Pete DeSantis was born February 28, 1917 in the town of Long Branch, New Jersey to Italian parents, who were avowed gardeners.
His father grew tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, all salad plants and pole beans. His mother had her own flower garden with all types of flowers including iris. In those days iris were called blue flags and one could only find blue, white and yellow iris.
As a child, Pete loved to work in the garden, helping his father and mother. He also liked to read all types of books. His favorite was about Luther Burbank, who was a hybridizer of fruits and vegetables. Burbank’s work fascinated him.
Pete’s first gardening experience started when his father gave him a small plot of land and told him that he could plant anything he wanted. Pete chose to plant popcorn. The popcorn plants grew tall and plentiful and it was a big success.
Several years later Pete served in the U.S. Army for four years during World War II, including eleven months on Okinawa, Japan. Even after returning to New Jersey, his heart was still on California where he had spent time training in Camp Santa Anita before going overseas. Pete finally returned to California where he married Frances, who unknown to Pete was also an avowed gardener. He purchased a home in Reseda with a nice backyard and started a garden.
Pete and Fran were invited by her sister (also an iris grower) to an iris show at the Los Angeles Botanical Gardens. There were all types, colors and arrangements of iris, and as of that moment they were hooked. They went home and planted all the iris they had purchased.
In the early 70’s through Fran’s sister, Pete and Fran joined the Southern California Iris Society and that started what Pete called “the wonderful world of iris.” They also joined a new Iris Society in the San Fernando Valley, closer to their home in Reseda, where they attended all the functions and activities. Later they became officers.
Before becoming a hybridizer Pete first participated in the artistic arrangements section of the annual iris shows. At one of the first shows they attended, Pete and Fran saw an iris arrangement. In Pete’s opinion, it was awful and in a loud voice said to Fran, “it was an awful arrangement.” Unbeknownst to Pete, the woman who made the arrangement was next to him and in an unfriendly voice said, “I suppose you can do better?” Pete replied that he had never made an arrangement, but that he thought he could. Being a fierce competitor, he started looking up books on flower arrangements and at the next show he entered seven arrangements. To his amazement, he won best of show, sweepstakes, and best theme. The woman (who later became a good friend) said to him, “you don’t have to get so mad that you win everything.”
Pete later gave up arrangements and let Fran take over so he could focus on the horticulture section and hybridizing of irises. Since the late 70’s to early 90’s Pete received 14 silver medals, 13 bronze medals, 3 queens of shows, hundreds of ribbons, and a show case full of trophies. He also hybridized and introduced 12 irises. The most well known Tall Bearded Iris Pete has introduced is Schoonchee, named after his grand daughter. Pete also introduced the following Spuria Irises: Franakins, Hasarya, and Hocka Hoona.
Frances has passed away and Pete at age 91 does not compete, but helps his grand daughters make iris arrangements. He still grows iris and has Spuria and Tall Bearded Iris seedlings, which he continues to work on.
Pete also is a life member of the Southern California Iris Society, the San Fernando Valley Iris Society, and is a member of the Aril Society International, the American Iris Society, the Spuria Iris Society, the Louisiana Iris Society and the AIS Region 15.
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