Monday, November 20, 2017

Growing Pacifica Iris for Foliage

By Kathleen Sayce 

Among the dozen or so species of Pacifica Iris, foliage is outstanding in only a few. By outstanding, I mean not simply green, but evergreen, and more, a luscious green color--dark, medium or light green, golden to blue-gray in tone. Leaves should also be shiny, substantial in feel, and durable. This creates a lovely dark anchor to other plants in the garden. 


Iris's shiny dark green fans are a good foil for dying fringecup foliage, and give the ground cover at a time when taller plants are flowering. 


Some Pacifica Iris foliage is lustrous and green year round. Use it in the garden to balance other plants even when it is not in flower.


One of the oft-repeated statements made about Pacific Iris is that leaf fibers were used by Native Americans to weave nets to trap, among other animals, elk. Hefty fiber levels in leaves means durability, and durability plus evergreen elevates foliage from one season to four. Take time to search out those sturdy-leaved species' selections and hybrids--they have year round presence in the garden.

I. innominata during flowering:  leaves are dark green, shiny and durable.

Iris innominata
and its close cousin Iris thompsonii have narrow, dark green, evergreen leaves less than fifteen inches long. These species grow in dense tufts to slowly increasing circles, and then rings, if you are slow to divide and replant. They are useful as foliage accents in small scale spots or along border edges, planted with other low growing plants, including primroses and small bulbs. 

For larger plants with a bigger garden presence, look at Iris douglasiana. Many hybrids and selections of this species have light to medium green leaves, which may or may not look good fall through spring. A few have striking dark green foliage, which gives these irises a strong garden presence year round. 

Leaves range from less than twelve inches to more than thirty inches long. I mentioned the lack of tall Iris douglasiana in current hybrid and species offerings a few months ago. Another reason to seek those tall vigorous Iris douglasiana selections is to have foliage for the mid to back borders. 

Iris douglasiana, wild form, has great year round foliage, here it grows with fringecups, Tellima grandiflora (Saxifragaceae) and a rhododendron. 


This wild-collected Iris douglasiana is from Cape Blanco, Oregon; it has medium lavender flowers of basic species appearance, but the foliage is outstanding. With leaves around twenty inches long, foliage on this iris is striking dark green on a medium sized plant. I grow this one for its luscious foliage; the flowers are an added benefit for a few weeks each year. 

I. douglasiana x I. chrysophylla is taller, vigorous, with foliage that looks good year round. 

Another good foliage iris is an Iris douglasiana x I. chrysophylla cross. Flowers are purple and small, but the foliage is outstanding, medium green, shiny and lovely year round. With leaves more than twenty five inches long, this plant makes vigorous fountains of green all year—a good plant for mid border locations. It is especially nice interplanted with lilies: Summer-flowering Lilium ‘Cascablanca’ is short enough to be balanced nicely by the dark green fountains after this iris is done flowering in spring. 

Iris 'Burnt Sugar' is an unregistered Pacifica Iris, probably an I. douglaisana x I. innominata hybrid. Flowers are species-like, and the evergreen foliage is excellent. 
Look for outstanding light green to yellow-green foliage, short to tall, and for good foliage irises taller than thirty inches, also for any sign of white striping on dark green leaves, and other color variations on green, including red to purple. 

Readers:  tell us about Pacifica Iris selections that have great foliage, and please post here if you have plant suggestions to share. 


Monday, November 13, 2017

Bloom Out in Bearded Irises

By Bonnie J. Nichols

In 2013 Texas had a wet and very cold winter.  We had more snow than we had seen in years.  The April 2014 bloom season was spectacular.  From the SDBs to TBs and beyond.  Winter in 2014 and 2015 had enough cold winter weather to give us good bloom. 



Then came last winter.  Actually, what winter?  In December when the Christmas Day temperature was 82 degrees and New Year’s Eve was 73 degrees, we knew the iris bloom season was in jeopardy.  And, it didn’t get better when on January 31st the high temperature of the day was 79 degrees.

