Thursday, June 3, 2010

Succulent fire...

It's hard to believe there was a time when we thought Lewisia cotyledon was a challenging alpine. Nowadays you can find it sold occasinally at box stores and even rarely at grocery stores even, and finding it in a garden center is no great feat. Yet there was a time when this local endemic of the Siskiyou mountains was coveted and yearned for by gardeners. The two plants in the lower of the two pix above are growing at the fringe of my dry garden, where they rarely get a drink of water. The red one above is at Denver Botanic Gardens. The secret, of course, of growing this Lewisia is to grow tons of them from seed, plant them everywhere, and keep propagating them: single plants usually only last a few years, and you never want to be without this gem.
I remember finally getting to Vincent Square a decade or so ago, where the Royal Horticultural Society still held its fortnightly flower show in a cavernous, Victorian hall the size of a football field. Although massive, the dingy setting was almost Dickensian in muted, gray and black. A few dozen dark bodies moving around the exhibit hall randomly while a single smoky parallelogram of sunlight beaming downward from a large skylight, making the various booths and exhibits all the darker by contrast. I went to the competitive displays first--a tad disappointing after the huge alpine shows I'd seen elsewhere already in brighter settings. But soon the beam slid onto the sales stand of Ashwood Nursery, the premier hybridizer and producer of Lewisia on planet earth. Their stand consisted of hundreds of heavily flowering Lewisia cotyledon in pots, arranged in a sort of spectrum--the yellows and oranges on one side, the violet, purple, magenta and rose reds on the opposite converging on a bank of hot scarlets, crimsons and a fiery chinese red monster plant with literally thousands of blossoms. Like zombies, everyone gravitated like honeybees, drawn like iron filings to the magnetic, shimmering color of the Ashwood stand, and everyone was scarfing up lewisias. Gradually the sunbeam trickled on, the hall got gray again and people scattered to other booths.
I must remember to ignite a little more succulent fire this coming winter!

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