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1946 Amos Perry autobiography

Past, Present and Future.
By AMOS PERRY -- BIS Year Book 1946

This business of writing a biographical article for the Year Book is going to cause me some difficulty. There are so many things that flood into my memory, and so many of them have nothing whatever to do with Irises. The fact that I have many other loves does not mean that I abate one bit of fanaticism for the flower which took up so much of my time when I was apprenticed to the world-famous firm of Ware's, at Tottenham, in 1888.
....In those days the germanica Irises were grown largely for Covent Garden market, and about twenty acres of them were grown each year. I can well remember the tedium of cutting, piling at the end of the beds, bunching them in dozens, and packing the spikes them for transit.
....However, we were always beaten to the market by John Aldridge, of Petersham, who had made a weird and wonderful travelling green-house which had wheels running on railway lines so that it could be moved by horses along a big strip of nursery-garden, and thus each crop got some forcing in turn. The market favourites were florentina, pallida dalmatica, 'Gracchus' and 'Victorine'.
....My father had always been very keen on Irises. He raised 'Gracchus', which received a First Class Certificate in 1885, 'Cordelia', which was a blackish purple, 'Maori King', a fine yellow, and 'Mrs. Neubronner' which, at the time it came out, was said to be "the finest yellow, that will never be superseded"; and these were only some among many.
....Mind you, the keenness of people in those days was not always as restricted in its manifestations as is horticultural keenness to-day. I well remember at an early Regent's Park Spring Show, Messrs. Collins & Gabriel, Wares, and, I believe, A. Waterer, were competing for a best group of Irises. Messrs. Collins had nearly completed their group, using greenhouse ferns as a foil; and when we arrived my foreman Mr. Sontag immediately raised a protest against the use of ferns. His protest received no support and the resultant argument ended in a free fight. Messrs. Collins received the First Prize for their certainly beautiful exhibit. I plead guilty to similar offences. On one occasion I secured a Gold Medal with a good second class lot of Irises supplemented by a beautiful collection of ferns.
....I started on my own at Winchmore Hill in 1889, and in 1894 I exhibited at my first show, and I well remember that it was also Robert Wallace's first show. He had filled two shallow tin trays with moss and stuck the stalks of his exhibits into it; my equipment was even more rough and ready, and by no means so ingenious. From then dates a friendship with Robert Wallace which has continued and deepened with the passing of the years, although we were always the most keenly enthusiastic competitors one with the other. I do not know of anyone else who has done more to popularise Irises than he.
....I should make it clear perhaps that I have seen still more primitive show equipment than we put on in 1894. I remember that great old man, the late W. J. Caparne, showing his Intermediate Irises at the old Drill Hall. He brought them along in kipper boxes and just slid them Into some kind of position on the floor--and that was his exhibit!
....My first outstanding success with an Iris I had raised myself was with 'Black Prince' in 1900, and I have got a firm conviction that this later become one of the ancestors of 'Dominion', although Bliss thought its parentage was 'Cordelia' x macrantha
....Later on Sir Michael Foster gave me a wild form of pallida which grew over five feet high but had a small flower of dirty colour which was sneered at generally. Sir Michael, however, advised me to try breeding from it, and I did so with patience until I at last produced from it the tall seedlings which J. C. Wister, then President of theAmerican Iris Society, was so enthusiastic about when he came to my nursery in 1922. My total "bag" of Iris awards is 51, not counting medals awarded for groups. Some of the plants I am particularly proud to have raised are 'J. C. Weld', 'Her Majesty', 'G. P. Baker', 'Mrs. Marion Cran' (which was described on its introduction in America as the world's best pink"), 'Mrs. Robert Emmet' (similarly "the world's best white" !) M ARY G IBSON, L ORD L AMBOURNE, and, to leave the Bearded section, M ARGOT H OLMES.
....This hybridising of the species reminds me of a certain occasion when, meeting Robert Wallace at an Iris Society Dinner, I begged from him a bloom of I. bracteata. We had a pleasant, I might say even a merry, evening with others, and when I finally got home it was midnight; but I went out with bracteata and pollinated tenax and Douglasiana. Later some fine fat seed pods appeared on both, though whether this can be recommended as a general procedure for those who have difficulty in crossing species, I should not like to say!
....There have been periods when I have grown a very large number of Irises. Of my own seedlings alone, I have had as many as 20,000 under trial at one time, and I can well remember when we used to export tens of thousands of plants a year to the United States, together with Deiphiniums and many other plants, though this export to America was ended in 1914 when the American Import Authorities killed it with endless regulations. Why they did it I cannot imagine because we have no Iris troubles, as far as I know, which they have not got in the United States; in fact, they seem to have plenty of additional ones, including the troublesome Borer.
