HISTORY OF THE
KING COUNTY IRIS SOCIETY
By George Lankow, August 8, 2008
OUR START AND GROWTH
Back in 1946, 11 women who had a love for irises met at the Gowman Hotel
in Seattle to organize what they called the Seattle Iris Society. That
same year, the society became affiliated with the parent organization,
the American Iris Society (AIS), and the AIS Regional (WA, OR, and AK)
organization, Region 13. They also joined forces with the Snoqualmie
District of Federated Garden Clubs for those that desired to learn more
about iris artistic arrangements. For reasons unknown, this group was
also affiliated with the Iris Society of England. They agreed on their
purpose as “to promote and encourage a wider interest in the growing of
To reflect the growth of our club, its name was changed to the King
County Iris Society in 1977. Today, the society has grown to include all
of the greater Seattle area. This includes as far north as Snohomish
County, where two commercial iris gardens are presently in operation (Walsterway
Iris Gardens, organized in 1986, and the recently organized Cascadia
Iris Gardens). To the South, we have a major garden in Covington (Jayne
Ritchie Iris Garden, organized in 1974 and still putting out a price
OUR CYCLIC MEMBERSHIP
By 1947, our membership had increased from the original 11 women to 80
members (including two brave men). Since then, our membership has been
cyclic, hitting a low of 17 members in 1956 and a high of 180 members in
1988. The years of highest membership occurred during the mid to late
1980s. These were stimulated by Seattle hosting a week-long AIS National
Convention in 1984 that attracted iris lovers from all over the world.
There were 12 Iris Display Gardens on bus tours from Everson in the
north to Tacoma in the south. Also included were iris displays at the
Rhododendron Species Foundation Garden and Ste. Michelle Winery Garden.
Presently, our membership is on what would be called these days a surge.
A few years back, we were fortunate to gain a number of enthusiastic new
members who have now taken over the club’s leadership. They have been
effective in growing the club; for instance, we signed up 13 new members
last February during the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. This pushed
our membership up to 68 members, the highest this decade.
Our longest-standing club member, dating back to 1963, is the
world-famous botanist Jean Witt. (Among other accomplishments, she has
recently completed an update of her Species Iris Checklist, which lists
and describes every known Species Iris growing in the wild.) In addition
to Jean, five other current members have been active since the 1970s,
and six more from the 1980s, making a total of 12 current members that
have been active since the 1980s. This blends in with our new blood.
OUR IRIS SHOWS
Iris shows educate the community about the beauty of the many types of
irises that can be easily grown in this area. We started off with a
private iris show on June 5, 1950, at the Bon Marché (now Macy’s) in
Southcenter Mall (now Westfield Shopping Towne), consisting of six tables of irises. In May 1957, we
held our first public iris show at Southcenter in conjunction with the
District of Federated Gardens. By the mid-60s, we had quite a following
for our iris shows. The enthusiasm for these shows lessened toward the
end of the 60s, and our shows were finally temporarily discontinued.
On May 21, 1977, we resumed our shows at Southcenter. The shows proved
to be very popular with the public, so Southcenter requested we come
back about the same time each year. This lasted until 1992, at which
time the mall underwent extensive remodeling and ceased to host flower
shows. For a number of years, these late shows were held at the Pavilion
Shopping Center south of Southcenter. We also began holding early shows
at various smaller malls. These shows were stimulated by the growing
interest in the earlier blooming bearded Median irises. Since then, we
have held both our early and late shows at Bellevue Crossroads Mall,
which leans over backwards to accommodate us. For the last few years, we
have relied once again on the Federated District of Garden Clubs to
provide the artistic arrangements, which has contributed to the strong
appeal to the public.
Since February 1990, we have been renting a booth at the Northwest
Flower and Garden Show. The show has been extremely successful, as each
year we have expanded our display to further attract the public.
OUR CLUB SALES
We hold sales to raise money for our educational events, such as shows
and programs, as well as advertising and other expenses. Starting in
1948, our sales were private auctions or low-key public sales. These
continued until 1977, when we held our first major exclusive sale out of
doors at Bellevue Square Mall using white-painted wooden crate boxes.
Sales continued there until around 1981, when the mall was remodeled. At
around that time, we added a second sale each year, our bearded iris
sale in August and our beardless iris sale in September. These sales
were usually held at Bellevue Crossroads Mall, where we also hold our
shows. Our sales have greatly increased the interest in irises
throughout the community.
OUR NEWSLETTERS AND YEARBOOKS
Starting in 1947, our club has issued monthly Newsletters that notify
our members of current activities and special reports. At the beginning
of each year, we distribute a Yearbook containing a membership roster, a
list of officers, bylaws, committee chairs, and programs and activities.
OUR HYBRIDIZERS AND THEIR ACTIVITIES
Our club seems to thrive when we have an active hybridizing program. It
must be the thrill of hearing about, seeing photos of, and viewing new
iris created by our fellow breeders.
The first iris registered by one of our members was introduced in 1948,
two years after our club was formed. The first meetings on
hybridizing was held the following year; the subsequent years have seen
many additional meetings on the subject of hybridizing. Also, many of our meetings have
included presentations by hybridizers, both our own and other AIS
members, describing the crosses they made for a particular seedling (a
new iris that has not been introduced).
Later in the 1950s and early 1960s, iris interest increased by having
within the club a number of hybridizers who later were to gain national
fame. Under the influence of these hybridizers, strong ties developed
with the Northwest Median Iris Group of Region 13. In the spring, garden
tours would alternate between the Portland and Seattle areas. We also
held fall Median iris meetings, at which breeders reported on what they
were doing and beginners were encouraged to ask questions. This later
developed into our present-day Regional spring meetings, which included
iris garden tours by Regional members. For the fall meeting, we featured
well-known iris speakers. Cities that have hosted regional meetings have
included Salem, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Tri-Cities, Wenatchee,
Spokane, and Walla Walla.
Hybridizing began to be more popular once again in the mid-1970s, when
some experienced hybridizers moved into the Seattle area to supplement
our existing breeders. With these new gardens, our club elected to hold
the AIS National Convention here in Seattle in 1984; having gained
sufficient confidence that visitors would be attracted to our gardens.
We were successful, having over 500 attendees.
Hybridizing moved along at a moderate pace after the national convention
for over a decade. Recently, four of our newer members have decided to
take up hybridizing. This is stimulating new interests in irises. For
instance, the club now feels we have sufficient gardens to once again
host a Region 13 spring meeting.
In parallel with this surge, we have partnered for the last 6 years with
the Highland Botanical Garden (HBG), sponsored by the city of Seatac,
where we have an established a large iris bed. For the last half a year
we have a similar arrangement with the Lake Wilderness Arboretum (LWA),
sponsored by Maple Valley, where we plan to plant multiple iris beds. We
are enthusiastic as both arboretums attract many visitors with their
cultivated landscapes. Each also conducts many sales and educational
programs and promotes horticultural science opportunities throughout its
vast array of gardens.
We feel all this adds up to an active future for our club. Hopefully, we
will attract many more new members to join us on our exciting voyage.