Wayland Rudkin, a hybridizer of Louisiana Irises and Tall Bearded Irises

When I graduated from Tracy Hi in 1942 I had no idea I would be hybridizing irises when I was 80. However, there should have been some clues. The Busch and Lomb Science Award was given to me for taking four years of science classes. My father, wanting to teach me about the birds and bees, arranged to get me on a field trip with a almond grower and his daughter. We went to the University of California at Davis to learn how to pollinate fruit trees.

Even though America was at war in 1942, I entered Stockton Junior College to begin pre-dental studies. After completing one semester, I was shipped off to boot camp in Idaho. After completing Hospital Corp school and dental technician school, I found myself back on the Stockton Junior College campus. This time, I was enrolled in College of The Pacific, living in the sorority house taken over by the US - Navy V 12 unit. Since my eyes and ears did not qualify me to become a naval officer, I was sent to the South Pacific at the end of the semester. I did enjoy the flowers of New Guinea, and I was particularly impressed with the hibiscus

At some point Virginia started buying iris rhizomes from Schreiner's. I started hybridizing tall bearded in 1985. Growing irises 20 miles from home turned out to be a bad idea. Selection of seedlings requires more than once-a-week evaluation. When I retired in 1989, we got involved with the local farmers market and became known as Rudkins's Iris Patch. We had a display garden at home and filled orders. It was a nice hobby business. However going to the markets on almost a daily basis made it very labor intensive, and left little time for cultivar evaluation. We became active in the Sacramento Iris Society in 1989.

In 1994 my wife and I offered to take Mary Dunn, the well known hybridizer of Louisiana irises, to Portland for the American Iris Society convention. She was pleased with the invitation, and since this was our first national convention we were doubly pleased. We were happy to chum with Judy Mogul and Lynn Finkel, and listen in while they picked Mary's brain.

Of the many Louisiana irises that Mary gave me, my early favorite was 'Dominique' (Dunn 86). One morning I spotted a two year clump in full bloom. The three distinct layers of red blooms gave me the thrill of being back in a tropical forest. I immediately made a self-cross of those irises. Mary got quite excited when I told her that this   cross produced only one large seed. When the plant from that single seed bloomed, it looked a little like the parent, but perhaps, a deeper red and a little smaller. While this was in bloom I spotted my specimen of 'Bayou Mystique' loaded with blooms. This was not my favorite flower but it sure had lots of blooms, so I crossed it with my new seedling. Of the 32 plants produced, my favorite was a deep maroon I was amazed at the quality and diversity of the offspring.

These were the 99-1- line. Seedling 99-1-0R won "Best Seedling by a hybridizer outside Region 15" at the Region 15 Spring Trek in Tucson, Az., April 23,2005. It is registered as 'Our Sassy' and is being introduced.

The 'Ginny's Choice' story

Photograph of the Louisiana Iris 'Ginny's CHoice'

One year, while trying to scrounge up some pots, I dumped the left over soil from my seedling pots into five- gallon tree pots. The next year I needed some planting soil, so I headed for the five gallon pots. I was surprised to find seeds germinating all through the pots, even two feet deep. Of course, these were all planted.

The 2002 AIS Region 14 convention was held in Sacramento, so it was easy for me to take seedlings to the show. Virginia insisted that I take 99-99-1, a blue and gold in recurred form. When it won best seedling I naturally had to name it 'Ginnys Choice'. Mary Dunn provided the parents. 'Cotton Plantation' and 'Bayou Mystique,' 'Ginny's Choice' was awarded the Melrose Cup Best Beardless recognition at the 2005 AIS Regional convention. It was offered for sale in 2005.

The "Sandy Larson" Story-A Tall Bearded

One of the goals of iris hybridizers is to increase bloom duration. I have achieved this somewhat. I had an early bloomer that was still around at the end of the 2002 season. It was short with a thick stalk and only had three bud placements and nine buds. The top terminal carried 4 buds the next had 3 and the bottom terminal had 2 buds The flower was a very nice pink. My notes from April 13, 2002 told me that it was triple socketed on the top bud. I didn't see the fourth bud coming. The flowers came about a week apart. Most people I had talked to have never heard of an iris with four buds in one terminal. Keith Keppel replied to my letter to say he had seen it occasionally. He didn't seem excited about it, so I guess the major goal is to get more bud positions and bigger flowers.

