Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Naked Poetry, mine forever"

I'm not sure who's responsible for the moniker, "Mojave Sage" since a dozen or more sages are found in and around the Mojave desert. Oh is probably the loveliest sage not only in the Mojave but in the world. Salvia pachyphylla was launched into stardom by Plant Select in 2005, although High Country Gardens and a few rare plant nurseries and seed companies had offered it sporadically the decade prior. I first saw pictures of this plant at a native plant conference at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in the late 1990's. Bart O'Brien was lecturing on California Salvia, and I was feeling sorry that we were denied so many of these in Colorado's fierce climate when he flashed astonishing images of this Salvia he had taken at high elevations in southern California. "Panayoti should be paying attention" cautioned Bart "since we can't grow this nearly as well as he will if he ever gets his hands on it". A few years later I had several accessions thriving in my private garden and at Denver Botanic Gardens.
The specimen in this picture was taken in late September at the Gardens at Kendrick Lake, that incredible showcase and anthology of the best in Watersmart gardening. That particular plant is nearly 4' across, and nearly as tall: I am amazed how the violet-purple bracts show up so vividly even in the twilight when I photographed it. The cool lavender blue aster behind provides a terrific foil. There are a dozen superlative specimens of this plant all over this garden. Just yesterday I strolled through with Lauren and Scott Ogden and Lauren commented that "I think I like this garden better this time of year", no doubt because the architectural and textural structure of the garden stands out so dramatically. You are not distracted by the myriad flowers and confusion of the garden season.
Juan Ramon Jimenez, the great Spanish poet writes: "O pasion de mi vida, poesia desnuda, mia para siempre!"
"Passion of my life, naked poetry, mine forever!"
When it comes to Mojave Sage, decked with flowery lingerie, it's sexy too!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ima Sumac lover

I would never have done it: staghorn sumac is a consumate, irrepressible and probably reprehensible weed. It's the sort of plant you don't even want in your neighbor's yard (since it will find its way into your yard before long). You'd enjoy having it across the street though (at that neighbor's, you know, the one with the offensive bumper stickers and 90 decibel leaf blower?). But someone (Dare? Mike?) went and planted one along the Cheesman park fence in the Rock Alpine Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens.
And I love it. This was several weeks ago (don't go rushing out to see the spectacle today or you will be disappointed). For once the camera caught the fiery glow, that incredible blending of orange and red, and the refulgence that makes sumacs fulminate even below overcast skies. Notice the soft purple Viburnum mongolicum right next to it (what a nice foil!) and the green leaves of a seedling fastigiate English Oak (Quercus robur) that found a perfect place to grow.
There's lots to be said for the world's weedy, trashy trees, (like sumac, or even Ailanthus--another story). A world of nothing but taste and elegance could get pretty dull after a while. We need these ostentatious, unruly things that blaze and crackle with positive fury. Just let fussbudgets swoon!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Incredible luck!

We all have our secret little foibles, our shameful secrets. Well...I confess mine is that I like to check out Thrifts....especially now that I'm an old codger and can get a senior discount sometimes. Every week or so Jan and I drop in this or that Goodwill, and often as not we walk out with nothing (amazing how much stuff in the world we really don't need. It makes you feel awful righteous). And then again, we can run across treasures: for years I admired the brass platter above the kitchen table in my parent's home. Then one day I ran across one very much like it selling for just a few dollars at a Thrift (and Thrift fever was on!)...actually, if you look beneath that platter, you will see some of its dozens of peers who have joined it from various Thrifts since that first discovery three or four years ago. Word must have gotten out that these were worth something because I've hardly found any recently (do let me know if you run across one: I love these shiny, Oriental things...)

But what I am REALLY getting to is the picture at the top of this blog. I spotted it across the length of the ARC and thought "If that's a real painting, I want it!". It was. I pulled it down off the wall and couldn't believe my eyes: it was marvellous. I called Jan over, and for once she didn't scoff at my choice of treasures (she has awfully good taste). Instead she said "That must be by Nathan Solano!" And it was. Nathan is one of Colorado's best known and highly regarded artists. If you don't believe me, check out This may be an early piece, or a study. Certainly not one of his elaborate, labored pieces shown on the website...but it looks to be his signature, and it certainly suits me just fine. I love it. It has pride of place in my guest room right now.

It's one of those magic things that we dream about happening in our quest of Thrifts (and I have to confess, aside from my brass Oriental platters, this is likely to be as good as it gets for me and Thrifts!)...Like winning the lottery or gambling, you should quit while you're ahead.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Grass whispers

Hard to believe that not too many years ago hardly anybody grew grasses (except of course for ubiquitous bluegrass). The picture above was taken in early September in the Karatau mountains not far from Djabagly in south central Kazakhstan. I suspect the grass looks pretty much the same as that today. It is a very glaucous fescue that I collected a pinch of seed from since it might in fact be a blue fescue which is drought tolerant. As much as I love the various blue fescues in cultivation, they are far from tolerating the kind of drought Colorado dishes out from time to time.

