WALT LUIHN

by Ron Mullin

The iris community suffered a deep loss last summer when Walt Luihn died August 12 1992. Walt was a first class iris hybridizer winning his Dykes Medal with SONG OF NORWAY
Born at Portland, Oregon on May 6,1912, Walter Francis Luihn grew up in the East Bay area, graduating from Berkeley High School. Nearly his entire life was spent in the East Bay, one exception being during World War II, when he was on a Navy sub-chaser in the South Pacific.
Although Walt always liked gardening the iris story really doesn't begin until after his second marriage, this time to the former Violet Hale in 1947. In the beginning, Walt and Vi grew fuchsias and carnations, selling their surplus wholesale. This hobby business was the reason for their move to Hayward, where they could have more gardening space.
A rhizome of HAPPY DAYS, given as a door prize at a garden club meeting, was the iris catalyst. Seeing a prize-winning stalk of this same variety at a spring garden show, Walt opined that his stalks were better grown. He began buying more irises to prove just how well he could grow them. He started with less-than-a-dollar varieties from George and Ethel John's Cottage Gardens where Tim Craig had temporarily turned a vacant store into an iris warehouse. Soon Walt was getting newer and more expensive irises, and for years the Luihn garden was a mecca for iris judges, wanting to see the newest and the best.
In 1952 he made his first crosses, flowering the seedlings in 1954. For nearly thirty years following, an annual crop of quality seedlings bloomed in the Luihn garden. Heavy emphasis was put on the darks, for at the time few blacks performed satisfactorily in mild-winter areas. DARK FURY, his first tall bearded introduction, came out in 1962, and five years later DUSKY DANCER made her debut. That it still appears on the current Symposium of Favorite Irises verifies DUSKY DANCER's quality and continued appeal.
In the early years, arilbreds were a featured specialty, with raised boxes of C. G. White ariIbreds blooming profusely. Actually, Walt's first introduction was an arilbred, MOHRNING HAZE, which won the C.G. White Award in 1963; BEIRUT and HOTSIENNA were later introductions in this category
As time went on, ariIbreds went out, but the tall bearded rainbow in the seedling patch expanded. Other popular Luihn introductions include CALIENTE (red), SOLANO and TEMPLE GOLD (yellow), CABLE CAR and HONEY MOCHA (brown tones), PACIFIC GROVE (blue), SONG OF NORWAY and CHICO MAID (blue white to pale blue with blue beards). Walt's Dykes Medal for SONG OF NORWAY came two years after the American Iris Society's Board of Directors awarded him the coveted Hybridizer's Medal in 1984.
Friendly, generous, critical, critical of irises that is, and especially his own, his high standards paid off in the awards and recognition his irises received. Those who knew Walt will long remember both the man and his irises.
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