Monday, June 2, 2008

New Zealand Louisiana Iris 'Frances Elizabeth'

On Friday night I found another big piece of New Zealand Irises breeding history that I had thought was lost in New Zealand. An advertisement in the Weekend Gardener Magazine caught my eye, titled 'LOUISIANA IRIS, THE IRIS PATCH', Portland Road, RD8, Whangarei, Phone 09 432 2659 so gave them a ring. To my amazement Louisiana Iris 'FRANCES ELIZABETH' is in their Catalogue, I ordered it immediately.(I cannot find another NZ plant nursery that currently catalogue's this plant)
So whats the fuss you might say,Why is it so special?

In 1961 'Frances Elizabeth' received an Honorable Mention from the American Iris Society for a Louisiana. By 1963 it was runner-up for the DeBaillon Award, and two years later 'Frances Elizabeth' won the coveted Mary Swords DeBaillon Award, essentially the highest award given for Louisiana irises. 'Frances Elizabeth' was the first non-American iris to win the DeBaillon. To put it in layman term's this iris won the equivalent of an 'Olympic Gold Medal' in the world of Louisiana Irises and hardly anyone in New Zealand knows about it!!
 Sam Rix, a New Zealander, bred Louisiana Irises as a hobby at Mt Maunganui, New Zealand. He was the proprietor of the Oceanside Hotel, Mt. Maunganui. Sam originally started growing Aril Irises but had limited success due to the position of the gardens so started to grow Louisiana Irises from seed he imported mainly from a grower in Australia. Most irises were grown at the Mount in sand enriched with manure. Sam often used to say "Poised on their graceful stems the blooms remind one of gorgeous tropical butterflies, their carefree charm is vastly appealing and their great diversity make growing and breeding them a constant adventure"

1959 AIS Checklist.
 FRANCES ELIZABETH (Rix, R. 1957). Louisiana 24" L. VRO1.Purplish-bronze self, dark mulberry-purple spine in standard; clear gold signal. Unknown., Melrose 1961.

In the same year 1957, Sam registered Frances Elizabeth he also registered another Louisiana ' BILLIE LOUISE' in 1958 another 'Louisiana 'PETUNIA BUTTERFLY' and in 1978 twenty years later the Louisiana ' LOUISE RIX' was registered which was introduced by Jean Collins so could still be around. I have not been able to find any of the additional irises mentioned above catalogued by any Iris Nurseries in New Zealand to date.

So to all New Zealand Gardener's when you are thinking of planting Louisiana Irises in your garden, and its still a good time to plant them, give 'THE IRIS PATCH' a ring or drop them a line, visit their Web site, and support a nursery who is prepared to preserve and promote a special part of our Iris Heritage.
A huge thanks also to Greg McCullough of Iris City Gardens in America for the use of the outstanding photo which has allowed all New Zealander's to view a special part of Iris history. Top marks to you both.

IRIS CITY GARDENS in Nashville, America have a extensive on-line catalogue, specializing in beardless irises; Louisiana, Japanese and Siberian. And also carry a number of virginica, pseudacorus, versicolor, laevigata and species cross iris. Also a great collection of historic,and newer bearded irises.'Frances Elizabeth' also available!!

What a great way to start the month of June


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