Of course, I am pleased with the backlighting in this picture. I also love the obtrusive, bronzy leaf on the right hand side: this is a withered remnant of a dryland rhubarb of Central Asia: Rheum maximowiczii. Ninety nine people out of a hundred would gloss right past this picture. You, obviously are not one of these! You are obviously discerning...My brother! Or sister (as the case may be)...long may your grasses whisper in the wind and in your garden!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Colorado means red in Spanish, you know...

In the last few weeks I've had two separate sets of house guests (from Southern and Northern California respectively), both [incidentally] renowned and eminent gardeners who let me know in no uncertain terms that pink is out. Southern California Cathy is partial to yellow and northern California Robin is understandably fond of blue: I confess that yellow and blue are dear to me (I recall when Herb Schaal, a principal of EDAW which is now something else gently reprimanded me for having a bit too much yellow in the Rock Alpine Garden some fifteen or twenty years ago: I was a man ahead of my time, obviously)...but I confess, I am a chromophiliac, a lover of all things hued and tinted. I could no more eschew fuchsia than apotheose apricot. I admire all colors, including the rheumy green (although I can't bring myself to quote directly) of Dublin alluded to repeatedly in Ulysses. Our sere steppe landscape is the very embodiment of neutral colors: yes, that rheumy green, ash, tan, auburn, teal, ginger, charcoal, lavender, mahogany, brown, gray, grey, brunette, golden, silver, sandy, blonde, bronze, brass...and did I mention brown and gray? It is an acquired taste...especially tonight as the ax falls and my autumn sages shown above and below will likely be crisped.
So in the face of a landscape so feathered and smoothed by neutral tints, the flash of magenta or the scream of scarlet (either in neutral light, when they positively glow...but more especially in the omnipresent glare of our year around sun) is a thrilling and welcome thing.
So I delight when Salvia greggii 'Wild Thing' (the one above in the picture below) produces an even more splendid hybrid with nearby Salvia 'Raspberry Delight' (the hybrid is the plant pictured at the start of this blog, and in the lower part of the picture below). I am quite sure that both Robin and Cathy will shudder when I say that I have come to love magenta and scarlet (those strumpets of Victorian taste) dearly.

I am saddened that they will be silenced for many months (seven at least, although one year we had Salvia greggii 'Furman's Red' open its first flower the last day of April!)...Seven months of red fury is enough I suppose.
Colorado means red in Spanish, you know. You can hardly expect us to follow California in this one instance...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Indian summer....aaaaah!

Ordinarily by the 5th of November we would have had some pretty chilly nights in the lower 20's and at least two dustings of snow. We did get a frost last week--although I have noticed begonias and even impatiens around town that made it through relatively unscathed, and the pelargoniums and petunias are still looking pretty full in many gardens.

Despite a few gusty days that blew off the Autumn Purple Ash leaves, the fall color has been the best I remember in years: many oaks around town are at their peak right now (red oaks and pin oaks) and even some burr oaks are surprisingly coloful in old gold tones. Old gold is the theme in my garden, above, seen from my front room window...although my shumard oak (just off to the left of the picture) is showing lots of red highlights and will probably be glorious in a week or so, and the chestnut oak north of my house is a glorious purple red. As are the azaleas nearby it.

The autumn sages (Salvia greggii and kin) are just about in peak bloom everywhere in my garden, as are lots of california poppies, horn poppies and more. But as a bona fide rock gardener, the little things make my day: the last cyclamen of the year is this pale form of Cyclamen cilicium, and the Colchicum praecurrens nearby has been in bloom for a month!

I love my garden, where I can look downward and see all these little treasures, and from other vantage points look off to the West and admire the Rockies dusted with the first snows and even the towers of downtown Denver eight miles away! The weather is supposed to hold like this, toasty days, cool nights for at least four more days. What a glorious year it has been. Colorado, I love you!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Serendipitous Salvia

I've not driven by in the last few days since frost: it's probably fried...but through much of this interminable autumn this wonderful sage has provided a hot spot of beauty near the gardens I've made a point to check out. I believe it is the golden leaf form of Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious'), a tender Latin American I've grown in the past, but nowhere nearly so well as these neighbors of the Gardens on Williams street.
I am not a huge fancier of giant, tender annuals that bloom late: early frosts and our cool nights often thwart them, especially the magnificent tropical salvias that look so stunning in California or North Carolina in late summer and fall. Why bother to compete with them? Then I stumble on a little masterpiece like this and realize that it's location, location, location.
Denver is full of these remarkable vignettes where thoughtful gardeners have done something utterly novel and perfect. I love to make myself take new routes and explore new neighborhoods in this most wonderful city in America. I take that back: the greatest city in the world! What other place on earth would undewrite a crazy Greek American rock gardener for thirty years to play with plants?

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