Fresno, California, USA
John Weiler, .PhD. - Hybridizer (July 8, 1925 - September 19, 2011)
by Janet Smith
During the April, 1991 Spring Iris Show I met Dr. John Weiler. His wealth of knowledge inspired me to want more so I joined the Fresno Iris Society that he founded in 1967. I consider this man a walking encyclopedia. Anything you want to know about Iris and plants ask John Weiler.
Several years ago we were walking across a lawn at the Fresno State campus going to the Horticulture Department, John proceeded to tell me about every single plant we walked over. To him there were no weeds, just misplaced plants.
Over the years John has reflected back on where his interest in plants began while growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska. John said, "My interest in plants goes back as much as I can remember. I took a teacher in Kindergarten a bouquet out of the garden". With Irises it began when he was a senior in high school. He said, "For 2 dollars I bought a collection of 8 irises. Among the eight were Sass's Jubilee' 'Jubilee' and King 'King Carl', and his tetraploid innovations, Siegfried' 'Siegfried' and Tiffany'. 'Tiffany'. Shortly after John planted them he went into the service during World War II, and by the time he got out those little plants had grown into great big clumps. When he saw the marvelous increase that had occurred during his absence, John saw dollar signs as well as beauty dangling in front of his eyes. He was hooked. But it wasn't until he got out of the military and was working in the meat packing industry that he "slipped into it backwards" and decided he could make a living working with plants. "I like plants and people, and after I got an education I was able to do both," he said. John received his doctorate from University of California at Berkley in 1962.
It was in 1949 when he began breeding iris for color, vigor and improvements in general, releasing his first hybrids to commerce in 1977. "I wanted to develop strains that bloomed longer, were fancier, and had new colors. It was an avocation that became almost an invocation. I started making almost as much money as teaching," he said.
John met his wife Fran in Nebraska and they married in 1958. He and Fran moved to Fresno in 1962, when John was hired by Fresno State University and they raised a son Steven, and a daughter Susan, who still live in Fresno. John taught Botany and Ornamental Horticulture for 16 years (1962 to 1968), then Plant Science and Landscape Design for 12 years (1968 to 1989) before retiring. When he retired, Dr. Weiler joined the International Bulb Association and the South African Botanical Society. From this he had 300 to 400 species of bulbous plants from South Africa, all grown from seed and related to the iris. "John Weiler is one of the nation's foremost developers of Reblooming irises," it stated in a Fresno Bee article from 1993. At that time John was President of the Reblooming Iris Society. He had been a Region 14 member since the spring of 1966 and became Regional Vice President and served 1980, 1981, and 1982.
The first rebloomers were found in the wild 500 years ago, but it was not until the 1960's that development of cultivars - plants that could assure consistency in color and vigor - began in earnest. John began hybridizing them in 1970, including many dwarf irises. He had a 2 acre plot in Sanger, California which had become overgrown with his hobby. He wrote for the Fine Gardening Magazine in 1993 about the development of Rebloomers through painstaking hybridizing to achieve the needed vigor. He said the Valley, with its frost-free period, offers one of the most optimum settings for rebloomers, topped only by some Pacific coastal regions and Southern California. John cited reliable rebloomers that include dwarves such as Baby 'Baby Blessed' (light yellow) and 'Plumwine' (plum red with violet shadings); intermediates such as Blessed 'Blessed Again' (light yellow) and I 'I Blessed' (cream colored).
An article in North View, April 1996, mentions his scientific articles and book chapters on tissue culture, cross-pollenization, diseases, and Reblooming that had been published in the United States and England. Friends recall with great delight the many questions John would answer for them without hesitation. One recalled of asking if a particular species of iris could still be found in the Sierra's, Dr. Weiler gave him directions without missing a beat. It did not matter if you were a friend or stranger John loved to talk about plants.
