Monday, February 17, 2020

The Noble Vice part 1: a few NON-Chinese Leontopodium.

Leontopodium alpinum in my home garden
Some plants gather around them a sort of mystique or drama far exceeding sometimes prettier plants. Think Titan Arum (Amorphophalus titanum), Ginseng (Panax ginseng) or in THIS case, Edelweiss (Leontopodium). If you have not had the pleasure of reading Reginald Farrer's masterful put down of this genus in The English Rock Garden, you will have missed one of the GREATEST polemics ever composed and never to be outdone. I'll quote a sample at the bottom of this blog*. The first picture above is the object of Farrer's imperious scorn, by the way. I apologize for suggesting you click on Christopher Plummer's rendition of the song dedicated to the little weed in Sound of Music..I warn you! It's an ear worm that can haunt you for days!

Leontopodium alpinum var. nivale
At Denver Botanic Gardens in the 1980's
 I once grew its much showier cousin from the Balkans--var. nivale transcends the general homeliness of the genus and attains a certain handsomeness--no edelweiss can truly be called pretty without bending that word out of shape! Reginald might have liked this one a bit better--but he doesn't mention it in his two page invective.

Leontopodium sp. ex Asia in my home garden
 Pretty or handsome, dowdy or no, I like the dang things, and have grown a dozen or more species over the decades. Alas, most of their pictures are still in transparencies--so you'll only have a few of them inflicted upon you here...Never fear! I'll have a LOT more of them coming along in another blog soon, I'm afraid! I may have liked growing THIS one, but admit, it's not only dowdy, but gawky and ungainly to boot! I can hear Reginald cackling.

Leontopodium fedschenkoanum in Kazakhstan
In 2009 and 2010 I undertook two wonderful exploration trips to Kazakhstan and Mongolia with my colleague Mike Bone (which I have blogged about several times). We found several edelweiss on that trip, the largest of which we were able to find a name for. It is subtly distinct from the common European species, and was likewise a plant of high pastures and alpine steppe.

Leontopodium cf fedschenkoanum
This is probably the same species growing in a rock.

Leontopodium ochroleucum in Mongolia
  The other, rather more endearing edelweiss was this tiny thing that made small mats: let's ignore Reggie for a moment: I find this a sort of plant I'd personally love to grow in my garden!

Leontopodium sp. ign.
 Somehow, this Edelweiss from Kazakhstan didn't quite match up with either of the previous two species--but what could it be?

*Edelweiss alpinum (English Rock Garden Reginald Farrer, excerpt from pp. 445-446)

The Flannel-flower is of the easiest cultivation in an open space in light soil. It dreads wet and stagnation in winter, as becomes a desert plant; and lime in abundance helps to keep white the whitened sepulchre of its sham flower. It can be grown admirably in window-boxes in London, where the smuts enhance its colour. Were it not for the idiotic superstitious and persistent rubbish of romance that have gathered round this species, no one could refuse credit and even affection to its wide woolly stars of silver, which, in the garden as on the wild hills, take special value if grown in the moraine among clumps of violet-and-gold Aster alpinus. It is often a really beautiful sight, covering the highest lawns of the Alps with tufts of grey, and galaxies of pale flannel starfishes, as common Daisies cover an English tennis-court. But to call this plant an alpine, to imagine it rare and precious and difficult of attainment, this is to provoke the meekest into exposure of a fraud so impudent and foolish that thereby the merits of Edelweiss itself are unduly alarmed and darkened. It is not an alpine at all: it belongs to the great Central European and Asiatic deserts, but, being very profuse seeder, has established itself on every mountain range of the Northern hemisphere in the Old World. It is not a rarity, but so universally common that you may rely on tramping acres of it on almost any alpine range above the altitude of 5300 feet; bit is so far from being a typical and representative high alpine that it never ascends beyond the fine mountain turf of some 7000 feet, more or less, and it is far from being difficult of attainment that on every such slope or final valley under the peaks or ridge between them, one is treading dense flat lawns of it, in places where a dozen prams could race abreast without imperiling themselves, their conductors, or their inmates. Yet every season the misguided go dropping of precipices on which a few stray tufts have seeded down, not knowing that 200 feet higher, in the soft alpine grass, they could be picking basins-full of blossoms in half an hour's gentle and octogenarian stroll before dinner....

And so Reginald goes on magnificently for another page or two! Really worth looking up! Oh that he were alive today to pen a few pages of invective about our miserable world leaders!                                     
Since Farrer's classic has been continuously in print for over a Century now (just over) and there are dozens of editions of the dang thing--just go look it up! If it's not in your library, it should be. It's widely and cheaply available from used book dealers online!

