The Irises of G. Percy Brown
by Rebecca Hamel, MA
Many of you may remember when Broad Street was the home of Dr. George Brown's Elm Hill School.The first institution of its kind in the U.S., it served the needs of the mentally disabled. It was known worldwide, and flourished in Barre [Mass.] for 99 years. The advent of federally run institutions hastened the demise of caring; nurturing "homes" like Elm Hill School and it closed in 1946. The school was run by 3 generations of physicians: Dr. George Brown, Dr. George A. Brown and Dr. George Percy Brown.
What is perhaps less commonly known is that the youngest, Dr. George Percy Brown was noted for more than his work on behalf of the mentally disabled. He was fondly known in irisarian gardening circles as "Doc Percy".
In what was known as the "Everblooming Iris Garden" in Barre he began hybridizing to perfect irises which would do well in New England as well as rebloom during the season. He began his efforts in 1929, and joined the American Iris Society in 1930.
Six of his more than 70 hybridizations originated in Barre. One of the better known was "Autumn Twilight", which can still be purchased online. Doc Percy used "Autumn Twilight" as many as 21 times in the process of hybridizing new irises. He first introduced it in 1945 through his in-garden sales at his Barre garden. Brown also had iris fields at his Westport, Mass., home. The weather there was warmer and the growing season longer then in Barre. He began selling irises through mail-order catalogues in the 1950's.
One elusive iris I am particularly interested in is the "Barre Beauty". Dr. Brown developed this iris in 1953. It is described as being an "intermediate bearded, early and reblooming iris with blue selfs. I thought perhaps if I wrote an article about Dr. Brown, someone would recognize this iris and drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Clark taught me Barre has many unique historical persons and events. I believe Dr. G. Percy Brown is one of such person. Dr. Brown was awarded "The Hybridizers Medal" from the American Iris Association in 1971 for his outstanding plant breeding accomplishments. More than 25 years after his passing he continues to be mentioned in articles related to reblooming irises and his work with them. As recently as 1997 he was mentioned in an article, which listed 28 ideal "stud" irises for hybridization. Of the 28 mentioned, he developed 6 of them. Very impressive.
It is my hope that I have stirred up interest in Doc Percy's irises and some folks out there will take up the cause and plant his rebloomers in their gardens to keep his history alive.