When I saw various bearded irises blooming in December and January I asked friends if they thought the bloom was “rebloom” OR what would have been our April spring bloom.  We all had no idea.  In April, we knew the sparse bloom we had seen in December and January was “the spring bloom” because we kept waiting and kept waiting and we had no additional bloom.  Maybe 20% tall bearded irises bloomed and very limited (if any) of the medians bloomed.  The Louisiana and Spuria bloom was not damaged by the mild winter.

We skimped and scraped and came up with enough blooms for our iris shows and we shrugged off the fact that we could not control Mother Nature.  We saw more than normal increases on some of the plants because they did not use their energy to bloom.  On other plants we noticed something that we had not had much experience with – “lightbulb” bloomed-out rhizomes.  Lightbulbs are rhizomes with no increases and the roots wither away.  Now I can spot the “lightbulbs” before digging.  The rhizome increases in size and twists slightly as if it is pushed out of the ground.  This could be the result of the roots drying out.  Some of the “lightbulbs” bloom.  The bloom stalk comes up in the middle of the fan and dies back quickly.  The rhizome eventually dries up and dies also.

When I see a lightbulb rhizome sending up a stalk, I have unsuccessfully tried to make crosses on the blooms.  I was hoping to force a pod and force the plant to increase. 

While my experiments and observations are interesting…………I hope we have a colder winter in 2017 and eventually get back to good iris bloom and the “lightbulbs” are a thing of the past.  However, as I write this article we are 2 ½ weeks from Thanksgiving and our Dallas temperature high today was 91 degrees.  Global warming? – I’m not sure; however, I’m beginning to believe it is.



Thursday, November 9, 2017

IRISES, the Bulletin of the AIS - Fall 2017 Edition

By Andi Rivarola

A warm welcome to those who are seeing IRISES, the Bulletin of The American Iris Society for the first time. If you are a member of The American Iris Society I hope you enjoy this new edition, which you will receive via U.S. Mail very soon. 

The Summer 2017 issue of the AIS Bulletin will also be available soon for online viewing and accessible via the Emembers section of the AIS website. On the cover this edition, 2017 Dykes Medal Winner ‘Montmartre’ (Keith Keoppel 2008, TB).

Note: to access this area of the website you must have a current AIS Emembership. AIS Emembership is separate from the normal AIS membership. Please see the Electronic Membership Information area of the AIS website for more details.


Don't miss the listing of all award winning irises, on pages 14 — 20 with the title, AIS 2017 Awards.

A fascinating view at genealogy of irises with the article by Maryann Schicker, titled Introduction to the Vertical Genealogical Chart, on pages 22 — 25.

A beautiful description of the Florence Iris Gardens by Florence Darhenay, in her piece called A Walk in the Giardino, on pages 26 — 29. Lovely images included. 

Debbie Strauss says adieu to the last AIS Silent Auction she and Nick Steward put together. Her article is called AIS Silent Auction and is on page 30.

An invitation to attend the 2018 AIS Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana starts with a fantastic description on pages 32 — 33, and continues with the registration form on pages 34 — 35. You may also find information about the convention online at: http://www.2018irisconvention.org/

International Iris News gives us but a glimpse of iris news from outside the U.S., compiled by Bruce Filardi, on pages 39 — 41.

A reprint from our own blog, by Susanne Holland Spicker, called Older Tall Bearded Irises ~ Timeless Beauties on page 43.

There's a lot more to see and read in this edition of IRISES, either in digital or print formats. If you are an AIS member know that you will receive the print edition soon (it's in the hands of the U.S. Post Office), or if you are an e-member, then that version will be a available online soon. 

Happy Gardening!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sydney B. Mitchell: A Renowned California Hybridizer

By Jean Richer

As the president of the iris club that bears his name, and as a longtime staff member at the University of California at Berkeley, I have always felt an affinity for Sydney B. Mitchell, one of the most prominent California iris hybridizers of the early 20th century and a distinguished scholar of library science.

Sydney B. Mitchell was born in Montreal, Canada in 1878, and received bachelor and master of arts degrees from McGill University in Canada. He also was given an honorary Doctor of Literature  degree from Occidental College. While a student at McGill, he befriended the university's gardener, who gave him his first iris plants. Mitchell's brother allowed him to grow his iris in his back yard, and he soon had a sizeable collection. His wife shared his interest in plants, and when they moved to California in 1911 they began their lifelong collaboration in the garden.

