* 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.
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, ‘Ruth’s Love’, 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.
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 ‘Ruth’s Love’ and its surprising 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 for many years, iris hybridizers didn’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.
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)
- My Friend Jonathan (from Gerie, a fellow iris collector and granddaughter of an iris hybridizer, Bernice Miller)
- Bernice’s Legacy (2 different rhizomes/ one from Green Scene & one rhizome from Gerie)
And my No Id irises /or not 100% sure of Id, that I recently got
- a Yellow No Identity that might be Deborah Dances
a No Id Red Speckled Plicata that looks like cayenne capers, Spiked Punch, pepper blend, or Etched Burgundy
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.