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Rocky Mountain Hiiiiigh!
By Kathy Guest

The majestic Rocky Mountains and the "Mile High City" of Denver, Colorado were the setting for the 1998 AIS Convention that took place June 2 - 6, 1998. Several hundred iris lovers are usually in attendance at this annual event.

Kathyguest herself!Your reporter at the scene of the crime here in Denver, Colorado. Iím already having trouble remembering what day it is (they say itís Tuesday) so I thought I'd better file a short report before hitting this enormous bed.

Tuesday June 2, 1998

I got into Denver airport yesterday and had no trouble finding the shuttle to the hotel. I was totally unprepared for the fact that Denver is NOT in the mountains, however... Denver is quite flat... and the mountains are over there.

They are beautiful... like a fantastic mural in the distance.... but we are on solid ground and not even close to them, really.

ANYWAY... I met up with Marilyn Harlow and Bill Maryott last night and we had an outstanding dinner together here in the hotel. Bill and Marilyn recently moved their extraordinary iris collection from an urban area (San Jose, California) to a rural area (somewhere near Monterey or something). Their business also changed from an almost exclusive walk-up, cash and carry trade to a completely mail order business. I wonder how many folks have seen his catalog???? It's really unlike any other - but still, it's going to be a tough transition to make and they're aware of that.

Anyway... the thing I thought was interesting is that Bill is now actively interested in club orders and any clubs that are looking to order in irises for their sale might consider getting in touch with him. Our club has been ordering in irises for several years now... ever since we realized the demand outstrips what we can dig from members gardens. The money we spend is made back that day, so we donít agonize over the expense... but it IS hard to find a supplier who will offer newer irises at an attractive enough price where the club can make a profit.

Anyway... I pass that along for what it's worth.

Lots of folks are here already... of the 60 geek nametags I made, there are only 6 still lying on the table. Some of the folks (that I hadn't met before) that I've met include Vicki Craig, Sara Marley, Dorothy Gordon, Joe and Donna Spears, and the ever-popular RUSTY. I just had a nice long talk with him... he's very excited to be here and I enjoyed our chat.

This morning I was able to get myself invited to the Denver Botanic gardens with Bill Smoot, Carol Warner, Shirley Pope and some friends of theirs. The only room was in the trunk of Smootís Bronco - but I'm not proud. The Gardens are fabulous... the weather was sparkling and warm. We even got a personal tour from one of the Gardens' curators who showed us all the species irises that they have in their collection - and we all tried to behave as though we knew exactly what they all are. We had a grand time... the gardens are packed with interesting plants and... since we're all gardeners first... wish lists grew.

This afternoon was devoted to MEETINGS. The biggest and the grand daddy of all the meetings is the Board meeting. We met from 1 till 5 and actually put quite a dent in the agenda. Probably the biggest news is that Dr. Roy Epperson has had the revised judgeís handbook completed and PUBLISHED. There are copies for sale here... $15 each - and I think folks will be impressed. One "why didn't anyone think of it before" change that he made was to put the standards for garden judging and show judging each type of iris next to each other to save flipping of pages. There are now standards for historics and space age iris.... the new criteria for the Wister Medal is included and some modifications have been made as to minimum requirements for an accredited show.

But first and foremost... IT'S HERE - and I hope that those of you who are in the judges training program take a moment to send Dr. Epperson a huge "atta boy", for an enormous job well done.

Another very interesting "tweak" that has been made is to the membership year... as some of you may know, the membership year was changed to a calendar year a couple of years ago... which did not sit well with everyone. The reason that some folks are unhappy is because most new members join during iris season... and actually, their year is already 1/2 over when they join! Some clubs have been holding memberships until the following January, but then the new member is not stimulated when they need it most. A wonderful compromise has been reached whereby the membership year will remain the same... however, new members will receive two Bulletins free until their actual membership begins in January. So, the entrance to the membership year is seamless... the cost is affordable and everyone seems to be happy.

Of course, lots of other things happened too, but those are two items that I thought might be of general interest.

From the Board meeting, some of us went to the SJI Board meeting... then to the RVP meeting and then to the Judges Training Chairmen's meeting. My dinner was a bag of pretzels and some lemonade.

