Leiston: Grower revives nation’s iris tradition

Iris breeder Barry Emmerson

Iris breeder Barry Emmerson

New varieties of irises bred from an allotment in Leiston have gained an international reputation for reviving “quintessentially English” strains of the plant.

Horticulturists across Europe, America and even Uzbekistan, have been placing orders for the sought after new varieties developed by Barry Emmerson, an Ipswich garden centre employee and president of the British Iris Society.

Mr Emmerson, 59, launched the English Iris Company earlier this year in posthumous recognition of his mentor and teacher, the renowned hybridiser Bryan Dodsworth.

Following Mr Dodsworth’s death around four years ago, Mr Emmerson began teaching his son, Simon, and together they set about preserving the collection at his home in Nottingham and devising new varieties along the same tradition.

“We are making his irises available again and we’re trying to revive the quintessentially English strain of iris,” he said.

As well as exporting new strains to far flung corners of the globe, Mr Emmerson has also successfully sold the rights to name his new varieties to gardening enthusiasts and institutions.

Mr Emmerson has also named one after Christchurch Park in Ipswich, as a place he holds dear to his heart.

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The process of hybridizing to produce new varieties of irises involved cross pollinating two parent plants with desirable characteristics and then hoping that their seedlings blossom with favourable results, often without success

“You get a lot of rubbish and then one brilliant one,” said Mr Emmerson.

Bryan, a 12-time winner of the prestigious Dykes Medal, is thought to have grown more than 250,000 crossed seedlings to create the hundred or so new varieties he had named.

Though the process is time consuming with only intermittent success, Mr Emmerson says it is always fascinating to witness a new variety emerge.

“When you see the flowers open for the first time it’s like watching childbirth, but without the stress,” he said. “However, it’s often disappointing as you rarely get the results you would like.”

To find out more visit www.englishiriscompany.com