Monday, April 29, 2013

My Infatuation with PCIs (Pacific Coast Iris Hybrids)

Pacific Northwest gardeners are able to brag about a lot of plants that most of the rest of the country could only see and admire in photographs and Pacific Coast Irises seem to be one of those that are such workhorses in the garden, but they're rarely seen outside of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Pacific Coast Iris x 'Native Warrior'
Iris x 'Native Warrior' offered by Xera Plants
Now why is that? As you'll see with the mouth-watering color forms that I've obtained and grown for several years now, they've been highly praised for their shade and drought tolerance and a few select forms have excellent evergreen foliage!

To start, let's look at what's comprised as a PCI:

There are about 11 wild, native, species that make up the PCI's. They are considered a "beardless" type of iris that grow as rhizomatous clumps and thrive in our wet winters, dry summers and moderate temperatures.
Some species hybridize on their own and, of course, selections are made and numerous crosses are done to enhance the size of bloom, improve habit and vigor and diversify the color range that exists.

Often you'll see them offered as seed-grown plants in local garden centers, but specialty nurseries will carry named selections that can be quite extraordinary.

My first exposure to them was when I was in college and doing a planting plan for a design/build project I was involved in. I did some research and found that these irises would be perfect for curbside plantings and the specs emphasized the use of natives. Naturally wanting something more extravagant and more memorable thanks just sword ferns or salal, I found 5 plants at a local garden center with the full intent of using them for this project, but we were over budget and knowing that they probably wouldn't reimburse me if I used them in the garden, I decided to keep them and plunk them in my garden. The result were 4 vigorous plants (one just died randomly), three of which I donated to use at the Center for Urban Horticulture and one that simply took my breath away so I decided to keep and propagate.

Iris x 'Ami Royale'
An unregistered selection named 'Ami Royale' offered by Far Reaches Farm

With a handful of named selections, PCI hybrids are still difficult to come by. I still find that a lot of Northwest gardeners really don't know them so the push to really propagate and offer them in large quantities just isn't there. The plants are also somewhat temperamental about WHEN they're divided. I've been taught that once new roots are beginning to form at the base of the rhizome, they're ready for division.

Pacific Coast Iris hybrid 1
A hybrid with unique coloration - could possibly already be named

Ideally, they start putting down new roots before winter sets in allowing the roots to reestablish so the plants are immediately replanted in the beds or potted up and overwintered in a cool, unheated polyhouse over the winter.

Iris PCI Drip Drop
Iris x 'Drip Drop' was offered by Cistus Nursery

So why aren't these stunning plants found in other parts of the USA? According to Iris growers in the mid-west and east coast, hardiness seem to be the downfall of these extravagant blooms. While they easily withstand frosts a deep freeze in the single digits may do some of these varieties in.

Pacific Coast Iris x 'Baby Blanket'
The unique coloration of Iris x 'Baby Blanket' I got from Dancing Oaks Nursery

PC Iris with Golden Ribes 1
Check out the stunning contrast with a gold leaf red-flowering currant at the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon's Spring Plant Sale!

Iris x Pacific Coast Hybrid Blue with Gold
This one was just labeled as "blue-violet", but looks stunning enough to be a named selection.

Iris x Pacific Coast Hybrid Violet Purple
Again, another unnamed selection that caught my eye so I grabbed it

So, what did happen to that one that was left from the original 5 plants I first got:

Iris x Pacific Coast unknown

Iris PC hybrid with Heuchera

Pacific Coast Iris hybrid

Pacific Coast Iris hybrid 1c habit

I've observed it, divided it, and shared starts with various friends and colleagues, who, I hope will keep it going.



Friday, April 19, 2013

Oh Marcia, Marcia, Marcia...

I've certainly heard of the name, but never really thought it would be a person I'd ever get to know or meet. Ken Druse persuaded and convinced me that this was a garden worth visiting since I was in the Berkeley area. Having seen some of her artwork in private gardens here in Puget Sound and also in Portland, the name Marcia Donahue seems to come up again and again and I thought, "I better see what the fuss is about."  Also, I got the feeling that I Ken might be mighty upset with me if I didn't meet her.


So hauled ass on a taxi from the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden to arrive at a home that almost reminded me of Sean Hogan's home in Portland. Densely planted with some really cool plants, I knew I was in for a treat and with 10 minutes to spare, I could at least say "hello" and introduce myself.

But then:

I was a bit bummed, but I did peak around the front and admired what I could see. At every corner, not only did you see her remarkable plant palette, but the artwork was whimsical, unique, and you can see the incredible attention to detail and inspiration from the wonderful plants she's surrounded herself with integrated into her sculptures and compositions. Even this note attached to what looks like bamboo, but uniquely isn't, was very eye-catching and blended with the dense plantings so well.