Tomorrow will be more meetings... tons Ďo meetings - Board from 8 till 5, then the welcome banquet and then weíll all hit the iris trail.

Good night... on the job in Denver

Wednesday, June 3 1998

Todayís report will be pretty myopic since I was in the Board meeting from 8 am till 5 pm. There were plenty of other things going on in the meantime... Siberian, Japanese, Median, HIPS, Rebloomer, Spuria meetings... and such -but one of the downsides of being involved with the Board is that you have to make some choices. Lots of folks slip in and out of the Board meeting to attend the things they want (or must), but since I'm to take minutes... I can't very well do so.

A good deal of the focus of the Board today was on finances... approached from different directions. Now, to run an organization of our type - dedicated to the promotion and education of irises.... it takes cash - - and in order to operate effectively a good cash flow balance has to be maintained. It's hard to see this from the outside.... you pay your dues, you get your Bulletin - bada bing bada boom. The end.

But thereís lots more!

AIS has grants and scholarships, a healthy youth program, and various other programs. There are even certain special funds that rely almost entirely on donations from members and clubs. The Board tries to be as frugal as possible without compromising the quality of services provided.

Anyway, Iím sure this stuff is not high adventure and you can all wait for the movie....(or minutes), so suffice it to say that you should be very proud that so many people care so passionately about the good of the Society.

Tonight is the real start of the convention. Everyone is here now and the convention kicks off with a reception and welcome banquet. You would NOT believe the number of people here! Almost every state is amply represented and plus there are folks from Canada, England, Germany, and Australia.

Folks are wearing the geek tags proudly and it's FUN to put faces with names. I finally met Marte from the Mountains, although we didn't have a lot of time to chat. She looks just like I knew she would. I saw Jeff Walters and Barbara Mann. All the usual suspects are here... and itís like you always knew them. It does take me a minute to place them (I have to picture their address on my computer.... funny). It's going to be so much fun to have "critical mass" at the geek jamboree on Friday night. Barbara and I were talking tonight how having the e-mail people at convention is like having a convention within a convention! Some folks are already making plans for next year and they haven't seen their first flower yet.

The banquet was lighthearted... and after a meal of Mexican goodies, most of us hightailed it up to the silent auction.

The silent auction is an effort by AIS to raise funds in a painless manner. The idea is that folks donate plants or items of value to the auction... these are laid out on tables and a sheet of paper placed next to each item where bids may be entered. The bidding will close tomorrow night and the highest bidder for each item will win it.

There are some VERY cool things... besides for an impressive listing of bearded irises, there are some beardless and some species. I have my eye on a japonica. There are also the copper plates from various book printings, various artifacts and artwork, rare books (including an original Dykes), and doodads. Almost everything has at least one bid on it... with the most vigorous bidding being on the book ($400+).

This makes me wonder about all the folks who CAN'T get to convention ... and I wonder if a mail auction (which has been discussed) and/or an e-mail auction would be worthwhile. I'd be interested to hear anyone's thoughts on it.

So... it's late and we're loading buses at 6:45 tomorrow for our first visits to the gardens.

Over and out.

Thursday June 4, 1998

Well... today was the day - the meetings are done and the message hangs in the air like the Goodyear blimp... gentlemen - start your engines

Today was the first day of garden tours! We were told at the banquet last night that we could board the buses at 6:45 this morning... so I barreled down for my mocha latte and found Carol Warner, Shirley Pope and Tom Abrego. Tom was entertaining us with his "Abrego's Convention Bovine Theory".... which very basically boils down to "people are cattle". His theory is based on his own experiences in the Portland convention - and is easily applied.

Anyway... we piled onto a bus which headed for Colorado Springs. This is probably the place where I should tell you that the weather took a chilly turn overnight.... the air was kind of misty too so the chill sunk in easily. Most of us are not prepared for cold weather.... but iris folks are a hardy lot.

Our first stop was a turn around the airforce academy and then onto the grounds of the Mining Museum. This is a museum dedicated to the earliest settlers of the area - and they also had a nice display garden planted. Bloom is pretty much at peak.

