What To Look For in a Tall Bearded Iris

What To Look For in a Tall Bearded Iris (Hugh Stout)

   Being in the iris selling business I see that many people purchase iris based purely on their personal preferences such as favorite color, size, etc. And that’s as it should be right? I’d guess 90% of our customers are not members of any iris society so they have no idea what AIS judges consider assets and defects. After all, our business is based primarily on a flower photo either on-line or in a catalog. People don’t usually see clumps or in garden shots. Yet, the flower itself counts only 25 points out of 100 in judging!

    It falls on AIS judges to award iris based on their overall performance, which means 35 points dedicated to the stalks, 30 points to the complete plant and 10 for distinctiveness. It means AIS judges need to purchase newer iris and or visit gardens often enough to evaluate the new varieties. It’s up to hybridizers to strive for the AIS guidelines and offer only improved iris. It’s up to sellers and iris societies to educate the public on what characteristics make up a “perfect” tall bearded iris. And too, to educate more about the AIS awards. When it comes to someone contemplating buying say, a pink iris. They may narrow it down to a plain $6 pink iris that’s never even won an HM (honorable mention) versus another pink that won a Wister Medal. If they are aware of the awards, it would be a no brainer! Iris judges cover the whole country so you know an award winner must have performed well in more than just one location. Plus the price would not be that different since it takes an iris years to even be eligible for a Wister and prices are basically set based on age and availability. I’m not going to go into the whole awards process here as I believe this audience has a good idea of it.

   Of course, sometimes the seller and the hybridizer can clash as to what sells. (I personally have that wrestling match with myself often!) Perry Dyer (a true judge’s judge!) once insisted I introduce a very nice white iris which I was going to toss simply because I new another white iris would not sell. ‘Petticoat Junction’ (Stout 17) was introduced, even won an HM, but never was much of a seller. Fact is I could sell more of an iris of average form or substance if they are colorful, or space age or another novelty then I could a perfect white iris. Which is one reason I think distinctiveness should count for more than 10 points in the scoring system. Otherwise, mediocrity can get rewarded too much.

   There are many improvements being made every year in about every type of iris. It wasn’t all that long ago that an iris with a horn would automatically get introduced no matter how God awful the form was. Same with broken colors, rebloomers and luminatas. While they aren’t as far along as say purple iris or bi-colors, they have enough generations under their belt to require more scrutiny in their evaluation. I would offer a word of advice to those wanting to work with the novelty’s, luminatas or anything for that matter! Keith Keppel once said it’s a lot easier to fix color than it is form. You may have to use something that is not luminata or space age for instance in order to improve the form. All the more reason to seek out parents with good form in your lines. Which means you may need to work a few generations to get there. Wider falls, more consistency in their standards, appendages and their colors should be expected. Also, more ruffling and lace are now possible as is a wider range of colors and better stalks. Don’t forget the branching and bud count too!

   Lastly, I’d remind you that we all are judges in one form or another. Picking iris to buy requires “judgement”! Even if not an AIS judge, we are often asked at regionals and conventions to pick what we think was the best this or that. Sometimes the winners make my jaw drop! I’d hope people would be more curious as to what makes an iris “perfect” in the judge’s handbook. Be willing to pick others brains when evaluating iris or even attending judges training classes whether you want to be an official judge or not.  Of course, we all have our personal preferences, but AIS judges must put those aside. Being more aware of the awards won should help people pick better iris and make everyone happier with our favorite flower.

Hugh Stout

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