The iris king

Bob Annand

Photo By Christine G.K. LaPado

Bob Annand has been growing irises for 74 years, since he was a 10-year-old planting them on the Santa Cruz dairy and artichoke farm where he was born and raised. Annand—a retired florist and nurseryman—has lived in Forest Ranch for the past 22 years with his wife of 60 years, Irene, who is exactly one day older than he is. Together they run Forest Ranch Iris Gardens, which takes up a good portion of the pretty, wooded 2 1¼2 acre property on which the friendly couple live. Irene helps manage their thriving mail-order iris business and comes up with a lot of the names for the often award-winning irises that world-renowned iris expert Bob hybridizes. “Capitol Debut,” a striking blue-and-white tall bearded iris developed by Bob, currently graces the front lawn of the state capitol of Oklahoma. His hybrid “Kalifa’s Horn"—a cross between an “aril-bred” and an iris with “horns"—was the first of its kind ever registered in the world, and won the coveted William Mohr Medal from Aril Society International in 2001. Bob also hosts the monthly Leo T. Clark Iris Society meetings at the Chico Branch Library. For more information, call him at 343-6243.

What made you start growing irises as a 10-year-old?

I don’t know. Somebody just gave me boxes of rhizomes and I started planting them. Irises don’t have bulbs, by the way. They have rhizomes. … There are lots of kinds of irises.

What kinds are there?

Tall bearded iris, median iris—that includes border bearded, intermediate bearded. Dwarf iris—the little short ones. Then there’s the aril-breds—they’re from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. They take no summer water. … Pacific Coast native iris, Siberian iris, Spuria iris—they used to call them butterfly iris in the olden days. Hartwickii is the local wild iris.

What does “hybridized” mean?

Well, you take the pollen from one plant and you put it on the stigma of another plant. Maybe it’ll form a seed pod. And you take the seeds and dry them in about August and plant them in November, and in three years they’ll start to bloom. We hybridize for new varieties, taller ones, plants with more blooms, more frequent reblooming. We even hybridize for fragrance—"Grape Soda” smells like grape soda.

What are your favorite iris gardens?

The best iris gardens in the world are in Portland [Ore.]—the biggest and the best. Schreiner’s, Cooley’s, Mid-America—they moved from Oklahoma City. If you want to see a good display of iris, [the iris gardens in Portland] are the best. It would be like going to Holland to see the tulips. They’re all in blocks of color—acres and acres of pink, white, purple, every color but red.

Why are there no red irises?

We just can’t get a pigment to come up with a real red. We’ve gotten brown, bronze, but no red. I don’t think I’m going to live long enough to get a red.