By Allison Cloo
The Oregon part of the Schreiner’s story starts as the family moved West from their origins growing irises in Minnesota, where F. X. Schreiner had first begun breeding and selling them in the 1920s. By 1947, his children had relocated to the Willamette Valley to a 15-acre parcel, which has since grown to just over a hundred acres. The 10-acre show garden, a draw for iris-loving tourists and photographers every May, sits on the original parcel of land.
Ben Schreiner, grandson of the founder, was kind enough to share some thoughts in an interview earlier this spring to help us understand some of the work behind the beauty:
Q: Does Schreiner’s still create its own hybrids? Has the method or scope of this side of Schreiner’s changed over time?
A: Yes. We generally introduce 16 new hybrids each year. These are selected out of the thousands of seedlings we grow. Some seedlings are only given one bloom before they are discarded. Others we may keep for a few years before we decide to get rid of them. For those that are ultimately introduced, it’s usually ten years or so from the time of the initial cross.
Q: Where do your products end up and how do they get there? How are people ordering them?
A: We sell both retail and wholesale. So on the retail side we sell both via our website and a printed catalog. The majority of sales now come via the web. The retail rhizomes (as an aside, irises are technically rhizomes) end up in the home gardens of our customers. On the wholesale side, we sell to various large bulb and garden companies and distributors. Wholesale rhizomes are generally shipped to warehouses or greenhouse growers. They will then sell them to box stores, garden centers, or directly via their own catalogs and websites.
Q: What factors determine which varieties you grow each year?
A: We want varieties that are strong growers and bloomers. Strong growers because these will provide us the numbers we will need to sell each year and because a strong grower is more likely to thrive in a garden setting. Strong bloomers because the bloom performance is the reason people want to grow iris in the first place.
Q: Many people come for events, the show garden, or to walk along the fields. What are some other aspects of the Schreiner’s property/operation they might not be seeing that are still essential to the business? To put it another way, when the flowers aren’t in bloom, what sort of work is still happening?
A: Once bloom is finished we prepare for our shipping season. From late June-October we have to dig all our fields, divide and grade all the plants, and then ship out orders and replant our fields. So the bulk of the work is done during that time. After replanting in the fall we have to finalize inventories and start taking wholesale orders. We will also prepare our retail catalog during this time. Outside, we have to service all our equipment, fertilize/spray our fields, and maintain our grounds. As spring comes we have to prepare for our bloom events and then start hybridizing. We also grow daylilies. Certain daylilies are shipped in April, otherwise the daylily schedule is similar to the irises.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face year to year? Are there different challenges now than there were 20-30 years ago? Are there any challenges down the road that you’re keeping an eye on?
A: I think the biggest change we’ve seen in the last 20-30 years has been in the labor market. The amount of people looking for agricultural work has been on a significant decline for some time, and I don’t think that’s going to change going forward. That forces us to focus more on mechanizing where we can and streamlining as many processes as possible.
Another challenge is the weather. Farming always involves battling the weather to a certain extent, but we’ve noticed that the weather patterns are becoming less predictable. And again, we know this is something we will have to deal with going forward, as the climate as a whole is changing globally.