Monday, June 10, 2024

Tougher PCI Emerging On The East Coast

Kathleen Sayce, May 2024

This spring I heard from two gardeners on the East Coast. Each is successfully growing Pacifica iris in very different geographic areas:  Nova Scotia and North Carolina. 

PCI Fundy Blue clump in Gordon's garden, Nova Scotia

By success, I mean these gardeners have grown PCI for more than a few years, and began with seeds rather than transplants, and some of these plants have survived from year to year, flowering and setting seed. 

In Nova Scotia Gordon Tingley started with an Iris innominata x I. douglasiana seed lot from Society for Pacific Native Iris’s winter seed catalog, and with seeds from his prior garden in Portland, Oregon. 

In Raleigh, North Carolina, John Dilley began with seed from Parks Seeds, these PCI seeds were of unknown origin. 

One of John's PCI

In both cases, very few seedlings survived, and both gardeners focused on growing on the survivors, and their progeny.

John lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. North Carolina has all the summer weather traits that PCI dislike:  hot muggy weather, warm summer rain, old soils high in clay, with poor root drainage. Yet he has thriving plants. Muggy hot summers are usually fatal to PCI across much of the middle and southeastern areas of North America. 

Another PCI in John's garden
John had just one survivor from the original seed packet from Parks Seed, and a few seedlings from the F1 generation from that one original plant. Now he collects fresh seeds each year and sows them, letting nature do its worst on those seedlings; then he grows on the survivors He focuses on the few that make it. 

In the F1 generation of seedlings in John’s garden there was considerable flower variation from that first PCI. He plants surviving seedlings in the ground after year two, letting them live, or die, in pots for the first couple of years. He’s shared some transplants to Tony Advent, Plant Delights Nursery, to propagate for potential sale in a few years.

Gordon lives in Bear River, Nova Scotia. He protects his PCI in the winter garden with conifer boughs, and gardens on granite-derived soils. Drainage is good, nutrition is good, and the maritime summer climate is more moderate than further south. Winter cold is the key selection factor in this garden.

From PCI 'Wilder Than Ever', in Gordon's garden
Gordon’s garden routinely experiences -15 °F (-9 °C), which is much colder than PCI normally tolerate, as 10 to 15 °F  (-9 to -12 °C) is commonly fatal for most PCI. He has also seen cold blasts to -30 °F (-34 °C).  Bear River is at the northeast end of a large tidal complex with very high tides, the Bay of Fundy. Proximity to salt water helps moderate the winters, but cold is cold—those PCI are tough!

PCI Fundy Blue in Gordon's garden, Nova Scotia

More will be written about these gardens for Pacific Iris. This is the first good sign I have seen of nature working with gardeners to successfully produce both more cold winter and hot summer tolerance in Pacifica Iris in other regions of North America.