....I am often asked what has happened to all the Iris species, and hybrids between the species, which I introduced from time to time; and the answer is that they were mainly lost in one or other of the two war periods. A lot went west in 1914-18, though in that period I did not suffer so very badly with the Bearded Irises because although a large proportion were thrown away, I did stack some 10,000 rhizomes in heaps in 1914, and in 1920 when we were able to start attending to them we found them mainly in good health, only the centre ones having rotted.
....In this last war, however, we had no time for stacking. About 25,000 Iris roots were ploughed in; but not deeply enough for vegetable cultivation so we had to plough them all out again and burn them. We started the fires early every morning and had to begin putting them out at about 3.30 in the afternoon to make quite certain that there was no glimmer left by black-out time. And the next morning we again started the business of getting the fires going. We had to grow a different plant, one with edible swellings, namely the potato; and even in this year, 1946, 75per cent. of my old ground is being devoted to the growing of food, under Government orders.
....Then, on one occasion alone in 1941, seven bombs did some deep digging in the nursery, and with them came the end of a large number of very valuable Irises, ferns, and other plants, including 500 different varieties of scolopendrium alone.
....We had a hard struggle after the 1914-18 war to try to bring stocks back to their previous high standard, and the last war reduced my collection to almost vanishing point. That is how so many of these Irises species went; the hybrid tewat was one so lost, and I wonder if anybody, anywhere, has a plant of it left. I thought I had also lost chrysobirica for bad and all, but on going to a field which had been hastily ploughed, and ferreting about on the spot where I thought it ought to be, I found a few stray bits of root, and I am glad to say that now I have a respectable clump developing again. Of course our stocks of such things were never big; in fact, the public demand for them did not warrant keeping them all, and I used to get into trouble with my sons over the expense involved in repainting a hundred or so labels for them each year, and even now there are no signs of the demand growing.
....Another section which I think has been badly neglected is that of the Intermediates, and I hope breeders will pay more attention to them in future. What is the best thing to be done, I am not quite sure, but I am rather inclined to think that progress will not be made by working on present day Intermediates, but by going back to the original species and crossing some of the early dwarfs such as aphylla, chamaeiris, pumila, and rubro-marginata with taller Irises, in particular with mandschurica alba.
....All this work, however, will be handicapped by the difficulties of getting hold of some of the species, and the contacts which one had pre-war with plant growers in different parts of the world have almost all got to be re-made.
....And so is introduced the fact that the world is not only made up of plants, but that there are also, fortunately, people and the varied incidents associated with them. I dare not start reminiscing, partly for considerations of time and space, and partly because of decorum; but there is one experience that I undoubtedly have shared with many, and that is the receiving of bountiful gifts in the old days from the late Sir Michael Foster.
....On visiting him, he was never satisfied until he had weighed one down with roots; and I can well remember leaving his place to make my way to Shelford Station one broiling hot day in June with a sack tied on my back and with one in each hand. He was a super-generous man, and Mr. Bowles to-day is just as "bad"; he has given me thousands of plants from his garden, and I have had as much freedom in his library as he has himself!
....What of the future? Well, I have severed all my business interests, and look forward to competing in the Shows of the Iris Society as an amateur. I have got a new house with 1 1/2 acres of ground, and I plan to grow in particular Tigridias, Hemerocallis, and, of course, Irises; moreover, I am not just going to sit back and contentedly contemplate my Foster Memorial Plaque and watch the Irises grow. I am going to do some breeding, and (would you believe it?) part of this will be to see if I can recapture some of the old-time varieties, illustrated in the Floricultural Journal of 1880 or thereabouts, which were obtained by crossing variegata with squalens and some of the Caucasian species. I have had this in mind ever since last year when I went down on my knees in excitement in Mr. H. J. Randall's garden at the sight of a plant of variegata in bloom, and he--blessed man--gave me a clump of it. If this project is thought to be the horticultural equivalent of the theme of H. G. Wells' Time Machine, I can argue that nobody looks askance at a man for having a love of old furniture patterns, so I cannot see why I should not indulge my whim, providing, of course, that I clearly mark the resulting plants 'Reproduction" and don't try to pass them off as "Genuine Antique ".

-- BobPries - 2014-05-12
Topic revision: r5 - 17 Dec 2018, BobPries
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