Crown jewel of the West, Pacific Coast iris (PCI) is rapidly gaining admirers as plant breeders develop a profusion of new hybrids from Iris douglasiana and other species.
In recent years, specialists like Joe Ghio of Bay View Gardens in Santa Cruz, California, and hobbyists such as Lois Belardi, also of Santa Cruz, have created stunning introductions like Ghio's 'Clincher' and Belardi's 'Sea Gal', which won top honors from the American Iris Society.
Although the plants are shorter than many other irises, reaching only 10 to 18 inches tall, they bear showy flowers up to 4 inches across in a wide range of colors and patterns. Some varieties can bloom for as long as six weeks. Tuck them in rock gardens or use them to edge woodland borders.
For more about native or wild PCI and garden hybrids, visit the website of the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris ( www.pacificcoastiris.org).
Sources: For 'Clincher' and many others, Bay View Gardens (catalog $3; 1201 Bay St., Santa Cruz, CA 95060); for 74 varieties, including 'Sea Gal' (available in fall), the Iris Gallery ( www.allthingsiris.com or 800/757-4747)
What this iris needs
Climate: Best in Sunset Western Garden Book climate zones 4-9, 14-24; mixed success in zone 3.
Light: Partial shade inland, full sun on coast.
Soil: Neutral to slightly acidic pH with good drainage.
Planting: In spring, plant only potted rhizomes. Before fall planting, soak unpotted rhizomes in a bucket of water for 24 hours.
Water: Plants can get by with little or no supplemental irrigation, but in dry climates they look best with some extra water (once a week or so).
Feeding: Mix alfalfa pellets and compost (use peat moss in alkaline soil) into the soil at planting time. To promote flowering, apply a complete fertilizer in late winter or early spring.
Maintenance: Pull or trim off dead leaves. In late fall every three years or so, dig one-half of the plant and divide into fist-size or larger pieces; replant immediately, before the roots dry out. Divide the other half the following year.