Friday, December 2, 2016

Guilty pleasures (the up-side of invasives)...

("Invasive" wildflower display between Cromwell and Alexandra, New Zealand) [All photos by Jan Fahs]

Like all good conservationists, I like my nature pure. I would just as soon only see native plants in most landscapes (with the minor exception of city gardens and of course vegetable and cereal producing areas to feed us--and I suppose some pastoralism in there's getting more complicated). But what happens when the invasives create gardenesque sweeps worthy of a painter? Can we make exceptions for these?

Proof I was in New Zealand last month (is it last month already? feels like yesterday still the impressions are so bright) and here Jan (whose pictures I'm using throughout this post--mine weren't as good)  has caught me in the act: we both took way too many pictures.

Of course, its mostly red valerian (a.k.a. Jupiter's beard: Centranthus ruber) which has naturalized many places on the planet. I have admired this blooming wild in Greece, where it seems to almost always be a chalky pink: here every shade from pure white to deep crimson can be found. Along with California poppies (Eschscholtzia californica) and a goodly number of other Mediterranean introductions. All of them exotics and all of them planted with such cunning and care you'd swear it was a garden.

The environmentalist angel on one shoulder is fuming with anger and indignation: how could such horrible invasives be tolerated? There is another fallen angel, on my other shoulder whispering ("Aaaah, isn't it pretty?"). I have some friends who have only one angel, who can look at this and not suffer some qualms and indecision: if I were given a magic wand, would I "whoosh" away all the invasives and restore exactly what was there prior to European settlement? Or should we go back before the Maoris as well (they must have had an impact too, don't you think?)...and would that restored landscape persist with rabbits, hares, possums and so many other plants that are probably responsible for the success of what you see more than humans by ourselves.

Have I mentioned the lavender you've been seeing is Thymus vulgaris?  This was much the commonest weed, growing so thickly that it's harvested by the ton for herbal extracts. There is a minor industry of herbalists who rely on the plant itself, and legions of beekeepers who bring their hives here: how does the thyme on this hill differ from alfalfa in a pasture (or paddock as they say in New Zealand?)...

I believe this is Salvia verbenacea. And there were legions of Mignonette (Reseda luteola, I believe, although only R. alba is listed on the Department of Conservation's weed list) and other fellow travelers here and elsewhere...

Excuse me while I admire this unholy landscape. I guess we may all share a little of the sublime hypocrisy of those pious evangelistic preachers who bellow fiercely on the pulpit, but wallow in sin when parishioners aren't around. A stretch of a comparison, I know!

A last few lingering looks...

Our salvia again...such tracery!

Just a little more red and pink, please!

I'm incorrigible, but you're still looking at it too aren't you?

We wind down with some thymes...

Scotch broom by the acre (abetted by agricultural practice and logging)

Everything you see in this picture is exotic: the Eurasian grasses, the broom and the distanct plantation of Monterrey pines: in fact there is barely a stitch of native vegetation anywhere on the eastern quadrant of New Zealand below, say 1000 feet (more or less)... That said, there are a few remarkable reserves throughout the country (even at lower elevations) and a high level of awareness among every New Zealander I met about the ecological issues and challenges they face. I believe the horticulturists especially are extremely self-conscious and have borne the brunt of the pain of the draconian laws meant to prohibit new weeds: any new plant to cultivation in N.Z. must be submitted to a Government process costing tens of thousands of dollars--a very regressive and self defeating example of colossal myopia and ineffectiveness in my opinion. Makes me root for the weeds, frankly!

It may be an ecological menace, but it's beautiful!

New Zealand plantspeople can't obtain the latest Podophyllums from China legally (plants that are never posing a threat to anything but pocketbooks of plantsmen)...but they are free to pave their lawns (and countryside) with invasive Eurasian grasses, and topiaries. I rather liked these in the Southlands!

I shall quit while I'm sorta ahead...
The issue of weeds is a sticky one at best: I have gained enormous new insights thanks to this island country. New Zealand delighted me no end with her fantastic beauty, the rugged (and often weed free) high country and unbelievable alpine cushion plants and wildflowers...the astonishing (and largely weed free) temperate rain forests I sampled all too briefly ih the far south and west coast. The amazing private gardens where exotics and native plants were grown to perfection, and two of the best public gardens I've ever visited (Christchurch and Dunedin Botanic Gardens)...I hope I might have a chance to go back again--hopefully leading a tour in January 2018 for the American Horticultural Society! Meanwhile I shall savor every moment of one of the most magical trips I've ever taken in my life (weeds and all!).

