Thursday, July 2, 2020

End of June fireworks...

Spigelia marilandica
I have three plants growing together: on the last day of June one is finished blooming, one still has flowers and the third is merely budded up. What's that all about? An indispensible plant for me now--just got 'Little Rascal' from Plant Delights growing in a different bed.

Spigelia marilandica

Summer is much less floriferous in my garden than spring, but there are a few stalwarts that shine: this is among the best!
Allium altaicum
 Superficially like Welsh or Egyptian onion--this isn't NEARLY as weedy. Everyone who notices it wants it.

Escobaria sneedii v. leei

Wouldn't you know,the most perfect plant in my garden wasn't even grown by me: this is a gift from Sandy Snyder, who knew how much I admired this pot and gave it to me when she sold her house a few months ago. I never cease to be amazed that such a local plant in nature (growing only in Carlsbad National Park) has proved so hardy: the container stays outdoors year around.    

Campanula trogerae
        Near the top of the list of my favorite campanulas--a Turkish endemic introduced by Jim Archigald a quarter century ago                             

Delphinium cardinalis

Hope this will be hardy. I want to grow lots more of it next year--it blooms for weeks and makes a spectacle!
Brodiea californica 'Babylon'
By far the largest of the Brodiea/Triteleia complex: love the color too. And very cheap from Bulb merchants.

Lilium 'Orange Marmalade'

One of a bevy of Pacific Northwestern species I purchased mail order this spring, So far they seem to be settling in!

Silene waldsteinii
I seem to have several plants of this in troughs and in various places around my garden. It's not too showy, but passes muster.

Gnarly Verbascum bonbycinum
Several verbascums at Jan's other house and at Quince are doing peculiar things this year. No matter how I thin, we always have way too many of these--one of our "signature weeds"

Arisaema candidissimum
I hope we fond spots where these will settle down: we have three plants so far this year...

Convolvulus compactus
I grew this in another garden for years and eventually lost it, Glad to have it back.
Brodiea ida-maia
I begin and end with plants that really do look like fireworks: this Pacific Coast bulb has seemed to find a spot it likes: I hope it will come back strong. I yearned to grow this for years--it was never sold anywhere. And finally a few specialty growers offered it for astronomical pirces. Then the Dutch got their hands on it and now it's cheaply available everywhere. God bless the Dutch!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Lofty ambitions: the Betty Ford Alpine Garden

Epilobium (Zauschneria) garrettii
I start with an autumn picture I took a few years ago: who ever imagined a "California fuchsia" growing like this at over 8000'? A hallmark of the Betty Ford Gardens is the exquisite hardscape--superb masonry, beautiful boulders and the artistic display of a fantastic botanical collection!

Epilobium (Zauschneria) garrettii
I believe there is much all of us can learn from this remarkable garden in Vail, a resort town created in the last half century around a ski theme. With barely 10,000 year around residents, they somehow manage to support a full scale botanic garden (free entry, by the way) with a considerable staff and an enormous reach locally, regionally--even internationally as you shall see! How do they do it?

Epilobium (Zauschneria) garrettii Pink sport
Back to the zauschneria (I can use the old name as a common name after all!): there was a beautiful pink sport.
Picea pungens (pendulous)
There are also some fine dwarf and larger conifers: this garden as been a teaching tool for gardeners at altitude throughout the region. When it was launched, the palette of plants that was grown in the mountains was pitifully  small: Vail proved that you can seemingly grow ANYTHING up here!
Alpines in June
Confession: these pictures are from a number of years ago. I hope to go up this Sunday, however, and get NEW ones.

Alpines in June
The blues of veronicas and gentians are truly eye blasting!

Alpines in June

Childrens garden and garden shop
As a rock gardener, I tend to linger arouynd the rocky areas--but there are many gardens including a wonderful children's garden that adults can enjoy just as much,

Upper waterfall
A spectacular waterfall decends in dramatic steps down the slope..

Visitor Center
A few years ago a beautiful visitor's center was added with changing displays highlighting relevant facets of botany and horticulture, and changing yearly...

Alas! the picture is several years old. A NEW exhibit about Plant Explorers in Colorado is being mounted as I type...

Green roof
And the building even has a green roof!

Here's a portion of an alpine house next to the visitor's center--the year it was just being planted: it has established and is full of treasures today.

Rock work

The rock work both in the gardens and the buildings is intricate and beautiful.

