The Iris Connection

By: Richard G Turner Jr

Richard G Turner Jr is the editor emeritus of Pacific Horticulture. After receiving degrees in architecture and landscape architecture from…

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Iris ‘Time Traveller’, a tall bearded selection with pointed beards, a popular novelty today. Photograph by George Waters

Iris ‘Time Traveller’, a tall bearded selection with pointed beards, a popular novelty today. Photograph by George Waters

As I write this, on the ides of February, the first Pacific Coast hybrid iris of the season is opening outside my office window; I love their early spring flowers and the ease with which they’ve adapted to my somewhat casual approach to gardening. Irises have been among my favorite plants since childhood, when I began collecting tall and miniature bearded iris and exchanging with some of my older neighbors. One of the first books on gardening that I remember reading (at age fourteen) was Sydney B Mitchell’s Iris For Every Garden. Decades later, my first visit to Ruth Bancroft’s garden in Walnut Creek coincided with the peak of bloom in her two-hundred-foot long iris border. To my astonishment, I learned that she had developed her initial love for irises as a childhood neighbor of Mitchell in North Berkeley. Mitchell had also been the first president of the California Horticultural Society and edited its journal, a predecessor of Pacific Horticulture.

Were it not for a meeting at a gathering of iris enthusiasts in England during the summer of 1972, it is quite conceivable that you might not be reading Pacific Horticulture today. There to study garden history, Olive Rice, contributor to American Iris Society journals met George Waters, editor of an Iris Society newsletter in England. Their shared interests in irises, gardens, and journalism ultimately led to George’s move to Berkeley, to a garden design and maintenance business, and to immersion in the diverse horticultural community of the Bay Area.

When, in 1975, the Pacific Horticultural Foundation began planning the launch of Pacific Horticulture, George and Olive, representing the California Horticultural Society, volunteered for the publications committee; as the first issue was going to press, George was appointed editor of the fledgling magazine. Over the next twenty-one years, he molded it into one of the most highly respected garden journals on either side of the Atlantic. With prior employment at the Kodak Laboratories in England, it was, perhaps, inevitable that George would evolve into a superb photographer, with images (many of hybrid and species irises) that regularly appeared in the magazine. These photographs set the standard against which those of other photographers continue to be judged. Meanwhile, Olive directed the distribution of the magazine to subscribers and retail outlets—an effort that has spanned the twenty-seven year history of the magazine.

George and Olive Waters in June 1997 at a Friends Garden Party celebrating his retirement as editor of Pacific Horticulture. Photograph by William R Moore

George and Olive Waters in June 1997 at a Friends Garden Party celebrating his retirement as editor of Pacific Horticulture. Photograph by William R Moore

The irises that brought Olive and George together have remained a focus of their lives. Long active in iris groups around the country, Olive has, for eighteen years, produced the American Iris Society’s annual calendar, using many of George’s photographs, as well as those of other photographers, to illustrate irises from around the world.

In yet another chance encounter, Olive met graphic designers Sharyn and Walt Gayton at the local copy shop and chose them to help on various iris society reports and publications. That relationship led eventually to work with the young Pacific Horticulture on advertising layout. When our original designer, Laurence Hyman, moved on to other projects, the Gaytons expanded their role and are now completing their twenty-third year as designers of the magazine.

Since passing the editorial baton to his successor six years ago, George has put his attention to organizing his extensive collection of transparencies and prints of gardens, plants, and people. He has continued to write for Pacific Horticulture, as well as for other garden magazines, and has kept the red pencil busy as editor of Graham Stuart Thomas’s latest book (reviewed herein by Seattle’s Valerie Easton).

Recently, Olive and George have moved to a serene corner of Oregon, perhaps to cultivate a few more irises. But, they are already working with the Gaytons on the 2004 edition of the iris calendar—their nineteenth collaboration on that project. George continues to respond helpfully to calls for assistance from your current editor. Likewise, Olive continues as circulation director and secretary to the Pacific Horticultural Foundation.

I know that readers will want to join in a region-wide “thank you” to Olive and George for all they have contributed to the success of Pacific Horticulture. May their “flags” wave long and colorfully.

RGT