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An award-winning gardener

The prestigious 2016 ‘Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal’ has just been awarded to Hobart Macquarie Probian Bernard Pryor.

The medal is given by the American Iris Society (AIS) for the best Louisiana iris cultivar of the year and this year, Bernard won the prize in recognition of his iris, named ‘Blue Mountain Mist’.

It is one of his shorter-growing Louisiana iris cultivars, which is a project he has been working on for several decades.

More than 1000 AIS judges come from every state in the USA, in addition to 15 people from around the world who have been appointed as international judges of the AIS. Bernard and his wife, Heather, (also a Hobart Macquarie Probian) are two of those 15 people.

Mary Swords DeBaillon herself was a pioneer of collecting the original Louisiana iris species. She collected these from the wild and planted them in her home garden in Louisiana, USA. Her theory was that there would always be somewhere in the world where the original species could still be found – and this is still the case today.

The medal was started in 1948, when the first scientific hybridising of the five original Louisiana iris species started to take off in the USA. The medal was given her name by the AIS to recognise Mary’s pioneering work, and her home garden is now a cherished Horticultural Museum.

To date, the MSD medal has only now been awarded four times to a non-USA-based Louisiana iris hybridiser since 1948. The first time was in 1965 to New Zealand hybridiser Sam Rix for ‘Frances Elizabeth’. The second time was in 2004 to Heather for ‘Hot and Spicy’, which is a tomato-red cultivar. The third time was in 2008 to Heather for ‘Peaches in Wine’, which is a peach-pink and deep burgundy cultivar and the fourth time was in 2016 to Bernard for ‘Blue Mountain Mist’.

There are numerous specialist iris societies around the world (in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, France, Italy and England), but the American Iris Society awards are considered the most prestigious, as most international hybridisers of the myriad of different iris types tend to want to enter their cultivars in the AIS competition if they want to gain any international recognition. This is not an easy road, with very few non-USA-based hybridisers ever winning any of the awards.

Since retiring to Hobart, the Pryors are continuing their hybridising work, but on a much smaller scale. They still have a US-based agent for their cultivars, Iris City Gardens in Nashville and love travelling to the USA to attend conferences, meet other ‘irisarians’ and to also give judges training sourses to teach the US-based judges how to judge Louisiana irises. It does seem a little ironic that two Aussies do these sorts of things, when the irises that they love are actually American native plants. However, the friendships they enjoy from our iris-growing passion go beyond borders.

Congratulations to Probian ‘irisarians’, Bernard and Heather.