 Everyone has a regret or two in one's life: I have more than my share, believe me. One of my more winsome regrets is that I never wrote a single blog in 2019 to honor the 100th anniversary of the publication of the English Rock Garden, and to tell the story of how I discovered it as a child at the nearby University library, checked it out and re-read it endlessly--stoking the fires that would eventually conflagrate into my career! That copy I read had Farrer's own dedication to Darwin Andrews--Colorado's first great nurseryman, who supplied Farrer with plants and is mentioned in the text. At least that's what I remember!

Libraries being what libraries have become, that book was probably de-accessioned and sold at a sale for a few dollars and is sitting on some hobbyist's shelf (not mine--I have a 1948 seventh printing).

I will soon follow up with Part 2: the Chinese Edelweiss--that's where the genus goes crazy!

Gardeners in the USA are lucky to have Edelweiss Perennials, a fantastic mail order nursery that offers 8 kinds of edelweiss by mail order. I can't recommend this nursery too highly: it is one of the best sources of many choice plants at very reasonable prices: grown, packaged and shipped superbly!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A rolling stone gathers a bit of moss....A beautiful native garden

Paul Moore and me with his awesome umbrella
At least half my friends eschew Social Media in general, and Facebook in particular. And I agree that the idiot extremes are using these media for all sorts of devious ends--especially the right wing stink tanks...but over the last decade or two I have made many, many wonderful friends thanks to Facebook. In early April a few years ago, my daughter persuaded Jan and me to meet her in Nashville for a mini-vacation. I'd been messaging Paul on Facebook about Dirca palustris (more on that later) and thought it might be fun to visit him--and we asked, he said yes, and we spent a lovely hour or two visiting his amazing garden.

Mertensia virginica
Now in the winter of my discontent, I can't resist dialing the clock back five years to Spring in Tennessee: For me this ephemeral borage has been a bit of a challenge to establish--but Paul had oodles of it in his garden. I can't resist showing some of his colonies spreading lavishly around his garden.

Mertensia virginica

Mertensia virginica growing with a cool sedge: Carex grayi?

Paul with Dirca palustris
Here's Paul showing off one of his monster Dircas--I mentioned that's what got us corresponding: I've wanted to grow these forever, albeit they're not the showiest native shrub. But their America's only native genus of Thymeleaceae (the Daphne family) and that justifies mg quest--that and the fact that Kelly Norris (a dear friend and one of America's wunderkinden of Horticulture) did his thesis on the genus--and yet ANOTHER friend (and hero) Aaron Floden recently described the FOURTH species in the genus (Dirca decipiens)...I know this sounds recondite, but this is the stuff and substance of how plant nerds operate: get with the program, please!

Croton alabamnensis
I mistook this for Dirca (ignorant Westerner that I am) but Aaron Floden and Paul Moore set me straight--it blooms early like the daphne cousin...only this is Euphorbiaceae!
Fuzzy closeup of Croton alabamensis
Hideous picture--I apologize! When I grow up I'll take pictures like Paul Moore--if you're on Facebook to "friend" him--he is a professional photographer and his pictures are grand. No doubt he'll see my wretched shots and might send some to me I'll append at the end--check back on this blog post in a week or so: you might be surprised.

Photo by Paul Moore
Just as I'd hoped, Paul came through with aterific  picture he just recently took in his garden of Dirca palustris. He messaged me that "Some of my Dirca are in nearly full bloom while others still completely dormant." That's early February in Nashville...Meanwhile it's still snowing in Denver! Uggh.

Dirca palustris
With very characteristic seed pods.

Dirca palustris
I TOLD you I was a plant nerd--can't just settle for two or three pictures of the dang plant!

Moss lawn
Tou might not get it right away--but this is a solid moss lawn. There are a very few delicate native wildflowers growng in it--but Paul has established a virtually solid carpet of moss in all the open areas of his garden. It's simply stunning!

More moss lawn at Paul's
Obviously, he's not wedded to a mower like those of us with conventional turf. And the color and effect are simply wonderful as a contrast to the sinuous woodland beds throughout his extensive property.

More moss lawn

Here the moss lawn makes a wonderful contrast to the wildflowers along his foundation.

