Article: Historic Irises at Shows

by Joe Spears January, 2005

In 2000 Chapter 26 – Historic Irises – was added to the “Handbook for Judges and Show Officials”. It provided instruction on the proper inclusion of Historic irises in AIS approved shows including the sentence, “Exhibitors should have the choice of entering the 30+ year old iris in the Historic or regular class (TB, MTB, etc.). This seemed to say that one exhibitor could choose to enter STEPPING OUT, for instance, in the Historic section while another exhibitor could enter their STEPPING OUT in the TB section. Many felt that this would create a situation in conflict with the instruction in Chapter 4, page 41 under “Award Ribbons” which stated, “Only one first place ribbon (blue), one second place ribbon (red), and one third place ribbon (white) may be awarded to each cultivar.” The concern being that in the above instance the cultivar, STEPPING OUT, could be awarded blue ribbons in each of the sections.

This dilemma was discussed at length at the 2002 AIS Fall Board Meeting in Fort Worth. Finally a suggestion by Keith Keppel was adopted adding these four words to the instruction on page 41: “in any given section”. So now more than one blue, red or white ribbon may be awarded to a cultivar and the potential exists for two specimens of STEPPING OUT (one from each section) to compete for Best in Show. Since only one specimen can win Best in Show this should not be a problem.

Stepping Out

Stepping Out, (Schreiner, 1964) – ©MU

But there are problems when it comes to showing and judging Historic irises which have nothing to do with the Handbook. Or perhaps these problems simply occur due to ignorance of instructions provided by the Handbook.

There is a perception that, while there may be a place for Historic irises in a show, irises entered in the Historic section may not win Best in Show. There are several instruction that refute that idea. On page 65 it says, “Each stalk is evaluated against the maximum typical performance of the variety being judged.” It would seem then that even a typically ugly variety could win provided that it is ugly, grown and groomed well and is in good condition. Beginning on page 219 the Handbook says of judging Historic irises, “Emphasis should be on the excellence of the horticultural specimen rather than any proximity of the cultivar itself to currently preferred style in flower form, stalk or overall size.” Also on page 54, “The judge must make every effort to eliminate any ideas or opinions that reflect personal preferences.”, and on page 17, “Personal preferences in color and form should not be allowed to interfere with selection of worthy specimens for awards.”

In the first paragraph of Chapter 2, Duties and Responsibilities of Judges, the Handbook states that an AIS member “should never accept the appointment (of Judge) unless he/she is willing to follow all rules concerning AIS judges”.

Throughout the Handbook are admonitions to judges to grow many different irises and visit as many gardens as possible to gain a “thorough knowledge of irises and their characteristics” (page 15). “Both new and old varieties will be shown, and this points to the need for much garden visiting.” The Historic Iris Preservation Society (HIPS), a section of the AIS, publishes annually a directory of gardens that are open to the public and growing Historic irises. It would seem that this directory would be an excellent resource for judges interested in improving their knowledge of Historic irises.

The Handbook suggests on page 14 that “Every judge should continue to study written material…to improve judging techniques.” Another superb resource from HIPS is the semi-annual publication, ROOTS, containing extensive information about and color photos of Historic irises. HIPS also makes available reproductions of older catalogs and publications that prove invaluable in helping identify older varieties in lieu of the confusing codes in older Checklists. Local societies are encouraged to acquire these older publications and make them available to judges at shows (page 220).

Selecting the best specimen of the show is covered in Chapter 22 of the Handbook. “This selection is the most important evaluation judges will make from every section of the show…” “The choice is made from all competitive single specimen classes except seedlings and bulbous.”

The handbook is very clear that all entries are eligible for best specimen of the show. The only distinction reads as follows: “When two specimens are judged equal in all respects except for the date of introduction, the newer variety should be placed higher…”

Maybe some judges will consider including a mention of these ideas in their future judges training classes.

The perception mentioned earlier, unfortunately, becomes reality in some shows. Many of the irises grown by new members, especially, are older irises. As we encourage them to get involved and enter their specimens in the show, shouldn¹t we ensure that these entries receive the same consideration afforded to newer specimens? Lets encourage all judges to become more familiar with recent changes in the rules governing judging Historic irises.