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tongue fern: what's in a picture?

September 3, 2004
 I first obtained this fern not long before this picture was taken: a gift of Harlan Hamernik, co-founder of Bluebird Nursery in Clarkson, Nebraska who collected it in inner Mongolia. We didn't know at first what species it was--in fact I only determined it recently:  Pyrrosia petiolosa (click on the name--there's a description in the Flora of China for you) has accrued quite a vast literature due to its use as an herb. If you google the name you'll see plenty of papers on the flavinoids and chemicals that make this plant so useful to Chinese Medicine. I suspect the little rhizome Harlan teased out and brought home is trivial compared to the metric meters of this plant that have been collected for herbal use!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 7:54 PM
 This has been one of the pride and joys of my rock garden--although 99 out of 100 visitors probably don't notice it. Tony Avent did--and asked for a piece (I have yet to provide)--or even spore, which I keep forgetting to gather: I will do so this year for sure, Tony!

Monday, ‎August ‎23, ‎2010, ‏‎12:25:10 PM
 The reason I'm posting all these pictures (with their dates) is that I think this demonstrates why we nerdy gardeners take so many pictures: even a darned fern with no pinnation looks completely different at different times of the day, growth cycle, and as it expands in the garden! If you don't take pictures, you don't realize this! And we have all that wonderful meta-data one can mine!

Saturday, May 3, 2014 9:06 PM
 Look how different this one looks above, just beginning to unfurl a few fronds...

Friday, ‎May ‎23, ‎2014, ‏‎9:33:16 PM
 To this one, a mere twenty days later, still unfurling fronds...

Sunday, July 3, 2016 6:39 AM
And this one taken this summer, when I realized it had grown enough to dig a piece, which I did for Michael Bone, who'd been hinting rather boldly...and I thought I better do it before I lost the plant! A fern that hangs in through the last few horrendous winters deserves some attention!

Monday, ‎September ‎5, ‎2016, ‏‎8:00:30 PM
And here, a short while after a piece was taken from the middle, I put a rock to fill the cavity--you'd hardly know a bit chunk was missing! Hopefully, one day we can propagate this widely and spread it around. Probably the hardiest Pyrrosia, it may only appeal to connoisseurs...but then, if you've read this far, you must be one!

The Chihuly effect--this time in Atlanta!

Just in case you've been hiding under a rock for the last generation or so, I thought I should inform you that Dale Chihuly has performed a remarkable feat of not only creating astonishing, spectacular sculpture, but partnering with dozens of botanic gardens around the world to display his work in different contexts which result in many things. The sculptures often light up dark corners of gardens where they are placed, or they dance wildly with the colors around them. Both the gardens and the sculptures gain somehow in this operation (although naysayers will say nay)...what is undeniable is that every garden graced with Chihuly sculptures experiences a colossal explosion at the box office: numbers of visitors and often members are doubled...and I've been told that the effect continues indefinitely. I doubt we could underestimate the impact Chihuly has had on raising awareness of public horticulture, and the countless millions of dollars in hard cash that have accrued to the participating gardens as a consequence. Of course, Dale and his army of associates benefit as well--but I'm not sure that's what's uppermost in their minds. I believe Public Horticulture owes Chihuly an enormous debt of gratitude. This images were taken last September when I visited Atlanta Botanic Gardens (their second--maybe third?--round of Chihuly). I believe the placement of these at Atlanta was exemplary--and I hope you'll enjoy these rather rapidly snapped images as much as I am doing three months later in frosty, early winter here in Colorado!

I will hardly need to comment on each picture, but here the artistic punning of art and nature needs a bit of a verbal smirk!

The extraordinary conservatory and tropical collections out-Chihuly art in their extravagant beauty. I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with Ron Determann--curator of tropicals in Atlanta and perhaps the greatest public gardener in America. Atlanta packs multiple wallops of excellence!

Is it Chihuly in miniature or just pomegranates?

Here is their permanent Chihuly installation in the parterre that was undergoing transformation (the box hedges--like boxwoods elsewhere in the East--will soon be a thing of the past.)

A closer look

I loved this courtyard...

The Mosaiculture goddess is from a previous exhibit--but she seems to enjoy the Chihuly baubles placed to distract her from her endless waterfall...

Another view

From the amazing raised walk...

These remind me of balloons. I'm not sure that's a good thing?

Let's not forget the magic of nature sans sculpture...

Like a crane version of the Blue Man troop...

The end! Thank you Atlanta and thank you Dale for a magical interlude...