Saturday, January 9, 2021

Apropos of poppies....


Meconopsis sulphurea on Dongda La, Tibet

 Funny how plants weave through our lives. I've had a life long obsession for iris, for instance: I can't begin to imagine how many species and hybrids of iris I've grown in my day--but it must be near four figures I imagine by now. I've had a pretty lifelong love of columbines (required of all Colorado citizens of course, by law), and I've had pretty steady life long passion for a dozen or more genera including the alpine classics (Primula, Gentiana, Androsace, Saxifrage: you name it). All of these plants accrue a sort of semantic load with time.  Meconopsis are a stretch for us in lower parts of Colorado--but having gloried among a dozen or more species in 2018 and 2019, I may be getting a bug for yet another genus of Papaveraceae! The cluster you see above had special meaning for me, as you'll see in the end....

When I published my last post "In Praise of Poppies" I now realize I must have been somehow subconsciously summoning more than just their "evanescent" charm--the aesthetic bliss of the flamboyant colors, and the Universal appeal of their bobbing heads in the wind. Somehow in a long life that I've been blessed with, other elements factor in. Several times in my life I've visited Great Britain in November, and seen the crepe poppies pinned on everyone's chest (it seemed)--and marveled at the manifest desire of Britons to remind themselves of the horrors of war. I "borrowed" the images above from the internet--there are innumerable avatars like these you can Google as well as me. I was especially touched by this image which you can see yourself if you click this link (which I do to honor their copywrite)

I have been blessed in so many ways, I ought to be a much better person really: I grew up in Boulder, Colorado (surely one of the loveliest towns in the world) and we had uncommonly good schools I've come to realize: my first grade teacher's name was Mrs. Hart and my second grade teacher's name was Mrs. Love--which pretty much sums up my relationship to Education.. But the best teacher I ever had by far was Mr. Dean--his teaching and personal skills were off the charts. He taught 8th grade Geology (and I may have been one of his best students, judging by comments he put on a notebook I submitted to him, which I still have and treasure). I shall devote more blogs about him: needless to say, after his class I was definitely going to be a Geologist, if I hadn't taken it again in High School (which covered a fraction of what I'd learned in the 8th Grade) and my college class was a total downer. Nevertheless, I still retain a clear understanding of terms like batholith, pyroclastic, subduction, gabbro and vesicles thanks to Mr. Dean.

Mr. Dean rarely digressed--but on one occasion, he confessed he loved poetry and recited this poem: please read it with deep feeling and full comprehension to get the full gist of our experience that Monday, November 11, 1963:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

 Not, perhaps, the most famous English poet--and the poem isn't exactly Keatsian in diction--but the sentiment so deep, the rhythm sufficiently stirring that it became inextricably entwined with the many facets of the poppy phenomenon as it plays out to this day--as an emblem of the Royal British Legion and beyond that an emblem of remembrance of those lost in World War I, expanding to become a symbol of the profound tragedy of war.

Mr. Dean read the poem with such feeling that all 25 or 30 of us got it big time. He was the sort of teacher who didn't have to expostulate--he inspired. 11 days later when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I suspect the ripples emanating from that poem may well have added yet another layer of meaning to poppies in our subconscious.

And so it is with floral emblems of all sorts: our beloved Colorado Columbine has accrued profound layers of connotation for many commemorating much as the poppy has a tragedy--in our case the very first of an unspeakable series of school shootings. Four people very dear to me were at Columbine on April 20, 1999. It reverberates personally for them and for all of us in Colorado as profoundly as the Armistice/Veteran's day remembrances.

