Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monumental plants

Wouldn't you know, right after I'd posted the picture below, I found a much better one above: I put them both in...paralax. Sure miss that plant! Continue below...

I suppose there are plants that are monumental in size, like redwoods. I'm talking more about those plants that loom in one's life. This modest looking morsel in the picture is Daphne jasminea, a very local, and probably endangered daphne that comes from Mt. Parnassos in Greece and perhaps a few other spots introduced to cultivation by Brian Matthew (then of Kew) a few decades ago. At first it was viewed as very challenging to grow--in their monograph Matthew and Brickell suggest that alpine house culture is necessary--so when I first obtained a rooted cutting I suffered and anguished because our alpine house was no great shakes at Denver Botanic Gardens. We propagated that first plant and had enough to experiment with so I planted a tiny rooted piece at my new home on Eudora street. That plant proceeded to prosper and live over 20 years, providing hundreds if not thousands of cuttings to local nurseries and delighting me almost every day for years with its huddled silver charms.

Only a rock gardener would be charmed: it's a twiggy little thing, and its flowers are tiny and white, for goodness sake (albeit stained on the reverse with purplish tones). Despite the name, it is scentless, although I have heard debates about people who claim to have smelled it at some point or another. Maybe the clone Brian introduced is a fluke and there are heavenly smelling forms on the cliffs above Delphi.

What the picture does not show is that this plant has a trunk almost two inches across, bright cinnamon and smooth as a birch, and that this is a gnarly bonsai that blooms from spring to fall and that its leaves, albeit small and silvery, are evergreen and that it is an utter delight and a perfect foil to all the other greener daphnes or anything else growing nearby for that matter.

For years I would take visiting cognoscenti out to see this plant, and I would delight to watch them gawk and visibly yearn to possess it. Today, gardens across this region have their own specimens, many approaching the size of this original plant, which alas, perished a few years ago once we sold the house (the new owners let it dry out one too many times).

But in my new Quince garden I have not one but several progeny that are quickly attaining the same venerability. Sometimes I think the greatest monuments in my life are these little plants that carry with them so many associations and connect us and our gardens to the wide world. And the stories they bring with them comprise the little monuments that gradually transform our gardening lives into something far grander than anyone suspects. Let them have their Wii's and Blueteeth and gadgetry: I'll bask in the reflected glory of Parnassos with Apollo, admiring my little daphne!

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