Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lavender nation

The first picture is of the Parterre gardens at the City and County Building which I helped design and maintain with the Master Gardeners of Denver and staff from Denver Parks. I am amused that one of the few large public gardens of which I am a primary designer is a parterre--the most formal of garden styles...Mr. rock gardener does stray a bit.
I hope that if you click on the picture it will billow out enough to see the sea of lavender that the garden is gradually becoming. One could do worse. I can't think of a plant I like more, to tell the truth. Is there another plant that blooms as long? that is as wonderfully fragrant? that has such year around substance? that needs no irrigation? that thrives in almost any soil? Right now Denver is the Capital of Perovskia (another fine plant to be sure, but must it always be isolated? Stark eruptions of blue here there and everywhere...has anyone heard of companion planting? huh? huh?). Perovskia is a tad spready in many settings, and frankly pretty massive for most gardens and its winter appeal is marginal. But lavender is gorgeous in the winter. More lavender please!
I would like to see as much lavender as we have Perovskia right now. Instead you can drive for miles around Denver and not see a single one. What gives, eh?
I took the last picture last week at Joy Creek Nursery in the Portland area, a spectacular display garden selling tons of treasures at very reasonable prices. They have a fabulous assortment of lavenders I intend to tap into next spring (lavenders are best planted in April and May to establish deep roots before summer drought and winter frost)...
I could go on and on and on: the only Lavender Society I know of I was invited to join by J.C. Ralston: a sort of support group for gay (and those sympathetic to gay) horticulturists. I am sure Christopher Lloyd would have approved (every time I saw him he always wore rich lilac or lavender shirts)...I think that society is no longer terribly active since the only homophobes left in America are probably busy down in Arizona hunting down immigrants [can't you just visualize the rifle rack on the truck, the Nobama bumper stickers and terse no nonsensicality...yeeehaw! Regular Teddy Bear chollas these home grown Senoritos.].
How clever of gays to commandeer the color of sagebrush sunsets in the Wah Wah mountains when the West is awash in lilac and apricot and a cool breeze stirs. The color of Ionian mountains in the primordial dawn, the wild lavender nearby inspiring the Homeric poet with its fragrance, color, and its gentle, raspy sound.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A peek behind the curtain...

Makes a pretty good twin to Monrovia's serried ranks in the previous blog, don't it? Every bit as mind boggling, my first visit to Terra Nova exceeded my rather high expectations. When you have heard Dan Heims as often as I have, and seen those sumptuous images...and when you have grown some of their amazing plants, you begin to think that like the Wizard of Oz, surely the kingdom itself can't also be so wonderful: they must use a bit of smoke and couple dozen mirrors. One wonders if indeed Dan isn't JUST the man behind the curtain...Turns out this wizard doesn't mind if we step behind the curtain with him!
Alas, the sun was blazing. Otherwise I too could have gotten lots of those pictures I always secretly thought were photoshopped: the display gardens were as lush and the colors as vibrant as I Dan turned out to be understating things, that old modest harmonica player!

What fun to visit the scene of the crime, as it were...Mecca! No one has done more to transform America's shady corners into gorgeous gardens than this rather youthful business venture. And they are far from done.

Who would have dreamed just a few decades ago that our modest genus Heuchera would eclipse Hosta as the workhorse of shady gardens? And now the Terra Nova magicians are busy on a dozen other groups. Thank you, PPA, for inviting me to attend this year's meeting and finally making my Hadj....Praise to Allah! And his master hybridizer, vizier and magician, his excellency Dan Heims!

Oregon trailblazing

As much as I love an artful garden, there is something about the serried ranks of pots in a great nursery that gives one a special thrill...when that nursery is Monrovia (which is probably the most ubiquitous brand in American garden centers), the scale is supersized. I have known Monrovia plants since I was a child. There was a time when I thought I was too sophisticated to admire the almost inconceivable level of logistical excellence it takes to produce that number of good plants all over America. I give up: Monrovia is just plain awesome. Driving through the 500 acres of just their Oregon nursery (they have nurseries in California, out East and Heaven knows where else) is mind boggling. I never saw a weed. The symmetry, the variety, the scale are all incredible. And the quality. During the Perennial Plant Symposium Wednesday nursery tour we went to a half dozen of America's greatest nurseries. Each dazzled me with their size, their scope and their plants. And Monrovia rose to the occasion!