Cliff in native sectrion

There are many themed sections: I especially love the native plant area (notice the wood lily lower right? Lilium philadelphicum v. andinum.)
Penstemon cliff
 The slope with shrubby penstemons in one steep spot I find especially inspiring: this has gone from strength to strength...
Dasanthera Penstemon species and hybrids

It is impossible in one blog to capture all the activities and programs developed by this garden: there is an ambitious Conservation Biology program monitoring and protecting local plants; the education program serves children and adults--and there is more: luckily, this Friday, if you sign up for Taproot, the first hour is dedicated to this garden showing the spectacular spring bloom this year, and you will meet several of the key staff there who can give you a glimmer of this remarkable gem in the heart of the Colorado Rockies. Click on the banner below to find out more. Join me and let's both rise to the occasion!

The Betty Ford Alpine Garden will be the first of eight wonderful programs designed to showcase the best in North American rock gardening today. Don't miss it!

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Likely and unlikely crevice dwellers

Allium karataviense
Many onions had a habit of seeding about--and this (one of the loveliest) has been known to do so: but in a crevice? Why not I suppose. Over the years I've tried many plants in crevices--but the best ones--like this--often volunteer!

Anthemis marscalliana
It seemed like a good idea...and it bloomed nicely. Alas, it's not there any more (too many crispy days this June).

Campanula portenshlagiana
The Campanula (like most campanulas) is a natural for crevices. And delospermas seem to take to them as well.

Dudleya brittonii
I am very aware that this will not be cold hardy--but why not try it for the summer. I have some D. cymosa nearby that are just as happy--and hopefully hardy. By summer's end this should be pretty impressive--and not too hard to pop out to overwinter in a pot.

Aethionema grandiflorum
Another volunteer--and the best looking specimen of the species in my garden. But it does look good on the flat as well.

Scabiosa lucida 
I don't remember planting this, but I must have. I've seen no end of Scabiosas and their cousins on Mediterranean cliffs, so this is not a surprise.

Verbascum bombycifrum
NOT what I expected let alone planted! I've left it for the nonce: I don't think it will bloom this year. After it blooms it should expire. I've noticed many of species of mullein in Greece and Turkey love rock walls--so this is not a surprise. In fact, Bob Beer has a picture of himself alongside one of these on Ulu Dag growing pretty much the same.

A picture of a small portion of my wall this morning: from left to right--Sempervivum arachnoideum 'Stansfield' (which must be a hybrid not the species) is probably my best of the genus in rock crevices--although many will adapt. Above it the same Dudleya--but the white tufts dotting across are all Origanum dictamnus: When my plants from last year came through so well, I couldn't resist adding five more-which should make quite a show in July and August when they bloom: the classic chasmophyte of Crete, my ancestral home.

Growing with it a slightly too vigorous plant of Opuntia fragilis which may have to go...

Verbascum roripifolium
My biggest surprise this year was seeing this most unlikely mullein show up and bloom: the rosette is so un-mullein like: lacy and green. And the stem is so wiry the flowers seem to float: I hope it will seed around more--despite its size, I love to see it here--and the honeybees and butterflies agree!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Better watch out what you wish for!

Bulbine abyssinica
Just a few months ago I was despairing over having lost this little South African monocot not once, but twice. (When I highlight something like that, it's a signal you should click the link and look up Bulbine abyssinica in that post!). In that older blog I show an image of this plant photographed at 9000' on Sentinel--a peak on the border of Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Orange Free State and Phutadajaba. I planted the first specimens I got in more of a meadow planting before and they were never as robust as the one in the photograph. It really prefers a scree like this.

I hadn't realized my friend, Bill Adams of Sunscapes Nursery in Pueblo had been propagating this plant: I bought two--I should have bought more: it keeps blooming and blooming. Better watch out what you wish for: you may get it sooner than you expected!

Bulbine narcissifolia
THIS, however, is the prize of the genus, with wider, strap shaped leaves and much larger, showier flowers. I saw this repeatedly in the Drakensberg, but never got seed. Leave it to my colleague Mike Bone: he found and collected seed of this on an expedition to Lesotho with Munich Botanic Garden. It's been blooming for ages in our Steppe garden, where there are two specimens. I think this has enormous potential in horticulture.

