In the 1920’s, Rholin and Pauline Cooley started hybridizing iris as a backyard hobby. Soon thereafter, Dr. Kleinsorge, a local physician and iris breeder, encouraged them to start a nursery. The Cooleys bought land west of Silverton, opened a nursery, and printed their first commercial catalog in 1928. Over time, Cooleys became one of the largest iris firms in the US and the primary source of new iris cultivars through an extensive mail order catalog business.

Rholin Cooley in his test garden (1949) Preparing mail order shipments.

In the early 1940’s, the Cooleys contacted Lord & Schryver to prepare a plan for an iris display garden at their commercial site. The plan featured multiple paths winding through the iris beds. The Cooleys most likely installed this design in the fall of 1944 or 1945 in preparation for the American Iris Society’s 1949 convention. It was a showplace during the convention as well as during Silverton’s annual Iris Week celebrations. 

In 1951, Edith designed a second, more elaborate demonstration garden with pathways, boxwood hedges and iris beds swirling across the ground in a scroll-like pattern.  This newer garden was featured on color postcards and in catalogs from the nursery when the iris were in full bloom.

1950’s Cooley’s Iris Display

Sadly, Cooley’s Gardens closed its doors in October 2011. However, another local favorite, Schreiner’s Iris Gardens, remains open today.

The elder Mr. Schreiner, a native Minnesotan, was a serious iris collector with over 500 cultivars, many imported from Europe. In 1925, he published his first price list under the name Schreiner Iris Gardens. His first catalog, in black and white with no pictures, followed three years later.

Upon his death in 1931, his children took over the business, but with an eye out for better climatic conditions. After much research, they selected Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley. Providing excellent soil, ideal climate, and a proximity to transportation, the valley’s offerings were unmatched. In 1947, the Schreiners finally left the unforgiving Minnesota climate behind and settled just north of Salem. 

Today, Schreiner’s has 100 acres of bearded iris under cultivation. A centerpiece is the stunning 10-acre display garden. Fully developed in the 1990’s, it sits atop the original Schreiner parcel first purchased in 1947. The beautiful garden and surrounding commercial fields receive thousands of visitors each May.

Jay Raney, LSC volunteer gardener, says: “Schreiner’s display garden is gorgeous right now!” He shared photos from his recent visit. In addition to iris, Jay saw lupine, allium, columbine, clematis, peonies – as well as shrubs and flowering trees. Attendance is restricted to 100 people at a time due to Covid and tickets must be purchased online.

See you there!