I am a believer in local produce and the craftsmanship of artesenal products of all sorts. Bigger does not mean better in my book (by and large). But my hat goes off to Monrovia: they are the best example I know that bigger can be pretty darned good indeed.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blue skies and sky blue penstemons

Penstemon crandallii (formerly known as P. teucrioides) not far from its type locality near Como in South Park. The name change is appropriate, since this really is the Prince of to speak! The picture was taken last week, as I drove a van full of North American Rock Garden society annual meeting attendees back to Denver.

This is the fifth annual meeting the Rocky Mountain Chapter has hosted in the last 28 years, which means we have averaged a meeting every 5-6 years. Thanks to (primarily) the enormous efforts of Randy Tatroe, Hugh McMillan, Lee Curtis and a terrific team of guides this meeting was special...there were others who helped a lot, but there are always a few who expend the most effort. The logistics of this sort of thing boggle my mind. So I am grateful that there are those who are good at it. I was not alone in being charmed by Salida, one of Colorado's loveliest and least kitschy mountain towns. The tundra bloomed obligingly, if not quite as vociferously as other years (although reports are that Cottonwood Pass was awesome)...and the venue at the Steam Plant was terrific. Great plant sale. And the food was the best ever!

I feel sorry for those who boast that they are not joiners (loners presumably): the pleasure of the multifarious company of rock gardeners is not to be gainsaid. Such a mottley crew of scholars like the redoubtable and loveable Tony Reznicek, and keen private gardeners (how to pick from the dozens?) from all over North America. I have made many of my dearest friends at these meetings, and reconnecting with them at again is a perennial pleasure. I see Ted Kipping in many guises in my life, but most frequently at meetings where he is a pantemperate endemic. And the charming, beautiful, powerful women of the Rock Garden leadership: Grazyna Grauer, Maria Galletti, Joyce Fingerhut: it is worth the price of the meeting to watch them waft hither and yon like exotic antelopes on the plains of the Serengeti....or perhaps birds of paradise !

On my tombstone let it be engraved: "Here lies the body of a proud NARGS groupie!"

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lilies in Paradise

Okay,'s Parry's Lily (Lilium parryi) and not strictly speaking paradise, except that they were growing at Laporte Avenue Nursery...which for a plantsman like me IS paradise! I suspect the "Parry" is Charles Christopher Parry, the great botanist, doctor and publicist who spent summers in Grizzly Gulch below Grays Peak and is responsible for naming most of Denver's mountain backdrop after botanists...
He did an expedition through the Southwest when he discovered (and had named for him--by the botanists he named peaks for: a sort of quid pro quo) this gem of Southwestern lilies. I was so thrilled to see it blooming (around the 4th of July) at Laporte that I forgot to kneel down and sniff it. It is supposed to have a lemon fragrance...(did you ever notice how many yellow flowered plants have lemon fragrance just as violet flowered plants often have a grape like scent).
The fellow next to Karen is Wiert Nieumann, a wonderful horticulturist from Utrecht Botanic Gardens in Netherlands I had the pleasure of hosting for part of his stay in the US: he came for nearly a month--at the behest of NARGS which hosted him as a speaker at our annual conference. Wiert was director of Utrecht the last five years (he just retired) and during his 40 year tenure there created one of the world's finest rock gardens featuring many unique, modernistic techniques and recycled materials.
LaPorte is arguably the finest alpine nursery in the world: they grow literally thousands of plants and have stunning display gardens. Karen does much of the propagation and her partner, Kirk Fieseler, concentrates on bulbs, conifers and is busy building one of the most ambitious rock gardens in North America at the Gardens on Spring Creek.
If Paradise does not indeed have Parry's Lily and the likes of Laporte Avenue Nursery and Utrecht Botanic Gardens I will indeed be content in the other place, spending eternity poking around Hell's Canyon and introducing new delospermas to the underworld (their bright colors should cool down Hell appreciably).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reunion far from home....

