Frank E. Chowning, 87, died in Little Rock, AR, on Friday, November 20, 1981, and was buried on Saturday, November 21.  Born in Rison, AR, he graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1922.  He served as a US Army lieutenant in France during World War I.  He practiced law in Little Rock for 52 years.An avid irisarian, Frank was a member of the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI) for many years.  He served as President in 1961 and was recipient of the society’s Service Award that year.  His success in the area of hybridizing is evidenced by the fact that four of his irises have won the Mary Swords DeBaillon Award – ‘Dixie Deb’ (1967), ‘This I Love’ (1979), ‘Ann Chowning’ (1980) and ‘Bryce Leigh’ (1981). He is survived by his wife, Bryce Leigh, son Robert E. and daughter, Martha Ann, and stepdaughter, Bryce Reveley. (Author unknown)

Fifty Years with Louisiana Irises – The Story of Frank E. Chowning by Marie Caillet

A signal honor goes to Frank E. Chowning of Little Rock, AR, for his half century of work with Louisiana irises, which he began in 1930 by collecting the native irises of Arkansas and Louisiana and continued these many years by hybridizing and growing them, writing about them and promoting them through the American Iris Society (AIS) and the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI). Frank Chowning became a member of the AIS in 1934 and joined SLI soon after it was organized.  He served as Regional VP of AIS for Region 10 (then composed of Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas) from 1937 to 1946).  He was named Chairman of the Publicity Committee for the newly organized SLI in 1943 and has given the Louisiana irises due publicity ever since.  In 1945 Frank was the banquet speaker for the 5th annual meeting of SLI in Lafayette, LA.  This was the year 20th Century-Fox came to Lafayette to film the native Louisiana irises and the iris show.  Quoting the local paper of that year, “The banquet address was given by the Regional Vice President of the American Iris Society, Mr. Frank E. Chowning of Little Rock, AR.  He remarked that he was impressed with the beauty of Louisiana’s native irises.”  That was a real understatement! Frank was elected Vice President of SLI in 1960 and President of SLI in 1961.  He was also honored in 1961 when voted to receive the Service Award for his outstanding contributions to the Society.

Frank Chowning and JoeMertzweiller ca 1975Frank Chowning’s signature appears on most of the attendance lists for the annual meetings of SLI in Lafayette, and in recent years he can be found at all the AIS conventions, enjoying all those “other irises”, but talking about Louisiana irises at every opportunity—and, being a lawyer, few can talk him down!  To guarantee good growth and bloom on his guest plants at the AIS Huntsville, AL, convention, he prepared written suggestions for the soil preparation and planting.  Those touring the gardens saw the results. Most Louisianas grown in the early years were bee crosses of early collected plants.  Few were controlled crosses and even fewer were registered and introduced on the market.  Although Frank Chowning was hybridizing in the 20’s and 40’s, it was not until the early 50’s that he began registering his hybrids.  One of his early ones, ‘Dixie Deb’, registered in 1952, is still a favorite in gardens and shows.  It is a small, light yellow flower on a very tall, slender stalk, but with excellent growing habits and multiple blooms per stalk.  It was best yellow in the SLI shows in 1955 and 1957, although entered under the wrong name! (Just a bit of confusion caused by distribution of a group of sister seedlings – all nice yellows.)  It won the Mary Swords DeBaillon Award in 1967 and is still winning shows across the country, even though larger, fuller yellows are introduced each year.

‘Dixie Deb’ won Queen of Show at Memphis as late as 1978 and in Little Rock in 1975, 1978  and 1979. It will, however, be Mr. Chowning’s ‘Ann Chowning’ (1976) that goes down in iris history as an all-time award winner for Louisianas, having won the AIS Judges Choice in 1978 over all other irises, including the tall bearded irises.  Since retiring from his law practice in 1975, Frank Chowning has had time to extend his iris activities and to do more extensive hybridizing.  In 1977, Melrose Gardens of Stockton, CA, introduced some of his newer hybrids and listed other older ones, using a full-page color picture of ‘Ann Chowning’ on the cover of their catalog.  ‘Ann Chowning’ was already attracting notice as a guest plant in a Lafayette garden, but it achieved instant success with the distribution of the catalog.  Perhaps the reddest irises on the market, a well-formed flower and a good growing plant, it deserves all the awards it is receiving. 