Two irises that impressed me at this stop were both by Marky Smith. PRISM is a 95 IB of a glorious royal blue color, and STARWOMAN is a IB also and more or less the same wonderful blue color, but the falls only have it as a wiiiiide band with the center being white. Not quite a plicata. Both irises were absolute perfection of form and since I already grow (and love) PRISM, I'll only have to find STARWOMAN to make my life complete.

Part of the deal with the Mining Museum was that we had to go in for a mining video and steam engine demonstration. Now boyz and girlz, when I heard that my reaction was not entirely enthusiastic.... but it sure is now. VERY interesting. The video concerned how the area was settled by miners moving east from the '49 gold rush in California. And after that, we entered a large room full of enormous antique machines that an energetic young man ran for us..... absolutely enthralling.

The next stop was lunch at the Flying W ranch. This is an interesting mass feeding station that resembles a chuck house. We were all herded (<--- hey, Tom's right!!) into a large room where we were issued a tin plate. As we moved along, a splat of beans landed on the tin plate..then a potato, barbeque, bisquit and brownie. We ate on long benches (under cover, thankyouverymuch). I got separated from Carol, Shirley and Tom when we were shopping for scarves and gloves just prior to lunch so I sat with Carla and George Lankow and had a nice visit with them. As we talked, the woman next to me got my attention and said that she really wanted to meet Kathyguest and could I introduce her. My life flashed before my eyes since I HAD to assume that she knew I was me and that I was in some kind of trouble. It wasn't that at all... just fellow Iris-L person Rita Butler! Great fun to meet these folks.

Right after lunch Rita and George and I went on a speedwalk up to some rock formations that literally took your breath away... and then it was onto the Loomis Test Gardens.

The Loomis Test Gardens are a project whereby hybridizers send their seedlings in and they are evaluated for 3 years. A video tape is produced each year and sent to all RVP's (so ask yours if you can borrow it), and careful records are kept on the performance of the irises. This is invaluable information for the hybridizer... and for John Q. Public who wants an iris that will perform.

Some things I liked there were SUNKIST DELIGHT (Niswonger), pale yellow standards, white falls with a wide dark yellow band. ELECTRIC SHOCK (Messick), off white falls with an astonishing electric blue beard and a similar splash down the center of the fall. Blue standards.

FISTERWALD - IB (Innerst), gold with a darker infusion on the falls... orange beard and a rimmed effect. ROZ (another Innerst IB) is very similar except that the infusion becomes kinda reddish brown 'eyelashes'. The falls flare out prettily and the standards are open.

RAZZLEBERRY (a silvered orchid by Nelson) had branching like trees.

Tony Huber had some of his cool species crosses in there.... Nouvel Age, Belle Promisse and my personal favorite... Enfant Prodige.

One seedling that caught my eye was by Hedgecock... 84-1-S... a dark ruffled violet with red shoulders.

You should know that it goes without saying that when I mention a plant, it's a total plant... not just a pretty face. This means the foliage is clean and strong, the bloomstalks are well branched and there's a decent ratio of bloom to fans... and everyone is standing up loud and proud.... even in the brisk wind that developed.

And I mean BRISK. By now it was downright chilly... in the 40's and a good wind with that infernal mist in it. We had managed to purchase some warm things back at the Flying W.... my own score being a wool scarf that I could wrap around my neck and stuff down my sweatshirt. There is no vanity at an iris convention.

Next stop was the UNION PRINTERS.... a retirement home for you-guessed-it. One iris that was performing like a champ there is NORA EILEEN (Richardson)... a grape color with a navy blue beard and a royal blue wash in the center of the fall. I grow several of this hybridizer's plants back at the Guest Estates... and they all are consistently great performers.

PRINCESS CAROLINE DE MONACO (Cayeux) was a wonderful ruffled confection of pale blue, white center on the falls and the entire package set off by an orange beard.

Our own Walter Moores had CONFEDERATE ROYALTY looking like it will be spectacular in two more days... right now it's a huge clump with a bazillion bloomstalks right up there, but only one flower actually open - that's a purple plicata with white standards, held open with yellow and purple highlights on the stylearms.

CHINESE NEW YEAR (Ghio) has marmalade colored standards,, dark red falls centered magenta and orange beards. Interesting colors....

