My love for Louisiana irises began in 1960 with tall bearded. In spite of all the "TLC" they need, my love has never ceased, so when in 1970 we started spending the winters in Florida, I started trying to grow them there. I had little success. We started going to the AIS Conventions in 1976. Either the Louisiana irises were never open at convention time or I was never interested and thus paid no attention. Either way, I never saw a Louisiana iris until 1980 at Charlotte Withers home at Lakeland, Florida. It was EOLIAN. It was, at least, growing and blooming and a beautiful flower, so I decided to try one. It did real well for me the first year. In the spring of 1982, Mr. Pat Irwin, a member of our Florida Iris Society, invited us to his home in Kissimmee, Florida for our April
meeting to see his Louisiana irises blooming. It was there where another love of iris began.
When I started to check Louisiana iris catalogs, I discovered I had a problem. The commercial growers stated they stopped shipments after September 15, and we never went to Florida until the middle of October. I didn't want to have to haul them from Michigan to Florida. This is where Melody Wilhoit came into my life. We were on our way to the AIS Convention at Denver in 1982 and we stopped to visit Redbud Lane Iris Garden, which grows Louisianas. I told Melody my problem and asked if they would ship me some Louisiana irises after we arrived in Florida in October. She said, "Sure."
I ordered ANN CHOWNING and the rest were their choice. They shipped BIT OF BLUE, BRYCE LEIGH, CAJUN CAPERS, CAROLYN LA POINT, CHARLIE'S TRESS, CLYDE REDMOND, DR. DORMON, LOUISIANA TEDDY BEAR, MARTIN REDMOND and MARY'S CHARLIE. I planted them in Florida's black potting soil and they lived, but no blossoms in the spring of 1983.
We leave Florida every April to come to our Michigan home and usually get back the middle of October. When we arrived in the fall of 1983, they were still all alive and didn't look too bad for being neglected six months. They all had many increases. I cleaned them up, fertilized and watered every few days until they became a pretty lush green color. After that I watered weekly.
My hubby has emphysema and that was the reason we started spending the winters in Florida. Well, when at the Denver Convention, the high elevation wasn't good for his condition and he developed pneumonia. He spent two weeks in a hospital at Denver. I was very lucky I brought him home alive. We decided we would have to spend more time in Florida, so decided to change homes for more convenient and comfortable living. My Louisiana iris were growing and looking more lush all the time, but I had to dig them all up January 15, 1984 so we could make the ex-change of homes. We were told the exchange would be done in 15 days, so I put them in plastic garbage bags. I took very little soil with them, bagged them individually and stored them next door at our neighbors. I was too busy with everything else to pay any attention to all my flowers. God bless my neighbor, who took his watering can every day and gave them all a squirt of water. Our home wasn't ready for resetting my irises until April 23! Needless to say, all my flowers were pretty sick looking when I removed the plastic bags.
Florida soil is sand and shells, so when I made the new bed for my Louisianas on the east side of our home, I dug out 18 inches of the Florida soil and replaced it with a mixture of 1/3 black dirt, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 black cow manure. When I reset the iris, I gave them a good drink of "Rapid Gro" and watered them every day until we left for Michigan on May 11, 1984. I fertilized and mulched very heavily with cypress mulch. They were only in the ground 18 days when we left for home and the poor things were on their own again! A few tried to bloom on the yellow, sick looking bloom stalks, but the blossoms were very small and deformed.
We arrived back in Florida on September 13, 1984. I was surprised they all had lived and didn't look too bad, except for ANN CHOWNING. She was barely alive. I used "Rapid Gro" again and started to water. After a few days, I fertilized heavily with the best citrus fertilizer and continued to water until they started to show a lush green color. Then I backed off to watering only a couple of times a week. I continued to fertilize once a month and to water regularly. Then, Hurrah! In March of 1985, I started to see bloom stalks and more bloom stalks and by April 1, BRYCE LEIGH, CAJUN CAPERS and EOLIAN started to blossom. Wow! What beauty! The more the blooms opened, the more excited I became. After all my TLC, it was starting to payoff. I could hardly wait for another day to arrive. By April 12th, they were all open and by April 16th, I was at peak bloom. I was so excited and noisy, I acquired many lookers. Some remarked I should report my irises to the newspaper, which I did. The Bradenton Herald ran an article and picture of CHARLIE'S TRESS in color. The bloom stalks averaged in height from 26" to 38" and had four to eighteen bloom stalks per plant. All stalks had an average of four to five blossoms per stalk and the blossoms were 5!" to 7!" across. ANN CHOWNING only had four stalks and the 5!" blossom. She was the iris which was almost dead when we arrived in Florida last September. MARTIN REDMOND had the 18 bloom stalks of 38" height and the 7!" flowers. All the rest of the irises listed had 12 to 16 bloom stalks about 36" tall. The flowers were 6 to 6!" across.
All my patience paid off and now-l am hooked on Louisiana iris! I don't know what is average height or size of blossom, but I know I was happy with my results. Whether it is good or bad, I had iris blooming in Florida. Beautiful, beautiful Louisiana irises!
Marie Caillet's Remarks: I met Mrs. Starkey in Indianapolis at the AIS Convention in May and saw pictures made of her 1985 bloom. Beautiful stalks full of huge flowers. I would venture to say they were far above average or normal and certainly the increase and stalks per plant were more than normal. The survival with lack of care is of interest, but even more so her method for reviving them. Florida seems a natural for promoting the growth ~f Louisianas, yet there has been little interest in that state. Perhaps people like Mrs. Starkey and Charlotte Withers can promote some interest through their gardens and the publicity about their Louisiana irises.