Dongda La 5110m. (16,765')

Returning to Tibet and Meconopsis, I now show the whole picture I cropped for the header on this post: the prayer flags distract a tad from the poppies, I fear. Although I'm baptised (and lapsed) in the Greek Orthodox religion (whose liturgy, architecture and iconic art remain near and dear to me) the only organized religions that have called to me have been Buddhism, Confucianism and Taosim (which may explain why I spent 8 years studying Chinese perhaps), but I was shocked and repelled by the extent to which every pass we crossed in Yunnan and Tibet was festooned for acres with religious bunting. Having grown up in Boulder, barely a few hundred feet from a Naropa hostel, I have had a lifetime's exposure to Tibetan Buddhism--and I have several dear friends who are devout followers. My Buddhist tendencies--such as they are--are not so much religious as philosophical. I am absolutely 100% positive that not Siddhattha Gotama nor Siddhārtha Gautama nor Buddha Shakyamuni would approve of what felt to me like a desecration of the heights.

And I am equally positive that the Founding Fathers (and unquestionably every one of the Founding mothers) would have found the felons responsible for the desecration of the Capitol building this past Wednesday to be the opposite of "patriots". I hope they and the politicians who have fomented their stupidity with lies will suffer the consequences they deserve to the fullest extent of the law. Especially our putative and contemptible "president"...

It is time for "patriots" to cease desecrating our country. And for demagogues to resign. And for us all to cease desecrating what's left of nature--even and especially in the name of "religion". And we must honor the memories of those who rest beneath the poppies, columbines. Above all, we must dismantle the war machine that has had far too long a tenure in America and the world.

 Poppies are nothing if not apropos....

Friday, January 8, 2021

In praise of poppies

Papaver commutatum and umbel

Years ago I gave a talk about Mediterranean plants: the blurb in our education supplement mentioned that I would talk about bulbs, trees, shrubs, lots mints and poppies among other items. I gave a pretty good talk I thought--but afterwards a lady came up more than a little irate: putting the talk together I'd inadvertently omitted the poppies--and she'd driven 200 miles from Western Colorado just to see those poppies. Poppy lovers are a serious bunch--and I know. I'm one of them! Above a twinning of an umbel (I grow a lot of them--not sure which one this was) and perhaps my favorite poppy. Nonsense! I love them all!

Papaver comutatum and Tragopogon reticulatus Turtle Lake. Republic of Georgia

Poppies embody the quality of evanescence perhaps better than any plant: the crepe-like ripples of their silken flowers, the way they sway on the delicate stems--what other plant embodies the fleeting moment like this? Old gardeners know that gardens are naught but shimmering mirages. But then so is life. Which is why we must grasp the poppy (so to speak)!
Papaver commutatum in a cultivated field near Lagodechi, Republic of Georgia

And at the same time, poppies make perhaps the most spectacular mass flowerings of any plant.

Papaver nudicaule in Mongolia

And some can bloom for months on end. "Iceland poppies" in Central Asia can be found blooming any time during the growing season. They bloom non-stop in our mountain towns in Colorado.

Papaver tauricolum

This is one of my "signature weeds"--cousin to the better known P. triniaefolia--this is a tad more orange and just as vigorous.

One year it nearly swamped my back yard!

Papaver anomalum

One species I have a special fondness for is this anomalous one--which superficially resembles P. nudicaule, only it is much more heat tolerant, blooming more or less straight through the summer hot months. I finally found a spot in my garden where it persists and even self sows moderately! (One of my goals in gardening is to grow every plant I love so that it persists forever: don't laugh please).

Closer view Papaver anomalum

Papaver rhoeas

Here a colleague at Applewood Seed Company at their test garden in Arvada is comparing the pure white colored sexual parts in one flower with the black in another: there are some wonderful variations.

Papaver rhoeas

I have a rather compact, orange form of P. rhoeas that's decided to colonize my rock garden: it's a tad too big, and likes to grow atop the rarest tiny alpines: but I always leave a few...punishment for being a poppy lover!

Or perhaps more than a few...

But not as many as I was blessed to find in a fallow field on the island of Paros...

In the depths of winter, nothing quite warms the cockles of a plantsman's heart than the thought of poppies soon to emerge from winter dormancy. Not too many more months and we'll be treated to their dance, bobbing and swaying in the warm spring breeze!

