Saturday, August 18, 2018

Czech Crevice Garden Master arrives in America! Steppe up!

A picture of ZZ I "borrowed" off a Newspaper article from a Prague newspaper (it's on the web, you can look it up)

I have an even better picture of Zdenek on a tribute I wrote a year or so ago: do click on it here and get a much fuller picture of our long and rich history. This blog is about here and now: namely--Zed Zed arrived in Denver yesterday (August 17) and will be spending OVER a month with Zdena, his wonderful companion, speaking at eight venues, culminating in the Steppe Summit (linked here again) on September 15. Be there or be square!

Zdenek "wrote the book" on crevice gardening. 50 copies of this were purchased by Ken Ray (treasurer of the Rocky Mountain Chapter) and they will be sold at the Steppe Summit and the upcoming meeting of that group on Saturday, August 25 at 1:00PM; Ntloko Bongani will be the speaker that day--on Lesotho Alpines--you should go to that meeting too!).

Dionysia 'Zdenek Zvolanek' (borrowed from an Alpine Garden Society post on the Web)
This image pretty much sums it up: a hybrid produced by the great Michael Kammerlander (formerly of Wurzburg Botanic Garden) was named for Zdenek--combining the more amenable D. tapetodes with the famously difficult D. afghanica, but retaining the latter's color. One doesn't get plants like this named after one without a pretty compelling reason. In ZZ's case it's that he has revolutionized our musty art of rock gardening and made it compelling to a whole new generation of Millennials.

(not "borrowed"--taken by me last summer: entrance to the Rock Alpine Garden D.B.G.

Here is an image I took last summer of the first ambitious crevice garden designed by Mike Kintgen at the entrance of Denver Botanic Gardens' Rock Alpine Garden inspired by Zdenek's technique.  Crevice gardening is not only aesthetically pleasing, it is engineered such that otherwise impossible plants will thrive. The Crevice Gardening school of rock gardening evolved about 50 years ago in Prague, developed by Ota Vlasak, Zdenek, Josef Halda and Vojtech Holubec among a few others--Zdenek has become its best known prophet and along with Ota the most artistically gifted of the practitioners. He's designed crevice gardens all over Europe, at Montreal Botanic Garden, all over British Columbia and notably the Mt. Goliath branch of Denver Botanic Gardens twenty years ago! The impact of his work can't be overestimated: thousands of gardeners around the world are using his techniques in their gardens: ten public gardens in Colorado and Wyoming have installed ambitious crevice gardens as a consequence of Zdenek's past visits and his influence. He will be visiting all of these in the coming weeks as he delivers 8 talks throughout the Rocky Mountain region (here is the link to those talks)

Another "borrowed" picture, this time from a Prague television station.

I could go on and on about this fellow: he's good company--and he and Zdena will be waking up soon, and we'll have breakfast. He doesn't have a clue I'm doing yet another blog about him.

He has provided me with so much knowledge, so much in the way of understanding horticulture, plants, nature (not to mention great boon times and partying a dozen or more occasions on several continents and many places over the last 40 years), I can't help but want all of my friends, and you especially to meet this giant of a man: one of the greatest horticulturists the world will ever know. He gives a damn good program! And a pretty good trumpet player too! As they say in Greek Ζήτω Ζήζι!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Dancing with pines...(not for hoi polloi)

I have observed that when I post pictures on Social Media, the response is in direct proportion to the amount of color: the brighter, the more hits. Simple as that! One might call it the Butchart syndrome, if one were to be a tad cruel to that splendiferous garden, where color is done so lavishly. And well...I hasten to add! Although I have to admit the only time in my life I've ever had a color headache was wandering through a courtyard there with hanging baskets of begonias in electric candy colors, columns swathed in more electric floral flesh, and the ground layer--impatiens, I think, and more begonias...pretty soon, pound, pound, pound--my arteries and veins were pulsing and my head hurt. No mean feat for a man whose had the same bottle of aspirin virtually his whole adult life (and it's still pretty much full).

Larry Jackel, far left. Kevin Williams, center and Gavin Culbertson on the right

Enough grousing about the world as it is! I'd rather celebrate the world as it should be: where character is rewarded with longevity and grace. Namely, the innumerable character pines that crowd the Rocky Mountains. Over a hundred of these were moved from Ironclad Ridge to Denver Botanic Gardens exactly forty years ago by a small team of Japanese Bonsai masters--one of whom (Larry Jackel) brought us back to see where the Botanic Gardens' pines originated.
 Ironclad ridge is  Forest Service land, and I hasten to say that permits were pulled way back then for all the trees that were removed. I also aver that you would never guess any had been taken: there are thousands of rugged Ponderosa pines still dwarfed and thriving on domes of rocks around the area. I was enchanted with them (as were my colleagues who were along on the trip: we were filming a segment for an upcoming documentary concerning conifers). A lovelier day would be hard to imagine. I suspect we were at nearly 9000'--the air was cool all day, with occasional clouds scudding along (so some of the pictures will be taken in overcast light--you can compare: especially the first and last).

