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.