As nice as that garden was, we were not unhappy to get back to the warmth of the bus and furthermore to the hotel. After a quick dinner, Bill Smoot and Bruce Hornstein invited me to join them on a reconnaissance trip to the Hyatt where the Federated Garden Clubs were having THEIR convention. Poked around there and then raced back to the hotel for Judges Training with Roy Epperson on Border Bearded irises.

Judges Training classes, for those who don't know, are not as ominous as they sound. Yes... they are designed to teach those of us who aspire to be iris judges how to recognize a good plant..... but it's also very fine information for ANYONE... since it deals with the form and culture of the plant in the garden. I enjoyed this session very much.... Roy is a good teacher - interesting, clear and funny.

From THERE we went to check our bids on the silent auction. I had been outbid on everything I bid on, and Bettie Nutter and I almost came to blows over one japonica... until some other guy came over and bid us both out of the running.

So that was that for today! We have more bus tours tomorrow.... and the weatherman has even mentioned the "s" word in the forecast so we are girding our loins.

And that's the way it is...

Öin iris heaven

Friday June 5, 1998

Well, the word is out about the Denver weather today. The "s" word was not only in the forecast... it was all over the ground, the irises and the 500+ people tramping around here.

Yesterday was chilly.... this morning was damn cold. Most folks either hied their bad selves to K-Mart or the hotel gift shop to get something warm to wear... or they improvised by layering. Some unique fashion statements here in Denver today.

First stop was the Chapman garden - a place that boasts of view of Pikes Peak and Long's peak... but not today. The weather was drizzly and chilly. I liked CROSS CURRENT by Keppel... with dark blue falls and lighter standard. I remember this same iris catching my eye last year and it's moving closer to a spot on the Guest estates. Our Walter had a seedling here... 91-10-B is a yellow IB with flaring form.... In bloom and looking perky.

The second stop was the Baumunk garden .. an exquisite confection in horse country. As we pulled up, the drizzle became more regular.... and then more substantial and our initial foray into the garden was in a pure sleet storm - which then turned quickly to snow! And I don't mean there were flakes in the air, boyz and girlz.... I'm talking GOOD PACKING SNOW! I'm talking Abe Feurstein making snowballs!

This was just beyond the pale.... it was so funny. Imagine all these folks in bizarre getups slinking around in a December snowstorm ... trying to make notes with frozen fingers on wet paper... of irises weighted by snow. I got a great shot (I think) of Tom Abrego in a snowstorm.... and lots of pictures of irises gaily topped with a snow cap. It's funny.... instead of being upset - most people appreciated the joke and knew that we were part of a historical convention...... the Denver Iditarod.

I should mention before I get too far afield that the irises at Baumunks were at peak bloom - and tolerated the snow very well. I'm becoming particularly taken with most irises by the Cayeux family, and today was no exception. Two in this garden were very similar; white standards, wide falls with a rim so wide the white center looked more like a signal. One had a wide violet rim, the other a wide royal blue rim. Both had bright orange beards. Although I didn't identify which was which, one name was BAL MASQUE and the other RUBAN BLEU. You won't go wrong with either. Keppel's LONDONDERRY was also looking good... and the rest of my notes consist of blotches and smears.

Getting back to the fashion statements being made today. There were lots of layered looks and hats... and plastic garbage bags were featured prominently in this season's Denver collection..... Ellen Gallagher sported garbage bag covers over each shoe giving her a charming gait and assurances that she can't sneak up on anyone. Anna Mae Miller tied her garbage bag "Aunt Jemima" style on her head.... Carol Warner wrapped her scarf around her head several times till she looked like an immigrant.

From there we went to the Hudson garden... a large publicly owned garden that was once private. This is a spectacular garden/park with enormous borders, a fragrance garden, a cutting garden, a rose garden with formal fountain in the center. To one side was a rock garden TDF with all manner of dianthus, sedum, ephemeral, and so on. Mike Moller tends the iris garden at Hudson, which was not large - but very well done (BTW, it had stopped snowing). The only iris I made a note of was MY SHADOW (dark purple with darker falls and an unusual coppery beard), but that's only because I was too damn cold. This is a garden you could get lost in.... no problem. Lunch was served there... an elegant affair of pasta and petit fours and chocolate covered strawberries.