Of course, I love color as much as the next schlemiel: but one of the subtle by-products of a lifetime in horticulture as we come to recognize that form and texture are every bit as important. It's that form and textural department where these gnarly pines excel.

Hillock after hillock of granite dome was covered with a veritable company of venerable trees (say that sentence ten times quickly!)... Larry Jackel has studied these at length (and even written a book about them available at Denver Botanic Gardens gift shop! Or mail order if you click the previous link). Walking the ridge with Larry and Jerry Morris at times, and my two other observant and appreciative colleagues was a genuine delight.

There is a vast arena of discourse that arises on gentle hikes like this: speculating not just about the age of trees, and why they grow the way they do, but speculating on adversity and struggle, as opposed to the life of complacency, convenience and comfort that most humans seem to want.

We observe that most of the character pines have trunks that are torqued, as opposed to the straight trees in the lusher hollows in between....People have thought wind, but Jerry insists it's drought stress that causes it. I tend to believe what Jerry tells me.

I'm sure that if I tried I could come up with all manner of anthropomorphic speculation, or perhaps some pseudoscientific ponderings. Hardly seems worthwhile, when you look at these gentle behemoths.

Usually crowning the hills with the best view--you figure these trees know how to live in style!

 I have taken no end of pictures of them: here are just a few. Take a minute to savor the astonishing variety of form and habit that they have. No two (like snowflakes) are alike by any means!

We will be revisiting this one again, and yet again!

This one was plum tuckered out! Lying supine (or is it prone?) doesn't seem to have slowed it down.

Are the crowns mimicking the clouds or vice versa? Only Chuang Tzu would know for sure...or would the butterfly?

It's a miracle some still had any life in them--these near snag has a healthy branch on the right side!

Of course, as an herbaceous plant lover, I had to look down: and everywhere I found this miniscule form of Artemisia ludoviciana. I keep wondering, would one of these stay dwarf? (I've tried them before and they grow enormous in a garden setting).

Yet another mat of tiny Louisiana sage...should I or shouldn't I?

There was quite a bit of color in the meadows. OK, it was mostly yellow daisies! It didn't hurt our visit at all that they'd had a good rain the night before and everything was fresh and fragrant. Didn't hurt at all!

Asplenium septentrionale
 Always a treat to find the grass fern: I last saw this growing everywhere in the Greater and Lesser Caucasus. And I've seen it in Central Asia as well...but not yet in Europe where I know it's abundant: something to look forward to.

I'd never noticed before how flaky the bark is on the ponderosas: here on roots for Heaven's sake! What's that all about?

Pseudotsuga menziesii
Is there a person on this planet who wouldn't be charmed by the cones on Douglas fir? If so, let's send them to Mars to test its livability.

I'd like to send Mars-ward the gun lubbers who littered the ground everywhere with "clay" pidgeon target shards. I would like to insert a nasty little diatribe about America's gun culture. But I won't. I suspect 99% of those who read this far get it, and the 1%...well...let them fantasize!

While I'm at it, just imagine the rich invective I would like to pepper this post with about the infernal roadsters that were stirring up clouds of dust and making a hideous racket during most of our time on the Ridge. I would so dearly love to export vast chunks of popular culture to Mars and test its viability in zero gravity. But let us remember that the best remedy for most things on the planet is a walk with friends among the pines.

Before I'm accused of terminal cynicism and cumudgeonliness, allow me to confess that I have hope. My two colleagues pictured here (photographing the tree that starts and ends this blog) represent so much that fills me with delight and hope: I am more and more convinced that their generation will right the stupidities that have deluded or eluded us boomers.

Let's not be too hard on the boomers: Larry Jackel is one, and a finer colleague I could never hope for. I believe he was the only non-Japanese member of the Bonsai club to help with those initial transplants, and he has continued to share his experience and knowledge across the country as Denver Botanic Gardens' Bonsai master.

And self-described tree hugger! Thank you Larry for a magical and unforgettable day!

And thanks to the Arboreal Deity who grants us the grace and elegance of character pines! I shall end with my favorite poem by Ezra Pound (a flawed talent if there ever was one--but here he hits a Homer, as 'twere!):


Be in me as the eternal moods
            of the bleak wind, and not
As transient things are –
            gaiety of flowers.
Have me in the strong loneliness
            of sunless cliffs
And of grey waters.
            Let the gods speak softly of us
In days hereafter,
            The shadowy flowers of Orcus
Remember Thee.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Steppe brother: Vojtech Holubec coming to America!

There are few people I admire and envy more than this man: his day to day work is dedicated to the preservation and study of germ-plasm (seed!) of plants as head of the Czech seed bank. And for more decades than he would care to admit he has traveled the world in study of plants.

As a youngster, he was one of those who developed the Czech school of crevice gardening. He documented his knowledge in a book in 1992 called "the Rock Garden and its plants"--which alas, has not been published in English yet--but there's time. He has beautifully displayed his technique in his extraordinary private garden which I featured on Prairie Break last year.

We first met in the 1980's when he was a visiting scholar at a University in Texas: he drove up to Colorado several times to botanize and visit--even then he had a vast resume of exploration throughout Eurasia.

