Amain Yellow Iris in the mid ground area of the photo growing in my front yard. This photo was taken in early Spring.
* Iris Virus = A burning desire to learn everything there is about growing and caring for iris plants. A person with an iris virus reads tons of iris publications and surfs all of the known iris society web sites. The person with the virus may have just started growing irises, be an avid collector, or be an established grower/ hybridizer of irises.
For me, it all started back in 1995, when a next door neighbor gave me two rhizomes of an old fashion iris, named Alcazar, as a house warming gift. Alcazar is a pretty purple and lavender bearded iris with a distinctive frangrance, of all things, root beer!? What a cool flower! When we moved from our little duplex to Hanbury House, out of the few plants I made sure bring with me were some rhizomes of Alcazar Iris, and I have since shared it with most of my gardening friends.
My purple Irises that started my iris obsession, almost two decades ago.
In 2002, while visiting family in the central valley, I attended a Fresno Master Gardeners fundraiser and bought a few different varieties of irises, mainly because that first variety, Alcazar, was so easy for me to grow and it smelled awesome. A red iris I bought, only sulked and didn’t survive the second year in the ground and never flowered for me, but the other iris, a pretty yellow and white one, Amain, took off like crazy. For the first few years, I thought there was something the matter with it or I was doing something wrong in the care because it bloomed at all sorts of weird times of year, even at Christmas! I was even a little worried it is was a sign of global warming. I later found out it was doing exactly what it was bred to do because it was a special type of bearded iris called a rebloomer or remondant.
A Pretty lilac pink irises, one of the Spring only bloomers in my yard.
Since then, I have collected many other irises from Armstong Nursery, Long Beach City College, the Green Scene, and traded with other local gardeners. I have about ten varieties of beautiful irises that bloom only in the spring, but due to Amain and its sporadic bloom times, I prefer to look for varieties reported to be rebloomers in Southern California. It is hard finding good reblooming varieties that grow well on the coast, especially since most bearded iris are listed as growing only to zone 8b or sometimes zone 9. Reblooming isn’t as dependable in other parts of the country, even when an iris is bred to rebloom, so iris hybridizers don’t usually breed for the remondant trait.
The Big Box Garden Centers don’t usually carry a lot of ideal bulbs for our mild climate, let alone reblooming bearded irises. Instead, each Spring, I check a local iris club’s booth, the O.C. Iris Society, for rhizomes they are selling at the Green Scene at the Fullerton Arboreteum. However, since my passion for edible gardening is far stronger than my interest in irises, I usually don’t make it to the O.C. Iris Society’s booth until after it is picked over. After spending a half hour or more checking out what interesting new things the California Rare Fruit Growers Booth has, it is usually very crowded at the O.C. Iris booth. But last year I did buy manage find a couple of the last tiny rebloomer rhizomes they had for sale. I am almost embarrassed how small they were and that I actually paid $7 each for rhizomes less than two inches long. One was Bernice’s Legacy, which has grown nicely and now has four fans, and other was Champagne Elegance. Later in the morning, I lucked out when I stopped by Rio Hondo Horticulture Department’s booth and found a 5 gallon size nursery can of Victoria Falls reblooming Iris. Even better, it was only $6.
A bluish purple bearded iris from LBCC Horticulture Department Spring Sale
The reason I say I have the iris virus is because, after a disappointing spring search for rebloomers, this past September, I made sure to be in to the local nurseries as soon as the got their iris bulbs in. On top of that, I went shopping with my wish list in hand, composed exclusively of rebloomers reported to grow in well in zone 9 and/or zone 10. I scored at two local nurseries, and Lowes, of all places. Maybe retailers have realized their are gardeners interested in rebloomers. Here are my latest acquisitions:
- Pagan’s Dance (found H & H nursery, grower is VanBloem )
- Hemstiched (found H & H nursery, grower is VanBloem )
- Jurassic Park (found at Lowes!)
- Ziggy (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
- Immortality (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
- Orange Harvest (found H & H nursery, grower is VanBloem )
- Buckwheat (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
- Cloud Ballet (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
- Best Bet (found H & H nursery, grower is VanBloem )
- Rosalie Figge (found at Armstrong Garden Center)
I have read horror stories of buying bulbs on ebay, and the irises turning out to be totally the wrong varieties or even scams. But I did recently take a chance and bought a few rhizomes there from a seller in Alabama. Unlike some of the other iris sellers on ebay, she used pictures from her own garden. After purchasing the irises, through many emails back and forth, I learned Gerie, the seller, is the granddaughter of Bernice Miller, a well known and early reblooming iris hybridizer. She told me when her grandmother passed away, her aunt inherited the Garden of the Enchanted Rainbow property, but Gerie was able to dig up and transplant a dozen different clumps of iris from the garden. Ten years later, those irises were the source for the reblooming iris rhizomes she sold on ebay. These days, she is recollecting as many of the official named varieties of iris her grandmother introduced as she can find. So far she has collected 40 of about the 60 she is aware of. I sent her the names of a few SoCal growers that I was aware of that sell some of her grandmother’s varieties. As a thank you, she sent me a rhizome of Bernice’s Legacy, so now I have two of those to compare.
A NOID red reblooming bearded iris that is most likely My Friend Jonathan.
Although she is pretty sure of the identities of two of the three varieties she sold me, she doesn’t advertise them by name just in case she is wrong. The one she refers to as “a Red Rosy Iris” she says looks and blooms along with her named variety, “My Friend Jonathan,” that she purchased a few years ago from another iris grower for comparison, and the yellow she refers to as “a Lemon Yellow Iris” is most likely “Deborah Dances,” for the same reason.
The flowers on the NO ID yellow iris look just like Deborah Dances, another rebloomer that will hopefully do well in zone 10
Gerie does not think the third variety she sold me was one of Bernice’s introductions, and it was probably used for parent stock for breeding. It doesn’t matter to me, I just wanted some dependable beautiful reblooming irises for my garden.
A No Id bearded reblooming iris that I recently purchased. Looks like Etched Burgundy.
She thinks the third variety, pictured above, might be an older reblooming variety from 1970, “Etched Burgundy.” I am looking forward to seeing how these turn out, and I’ll report back in the spring and if they are blooming. By the way, the rhizomes she sent me were gigantic and super fresh!
In the Spring I plan to visit a couple of the Southern California growers and see what they have available that I can’t live without. Despite that long list of bearded iris that I have already acquired, I still have more on my wish list, including:
- Frequent Flyer (white)
- Witch of Endor (red)
- Feedback (violet blue)
- Clarence (violet blue and white bi-color)
- Blatant (yellow burgundy bi-color)
- Earl of Essex (white and purple plicata)
- Peggy Sue (shorter pink and fragrant)
If you are like me and love irises, here a few local sources worth checking out: Bonnies Irises, via Matilija Nursery in Moorpark, Iris Howse and Garden in Bonita, and Stanton Irises in Valley Center. Sutton’s Irises used to be in Porterville, Ca, but they recently moved to Idaho.
For more information on Iris in general, visit the American Iris Society and for info specifically on reblooming iris, visit the Reblooming Iris Society
© 2013, Hanbury House.
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