I left her a note and my card and walked back to the BART station to head back to Fremont, where I was staying. I started getting upset at myself again for not having planned ahead, yada yada yada, but then it wasn't really part of the plan to see her garden. The fact was, I DID see Marcia Donahue's garden, but I just didn't get to meet her. I told myself that I'd make the effort the next time I came down to the Bay Area.

As I waited for a ride from the station, I get a phone call and IT WAS MARCIA DONAHUE!!!   She had apologized for not having the garden open as she was out in Sonoma camping with her family and that she did hear from Ken Druse about my coming to visit and she had offered to show me her garden if I was free the next day. So I made it happen and I was back on the BART back to Berkeley to meet the infamous MD!


Walking through her jungle of a garden with art was really quite something. I'm normally not a fan of garden art, but somehow, it all works together in its own special way. I think it's because of her ability to capture the essence of a plant part whether it be the culms of a bamboo, the bracts of a Disporum or the spathe of an Arisaema, she understands these elements internally and expresses them in a very clever and sophisticated manner that's tasteful and can truly be appreciated by a plant geek such as myself.

The muscularity of this simple sculpture resembles a crape myrtle, but with the segments of bamboo and the pale pink and grays pick up the coloration of the young Begonia foliage.








One gangly plant caught my attention which lead to a phone call and a ride in her car to a nearby nursery that a colleague of mine actually recommended I visit as well!!!!!!

She insisted that I grow this fabulous member of the carrot family, Mathiasella bupleuroides:


So she whisked me down just a few blocks to The Dry Garden and introduced me to Richard Ward. The nursery itself was small, but the offerings absolutely mouthwatering! I kept reminding myself that I was only after one plant and it had to be a size I could pack in my suitcase. 


Of course, that all changed when Richard pointed out a most striking variegated Bromeliad that we all just gawked that for a moment and then I simply couldn't resist it.


This is Aechmea 'Aztec Gold'. Totally not hardy, but I convinced myself that it's too freakin' aw

So awesome that even Richard wanted to take a photo!

Two other plant purchases later, including my new baby Mathiasella and a Pachystegia insignis I've been lusting after since ours at work died a few years ago, we went back to Marcia's where I continued my tour and admiration of her remarkable and interesting garden. 

The chickens were a lovely surprise and each them were a work of art!





Mulching with bowling balls!

Not gonna lie, I want these!!

I can't tell you how honored I was to meet Marcia and see this remarkable garden. She is passionate about her work and so incredibly generous with the wonderful gifts she has as not only as an artist, but as a person as well. My thanks to Ken Druse for making the introduction. 

Until we meet again, Ms. Donahue:


I found this little video on YouTube of Marcia sharing her work at a local gallery:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Berkeley Excursions: The UC Berkely Botanical Garden

Ok, so now I have South Africa as a place I definitely want to explore and learn more about!!

UntitledMy trip to the Bay Area included a little reunion of sorts as I met up with a former classmate of mine from the UW/Sichuan Program. Zeng Yu was my equivalent of the Chinese students we worked with when I spent a school year in China. His passion, however, was insects. But coming from the natural sciences, there was a natural respect and admiration for each other's work.

He played tour guide as we walked the campus and also explored some of the neighborhoods around the Berkeley Hills. There are some avid gardeners out there!

He's currently working on his PhD at UC Berkeley so, naturally, I planned a trip to the botanical garden, which, coincidentally, was also highly recommended by my UK colleagues, Dr. John Grimshaw.

I'll let the photos speak for themselves. It was a lovely garden that I wish I had more time to really soak in. The eco-geographical displays and incredible selection of plants was absolutely fantastic and being that it was the mild-climate Bay Area, they're just a little bit ahead of the game when it came to blooms. But then, of course, there's always something blooming!

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden Sign

UC Berkeley Botanical Garden Entrance

Agave parryi clump with spent bloom
This stand of Agave parryi was simply jaw-dropping!

South Africa Slope Entry
A phenomenal display of South African flora!

Upon closer inspection, you see its many colorful treasures

Helichrysum sp. 2 this Helichrysum or "Everlasting"...

Babiana pulchra
...and I'm a sucker for blue and this Babiana pulchra fits the bill!

Sparaxis elegans
And how 'bout the blue eye of this splendid Sparaxis

Distant View of Succulent Garden
Turn around and this is your view. Lots of spiny things to see!

Path to Succulent Garden

Head up the hill and there's more splendid things to see

From a distance I noticed this remarkable tree.

And I had to smell it as well. Magnolia doltsopa...mmmmmmm...

This Vaccinium was stunning with the chalky undersides.

Various Rhododendron species were in full bloom including this one with spectacular peeling bark!

Couldn't ask for a more dramatic setting for Old Garden Roses.

And the views from the hill were remarkable!

As you can see, the weather was absolutely perfect! Unfortunately, I had to rush my visit so I could hit up another garden. This time, a recommendation by Mr. Ken Druse who insisted that I see this garden and meet this remarkable and very talented individual who created it!.