It is great to see a revival of interest in Louisiana irises in their old localities, such as New Orleans, where we are beginning to see an increase in membership. This could also be true of the North Louisiana area near Shreveport. People were collecting and growing Louisiana irises there even before the organization of the Society for Louisiana Irises in 1941. I saw collected irises growing in the garden of William C. Fitzhugh of Shreveport before I went to South Louisiana to teach in 1940.
People like Lillian Trichel and Ruth and Caroline Dormon were collecting and growing these irises at the time Dr. John K. Small was collecting and promoting them during the 1930s. Some of our earliest dealers lived in the Shreveport area: Ruth Dormon, a sister-in-law of Caroline Dormon, Clair Gorton who had the Cross Lake Iris Gardens, Minnie Colquitt and Sidney Conger of Arcadia.
History of Interest
There was enough interest during the late 1940s for Shreveport to ask for and get the 1951 American Iris Society Convention to show off the Louisianas as well as the bearded irises on display at most conventions. All the gardens on tour featured Louisianas, and the main speaker for a banquet was Caroline Dormon, who spoke about the irises. Minnie Colquitt, who ran the 1951 Convention and was President of SLI at the time. She can no longer garden, but remembers all her activities with Louisiana irises and the Society. Such interest in the irises and the Society has disappeared in the Shreveport area, but perhaps there is someone coming to the rescue!
The New Hutchins Garden
Bobbie Hutchins, who grew up in North Louisiana and attended Louisiana Tech at Ruston, Louisiana, is moving back to the area. She and her husband, who will retire from a medical practice in Worcester, Massachusetts, have bought 20 acres on Caddo Lake near the town of Mooringsport at what is called Rocky Point. Louisiana irises are not new to her as her family once lived near Caroline Dormon, and her father was the minister of the Briarwood Baptist Church. The Hutchins and Bobbie's brother Ron Killingworth and his wife are building homes on the property and developing it into something like a botanical garden. Louisiana irises will be the featured flower.They hope to soon develop it into a mail order dealership.
To date, one house is completed, greenhouses finished and being planted, and three small lakes are dug and planted with unidentified or "surprise" Louisianas. Half of the property is wooded; the rest is open, and much of it is becoming rowed out plantings of Louisiana irises. All can be irrigated by a pumping system from Caddo Lake. The place and eventual dealership will be known as "Plantation Point," and the house they have built thus far looks like it belongs on a southern plantation!
Bobbie Hutchins grew up with gardeners. Her grandmother grew and hybridized daylilies, but never registered any.Her Aunt Adell collected some Louisianas over 40 years ago and grows other kinds of irises, daylilies and other flowers. She also writes a column for the newspaper and opens her garden to visitors.
Bobbie Hutchins has joined the Society for Louisiana Irises and begun contacting dealers. She found out that Farron Campbell of Lone Star Iris Gardens was going out of business and wanted to sell all of his stock. She hired eight workmen to help dig and came to his garden in the late summer. It turned out to be very hot weather and there was no shade, but they worked for most of two days digging and sacking the irises. Some labels were gone or not readable, but they figured they had about 300 cultivars as part of the 5,000 rhizomes dug. The unidentified will be planted out in rows or will be used in landscaping the ponds and lake. They hope iris visitors during the bloom season will help identify some of the irises.
A Major Dig
The Hutchins contacted me when Farron told them I was "reworking my pond, and the rhizomes would be given to a nursery or botanic garden free for the removal. Bobbie, her brother Ron and her aunt Adell Tingle arrived at my garden before daylight with four workmen on October 10. Dick Sloan from Alma, Arkansas, was visiting me that week, so joined us to make nine people working. It was almost like a party with refreshments and lots of iris talk. There were stops for coffee and doughnuts and once for a good laugh when one of the workmen fell backwards into the muck and water. Even the hired workmen had a good time and were sorry it went so fast.
Nothing can be kept identified in the pond, but I could give them a list of what I knew to be growing there. With catalog descriptions and a checklist they should be able to identify most of the cultivars. A tentative count was about 1,600 rhizomes dug. I had saved some out to replant, which was done before everyone left. Neighbors and friends prior to this date had come to dig from the pond, so several thousand had already been removed.
I lose some old favorites each time this is done, but it is almost necessary every four or five years. It is better to give them away than to compost them. In past years my pond irises have one to nurseries in Ft. Worth and Dallas, to Dallas parks and to several botanical gardens in Texas and Louisiana.
The Hutchins will put out a catalog and have a web site as well as advertising in the SLI Newsletter. I must mention the coffee, brought by Ron Killingworth. As a hobby he and Dr. Hutchins began roasting coffee which they named "Plantation Gourmet Coffee." They plan to eventually turn this into a business, also.
The irises are now growing like weeds on almost virgin soil and with plenty of water. Bobbie plans to begin hybridizing when they move permanently to Plantation Point. Bloom this spring will be sparse on the late plantings, but the garden will be open to visitors. Bloom time in this area is usually the latter part of April into early May and thus might be a good garden touring location for some of you driving to Little Rock for the SLI meeting. It is not far from the American Rose Society Display Gardens south ofI-20 and just west of Shreveport.
The address for the Hutchins and Killingworths is: 10319 Caddo Lake Rd. Mooringsport, LA 71060. The telephone number is 318-996-7077.
It will be great to have Louisiana irises back in the North Louisiana area and to have such interesting people become active members of our Society.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the SLI Newsletter Summer 2001.