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Showing posts from November, 2009

Three easy pieces...

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Last summer I was lucky enough to
finally find gas plant in the wild: it happened to be Dictamnus angustifolius, very similar to Dictamnus albus v. purpureus I have grown for many years. Above you can see the latter combined in a sort of furious pastel pastiche with 'Diabolo'--that instant classic dark leaved form of ninebark and a Canadian rose in our "Perennial Triangle" in my Quince garden: the three make for an easy piece of springtime magic. Here gas plant thrives on rich, dark loam and regular watering. Below there are two very different variations on the theme: in the Rock Alpine Garden the clashing orange fury of Glaucium acutidentatum makes a stark contrast to the towering cool pinkness of Dictamnus: our hot sun and sleek steppe modernism almost lets us get away with the antichromal audacity (to coin a phrase). Finally in the last easy piece a rogue gas plant popped up in the front of one of our old rock gardens at Eudora: I know we dug this up and brought …

What lingers down the Primrose path...

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Last summer I was lucky enough to walk through vast fields of Nivalid primroses on various mountains in Central Asia: some were likely Primula nivalis herself, and in Mongolia I believe it was P. xanthobasis, and in the Tien Shan it was Primula turkestanica, all have been lumped under Primula nivalis by one worker or another, but they were distinct enough to my eyes. I have written these up, and the other members of the family for an upcoming issue of Primroses the journal of the American Primrose Society. Point of fact, I doubt whether 99% of the members of that society would be able to keep any of these alive for more than a year or two. I have grown armies of primulas in my day (albeit mostly in the 1960's and 1970's, before I came to my senses and grew mostly steppe adapted plants): fleecy Muscarioides section gems, and tall Candelabra section primulas. I sampled plants in the Cortusoides section and have seen dozens of Auricula section primulas march through my garden. A…

Autumn embers

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Few falls have disappointed as much as this one (at least as far as trees are concerned): that mid October snowfall and 18F crisped most of the maples and ashes that give the greatest color in Denver. Even the cottonwoods turned brown. Even so, the 'Autumn Blaze' maples came through in fine scarlet and oaks colored up pretty well, justifying their robust (from Latin robur: oak) constitution...but at ground level, the rock garden plants colored up just as well or better than I remember (that 14" snow obviously protected them). Above, the orange mat in front in Dalmation geranium (Geranium dalmaticum) and behind the bluish shrub, the larger Geranium macrorhizum, both competing in orange and red coloration. Further on the left, Spiraea japonica is more a buff orange, and the brilliant red fan upper right is Euphorbia epithymioides. The picture was taken in late October, but the color persists on most of these now towards the end of November. Below is a picture I took a few w…

Balance in the Gardening year

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East ridge in mid May

What a difference half a year makes! The picture above was taken almost exactly half a year ago: the ridges at my home garden are in full foliage and the early spring bulbs are mostly done. You can see that by mid May the Agave parryi was already almost adult human height. Below, a month later (five months ago, seven to go), high summer has buckwheats, fleabanes and mariposa lilies in full throttle.

Last week, Merilee Barnett and Diana Capen visited DBG and we strolled through the Gardens together: they are the terrific owners of Perennial Favorites, a destination specialty nursery in Rye, Colorado. As we strolled through DBG, on a balmy day much like today, there were tons of fall crocuses blooming here and there, Cyclamen intaminatum in full bloom, and the autumn colors were really splendid (considering this is one of our less splendid years for fall colors). Quercus buckleyi and Q. shumardii are bo…

Half a year later...

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I was looking out at this same rock garden at the crack of dawn and marveling at the wonderful textures and autumnal colors and thinking, could it really be that much better at the height of spring? Then I stumbled on this picture. Yes: a rock garden is prismatic and delightful in the spring. Of course, if I had taken the picture a few weeks before or after this shot, there would have been a kaleidoscopic shift of colors, and in fact there is almost always something blooming out there from February right through to now (Cyclamen intaminatum and Crocus speciosus are blooming on the shady side as I type on November 9, with speckled off season bloom on a half dozen other plants). This is about as colorful as it gets--and notice that only a fraction of the plants are blooming: that's because the blue and gray and green mats and blobs and cushions will be blooming sequentially for months. By midsummer it's garlanded with Origanum and sprinkled with annual poppies and a few alliums…

Medleys

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Rock gardeners are renowned for their plant idolatry: we are the ultimate plant nerds who worship all things small, jewel-like and lofty. You can peruse no end of books and journals on alpines, and page after page of lovely portraits will unfold, usually of plants in lonely isolation on a cliff, or nestled in a pocket of the garden. Perennial gardeners, on the other hand, insist on combinations. I think that we who love xeriscapes, rock gardens and naturalistic plantings could benefit a bit more from their combinational skills. I took this picture of a truly marvellous plant that somehow hasn't caught on: sometimes lumped with the more widespread Verbascum phoeniceum, I first obtained V. atropurpureum from one of the indefatigable Czech seed collectors (must I look it up?) and I admit the plants are similar. This Central Asian plant (I saw it everywhere in Kazakhstan last summer) is very long lived in the garden, and extremely xeric as well. And very adaptable. Now a dark purple m…

A paean to Paeonia

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What this picture doesn't show you is that the whole plant is only 10" tall or so: full sized peony flowers on a little pipsqueak plant. Of course, this is Paeonia cambessedessii, the tiny peony of the Balearic Isles of Spain that is mentioned with hushed tones in various rock garden journals and publications, always implying its difficulty and tenderness. I got my plant four or so years ago from Arrowhead Alpines (fully grown: it wasn't cheap, but worth every penny). It bloomed the first year with two flowers, the next year with five or six, this year with a dozen or more. It's the sort of plant the rivets the attention of your visitors, so even the mass of Gentiana acaulis growing next to it with a dozen trumpets barely elicits a comment. It blooms early in May, even in late April, when the weather is cool. This year the flowers lasted almost three weeks--even coming through a snowfall unfazed. Did I mention that the plant is sleek mahogany purple as it emerges, and…