July 9, 2015


Kevin c. vaughn

Specialist or enthusiast books seem to be falling out of fashion with most publishers - a sad but perhaps more efficient reality given that so much information is now available on the Web - but I do miss these reads, as they are not only some of the best ways to keep information organized about specific plants, but that these monographs and singular themes introduce new gardeners to plant material which otherwise might be overlooked - and so I was so please to see that iris expert Kevin Vaughn had written a masterpiece about a group of iris lumped together under the name - Beardless Iris.

Beardless Iris: A Plant for Every garden Situation (2015) will be a very useful book for both the beginner and the expert, or for anyone who already grows these plants but whom doesn't really know what to do with them, as it seems that any information about the beardless irises is hard to find. The images are spectacular, and the content is comprehensive, but be forewarned -in many ways, this book reads as if one compiled 30 issues of the journal of the Iris Society into one, single book - which makes it both tremendously content rich, but also tremendously content rich.

It might be more than you expected from a book on iris. Yet don't get me wrong, it's a valuable addition to the research library, and hey - you want to learn more about plants, right? You will learn much from this book.

Click below for lots more!:

Generally, it's pretty easy to find nice things to say about any book, while books which tend to be more scientific in nature, or which have a 'geek base', have little wiggle room for error, as factual content is arguably less subjective and more objective. Plus, who am I to say anything negative about a 'geek' book? Let me begin by saying here that this book is nice in many ways, and certainly worth the price - it's the perfect book for me ( if that helps you!), but I fear that it might be confusing to the average to new gardener who may by the book based on its cover, only to realize that the information inside provides more of a breeding history of the many varieties which are important in the iris world, and little in the way of inspirational images aside from closeups of some rather amazing iris.

Look, on a positive note, this isn't just a dumbed-down coffee table book ( we have far too many of those), which we all should be thankful for, and it's not simply an encyclopedia of alphabetical iris varieties, which too, I am grateful for, for who needs a catalog. Where this book may fail is in it's assumptions - the author, it seems, assumes that the book buyer may be interested in the history of each iris cross, where I feel that many buyers may simple be looking for inspiration, or for good iris varieties to buy. As an introduction to the beardless iris groups, this book excels, but it over-delivers on the detailed information about the breeding history of each variety - something perhaps easy to over look once one expects it, but it might prove to me a stumbling block for beginners.

If you are one who prefers Apartment Therapy or Design Sponge - sort-of-gardening ( boxwood parterres, white gardens, color and design themes), then get this book, but know that it will be your text book  with which to learn much more about the iris ( perhaps more than you wanted to know), but I will also share with you this secret - -  there are some incredible iris available which you will discover through this book, in color and form which you never dreamed existed - olive green, mustard, beige and fawn with grey falls - go crazy, but remember, where you got this tip from! None of these images are seen on Pinterest, but these plants do exist in the plant breeders fields. I know, I've seen them, and you can grow them - check these other posts of mine out if you don't believe me.

Grey Iris
Jan and Marty's Breeding Fields

Having a new book on the subject of iris itself is important and exciting, as there have been much progress in breeding these groups, and much of this progress is going to take years, maybe even decades to get to your local nursery - even then, a majority of these will never make it out of the breeders fields simply due to practical marketing limiters ( height, bloom time etc) so to own them, you would either have to know the special breeders and order them on-line*, or be a member of the Iris Society.

*yes, I suggest doing both.

You can order the book here, and join the American Iris Society here.

As a life-long  Siberian iris evangelist myself ( no where close to a Kelly Norris or Kevin Vaughn) I am a huge fan of the Siberian iris - having been raised in Massachusetts near where many of the old-timer iris breeders lived, I recognized so many of the breeder names from lectures I attended as a kid in the 1970's and 80's, or from Iris exhibitions back then.  It was helpful to learn about and to appreciate the early varieties - and as an amateur and hobby grower or various iris, a book like this risks inspiring me to start growing more ( as it should). I did attempt to read the book in a single sitting one, rainy Saturday.

Here is what is I felt was really terrific about this book:

It's comprehensive - clearly written by a knowledgeable author, with details about each variety.
It shows some of the newest breeding efforts in this iris group - images that can be found no where else except on the laptops of the breeders ( I wish it had more photos however, especially of iris growing in gardens - as I've visited Jan and Marty during full bloom, and their fields inspired me to buy so many of these hard-to-find iris, but the images included are beautiful, and you will be impressed with the variety).
It has a great intro chapter on the different iris types as well as...
A guide on how to breed iris -The last chapter, which  goes into detail on how to breed your own iris. I can't wait to start, and this information is difficult to find - even on-line unless you know an iris breeder.

Here is what could use some tweaking in order to make this book more useful to a broader audience

The design  - believe me, I understand that design is highly subjective, but there are some real concerns The body copy is set tightly, making the text difficult to read.
The two column layout is repetitive and the many square ups of images without links to captions in the text is frustrating for someone like me, who wants to find the relevant paragraph that goes with an image.
Parts of the book are somewhat over-designed - there is an abundant use of Photoshop silhouetting and knock out type and shading within type, the use of decorative scripts only adds to the dated feel, as to the colors which all make the book feel more like a 'How to Knit' book from the Paper Store than a botanic guide.
Needs charts to organize info -The relevant and contextual information about breeding, history and provenance would have been much more useful if it was organized in charts.

Oooo, sounds so negative, but maybe I am just being too critical since this is a subject which I am passionate about. Will the average gardener even sense all of this? Maybe not, but I say all this only to help objects like this be more accessible to new gardeners. Honestly, experienced gardeners will overlook, or enjoy this entire book.

In my opinion, and this is all subjective, of course, I feel that it's OK to design a technical and scientific book about plant breeding to actually look like one. It's one reason why I adore the Curtis' Botanical Magazine. But I understand that there remains the practical need to market this to a broader audience, and no one has yet been able to figure out this challenge - my opinion leans towards the fact that sometimes, one needs to first identify their target audience, and then craft or creatively develop the product (book/magazine/brand) towards that particular base, and not cast a broad net - you know - shoot and design the book and content to either appeal to the Martha Stewart reader, or the Iris Society reader - but maybe not both. Still, I feel that a middle ground exists, but I may just save that for a book I will write someday!

That said, the many color images are stunning, and the color with printing and the images is very good for a digitally printed book. A few long charts and this book could have been more useful. Overall, this is an impressive and comprehensive book, worthy of the price and useful as long as you can get past few hurdles with text.

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