                                           Purissima (Mohr-Mitchell 1927)

Mitchell was as distinguished in his "day job" as he was as an irisarian. He joined the UC Berkeley library staff as head purchaser in 1911, became acting librarian for the university during World War I, and founded and became the first director of the Graduate School of Librarianship in 1924. He was named dean of the school in 1944, and retired as Dean Emeritus in 1946. He was also a member of the executive board of the American Library Association, vice president of the California Library Association, a fellow of the American Library Institute, and advisory editor of Library Quarterly.

He had a lifelong interest in horticulture, and was the first president of the California Horticultural Society (a position he held until his death), as well as its journal editor. He was also a founding member of the American Fuchsia Society. In addition, he was a renowned author, and wrote four books: Gardening in California, From a Sunset Garden, Your California Garden and Mine, and Iris for Every Garden.

While other flowers interested him from time to time, it was his love for tall bearded iris that remained with him throughout his life. He hybridized many varieties during his life, and was particularly successful with developing new large plicatas and yellow iris. Some of his finest varieties are 'Alta California,' 'Happy Days,' 'Naranja,' 'Natividad,' and 'Fair Elaine.'

                                     Alta California (Mohr-Mitchell 1931)
       
                                               Naranja (Mitchell 1935)

Mitchell's greatest achievements in hybridizing, however, were in collaboration with others, particularly his work with William Mohr. Upon Mohr's tragic death at a young age, Mitchell continued the work with Mohr's seedlings, introducing the best ones and hybridizing to further Mohr's breeding lines. One of the early introductions from these seedlings was 'San Francisco,' the first winner of the U.S. Dykes Medal.

                                           San Francisco (Mohr 1927)

 Mitchell initially ran a commercial iris garden at his home in the Berkeley hills, but when he became more interested in hybridizing he sold the commercial enterprise (and its accompanying acreage) to his friend and neighbor Carl Salbach, whose business sold and introduced iris (as well as dahlias and gladiolus) from the mid-1920s to the 1950s.

                                            Sunol (Mohr-Mitchell 1933)

Mitchell was also the (inadvertent) originator of space age iris. In his breeding program he developed a plicata with a curious extension on its beard (later introduced as 'Advance Guard'). While Mitchell was uninterested in pursuing the possible ramifications of the trait himself, he passed the seedling along to fellow hybridizer Lloyd Austin, whose hybridizing work with it eventually resulted in "space age" iris with horns, spoons, and flounced on their beards.

                                          Advance Guard (Mitchell 1945)

                               photos by the late Mike Lowe (we miss you!)

Mitchell was involved in the organization of the American Iris Society, and frequently contributed to its bulletin. He was one of the sixteen writers contributing to the AIS publication The Iris - An Ideal Hardy Perennial. He served as chair of the species committee until the end of his life, and was a longtime custodian of the California division of the Farr Memorial Library. He was honored with the AIS Hybridizer Award in 1941, and with the British Iris Society's Foster Memorial Plaque (given to persons contributing to the advance of the genus Iris) in 1943.


Sydney B. Mitchell passed away in 1951. A few years later, the iris club in Oakland was named in his honor. Throughout his life Mitchell was a proponent of using native plants in home gardens, and he was a particular proponent of Pacific coast native iris. He took great pride in the plantings of PCNs in his own garden, and had a large collection of various forms of Iris innominata and Iris douglasiana. In recognition of his support of Pacific coast iris, the annual award for the best Pacific coast iris introduction is named in his honor.

A yellow form of Iris douglasiana

I would like to thank the American Iris Society, the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris, and my wife Bonnie Petheram for information used in this blog. Bonnie researched materials on Sydney B. Mitchell in his collection of papers archived at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

What are your favorite Sydney B. Mitchell introductions?









