Showing posts from April, 2010

Taste is relative

Now if I wore yellow pants and a pink shirt, you would notice and would probably not be impressed. But when Tulipa bakeri (or is it T. saxatilis?) dons these same tints, we say "ooh" and "aah" in a good way. I have grown this little gem on many occasions, and it blooms in a desultory fashion and will often live ten or more years. Until Dan Johnson planted these in the Watersmart garden, I would have never thought this awesome Cretan tulip had it in it to be such a good garden plant in Colorado. Now to figure out what it is about this spot that is so perfect, but year after year, and every year, this patch of this breathtaking tulip dazzles. I guess I'll have to order another dozen and try over again at home! Not only the elegant flower combination (pink and yellow, who'd a thunk?) but the elegant carriage, everything about this plant is delightful. And it grows wild only on that craggy Mediterranean island where my parents were both born, and where I spent e…

Daffodowndillies and lost love

We don't really "do" daffodils in Colorado they way we should: people water enough so that the sort of display you find throughout our Lilac Garden (always wonderful but positively stunning since Ann Montague came aboard: she's one of Denver Botanic Gardens supreme secret weapons). There are huge spreads of dozens of cultivars, all perfectly labeled. Drop by and check them out some time in the next week or so: they are in peak form. We should have even more masses like this, since most people water more than enough to grow them like they do in England or the US coasts where some public gardens are chockablock full of daffies: a good thing!
A closeup of a luminous hybrid taken at Waring House where there's a fine stand: I forgot to photograph the label. Sorry! Brent Heath would know what this was immediately, as would John Morris in St. Louis. I shall in my next life. But I'm a species man!

And man oh man, this is the species: the typical wild form of Narciss…

D'j you know these irises?

Iris nicolae

This remarkable morsel leads off the parade of Junos, a section of the genus Iris that Rodionenko (the leading Russian authority on the family) believes deserves generic rank, so that in Russian floras you will find the above listed as Juno nicolae. Whatever their ultimate designation, this highly distinctive group of irises loves Colorado, and over the decades we've managed to gather a number of them and grow them pretty well. I blogged earlier about Iris vicaria, and a few more species are budding up to bloom, but these have been the highlights of my Juno year so far. I. nicolae was actually blooming in March at Centennial Garden, and the following spectacle was photographed there a week ago. It looks as happy there as it must be high in the alpine meadows of Central Asia whence it originated.

Iris zinaidae

I have a bulb or two of this gem in my home garden, but they are not quite to blooming stage: the clumps at Centennial are growing in a groundcover of Zinnia grandi…

Thirty years and ticking...

Brian (my boss) told me that Thursday was my 30th anniversary working at Denver Botanic Gardens... He congratulated me and gave me a carved walking stick which I shall certainly employ on future hikes and think of him and the institution with genuine tenderness: not many people spend 30 years working in a paradise of flowers. There have (of course) been times of professional frustration and I have "burnt out" on occasion: a workplace no matter how beautiful and exciting is, after all, not a panacea for one's personal dramas. It is perhaps a tribute to my particular workplace that my foibles and faults have not ruined it for me. On the contrary each year, it becomes more and more the garden of my dreams... I could have picked no end of rare plants: there must be twenty or thirty Corydalis alone blooming at Denver Botanic Gardens (my original plantings have sometimes proliferated, but Mike's are still choice and modest). There are Juno iris, and lots of saxifrages and …

Three cheers for Helen!

Two vignettes from Helen Nelson's magical garden in South Metro: the big blue mat center and bottom is none other than Veronica thymoides var. pseudocinerea. It was collected in Turkey by Jim and Jenny Archibald nearly a quarter century ago, and we've grown it several places at Denver Botanic Gardens and at my homes since then. But I have never seen it bloom as prolifically as it does for Helen. In fact, everything in her garden seems just a little brighter, looks just a little fresher. She's one of these natural talents who seems to know just how to grow and show off a plant.
She has volunteered at Denver Botanic Gardens since the 1990's and is treasured by all the staff who works with her for her uncanny knack at gardening. Her magnificent garden will be featured in this year's Garden Conservancy tours on May 22: you can find out more about these tours at: Garden Conservancy Open days. Come to think of it, my garden will be showcased as well: I better go ou…

Fight Love Liberty

I have visited Filoli quite a few times, almost from the time that it first went "public" a few decades ago. This truly grand estate could well be described as the West Coast bookend, holding up the tradition of grand European garden design and estate gardening in much the same way that Longwood, that other bulwark that shores the tradition up on the East Coast. Much of the year, this sort of garden is lovely enough, elegant and serene and (well) just a tad dullish to my plantsman eyes. But I hadn't bargained on springtime. Jan and I visited Filoli about a week ago, the last day in March and it was almost too much. I start my disquisition with the modest groundcovering of Cyclamen repandum, the lovely spring bloomer from Southern France that I have also seen covering whole slopes of the Taygetos mountains in Greece. This, I believe, is the true French form, and wonderful. In fact, there are naturalistic touches everywhere at Filoli that counterbalance the grandiose vista…

Sierra dreamin'

From Bryce we wended through Zion (which has many charms as well) and through the Mojave to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada where we stayed as guests at Susan Eubank and Paul Martin's wonderful mountain homes (yes homes, they have two side by side: one for them and their adorable daughter Elizabeth and one they usually rent out: since it was unrented, we could have a house all to ourselves!). Sierra spring is incredibly beautiful. The above is the view from their back door: the orange in front is a wonderful borage in the genus Amsickia that colored meadows for acres. In the distance you can glimpse California redbuds (Cercis occidentalis) and rock faces stained with the early bloom of annuals. We saw dozens of wonderful plants, but I was particularly thrilled to see a widespread manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida, in prime form: these even formed small trees and was everywhere in the foothills from the valley up to the deep snow accumulation areas. Of the hundreds of wondeful wi…


I know, I was crazy to do it. But my son managed to turn 18 a month ago, and I'd never shown him Sequiodendrons in California, not to mention redwoods and incense cedars (and all the other Californian dendrophantasmagoria) and now that he's something of a tree nerd, that's tantamount to child abuse. So 11 days, almost 3000 miles....the fantastic tableaux of Western America spun by our windows. Bryce on ice....or perhaps better phrased, ice on Bryce was the hardly the first aha! We drove through hundreds of miles of postcard views by then, but Bryce stops you in your tracks. At nearly 8000', there wasn't a lot in bloom up here (there was more and more as the coast approached).
I am a plant nerd first and foremost. But Bryce never ceases to dazzle and even make the likes of me forget chlorphyll for the nonce. I can't imagine anyone who could climb out to Bryce point on a balmy March day like we did and not be humbled by the sheer extravagance, the noble baroque ex…