(This post is dedicated to my two most poppy besotted friends, Mike Bone and Marilyn Raff!)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bye bye 2020!

                                                Bulbocodium (Colchicum) vernum

This reduplicative year, which everyone is so anxious to see in hindsight, wasn't all doom and gloom in my world. I regret that a plant exploration expedition to Uzbekistan with special colleagues from Longwood Gardens and Gothenburg botanic gardens was postponed, and my long dreamed for trip to the fabulous mountains of Sichuan was likewise siderailed. But I had time to get to things long put off--and enjoy (and photograph) my garden fully. Perhaps too fully: I had a devil of a time honing down this images....but the ragged robin flowers of Bulbocodium are a good start!

Adonis amurensis

This is what really kicks off the new season--often in January...this was the first year I didn't divide any of these--so there should be some very showy clumps in 2021. I shall not comment on every picture because....well, just because. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, no?

3 of 9 Mule deer visitors

I shall never forget my shock the morning of February 21 to wake up and look out over my garden and see NINE mule deer hanging out. After taking quite a few pics (and waking Jan up to join in my hissy fit) I ran them off. Beautiful things--but as the great Hudson Valley gardener Ann Spiegel will aver--they're basically rats with long legs.

Colchicum soboliferum on March 30
This was the year of colchicum for me--nearly two dozen species blooming from early spring to late fall (with a pretty long hiatus in the growing season of course) This was a gift of John Baumfalk--I think it's starting to spread from underground runners!

Colchicum szovitsii

This I believe traces to Kenton Seth--a Caucasian/Turkish species that also blooms early (March 10). I have several clones--quite distinct from one another.

Crocus flavus & Paeonia tenuifolia emerging

The crocus are dandy, but it's the young stems of the peony I find exciting! Forgot to photograph them in full bloom (what we forget--even when we're practically house bound!)

Cyclamen coum

Erythronium caucasicum

Fritillaria stenanthera

Galanthus nivalis 'Hippolyta'

Iris x reticulata 'North Star'

Iris x reticulata 'Sea Breeze'

Scilla mischenkoana

Iris cf. ruthenica (Tall)

Asplenium fontanum

Ferns are so hard to photograph--but the tender new fronds unfurling do show up: one of the best Asplenia in my experience--It's lasted for years and keeps getting better!

Chrysosplenium alternifolium

I know I featured this on a long post on the whole genus, but have to show it again

Colchicum hungaricum 'Valentine'

Coluteocarpus vesicarius

Hard to believe it's been almost two years since we saw this in seed in the Lesser Caucasus of Georgia.

Corydalis kuznetsovii

Corydalis ruksansii

Corydalis solida (red shades)

Fritillaria crassifolia

Fritillaria sp. ign.

Iris 'Katharine's Gold', Scilla mischenkoana

Paeonia officinalis 'Flore Pleno'

A gift from a local rock gardener, Michael Barbour, whose wondeful garden I featured once...

Pediocactus despainii

One of the tiniest and rarest native cacti: this must be 15 or more years old--a gift from David Salman.

Pediocactus cf. simpsonii

This strange little plant is from a sky island in southern Utah: I think it could be distinct from P. simpsonii--compare it to the size of its neighbor. This one has been growing in this trough for over a quarter century.

Iris cristata 'Navy Blue Gemt'

One of a half dozen or more accessions of our wonderful crested iris from Joe Pyeweed's garden this spiring: how have I lived without these?

Androsace sarmentosa

Hope you noticed Fritillaria pontica looking down behind the rock jasmine.

Ranunculus gramineus

A plant I can't live without: I had an extensive colony overgrown by shrubs and weeds. Won't let that happen again!

Tulipa cf. chrysantha

Obtained from Gothenburg decades ago--several colonies of this are ramping through my blue gramma grass meadow.

Tulipa cretica

Surely one of the best bargains ever: I got some ridiculous number of this bulb for a ridiculously modest price: and it is from my ancestral island!

