Thursday, April 17, 2014

A week in the life of a peripatetic gardener (Toronto sojourn...)

Iris cf. narbutii
I took the picture of the iris the day before I left for Toronto. Gotta love those Junos--this one from Beaver Creek nursery many years ago.

Prunus subhirtella
The Japanese cherries around town bloomed most of last week--good thing because the snow and frost on Sunday night put an end to the show. Someone has planted many Japanese cherries along Cherry Creek (and Speer Boulevard) which is rather amusing, since the "Cherry" in Cherry Creek is actually a Chokecherry. This is the most stunning Japanese cherry I know in Denver, at an apartment complex near my home. I dote on this every year..


The flowers up close are immense, and a wonderful melting pink color. I would love to see a lot more of these around town!

Paeonia coriacea
This was blooming as well before I left, and came through the snow (under a bucket of course): it's a collection from Morocco by Mike Kintgen. Surely the earliest Peony in any garden?

Marion Jarvie and Daphne mezereum
I'd not seen Marion in 11 years (since she had the misfortune to be in Denver for the colossal March snowstorms in 2003): I was thrilled to see how vibrant and good she looked: her job as a garden designer and lecturer obviously agrees with her. Her garden was stunning, even in late winter. Here she was showing off an incredibly dense specimen of Winter daphne that was ready to pop.

Helleborus thibetanus
I know it's out of focus, but I still loved this incredible plant: mine is alive at least!

Iris x 'Katharine Hodgkin'
Every one of the Katharine Hodgkin's iris at my home garden was seemingly killed by the extreme cold of last winter. They fared better at Denver Botanic Gardens--and Marion's were fabulous as you can see. Not that I'm jealous....or anything....much. They seem to do better on the flat in richer soil than in a gravelly rock garden soil I venture.

Bella and Barbara's garden
My hostesses for the trip have a wonderful garden and welcoming home: Bella Seiden and Barbara Cooper (shown a ways below) are program chairs for the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society, who made me feel very welcome: I loved this simple garden sculpture that reminded me of fern croziers unwinding.

Andrew and Sue Osyany and me
Andrew Osyany and his wonderful wife Sue drove a long way for my talk later on Sunday: Andrew started the ORGS many decades ago, and our paths have crossed repeatedly over the decades, including a wonderful field trip we took together to the Bighorn mountains and Wyoming decades ago. In addition to being a passionate gardener, Andrew is a lawyer, and his incisive intellect has kept the North American Rock Garden society on course more than once over the years. Traveling for talks is really about reconnecting with special friends like this for me more than anything. Except perhaps for seeing great new plants like the one below...

Adonis amurensis 'Chichibu beni'
One of numerous treasures in Barrie Porteous wonderful Toronto garden: I'd never seen this burnished orangy bronze form of Adonis before: Barrie has promised to divide this for Bella, and perhaps a piece can come my way?

Barrie Porteous and giant Daphne mezereum
Barrie standing behind the largest Daphne mezereum I've ever seen: this was about to bloom: I was amazed by the number, variety and size of daphnes in Barrie's garden.
Cyclamen coum at Barrie's
 I have to show a few of the masses of Cyclamen coum all over Barrie's Toronto garden. They were obviously in peak form. 


And yet more Cyclamen coum! Barrie had a terrific career in business--gardening is just a sideline: but what a sideline! I've never been privileged to see his cottage garden near Muskoka in the the country where there are no end of treasures as well. He's headed out to the Penstemon Society meeting this June and we spend a wonderful morning looking at potential stops he might take in Utah and Nevada--making me terribly jealous. Barrie has explored more than many botanic gardeners, and grown more plants than many botanic gardens: so much for amateurs! (And did I mention that he's a fabulous speaker with the most wicked sense of humor I've ever encountered?) Yes, time with Barrie and Jane was time I shall remember fondly.
Barbara Cooper, Merle, Jane Porteous, Bella and Barrie Porteous
Some of my wonderful Canadian hosts: I've been spoiled terribly over the decades by the tremendous community of horticulturists in Toronto. I like to think I'm a plant person, but the friendliness and good humor of gardeners is just as compelling as the simple majesty of plants. We need more of both in this world of too much asphalt and concrete.

