Marie Caillet in her Texas garden


by Marie Caillet
from the Society for Louisiana Irises Bulletin #143, March 1991

When I was elected to Secretary-Treasurer of the Society in 1946, I started a file of items about our meetings and our members. This grew to include newspaper clippings that were hard to file and thus the beginning of the scrap book. Now, after 45 years of 'collecting and pasting', there are 5 books with a total of about 250 pages and somewhere between 500 and 1,000 items! After my terms as secretary the books became a record of my own iris activities, but continued to chronicle the activities of the Society of Louisiana Irises.

Mrs. B. S. Nelson, who was an early collector and grower in the New Orleans area, supplied some clippings from the days of Dr. Small and about the attempt in 1931 to start a Louisiana iris society. It was organized, but did not last; however, her clippings have added to the history we have of Louisiana irises. Thus these scrap books cover a period of 60 years.

 Much of the old paper has fallen to pieces and parts of early books have had to be redone. They are still fragile, but will be available for members to look through at our 5oth Anniversary Meeting in Lafayette in April (1991?). There are two separate books of photographs taken between 1946 and 1991 showing many Society activities and our members. In working to repair the scrap books, I found key items that might be of interest to everyone. These and some pictures will make up the fourth and the final article about the history of our Society in the Newsletters for our 50th year.

1941. There are none of the original officers still living. They were W. B. MacMillan, Pres., Joe G. Richar, Vice-Pres., Ira S. Nelson, Se.-Treas. And Board, Randolph Bazet, Lillian Trichel, Mrs. Rufus McIlhenny and Caroline Dorman. There are only a few charter Members still living.

1942. A notice to member for the first general meeting read as follows, "The meeting will include talks by authorities on various phases of Louisiana Iris, a banquet, showing of color pictures, visits to gardens, and exhibit of cut irises and a trip to the nearby swamps for those who wish to collect." Actually, little has been changed over the years, except the collecting trips. This year a trip is planned for Sunday for members to view and photograph irises in their native stands.

1942. There was no planned swamp trip because of the war and gas rationing, but many went to the MacMillan garden in Abbeville and a few to collect in the swamps. (One could usually do better collecting in Mr. Mac's garden than in the swamps! There were few dealers at this time and one acquired plants by collecting them or from friends.)

A Test Garden was begun in 1943 to check collected varieties in order to eliminate duplication. Collectors often dug from the same clone, even in different years.

Cost of the banquet meal was 75 cents and in 1944 it went up to one whole dollar!

1944. Early bloom allowed the meeting to be held on April 1. The banquet speaker was Caroline Dormon.

1945. Frank Chowning attended his first meeting, was the speaker at the banquet and collected many of the irises he later used in his hybridizing.

20th Century Fox Studios shot a technicolor Movietone Short at the meeting, photographing the Louisiana irises and some of the weekend activities. This was shown in movie houses everywhere, thus it gave us national publicity.

Marie Caillet was named Chairman of Publications and after 46 years she is still a member of this committee! And still writing or getting others to write to publicize Louisiana irises!

1946. Our first big chance at recognition through the American Iris Society came in June (Bulletin # 102) with a 26 page spread that included 6 articles and 5 pictures and a map of the Appeal area. This was in part due to a meeting in Shreveport of Geddes Douglas, Associate Editor of the Bulletin, with Ike and Barbara Nelson, Marie Caillet and various members in the Shreveport area.

The Friday night supper was officially listed on the program. Members who came in early for the meeting had been getting together to eat on Friday night. At this time a Board Meeting was held on Friday afternoons.

1947. I note Sid DuBose, co-owner of Melrose Garden, signed for the meeting. Sid became a member while a student at LSU and has been in the iris business ever since.

1948. Minnie (Mrs. Walter Colquitt) was named to the /Board and later became President. She is still a member and active in iris groups.

To cement our relationship with the American Iris Society , a number of members and four of our Society's officers attended the AIS Convention in Nashville, TN. There were few Louisiana irises on the garden tour, but we did have a chance to see T. A. Washington's home and garden . He was one of the very early hybridizers of the Louisiana irises and introduced a total of 53 hybrids, most with a name you can't pronounce. I know of none being grown today.

1949. The American Iris Society accepted our proposition for a Mary Swords DeBaillon Award for Louisiana irises. This was the first of the special awards for breadless irises. The bronze medal presented to the hybridizer was designed by Caroline Dormon and is provided by the Society for Louisiana Irises each year.

