“..There are irises billed as red, but they veer toward shades of wine, brick or reddish brown.
What started as an informal race among growers to create a truly red iris has developed into a decades-long marathon. It persists despite advancements in science, and efforts to modify the flower genetically by Richard Ernst of Cooley’s Gardens outside Salem, Ore., in conjunction with researchers at Oregon State University.
In 2004, Mr. Ernst — a well-known hybridizer who for decades pursued the red iris the old-fashioned way, crossing varieties with characteristics deemed logical to produce a red — predicted that the genetic retooling efforts would be successful in time to show off a red iris at the national conference of the American Iris Society in May…” Read more in the NY Times article >>>>
White Iris serve a tremendous, grounding purpose in the garden. Their presence give rest to the eyes among the array of colors. They provide contrast to a group of darker blossoms. They pair beautifully with the green foliage surrounding throughout the garden. “White [iris] today have come a long way since the days of their famous ancestors. Ruffles, lace, and a sun-catching characteristic of the flower’s cells, colloquially called diamond dusting, top the list of adjectives used to describe white irises.” (Kelly Norris, “A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts”, pg 38)
Iris lovers heart blue. Actually, I think people heart blue. We’ve been long lost on a quest for true blue in nature, and when we do encounter it, it holds us in deep rapture. Fortunately for iris lovers that rapturous experience storms the garden each spring, laden with ruffles and sassy, audacious flowers.
Like yellow, blue covers a lot of ground, describing the world from the ocean to the sky. Color experts would distinguish true spectrum blue (105C on the RHS Colour Chart) from the violet-blue group of colors we register as wisteria blue, cornflower, bluebird, medium blue, and so on. Looking over the cumulative list of Dykes Medal winners, you can easily pick up on the judging electorate’s bias toward blue bearded irises.
Starting with ‘Sierra Blue’ (Essig 1932) in 1935, more than 18 irises of bluish colors (approximately 25 percent) have won the American Iris Society’s top honor, including some of the world’s most familiar and most often grown bearded irises: the light blue ‘Babbling Brook’ (Keppel 1969), the cold ocean water ‘Shipshape’ (Babson 1969), the waterfall-esque ‘Victoria Falls’ (Schreiner 1977), the bay-reflecting ‘Yaquina Blue’ (Schreiner 1992), and the tempestuous medium blue ‘Sea Power’ (Keppel 1999). The bearded iris world sports thousands of blue irises throughout the range just described, but spectrum blue bearded irises are inexplicably rare, with only one confirmed report in the Bulletin of the American Iris Society, from Virginia hybridizer Don Spoon, of its turning up in a seedling patch. Almost as rare are the blends with green – mainly turquoise. The SDB ‘Tu Tu Turquoise’ (Black 1989), the most famous turquoise iris, has given risen to other popular dwarfs of similar color, including ‘Miss Meredith’ (Spoon 2002) and ‘Bombay Sapphire’ (Black 2007) .
In bearded irises, the quest for the true blue iris has had many fortunate detours. The flood of blue tall bearded irises from the 1930s through the 1950s stems from ‘Great Lakes’ (Cousins 1938), ‘Blue Rhythm’ (Whiting 1945), and ‘Cahokia’ (Faught 1948), which when crossed with other blues of the day and whites like ‘Snow Flurry’ (Rees 1939) and ‘Purissima’ (Mohr-Mitchell 1927) gave rise to a tide of new introductions from breeders across the country, including the Schreiners of Oregon, who still lead the crowd of blue breeders. The same quest led hybridizer Paul Cook to discover the amoena pattern, incorporate new species (namely Iris reichenbachii and I. imbricata) into the genealogy of modern irises, and create a whole new class of irises – the standard dwarf beardeds. His Dykes Medal-winning ‘Whole Cloth’ (1958) and ‘Emma Cook’ (1957), an iris named for his wife, were the grand culminations of his work. But Cook discovered these pearls en route to a dark blue bearded iris free of influence from violet. The best representative of his work in this line was ‘Allegiance’ (1958), “universally recognized as one of the finest iris Mr. Cook has introduced” (Schreiner’s Iris Lovers Catalogue, 1958).
Excerpt from “A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts”; Kelly D. Norris; Timber Press, Inc., 2012. Pp: 32-35.
Reds, whites and blues, they can be had. And even though you won’t have these lovely Iris in your garden this time of year, we wish you a very Happy 4th of July!
~ The Schreiner Family