Post red full moon setting over the Rockies from my living room window
I returned to a full moon (it was actually a "red moon" in the middle of the night, but I didn't think my camera was up to photographing it). Turns out my Nikon Coolpix 620 has much better optics than my old Sony point and shoots (despite their famous Leica lenses), and I could have gotten that wonderful bloody moon. Dang it! What a great week!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Has Spring truly sprung? (an April Alphabetarium)

Bulbocodium vernum
 We almost wondered if Spring would ever arrive: now suddenly magnolias are in bloom all over town, the early plums and apricots are out, and even all the pear trees. Crocuses and snowdrops are mostly over, and the early spring rabble is at its peak...most all of these are photographed today in my garden (the one above is an exception--my pictures from home didn't turn out nearly as well as this shot from the grand border at Denver Botanic Gardens). Of course there's lots to say about every picture, but this time of year we don't need prose, we need color! and there is color aplenty (at least until Sunday when it's supposed to snow again--ugggh). That's Colorado. Take it while it's good!
Coluteocarpus vesicarius

Corydalis solida 'Beth Evans'

Corydalis solida 'George Baker'

Corydalis solida 'George Baker'

Corydalis solida 'Dieter Schacht'

Delosperma sphalmanthoides

Draba bruniifolia ex Toros Dag

Draba hispanica

Fritillaria bucharica

Fritillaria caucasica

Fritillaria michaelovskyi

Fritillaria michaelovskyi

Iris aucheri

Iris aucheri

Iris reticulata 'Cantab'

Narcissus nanus

Primula abchasica and Chionodoxa sp.

Primula marginata

Primula veris and Hepatica americana

Ranunculus calandrinioides

Townsendia hookeri in a trough

Tulipa humilis 'Alba oculata'

Tulipa humilis

Tulipa humilis

Tulipa humilis and Corydalis shanganii

Tulipa montana ex Iran (Archibald coll.)

Veratrum nigrum

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The resonant velvety harmony of plant collections

Weeping Scholar's tree (Styphnolobium japonicum 'Pendulum') in City Park, Denver

My mentor, Paul Maslin (an eminent Biologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder) was born in 1909 and grew up in central China. He eventually came to the U.S. for his college education and stayed, although memories of China haunted him all his life. When Nixon opened the doors to that country in the 1970's, Paul and his wife Mary were some of the first tourists who went there from Colorado. I well remember many stories he told contrasting the Feudal China of his childhood, and the dramatic changes of post Cultural Revolution China. One of his observations that stuck with me was the abundance of  weeping Scholar trees (Styphnolobium japonicum 'Pendulum'--still usually called Sophora japonica by fuddy duddies like me) he saw in China "why do you never see these in America?" he kept wondering. I only know the one above in Denver--growing beautifully in the terrific perennial garden in City Park. I discovered this two decades after Paul had died, and think of him whenever I visit it.

Dennis Hermsen, myself and a young weeping Sophora last Saturday at Iowa Arboretum
Paul's nagging question has occasionally come to mind--especially when I make a yearly pilgrimage to enjoy the gardens at City Park, where I always stop to admire Denver's sole weeping Sophora. So you can imagine my surprise when I spoke last Saturday at the wonderful Iowa Arboretum in Madrid, Iowa when one of the audience came up to me and presented (among a bevy of gifts) a wonderful 4' specimen of weeping Sophora.

One of the many benefits of being a Senior Curator of a public garden is that America's great plantspeople use you serve as a conduit (as it were) between great collectors and their intention that important plants find their way into significant plant collections. I'd heard of Dennis from our mutual friends, Gary Whittenbaugh and Jerry Morris. Meeting him at this Symposium and receiving the Sophora and other treasures are the real pay off for the day to day work one does: incidentally, the specimen he gifted the Gardens came from a scion off the very same Sophora in the first picture above. It took a rather circuitous route back home!

