Doc Henderson and his Iris In Full Bloom

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Doc Henderson and his Iris In Full Bloom

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru


Doctor Norlan Henderson stands near a clump of Queen’s Circle tall bearded iris. You will find Doc on Iris Hill now through their last bloom at Powell Gardens. Doc has donated all the American Iris Society’s (AIS) Merit Award Iris to Powell Gardens as well as many of the historical and species iris. He has been a hybridizer of iris for more than 50 years and wrote the iris chapter in the Flora of North America.


A closeup of Queen’s Circle tall bearded iris! Doc is particularly fond of this iris, not only because it’s the 2007 Dykes Medal winner (the top award given to an iris by the American Iris Society), but also because it is a hybridization improvement of an iris first bred by an old dear friend of his back in northern Indiana.

Doc knows more about the colors and patterns of iris than anyone in this region. This is tall bearded iris ‘Frank Adams’ and is one in our collection because it has malvidin (the red pigment) in it. There is still no red, red iris. Powell Gardens’ iris collection contains many of the breakthrough old hybrids that demonstrate the colors and patterns possible in iris.

The core of the iris display are the AIS Award of Merit iris from 1988-2007. This Merit winner is ‘Let’s Boogie’ iris with a glowing halo of yellow surrounding peach standards. Half the fun is the names!
Doc and I agree this one is ugly but shows incredible patterns and “horned” beards that protrude: it’s the “Space Age” Merit iris Thornbird.’
Patterns are important in iris and this Merit winner has stunning patterns: ‘Circus Circus.’
Merit winner ‘Momentum’ has beautiful standards etched in light blue (delphinidin) and falls etched in dark violet (violanin) in a pattern known as a plicata. Doc will tell you to hold any of the “blue” iris up to the sky and demonstrate none are actually true blue.
Merit winner ‘Secret Service’ does have a secret inside:
From the top you can see violet styles to the flowers. What a remarkable contrast of nearly beige standards, nearly black falls and orange beards!
Merit winner ‘Fiery Temper’ refers to the shocking orange beards over very dark falls and violet standards.
Iris come in orange too! Here is Merit winner ‘Celtic Glory.’ I took a photo of the best yellow but it didn’t turn out in today’s bright light.
Orange takes the next step in Merit winner ‘Tanzanian Tangerine’ — a series with some of the most fun names and patterns. Look for Gnus Flash in the garden!
Gorgeous white iris have come a long way too with Merit winner ‘Nordica’ with orange beards against white petals and falls of heavy substance and crinkled edges.
It’s hard to describe Merit winner ‘Afternoon Delight’ other than to tell you to come see the collection of Iris at Powell Gardens. An afternoon delight indeed.
Doc will be present most mornings during the week and all day next weekend. Your visit to iris hill is greatly improved with his interpretation of the remarkable colors and patterns found in today’s hybrid iris (and yesterdays too!).