Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Zealand Tall Bearded Iris "FINEST HOUR"

I first published information about the heirloom iris 'Finest Hour' on New Years day 2010.Recently I had mentioned in the 'Polar Cap' feature a reference that Carlos Ayento of Brighton Park Irises had sent me the 'Finest Hour' photo to share with you all.
To be honest the artist enhanced drawing displayed in both the 'Stevens' and 'Schreiners' catalogues and featured below is a wee bit short of the mark when it comes to an accurate portrayal of the Iris and at best could be defined as only helpful for ID purposes. It was certainly enhanced by the artist to show the iris in the best possible light.
In her book ‘Iris Culture and Hybridizing For Everyone’ Wilma Vallette on page 313 noted the following, “Red Amoena’s have already appeared as in 1958 Mrs Stevens’ FINEST HOUR was introduced, from ((Naranja x Redmayne) x (Lagos x (Gudrun x (Lady Morvyth x Rangatira))) X (Russet Mantle x Three Sisters).  It is a typical variegata, noisy haft markings and all, only on a white ground, rather than yellow, and very contrasty. In America, Chet Tompkins bloomed #55-185 in 1954, a red and white amoena in the 3rd generation from Colour Carnival and Three Cheers. His description sounds very outstanding-large, beautifully formed, with snowy standards, smooth hafted spectrum red falls, and a fiery red beard. Unfortunately when he moved to Oregon a year or so later, somebody stole the whole plant leaving him only one tiny rhizome from which to build up stock. A sister, #55-185A is similar, but with pink standards, and has already been crossed with Finest Hour, in an effort to combine the two lines, and something quite promising may be expected to appear. It has been suggested that Rumba Rose and Three Sisters, which both have reddish falls, might be of value in a program for red amoena’s, used with the yellow ones, and is the latter is a grandparent of Finest Hour”.
 Writing in his 1962 'Tell's Iris Garden" catalog, Tell Muhlestein stated that the bloom was smallish and noted that Frank Hutchings apparently selfed 'Finest Hour' and got a much improved form.
To date I can not find any registration of any of the above mentioned crosses or seedlings.

  Jean Stevens in her catalogue description of this iris mentions that Finest Hour is a very early bloomer so I have saved the publication of the photo and additional information until close to the start of the New Zealand bloom season, and maybe New Zealanders interested in Historic Irises will be on the look out for another amazing Jean Stevens Iris. If you see this iris growing in New Zealand please do not hesitate to contact me.

Stevens Bros. Catalogue 1958-59
Over the years we have raised and introduced many outstanding Irises, but our speciality has been in the breeding of different Amoenas and many of these are grown widely throughout the world. It has been our pride that we introduced the first Yellow amoena "Pinnacle" ; the first white and pastel lavender, "Polar Cap", the first white and Pastel Blue,"Alpine Meadow". We feel very happy therefore to introduce another "first",a red and white amoena, Finest Hour as a swan song to this our last year in commercial iris growing. Until Finest Hour opened its first blossom on a seedling plant an iris with clean white standards and rich plum red falls had flowered only in the imagination of breeders.The firmly closed standards of this new iris are snowy white except down towards the hafts where they are faintly flushed with lemon chartreuse. The falls are rounded and the glowing colour is rich and even. The branching is excellent, and the whole plant is a vigorous grower and an exceptionally fast increaser. Very early flowering, it is one of the first varieties to open but remains in flower over a long season. 3 ½ ft. 50/-

Schreiners Iris Lovers Catalog 1958
FINEST HOUR (Stevens 1958) E. 38"
For years, hybridizers have dreamed of producing a red and white amoena but with scant hope of success since nature produces amoena's only in the violet and white form. However, Mrs. Stevens of New Zealand, whose magic touch produced the first yellow and white amoena's, has now startled the Iris world with the first red and white amoena. FINEST HOUR possess snow white standards faintly brushed lemon-chartreuse at the base of the midribs, together with plum-red falls of sharply flaring form. A nicely branched Iris that will be very distingue in the garden clump and which will, of course, be of unique interest to hybridizers. $20.00

Waterson's Iris Gardens Wanganui 1960-1961
Another "different" amoena of Mrs Stevens raising - this time a striking red and white. The firmly closed standards of this iris are snowy white execpt down towards the hafts, where they are faintly flushed with lemon chartreuse.The falls are rounded and the glowing plum-red colour is rich and even. The branching is excellent and the whole plant is a vigorous grower and an exceptionally fast increaser. Very early flowering, it is one of the first to open but remains in flower over a long season. 3½ ft.  35/-

Courtesy  Schreiners Catalogue 1958

New Zealand Iris Hybridiser's Cumulative Check List
FINEST HOUR  Mrs J. Stevens, Reg., 1955.   Sdlg. 1/C11. TB, 36″, EM, re, W4.   S. white; F. deep even red; some haft venations. (Naranja x Redmayne) x (Lagos x (Gudrun x (Lady Morvyth x Rangatira))) X (Russet Mantle x Three Sisters). Schreiners 1958, 'Novelties' Stevens Bros 1958-59  H.M. 1961 A.I.S.

Once again I would like to give a large hat tip to Carlos Ayento, the Web-master of the brilliant Web Site “Brighton Park Iris”, and is also the Historical Iris Preservation Society, Databank Chair.

Photo credit and copyright Brighton Park Iris.


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