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Debby Rairdon/Garden Diggings
by Chris Hollinshead 

I recently came across this very interesting story regarding a previous Dykes Medal winning Tall Bearded iris. The iris is DEBBY RAIRDON (Kuntz 1965). It won the Dykes medal in 1971. The story is interesting for the fact that this iris was randomly created by a backyard hybridizer and the circumstances surrounding its introduction were also just as much almost pure chance. This might be enough to make every would-be hybridizer start thinking about his/her own Dykes Medal. Those of you who hybridize know what a million to one shot that this must have been. Originally from Plants Alive magazine, August 1978, by J.D.Foraker, here it is:

Irises Add Majesty - Mrs. Kuntz's Prize-Winning Variety

Debby Rairdon - Dykes Medal winner 1971Talk about beginner's luck. On her first attempt at breeding iris, Lois Kuntz created the Debby Rairdon variety which later won the highest award in irisdom.

Housewife, mother of two, grandmother of ten--Mrs. Kuntz had belonged to the American Iris Society for years. After reading in one of its publications how simple hybridizing was, she went out and randomly crossed two iris, "For the fun of it. It sure is simple."

Twenty seedlings resulted from her cross. When they bloomed, "They were a kind of muddy, ugly pink, most of them. I just threw them away." The last seedling to bloom looked different. Very slow to open, it finally unfolded into a yellow and cream-white bloom. Mrs. Kuntz thought, "This is kind of nice. I guess I'll keep that one." It had exceptionally good substance (thickness and strength). "Rain and wind would hit it; it just stood there. Still, I had no idea it would someday be a prize-winner. I just thought it was a nice iris."

Friends spread the word about her lovely iris with the wonderful substance. A dealer-grower named Mrs. Noyd, now retired, came to see the beauty. "Now, that iris ought to be introduced into commerce," she proclaimed.

Mrs. Kuntz knew nothing about introducing flowers, so she gave Mrs. Noyd some rhizomes. Mrs. Noyd planted them in her garden. Delighted with the variety's performance, she introduced it through official American Iris Society channels, sending rhizomes to test gardens all over the United States.

Mrs. Noyd informed Mrs. Kuntz, "It's got to have a name." She provided Mrs. Kuntz with the address of the registrar. Mrs. Kuntz's granddaughter Debby, who was about eight years old at the time, had already asked her grandmother what she intended to name her creation. "Well, I guess we'll call it Debby," decided Mrs. Kuntz. Debby was thrilled. But when Mrs. Kuntz wrote the registrar, he replied that it couldn't be called 'Debby" because they already had a 'Debby'. 'Miss Debby' was also rejected. "I couldn't very well change the name at that point. Debby'd have been so disappointed. Finally, I thought to put her last name on it. They accepted that."

Each year from 650 to 850 new iris varieties are registered with the American Iris Society's registrar. Many are the products of amateurs like Mrs. Kuntz. Only a handful possess the qualities needed to be sold nationally. Mrs. Noyd received good reports about Debby Rairdon as it moved up the iris ladder. Debby first got honorable mention from the American Iris Society in 1966. In 1968, Mrs. Noyd called to inform Mrs.Kuntz her iris was one of 12 to receive the national Award of Merit. Mrs. Kuntz was understandably surprised. It is from these 12 irises that one Dykes winner (the top award for irises) is chosen each year. Judges from across the country voted Debby Rairdon top iris of the year 1971. Mrs. Kuntz said, "When it won the Dykes, I about fell over."

Mrs. Kuntz's iris is in the company of other Dykes medallists like Skywatch of 1970, which was created by a retired aircraft engineer, and Babbling Brook of 1972 which was hybridized by a postal supervisor and iris hobbyist. Other fabulous iris that have won this top honor include New Moon, Pink Taffeta, Shipshape, and Kilt Lilt.

There was no presentation ceremony for Mrs. Kuntz. "I had a letter telling me I'd won and they told me to watch for the medal. The medal came through the mail from England."

Mrs. Kuntz once met an iris nurseryman who puts out catalogs. "He said out of thousands of seedlings they may keep maybe four to observe. Most of them they throw away." She still can't believe that out of only 20 seedlings she discovered such a prize as her Debby Rairdon.

One nursery catalog's description (Gilbert H. Wild and Son Inc. catalog) reads as follows: "(Kuntz, 1965). Early Midseason. 34-inch. Form of this fine white and cream iris is flawless. Of equal value is the vigorous habit of plant and flower. The heavily-substanced bloom reflects the finest in achievement in a most pleasant and harmonious variety. H.M. 1966, A.M. 1968, D.M. 1971."

Mrs. Kuntz could have made a good profit from Debby Rairdon. But she made a wrong choice. "Mrs. Noyd asked, 'Shall I pay you, or would you like to have a percent?" "I should have taken the percent because she told me afterwards that she did very well on it. She paid me $150 in cash and gave me $150 in iris. At that time, I thought it was great. But if I'd done it the other way, I'd have made a great deal more."

Mrs. Kuntz will never breed another iris. But, "If I were doing it now, I'd pick not necessarily the biggest iris, but the nicest shape—where the standards are held up and not floppy. I'd cross that with one that I liked the color of."

Her yard today is mainly lawn, trees and shrubs. The only iris she grows is her own Debby Rairdon. 

Garden Diggings is a regular column in the CIS Newsletter. Chris Hollinshead lives in Mississauga, Ontario with his family and lots of irises. He may be reached by e-mail at: cdn-iris@rogers.com