Monday, October 30, 2017

Louisiana Irises and City Park, New Orleans, LA


by Ron Killingsworth

Louisiana Irises and mallard ducks enjoy the "Big Pond" in City Park, New Orleans, LA
The American Iris Society annual convention will be held in New Orleans from April 8-13, 2018!  To learn more about the convention, click here.  And, the Society for Louisiana Irises will hold their annual convention immediately following the AIS convention in the same hotel, from April 12-14, 2018.  Don't miss this chance to attend to great iris conventions in the wonderful city of New Orleans, LA.

As a preview of what you will see during these conventions, I have assembled some pictures of some of the great places you may visit.

Louisiana irises were once found growing in the canals and marshes in and near New Orleans. Today you can still find Louisiana irises growing in New Orleans, but you have to know where to look.  One of the best places to view Louisiana irises blooming would be in City Park during the last of February and first of March.

Any trip to New Orleans should include a tour of the City Park and especially the Sculpture Gardens located within the park and near the Art Museum.
Louisiana irises growing around the edge of the lake and canal inside the Sculpture Gardens, City Park, New Orleans

Louisiana irises grow well around the lake in the middle of the Sculpture Garden

Ponds such as this one in the Sculpture Garden in City Park are great places to grow Louisiana irises

Massive plantings of Louisiana irises around the "Big Pond" in City Park

Another view of the Louisiana irises around the edge of the "Big Pond" in City Park

Beautiful Louisiana irises abound in City Park, New Orleans, LA

A view of massive plantings of Louisiana irises with the "Big Pond" in the background

Louisiana irises in full bloom with the Art Museum in the background at City Park


What better way to view the Louisiana irises blooming in the Sculpture Garden than a ride in a gondola?

Sculptures with the Sculpture Garden overlook the blooming Louisiana irises

Another place to find Louisiana irises growing in New Orleans is at Pat O'Connor's house and gardens.  Pat and his wife Julie love to collect "yard art" to highlight their Louisiana irises.

Pat has a lot of "seedlings" (baby irises grown from seeds) growing in his backyard garden

Not far from New Orleans is the city of Lafayette and Jim Leonard grows Louisiana irises commercially in large pots
To learn more about irises in general, visit the American Iris Society.  To learn more about New Orleans, visit the New Orleans Official Tourist Website at New Orleans On Line.

Louisiana irises grow in many places around the world.  Learn to grow them yourself by visiting The Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI).To join SLI on facebook, visit Facebook - Society for Louisiana Irises.

Be sure to visit City Park in the Spring to see some beautiful flowers and breathtaking landscapes.

Monday, October 23, 2017

'City Lights' Lights up the Garden

By Renee Fraser




There are few irises that have stood the test of time in my garden.  One of the prettiest is 'City Lights'.  Although it's not a new variety (registered by Mary Dunn in 1990) it always looks fresh in the garden.  It reproduces well but does not get overcrowded.




It's a reblooming iris here in Southern California.  One year it bloomed for 26 days, from April 1 to 25, and another year it bloomed from March 28 to May 2!

I don't know if it reblooms in cooler areas, because it reblooms here late, beween September and January.




Although my main garden is designed around warm colors and I have no place for blues, 'City Lights' is so lovely that it is the only iris I have planted near my pond.




I must say that pictures really do not do this iris justice.  That white spot makes it look like it is aglow in the garden.





'City Lights' starts out looking quite blue as the flowers first open, but it takes on more of a violet hue as the days wear on.





If you are looking for an iris that has a good long bloom period and lights up the garden, try 'City Lights'.










Monday, October 16, 2017

An Arilbred Iris Sampler

Tom Waters

'Oyez' (White, 1938)
I was recently contacted by an iris lover who had read my blog post on the classification of arilbred irises and wanted to sample each of the categories. She asked if I had any recommendations. I gave a few off the top of my head, and she suggested that this might make a good blog topic. I agree! So here is my arilbred sampler, for those who want to try the full range of different types of arilbreds.

I've restricted the irises mentioned here to those that are readily available. The commercial gardens that have the best selection of arilbreds are Superstition Iris Gardens, Mid-America Garden, and Blue J Iris. In addition, the Aril Society International has an annual plant sale with many more arilbreds than these commercial growers offer. The offerings vary each year depending on what members contribute, but many varieties are offered nearly every year. If an iris was available from one of the three large commercial growers in their most recent catalog, or in the ASI plant sales for the last two years, I deemed it readily available. Some other commercial growers list a small number of arilbreds, and if arilbreds are grown in your area, the local iris society plant sales can also be a good source of plants.

