results

When I clicked on the search result, Google displayed each result for the image with the URL and title. Almost all the pages featuring this image were ads for various irises (most of which had no relation at all to the iris of interest.) But one search result caught my eye. It was Dave’s Garden and appeared to have a cultivar name attached. I clicked on the image and the Dave’s Garden page came up with a description for an intermediate iris named ‘Wrong Song.'  At last, I had a name!

Just to be sure, I searched for ‘Wrong Song’ in the Iris Encyclopedia, a wiki of the American Iris Society. This wiki is a comprehensive encyclopedic source of iris information and is curated by persons who serve as docents for iris-specific content. To my consternation, an iris with a very different appearance appeared in the encyclopedia entry for 'Wrong Song.' 

Iris 'Wrong Song' in the Iris Encyclopedia

The shape and color patterning were very close, but it seemed obvious that the image I was trying to identify had been colorized and photo-shopped to appear very different. My mind started thinking about the 264 internet pages that were using this altered picture. Although many were just using it as a generic iris picture, others were terribly misrepresenting this iris ‘Wrong Song.’ My heart started to hurt. You see, this isn't the first time people have been singing the wrong song about an iris. 

When the American Iris Society (AIS) was formed in the 1920s, one of its main goals was to clear up iris identification. Today the central mission of the AIS is to register irises. Registration provides a unique name for an iris and is accompanied by an official description. The goal is to prevent two different irises from having the same name or for any one iris to be given several names making communication difficult. 

It took two decades of work in the nineteen twenties and thirties to straighten out the many names that had been casually used for irises. The AIS had to plant test gardens and consult historical descriptions to determine which names were the most legitimate for which irises. It is discouraging to discover two irises on the internet today with the same name. One is the accurate registered iris, and the other is a mythical, colorized-version of the original.

There are a number of iris photos that have been colorized and published on the internet. Some, like the one I searched for, are quite beautiful. However, we should avoid naming a heavily-altered photo using the name of the iris from which it was derived. Someone purchasing an iris by this name may suffer sadness when the iris does not live up to their expectations.