His woods were full of flowers--here our native Celandine (Stylophorum diphyllum). Paul's garden is perhaps the perfect "poster child" for another Paul--Paul Tallamy's philosophy which he's expressed in so many books: namely that most of our gardens (particularly in the Eastern Hardwood forest) would be far more beautiful and ecologically responsible if we simply LEFT what was growing there originally persist. Nothing is that simple, of course: developers invariably scrape the living daylights out of lots, leaving subsoil and making the establishment of the native flora a challenge. But Paul did it: I have a hunch it took a lot of work to achieve this--but this is one garden that is 100% native and 100% elegant as well! It CAN be done.

Sessile Trilium
I'm not going to venture a guess as to which of the dozen or more eastern sessile trilliums this one is. Perhaps Paul will know and tell me when he reads this blog: check back in a week or so!

Trillium luteum
This one I DO know: the wonderful, lemon scented trillium of the Midwest is one of the easiest and most vigorous in cultivation.

Geranium maculatum
The wonderful Eastern cranesbill: I must try growing this. I have a dozen or more species of geranium in my garden: not nearly enough!

It's still early spring in Nashville--the garden will fill in over the next few weeks and months--but the soft green--I hate to say it--is almost painfully lovely to my Colorado winter-worn eyes right now!

And the road takes us away: but if you're intrigued by moss gardening, Paul's garden is featured in the recently published Moss Gardening book by Ann Martin (" Mossin' Annie' Martin of Mountain Moss Enterprises in Pisgah Forest, NC" ). Tom Christopher who has among the best Podcasts around, interviewed her recently: click on the yellow link above to learn a lot more about mosses and enjoy Annie's lovely Appalachian lilt! Do subscribe to Tom's wonderful podcast--he's one of America's premier gardeners and authors, and a wonderful gentleman to boot! His Facebook post about Annie's book is what reminded me of that wonderful morning at Paul's garden...which I must visit again at other seasons!

I am so glad I don't have to end with the picture of the road leading to Paul's house: he just sent me the following image of his moss lawn, which I think does better justice to it than my shots above: now THIS is the way to end a blog!

Photo by Paul Moore

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Dutch magician and my hero. Should be your hero too!

Harry Jans
This picture was taken 15 years ago (in April, 2005). Harry had invited me to speak at a Dutch rock garden society conference--and I was lucky enough to spend a magical week in Netherlands. One of the tours included his private garden: I've been blessed to know Harry for almost 30 years (since he undertook a lecture tour that brought him across the USA and he stayed with us--in our old Eudora home: that's how I know how long ago it was because we moved to Quince street in around 1992!).

The stone column in front of his house--various views.

I took him on a daylong foray where we saw steppe plants in full bloom on the Laramie plains, and Eritrichium aretioides on Medicine Bow peak. The payback to me for his short visit so long ago has been inestimable. I doubt there is a more accomplished gardener, plant explorer, tour organizer, civil servant or friend on the Planet. I am distressed I only have old pictures of his garden (I know it's undoubtedly much more sophisticated now than ever!)...but these should have historic value and there's some nuggets at the end you musn't miss!

Another view
I've taken different glimpses of just this one feature in his garden, which is crammed full of alpine treasures: do note there is a sprinkler on top--even in Netherlands these need an occasional extra drink!

Perhaps fifteen years before when this column had been first erected, Harry Jans sent an article about it to the Rock Garden Quarterly talking about it and some other rather avant garde features he'd built. The editor of the journal at the time uncharacteristically hated their design and over my vociferous objections rejected the article. I was dumbfounded and perhaps a later parting of the ways was prefigured in this instance...I'm being deliberately abstruse...fortunately, Harry did not take umbrage at this crass act and our friendship continued to develop.

Here you can see the front garden as it was back then--I know it has changed dramatically again since that time...I MUST get back to Holland (for this and many other reasons!). See the column in the back?

Closeups of the column.
Absolutely perfect Primula auricula and Saxifraga longifolia and probably Draba rigida or suchlike...

Primula auricula and Arabis bryoides (I believe)

Harry and Hannie actually lived in the RIGHT hand side of this duplex, but the neighbor on the LEFT hand side allowed him to expand the garden thither...The Dutch are so danged enlightened: most people I know in the USA are battling with their neighbors!

As you can tell, I'm enamored of this column...

More views of a bevy of Prophyllum saxifrages on the column's summit...

Mere mortals have tacky gazing balls. Dutch deities have stone balls with marbling of the elements. Ramonda, Haberlea are lavishly planted all over the garden, And that's Erythornium 'Kondo' or 'Pagoda'--which thank Heavens likes my garden too!

Across the Jan's street there is an enclosure with deer...the Dutch kill me! Most American gardeners I know are wanting to eliminate THEIR deer!

