Saturday, July 11, 2020

200 years ago today....(Stephen Long Expedition part one)

Aquilegia coerulea
Two hundred years ago today Edwin James along with unspecified companions came upon this columbine (not this VERY one, which I photographed exactly a week ago--although I saw it today again) and he described it in his characteristic way (see extract below)

I Googled Aquilegia coerulea and got this: "About 119,000 results (0.44 seconds)"

Then I Googled Aquilegia caerulea and I got this "About 267,000 results (0.63 seconds)"

I typed that observation in a "coerulean" tint--It illustrates the irony of how an incorrect correction propagated and has twice the currency of the correct spelling of the Scientific name: I hope you henceforward will remember the correct spelling.
But I also hope you may take note and celebrate in whatever is your fashion the 200th Anniversary of the first Scientific Expedition sent into the Southern Rocky Mountains by the United States Government.

The Expedition was led by Major Stephen Long (for whom Longs Peak was named, towering over the northern Front Range). The expedition was memorialized in a remarkable and hefty tome, which has been continuously in print since it was published in America and England in 1823.

The picture below depicts Longs Peak and the  area where Denver now sprawls, painted by Seymour, the artist designated to paint scenery (other scientists on the expedition painted animals and plant portraits, many of which were lost along with their manuscripts when several members of the expedition abandoned the party on the return trip. Fortunately, Edwin James notes and journals were NOT lost (as you will see).

Let's savor for a moment this image: a long line of Native Americans, and a similar line of bison, and a lonely tree where millions of people now live. Pretty awesome, no?

They spent roughly the fourth of July until the 10th along the Platte in the vicinity of Denver, camping near where the Platte Canyon debouches to the Plains--very near Denver Botanic Gardens' Chatfield Farm. I had intended to begin this blog posting a week ago--on the Fourth of July, when they approached what is now the Metro Denver area. The quotation below I think

Edwin James
This is apparently the only known authentic portrait of Edwin James, chief scientist of this expedition, and the one who ultimately composed the hefty book about it. He has always been a hero of mine, and as I've researched this expedition in recent years, I've come to realize that he and his role have been unjustly overlooked by history books: he was a conservationist before Conservation existed as a concept (he calls for legislation to preserve the bison in the Account). He became a champion of Native Americans and their rights, and during the Civil War, his farm was a destination on the Underground Railway for escaped slaves. Long before Muir or Thoreau, he embodies the fiery spirit of American love of liberty, love of nature and justice.

I can imagine his delight and awe as he bent down and admired our famous State flower 200 years ago today.

Here is the actual specimen that he pressed that day, sent to John Torrey at Columbia College in New York City and now residing at New York Botanical Gardens' magnificent herbarium.

Sobering to think this specimen, collected 200 years ago today, was packed and carried with pack animals for months before the Expedition finally returned to "civilization" and has then resided in two Herbaria in New York City for the better part of  two centuries!

And here is another picture I took of the species in September almost 18 years ago in the Indian Peaks wilderness:

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Delphinium californicum: a case study

Geoffrey Charlesworth once wrote that it doesn't matter if you've actually GROWN a plant, it only matters if you've photographed it to prove that you've grown it! That is not an exact quote--but a pretty good paraphrase I reckon. I wish I knew* if either he or Norman Singer (two of the most wonderful plantsmen I've ever known) had grown this. I can only imagine their delight. It bloomed for several weeks--a real champion! And during that time I must have taken several dozen horrible pictures until there was a peculiar conjunction of the stars, and I seem to have finally captured it.


We plant nerds go through a sort of serial love affair with certain genera or plants. Delphiniums have always delighted me--and I have grown Delphinium nudicaule, which is also red (but from Northern California). I remember seeing plants of this at a local greenhouse years ago, and for some reason I didn't buy them. But the day that California instituted "Stay at Home" and closed businesses in early March I went to Annie's Annuals in Richmond, which had somehow gotten a variance and was open. This was one of dozens of trophies I bought and brought back.

America--and especially California have a superabundance of wonderful red plants: think Zauschneria, Lobelia cardinalis, Monardella macrantha, penstemons galore. There's quite a long list of them. Come to think of it, I grow these and many more: I seem to be as fond of them as the hummingbirds. And the first time I grew any of them, I know I experienced the sort of fascinated delight that this gave me this year. I would go out again and yet again and take more horrible pictures.

Looking at its range, the chances of its coming back next year may be slim...but there does seem to be some life at the bottom of the stem still...

 It's something of a miracle that it survived at all this spring--we had repeated cold snaps after I brought it back, and it commuted (in  its pot) back and forth into our cool corner room before I planted it out. Apparently in a good spot!

Needless to say, I'll be cherishing the few seedpods it is setting, and seek out more seed of it to grow next winter. One isn't enough. We plant nerds want multi-multiples of every plant we love to surround us for as long as we live and garden!

But even if I fail, I have these pictures to prove I did it once at least.

