Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow in the summer, memory in winter...

Euphorbia marginata
 We've been looking at snow for months this winter: ironic that I'm waxing nostalgic for a plant that goes by the common name of "snow in the summer"--but nostalgic I am. And with good reason...as you will see anon. As snooty plantsmen, we're supposed too look down our noses as annuals (particularly COMMON annuals), and not many plants are commoner than this. Common in the sense that it is widely sold by seed catalogs. I have seen it in cottage gardens in Kazakhstan, in Europe and even in South Africa. And there was a time it was common in nature...


For years I would drive on the "Boulder Denver Turnpike" (as we called it back then--and old timers still do: it's Highway 36 to most folk now).  Come to think of it, really old timers called it the Denver Boulder Toll Road (prophetic words those). Anyway, I commuted weekly on this for decades, and year in year out there would be these extraordinary billow mounds on one side of the road. I'd crane my neck as I whisked by at 65 m.p.h., and wonder...



One year I couldn't stand it any more and had to pull off to the side of the road (illegal and just a tad dangerous): when I got closer I was even more amazed with the brilliance of the form and color of this crazy annual weed. Once common on buffalo wallows here and there across the Great Plains, most of its habitat is now wheat field or burgeoning suburb. You still see them here and there--usually just a few stems in the shortgrass. But these were amazing!


You'd have to be a card-carrying member of the church of Tony Avent ("Friends don't let friends plant annuals") to not want this monstrous mound of delicious white and green striped wonderfulness in your garden!  Notice that it's growing on the side of a freeway, on hard packed clay. Don't try this at home! Year after year I've sowed seed of these in my xeriscapes, and miserable plants result that never look like this. Put this in rich soil, water it and you can get plants like the first image, taken at Denver Botanic Gardens years ago...


 I feel somehow guilty that I've not yet managed to produce one of these lolapaloozas in my home garden. I must remember to look in my files for old seed--or break down and order some this spring!


I wonder how many Coloradoans even know that this--one of the hoariest of cottage garden annuals, cherished in gardens around the world is our very own native weed?


 In a few weeks I will be staying at the home of the ultimate Euphorbia grower near San Diego, so I shall have a chance to admire quite a few of its congeners: Euphorbia is an acquired taste--but once you have it, you come to love even the weedy ones with the emphatic exception of our other native Euphorbia maculata--one of the worlds most pestiferous weeds (albeit native to the same range as snow in summer!)  Let's skip back to the cyathia above--are those not lovely?


I end with a picture of how this usually looks in nature--not nearly as compact as the big beach ball shown up above...

By the way, that stretch of highway I enjoyed these along for so many years was bulldozed, expanded and I haven't seen one of these anywhere nearby any longer. I have watched wildflower fields disappear like that year after year: really, folks. It's time we made preserving natural areas a bigger priority all around--although I don't think it's shown up on the planks of either party's platforms in the upcoming elections! But, this election cycle is so wacky and out of control, anything is possible, right? Here's for the Euphorbia party! Long may it rule!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Colorado! or bust (Mementos from EXACTLY five and a half years ago...)

Mt. Sopris from Tom Alexander's garden
Blame the Ratzeputz gang--a half dozen or so keen nurserymen/seedsmen/designers from around the world who swoop in on Colorado every few years and twist my arm (ever so willingly) to show them around. I show these pictures because these are the sorts of things you will see if you sign up for the North American Rock Garden Society's SPECTACULAR annual general meeting that will take place just north of where these pictures were taken, with many of the same plants and vistas: just click HERE and you can find out about that meeting (120 people are signed up already--better sign up too before you are SHUT OUT!)

Tiny corner of Tom Alexander's garden
 A breathtaking garden of one of the Ratzeputz near Carbondale: Tom is a landscape architect by training who ran a nursery in the Appalachians for years before moving to Colorado in the late 1990's: he is a force to be reckoned with!
Crow sculpture at Tom Alexander's garden

I may come back and drone on about the plants: but I don't want to delay these images from you: check back in a week and you can hear me comment on them individually: we start in the Flattops (just south of the range to be exact: Steamboat where the NARGS AGM takes place is just to the north...) and we move southward across the Elk Mountains to Kebler Pass, ending up in South Park and finally Pikes Peak. A whirwind tour over the 4th of July in 2011: Colorado in June is just about as close to Heaven as you will find. Better join us!

Allium acuminatum
I've always been mystified that this most abundant and dazzling of intermountain onions is virtually unknown in horticulture: I have seen this form vast pools of brilliant rose red in Western Colorado and many other states in May and June (Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming: it's not rare). It is beautiful close up and spectacular en masse. But don't look for it in gardens! Although I don't believe it's any harder to grow than any other Allium really. Go figure!
Penstemon commarhenus
Blue penstemons are everywhere in the West in spring and early summer: one bluer than the next. People fly from the East Coast to Scotland to see blue poppies: but there are easily fifty penstemons as blue as any Meconopsis you can enjoy anywhere in the West. They may not have a castle nearby, but you may find an equally picturesque butte or hoodoo to take its place!

Penstemon commarhenus
A closer view of this abundant species from central Colorado--abundant in the wild, non-existent in gardens!
Penstemon virens
Another brilliant blue penstemon--this one usually found on the eastern Slope of the Rockies: we found an "out of range" mass of it on a steep slope of Loveland Pass on this trip.

Wyethia amplexicaule and Eriogonum umbellatum ssp. aureum
I have driven highways where this stunning Mule's ears (Wyethia), with flowers sometimes six inches across, dots the countryside for a hundred miles. And I have yet to see it in a garden. Now the buckwheat has been sold and promoted by Plant Select for a decade--you do see this around gardens now and again--not nearly as often as you should!