He has offered an incomparable list of fantastic plants on his personal Index Seminum over the decades--many of which are new to horticulture. I remember obtaining Hemerocallis graminea from a collection of his 35 years ago from Mongolia

This is one of the most remarkable members of its genus, and his is the only introduction I'm aware of. and the list could go on for pages!

 He produced a monumental coffee table tome on the flowers of the Caucasus (the only such book thus far available on this scale for that important mountain range) and will be launching a brand new volume on the flowers of the Tian Shan on his lecture tour this fall.

 You can read lots more about Vojtech and his upcoming tour on the writeup on the North American Rock Garden Society's website: click here to go to that page.

 But why not catch one of his presentations around the United States this fall?

September 9/15/18 Rocky Mountain Chapter - September 15th
Denver to Raleigh Durham NC
9/29/18 Piedmont Chapter - September 29th
? Four Seasons GC
? Potomac Valley Chapter
October 10/6/18 Delaware Valley- October 6th
10/13/18 Tri-State Chapters - October 13th
10/14/18 BNARGS - October 14th

He will be one of the four stellar presenters at this year's Steppe Summit at Denver Botanic Gardens along with Chris Gardner (Silk Road Flora), Zdenek Zvolanek (Crevice Gardening) and Mike Bone, Curator of Steppe Collections at Denver Botanic Gardens.

Denver's a great destination in September (and you get the aspens turning in the mountains as a bonus, not to mention Denver Botanic Gardens)...

See you there!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Steppe up!


A little more than a month from now, four extraordinarily accomplished plant explorers, authors, horticulturists and speakers will present the second Steppe Summit at Denver Botanic Gardens

Three of the speakers are coming from very far away! Chris now lives in Turkey, but was a practicing Landscape designer in England for years. He now conducts botanical studies and leads tours with his wife Basak, who is also a botanical artist as well as botanist and photographer herself.

Chris will have a few copies of his book on the Silk Road Flora selling at the original price available at the Summit: this is currently being sold for ridiculous sums on Amazon. He and his wife Basak have traveled repeatedly across Eurasia from Istanbul to China researching and taking stunning images of flowers and landscapes. Click here for a Chris' compelling biographical information.

This happens to be a picture I took over 30 years ago in an old garden: I'd be surprised if Chris didn't show this and other choice irises as part of his presentation on  "Silk Road Flora" providing a back the scenes revisit of his monumental book.

 This will be the first occasion that Vojtech will have his fantastic new book on sale. A book Lauch: the Tian Shan are one of the Earth's highest, longest and richest botanical treasure troves.

  Vojtech Holubec may be the most traveled plant explorer that I've ever known. Most years he collects seed from Europe across to China and much of the former Soviet Union. He has also collected in Patagonia and South America.
  He is Head of the Department at the Czech Republic Crop Research division, as well as director of the Seed Bank. He manages the Czech Republic's National Plant Genetic Resources.
   His fantastic garden has been featured on Prairie Break before.
   Vojtech's youthful face is deceptive: he is one of the originators of the famous Czech crevice garden technique and has been active for over half a century in the field.

This happens to be a picture I took almost ten years ago in the Tian Shan of Paraquilegia microphylla--which there occurs in these nacreous colors.

I featured Zdenek's spectacular private garden in a recent blog: there's much more to the man than that!

Campanula choruhensis is just one of dozens of spectacular plants from Turkey and the Balkans introduced to general horticulture by Zdenek. In addition to yearly plant explorations across Europe and Turkey, Zdenek has traveled extensively in Western America and designed dozens of ambitious Crevice Gardens including the Mt. Goliath Alpine Garden at over 11,000' near Denver, the Montreal Botanical Gardens' enormous crevice garden and the crevice garden at the Royal Horticultural Society's garden at Wisley. He has designed dozens of private gardens across Canada, the USA, and much of Europe. He edits the Prague Rock Garden Society's journal, Skalnicky as well as co-editing the International Rock Gardener--a treasure trove of horticultural excellence.

Taking us "In Steppe with Lesotho", Denver's own Mike Bone will wrap the program up with pictures from his two expeditions to the high mountain Kingdom where so many great Plant Select introductions originate. Mike last went there this past February to provide guidance for the Katse Botanical Garden there, as well as collect seed across the country with Munich Botanic Gardens.

Mike was lucky to be taken to a little known, large population of Aloe polyphylla from a particularly high and cold region, which may provide hardier plants one day for testing at Denver Botanic Gardens of this most spectacular of aloes!

Mike was the principal force and designer of the Steppe Garden, which lies at the very heart of DBG. This garden has enjoyed enormous popularity since its creation just two years ago!

Which underscores how great a debt is owed to Steppe environments. So many of the most spectacular plants IN our gardens (and so many more waiting to join them) originate in this vast biome that has nurtured mankind since our beginnings, and which we have yet to fully comprehend.

Mike was a principal author of the recently published book on the flora of the four major steppe regions.

Just click on this link and you can guarantee a place at the Summit!

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