by Tom Waters An oxymoron is a phrase whose parts seem to contradict each other, like jumbo shrimp. In the iris world, we have the rather perplexing term miniature tall bearded. How can an iris be both tall and miniature? Of course the word “miniature” here must be taken…
A blast from the past… It’s springtime 1986. Schreiner’s Iris Gardens’ Iris Lover’s Catalog has a new seedling to announce.
“A knockout! Dusky Challenger has caught the eye of many garden visitors. We have been frequently asked when Seedling #1953-AA would be ready for introduction. And with good reason. This silky rich purple gem combines an absolutely gigantic flower with impeccable ruffled form on a beautifully branched stem opening four blooms as once. See for yourself what has caused this commotion in our photograph… This wonder raises the standards for dark Iris to a new level. Destined to challenge all comers and bound for glory. Order early. AIS Highly Commended Award, 1984.”
Thus was Dusky Challenger introduced to the Iris world in 1986 in our 61st Iris Lovers Catalog. Since that time it has gone on to prove itself a champion, winning the Dykes Medal in 1992.
Like a dark knight rising from an obscure past to the heights of glory, Dusky Challenger continues to glorify gardens far and wide (despite its unknown parentage — a little mishap that occurs from time to time in the Iris world). Bernard (Gus) Schreiner would have made the initial hybrid cross in the early 80’s and was duly impressed in subsequent bloom seasons with the seedling’s blossoms. Gus likely consulted with his brother Robert and the two agreed it would be a good introduction for the 1986 season. Gus’ son, Ray Schreiner, impressed with the rich color and fantastic stature of the seedling, christened it Dusky Challenger. Our very knowledgeable colleague from down the road, Mr. Keith Keppel, has theorized that Titan’s Glory must certainly be in the parentage.
Dusky Challenger has appeared on the American Iris Society’s (AIS) annual popularity poll numerous times, including landing first place more than a dozen years. Iris judges have reported to us that Dusky Challenger and Silverado (Schreiner, 1987) are two Iris that judges consider to be “perfect”. The popularity Dusky Challenger has enjoyed is a clear indication of its vigor and success in gardens in all regions of the United States. Dawn Mumford, contributor to the AIS blog “World of Irises”, included Dusky Challenger in her “super achiever” list. She writes, “My husband and I like to recognize those irises that can always be counted on to bloom well, resist disease, provide beautiful blossoms, make big clumps…” Enjoy the fun read in her April 25, 2016 post on the AIS World of Iris blog.
In a May 21st interview with Garden Time TV host William McClenathan, Steve Schreiner compared Dusky Challenger with another high-achiever from eight decades prior, The Red Douglas (introduced by J. Sass in 1934). See in the photo here the contrast of the two (Dusky Challenger on the left), representing the progress made in Iris hybridizing over 80+ years. As the photo illustrates, the flowers are large, with excellent substance. The color is a deep dark purple. The form is the epitome of excellence, with standards shaped ideally, not open too much or closed too much. The falls are equally admirable in form, with slight ruffling, wide hafts. And no sign of fading even in the warm spring weather we experienced this year. The plant is a healthy one, the stalks are thick, and again, it grows well for everyone as far as we know. One online review exclaims, “I would not want to have a garden without it!” (found on Dave’s Garden).
So, Happy Birthday Dusky Challenger! May you continue to amaze and delight garden visitors for many a decade more.
So, you’re not a world-class gymnast, or the world’s fastest sprinter, or even a sun-tanned beach volleyball player,but still you might be dreaming of an “Afternoon in Rio”, or of someday joining the Summer Olympics….We all have dreams, don’t we? Well, we’re excited for the summer games even still. Opening August 5th in Rio de Janeiro, the games inspire us all the world over. And right here in Oregon (home of several Olympic athletes, incidentally), we’re inspired to have some fun with Iris names while we await the lighting of the cauldron.
Top of the list “Summer Olympics“: Aptly named for its bright golden color that often will come around in the summer or late fall in addition to the spring bloom, as it is a reblooming Iris.
