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.


  1. What Denver and all of Colorado needs is more native plants. Native plants sustain the birds, bees and butterflies that have evolved with them over the past thousands and tens of thousands of decades. Alien plants like lavender need to be minimized.

  2. Dear SRM: You have struck a nerve. I hear the echoes of Bringing Nature Home. I don't altogether buy the premise of the book for the simple reason that most pollinators (native or otherwise) are generalists. And I never suggested we not plant natives anyway. I believe Lavender sustains far more native pollinators than most "native" plants would: it is lavish in pollen and nectar production and adaptable to garden culture. Most natives aren't. Besides which, native is an extremely vague and political notion that is supremely unscientific: do you mean a plant that was native to within five feet or five thousand miles? Where do you draw the line we woudld all agree with? I might suggest Lavender is in fact a native plant, perhaps (to the planet, you know). You would be hard put to grow shortgrass prairie plants in much of the Denver metro area with its urban forest of eastern hardwoods (most of which were native to here in the Quaternary--but of course time and space are not the same, Einstein notwithstanding). I suggest you think twice about mandating native plants in our cities (the metatext of your note to me). I guarantee you would fail. How do I know?

    Kirstenbosch took that extreme stance and tried to get South Africans to grow only natives: when people followed suit they were chagrined at how difficult it was to grow them and the net result was utterly unsatisfactory for the average person: (the natives died or looked wretched in a garden setting) they rebelled. I met many people in South Africa who told me they detest native plants and resent Kirstenbosh. Extremism is unattractive (and ultimately self defeating) in most realms as far as I can tell: in horticulture (in art, in intellectual inquiry) it is toxic.
    Lavenders are native to human civilization whether in the Mediterranean or the American West: to eschew Lavender is to deny your humanity.

    And yes, I believe we should grow native plants. Lots of them. In our gardens and especially in median strips, industrial sites and parks: If you did your homework I think you'd discover that no one has done more than I have to promote, encourage, cajole and persuade the unwashed masses to accept the naturalistic look and dip their toes into not just "Xeriscape" but native gardening pure and simple. I believe the "Natives Only" stance, however, resembles Andrew Breitbart's trickery more than it does Sherrod's lifetime of embracing the ambivalence of the real world and making a difference. You pick (if you've bothered to read this far).

  3. I'm glad to hear that you read "Bringing Nature Home"--a great book, anchored in science not aesthetic preferences by a great author. Given your apparent rejection of the work of the author, Douglas Tallamy, who is a trained and experienced scientist you will probably find some reason to discount the research findings in the following abstract:

    "A meta-analysis of impacts of alien vs. native plants on pollinator visitation and reproductive success of co-flowering native plants"

    Alien plant species can alter pollinator visitation and, in turn, the sexual reproduction of natives. Using a conventional and a phylogenetically controlled meta-analytical approach on a data set of 40 studies, we evaluated the effect of alien neighbour plant species (aliens) on visitation to and reproduction of native co-flowering focal species (focals), and compared such effect to that of native neighbours (natives). An overall significantly negative effect of aliens on visitation to and reproduction of focals was confirmed. Interestingly, aliens differed from natives in their effect on visitation, but not on reproductive success. The negative effect of aliens on visitation and reproductive success increased at high relative alien plant abundance, but this increase was proportionally lower than the increase in relative plant abundance. Likewise, effect of aliens on visitation and reproductive success was most detrimental when alien and focal species had similar flower symmetry or colour. The phylogenetic relatedness between alien neighbours and focals influenced the reproductive success effect size. Results of the phylogenetic meta-analysis were only partly consistent with those of the conventional meta-analysis, depending on the response variable and on whether we controlled for the phylogeny of neighbour or focal species, which calls for special attention to control for species relatedness in this type of review. This study demonstrates the predominant detrimental impact of alien plants on pollination and reproduction of natives, and highlights the importance of phenotypic similarity to the outcome of the interaction."