*I not only wish I knew if Geoffrey or Norman grew this, I wish I knew which of Alan Turing's colleagues depicted in "the Imitation Game"  portrayed Geoffrey. And what he would have thought of the movie. I can hear him say in my mind "it wasn't really like that at ALL"....

The master and the masterpiece: Kendrick Redux!

Little more than a year ago, I wrote a rather dark Blog posting about one of my favorite places on the planet: the Xeric garden at Kendrick Lake in Lakewood. The deceptively gorgeous Allium christophii had run amok and was threatening to overwhelm the garden...when I wrote the post, little did I know or suspect that the Lakewood Parks staff were poised to dig and remove thousands of these throughout the garden.

Allium cbristophii
No small task, as you can see from these two specimens in hand above. I have been heartened to see this garden experience a sort of re-birth since then--below I will display quite a range of flowers I've photographed there over the last month or so. And I shall end with a portrait of the Master who created the garden in the first place--hang in there! And ENJOY! This is an unparalleled masterpiece of urban flower gardening!

Phlomis russeliana
Many of the plants retain labels made six or more years ago, although I fear many labels may hae wandered off as well in that interim (the park is not caged)...

Kniphofia cv,

Penstemon pseudospectabiis
An inspired choice for the Plant Select program: a LONG LIVED penstemon that blooms for months--and just look at the color!

Clematis integrifolia 'Mongolian Bells'
These are everywhere at Kendrick...

Digitalis obscura

Digitalis obscura closer up.

Phlomis cashmeriana

Agave havardiana, Eremurus stenohyllus and Eremurus hyb.
Where else but Kendrick would you see such an unlikely and yet perfect combo?

Tanacetum praeteritium
A superb composite from Turkey. And yet not a mail order nursery in America grows or sells this. Prove me wrong!

Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum 'Kannah Creek' and Marrubium rotundifolium
The spreads of buckwheat at Kendrick are stunning.
Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum 'Kannah Creek' further along in bloom (ages orange)

Salvia daghestanica and Oenothera incana 'Silverblade'
As is this Caucasian sage.
Salvia daghestanica

Stachys cv. and Tanacetum densum v. amani in the background

Campanula sp.

Penstemon palmeri

Penstemon linarioides

Sedum kamtschaticum 'Variegatum'
An undeservedly overlooked sedum that is distinctive.

Stachys lavandulifolius (center)
Where else would you have such massive clumps of the mistflowered sage and next door a Calylophus (hartwegii I think)

Had to show this again.

Oenothera serrulata

Cylindropuntia whipplei and its cousin 'Snow Leopard'

Yucca rostrata and Cylindropuntia 'Snow Leopard'

Mirabilis multiflora

Mirabilis multiflora
Clematis integrifolia 'Mongolian Bells'

Penstemon pinifolius 'Mersea Yellow' and Salvia x 'May Night'
What a great combo!
The enemy
There are an awful lot of these at Kendrick this year. And in my garden. Uggh.
Salvia chrysophylla
An elegant newbie.

Monardella macrantha 'Marion Sampson'

Sempervivum calcareum
Sempervivum calcareum

Had to show this twice--incredible clumps of these...

Erigeron elatior (speciosus) and Eriogonum umbellatum
Another great combo

A variegated Hylotelephium Sedum--don't know the proper cultivar. (Probably spectabile?)

Asclepias tuberosa

Zinnia grandiflora

Ephedra minima

Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum 'Kannah Creek'

Daphne x transatlantica

Crambe maritima

Salvia darcyi

Penstemon pinifolius 'Mersea Yellow'

Scabiosa graminifolia

Diascia integerrima 'Coral Canyon'

Engelmannia pinnatifida

Nicole and Matthew Langford
Every time I visit Kendrick there seem to be more and more people strolling through enjoying the place. I began chatting with this delightful couple (violinist left, composer and trumpet player, right) who read about the garden in a book, were so enchanted they sought a home nearby and walk through almost every day. They would love to volunteer there, should a group be organized (hint hint)...

How many thousands, or tens of thousands have been inspired by this garden? 

Greg Foreman
And finally, I'd like to acknowledge my enormous debt to Greg Foreman: he designed and oversaw the maintenance of this garden for nearly 15 years. He quit six years ago and is doing design work on contract since then. I cannot fathom how much I have learned studying his work.

Although Kendrick Lake is his best known showcase, Greg has executed other extensive gardens on that scale, not to mention miles of median strip designs throughout Lakewood and dozens of xeric pocket gardens in parks throughout the city.

I know of no gardener anywhere who has such an uncanny knack of combining the right plant with the right spot and achieving such long lasting success with naturalistic design.  He is the perfect blend of garden artist and horticultural scientist.

Greg and I were chatting: he welcomes new design prospects. Click here to hear him talk about his work.

Better yet, email him at nativesamongus at  if you'd like to work with the best designer the Rocky Mountain West has to offer. No one has done more to forge and elevate beautiful, sustainable Rocky Mountain garden design than this wonderful man.


I would also like to acknowledge the remarkable staff of Lakewood Parks who have done a superb job of continuing and expanding his legacy.,

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