Time to Plant a Rainbow

I mentioned recently that the imminent annual rhizome sales by the Monterey Bay Iris Society. If you made notes, you know that the first of two sales happens today, at the Deer Park Center in Aptos. If you didn’t write a reminder to yourself, by the time you read this, you missed it.

Happily, the second sale is a week away, at August 11th at the Aptos Farmer’s Market, located at Cabrillo College. For details, visit http://www.montereybayiris.org.

These sales are very popular: the rhizomes are favorably priced and sell quickly. Their popularity begins with the plants themselves, which most gardeners find both easy to grow and stunningly beautiful. The extraordinary range of colors—and color combinations—that iris blossoms display have earned the plant’s name, which comes from the Greek word for the rainbow.

Iris hybridizers search diligently for new colors, color combinations, patterns and textures, at the same time striving to improve the species in terms of blossom size, number of blossoms, overall form, vigor, resistance to disease and other traits.

The hybridizing process, like that of all flowering plants, seeks to combine the desirable characteristics of two plants. For example, one might have blossoms with very beautiful colors while the other has attractively ruffled blossoms. The hybridizer transfers pollen from the anther of one plant (the pollen parent) to the stigmatic lip of the other plant (the seed parent), plants the resulting seeds and evaluates the progeny. It is up to the plants to produce new plants with a marketable combination of features.

The result of this continuing quest for improvement is an ever-expanding multitude of named varieties and the evolving opportunity for the iris fancier to add to his or her collection. Each year brings new introductions with unique names.

All the new hybrid plants do not combine the desired characteristics as the hybridizer intended. Each trial inevitably yields many new plants that do not improve upon their parents. The hybridizer does not offer such seedling as new named introductions, so we who buy irises for our gardens see only very attractive plants. The “duds” are discarded.

Most hybrid irises are descended from one of just three species in the genus Iris: the German Iris (I. germanica), the Sweet Iris (I. pallida) or the Hungarian Iris (I. variegata), all of which are categorized as “tall bearded” irises. The hybrids of these species number in the thousands—and counting—but the genus includes about 300 species. Gardeners who appreciate the unique form and stunning range of colors of the iris have ample opportunities to look beyond the popular hybrids and explore the long list of naturally occurring species.


Iris Cultivation
The websites of the American Iris Society and the Monterey Bay Iris Society provide detailed information on the cultivation of irises.

Mail Order Sources of Tall Bearded Irises (West Coast Growers)

Aitken’s Salmon Creek Garden, Vancouver, WA

Bay View Gardens
(our friend Joe Ghio)
1210 Bay Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Cadd’s Beehive Iris Garden
(our friends Anna & David Cadd)
Healdsburg, CA
(707) 433–8633; caddiris@comcast.net

Fred Kerr’s Rainbow Acres
North Highlands, CA

His Iris Garden
Merced, CA

Iris Fan, The
Albany, OR

Keith Keppel
P.O. Box 18154, Salem, OR 97305

Lauer’s Flowers
Independence, OR

Napa Country Iris Gardens
Napa, CA

Nola’s Iris Garden
San Jose, CA
(408) 929–6307; info@walking-p-bar.com

Pleasant Valley Iris Farm
Vacaville, CA
(707) 451–3367

Snowpeak Iris and Daylilies
Lebanon, OR

Scheiner’s Iris Gardens
Salem, OR

Superstition Iris Gardens
Cathy’s Valley, CA

Sutton’s Iris Gardens
Porterville, CA

Wildwood Gardens
Molalla, OR

Mail Order Sources of Species Irises
Note: Most growers carry at least a few species irises in addition to the ever-popular hybrid tall bearded irises (called TBDs). The growers listed below place greater emphasis on the many alternatives to the tall bearded irises.

Draycott Gardens (beardless irises)
Upperco, MD

Eartheart Gardens (Siberian & Japanese Irises)
Harpswell, ME

Ensata Gardens (Japanese Irises)
Galesburg, MI

Iris City Gardens (Siberian, Louisiana and other beardless species)
Primm Springs, TN

Iris Haven (Louisiana Iris)

Wildwood Gardens
Molalla, OR


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