In his retrospective article in the Winter 1998 Region 1 Bulletin, Dr. McEwen writes, "My hybridizing goals have been the same for both the siberians and the Japanese irises: strong plants with good branching; new colors and true blues, reds and pinks; attractive patterns; early, late and repeat bloomers; and the development of miniatures." We polled iris growers in New England, asking about their favorite iris creations of Dr. McEwen. Many of his introductions came to mind and were submitted as favorites. We feature below McEwen cultivars which are held in high esteem by two or more respondents..................
Golden Edge (1992) is a handsome dark blue-violet tetraploid siberian with a gold edge. The deep dark color and velvet texture contrast sharply with the golden edge and the rich yellow signal. This variety is also a very rapid grower.
Hubbard (1982) is a wonderful wine-red tetraploid siberian with a bluish haze near the white signal. Ted White calls it the best "red" Siberian iris in our garden.
Tiffany Lass (1988) is registered as a violet-blue tetraploid siberian, however as people who grow siberians in search of pure blue flower color,we find this iris to be a rich, deep, near true blue color. The styles are a lighter blue while there is a darker blue-brown color intensifying close to the signal. Form is exquisite.
Harpswell Hallelujah (1983) is a beautiful deep blue with great color saturation. It's especially nice in the early evening light. It has been overlooked as far as receiving high awards because of its late season of bloom.
Lady Lilac (1991) is a graceful tetraploid Siberian with feathered white standards and pink-lilac falls. The hafts and signals show green, which is beautiful in combination with the color of the falls.
Harpswell Snowburst (1991) is a mid-blue Siberian with a large round stippled white signal. The flower color resembles the blue of the late fall or winter sky, while the distinctive signal is pure white and the falls are edged with a delicate white rim.
Currier's diploid miniature siberians are also favorites: 6" Baby Sister (1986) and its 18" tall white child Sassy Kooma (1993). Barbara Schmieder comments that Sassy Kooma is the perfect iris to be planted in front of taller dark siberians, and it covers itself with frothy blooms.
The most beloved McEwen siberian in Region 1, also a diploid, is Shirley Pope (1979), a lovely deep velvety purple with a very distinct white blaze that makes this iris stand out. It forms a "dramatic clump." Bloomstalks are interesting even before opening because of the dark spathes. It also has another very nice quality in that new blooms open and cover up faded blooms so that it isn't necessary to groom the plant to make the plant look neat!
Among McEwen Japanese iris introductions, the dramatic imposing tetraploids are the favorites. The three fall white Maine Chance (1984) is described as having "incredible substance - remindful of the white kid gloves worn by Jacquelyn Kennedy at state dinners, almost makes you want to stroke it!" Among the six fall white tetraploids Double First (1986) and Oriental Classic (1988) are both noted for their heavy substance and ruffling. The three fall Popular Demand (1988) is particularly outstanding due to its unique color pattern: Red-violet standards contrast with pure white falls that are veined in blue pinstripes! The most popular in Region 1 as everywhere else is Japanese Pinwheel (1988), three falls with rich red-violet color set off nicely by a striking white edge. Ted White points out that Thoroughbred, a new 1999 introduction, is one of the best tetraploids ever hybridized by Dr. McEwen. First viewed in a seedling plot in Seaways Garden a few years ago, it is one of those rare seedlings that are destined to be introduced from first bloom. It is a huge three falled flower with incredible substance, ruffling and flaring form. Standards are dark purple with dark veins and white edges. White falls have dark blue-violet halos and veins. The rich yellow signals are surrounded by beautiful bluish halos.
John White writes, "It gives me the greatest pleasure to write a few lines about Dr. McEwen. He has contributed much to the improvement of Japanese and siberian irises. His reputation is worldwide for his work in tetraploid lines, his generosity, advice and friendliness. I would not have achieved what little I have in hybridizing without his advice and generosity." John also indicated (on his long list of McEwen favorites) the cultivars he is using in his hybridizing. Among the iris highlighted in this article, John is hybridizing with siberians Shirley Pope, Harpswell Hallelujah, Golden Edge and Japanese iris Popular Demand and Japanese Pinwheel.
Happy 100th Birthday to Dr. Currier McEwen!
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