Agave albopilosum

We're in late May and the succulents have finally wandered outside for their summer roosts...this being not my least favorite.

Allium maximowiczii

Another gem from Arrowhead Alpines: I bought it two years ago as well: now I have two!

Arisaema flavum

I admired this all over Tibet--especially growing abundantly all around the Potala in the middle of Lhasa. I had to have it. And now I do! Even set seed.

Trough with Aster (Machaeranthera, Xanthisma) pattersonii

I have an ax to grind about this plant: and I have done so.

Chrysanthemum ex Morocco

Cirsium acaule x acanthium

Not EVERYONE can boast a designer weed: a cross between two distinctive thistles produced this intermediate. Unfortunately, it's fertile.

Conifer madness

I helped host a Conifer Club importation of several million conifers (felt that way anyhoo).

Cyancum ascyrifolium

 First seen in Allen Bush's impeccable garden in Louisville, Kentucky. I had to have it. And I do!

Daphne oleoides

I've admired this on many mountains in Greece and Turkey: I never seem to have enough of this species!

Delphinium tricorne

I think I'm going through a Delphinium phase...a wonderful Midwestern ephemeral.

Dianthus microlepis

Fritillaria pontica

Delphinium transversale

Hosta cv.

Escobaria missouriensis

Rhamnus pumila

Rhodohypoxis baurii

Salvia smyrnaea

Tetraneuris herbacea and friends

Tulipa hageri

Acis nicaensis

Arisaema candidissimum

Arisaema ciliatum

Asclepias asperula

Bergeranthus jamesii (albino)

Campanula trogerae

Catanache caespitosa

Swallowtail on Centaurea gymnocarpa
Papilio glaucus
Clematis integrifolia 'Mongolian bells' and Orlaya grandiflora

Clematis mandschurica

Convolvulus boissieri ssp, compactus

Dactylorhiza majalis

Delphinium cardinale

Dianthus erinaceus

Dianthus cf arenarius

Dictamnus angustifolius 'Albus'

A young plant of the Central Asian gas plant--subtly different than the European form below.

Dictamnus albus

Echinocereus coccineus

Lilium 'Orange Marmalade'

About here in the blog I usually place a mysterious neologism ineluctably for my friend, Mark McDonough to discover.

Origanum acutidens

Phlomis oreophila

Each plant has such a saga: we grew this decades ago, and I put it in the wrong spot and it died (at Denver Botanic Gardens). I eventually found it in Central Asia, and this is is progeny from that collection: it is much nicer than the picture shows.                                    

Scutellaria pectinata and Co.

Silene waldsteinii

Platycodon grandiflorus 'Dwarf White'

Venidium fastuosum 'Zulu Prince'

A spectacular new annual for me: thanks Tim (T. Morgan-a neighbor and wonderful gardener)

Verbascum bombyciferum

Several mulleins at Quince and also on Yates Street did this fasciation business.

Adenium obesum

I probably grow too many tender succulents in pots: this one is worth it!

The dry side

Lobelia cardinalis

The lovely dark brown leaf form blooms before our Rocky Mountain forjm.

Mentzelia nuda

Veratrum formosanum

Acis autumnalis

Ariocarpus retusus

Begonia evansiana 'Alba'

Eupatorium altissimum

One of my favorite novelties this year is from John Rembetski, a keen gardener in Albuquerque--this is an mid-Western meadow wildflower that blooms in late summer for weeks on end. I accidentally planted it in front of purple Cotinus. I'll pretend I intended to do that, Okay?

Leuchtenbergia principis

One of everybody's favorite cacti: I have got to put it in a less toasty spot so it can recover from my harsh treatment this year! But it blooms nonetheless (and did last year too).

Colchicum pyreneicum

Origanum dictamnus

I just noticed the cobweb on the upper flower, with the birchleaf caught in it.

Zauschneria (Epilobium) septentrionalis

My favorite Zauschneria (which you may call Epilobium if you wish).

Crocus speciosus
There were still Crocus blooming in early December!

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