First published in Newscast, Region Four of the American Iris Society, Vol 47, No. 1, March 2005. Used with permission
It is hard to imagine spring iris bloom without Lloyd Zurbrigg. His tutelage over the past five plus years
has enabled me to develop a love for growing, creating and
evaluating Siberian and bearded irises for the perennial garden.
My late mother's favorite garden plants were irises and herbaceous
peonies. Thanks to plantings at my aunt and uncle's
home and the guidance of long time growers Ethelene and
Charles Gray, the attention of this landscape professional began
to focus on bearded irises. The Grays' display gardens at
their home in my hometown of Montvale, N.J. were chock
full of the best spring blooming tall bearded selections on the
iris scene. My new interest in these hardy perennials finally
resulted in the establishment of drifts of these eye catching
plants in front yard beds at my parents new home in Richmond,
After coming to Richmond in 1996, I eventually joined the local
chapter of the American Iris Society. Carolyn and I attended
the AIS Region 4 Spring Meeting in Towson, Maryland
in 1998. Aussie breeder Barry Blyth was the headline speaker
at that event, but we always remember a tall and handsome
gentleman on the two day tour surveying irises at each garden
stop wearing his signature white safari hat.
Our next encounter with Lloyd would be back in Richmond.
He gave a program at a CVIS winter meeting on the latest developments
in his various breeding lines. He showed two slide trays worth of interesting seedlings, so Carolyn
and I decided to come to Durham, N. C. to see his garden in spring bloom. It was an overwhelming experience
for two first time visitors. We saw row after row of predominantly white blooms with various shadings
of yellow on the fall shoulders thanks to the constant use of MESMERIZER, RENOWN and SUNNY
SHOULDERS. After a few hours of his patient reciting of seedling numbers and parentages from his black
ringed stud book, our heads were literally spinning!! It would take me a few years to easily recognize the parents
and merits for instance of 0026, 0032C, 0033 and MASTERWORK.
The coming of the new millennium soon transformed a casual association into a close friendship centered on
the further development of his legendary breeding lines. We finally convinced Lloyd to visit my garden in
spring 02. Carolyn picked him up at the train station, and his initial reaction to seeing the garden was priceless.
"I never expected anything like this!!" It was a joy of a lifetime having him walk through each iris row
with me. We evaluated my first crop of seedlings and countless named varieties. He was interviewed by a local
newspaper reporter and watched proudly as a film crew taped a segment for my appearance on a local public
television gardening show. Doc adorned in a iris apron and armed with a pair of tweezers and a box of pollen
envelopes from seedlings and named varieties growing in his own garden, he had the rare luxury of having
two bloom seasons to make crosses. Plans began in earnest to bring some of his older seedlings from Durham
to Richmond for evaluation and further breeding.
Photo: Photo: Lloyd Zurbrigg and Mike Lockatell Spring 2004, Courtesy of Mike Lockatell
We would share two more springs
together evaluating old and new
seedlings, making crosses and looking
for new ideas to try in the future.
Carolyn and I cherished the
time Lloyd spent with us each
spring. We finally decided to have
the living room piano tuned before
his 04 visits. We shared memorable
moments of music and song each
night before dinner. The sheet music
for a song composed by one of
wife Nita's music students, still resides
on the music holder waiting
for Doc to play it on his next visit.
My second crop of seedlings
bloomed for the first time this past
spring and fall. The best ones for
rebloom featured Zurbrigg breeding
lines as part of the parentages.
Spring flowering saw unseasonably
hot temperatures, but he nonetheless spent equal time looking at and breeding with hopefuls from both of
our lines. Carolyn noted his satisfaction with our progress, and he spoke highly of his W72 seedlings in his
last contribution for the Reblooming Iris Robin.
I brought bloomstalks from two of his older seedlings to the Region 4 Fall Flower Show in Fredericksburg.
Even though neither one won top honors in the seedling division, PP36 and RR39 received a lot of favorable
attention at the meeting. Lloyd came to Richmond for a final time to see my garden in fall bloom. His health
had worsened since spring, but he found enough resolve to spend two days with us and to look at three of his
older rebloom seedlings PP61 , SS111 and SS129 in full bloom. A couple of additional fall hopefuls were unfortunately
still in bud stage, but we had great fun speculating on their eventual bloom. We agreed, at the
time, there was nothing to introduce, but some of our seedlings had lots of breeding potential.
News soon indicated Lloyd had an inoperable malignant tumor on his liver. His condition began to deteriorate,
and he was unable to write a contribution to the latest round of the Reblooming Iris Robin. I ended up composing
a report for both of us highlighting the best fall rebloom in years for Central Virginia and Region 4. It
was ironic I would soon get sick too, and my subsequent recuperation prevented me from seeing him one last