Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There are plants that taunt

and plants that haunt, and other flaunt their finery....and then there are those that just hang in there and delight year in year out. Such a one is this delightful shrublet. I realize that to the untrained eye, this spiny shrub from Morocco and Spain may just look like a Lobularia on steroids...and it is in fact a cousin to our fragrant annual alyssum. Like it's modest ground hugging cousin, the spiny alyssum of the high Atlas and Sierra Nevada comes in purply pink and white shades. In nature it's usually a less than stunning white, but occasionally there are populations where the pink predominates, and someone, some time took cuttings and rooted them of what goes by 'Purpureum' among other cultivar names. I might have suggested 'Arnold Schwarzenegger', in honor of is muscularity... no wonder my cultivar names are shot down at Plant Select meetings...

Ptilotrichum spinosum 'Purpureum' is technically (and in every other way, I guess) a shrub, but since it only gets up to a foot or so high at the most and half again as wide, we're not talking massive. Just the perfect size to grace a rock garden. For a month or more in high spring it performs its cloudy magic, and settles down the rest of the year to being a silvery, mounding presence that suppresses weeds (unfortunately, didn't quite suppress that damned lettuce front and right of it yet!)...and forms a great addition to the mounds and tuffets of rock work. It loves sun, drainage and lime--so needless to say it loves Colorado. I find it generally lasts around a decade (then time to take more cuttings!)...It is undeservedly absent from most gardens I know.

I recall finding it in profusion at that heavenly belt on the Sierra Nevada--the "spinosum" belt it should be called: Vella spinosa, Ptilotrichum spinosum, Bupleurum spinosum and the odd one out Echinacea pungens, all forming perfect billowing mounds of acanthamnoid tumulosity in various shades of chartreuse, silver and dark green. I took pictures (slides, alas--you can't see them). One day, perhaps, I will return there in late May when most are blooming and I will check off another box on that life's list of phenomenal phenological* phantasies--my secret botanical life that feeds my soul (and helps justify my paycheck come to think of it!)...

The picture was taken at my old Eudora garden a dozen years ago: the plants are no longer there, but their cousins are coming along at Quince, and Mike Kintgen has planted them here and there around the Rock Alpine Garden, some from his own collections in Morocco (lucky so and so!)...

What pleasant thoughts to distract me from Holiday Cheer (not) and packing for a trip as the thermometer plunges yet again towards Zero F tonight.

*Why phenological? Alliteration, you silly!

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