But there are more: Back in 1995 I went on a fantastic bulb foray with the Indigenous Bulb Society of Cape Town led by Rod and Rachel Saunders, who were tragically murdered a few years ago in the Northern Drakensberg.  Not far from Middelpos we found Bulbinella elegans--a striking and desirable species found in the high karoo. Judging by how thickly it grows (if you clicked that link you would know!) it can't be too difficult to propagate. I know of no commercial source of bulb or seed for this

The ultimate prize, however, has to be Bulbinella latifolia v doleritica, with orange juice orange pokers. Alas, its range is lower down in the karoo--it's is not as likely to be as hardy as the others--but it would be worth trying in any case.

And if you research further, you will find dozens more species in these two genera: who ever thought these two obscure closely related genera could offer such promise in cold winter climates?

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Books I just read...See! I'm not just a plant nerd!

I have been accused of being obsessed with plants plants plants (as if that's a BAD thing). There was a time when Jan and I enjoyed going to the movies almost every week--and we dearly miss our Met Opera streaming presentations at the Cineplex with our best friends (we mourn the performing arts and fret over the strange new "reality"... concerts, theater--all that is dear to us.) One thing COVID-19 can't take away is books.

I generally read four or five books simultaneously (and may the best book win!) These are three winners from the last few weeks. Alex Beam's account of Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov's long friendship and truly sad descent into enmity was a page turner for me. I have been a big fan of both writers (tilting more to VN to be honest): I was THERE for the Feud and followed it closely at the time. It is as multi-layered and complex as you'd expect from a mental wrestling match of giants. Beam provided details I didn't know at the time and a hoard of research from correspondence, diaries and accounts that we did not have access to in the last decades of the last Millennium.

In a nutshell--one of the greatest contemporary English and Russian authors translates the greatest Russian classic into English and appends a massive three volume plus page commentary caressing practically every turn of phrase and seeking out every nuance of historical a philological context. His best friend publishes a cruel and demeaning review--and every literary luminary of the time (Robert Graves, Anthony Burgess, Robert Lowell to name a few) takes sides.

Beam tries to be fair, but methinks he is soft on Wilson. I'm a Nabokovian through and through: Edmund Wilson made a fool of himself and died knowing he'd betrayed his friend. Vlad rules.

See? I'm not opinionated just about plants!

What could be more relevant than reading a 271 page book about microbes in the shadow of COVID-19? I've had a bit of a crush on Eugenia from the time she gave a talk at Denver Botanic Gardens about her FIRST fifteen or so years ago (At Mesa's Edge). I bought and loved THAT book--and a few others afterwards--gradually realizing that she wasn't merely a facile writer, but a formidable one to boot. The time seemed right to "bone" up on microbes, and why not see what Genie (as mutual friends call her) has to say about them. Who thought a dense, rather detailed account of current knowledge about viruses, bacteria, tiny fungi and all manner of miniscule living and not so living things could be a page turner. Of course, she uses her own re-matriculation at Columbia University and the personal drama of returning to school in middle age to leaven the science and provide comic relief. 

Result: I learned more about microbes than I thought possible--and had a good time doing it! I give her an A+ again. And she inspired me to buy the rest of her books I hadn't gotten yet, and I leapt headlong into the NEXT book featured below..

For a horticulturist with a strong interest in biogeography of vascular plants, I find it strange that a fairly large proportion of people I've gotten close to over the decades are either lichenologists, birders or mycologists. My first office at Denver Botanic Gardens was next to that of Dr. Sam Mitchel, for whom our Fungal Herbarium was named: and that's just the beginning. I know several of the characters who crop up in this book, which is always diverting.

And I know a LOT more about Fungi after reading it than I did before. It's beautifully written and full of data, fun anecdotes and more.

If you're not a Eugenia Bone fan, you're missing out on a wonderful contemporary writer!

I confess that I DID sandwich a few plant books in between these (and even reviewed Trees of Fort Collins for this blog.)

By my bedside now there is a stack including V.S. Naipaul's short fiction, Calypso by David Sedaris, The Rarest Bird in the World, by Vernon L. Head. May the most readable book win!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Early June in the garden

Lilium croceum
It may have rained two inches last night (June 9th) so many of these flowers are nodding, although their roots are undoubtedly reveling in the drenching moisture. Surely one of the most garish of Alpine flowers, I always look forward to the virulent orange of this lily in early June,
Clematis integrifolia 'Mongolian Bells' and Orlaya grandiflora
I am so pleased at how the clematis has adapted to the dry slope in front of my house I planted a dozen more (hope there are some whites among them). One can never have enough Orlaya--a very flashy little annual that is a good neighbor and welcome in large numbers!

