Hybridizer Tom(1910-1987) and Wiloh(1912-1978) Wilkes
Tujunga, California, USA
From The Bulletin of the American Iris Society, No. 230(Summer 1978)
: A native of Washington state, with formal training in art and music, Wiloh Wilkes did not take up with irises until the middle 40s when she and her husband settled into a home with garden in southern California. The area boasted many fine gardens of tall beardeds and numerous successful hybridizers of them; knowledge was easily gained as an eager "apprentice." But among the areas notables was one man in particular with a different interests: Clarence White and his "oncobreds" (then the term for arilbred irises). He was dedicated, perseverent, and emanated a quiet enthusiasm. The enthusiasm was catching, and Wiloh found herself more and more involved in reading about, collecting, growing and studying, and breeding this challenging group of arilltall bearded ancestry. Mr. White had not many years earlier achieved the major breakthrough in his hybridizing career-the production of fully fertile hybrids that later came to be known as "CGWs." It was these that occupied her attention.
By late 1956 Wiloh had developed a comprehensive group of objectives on which she was to work until she retired from her seedling patches. She felt deeply that Mr. White's outstanding work was little known and understood by most irisarians; she believed as he did that his new fertile hybrids were a "stepping stone" (as he termed them) toward readily gardenable plants that would capture some or most of the beauty of the larger oncocyclus species. Therefore, she would build on his work and try to achieve his breeding goals using his irises, working to make his name known, his work appreciated, and his irises or their progenies grown worldwide if possible. She realized she would need much help, and she had a plan to get it: she would raise seedlings on a large scale and distribute selected breeding seedlings to interested hybridizers who could be persuaded to try growing and using them.
Much encouragement came from others who also shared an interest in arilbreds, among them Tom Craig and Stafford Jory, respectively an artist and an architect. Thus the artistic training came into play as they would evaluate the seedlings. A study of photography (undertaken to improve quality of slides shown at meetings) led her to photograph all her seedlings to record the variation from each cross; a duplicate set of such slides would go to Tom Craig for independent evaluation. Fortunately, Wiloh was a natural plantswoman, and her irises multiplied like rabbits. She was able to distribute thousands of rhizomes of her selected breeder seedlings as well as to ship many thousands of seeds from promising crosses to those starting to work with CGWs in this country and abroad. She was one of the group who hit upon the famous fertile "¾-bred" arilbreds at about the same time and which are the key to breeding more oncocyclus-appearing arilbreds. As a part of this consuming, missionary-type interest she helped found the Aril Society, International and also spent much time in working with the AIS on registrations and later the arilbred awards system.
By 1974 her work had been done as far as she could complete it, arthritis having driven her from her seedling patches. Clarence White's name, breeding work, and hybrids were known throughout the iris world. She and many others had taken his work and had striven to develop a new race of hybrids of wide variation in color, patterning, form and size; much exciting work was by then being done by those younger and stronger than she. Uninterested in awards, ribbons, making introductions, she feared that competition for awards would distort her objectivity in evaluating her irises. She was more interested in the verdicts of her hybridizing friends. Reluctantly she permitted the introduction of IMARET (1962) —"a good breeding iris" was her opinion of it—and she introduced no more. Ironically, IMARET reflects both her good taste and her consistent under-estimation of her work: AIS judges accorded it the C. G. White Award. —TOM WILKES
Arilbred: 'Harem Girl'
; 'Wiloh's White Magic'
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