The Goos and Koenemann Irises
– John Taylor, MT
“Except for the early work of Haage and Schmidt in dwarf irises, apparently the only important work in irises in Germany has been done by
Goos & Koenemann.” – John Wister, first president of the A.I.S. in The Iris, 1927
With such complimentary recognition from the prestigious John Wister, it is surprising that not much has been written about the founders of the firm of Goos and Koenemann. We know that Max Joseph Goos was born in 1858, and completed the approximate equivalent of a secondary school education and brief military schooling.
It is also known that his interest in horticulture developed while he served as apprentice gardener with one of the larger German nurseries. So, after working for several other well-known nurseries in western Europe and Great Britain, he bought a small nursery of his own in Niederwalluf am Rhein in western Germany in 1885. Two years later, Max Joseph’s friend August Koenemann became his partner in the business, and the Goos and Koenemann (G&K) nursery firm was founded. Although undoubtedly handling many kinds of annual and perennial plants and seeds, it specialized in flowering garden plants including irises, peonies, bulbs and dahlias. It was also in 1887 that Max Joseph’s son Hermann was born. Not only did Hermann eventually manage the nursery, but all of its significant iris work was accomplished during his short lifetime.
By the mid-1890s, G&K was crossing bearded irises by hand, and had developed breeding programs for both TB and DB irises. To the extent that records indicate, their TBs at that time were probably all diploids, among which must have been selected clones of I. pallida, advanced generation i. pallida-I. variegata hybrids, and garden variegatas of L&eactue;mon, Ware and others. Their dwarf hybrid series was given the Latinized name pumila hybrida although it is doubtful that the species i. pumila was being used. In their 1899 catalog, G&K listed the first of 78 new varieties the firm would introduce abroad during its half-century of operation: six dwarf irises and the light pinkish-purple tall bearded cultivar Trautlieb. The dwarfs were essentially the i. lutescens-type, two of which were blue and the remaining four yellow. Among them was Eburna, which remained in commerce for at least forty years, and which the nursery first called pumila hybrida eburna, i.e., ivory colored. Although it was introduced with the pedigree (pumila X TB), it appears that the “pumila” involved was a form of i. lutescens, and that Eburna approached what we might now call an IB. It was from this same kind of breeding that W. J. Caparne obtained his famous intermediates introduced in 1901 and 1902. One might wonder whether G&K and Caparne were aware of the other’s hybridizing successes in the 1890s.
After the turn of the century, however, G&K was so impressed by Caparne’s work that in about 1905, the firm bought his entire stock of intermediate irises. It has been said that some of Caparne’s IB irises were given Germanic names and introduced later by G&K, but proof of such horticultural subterfuge is lacking. Nevertheless, between 1907 and 1910 the firm did name and introduce ten new IB varieties. Among the 1908 introductions, Helge was found to have 43 and Ingeborg 44 chromosomes, counts not unexpected in the IB class.
A few years later, the young Hermann Goos joined the firm. He was probably already familiar with many aspects of its operation and breeding programs, and quickly contributed to its commercial success. By 1910, when August Koenemann died, the nursery occupied nearly 80 acres.
Kastor, a TB blue self, was introduced for the 1914 season, but by August, Germany had declared war against Russia and entered “The Great War.” Apparently the G&K nursery was spared major military damage, but the war effort adversely affected its operation. Although it seems likely that iris hybridizing continued, their only introduction during the war years was the carmine-purple TB Fuerstin Lonyay introduced in 1916.
During the post-inflation era, after Hermann had received his doctorate and returned to manage the firm, G&K saw its most active and productive years. From 1924 through 1930, 37 new varieties were introduced, ten of which were registered with the AIS.
When Hermann Goos died in 1933, the chief horticulturist, Frederick Buchner, took over management of the firm. Whether as a result of that administrative change, the inability of the nursery to compete with the increasing number of high-quality tetraploid TBs being introduced by other hybridizers, or the radical political upheaval taking place in Germany, G&K entered a period of decline from which it never recovered. During the Third Reich years, G&K introduced only one cultivar, the red-violet amoena Rheinelfe in 1934. In 1937, its fiftieth anniversary year, G&K issued its grand Jubilee Catalog, now certainly a collector’s item. Just two years later Germany invaded Poland and World War II had begun.
Regrettably, the G&K nursery was located in what was to become a strategic battle area, and was destroyed during bombing raids over the Rhein valley. The firm closed and never rebuilt after the war ended, but the G&K varieties, especially the variegatas, remained so popular in Germany that there were over 40 varieties still listed by one German nursery in the 1950s. Perhaps that might have been expected, for the G&K varieties, though occasionally lacking in quantity of bloom, were recognized not only for the showy colors of their flowers-sometimes softly subtle, sometimes almost garish-but also for their vigorous growth, strong stems and rugged constitutions. Even after so many years, most of those that survive are still welcome in contemporary gardens.
The following list of G&K introductions was prepared from the 1929 and 1939 Alphabetical Check Lists of the AIS, and is presented in chronological order as recorded:
This article is reprinted from ROOTS Vol. 7, Issue 1, Spring 1994.]