I am already savoring the picture in my mind of the wonderful specimen this will form in a few years time in our Japanese Garden complex. It will combine in my mind the ancient traditions of Oriental horticulture with memories of my mentor and his long experiences in China, and a beloved tree in City Park, and finally getting to know one of America's great plantsmen.

Dennis owns a nursery in Farley, Iowa that I have now put on my bucket list! And I look forward to his visiting Denver Botanic Gardens soon (he has come in the past, but we've never connected) and showing him around my private garden as well. And you can be sure I shall be planning some appropriate gifts for him in anticipation.

I am sure there are other hobbies where people are as thoughtful and generous--although none spring to mind. Each of the gifts Dennis gave to Denver Botanic Gardens: three hefty grafted specimens of a weeping white spruce discovered by Jerry Morris in Montana and a fantastic miniature Gingko in addition to the weeping Scholar tree--all of these represent plants that he has grafted, grown for years and cherished. None of them are easily found in Commerce, if you can find them at all.

A surprising number of plants at a botanic garden (or private plant collection as well) are the result of these sort of serendipitous meetings and relationships. The interplay of people and their passions and history provides a sort of resonant velvety harmony, as it were, to the beauty of plant collections.


Monday, March 31, 2014

The hardy Palm Trees of Colorado.

Washingtonia sideroclada ssp. argentea

 Palm trees are generally thought of as Tropical plants, restricted to humid, warm winter regions. Obviously, most people are not aware that there are many iron-clad species, such as this small colony that once grew along Monaco Avenue in Denver, a short ways south of Evans. Despite being planted in a rather exposed microclimate, with a deep sandy soil, these throve for many years: I would admire them as I drove by year in year out, their graceful, bending forms and rigidly proud fronds outstretched with an almost military rigidity: what's not to like? Then a day came when I noticed the sign....

Sign of things to come
 It should have worried me that the restaurant where these where originally planted was rarely patronized...the pressures of development on our endemic urban Arecaceae cannot be overestimated. Not too many weeks passed by before I discovered they were now extinct. Surely the rarest Ironclad, silver Arecas in the region (if not the world) have now joined the Dodo and the Liberal Wing of the Republican party in the annals of prehistory. We cannot be too vigilant, nor can we trust in fly-by-night "conservation" organizations like Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife, who take little interest in these urban ecotypes. They'd just as soon see this planted to junipers!
Cocos nucifera ssp. boulevardensis
Possibly always rare, and now extinct in its type locality--this high altitude coconut palm once throve along Colorado Boulevard here in Denver--producing its characteristic clusters of fruit that fortunately never fell on passers by.


We're not sure if the proximity to "Hooters" has any significance....


I admired the lofty crowns of this evergreen palm for many years, until it too fell victim to "progress"...
Cocos Santafeensis
This delightful colony of an apparently sterile form of the genus still persists--possibly responding to the abundant irrigation on the lawn beneath. I hope some of those would be "environmentalists" will make an effort to preserve this thriving colony before it's too late for it as well!

A closer look!
I am somewhat concerned by the way these are growing that they may, in fact, represent a single clone--the bane of our street tree culture nowadays. By propagating so many trees from single germplasm accessions we reduce biodiversity to a single gene pool--and lay our trees open to all manner of disease and pests. I would not be surprised some day if some sort of rust were not to set in simultaneously on all of these.
A single specimen
Here perhaps you can better admire this distinctive variant planted near a rather outlandish stylized stone: The graceful organic form of the palm makes a striking contrast to the angular, metallic and rather unnatural "stone"--true art if I ever did espy it!

A closer look...trying to ignore that "rock"
Aceca variabilis v. grotesquissimus forma Sinorestaurauntorum

 I shall end my little disquisition on the palms of Denver with this--the most colorful of all of them--reduced, alas, but to a single female that is not likely to produce viable seed with no male palms nearby. How sad it is to think that this noble varicolored hardy palm may one day join its brethren in extinction. Fortunately, we have managed to photograph a few of these to prove that the alpine palms of Denver are still hanging on (albeit by their frond-tips): there are a number of others I've spied over the years--perhaps next year this time I can expand this little monograph to capture them before they too succumb to "progress".