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Hybridizer Joseph(Jack) Riley, 1905-1978

Denver, Colorado, USA

From The Bulletin of the American Iris Society, No. 231(Fall 1978): Somewhere in the late fifties I met Jack Riley and his wife, Kay, at an AIS convention. They have attended almost all of them ever since. In 1970 Muriel Coombs wrote, "You really should attend (conventions). Why? To see people, to see irises. To see gardens. To learn. To renew the spirit. Friday afternoon as I started to register I watched a group of men greet each other and I sensed something I never put into words before. Those men loved irises so much that they loved each other. It is a spiritual thing, a bond that you can feel." That tells you exactly how I felt about Jack Riley. Most of us have known people in the iris society who, deciding that they needed more space for irises, have dug up an entire lawn. But how many irisarians do you know who decided that irises were more important than a whole garage? Jack's son Bob told me how he helped his dad take down the garage and prepare the ground.

Jack grew all kinds of irises-spurias, Siberians, I. missouriensis and I. montana, tall beardeds, dwarfs, and medians, but the latter were his favorites. He even hybridized a few: GINGER TART, a brown plicata SDB introduced by Melba Hamblen in 1970, and that little brown nugget LITTLE DANDY, another SDB, introduced by Old Brook in 1976 are two of his best. The Riley garden generally had some iris blooming in it from late March until the fourth of July, with a few interruptions only from unexpected snowstorms or a bit of hail. But no matter when you went, you never were disappointed. Jack was a superb photographer and always had his projector ready. If you couldn't find an iris in bloom the day of your visit, just wait a minute-Jack was sure to have a slide of it, and in a jiffy it would be on the screen. No wonder this was the most popular Median Iris display garden for miles around.

I moved to Colorado in the summer of 1971, bought an acre of ground and set aside a quarter of it for a future iris garden. Jack was over quickly to survey the place. Good drainage on a gentle slope, but hardpan and gumshoe clay made iris planting a dismal project. Not for Jack. He found a farmer and a plow, and soon the ground was tilled to proper planting depth; and the irises we planted that summer liked it. Jack taught me to divide newly planted iris rhizomes wherever possible to protect against winter losses. Botrytis is their worst enemy in the Rockies, but it rarely hits a whole clump divided at planting time. Jack and his son Bob had a lot to do with the planting of guest irises for both the 1963 and 1967 AIS conventions at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Between those years he ably served AIS Region 20 as its RVP. I remember Bee Warburton was shocked at the way Jack grew her famous dwarfs BRASSIE and BLUE DENIM for the '63 convention: they grew so well that they almost turned out to be IBs! After the convention and ever since, Jack made the dwarf and median beds at the botanic gardens his special project. The planting was annually updated with new varieties, and the irises always were properly labeled, weeded, and watered. A special memorial fund has been established at the Denver Botanic Gardens to perpetuate our appreciation of his contributions to the betterment of irises and daylilies there. Jack was a warm, friendly, knowledgeable and thoughtful man who made this world a better place by his presence. We will miss him and cherish his memory. —HARRY B. KUESEL


Standard Dwarf Bearded: 'Ginger Tart', 'Little Dandy'.

Tall Bearded: 'Jamaica Rum'.

-- BobPries - 2012-05-18
Topic revision: r2 - 07 Dec 2017, DavidPotembski
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