Thursday, July 9, 2009

Just who was New Zealand's Pioneer Iris Breeder?

"Inquiry is fatal to certainty" Will Durant

Just who was New Zealand's inaugural pioneer Iris Breeder??
'Henry Budden, Nelson, 1842-1902' would have to be the front runner based on validated research to date, but I must qualify my answer by stating that at the present time there can be no definitive answer, its just that New Zealand's Early Iris breeding history is becoming a moving landscape.
From information to date it's known that he raised, selected and introduced into commerce at least two Japanese Irises MINNIE and CHARLES SAYWELL before 1887.

Notes referring to plates 27.,28. IRIS KAEMPFERI. This is of a comparatively recent introduction, and is perhaps the most stately and beautiful of the genera. Both single and duplex are equally grand; they have been cultivated here for some time and have seeded, from which have been raised several seedlings that have been pronounced by competent judges in other parts of the colony to compare very favourably with any of the imported varieties, being in each case very distinct. Of Nelson varieties Charles Saywell is a single densely reticulated with lavender. Nelson Weekly News (1886-87)

plate 27; Charles Saywell

The two illustrations displayed are from the Book 'Bulbous flowers: A colonial nurseryman's catalogue', by H Budden and are courtesy of the Oxford University Press, Wellington. The book is a reproduction of 40 small paintings, with the artist's comments, which were originally privately printed in one volume in the 1880s. Included in the 1979 edition, is an Introduction from his great-granddaughter Janice Kennedy, the Preface and Notes on the illustrations are by Barbara Mathews.

TOWN EDITION Nelson Evening Mail. SATURDAY, JANUARY 26, 1889

Mr H. Budden, the well known seeds man of Bridge Street, who has opened a branch business in Cuba street, Wellington, has favoured us with an inspection of an illustrated catalogue of a number of the bulbous flowers he grows at his nursery at Riwaka. The word " catalogue" certainly conveys very inadequately the exceedingly artistic manner in which it has been produced. The volume is handsomely bound in leather, and contains rather more than one hundred pages, one half of which are devoted to letter press, giving the botanical names of the bulbs, their habitat, together with a short description of each flower and the nature of the soil to which it is best adapted. The chief charm, however, of the volume is comprised in the pages which alternate with the descriptive matter every other leaf in the book being " the like presentment" of different bulbous flowers. The varieties depicted are very numerous, and each picture presents a flower totally distinct in form and colour to the one preceding it. The blossoms have been hand painted from nature by Mr Budden, some being drawn to full size, the remainder, on account of their dimensions, being reduced to half size. The colours of the flowers and their leaves have been faithfully reproduced, and these " Bulbous Flowers, " by which title the work is known, cannot fail to prove a valuable guide to amateur gardeners in their selection, The catalogue has been prepared by Mr Budden, on whom it reflects infinite credit, for his branch establishment in Wellington.

Nelson Evening Mail, 1 December 1898, Page 2, HORTICULTURAL SHOW , MOTUEKA
From Budden and Son came a large collection of the new strain of Chinese peony. These are exceedingly attractive, fine in form, and brilliant in colour; also new double Chinese peonies, fine in colour and size. The very large collection of German iris (from the same firm), which are so quaint in colour and form, drew great attention.

plate 28; Minnie

The AIS 1929 Checklist clearly states in the Introduction 'In 1922 and 1923 the American Iris Society published abbreviated check lists (Bulletins 4 and 8) of Irises considered to be in commerce but omitting, for reasons of expense of printing, several thousand older Irises that were believed to be obsolete. Research, however, has been continued and this present work attempts to publish all that is know about Iris names that have appeared in gardening literature during the last hundred or more years. The officers have felt that this information which had been compiled by much hard work was of great value for students and ought to be placed in permanent and available form.'
It should also be noted that prior to 1920 a Iris registry did not exist so Irises bred prior to that date could not be registered by the hybridiser. Checklists from 1929-1949 were titled AIS Alphabetical Iris Check List and it was not until the 1959 Check List did the title change to Iris Check List of Registered Cultivar Names, the change in title was not retrospective and is decade specific.
Both of these Japanese Irises more than met all of the criteria set by the AIS for inclusion in the 1929 and 1939 checklists.
1.They were grown from seed produced on the property in New Zealand and selected by the Originator
2.They were named and catalogued which included the very fine watercolours of these varieties
3. They were available for sale (Introduced)
4. They were displayed at various Horticultural show's and discussed favourably by competent judges.
5.They both come with proven provenance.
All of this would lead one to kindly conclude that the omission of these two cultivars was only because they were not known about, but this should not be a reason to ignore this credible and important part of New Zealand Iris breeding history, and is certainly not a reason to omit these Irises from any Check-list. Readers also need to take on board that there is no proof of these irises been obsolete and their current status could be as labeled a NOID.
I am sure there will be interest from the very progressive Japanese Iris Society and its cumulative Check List editor concerning these irises.
As historical research is an continuum I will post more on the subject of Henry Budden, when more information comes to hand that can be confirmed. T.J.

As always clicking on the above image will take you to the larger, higher resolution version.

Reproduction in whole or in part of this post, its opinions or its images without the expressed written permission of Terry Johnson is strictly prohibited.
Image credit and copyright Oxford University Press, Wellington. ©.  


  1. Hi Tatyana
    History can be made interesting, now all I have to do is find the Irises mentioned. So nice to hear from you again


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