I want to be clear that this listing is indeed intended as a "sampler". The idea is to cover as many different kinds as possible, to showcase the diversity of arilbreds. It is not an attempt to identify the "best arilbreds" by some objective criteria, nor even a list of "Tom's favorites". The idea is that if you are new to arilbreds, and plant a varied assortment, you can discover your own preferences and what grows well for you.

The ASI recognizes nine different categories of arilbred, based on the type and amount of aril content the iris has. There are two types of pure arils: oncocyclus and Regelia. An arilbred can have either or both of these types of aril in its background. Hence we have oncobreds (OB), Regeliabreds (RB), and oncogeliabreds (OGB, mixed onco and Regelia content). Furthermore, arilbreds can be half aril, more than half aril, or less than half aril. Those with more than half aril content are indicated with a "+" sign; those with less than half aril with a "-" sign. No sign is used for those that are half aril. Thus RB+ means an arilbred whose type of aril content is Regelia only, and whose amount of aril content is more than half.


It turns out that these nine categories actually allow for more distinctions than a practical gardener need attend to. There are very few OB arilbreds, and they are indistinguishable from most OGB types. The reason is that most of today's arilbreds are descended from pioneering work by C. G. White in the 1940s, and White did not keep track of parentages during this time. So his arilbreds, although drawing heavily on oncocyclus arils and selected to resemble oncocyclus as much as possible, are classified as OGB because of the possibility of some Regelia ancestry. So I don't separate OBs from OGBs here.

I do, however, separate out the arilbred medians and arilbred dwarfs from the tall arilbreds. These smaller arilbreds, typically with dwarf or median bearded irises in their parentage, fill a very different role in the garden and provide much of the diversity to be encountered in the arilbred tribe.

So much for the preliminaries. Onward to the plants!


OGB and OB (Onco-type halfbreds)

These are what most of us think of when we think of arilbreds. Most are tall types, with TB and oncocyclus ancestry dominating. Blooms are typically large and globular, often with strong aril markings, such as signal spots or veining.

'Refiner's Fire' (McGrath, 2007)
Large bold signals are actually a rather recent development in this group, with 'Energizer' (Shockey, 1996) being a striking breakthrough in its time. More recently, 'Noble Warrior' (Tasco, 2006) combines a dramatic signal with a bit of veining. 'Refiner's Fire' (McGrath, 2007) gives a striking dark signal on a deeply colored red-toned flower.

'Sand Dancer' (Tasco, 2010) gives us a whole different look, with falls covered in peppery stippling. Yet another completely different look is to be found in 'Navajo Velvet' (McAllister, 2009), with falls of lustrous, satiny mahogany red.

The historic arilbred 'Oyez' (White, 1938) has seduced many iris growers into the arilbred world with its dramatic precise veining. Strangely, it has been difficult to reproduce this striking pattern in modern arilbreds. ('Oyez' is a sterile diploid.) An early success was 'Jonnye's Magic' (Rich, 1992). For a true modern advancement in veined arilbreds, seek out 'Alakazam' (Tasco, 2013).

'Aladdin's Gem' (Thoolen, 2002)
There are few arilbred medians and arilbred dwarfs in this category. Very notable is 'Aladdin's Gem' (Thoolen, 2002), a fertile aril-pumila hybrid about the size of a small SDB (standard dwarf bearded)!

OGB- and OB- (Onco-type quarterbreds)

Originally, these categories were dominated by tall arilbreds that came from crossing halfbreds with TBs. At a time when halbreds were uncommon and difficult to grow, the quarterbreds were the most accessible arilbreds for most gardeners. The historic iris 'Elmohr' (Loomis-Long, 1942) was a fine example of the type, the only arilbred to win the Dykes Medal. It does not show the strong aril patterning we now expect in arilbreds, without signal or veining to speak of. To understand its allure, we must think back to a time when TBs were troubled with narrow petals and often droopy form. 'Elmohr' stood out with dramatically large blooms, wide falls, and a bit of globular onco form to bring it all together.