    You state, "I might suggest Lavender is in fact a native plant, perhaps (to the planet, you know)." Given that position, should we be embracing tamarisk and Russian Olive also as native to our planet?

    Yes, I read to the end of your defensive retort. I never said "natives only"-I only said that "alien plants like lavender need to minimized."

    Wow, you said, "the unwashed masses." Sadly that sums up your approach.

    signed-SRM, a member of the unwashed masses

  4. Who was it that said that when a plant hits the highway medians it is time to move on to another plant?

    SRM, you shouldn't be too surprised at the lavender promotion. After-all, Panayoti has spent most of his life promoting the use of plants foreign to our shores, in addition to our own native plants.

    I'm not sure that your abstract of Tallamy applies to a situation where no other native plants exist.

    In defense of non-natives, we must remind ourselves that the whole of the Temperate zoned world has been searched for plants worthy of our gardens. Out of the tens of thousands species we garden with only a relative few species. Narrowing that search field to native species, however one wishes to define that, results in far fewer species (none?) with the same decorative qualities of lavender.

    Count me in as bathing occasionally.

  5. Dear SRM,
    I apologize for epithet regarding the "masses": It was an unfortunate colloquialism and misleading. I was simply trying to point out the truism that most people (maybe nearly ALL people) just want attractive gardens, preferably bluegrass, junipers and petunias, and without much fuss and bother, even if they water a lot to get these (pedestrian) things.

    I fear that if we scare them too much about gardening they will let their landscapes become weedy jungles, fearing that growing exotics is bad and wrong. And growing natives is often unsightly and unsatisfactory.

    I acknowledge you did not say "no exotics" The implication of your conclusions certainly imply something like that. Otherwise why bother to comment on my blog entry in the first place?

    Why not more natives AND more lavenders? And a lot less weedy lots, hideous, mediocre gardens with nothing much in them but turf.

    I too would like to see natives used a lot more. But to promote the universal use of natives at present is unwise for many reasons: there is no viable industry to generate enough to use in gardens. If that industry existed, and we had those plants planted everywhere, people would hate the look of them and throw out babies with bathwater, and lose any respect they might have for us for selling them a bill of goods...

    I question real life recommendations based on small data sets in highly selective settings.
    Because you and a few other scientists have done a some rigorous, I grant you, even meticulously accurate data collection and assessment of data in several replications in several maybe even numerous sites does still not the Universal Truth decree. Nature is complicated...and it is wise for scientists to be both humble and cautious.

    You mention tamarisk: surely you are aware of the issues surrounding the rare Southwestern Willow Flycatcher's despendence upon it. Tamarisk removal was also stopped at Bosque del Apache because so many migratory birds relied on the cover. No: tamarisk is not my favorite plant, but I could effectively argue that it is facultatively native: the stable riverine habitats it occupies DID NOT EXIST PRIUOR TO EUROPEAN SETTLEMENT! We have created a novel habitat by damming rivers and stopping their scouring action. To speak of natives or exotics is tautological in this instance at best, and silly at worst.

    Nativists who were hell bent to eliminate Eucalyptus in Southern California changed their tune suddenly when they realized that Monarch butterflies were wintering almost exclusively in Eucalypt groves: get rid of exotics, eliminate desirable native fauna: but that doesn't jibe with the bringing nature home premise does it? Nature is not black or white.
    I admit do not have a string of degrees following my name, nor do I wear a white lab nor sport a clipboard, but I do have sufficient cognitive capacities to recognize selective research that is generalized a tad much, generating conclusions based on a priori assumptions.

    I believe cities and city gardens are so removed from anything "presettlement" that to get too prescriptive about plant selection (other than noxious weeds) is unwise at best and at worst generates a sort of puritanism that translates (when it comes to public policy) into totalitarianism. I object to those who dictate what we do in our garden beds as much as I do to puritans who would dictate what goes on in other beds.

    "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
    (Shakespeare "Twelfth Night")


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