1950. A membership report showed 185 members representing 17 states and Australia.

An attempt was made to have the Louisiana iris voted the State Flower of Louisiana, but it was blocked by supporters of the magnolia and of an elderly woman who made her living by painting and selling magnolia pictures! Our proposal was that the magnolia would become the State Tree. To quote from a letter fro Claude W. Davis, SLI President, "I was proud of the fact that our crowd made a dignified, logical presentation of the facts, based on an appeal to reason, and devoid of criticism of the magnolia or sarcasm directed at those who supported it. The reverse was true of our opponents. Their appeal was purely emotional; many of their statements were not factually correct, and they directed ridicule at our native iris and all those who would champion its official recognition as the state flower."

1951. The AIS Convention was held in Shreveport, LA, where our membership was around 35 and all but one garden on the convention tour featured Louisiana irises. Unfortunately, the bloom was late that year, but there were good planting to be seen. One of these was the garden of Lenora Mathew with 7 acres of mostly Louisiana irises.

1952. We began holding rhizome sales at the time of the Show. We also held seminars or culture clinics on Saturday mornings.

1953. Dr. F.L. Randolph of Cornell University. began coming to Lafayette during the bloom season to study the irises. Ike Nelson later joined him at Cornell for one special research on the 'Abbeville fulvas', eventually resulting in the naming of them as a separated specie to be named I. nelsonii. Quoting Dr. Randolph, "There is a bright future for Louisiana irises in every part of the U.S, never have I seen them in such profusion as in this particular section. More than anything else I am impressed with their size and wide range of brilliant color."

1955. Our former President, Minnie Colquitt, was selected "Woman of the Year in Gardening' by the Garden Club Federation of America out of 1,777 nominees.

By this time the Society had begun to have a fall Board Meeting complete with much visiting and too much food. Many of these were held in Lafayette and some at the city of our President, such as Alexandria, LA or Baton Rouge.

1957. Every group has some jokes to recall. Someone reading out awards at the banquet described an iris as magneta colored instead of magenta. He never know why we laughed and some of us still call a red-purple iris magneta colored'! And, if you go back far enough to have attended this banquet, you know what we mean. The iris he was describing was SARA GLADNEY.

1964. Caroline Dorman was awarded a Doctorate Degree from LSU to recognize her outstanding work with native plants and trees. Her home and land in Saline, LA has been turned into a nature preserve. Should you see and admire any plant in her yard. She probably dug you a piece or gave you a cutting or seeds. Caroline sold some irises, but it was the exception.

1965. Joe Mertzweiller was President and Barbara Nelson was the Secretary-Treasurer and Newsletter Editor replacing Aline Arceneaux. FRANCES ELIZABETH, hybridized by Sam Rix of New Zealand, won the DeBaillon Award. This is the only iris to win that was not from the United States.

1966. We celebrated our 25th Anniversary. Many will remember the shuttle between their cars in a parking lot and the Arny home and garden, where the Saturday picnic lunch and a business meeting were held. Road work and heavy rains had made it impossible to reach their house.

1975. Bob Raabe, a Louisiana iris hybridizer from Australia, came for our meeting in Lafayette and then went on to San Diego for the AIS Convention. We saw Louisianas in a number of gardens and had the opportunity to visit Cordon Bleu Farms.

One garden with many Louisianas in bloom belonged to Bill Gunther. Flower beds were carved out of a hillside and soil held in by use of large rock borders.

1976. Clarke Cosgrove, the AIS President from California, attended our meeting in the interest of having an AIS Section for Louisiana irises organized. This was eventually done by five of our members.

1979. Society members conducted a judging school at the Huntsville, AL AIS Convention and got to see many tour gardens with Louisianas.

1984. Marie Caillet was honored with a champagne party after being presented the AIS Distinguished Service Medal for her work with the Society of Louisiana Irises and contributions to AIS.

1970 to 1990. The pages are full of newspaper articles about annual meetings, magazine articles on Louisiana irises or about our members and far too many interesting activities to relate. Notices and reviews of the book in 1988 cover almost half of the last scrap book. Each year finds more material to cut and paste, so there is certain to be a 6th book started after this year. Book 5 is almost full. I have willed the scrap books and the photo books to the Society and hope that someone will continue them when I can longer cut and paste!

The iris named for Marie Caillet