Some other tall quarterbreds for the sampler are 'Dune' (Hager, 1981) and the very recent 'Heart of Hearts' (Black, 2015). At their best, this type of iris can bring some of the modern TB form and bud count into irises that still evoke their aril ancestry.

'Desert Snow' (Black, 2013)
Since the 1970s, however, arilbred medians have increasingly dominated these categories. Crossing an
OGB halfbred with an SDB produces an OGB- arilbred median. In the garden, these occupy a niche similar to the IBs (intermediate beardeds), but with some aril traits to give them that special something extra. The charm and adaptability of this type of arilbred has given them a great appeal among arilbred growers and median fanciers alike. 'Brash and Bold' (Black, 2009) and 'Desert Snow' (Black, 2013) are fine examplars of what this category has to offer.

A somewhat different approach is found in 'Persian Sapphire' (Baumunk, 2005), a child of 'Aladdin's Gem' that has more Iris pumila in its makeup than TB.

There are some arilbred dwarfs in this category that are worthy of attention. 'Loudmouth' (Rich, 1970) is a perennial favorite, SDB-sized with raucous signal and veining and globular form. 'Tiny Pirate' (Rich, 1990) is the most diminutive arilbred I have grown; it would be small even among MDBs (miniature dwarf beardeds), but struts onco form, a signal, and a whisper of veining.

RB (Regelia-type halfbreds)

Enthusiasm for large, globular oncocylcus irises with their dramatic signals and stippling was a driving force in early arilbred breeding. The Regelias took a back seat in the minds of many growers and breeders; sometimes they were thought of as providing nothing but some ruggedness and climate adaptability. But some have always appreciated the Regelias for their svelte elegance, sometimes striking veining, satiny texture, or blended colors.

An early Regeliabred that helped draw attention to the potential of this type of iris was 'Genetic Artist' (H. Danielson, 1972). This shows a classic color pattern derived from the Regelia Iris stolonifera: a yellowish rim around a blue or violet center. 'Afrosiab' (Volfovich-Moler, 2001) shows a touch of ruffling from its TB parent, 'Mary Frances' (Gaulter, 1973). The French hybridizer Lawrence Ransom worked extensively with Regeliabreds, with his 'Eastern Blush' (Ransom, 2002) being much used in his breeding program.

RB- (Regelia-type quarterbreds)

Ransom's work takes center stage in this category. Among the tall RB- are the horned 'Sandthorn' (Ransom, 2011), and his "Pashtun" series, for example 'Pashtun Princess' (Ransom, 2011).

Ransom also produced a delightfully varied series of RB- arilbred medians, the "Vera girls", from crossing the Regelia 'Vera' (Van Tubergen, not registered) with SDBs.of which 'Vera-Marina'  (Ransom, 1998) is one example.

OGB+ (Onco-type "three-quarter"-breds)

This group has become sadly scarce in commerce, with seldom any new ones registered and introduced. This is perhaps because few arilbred hybridizers today grow the oncocyclus species and hybrids needed to produce this type of arilbred, which usually comes from crossing an OGB arilbred with a pure oncocyclus. The few that are readily available are not always representative of the best this type of breeding has to offer. 'Tul Kerem' (H. Danielson, 1974) is interesting but I find its combination of oncocylcus and Regelia traits ends up not doing justice to either. 'Masada's Glory' (Whitely, 2002) is a better exemplar of what this category has to offer. Although they do not meet my availability criteria, keep a look out from 'Jeweled Veil' (Rich, 1978) or 'Dotted Sunsuit' (Mathes, 2001). These show the oncocyclus features of their ancestry to best advantage.

RB+ (Regelia-type "three-quarter"-breds)

'Turkish Topaz' (Austin, 1962)
A couple oddities round out the sampler. 'Turkish Topaz' (Austin, 1962) was registered as a pure Regelia hybrid, but its parentage is somewhat ambiguous and it looks and grows like an RB+. The flowers are yellow with much brown streaking and blotching. 'White Arts' (L. Danielson, 1986) has only Iris hoogiana in its Regelia ancestry. This species shows nothing that we might recognize as distinctively aril in its coloration. If you walked by 'White Arts' in a garden, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a white IB or perhaps an antique diploid TB.

