Schreiner’s garden celebrates 99 years of iris farming 

Liz Schreiner Schmidt with Island Blush, a new popular iris. 
PHOTO/LYNDON ZAITZ of the Keizertimes

From humble beginnings in 1925, F.X. Schreiner’s dream of an iris farm is celebrating its 99th anniversary this year. 

Originally a 15-acre farm to grow his beloved bearded iris, founder Scheiner’s children, Bob, Connie, and Bernard (Gus), assumed the reins of the burgeoning business after F.X. passed away. On the advice of their late father, the Schreiner siblings also began looking for a more hospitable climate for growing and cultivating iris. 

The younger Schreiners narrowed in on Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley as an ideal location for their new business. Providing excellent soil, ideal climate and a close proximity to transportation, the valley’s offerings were unmatched. 

With the conclusion of the second world war, the three Schreiner siblings turned their full attention to growing their retail business on the original Oregon parcel. 

In 1953, Gus Schreiner won the first Dykes Memorial Medal for his cultivar Blue Sapphire. Bob was to win a Dykes of his own in 1957 for Amethyst Flame. 

In 1968, Schreiner’s as an enterprise won its first Dykes for the 1964 introduction of Stepping Out. A stunning violet plicata for its time, Stepping Out remains a best seller today. Another notable Schreiner’s Dykes was the 1992 winner, Dusky Challenger. A beautifully formed dark purple, Dusky Challenger remains to this day a favorite of American Iris Society members and iris novices alike. In total, the Schreiner hybridizing program has won an impressive eleven Dykes Memorial Medals, its last coming in 2003 for the cultivar Celebration Song. 

Eric gives Emile a ride while touring the iris fields on Saturday, May 18. (Laura Tesler/Special to Keizertimes)

By the 1970s, two transformational changes helped send Schreiner’s toward new horizons. First, huge national nurseries began inquiring about enormous numbers of bearded iris. This new wholesale demand saw an explosive growth in the business. The original 15-acre plot soon expanded to 50 acres, then 100 acres, and ultimately all the way up to 200 acres of bearded iris in cultivation. During peak bloom season, travelers on Interstate 5 drive past fields of colorful blooms that rival Woodburn and Skagit Valley, Wash. tulip fields. 

Today, Schreiner’s has just over 100 acres of bearded iris under cultivation. A combination of ever more mechanized planting, which makes for more densely planted fields, along with a changing wholesale market, have steadily brought the acreage down from its high of 200.

Josephine Ngo smelling the irises (Laura Tesler/Special to Keizertimes)

Liz (Schreiner) Schmidt and fourth-generation Ben Schreiner remain at the helm as Schreiner’s Gardens prepares to observe its centennial in 2025.

Until the end of May the gardens will celebrate peak bloom season, culminating Memorial Day weekend with an art fair.

During bloom season visitors have been able to tour the gardens as well as purchase flowers and bulbs. 

Liz Schmidt said the gardens don’t add a lot of activities for bloom season and its 99th anniversary so visitors can concentrate on the expansive gardens and grounds. There are several food trucks available on the grounds through May 31. 

Due to the Schreiner business philosophy, the gardens have garnered loyalty from a number of long-term employees, including the shipping director who has been with the company for 44 years. 

Though their main product is the bearded iris, Schreiner’s is now growing and selling day lilies and peonies, all available for view in the main garden. 

The future of Schreiner’s Iris Gardens is in the hands of Liz Schmidt and Ben Schreiner, but they rely on the knowledge of the now-retired previous generations of the family. 

Ben is in charge of hybridizing new irises. 

Liz said the longevity of the business is due to the family’s long-time work ethic and hard work. She extolled their customer service as second to none. 

After the bloom season employees will dig up iris bulbs in preparation for shipping to its customers, both near and far. Schreiner’s ships to 25 countries all over the world. Shipping season runs from July to September. Then, it is time to prepare the fields for the following season. 

“This is a six-day-a-week business,” said Liz. 

Adam Reinstein from Damascus and David Emrich from Portland enjoy the blooms at Schreiner’s Iris Gardens on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Keizertimes)
Isla enjoys the flowers at Schriener’s Iris Gardens on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Laura Tesler/Special to Keizertimes)

Contact Publisher Lyndon Zaitz:
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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