One for all of you aspirational types, here’s to “Dreaming of Rio“. And why not? If athletes can dream big, why not the rest of arm-chair contenders?
And for all the athletes whose dreams have come true, spending the “Afternoon in Rio“, we send our joyous congratulations! Dream big, win big, and go for the gold!
The rest of us can enjoy the games, in the afternoon, on the patio, gazing at our summer gardens.
“..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
Easy to plant, easy to care for, easy to enjoy! That is the Iris. And such variety too! Variety of size, variety of bloom season, variety of color, variety of style. Isn’t success in life all about the choices we make? That simple maxim can apply to the realm of the flower garden too. The Iris offer such a host of choices, one is surely to find just the right color, or size, etc. Let’s talk about the breadth of bloom time, for example. The Miniature Dwarf Iris and the Standard Dwarf Iris are among the very first Iris to bloom. Weather depending, of course, they open up their diminutive blossoms, just 5 to 15 inches in height, approximately mid-March to early April (in most temperate zones), heralding the launch of another promising Iris season.
Weep not for the fading Dwarf Iris! For the Intermediate, Median, or Border Iris are opening on the garden scene. A bit taller than the tallest Dwarf, yet shorter than the shortest Tall Bearded Iris, they offer brilliant bloom to span the gap between March and May, a beautiful complement to the Cherry blossoms! The earliest blooming Tall Bearded Iris will overlap with the later-blooming Intermediate Iris, to create a seamless floral transition of color. Sprinkle in several mid-season and late-season Tall Bearded Iris around your garden, and the color show continues well into June.
Let’s have a few more words about these Dwarf Iris, though. The Hungarian language has a saying, “The pepper corn is small, but mighty.” (Kicsi a bors, de erős.) The same can be said about these Iris of smaller stature. They are no less hardy than their taller, more robust cousins. Dwarf Iris, both Miniature and Standard types, propagate with strength and, once in bloom, stand up to the early spring frosts. There are several wonderful resources available which provide great detail on the origins of these hybrids (quite fascinating, really). The Dwarf Iris Society is a good place to start for further links and leads on exploring the subject. Several Iris breeders today have introduced spectacular Bearded Iris cultivars in miniature.
A few moments spent even casually mapping out the succession of Iris blooms in your garden will yield months of rainbow color from your ankles to above your hips! Dwarf, Intermediate, Tall Bearded, as well as Beardless Iris, are all planted in the summer months. Below is a simple chart, indicating approximate bloom times for Iris ranging from the Miniature Dwarf to the Tall Bearded, and including the Beardless Iris such as Siberian and Louisiana. Bloom time is greatly dependent on weather conditions and gardening practices, however. For example, Reblooming Iris require regular fertilization and dividing.
Min. Dwf. & Std. Dwf.
(5″ to 15″; 5cm to 28cm)
Intermediates & Border
(16″ to 27″; 40cm to 68cm)
(28″ to 48″;70cm to 122cm)
Tall Bearded & Beardless
Reblooming Bearded Iris of all sizes
As Barbara Whitehouse and Bee Warburton write in their chapter entitled “Miniature Dwarf Beardeds”, in The World of Irises, (The American Iris Society, 1986) “…each iris lover should grow at least one or two clumps of them …. However, they are so charming that one or two clumps may ultimately become a whole bed or border.” (pg 145)….
If you are one who can hardly wait for the year’s Iris season to start, you have merely to plant some Dwarf Bearded Iris this summer. You will have Iris blooming with the first inkling of spring warmth. Even if you consider yourself simply a fan, a dabbler, a curious gardening newbie to the world of flowers, give the Dwarf Iris a try!
Do you grow Dwarf Iris? Share your comments below!
Happy Anniversary to the World of Irises blog! We very much enjoy the informative and creative pieces made available to the world via this blog. Looking forward to many more years of reading!
Speaking of inspiration and passion and all things Iris, read Vanessa Spady’s passionate tale of her gradual and consuming love affair with THE flower of Inspiration — the Iris.
Thank you, Vanessa, for sharing this with us!