I'm guessing that's Trillium pusillum (or something looking like it!) on the right, and Rhododendron keleticum (or one like it) on the left. If indeed this IS keleticum this picture was truly prophetic: fourteen years after this picture was taken, thanks to Harry I trod through acres of this rhody in full bloom above 15,000'. Google just informed me it grows only up to about 13,000' you might like to know. Once again, Google is dead wrong

As you step into the back garden, this is what you saw in April 15 years ago...

There are elegant touches everywhere...

Every grouping expresses an artful eye...

I love this wall side waterfall!

I really don't need to comment: the garden speaks for itself: full of the best plant treasures--get a load fo all these Saxifraga longifolia !

The alpine house is sunken into the ground (for reasons of insulation no doubt)

Everything is that pristine order and cleanliness that's a hallmark of Holland.

Perfectly grown alpines in the frames...

Everything is melded with grace...

Seedpots germinating. You can be sure they're all choice!

A pleasure of pleiones!

Jeffersonia dubia

I was not alone on this tour--look at the participants gawking!


More pleiones...

Tulipa schrenkii front and Fritillaria uva-vulpis behind: pretty sure of these ID's

His brand spanking new tufa wall: I can't imagine how this must look NOW.

More established alpines in pots--ready for a show! (Some of the missing ones were probably AT the plant show...)


Dionysia involucrata (I think) on the tufa wall...

But OUTSIDE this Asplenium Ceterach may not even have been planted--it's abundant in walls all over Europe. I'd die to have it!

I love the walkways...and this circular brick paved spot...

And MORE Saxifraga longifolia! I did see a picture of his garden a few years later when they almost all bloomed at once: wish I could have been there then--it was spectacular!

Closeup of Saxifraga longifolia

Another look at that wall waterfall from another angle...

We'll take a look at that wall to the side soon...

Not everything is choice and rare...but always charming...

Next is the pièce de résistance!

Every rock garden enthusiast knows about this wall: both sides are chockablock full of treasures--while I was there the S. longifolia was obviously dominating--but the fat wads between this are the real cause for its fame..

More pix to give you a better view of the "fat wads"--namely Jankaea heldreichii.

 I have highlighted the Jankaea for you: it ists  the ultimate Gesneriad entirely restricted to Mt. Olympus in Greece and the gardens of a few extraordinary gardeners. I believe Harry was the first to grow it this stunningly's almost a weed for him.

I'm sure we could grow it--but establishing it in our dry air will be hard. I've been given plants by three great plantsmen (Alfred Evans smuggled one in for me in 1982, and in April of 1991 I was sitting between Harry and John Forrest at an International rock garden conference. Unbeknownst to one another, they both handed me vials with young plants of the Jankaea. Synchronicity haunts my life...

I can't stop myself!

Here is Harry on Serchyem La last summer. He invited me to go on his trip to Tibet: perhaps the most wonderful plant trip I've ever taken (and believe me, I've taken a lot!). Three weeks of rollicking fun on the roof of the world. I have dozens of pictures of him and Hannie--two of the most generous, thoughtful and extraordinary people I've ever known..

Harry practically coerced me to lead a trip for NARGS to Yunnan in 2018: I'll be publishing yet ANOTHER Blog about that...He's led 17 trips to China and is so rich in experience he has to share it! He's designed the trip I hope to lead in June to Sichuan (let's hope the damn Coronavirus is corralled in time and doesn't spoil the opportunity). If so, it will the the FOURTH fantastic experience I shall owe this man (Holland, Yunnan, Tibet--if you weren't counting)

Here in far Southeastern Tibet! If you act quickly and click on this tabb, you can still register for the North American Rock Garden Society's Annual General Meeting in Ithaca, New York this June. Harry will be a plenary speaker for that meeting, and I can assure you, he will blow you out of the water! And he'll be there for the whole meeting, so you can have a chance to speak to a living legend.

But if you linger, you may lost out: the meeting was half sold out the first day the registration opened! But you can always have the compensation of visiting Harry's unbelievable website where you can spend hours, days--hell, you can spend WEEKS browsing his unbelievable photography that puts mine to shame!

Thank you Harry, for so many magical times. And let's hope there will be many more to come!

This WAS going to be it...but I made the fortunate mistake of sending a link of this blog to Harry and Hannie to be sure I didn't say anything TOO wrong or embarrassing.....well, have YOU lucked out: he sent me 23 images of his garden in more recent times to show the gardens evolution. Put on your helmets, dearies--this is going to be a WILD RIDE....

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

Jankaea heldreichii Photo: Harry Jans
Photo: Harry Jans

Photo: Harry Jans

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