Frank’s daughter, for whom the iris is named, should feel honored to have such a namesake.In this same Judges Choice Poll of 1978 in which ‘Ann Chowning’ received 197 votes and the Walther Cup, Chowning’s ‘Bryce Leigh’ and ‘This I Love’ placed in the top 16 for all types of irises and ‘Gold Reserve’ and ‘Red Gamecock’ received 30 or more votes.  Quite an honor when you consider that few Louisianas have ever received enough votes to even place in previous polls.  ‘This I Love’ also won the Mary Swords DeBaillon Award in the AIS Awards balloting in 1979.

Frank Chowning has registered about 50 of his iris seedlings since 1952.  Some of his popular ones not already mention are ‘Tarnished Brass’, ‘Finders Keepers’, ‘Miss Arkansas’, and ‘Missey Reveley’.  There are to be other introductions this year, including ‘Little Miss Sims’, a very floriferous, raspberry-colored flower with excellent substance on a medium height zig-zig stem:  ‘Count Pulaski’, the tall stemmed yellow and orange blend many of you saw and admired in Huntsville last spring; and ‘Little Rock Skies’, a beautiful small, clear blue named for Frank’s hometown.

Frank Chowning is married to Bryce Leigh Williams, who shares his interest in Louisiana irises and attends the iris conventions with him.  His daughter, Ann Chowning, teaches Anthropology at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.  A step-daughter, Bryce (Mrs. Ted Reveley) of New Orleans, is a member of AIS, SLI and the Louisiana Iris Society of America.

Due to location in Central Arkansas, where temperatures get pretty low and snow and ice are not uncommon, Frank has concentrated his hybridizing program on Louisiana irises that are hardly enough and bloom in the cold climates.  With the widespread interest in Louisianas now extended to the Dakotas, Minnesota and across to Maine, hardiness has become an important factor in promoting the Louisianas.  I think we shall continue to hear from and about Frank E. Chowning.


Frank E. Chowning
1894 – 1981
From obituary possibly published in publication of the Louisiana Iris Society of America (LISA) by Marie Caillet

Frank E. Chowning, whose name is probably know by every member of the American Iris Society (AIS), died November 20, 1981, at his home in Little Rock, Arkansas.  There are few people who could claim continuous membership in the AIS for nearly 50 years and in the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI) for 40 years.  Frank Chowning was never just a “card-carrying” member of these organizations, but always took an active part by attending meetings, accepting offices and writing for their publications.  He was Regional Vice-President of AIS Region 10 from 1937 to 1946, when that region covered Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.  He served as Vice-President of the SLI in 1960 and as President in 1961.  He was voted their special Service Award in 1961 for his contributions to the Society and to the progress of Louisiana irises.  Frank was present at the organizational meeting of the Louisiana Iris Society of America (LISA) in San Jose, CA, in 1978 and he and his wife joined as charter members.

Frank Chowning became interested in Louisiana irises about 1930 when he started collecting native species in Arkansas and Louisiana.  He soon began hybridizing them, but registered only a few in the early years.  Some of his named or numbered seedlings were circulated for years before being registered and thus there was some confusion in their identity, especially with some of his early yellows, like ‘Delta Country’ and ‘Dixie Deb’.  During these early years, Frank owned all the lots at the end of his block and had the whole back area planted in collected Louisianas and his own seedlings.  I first saw his collection in 1948 and could not believe such quality and quantity of irises were growing outside of the state of Louisiana.

