The Gardening Diva
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Iris Propagator



Edmond Riggs: Iris Propagator
 Edited by LMG Calla Victoria

 
Edmond Riggs
Louisiana Iris Propagator

      Although irises put on their big show during the month of March in our gardens,  I am compelled do share some important iris information with you even now.  While working the Greater New Orleans Iris Society’s show back in March of this year, Patrick O’Connor (one of our members) shared some information with me about an African-American named Edmond Riggs; who was one of the earlier iris propagators. Patrick told me that I could probably find more information in the Louisiana Iris archives. After an exhaustive search I landed on the University of Louisiana Archives website, but could not locate any information. After contacting two archivists there, Jane Vidrine, archival assistant, was able to locate the article. The information is located in the Society for Louisiana Irises (SLI) Records in Marie Caillet scrapbooks of the history of Louisiana irises which was collected over six to seven decades. Jane scanned the article and emailed it to me. I also found additional information in an article entitled “Edmond  Riggs: The Real Man” by Richard Sloan. Both pieces were used to compile this rendering.

       In 1907 in Avoyelles Parish, Edmond  Riggs was born black in south Louisiana.  Edmond learned the ways of the swamps, fished with his dad for spoonbill catfish, whose eggs were sold  for caviar. Edmond began to grow plants to sell out on islands in the swamps, where they wouldn’t be stolen.  And using handwritten handouts, he advertised his irises, azaleas and other plants.

      As a horticulturist Edmond Riggs devised unique nursery systems and became friends with some of the wealthiest men in the area. He planted thousands and thousands of live  oak trees, which was another one of his specialties. Along with irises, Edmond Riggs planted azaleas and camellias in the woods and swamps because they grew best in their natural habitat. He would dig them up when he wanted to sell them.

       Edmond became a library assistant and traveled with the bookmobile for 18 years.  Riggs got to know many prominents in the white community through his plant sales. One such person was Minnie Colquitt. She and Edmond had corresponded about growing irises in the swamps of Louisiana. Minnie arranged a collecting trip and it wasn’t until the Shreveport ladies arrived for the adventure that they realized Edmond Riggs was a black. That didn’t stop the trip, and some of those very collected irises are probably in  the family trees of modern award winners.

 

 

        In 1944, Edmond Riggs registered 23 varieties of  Louisiana irises. Riggs’ irises probably mostly I. nelsonii are likely extinct or have lost their identities. They were collected plants or seedlings chosen from bee crosses among those grown in the garden. Cultivars with such wonderful names as ‘Evangeline,’ ‘Lafayette,’ ‘La Louisiane’ and ‘Sunrise Lights’ are probably forever lost.

       Because of segregation that existed during most of his life, Edmond Riggs could not become a member of SLI (Society of Louisiana Irises), attend society meetings, or enter iris shows. But his presence as a major player in the iris community was apparent as articles on him and his irises appeared in Gardening Magazine, The Sunday Advertiser, and The Flower Grower magazine to name a few. Edmond Riggs presented irises as significant additions to gardens.

    Cultivar: 'Edmond Riggs'
Hybridized by R. Sloan; Year of Registration
or Introduction: 2003

     Upon Edmond Riggs’ passing in 1993, a wealth of iris knowledge and experience went mute and was lost. However Richard Sloan, who was treasurer of the SLI in 2003, thankfully felt the need to remember and appreciate Mr. Edmond Riggs; a significant participant in, and contributor to the lore and history of the flowers we so enjoy. Sloan’s Louisiana iris introduction 'Edmond Riggs' honors the man and his contributions. Iris 'Edmond Riggs' should be a must all Louisiana gardens.

    This article was published in Data News Weekly's June 21, 2014 edition and @ ladatanews.com

 


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