OHG Helps HIPS in International Iris Repatriation Exchange

Back in the summer of 2021 the Historic Iris Preservation Society sent 26 rare varieties of heirloom iris plants to Merian Gärten of Basel, Switzerland which had disappeared from European gardens over the past century. They hold the largest bearded iris collection open to the public in Europe, preserving around 1500 varieties of tall and medium bearded iris (the type found in most gardens) and close to 100 different wild or species iris. Many of the varieties were developed before the middle of the last century and the Merian Gardens keeps them from disappearing altogether since many are no longer commercially available. We loved the idea of supporting their efforts and contributed ‘Plumeri’ (1888), a fragrant little iris whose jewel-toned colors and early, abundant bloom have made it a long-time favorite of ours. Those, along with donations from other American gardens made up the initial shipment, and since then more varieties have been sent.

HIPS’ Guardian Gardens Network (which distributes heirloom varieties to be preserved in members gardens across the US) put together a wish list of varieties no longer found either in commerce or in American gardens, many of which were developed by American breeders over the past century. Happily, Merian Gardens were able to find many of them in their collection and sent several hundred plants to HIPS last fall! As Lisa Eggenschwiler and Barbara Wüthrich explain, “This is the first time for us to ship plants from our collection outside of Europe. So far, exchanges have been limited to the network with the EU, where the transfer of plant material between scientific institutions is easier. We are happy that we are part of an international network and in this way can contribute to the preservation of iris varieties worldwide with our collection.” The varieties they’ve given have now been distributed among a number of preservation Guardian Gardens across the US so that problems at one won’t mean the loss of all of the variety. It’s good to know there are so many people working to keep these heirloom treasures alive and available to future generations – and thanks to all of our customers who have been doing the same work in their own yards!