where/what did your passion for Irises, specifically Reticulatas, develop?
develop as opposites: gardening is an opposite to sitting at a desk all
day. It gives me a chance to be outside,
move around, and enjoy nice weather.
It's particularly exciting to see new things come into bloom. In the case of hybrids, you have no clear
idea of what you'll get until it pops into bloom ...and there have been a number
of wonderful surprises in recent years.
At the same time, it's sad to loose things. That's a reality when you push the edge --
Mother Nature's natural selection.
striving for something new, in what I grow, in my knowledge about various
facets, etc. Gardening can be quite
interesting technically -- from genetics, to understanding what makes the
colours we see, through to how to market plants successfully. Today I probably grow well over 250,000
bulbs; not all of which are bloom-size of course.
Back in May of
1979, while on vacation in Switzerland, I saw an amazing rainbow of bearded
Irises. I had never realized
such a range of colours were available.
That prompted me to find out about the Canadian Iris Society, etc.,
where I quickly learned there and many different types of Iris -- from ones
that come from desert-like conditions in Turkey and Israel; to water loving
Japanese; to bulbous Dutch Iris; through to our North American natives, such as
Iris versicolor which you'll find in cottage
country. I grow a whole range of Iris,
along with various hardy bulbs from Crocus to Trilliums, but my fascination is
with Reticulata Iris, as well as Juno Iris.
What sets my
hybridizing efforts apart from those of everyone else? If I had just worked with what was at hand
all I would have is typical blues and purples.
Instead I strived to get additional genetic
material in from the wild. At the same
time I did a lot of work with a diploid form of the lemon-yellow Iris danfordiae which I collected in
Turkey. The risk there was I might
simply end up with muddy yellow-blue messes.
I was lucky. There are several
high level genetic switches that allow the blue anthocyans and yellow carotenes to be more carefully controlled.
To put my
efforts into perspective: I make over 1000 crosses every year. About 45% work, yielding 10,000 or more
seeds. The seeds take 6 days to plant by
hand, with rows 31/2cm apart and individual seeds separated by roughly 1 cm. A net of 20% will form bloom sized bulbs 5
years later. Although 5 years is a long
time, in no time you have something new every year.
bulbs triple in total number. About 2
years after first blooming that year's planting needs to lifted and replanted,
so that the bulbs will continue to do their best overall. Basically the 20% Net germination allows the
planting to be put back where it was, completely refilling the roughly 70
square feet. Ideally that space should
be doubled the following year, then doubled the year after. As you can see the space requirement begins
to grow substantially, as does the replanting effort.
I now have 4
Dutch bulb growers evaluating my hybrids.
This is a process that takes at least 3 years. What I have done this year is re-doubled my
efforts to see that each of the growers has several things I believe would be
successful commercially. I am using the
John Nash approach (movie: A Beautiful Mind).
By working together with several growers we can be more successful than
if I was to work with just one grower exclusively. Each is being given varieties different from
the others, and which generally speaking, don't overlap with what the others
have. It will be up to each grower to
decide which ones they believe will sell well.
Then they'll need to put their best foot forward and "make it
This year I have
started working with a lab in Holland.
They are initially making small increases of 9 of my hybrids (100 to 250
of each). This will take about a
year. The plan is once a grower commits
to introducing a particular clone we will quickly build up a large number of
bulbs. The exact number will depend on
how successful he believes the clone will be, as well as how much money he's
willing to invest.
signing my first commercialization agreement in 2003
(next year), with initial introduction of the bulbs in 2005 or 2006.
2. When did you
begin crossing Irises? And perhaps a brief outline of how that process works
hybridizing for more than 20 years.
Early on I tried my hand at working with Daffodils and Bearded Iris, but
there are a lot of other people working with them. Eventually I settled in on working with
Reticulata Iris, and Juno Iris. For one
thing Reticulata Irises are practically the first plants to bloom each year. Only Galanthus (Snowdrops) are earlier. So right as the snow is melting the Retics
are starting to open (typically the last week of March). They last for just over 3 weeks. Soon after the Junos bloom; again lasting 3
3. What are some
highlights/milestones of your career with Irises?
Iris danfordiae in the Turkey in 1985
(as well as a related unnamed species)
my Iris sophenensis x Iris danfordiae hybrids were fertile in 1994
94-HW-1 for the first time in 1999.
milestone will be signing a commercial exploitation agreement with a Dutch Bulb
Grower -- which shouldn't be too far off.
several less ones:
William van Eeden in 1986, prior to my second trip to Turkey
Mathew's proposal to have crosses between Iris danfordiae and sophenensis known
as "x mcmurtriei". The
"x" refers to hybrid
my Iris danfordiae x Iris Çat hybrids
d) Meeting Dr.
Rodionenko in 1995, at a species Iris convention where I spoke about Juno
e) First Test
Agreement with a Dutch bulb grower signed in 1997
f) Access to a
lab for cloning my hybrids
4. What is your
most proud accomplishment in relation to your Irises?
Opening up a
whole new world for Reticulata Irises.
That is indeed what I have done, and it is reflected in the title of my
up coming article for the March 2003 Alpine Garden Society Bulletin:
'Reticulata Irises: A Whole New World'
5. How do Irises
play a role in your daily life?
This is hobby
gone overboard. I thought hobbies were
something you did to relax. How's planting
bulbs and seeds at 1AM by floodlight sound; when it's only 5°C out? There's virtually not a day that goes by
without me doing something connected with this hobby.
6. Have you ever
had a chance to cross your work (IMO) life with your passion for irises? (That
may sound strange, but if there was a time it'd be a great hook)
There are perhaps two tie-ins. One is around my having a web site and the
ties to my being a business analyst which these days deals a lot with the
web. And the second is that I'm using
the Interactive Barchart to evaluate various timing
issues around cloning bulbs in the lab.
7. What are your long-term goals in terms of
To develop beautiful new colours
that were not possible before, which at the same time, do well in your and my
garden for years and years. In this case
it's a lot like piloting a huge cargo ship.
It's 5 years later that I get to see the results of something I did this
year. Fortunately I've been lucky, but
it's also a matter of understanding what's happening in order to know which
direction to steer.
8. Any anecdotes/memories?
Each one of the
milestones has a story behind it...
The future is
very bright indeed! Potentially half of
the 80,000 seeds I've hybridized to-date will bloom within the next 5
years. Imagine what might be possible,
given what I've achieved so far.
An article about
my work to-date will appear in the March 2003 Alpine Garden Society
Bulletin. For more information go to www.Reticulatas.com
I have had articles published in the following
New Zealand Iris
Group of North America (SIGNA)