Saturday, July 16, 2016

The past is never where you think you left it until you find it again

Mademoiselle Schwartz.
Photo courtesy Michèle Bersillon [Ref 1]

In summer of 1973 I received from Corinne Bromberger, Redlands, California, eight varieties originated by iris breeder Dr. Samuel Stillman Berry who, along with William Mohr and Grace Sturtevant, was one of the pioneering hybridizers in the United States. The previous year I had learned that Corinne lived immediately adjacent to the Berry property where--to my surprise--Dr. Berry still lived, spry and alert in his mid 80s. Immediately I contacted Corinne to ask if he had any of his introductions from the 1920s and 1930s still in the garden. His Mauna Loa was in a few collections as was Acropolis, but all others seemingly had vanished. Her reply stated that yes, he probably had most of his originations but that the garden was in considerable disarray and the irises had no labels. But...when they flowered he would note, "Aha, there's so-and-so." She then mentioned this to Dr. Berry who was, she said, quite touched that someone remembered his work after about thirty years out of the iris world. So the die was cast. In the meantime, Dr. B. gave Corinne a nearly complete set of his catalogs (1926-1948) as a gift of appreciation--a gift that proved to be invaluable.

Among the irises received from Dr. Berry's garden was his Canyon Mists (1926), a name I knew only from the Check List entry. Even accounts of his irises by Lena Lothrop in AIS Bulletins had neglected to mention it. His catalog description read, in part: "A very light mauve self, quite similar to Mlle. Schwartz, but has a longer season and does not fade out seriously in bright sun...." What flowered here was, indeed, a light mauve self, so I was satisfied.

Approximately thirty years later I received an assortment of rhizomes from The Presby Memorial Iris Gardens where they were trying to authenticate identities in plantings that had become considerably mixed in the years following the death of long-time director Barbara Walther. Most had names attached (true? false?) and a few were "what is it?" Among the latter appeared...Canyon Mists. At first I was surprised that such an obscure iris would have been grown at Presby, but then I realized that hybridizers in Presby's early years were solicited to contribute (and eager to do so!) their originations to the collection. I figured Dr. Berry had heeded the call.

The story continues in 2010 when Michele Bersillon in France sent me a short list of historic irises available in a last-chance sale from Lawrence Ransom, a British ex-pat who had rescued what he could from the shards of the Simonet collection. One in that list stood out: Lady Foster (M. Foster 1913). a significant garden iris and parent (sib to Caterina and Crusader) which had eluded collectors. So I told her to ask for Lady Foster, which she did; Ransom sent all his plants, which she thought would be better grown in her garden for a year before shipping to me. Thus in 2011 I received ten husky Lady Foster rhizomes. You can imagine my surprise and disappointment to discover, the next spring, that they were the same as Canyon Mists! But that made no sense whatsoever: why would such an obscure California origination be in Simonet's collection? That also called into question of "Why at Presby?" By this time I had a copy of Ridgway's book Color Standards and Nomenclature which was widely used in the States to precisely describe flower colors, and for Lady Foster the described Ridgway colors, along with a superb black and white photo in a Wallace catalog, proved this was not Lady Foster. But was it Canyon Mists? The "light mauve" of Berry's catalog description did fit, but I recalled the mention of a similarity to Mlle. Schwartz. The Ridgway color for her was "palest mauve." Close enough to suggest pursuing the Mlle. as the true identification. But the only photograph I had seen is in Les Iris Cultivees. and it didn't show enough to either rule in or rule out our iris. By this time Catherine Adam was in the discussion, having been in touch with Lawrence Ransom in her zeal to preserve, correctly identified, historic French irises, and from him and me she was aware of this puzzle. Her take was that it must be Mlle. Schwartz, but how to prove it?

In the next chapter, enter Terry Johnson to the question. The only other image of Mlle. Schwartz recorded was a note in the 1939 AIS Check List of a black and white photo in Gardening Illustrated, January 5 1929. I knew Terry had accessed old British gardening publications, so I asked if he could track down this photo. And he did, sending it with the caveat that it was a clump shot rather than closeup. Well...that is exactly what was needed: a photograph showing flowers at all angles, full stalks with branching. For my money there's no question: this iris which has traveled under the names Canyon Mists and Lady Foster actually is the seemingly lost Mlle. Schwartz--lost, but right before our eyes!

Phil Edinger, May 2016.

One of the great privileges in my iris world has always been a email from Phil Edinger, and  it was a recent email conversation we had regarding Mademoiselle Schwartz that included Dr. Samuel Stillman Berry made the above post possible, it was an email full of past and present history that I asked Phil to write it up for the blog and wallah!!!!!! Much and many thanks to Phil. 
A mighty big hat tip to Lawrence Ransom who rescued what he could from the Simonet collection that eventually kick started this new journey for 'Mademoiselle Schwartz'

Many thanks to Catherine Adams who kept giving encouragement to give 'Mademoiselle Schwartz' oxygen and to Michèle Bersillon for the above amazing photo, the plant conservation and the international logistics that also helped make this all possible.

[Ref 1] The above photo Michèle Bersillon emailed me after reading the post Mademoiselle Schwartz.
Her email mentioned
"I just read your article (bravo!) about this lovely historic that I have had the privilege of cultivating in my garden, Mademoiselle Schwartz.  I had been a bit disappointed that it didn’t turn out to be Lady Foster as Lawrence thought, but it certainly turned out to be a treasure and well worth the wait to send it to Phil.  It is presently in bloom here, so I took a photo the other day—before the rain!—and thought you might like to have a copy." 

As always clicking on the above image will take you to the larger, higher resolution version. Reproduction in whole or in part of this post, its opinions or its images without the expressed written permission of Terry Johnson is strictly prohibited. Photo credit and copyright  Michèle Bersillon ©.


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