When Mr. Chowning retired from his law practice in 1975, he stepped up his hybridizing program and arranged with Melrose Gardens to introduce some of his better Louisiana irises.  Their first introduction was ‘This I Love’ in a976.  It won the Mary Swords DeBaillon Award in 1979.  A full page color photograph of ‘Ann Chowning’ on the front of the 1977 Melrose Gardens Catalog launched it into the iris world.  ‘Ann Chowning’ became an instant success.  It is perhaps the nearest to red of any iris on the market and can also boast of good flower form, a huge yellow signal patch, strong stalks with multiple flowers open at one time and excellent plant vigor.  How wonderful for a hybridizer to realize an ultimate goal to his efforts before his death.  He hoped to live long enough to see a Louisiana iris, and hopefully ‘Ann Chowning’, win the AIS Dykes Medal.  This did not happen, but when it won the Judges Choice Poll in 1978, he felt he had been rewarded for his years of hybridizing.  Also introduced in this 1977 Melrose Catalog was ‘Bryce Leigh’, named for his wife.  It won the 1981 DeBaillon Award, which gave Mr. Chowing three winners in the last three years.

Frank Chowning’s irises are known by all who grow Louisiana irises, but his 1952 registration, ‘Dixie Deb’, may have had the greatest circulation.  It is a small light yellow flower on very tall, slender stalks, but with excellent growing habits and multiple bloom per stalk.  It won the DeBaillon Award in 1967 and is still winning shows across the country, even though larger and fuller yellows are introduced each year.  It won Queen of the Show at Memphis as late as 1978 and at shows in Little Rock in 1975, 1978, and 1979.  However, it will be ‘Ann Chowning’, named for his daughter, that goes down in history as his outstanding introduction.  It won the DeBaillon Award in 1980 and the Walter Cup in 1978 with 197 votes.  In this same Judges’ Choice Poll, ‘Bryce Leigh’ and ‘This I Love’ placed in the top 16 for all types of irises and ‘Red Gamecock’ and ‘Gold Reserve’ received 30 or more votes.  Quite an honor when you consider that few Louisianas have ever received enough votes to even place in previous polls.

Frank Chowning was born in Rison, Arkansas, and attended Henderson-Brown College in Arkadelphia, AR, before going to the Vanderbilt University School of Law in Nashville, Tennessee, where he graduated in 1922.  His schooling had been interrupted by World War I when he served as an Army lieutenant in France.  He practiced law in Little Rock with the firm of Chowning, Mitchell, Hamilton and Burrow for 52 years and was a member of the Board of Directors of Union National Bank, serving as their general counsel.  He was a member of the Pulaski County Bar Association, the Arkansas Bar Association, the American Bar Association, Christ Episcopal Church of Little Rock, Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity and the Little Rock Country Club, which was across the street from his home.  He was a former president of the Little Rock Community Chest and had served as Board Chairman of the Museum of Science and History in Little Rock.In fact, practicing law and growing irises were only some of Frank’s many interests.  He began collecting things when a young boy – books, paintings, furniture, pottery, forest land and all things historical.  He was interested in the American Indians and had a collection of early books and Indian artifacts.  His stories about his family and his early years in Arkansas sounded like a novel.  He also kept all the iris society publications, catalogs and letters from his iris friends.  He found time to answer all letters and corresponded with iris growers everywhere.  His letters were full of information and I have kept a file for future reference.  I am sure others have done the same.

One cannot write a tribute to Frank Chowning without mentioning his influence and encouragement to other iris growers.  He gave irises to people in all parts of the country and was responsible for many new hybridizers of Louisiana irises, such as Richard Butler, Oren Campbell, Henry Rowlan, Richard Morgan, and Patrick O’Connor.  The Louisiana Iris Society of America (LISA) and the SLI, as well as AIS and Region 22, will miss his presence at meetings, where he thrived on iris talk from early morning to late at night. He seemed to never tire of his favorite topic – Louisiana irises.Frank Chowning is survived by his wife, Bryce Leigh, a son Robert E. Chowning of Little Rock, a daughter Martha Ann Chowning of Wellington, New Zealand, a stepdaughter, Bryce (Missey_ Reveley of New Orleans and two grandchildren.  He is also survived by the more than fifty registered Louisiana irises that will continue to remind us of his accomplishments and contributions to the increasing popularity of the Louisiana iris.  Frank E. Chowning lived a very full and profitable life and will be remembered for a long time.