If you want to sample the world of arilbreds, be sure to try several different types. The variety available in plant size, color pattern, and form is truly remarkable!

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Whiter Shade of Pale

By Bryce Williamson

White. A color so important in the garden and so often ignored. I would shock people when giving judges’ training with the idea that the two most important colors in the iris garden were yellow and white. I stick to that position—yellow bring a shaft of sunlight into the garden and whites are need to balance other colors and patterns, bringing harmony to the landscape that might dissolve into chaos.

Ironically only three white irises have won the American Dykes Medal—Swan Ballet and Winter Olympics in the Tall Bearded class and Swans in Flights, a Siberian. Whites have to be especially outstanding to get attention. We used to joke in Region 14, when all of us were growing lots of Winter Olympics seedlings, that a selection was “just another white.”


I have yet to grow Swans In Flight. With Siberians needing moist soil, the five years of drought have taken a toll on the yard and I did not have a good place for this variety. While we have lots of water in California this year, we need a second wet season to be sure that the drought is over.

In the last twenty years, two white tall bearded irises have achieved classic status. Larry Gaulter’s Carriage Trade did win an Award of Merit, but when it was first introduced, no one realized how really good it was and that it would endure while many of the irises introduced in that decade have disappeared. It is possible to note its tight branching, but that tight branching may actually be an advantage in two and three year clumps since the flowers are held close to the stalk. Still worth growing and still has a place in my iris collection.

Skating Party--image by Suzanne Spicker

Joe Gatty’s Arctic Express has also achieved classic status. The Gatty irises were always known for their impeccable form and Arctic Express is no exception with its heavy ruffling. Ironically, it has not always performed well for me in Campbell. When Bill Maryott was still growing irises, we would often comment about an iris growing well for him 5 miles away and I would be growing something well here that he had problems with. Since Arctic Express has rave reviews around the country, it is worth adding to the garden and in the last years of the California drought, it has done better here.

Arctic Express--image by Rick Tasco

White with yellow-gold shoulders was always an attractive color combination, but there are few choices these days. Off the beaten path hybridizer, George Hilton, has produced Be Still My Heart.


Be Still My Heart--image by George Hilton

Currently there is one warm white that is very good—by warm white I mean one that is tinted with cream/yellow. That iris is Ten Carat Diamond. So far the reports on this ruffled variety are good from all areas of the country.


Whites with tangerine-red beards are always popular. Vern Wood, who produced lovely irises in a small garden, released Arctic Fox and it is bright and dependable year after year. Perhaps there is a better red bearded white, but I have not seen it yet.

Arctic Fox--image by South Jersey Irises

Rick Tasco's White Hot has also be popular in the red-bearded white class, showing a touch of yellow at the hafts, and is an Award of Merit winner.

White Hot--Image by Brock Heilman

New on the horizon is Schreiners Kenny G. When I first saw it in Oregon in 2015, I dismissed it as “just another white.” Then I walked into the field and saw it on a long row, looking sharp, and went back into the display garden and took a picture. It is one of those irises I have added to the buy list. I am, of course, the only person who keeps a list of iris names by the computer of images that I have seen and think I might want to add to the plant to the garden.



Hybridizing in Missouri, an area that can have difficult weather in the spring, Barbara Nicodemus has produced a series of fine irises. Her Kennadi’s Angel is overlooked. Breed from two classic irises, this ruffled white has beards than deepen to gold in the heart of the flower.

Image by Hugh Stout

In a different direction, there are the cold-blue whites. Oddly I am going to mention Silverado here. This multi award winner, grows and blooms well; the flowers have lovely form. Registered as a bluebird blue, in our California sun, it opens powder blue and fades, gracefully, to blue white after one day. Growth is good too. It should not be a surprise that one of its parents is Carriage Trade.

Silverado--image by Betty Jacobs

So when planning your iris garden, remember traditional colors, including white, are important in the overall plan. White irises bring a calmness to the yard, provide transition between color that might be garish or clashing, and will rule the flower bed with calm serenity.
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