"An iris was just another flower to me, before I met Bruce Hornstein: a purple flower at the end of a long, green stick."
The speaker is Anne Haley, whose pets were patients of Dr. Hornstein, a retired veterinarian, for five years. She adds: "I was surprised that a vet would also be such an avid gardener, but he came out to our garden club [Mount Washington] and gave a program on irises for us. It just made it come alive for me. He was wonderful."
Some Sundays, Hornstein can be found at the Farmers' Market behind the Bob Evans Restaurant on Belair South Parkway at Route 24, about three miles south of Bel Air. There his mission is not simply to sell some of the many flowers he grows, but to share their beauty with passers-by and educate all who care to hear about the hardy, colorful perennials. To many, he is the Iris Man of Monkton.
For nearly 40 years a prominent and popular veterinarian in the Mount Washington area, Hornstein recently retired to devote himself to the horticulture he loves. He says he has been a gardener since the age of 7.
At his home in Monkton he has a collection of about 500 iris varieties and thousands of plants. He hybridizes many of the plants himself, and plans soon to release one he has named "Etta K," after his mother.
He opens his garden annually to horticultural societies, clubs and individuals. Virginia Andre, a Mount Washington Garden Club member who has known Hornstein for 30 years, says many individuals and garden clubs have benefited from his generosity.
For example, she says, when the 1995 Japanese Iris Convention was held in this area, Hornstein played host in his garden to visitors not only from around the United States, but from Germany and Japan as well. Hornstein says he became seriously interested in irises about 15 years ago, when he was captivated by the potential of the reblooming irises. They extend the blooming season nearly to Thanksgiving, he says.
As you walk with him through his garden, you quickly become aware of his affection for these plants named after Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, and of his encyclopedic knowledge of them.
His running commentary as he introduces you to each flower variety is fascinating:
'Between the Lines,' a native American versicolor, will keep mice away from planting beds.
You can identify modern Siberian hybrids by their blockier profile and more horizontally held petals. And, incidentally, Siberian iris actually come mostly from Central and Eastern Europe.
The tall, bearded ruby and gold 'Florentina' dates to the 15th century.
Japanese and Siberian irises should be viewed from above to appreciate their structure.
The best rebloomers are the tall, bearded plants, such as 'Sunny Disposition,' 'Clarence,' 'Matrix' and 'Competition.'
Many of these plants have won the coveted Dykes Award, irisdom's top honor.
Hybridizing at home
With a little patience, you can easily start your own hybridizing program, says Hornstein. Save the seeds from what you consider promising plants (usually these have been pollinated by hand by the breeder, then covered so they cannot be contaminated by another flower's pollen).
The seeds should be placed in plastic bags and refrigerated (stratified) for six weeks. Then they can be sown in a light germinating mix.
It takes about a year for a new iris to bloom; breeders usually wait until the second flowering to evaluate their creations.
Hornstein warns, however, that out of about 1,600 new plants, only one is likely to be worthy of competition.
He recently became a judge in regional and national iris competitions, and worked for the 28th Japanese Iris Competition last year and the American Iris Society Convention earlier this month.
Mary Brown, a member of the Maryland Iris Society who has known Hornstein about eight years, says the members of her club enjoy their frequent trips to Hornstein's home to view each iris as it comes into bloom. Brown believes that since Hornstein is a contest judge, he has "a special kind of knowledge that he can share on these tours."
Hornstein seems to be especially enthusiastic about the Japanese iris, says Brown. After a flower show in Westminster last year, Hornstein took her and several other Iris Society members on an impromptu tour through several gardens in the Westminster and Monkton areas specifically to show them more Japanese irises.
When that tour is mentioned to Hornstein, he smiles and simply says he just likes "to look at other people's gardens."
If you are interested in learning more about irises you can write to: the American Iris Society, c/o Marilyn Harlow, P.O. Box 8455, San Jose, Calif. 95155. Dues are $18 a year. You can also contact Dr. Bruce Hornstein at 410-557-0250.
Irises grow from rhizomes (thick, horizontal stems) or bulbs. They are easy to raise, have few pests, and, not surprisingly, come in a dizzying array of colors. They also make great cut flowers, especially the spurias and "table irises."
Most irises like an acid soil and need six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. One of the exceptions, the Siberian iris, can make do with a half-day of sun.
The bloom season for irises is impressive. It begins with Dutch iris in midspring, continues with the bearded and Siberian irises in June, the Japanese iris in summer, and ends with the reblooming, tall, bearded types in the fall.
If you want something a little different in your garden, try the Louisiana iris, a water iris that prefers "about a foot of water as mulch," says Dr. Bruce Hornstein. Or the pseudocoris, an iris that can grow to 12 feet tall and forms huge clumps on pond margins.
Pub Date: 6/22/97