A most prominent and respected member
of the American Iris Society, Edward Watkins, passed away on January
18, 1963, at Concord, New Hampshire. He was internationally known
among horticulturists for his hybridizing of exceptionally fine
irises. His fame is widespread and he was beloved by his countless
admirers and friends.
....He was born June 19, 1889, and lived all of his life in Concord. For many years he was an employee of the Boston and Maine Railroad, where he suffered an injury that necessitated an operation which left him with a crippled leg, and naturally he was blue and discouraged.
....It was at this time he met Dr. Robert J. Graves who suggested that he join him in hybridizing irises in order to get some gradual exercise to improve his condition; and as Edward said, "It was a blessing from Heaven, for if it had not been for this chance to work with the irises, life would have been a pretty drab affair."
....It was in the summer of 1929 that I first met Edward Watkins in the garden of Dr. Graves. This meeting developed into a true and valued friendship that continued until the time of his leaving us. I shall always remember the many pleasant hours that I spent with him in evaluating their seedlings and the great knowledge in breeding that I gained by his wise, informative comments.
....I believe it will prove interesting to tell you something about their early hybridizing of the iris. Someone had said it would be impossible to produce fine irises by the use of PURISSIMA or GUDRUN. Both the Doctor and Edward decided to try this and as a result there were many white seedlings of which Dr. Graves was rather critical of their beauty; but Edward, sensing the possibilities in crossing some of these seedlings for improvement, insisted on further work with them, and the effort yielded two award-winning irises: SNOW CARNIVAL, a cross of SANTA BARBARA X GUDRUN; AND THOU, a cross of PURISSIMA x NENE. Both of these won awards in 1942.
....In 1940, Edward's wife passed away, and after this he devoted his time to the rearing of their three daughters and the creating of finer irises.
Dr. Graves was a most busy person in his profession and soon after Edward joined in his hybridizing program, Dr. Graves told him to make a careful study in breeding. This he did with great success; he kept a careful record of every cross he made and could tell you at once the parents and often grandparents from his famous hybridizers book.
....For several years Dr. Graves was very ill and his death occurred in July 1950. The Doctor told Edward that he had been a real inspiration in the years of their association and that he wished him to have all the credit for their successful breeding program. Edward loved the irises he had helped to create as if they were his own children, for as he once said: "The hobby of growing and breeding iris has brought me many hours of pain-free pleasure, a host of friends, and a clearer understanding of the wonders of God."
....Edward and his brother Arthur, who has become intensely interested in irises, established their own garden in Concord and within the last few years developed a large garden in the country. Despite increasing illness, Edward planned many of the crosses as long as he was able to do so; but Arthur took over the making of the crosses; in fact, he has now established his own breeding program and there has been a steady increase in the beauty of their introductions. Among these are: JEAN BOYD FITTZ, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, GENERAL MARK W. CLARK, CHARLES FOWLER, INVERNESS, MAJOR EFF, BARBARA BURT, KATHERINE McLAIN, LEOLA FRAIM and BARBARA HILLIARD in their larger garden in the country. There are numberless fine seedlings that must be evaluated and judged so that Arthur can now carry on their plans in breeding.
....Edward was seriously ill this last summer and never went to the gardens, but he carefully selected several irises that are of great merit and will be introduced in future years.
....He once told me that each year during the winter months he planned his crosses for the next summer, and it seems as if he must have had infinite wisdom in these crosses for there are so many fine irises that he has created and I quote two of his comments. "It is our belief that cue should have faith enough in his selection of parents to continue making the same cross for at least three years." "This year we flowered several from a cross of JANE PHILLIPS X BLUE RHYTHM. Two of them were outstanding and they came from the third cross." This is a striking example of his wisdom, for one was ELEANOR'S PRIDE, that was named for his youngest daughter and won the Dykes Medal in 1961.
....Edward won many Awards from the American Iris Society including, in
1957, the Hybridizer's Medal of the American Iris Society, and in 1961 the
Dykes Medal of the American Iris Society for ELEANOR'S PRIDE. He received also Awards of Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society of England and the British Iris Society, the same year, for ELEANOR'S PRIDE.
....However, it is not only because of his genius in hybridizing that I dwell upon the memory of Edward Watkins, but because he was a man of such integrity, wisdom and fine principles that I emphasize he was a great, good man. During his last illness there was always a smile on his face although he was in intense pain; he never complained and was most grateful to all that were with him, and his devotion to his family I will never forget. When it came to the end he met it with the same courage and understanding that he always displayed during his life. May his memory be with us always!
ELIZABETH N. NESMITH
It is a rare personality that leaves a legacy of love and lasting
beauty when he passes through the gate into the Eternal Garden.
Such a person was my friend, Ed Watkins-a man it was a joy to
know, a man whose character was many-sided, whose deep love for
irises was the magic force that kept him living against fearful
odds. Now each year when the frises flaunt their glory in my garden
and I renew my admiration for the Watkins irises I shall see again
the twinkle in Ed's eye-I shall hear again the stories with which
he was wont to regale me-again I shall marvel at the great spiritual
nature that underlay all the banter, and silently I shall offer
my little prayer of gratitude that I was granted the friendship
of the creator of so many beautiful irises.
....At the end of Ed's 1962 diary the following quotation was found: "In your travels may you leave beauty behind you, see beauty on both sides of you, and find beauty ahead of you." (Navaho Prayer.)
To MY FATHER'S MANY FRIENDS who gave so much of themselves to him, my most sincere and heartfelt thanks.
MARJORIE WATKINS NYHAN