Visit to M. F. DenisBalaruc-les-Bains, Herault, France (May 19-20, 1919)
Leaving Paris at 8:00 p. m. Sunday, May 18th, I changed cars at Avignon at 8:00 Monday morning, and proceeded via Nimes and Montpellier to Cette, arriving at 11:40. There I was met by M. Denis’s automobile and driven to his house in Balaruc-les-Bains about six miles distance. His place is near the top of a hill overlooking the bay, the city of Cette and the mountain Cette, and the Mediterranean beyond. The view is wonderful though much broken up by trees, of which M. Denis is very fond; indeed he prefers to sacrifice his view rather than his trees.
M. Denis’s place is small, probably not more than four or five acres in all, and is cut into many small gardens at different levels. There is one small greenhouse devoted to orchids, and there are many orchids being grown in the gardens and in the grass, also many roses and other flowers.
I found a collection of fifty or one hundred of the standard European Irises – varieties such as Darius, Dr. Bernice, Gracchus, Gagus, Her Majesty, Honorabilis, Miss Maggie, Mrs. H. Darwin, Mrs. Neubronner and many others. They were all small, much smaller than usually seen in America, probably on account of the hard gravelly soil in which they are grown, and lack of care during the war. These older varieties have been kept by M. Denis because he has used them for breeding, and likes to have them for comparison.
More recent varieties were:
Iris King, Ed. Michel, La Neige, Alcazar, Eldorado, Miss Willmott, Rhein Nixe, Archeveque, Goliath, Prosper Laugier. These were slightly larger, but with the exception of Alcazar, still below medium size.
Among these stood the variety Ambassadeur, a new seedling of Vilmorin’s, not yet in commerce. It is by far the finest Iris in M. Denis’s garden, and as fine an Iris as I have ever seen. The flower is large, of heavy substance and stands stiffly on a strong stem. The color is exceedingly rich, the standards smoky purplish bronze, the falls rich velvety maroon. The whole is like a Dr. Bernice with purple in it, or a very, very deep Eldorado, but more bluish.
There were several Iris species in bloom. Ricardi was the most interesting because of its use by M. Denis in breeding. It is a large flower of the Trojana type to which it must be closely related. The falls are narrow and not of good substance, and as a whole it does not deserve a place in the garden. Biliotti is a much smaller flower of fine coloring; and a wild type of Pallida collected by Sir Michael Foster at Como was especially noted for its fine coloring.
M. Denis’s seedlings may be roughly divided into two general classes: first, those which owe their size to Iris Ricardi, and second, those which superficially show no trace of the species Ricardi.
First Group. [ed. – I believe the x’s are ratings]
In this group are found all the important seedlings of M. Denis. By crossing he has been able to combine the large size of Ricardi with the good form and different colors of our common garden Irises. The finest of these are probably:
xxxxx Mlle. Schwartz (Pal.) Very close to Caterina with a little pink in it, larger,
not quite so tall,but a very free bloomer, which Caterina is not. Massed
it makes a wonderful display.
xxxx Mme. Claude Monet (Ger.) (Ric. x Kochii). An enormous flower, unfortunately
not of the best form; of rich Kochii color.
xxx Clement Desormes (Sq.) (Ric. x Her Majesty). A larger, better, and more purplish
xxx Mme. Durande (Sq.) (Ric. x Var.) A much paler and much larger Eldorado.
xxx M. Cornault (Sq.) (Ric. x Amas). A magnificent deepcolored variety, but surpassed
xxx Saul (Sq.) A deeper larger Iris King; late.
xxx Belcolor (Var.) Pale yellowish white.
xx M. Trinidad (Pal.) A Caterina type.
xx Leverrier (Sq.) S. pinkish. F. purplish. 3½ inches.
xx Ricardi Blanche (Am.) Fine white.
xx Dalila (Sq.) A very popular variety but of a color that I
personally do not care for.
x M. Brun (Sq.) The largest of all, but a very weak stem.
Her Majesty type.
x M. Chabert (Sq.) (Ric. x Sq.) Prosper Laugier type.
x Jennie (Pal.) (Ric. x Junonia). Dark blue.
x Perrone (Pal.) (Ric. x Junonia). Pale blue.
M. Denis’s latest white seedling, Miss Cavell, had finished blooming; he regards it as his best white.
Seedlings not showing parentage of Iris Ricardi. This group includes a number of medium or small flowered Irises which have been selected and named on account of fine and distinct color, good form, and freedom of bloom.
Of the many forms the following were noted:
xx Romeo (Var.) S. lemon. F. purple.
x Troost (Pal.) Purple pink. A dark Her Majesty.
x M. Aymard (Pal.) Still deeper.
xxx M. Degrully (Sq.) Red Cloud type.
x M. Menetrier (Sq.) S. yellow. F. purplish.
xxx Mme. Boullet (PH.) S. yellow. F. gray. Tall.
xx Mme. Denis (PH.) A dark Mary Garden.
xxx Mme. Masse (PH.) Mary Garden type.
x Mme. Bazes (PH.) Mary Garden type.
xx Vieil Or. (Sq.) (Old Gold). Smoky golden. F. purplish.
xx M. Austin (Sq.) Small, fine color.
xxx M. Boyer (Sq.) Wine red.
xx Deuil de Valery Mayet (Sq.) Prosper Laugier coloring.
x Julia Grisi (Neg.) Small, good form.
x Gernez (Neg.) Small, good form.
x Rene Denis (Sq.) Small, fine color.
x Corbeau (Sq.) Small, fine color.
It will be noted that most of the above are of Squalens coloring, the smoky lilac and purplish bronze shades evidently being favorite colors with M. Denis. They are at their best when viewed singly at twilight when the delicate shades are best brought out, and they are consequently not as well suited to ordinary gajden planting as the blue Pallidas and yellow Variegatas which give bright masses of color.
It should also be noted that the varieties containing Iris Ricardi blood are best adapted to a hot dry climate, and they have not as yet been sufficiently tested in the North. Several varieties including the beautiful Mme. Claude Monet have proved unsatisfactory to growers near Paris, but as several other varieties (including Dalila, Troost, Mile. Schwartz) have proved satisfactory near Paris and also in England, it is evident that no general rule can be drawn at present, but that each individual variety must be tested separately.
M. Denis’s enthusiasm for Irises and his success in Iris breeding should be an inspiration to all gardeners and Iris lovers, and when his varieties become better known, I am certain they will be much appreciated for their soft and curious colorings and their large size. Let us hope that his growing interest in orchids will not lead him to give up Iris breeding, but rather that he will find time for both, and continue to give us new Iris seedlings from year to year.