MEET YOUR NEW best friend in the garden. Pacific Coast Hybrid irises, often labeled PCH irises, look like botanical divas but in fact are resilient, drought-tolerant and completely adapted to Pacific Northwest growing conditions. That’s because the west is their homeland. Actually, plants labeled PCH are hybrids of various West Coast native irises, including the Iris douglasiana, which you’ll find spangling grasslands near the Pacific from Southern Oregon down to Santa Barbara, California.
Like so many garden hybrids, PCH irises have been selected for their ruffled blooms, astonishing gemlike colors and delicate markings. The fact that their slender, dark-green grassy leaves are evergreen and unbothered by pests is a bonus.
A luscious bronze variety labeled ‘Juno’ has flourished in my garden for nearly 20 years, surviving all manner of neglect and renovation in addition to regular division so I can share the plant with others. Another form, simply labeled ‘Beige’, is much nicer than it sounds, with tender buff petals blushed with shell pink. Both forms are independent soldiers that bloom right on time every year in early to mid-April. Each bud doesn’t last but a day or so, out in the garden or in a vase, but other buds soon follow for at least a couple of weeks. Our chilly spring weather is good for extending the bloom time of these seasonal treasures.
If you’re out and about, you’ll find PCH irises blooming in the Soest Herbaceous Display Garden at the entrance to the Center for Urban Horticulture, alongside a spring display of bulbs and emerging perennials. But, for a very special botanical treat, head to the Dunn Gardens, where hundreds of PCH irises fill planting wells at the foot of towering Douglas firs throughout the property. (Dunn Gardens is open Monday through Saturday for one-hour private visits, with safety protocols strictly observed. A dose of nature-bathing is good for cooped-up gardeners. Visit the Dunn Gardens website for information on how to book your visit.)
PCH irises prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Our wet-winter/dry-summer weather pattern doesn’t faze them a bit, but they won’t tolerate soggy soil. Plant in full sun to partial shade. A layer of compost or woody mulch helps keep roots cool in summer, which is to their liking. Transplant or divide when roots are actively growing in early spring or fall.
Source the plants through your local nursery, or reach out to the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris for local growers. Leonine Iris, a home-based business devoted to all things iris, is located in Skyway, where South Seattle and Renton converge. Owner Bob Seaman has a special interest in Pacific Coast Hybrid irises. “We grow over 370 named PC hybrids with lots of hopeful seedlings,” Seaman says.
This year, Leonine Iris is offering online ordering of potted Pacific Coast irises for curbside pickup beginning in mid-April. Throughout May, visitors can catch peak bloom season when Seaman holds his “open yard events” every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit the website for a delightful deep dive into the unique and colorful world of irises.