Dwarf Amelanchier alnifolia and Phlox multiflora ssp. depressa
Shadblows or Serviceberries (Amelanchier) are so showy and abundant across America--and yet so rare in gardens. We have several species--each so distinct! This common species varies in form and size: I was impressed with this compact form on the Flattops.


I feel so sorry for those dolts who drive across America and hate the "empty" spaces in New Mexico, Utah, or Nevada (or Colorado!). The sagebrush "wastes' of the West have some of the highest endemism of any ecosystem. This is where the lion's share of penstemons, buckwheats and fleabanes are concentrated. Next time someone complains about our sagebrush steppe--just kick them for me.

Artemisia tridentata bonsai
As much as I love the showy wildflowers, the gnarly shrubs one finds here are every
Artemisia tridentata
Another prize winning bonsai--if it were in a pot in a show that is!
Delphinium nuttallii meadow
The ubiquitous tuberous larkspurs of the West: a different name in every state for pretty much the same thing: D. menziesii, D. bicolor, D. nelsonii, etc. Wonderful garden plants as well: I suspect the Dutch could grow these like they do bulbs--since that's basically how they act in nature and the garden--only with little swollen spidery roots.
Delphinium nuttallii pale form
A uniquely colored one...
Erigeron pinnatisectus
Ordinarily strictly alpine, we found this growing on subalpine limestone pavement on the Flattops.
Penstemon comarrhenus and Oxytropis lambertii
It is hard to express how eloquent the bright colors of the steppe can be in spring--the fourth of July is still spring up on this subalpine and montane steppe!
Montane `sagebrush steppe in Garfield County
Canyon country in the distance is quite hot, but a cool breeze always blows on the higher montane.
Steppe in bloom
The colors clash wonderfully...
Gilia aggregata
I've grown this many times, but it doesn't persist as well as its cousin G. rubra...
Hydrophyllum capitatum
I wonder why I've never tried growing this: it's abundant and widespread and probably easy to grow. The other common species in the genus growing in similar habitats is shown in a bit...
Mertensia brevistyla
This winsome miniature grows everywhere in northwestern Colorado. I've grown it as well....
Pediocactus simpsonii
Those seedpods didn't last very long...
Penstemon saxosorum
Blue penstemons do look good with orange lichens.
Penstemon watsonii
A remarkable and abundant species in much of Colorado and Utah--fantastic masses of blue in early summer...
Penstemon watsonii

Penstemon watsonii
The silvery Artemisia makes a pleasant foil for the cobalt blue of penstemon.
Phlox multiflora ssp. depressa
The fragrance of our native western phloxes is unforgettable: tropical richness mixed with innocence. Reason enough to grow them.
Ratzeputz gang on the Flattops
The redoubtable gang...
Frasera speciosa (Swertia radiata) and Allen Bush
This polymorphic gentian relative can top out at a foot on tundra!
Viola nuttallii

How can a plant that thrives from the Great Plains to the Intermountain steppe up to tundra in the Rockies be so challenging in the garden?
Viola nuttallii
Nuttall did get around.
Wyethia amplexicaule and Delphinium nuttallii
That shade of yellow-orange that looks so good with the blue-purple of larkspur. And I've never seen this in a garden anywhere.
Kebler Pass
On top of the pass: a majestic place! carpeted with glacier lilies!
Actaea rubra
Our only Actaea, alas.
Allium textile
Another universal plant--from Great plains to alpine tundra. It CAN be grown easily.
Aquilegia elegantula
Much more delicate than canadensis or formosa (it's east and westerly cousins) it is usually found in subalpine woods in rather dark shade.
Aquilegia elegantula

Arenaria congesta
It takes a real plant nerd to collect Arenaria...I'm such a plant nerd.
Caltha leptosepala
Not easily grown for us in Denver--but we can grow the yellow Eastern and Eurasian species!
Trollius albiflorus, Caltha leptosepala and Erythronium grandiflorum

Corydalis caseana ssp.brandegei
 We're now on the West side of Kebler pass: the woods are full of this largest of corydalis in summer.

Corydalis caseana ssp.brandegei

Erythronium grandiflorum and Claytonia lanceolata

Erythronium grandiflorum

Erythronium grandiflorum

Hydrophyllum fendleri

Lomatium dissectum

Mentzelia bakeri

Salix cf. glauca
 On the top of Kebler Pass...

Veratrum tenuipetalum

Crested butte with lupines

Lupinus sericeus

Mountain elf on Cumberland Pass

Anemone multifida

Cumberland pass with Rydbergia grandiflora (a.k.a. Tetraneuris something or other)

Ranunculus pedatifidus

Mentzelia speciosa
 Now we're in the dry center of South Park (nearly 9000')

Mentzelia speciosa

Aster (Machaeranthera) coloradoensis Albino

Aster (Machaeranthera) coloradoensis 

Aster (Machaeranthera) coloradoensis

Geranium fremontii

Penstemon virgatus ssp. asa-grayi

Mertensia alpina
 One of the many gems of Pikes Peak!

Devil's backbone, Pikes Peak

Androsace chamaejasme ssp. carinata

Androsace chamaejasme ssp. carinata

Aquilegia saximontana


Eritrichium aretioides

Heuchera hallii

Hymenoxys caespitosa (Tatraneuris somethign or other)

Oreoxis humilis

Penstemon brandegeei

Pinus aristata and Kurt Bluemel (not in that order)

Telesonix jamesii
That's all folks! See you in June in Steamboat!