Notable Irisarians: Two Paragons in Fame – Clara Rees and Snow Flurry

  • by Edith Cleaves

How I wish all of you could have personally known Miss Clara B. Rees. You would have enjoyed and loved this gentle lady.

Moving from Ohio to California, she could not successfully grow the tulips with which she had been working — probably because the winters were too mild in the Santa Clara Valley. Her sister, Ruth and Clara decided to try iris. Among the first ones purchased were Queen of May and the dainty Quaker Lady. Later their choices included San Francisco, Thais and Purissima. Transferring the pollen from Thais onto Purissima, the pod of the cross contained only two seeds, one of which was shriveled. Tempted to throw the second seed away, being Clara, desisted and, of course, planted it. Thus Snow Flurry came into being. The first year’s bloom was pleasing so divisions were made. In the second year of bloom both Clara and Ruth felt that this white blossom should be introduced. Ruth, picking two blossoms, carefully carrying them by train, street car, boat, another train and a taxicab, reached Mr. Carl Salbach’s garden in the Berkeley Hills. The gentleman quickly questioned Ruth, “Where did you get these?” Ruth replied, “In our backyard.”

The very next day Mr. Salbach visited the Rees garden. When he saw the particular plants, he immediately purchased all but one rhizome. This Clara could keep providing she did not sell or give away any for three years.

Snow Flurry, later introduced by Mr. Salbach, had her first “coming out” at an AIS membership meeting over the weekend. Her debut was so successful, it wasn’t long before she was in great demand. We all know what a popular personality she became. Pollen in Snow Flurry is almost negative on this delightful flower, but what exquisite plants and flowers she has helped to produce, far and wide. Her pods are always plump and full of seeds.

Clara was a slender woman, with silvery white hair that formed little tendrils of curls around her face. She had brown eyes with laughter lines in the outer corners. Sometimes, when I visited there, she would be reading here beloved Bible (which she had figured that if she read three chapters every day, she could read the Holy Book through within a year). Or she might be working on one of her albums, which were most interesting. The one she enjoyed working on so much, was one of many clippings from the eastern newspapers, giving news of friends and relatives, telling of their graduations, their marriages and their new additions to their families. This last gave her many opportunities to crochet tiny booties, small sweaters and bonnets, gifts for the new little citizens. Another album contained many clippings regarding Snow Flurry and events, awards — all of which touched home in her iris world.

Some days she would sit on the prettiest small rocker, a lovely antique with roses carved on the top of the back. The surprising idea was that Clara was very adept in caning chair seats, a forgotten art in these days. Over their fireplace was a long mantle. On her birthdays she would proudly place the many, many greeting cards from friends who loved her and wished her happiness. How pleased and touched she was with all the friendly thoughtfulness of her friends; she who was always so generous in so many ways. From the front porch, through the house, to the back porch, were always growing plants. Among them were several amaryllis — one which was a true watermelon color, which she had hybridized.

A stroll with Clara through her garden was always such fun and surprising. Under a spreading peach tree was a big bed of Lily-of-the-Valley. Their land spread out, and through the original area were many tall trees. Growing close to one group of those trees were a lot of Rembrandt tulips. In the spring many daffodils added gaiety to the garden and in spare spaces were many different types of plants and shrubs showing how this dear soul loved every flower that would grow and grow they did.

Another pleasant memory is the excellent way these sisters cooperated so smoothly in the iris business. Her sister, Ruth, was always busy with her public relations business but still had time to assist when orders came in and in many other ways. Clara was still working in her 89th year, not only in her garden but doing the housework, plus the bookkeeping, even when she was recovering from a fall which kept her in bed for quite a time.

This is a bit more personal than most of the beautiful stories written about Clara. There are such beautiful ones. Harry Randall’s book “Irises” had such a nice one under the chapter “Famous Tall Bearded Parents”. In the AIS Bulletin #188, January 1968, is a very fine picture and two charming articles, one tilted “The Influence of Snow Flurry on Today’s Whites” by Les Peterson.

In 1967 she was awarded the Hybridizers’s Medal. How she treasured it! Another gift from the Clara B. Rees Iris Society was a charm bracelet whose small ornaments depicted high points in her life. Many of her irises received HM’s and other awards. How much richer in sprit a person feels having know her.

A list of the irises introduced by Miss Clara, as she was fondly called, follows:

1939 Snow Flurry
1944 Easter Sunrise
1946 Rosy Ruffles
1947 Ruffled Bouquet
1949 April Tan
1950 White Smoke
Flurry Mohr
1951 Sarah Lester
1952 Yellow Organdy
Golden Shadows
Saddle Brown
1953 Queen’s Treasure
1957 Fire Flurry
1959 Golden Cheer
Added Attraction
Celestial Gates
1960 Astronaut
1961 Touch of Elegance
1965 Angel Bright
Light & Lovely
1966 Children’s Hour
1970 April Elegance
High Style
1972 Clara’s Black
Sun Cap

[Reprinted from Sooner State News, the newletter of the Sooner State Iris Society, October 1972]