The 2003 plants were 34 inches tall with eleven buds. It was not until the third week of bloom that I realized they did have 4 buds on top. This early bloomer was still in bloom late in the season.

The 2004 showing of this seedling was a disappointment of my own making, In most cases there was not enough energy in the plants to produce the fourth flower. I have been telling people for years that are heavy feeders. If you want rebloom ( where it is genetically possible ), you have to provide proper cultivation and heavy feeding .. My 2004 iris season was a season of neglect.. I didn't provide adequate feeding for plants to reach their potential. I have since discovered that I can use lots of 6-20-20 directly on the rhizome to provide the necessary feeding. The sulfur in the mix prevents rotting. This pink iris was registered in 2003 as 'Sandy Larson,' in memory of my step-daughter who was killed in the line of duty as a Sacramento Deputy Sheriff. It is being introduced this year.

More comments from an Iris hybridizer

You have all seen the cholesterol advertisements that point out that it is part-food and part-genetics. The same holds true for plants. The wrong soil can keep a plant in hibernation. Environment plays a part too. Keep an iris in shade and it will grow tall trying to reach the sun. The Louisiana iris is America's underutilized wildflower. These beardless irises are endemic to the United States, with their center of distribution in Louisiana. They first drew attention because of the enormous number of their natural hybrids; this propensity for hybridization led to a spectacular range of colors and forms.

For a number of years I was known as the Iris Man at the Sacramento County Farmers Markets. It was a joy introducing my customers to Louisiana irises. I would tell them to plant the irises under a leaky faucet. If they, had a neighbor always flooding their yard, this would be a great plant to soak up the water. It was an even greater joy getting feedback. Renae loved the flower but Dan best liked the fence that the Louisiana made around his duck pond. In Sierra City it was their ability to survive the snow and the steep hillside. In EI Dorado hills it was the ability to stay put in a downhill drainage culvert when inundated with a 4 foot wall of water.

They don't like a limey soil, but can grow most anywhere. With mulching, they don't even need that much water. There are many cultivars of Louisiana irises. The plants run from 10 inches to 4 feet in height. Bearded irises can be dug, stored dry and replanted in the fall. Not so for the Louisianas. After being dug, the Louisiana iris needs to be kept wet. They can be wrapped in wet paper towels and plastic for shipping, or, they can be left in a bucket of water or a pond, along with mosquito fish.

The home gardener can grow Louisiana irises without using a lot of water by planting then in an oak barrel with a plastic liner. Another way is to bury the plastic liner along the edge of the lawn so it would get watered along with the lawn. The liner prevents the water from draining away. Buried plastic can also be utilized to prevent drainage. Another advantage of a liner is the prevention of tree roots interfering with the irises. I think the public service sector needs to evaluate the Louisiana iris as a means of erosion control because of the extensive root system of some cultivars. We know the greenery takes toxins out of the air. How about letting the roots clean ground water?

Once again we are headed to Portland, Ore. for the 2006 American Iris Society National convention. Hopefully 'Ginny's Choice' and 'Sandy Larson' will be in full bloom for all to see.

(This article was published in the Fleur de Lis, the quarterly publication of the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI) in the Summer 2006 issue.)

*Wayland Rudkin, a resident of Sacramento, CA, graduated from the University of CA at Berkeley, with a life sciences minor and a business major in retailing.  He later took an MBA from UC, Sacramento.  A veteran of years in retailing, aerospace, and the lumber business, Rudkin is now retired -- except for his iris work.  He tells us he has "given up" on hybridizing tall bearded irises due to the difficulties a beginner faces in trying to develop something "new". Wayland was awarded the Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal for his Louisiana iris 'Ginny's Choice', in 2012.