Kazakhstan is 12 time zones around the globe from Colorado (i.e., it's as far to the East as it is to the other words, it's at the ends of the earth). Which is where both the gentleman in the picture and the tree he is shaking leaves/hands with comes from. The man is Vladimir Kolbintsev, a remarkable and wonderful naturalist who is spending three weeks in Colorado
thanks to the North American Rock Garden Society which brought him to speak at our annual meeting that just took place last week in Salida (another story and a good one...maybe my next blog). Vladimir knows herps, mammals, birds and geology as well as he knows plants, which is pretty darned good! He was shocked to see Acer tataricum 'Hot wings' at Denver Botanic Gardens...
This is the original plant, originally picked out of a long line of seedlings grown at Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery by Gary Epstein, owner and guru of that fabulous nursery. It has become a star of Plant Select We were lucky to have it transplanted to a prominant site near our entrance. This wonderful tree with bright red samaras (which make it look like it's blooming all summer) originates in Central fact, I was shocked to find Acer tataricum in the Kalbinsky Hills between Ust Kamenogorsk and Katom Karagai....names that resonate with me now but which were gibberish to me too a year or so ago! In fact, we found maples with red samaras that could have passed for 'Hot Wings' at one locality.
How appropriate that our friend from Kazakhstan might reunite with this stunning maple so far from home. Gardening is really all about gentle reunions along these lines.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

More serendipity!

You can look up the Rock Garden (the Scottish Rock Garden Club bulletin) from several years ago and see almost the same picture: I mislabeled it in that august journal, and seek to make amends: it is NOT Campanula choruhensis, but I surmise it is a hybrid with that and Campanula trogerae. I grow both these Turkish gems, the first introduced by Zdenek Zvolanek some fifteen years ago and the second by Jim and Jenny Archibald at about the same time. I believe that Rocky Mountain Rare Plants (a seed company I operated back then) was the first company to offer the first, and the first to sell cultivated seed of the latter. Growing them in the same garden poses risks, the obvious risk being hybridization...
I know this hybrid has occurred elsewhere, but this plant germinated and grew in the crevice of a sandstone wall in my front yard (where I never in a million years would have planted it: too darned hot there!) It's right next to where I often scatter chaff as I clean seed. I have no doubt this was an accidental by product of the seed cleaning process...and the finest specimen of its kind that you are likely to encounter!
The gardening year is a sort of pageant of special events: the first Adonis in January some years, the first crocus, the tulips, daffodils and so on. Watching this stunning campanula do its thing next to the path I walk past many times a day has become my early summer ritual. Funny how much this sort of thing matters to us plant nerds.
I feel so sorry for ordinary folk. Forgive them Lord: they know not what they're missing!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Yellow eyed wonder of the Andes

I suspect I first got this plant nearly 30 years ago. I vaguely recall that Paul Maslin (my best friend of my twenties and my mentor) grew it from seed and that it may have ultimately been one of the many gems introduced by Rolf Fiedler, a German gardener who lived in Argentina. It has grown continuously in my gardens since then, although occasionally the numbers dwindle. I think it was Pat Hayward, now CEO of Plant Select, who got Little Valley to grow it and subsequently Country Lane nursery took it up (I think Little Valley dropped it)...and abruptly three years ago I realized I no longer had a single fan of it left in my garden at home. I looked wistfully around the botanic gardens, and strangely enough it had vanished there too.

How a plant that could almost become a weed at one point disappears utterly amazes me, but it happens again and again. You can imagine my delight when I saw that there were flats and flats of it at Country Lane. I brought a whole flat home and tucked them here and there (this must have been two years ago) and this spring they have rewarded me with bouquets of those immense salvers with the brown etching inside...I have promised myself never to let it dwindle again!

What is this yellow eyed wonder of the Andes? Sisyrinchium macrocarpum, as far as I know. (It's been put in a number of other genera by various workers, but I think we can ignore that until things truly settle down botanically). I saw many stunning Sisyrinchiums in the Andes, but not this one. As far as I'm concerned, it's a bread and butter alpine everyone should grow. And once again, I shall have tons of seed to share!

Friday, July 2, 2010

What the heck is it?

Okay, okay. I know it's a dad burned mullein. But which one? There are hundreds of I know its not V. olympicum--for one thing its leaves are green. It's perennial and seems to grow just about anywhere: sun or shade, wet or dry. It came years ago from a German botanic garden, maybe Berlin Dahlem...they had dozens of species and I tried a slew of them and this is the one that has winnowed out and remained, losing its name tag in the process. In the first picture it's cavorting with Linum narbonense in part shade (and relatively dry)
Above it's next to the veggie garden where it gets lots of water. It can climb to over 6 feet and blooms for weeks, maybe even months on end. It self sows moderately, and more importantly, it lives forever as far as I can tell. It certainly rates near the top of the genus. Last year I had over 300 mulleins in my yard: a few too many I admit. This year I'm down to nearer 100--representing seven or eight species out of the hundreds that crowd the Mediterranean littoral and West Asia. Every time someone drops by I worry they might ask me what it is...

Luckily I've distracted them with lots of other things...Don't share my secret, now....

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