Another article in the Fresno Bee, May 1996 begins... "The only hint of what lies behind John Weiler's ranch-style home is a small pot next to the drive. Next to the pink geraniums, Persian buttercups and white and coral African Watsonia, there's the commercially grown Starlite Blue, Golden Galaxy, Fresno Calypso and Thick and Creamy, to name a few of the garden hybrids of iris that can still be seen blooming." Visitors to Weiler's garden need to be careful not to judge his collection by just a section of the front yard. The backyard boasts a collection of 400 species of succulents from all over the world, a large tray collection of bedding plants in another section and 700 varieties of iris.
Chosen for their ability to bloom more than once a year and bought from as far away as Australia, Germany, and Canada Dr. Weiler had these suggestions for planting and caring for rebloomers:
Border irises such as Double 'Double Up' (blue and white with dark violet borders); and tall ones such as Champagne 'Champagne Elegance' (white and pink ruffled). Feedback' 'Feedback' (medium blue-violet), Immortality' 'Immortality' (white) and Queen 'Queen Dorothy' (white stitched with violet around the edges). His home garden now has varieties that include Immortality', Queen 'Immortality', 'Queen Dorothy' and Rosalie 'Rosalie Figge' (a dark purple). "It's not until December 15 that we usually have frost hard enough to stop the blooming," he said", and sometimes will bloom again by early February and every month in between.
Weiler closed his Rialto Gardens in 1993, "I had already retired once, and I couldn't handle it all by myself. So I decided to sell and sold all the stock." In 2005, George Sutton attended the Fresno Iris Society meeting where he presented John Weiler with the AIS Hybridizer Medal of Honor. John smiled from ear to ear.
In 2008, John and Fran celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary; she passed away in 2009. (Fran Weiler, Lincoln, Nebraska, March 17, 1929 - December 27, 2009.) Today Dr. Weiler walks a little slower and his garden is not in the shape he would like it to be, but, have a question about plants----John still has the answers and willing share. -0-
List of registrations/introductrions:
Minature Dwarf Bearded: 'Chip',
Specied Hybrid: 'Beauty Crest',
Standard Dwarf Bearded: 'Auroralita', 'Autumn Maple', 'Baby Tears', 'Blitz', 'Cornhusker Autumn', 'Extra Charm', 'Flower Shower', 'Glitter Bit', 'Golden Violet', 'Indian Beauty', 'Khaki Print', 'Leprechaun's Delight', 'Little Bishop', 'Little Blue-Eyes', 'Little Bluets', 'Mini Busy', 'Mini Might', 'Pink Fawn', 'Plum Wine', 'Quietly', 'Rainbow Sherbet', 'Re-Pleat', 'Refined', 'Sunstrip', 'Susie's Honey', 'Third Charm', 'Third World', 'Thrice Blessed', 'Triplicate', 'Willowmist',
Tall Bearded: 'Autumn Tryst', 'Azure Luster', 'Bold Stripes', 'Bridal Fashion', 'Bridal Wreath', 'Country Sky', 'Daffodil Cloud', 'Deep Throat', 'Electric Surge', 'Evelyn', 'Exotic Melody', 'Fame', 'Fire On Ice', 'Flaming Victory', 'Fresno Calypso', 'Fresno Fiesta', 'Fresno Flash', 'Fresno Frolic', 'Glory Story', 'Golden Galaxy', 'Golden Velvet', 'Halloween Halo', 'Heady Perfume', 'Hot Pink', 'Jolt', 'Lemon Custard', 'Lovely Fran', 'Marine Luster', 'Navajo Jewel', 'Once Again', 'Oriental Knight', 'Perfect Accent', 'Pulsar', 'Raven's Return', 'Rumba Ruffle', 'Satin Satan', 'Seasons', 'Solstice', 'Spiced Custard', 'Starlit Blue', 'Striped Jade', 'Surf's Up', 'Swan Dance', 'That Scentsation', 'Thick and Creamy', 'Throb', 'Twilight Whisper', 'Watch It',