Chieftain, Volume 30, Number 1, Spring 1981 Page: 2
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Dr. Henderson, even then a member of the
American Iris Society, had a personal garden filled with
award winning iris.
These "tall-bearded iris" were the result of much
cross-breeding, or hybridizing. The members of the
American Iris Society are devoted to the growing and
breeding of iris. Hybridizers concentrate on size, color,
degree of ruffle to the fall, or petal, and general vigor of
There are now thousands of varieties of iris, and
members of the society vote yearly to select the top 100
flowers. Once called the Symposium, the selection is
now called the Popularity Poll.
Each year one breed of iris is selected by vote as the
finest, and given the equivalent of the Olympic gold
medal, the Dykes Award.
Dr. Henderson had a vote in the process and also as
part of the process he had offspring of these award
winning iris in his personal garden on Hunt Street.
Once Dr. Joe had said, "By all means, do anything
within your power or inclination to beautify the
campus," the process began.
Henderson had beds made south of Radford
because the slope allows the necessary drainage. (Only a
few discerning eyes can detect that there is virtually a
hill rolling things southward from Radford.)
He then moved his Dykes Award winning iris and
Symposium flowers to the campus.
Within three years Dr. Henderson accepted an
invitation to join the faculty at University of Missouri in
Kansas City, where he is today.
Here the main character enters.
Iris require attention. Each four years the plants
should be transplanted and soil revitalized. Before the
blooming season and after the frost the ground must be
loosened around the plants, the soil watered.
During the blooming season, daily pinching of the
dead blooms is best for the plant. There are now 589
varieties and in one season there will be as many as
After the season, the newest breeds and the year's
Dykes Award winner should be added to be beds. This is
also the best time for thinning out the fast reproducing
Dr. Joe was an innocent when he gave his
enthusiastic yes to the Henderson project.
He called the tall bearded blooms "flags" and knew
only that his mother had had some flags and there may
have been several colors.
Dr. Henderson invited Dr. Joe to stroll with him
among the first bloomings of the garden and within a
season of the planting in 1962, Dr. Joe was developing
"iris-itis"—the love for and need to protect iris.
When Dr. Henderson left for Kansas City in 1964,
Dr. Joe became caretaker of the iris garden.
"I never cared anything about gardening or
flowers. I never dreamed I would eventually give hours
of attention to 'flags.'
"But I grew to enjoy the garden and for several
reasons. An academic dean has to make some very
tough decisions about hiring and firing, and the
immediate academic future of a student. The garden
was a relief from the tension of the administration
building. The beauty and vitality of the iris garden
worked as a panacea. Being around growing things
has a leveling effect; it restores your perspective and
"Escaping to the iris garden became my way of
dealing with tension.
"And the garden is beautiful in April.
"An added plus Dr. Henderson and I didn't even
consider is the publicity value of the garden.
"Each year the paper gives us a front page
photograph of the garden and we get TV coverage.
Abilene knows about the McMurry iris garden."
The boulevard traffic pattern changes noticeably in
the spring. Cars stop along the periphery of the garden
and line up beside Radford. The warm spring evenings
of iris season lend themselves to slow walks down the
aisles flanking the seven iris beds.
It's a universal game to pick the favorite iris. Dr.
Joe testifies that no two people ever come up with the
The appearance of the iris is deceptive. Although it
is a member of the orchid family and each flower has
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McMurry College. Chieftain, Volume 30, Number 1, Spring 1981, periodical, 1981; Abilene, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth238690/m1/4/: accessed May 24, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting McMurry University Library.