The other two gardens today (Stetson and Love) were both in peak bloom as well. We haven't seen many Siberians here, so I was thrilled to see a bunch in the Love Garden - and very well grown too. I was especially thrilled because many of them were from Dana Borglum of my region! His LAKE KEUKA is justifiably famous... and was showing us why - a regal clump of shades of blue. Also featured were his "Seneca" series, SENECA EGRET COVE (a wide white), SENECA STORM CLOUDS (dark blue with feathered styles, and violet on the hafts). SENECA SKYLITES (blue with flattened standards with turquoise styles).

Sterling Innerst also had Siberians in this garden! This is the first I knew he even DID Siberians, and he did his usual 'over-achiever' effort... SIB8 is a grape purple with short, very fancy, feathery style arms in (get this) aqua!

More gardens in the morning... running out of steam already tonight. I'll also fill you all in on the Geek Jamboree tonight (aka the Iris-L and computer meeting).

... fighting the good fight in Denver

Saturday June 6, 1998

Last night after judges training was the long-awaited Geek Meeting. The convention organizers, however, had titled it "Computer Chat", so some of the folks who normally attend chats on Friday night believed we were going to somehow accomplish that task there.

Last year Jim Wilson, Mike Lowe and I had gotten drafted by Bill Maryott to conduct the meeting, and it occurred to me at almost the very last minute that this might happen again. In a panic I contacted Mike Lowe and Jim and between us we put together two handouts.... the Iris E-Mail Rolodex (list of all the iris members' e-mail addresses that Mike Lowe could find) and a general overview of what's out there in computer/iris land that Jim and I wrote. So armed with these things, we headed for the meeting room..... which was filled to capacity with folks still coming in.

We found a larger room and I believe we ended up with about 60 people! We started out as we did in the past asking how many folks had computers.... but unlike the past, all but two people raised their hands! Furthermore, when I asked who had e-mail, most hands went up -but most people who do have e-mail don't use it for their iris hobby. So I talked about how using the computer added another dimension to irising - and how this convention was really a convention within a convention since we are a definite separate area of the AIS.... and we're growing. I can't tell you what a thrill it is to meet these folks you talk to constantly on-line!

Anyway, my piece was short since I really don't know anything - but then Mike Lowe got up and spoke about what AIS is doing to bring us into the age of electronics. He talked about the electronic database project whereby all iris registrations will be entered into a database (as a matter of fact, they already HAVE been entered into the database by Howard Hughes.. my hero), and will become available in some form to iris folks. He also spoke about the AIS web page, the World iris Society web page and tracing iris genetics in another database.... and a lot of stuff I didn't follow.

Jim Wilson's part was to tell folks what webpages are, how they are created and used, the different forms of communication using computers and how to get there... Rusty even took the mike for a bit! We also got into talk about scanners and digital cameras and all kinds of groovy things - and I think it went very well! Next year we'll tighten it up even more - and MAYBE someday we'll be smooth enough to actually have a projecting training computer available for demonstrations.

So... it went well and the only thing missing was those of you who couldn't join us.

Today was the last day of tours - and the day was crystal clear with brilliant (and WARM) sunshine and a cloudless sky. I think by now you're weary of irises that were grown to perfection... the scenery is otherworldly.... we saw our first prairie dog town (KA-EWT), and Carol Warner got a demerit from the bus driver for tardiness.

I told Anna Mae Miller that I mentioned her headgear (garbage bag) on line and she said "don't say things like THAT.... people will think I'm a character!" (she is)

I just want to say in closing that - as I've mentioned right along, conventions are as much about people as they are about flowers. I spent the bulk of this convention with some very special people, Carol Warner, Shirley Pope, Jim Wilson and Peg Fish and my seat partner, Tom Abrego. I had the best time I can remember having.... and I hope you all solemnly swear RIGHT NOW that you will be in Oklahoma in '99.

Kathyguest.... who is already plotting how to get back and see more of Colorado - in iris heaven.

PS.... if anyone craves more flower talk, let me know and I'll type till you beg for mercy.