Showing posts from September, 2010

The steppes of Central Asia

I wish I had saved that old Far Side cartoon showing the chubby guy on an endless plane in front of a sort of naked stoop with a couple steps, the cartoon labeled "the Steps of Central Asia"--this being more or less what most people think of hearing that phrase. I did mean plane in that first sentence btw.

After two really stunning trips last June and July and this August-September (thank you once again Plant Select!) my associations with Central Asia (entirely Kazkhstan and a the westernmost corner of Mongolia) are rich indeed. I deeply regret that I put off coming here so late in my life. I guess Africa and the American West (and Mexico, the Andes, Spain, Turkey etc. etc.) are a sort of compensation...but for those living in Colorado, the steppes of Central Asia are our true correlative. The landscape is so similar and the plants so perfectly suited to us that I marvel that so much of what I saw was novel and new to me (and I suspect to horticulture generally)

A case in poin…

Pilgrimage to Jelitto seeds

For anyone suffering seedaholism (a little known disease you can probably diagnose) a visit to Jelitto's is very much like a devout Moslem's Hadj to Mecca, or an Elvis Presley fan at Graceland: this place is it. Mind you I spent several years in Fort Collins working on the GRIN project (Germplasm Resources Information Network) which computerized the National Seed Storage Laboratory (which I frequently toured during those years--it was a stone's throw from my office). They've renamed the Lab the National Institute for Seed something...and it remains one of the largest seed repositories on earth. Jelitto is not quite that ambitious, but the size is comparable and Jelitto's was even more interesting for me because it has several commodious rooms for seed cleaning as well as room after room for seed testing, storage, an immense walk in cooler, and a dozen other spaces that spoke to the scope and thoroughness of the greatest seed house on earth.
Of course, there are muc…

Altai dreaming

What this picture doesn't show is one of the few disappointments of an otherwise stellar trip (so to speak...pun not intended as you will see): it was taken in the foothills of the Altai, near the farm Maymir where I stayed in June, 2009 and just this past August for several luminous days. From Maymir one day last June we wandered up the valley (glimpsed between the tiny, yellow aconites in the picture) maybe a mile or so: lots of roses and giant aconites in blue and purple, not to mention Dictamnus angustifolius and Paeonia anomala in glorious bloom alongside a hundred or so other gorgeous things (Lilium martagon)...but I digress....
Within a few paces of these Aconites the hill was bristling last June with hundreds of Stelleropsis altaica, an unspeakably lovely daphnoid far from its other known occurences further northward. Late August is probably at least a month late to find a single berry on the little daphnoid, but this picture (and lots of other things too) was compensation …