Vancouveria chrysantha
There is a bit of local history to this plant--first planted almost 20 years ago in a shady bed north of our Boetcher building along with various Epimediums. Irrigation was spotty--and many of the Epimediums petered out, but this spread to make a groundcover almost 8' across. Knowing that bed would be destroyed when the Freyer Newman center was built, I requested that the Vancouveria be lifted and propagated. Katy Wilcox (our chief propagator at the time) had flats and flats of this available at the fall sale a few years ago (this is one of my two trophies from that sale)...I hope the dozens of customers who bought this at a ridiculous price ($5.00 I seem to recall) know what a bargain it was. And I hope they all grew for them.

Vancouveria chrysantha
I am looking forward to this forming a little patch in the coming years!

Sisyrinchium macrocarpum
Toughest of the South American "yellow eyed grasses"--I know it's been given another name but what the heck.

Sisyrinchium macrocarpum
The flowers are really enormous for the genus--almost 2" across!

Dianthus erinaceus
Probably my best performing cushion pink--I have big clumps of this all over my rock gardens--and they always produce a good show.

Dianthus erinaceus, Fumana procumbens, Aloinopsis spathulata
When something likes you and your garden, it's important to plant young ones--since the big ones will not last forever.

Erigeron and Abies koreana 'Kohout's Icdbreaker'
I started collecting fleabanes. I figure if I have enough in my garden, I'll begin to recognize them. This is another mystery species I have had so long the label's disappeared.

Sedum nevii

Another plant I've grown for years--but only in the last few years have I found a spot where it really shows off.

Clematis hexapetala

Recently promoted by Plant Select, the "Mongolian snowflake" clematis has been one I've struggled to grow well. It produces a few lax stems--but this year I renovated the bed around it hoping it will produce the massive show it does at Denver Botanic Gardens. Introduced by the late Harlan Hamernik--a dear friend and mentor.

Catanache caespitosa
This found the sweet spot in my garden, and is starting to seed about a tad more than I want. But so be it--it's a really bright spot of color for many weeks in early summer.

Arisaema ciliatum
Smaller and earlier, this is abundant in northern Yunnan and I'm glad to have it in my garden. The larger and later A. consanguineum is just popping up nearby.

Asclepias asperula

Green flowers generally don't make the cut, but everyone who sees this one wants it. I have a number of seedlings planted nearby--some day I hope to have a whole slope of this great local native.

Senecio macrocephaljus
There are a number of rose-violet flowered senecios in the Drakensberg. This has turned out to be the best in my garden--not seeding about at all (alas!), unlike the profligate (but lovely) S. polyodon. The winter rosette on macrocephalus is 8" across: glossy and lovely. And it seems to grow in quite a range of soils and exposures, blooming on and off all summer. I rate this very high on my personal scale of gardenworthiness. It's a keeper!

Anthericum baeticum
First of the Saintly lilies to bloom: I believe this could be dubbed St. Fulano's lily from Spain. St. Bruno's and St. Bernard's come later and are much bigger.

Nigella and Peachleaf bellflower
I know Campanula persicifolia is common as dirt--as are Nigella. But I wouldn't be without them. Plant snobbery is boring.

Troughs with xeric plants (mostly miniature cacti--but a few perennials and annuals that tolerate complete baking) line the path between the "ridges"--supposedly Eastern Hemisphere on the left and American on the right. Of course, the mulleins don't care about geographical niceties!

I've grown a dozen species of mullein the last few years, and a large percentage of my plants turn out to be hybrid (and thankfully sterile). They bloom pretty much non-stop for the next three or four months--what stamina! Especially since they're not watered here ad summers are long, hot and frequently dry.

Argemone munita

Equally welcome, prickly poppies seem to be spreading (to my delight). They do have sharp little prickles--which I welcome. This is one of a half dozen or so native wildflowers that grew on this property when we bought it that we encourage to stay and spread, Tradescantia occidentalis and Mentzelia nuda being the other favorites. The three native Ambrosia, however, are among my worse weeds--go figure.

Can't get enough of those flowers!

Jan's favorite bearded iris. Mine too: and of course I forgot the cultivar name. Check back--I'll see if I can find it (I have thousands of pictures in my Iris files--where to start looking?)

Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida and Salvia phlomoides and friends
A final vignette from the rock garden, which has lots of color as well as dying bulb foliage. There is a cost to trying to grow everything!

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