Sunday, November 18, 2012

Siberian Iris - my garden of the 1990s

I have grown Siberian Iris for decades, in the 90’s I really expanded my space for growing and hybridizing. In 2000 my garden collection was on tour for a Siberian and beardless species convention conducted by AIS Region 8.  The garden included guest plants from hybridizers around the country.

The 80’s and 90’s saw the maturation of flaring and flat rounded forms of Siberian flowers.  The process begun with White Swirl in 1957, flatten standards and flaring falls which fully close to a complete circle had reached fruition. The traditional butterfly forms with pendant or arched falls provide color from a distance. The modern flattened form looks best upon approach, looking down at the plant. All forms of flowers are acceptable to enthusiasts.

More tetraploid cultivars were introduced inspired by the success of Jeweled Crown (Hollingsworth ’85) which was the most popular Siberian of this time. It was soon to be superseded by another Hollingworth tetraploid Strawberry Fair.

Tetraploidy is induced by treating seed with colchicine or other mutagens; the surviving plantlets will have twice the chromosome count. Plants will have heavy substance, larger parts, robust growth and vibrant color. 

Jeweled Crown
I had bought Jeweled Crown in its year of introduction; in ‘87 it bloomed for the first time. The bud spathes are crimson and rise through the foliage as a band of color to burst into large ruffled crimson velveteen flowers. The signal is large and golden; all parts are of heavy substance. By the late ‘90s I had large clumps. The plant provides an impressive spring display, an excellent accent plant.

Sometimes Jeweled Crown blooms inside the foliage with warm spring temperatures. Another fault with this cultivar and nearly all tetraploids is the dense substance rips and tears in heavy weather. This is not the case with butterfly forms and diploids (normal 28 chromosome count) which are noted for their ability to hold themselves together in the worst spring weather. This ability is one of the many excellent traits of Siberian Iris as landscape perennials.
Harpswell Velvet

In contrast, Harpswell Velvet, another tetraploid, is dark blue with wire rim around the falls, an excellent example of form with arched falls and upright standards.

Ships Are Sailing
Ships Are Sailing is a remontant blooming Siberian Iris. Remontant bloom is a form of rebloom, rather than blooming in another season like some bearded iris, Ships Are Sailing blooms again, often weeks after finishing its first bloom season. This is a much sought after quality. Extending the bloom season is highly desirable to all perennial plant lovers. Cool soil temperatures appear to trigger this trait, induced by heavy mulch or cool weather and rains. I had a friend who had a daughter of this cultivar which had very late, late July bloom season. Unfortunately this hybrid appears to be lost.
Countess Cathleen
Ships Are Sailing won the Morgan-Wood Award in 2007, this high award is well deserved. With bi-tone blue ruffled flowers it is a heavy mid-season bloomer. It grows to three feet; it amplifies the landscape paired with Sea of Dreams and Countess Cathleen. This complementary group can act as a foundation for a spring garden event.
Sea of Dreams
 Another cultivar which can be combined in this group is Neat Trick, dark blue with white mottling throughout the standards and falls. Neat Trick is very popular, a breakthrough which unfortunately has not led to more mottled cultivars.
Neat Trick
Some connoisseurs do not appreciate multi-petaled varieties, but all types of forms are allowable. Concern surrounds the display of petals in a haphazard versus symmetrical display. Shebang hybridized by Japanese Iris growers Bauer and Coble makes a great spectacle.
Jamaican Velvet
A couple of intros in the ‘80s, Jamaican Velvet and Liberty Hills formed large clumps to be clustered in threes and fives throughout perennial beds. Liberty Hills is French Blue with triangular falls. Magenta colored Jamaican Velvet has blue accents.
Liberty Hills

Uber den Wolken is light blue, I have used this cultivar repeatedly in hybridizing, resulting in a few small flowered light blues with fabulous modern form.
Uber Den Wolken
All these cultivars are now common in the market through specialty iris growers.  I encourage gardeners to use Siberian Iris in their perennial beds. Comment to me how you use them in landscapes. I will compile my ideas into further blog postings. I also encourage readers to hybridize Siberian Iris, I plan further postings around this topic.

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