Notable Irisarians: The Irises of G. Percy Brown

by Rebecca Hamel, MA


Many of you may remember when Broad Street was the home of Dr. George Brown’s Elm Hill School.The first institution of its kind in the U.S., it served the needs of the mentally disabled. It was known worldwide, and flourished in Barre [Mass.] for 99 years. The advent of federally run institutions hastened the demise of caring; nurturing “homes” like Elm Hill School and it closed in 1946. The school was run by 3 generations of physicians: Dr. George Brown, Dr. George A. Brown and Dr. George Percy Brown.

What is perhaps less commonly known is that the youngest, Dr. George Percy Brown was noted for more than his work on behalf of the mentally disabled. He was fondly known in irisarian gardening circles as “Doc Percy”.

iris autumn twilight
Autumn Twilight
Photo by Bonnie Dazell, courtesy Sans Souci Nursery

Dr. G. Percy Brown was an iris hybridizer. Coming home after graduating from college, was riding through the back roads of Barre when he came upon a field of irises in bloom. As reported by Mary Kelley in a 1972 Barre Gazette article, “He often said later the sight of that field of blossoming irises, with pastures beyond, and Mount Wachusett rising blue on the horizon was what inspired him to take up iris gardening. The garden was on Sunrise Avenue at the summer home of Miss Grace Sturtevant of Wellesly Hills. She was one of the founders of the American Iris Society. ”

In what was known as the “Everblooming Iris Garden” in Barre he began hybridizing to perfect irises which would do well in New England as well as rebloom during the season. He began his efforts in 1929, and joined the American Iris Society in 1930.

Six of his more than 70 hybridizations originated in Barre. One of the better known was “Autumn Twilight”, which can still be purchased online. Doc Percy used “Autumn Twilight” as many as 21 times in the process of hybridizing new irises. He first introduced it in 1945 through his in-garden sales at his Barre garden. Brown also had iris fields at his Westport, Mass., home. The weather there was warmer and the growing season longer then in Barre. He began selling irises through mail-order catalogues in the 1950’s.

iris july sunshine
July Sunshine
Photo by Bonnie Dazell courtesy Sans Souci Nursery

I became interested in Dr. George Percy Brown while I was researching a talk I gave for the Barre Historical Society on Elm Hill School. I am an avid gardener and history buff who loves irises. I was taken with the fact that so many Irises used currently in hybridization came from Dr. Brown. These being “Autumn Twilight”, “Autumn Sensation”, “Autumn Snowdrift”, “Autumn Elf”, “October Shadows”, and “Green Dragon”. This was a list from an article written by Clarence Mahan. I then had an idea to make an iris bed in my garden dedicated to the irises of Dr. Brown. I went online and was able to find 15 of his irises. I was very excited to think that his irises would come back to Barre.

One elusive iris I am particularly interested in is the “Barre Beauty”. Dr. Brown developed this iris in 1953. It is described as being an “intermediate bearded, early and reblooming iris with blue selfs. I thought perhaps if I wrote an article about Dr. Brown, someone would recognize this iris and drop me a line at [email protected].

Al Clark taught me Barre has many unique historical persons and events. I believe Dr. G. Percy Brown is one of such person. Dr. Brown was awarded “The Hybridizers Medal” from the American Iris Association in 1971 for his outstanding plant breeding accomplishments. More than 25 years after his passing he continues to be mentioned in articles related to reblooming irises and his work with them. As recently as 1997 he was mentioned in an article, which listed 28 ideal “stud” irises for hybridization. Of the 28 mentioned, he developed 6 of them. Very impressive.

It is my hope that I have stirred up interest in Doc Percy’s irises and some folks out there will take up the cause and plant his rebloomers in their gardens to keep his history alive.

~ Reprinted from the Barre Gazette, with the permission of the Author.

August Indian, 1956
August Waves, 1939
Autumn Afternoon, 1954
Autumn Bronze, 1955
Autumn Elf, 1935
Autumn Jane, 1961
Autumn Orangelight, 1961
Autumn Sensation, 1961
Autumn Snowdrift, 1954
Autumn Tints, 1962
Autumn Twilight, 1971
Autumn Velvet, 1962
Barre Beauty, 1951
Chartreuse Chalice, 1959
Fairy Wings, 1952
Fall Beach Plum, 1965
Fall Blue Contrast, 1967
Fall Blue Sky, 1969
Fall Bluebird, 1961
Fall Cheerfulness
Fall Dragon, 1964
Fall Fairy, 1952.
Fall Gaylite, 1967
Fall Glory, 1966
Fall Greenway, 1963
Fall Lunalite, 1964
Fall Melolight, 1959
Fall Novelty, 1967
Fall Perfection, 1962
Fall Prinrose, 1953
Fall Serenade, 1959
Fall White Spot, 1965
Fall Yellow Excellence, 1969
Fall Yellow Giant, 1964
Fall Yellow Supreme, 1967
Fall Yellow Wings, 1963
Fall Velvet, 1950
Fall Violet, 1953
Green Dragon, 1954
Harvest Blue, 1950
July Sunshine, 1965
October Beauty, 1958
October Clouds, 1957
October Shadows, 1950
October Sunshine, 1955
Sea Orchid, 1957
September Bouquet, 1966
September Buttercup, 1961
September Butterfly, 1966
September Charm, 1958
September Chereau, 1965
September Contrast, 1956
September Cream, 1958
September Gleam, 1959
September Gold, 1965
September Pastel, 1957
September Sailor, 1959
September Seas, 1958
September Serenade, 1962
September Sparkler, 1943
September Sunshine, 1957
Summer Angeline, 1964
Summer Blue Bell, 1965
Summer Blue Dress, 1965
Summer Bluetints, 1963
Summer Butterfly, 1964
Summer Butterscotch, 1967
Summer Cavanette, 1962
Summer Darkness, 1967
Summer Date, 1960
Summer Fantasy, 1964
Summer Goldilocks, 1962
Summer Green Shadows, 1964
Summer Inspiration, 1961
Summer Janeway, 1967
Summer Lavanette, 1963
Summer Paleface, 1965
Summer Red, 1962
Summer Sprite, 1960
Summer Surprise, 1955
Summer Tabletine, 1962
Summer Whitewings, 1960
Tinted Porcelain, 1952
Wesamequin, 1950