Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blobs, fillers, space holders, gems

This last week I've been carrying on heated email conversations with Arrowhead Alpines' Bob Stewart: I've been rueing the demise of Mt. Tahoma Nursery as a mail order source (although I intend to make pilgrimages there as soon as this February!), which was my main source of daphnes in the past. Well Bob has amassed an incredible collection of daphnes and I am lining up my order for this coming spring with him. Puhlease don't click on that URL until I'm finished placing my order...

Now you went and did it! You are going to probably not come back to this edifying post on the un-Daphnes. Daphnes are sexpots. You know: Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch....no, no, I have it wrong. Those ladies are more like Hydrangeas and Azaleas, perhaps. Daphnes are a tad more demure and complex: Audrey Hepburn or even Katherine Hepburn. Or maybe even Audrey Meadows or Catherine Deneuve: daphnes are not just pinups, they have personality and depth and allure and a sense of humor (often at your expense).
But this post is not about daphnes. Really. It's about Plain Jane plants. Fillers. Junipers. Euonymus fortunei. And the ultimate Plain Jane: squawbush, threeleaf sumac, lemonade berry. Rhus trilobata. Truth be said, I suspect not more than one in a hundred Coloradoans would know this plant in the wild or the garden. It is not exactly a thriller.
Somewhere I have a picture I took of one at the magnificent Colorado Springs Xeriscape Demonstration Garden a few years ago: it was blood red in the fall (if someone clamours enough I may have to go find it). But I took these pix a few weeks ago in the Ponderosa Panorama at Denver Botanic Gardens where a rather typical specimen is doing its thing: filling in, being its wonderful blobby self. Dan included several of these in the garden (sited perfectly, as you would expect from him) since it is representative, abundant and universal in the foothills and in fact over much of America (the Eastern Rhus aromatica is essentially the same thing). This is a rather hum drum plant, but in the fall it usually takes on good color and it lasts for a long time. (Plain Janes often surprise us when they doll up!)
You probably won't want to plant daphnes on a median strip in Denver, nor would you necessarily want to have an alluring actress fill every role in your day to day life. One does not need Angelina Jolie working at the checkstand (although, God only knows, she shows up there enough on the magazine racks!), nor do you want Paris Hilton as your baby sitter to drive the point home. We need our Marge Simpsons and lots and lots of everyday plants for everyday places. One of these days I will rhapsodize about carpeting junipers, so watch out!
The world needs a lot more Rhus trilobata. Some day I will remember to remind my friends in the Springs to flag that scarlet one to see if it strikes easily from cuttings (if so, move aside Euonymus alata!). There is a place for one or another of the wonderful new cultivars of threeleaf sumac in many industrial and large scale landscapes, especially in parks and for gardeners who yearn for the "Low Maintenance Garden" (gag me with a spoon!). I've even got one in my big, dryland shrub border. Unlike the various blobby plants landscapers often use (spiraeas, Vickery privet, shrubby potentilla) squawbush is completely drought adapted: it sailed through our great drought of 2000-2003 unscathed in various unwatered gardens I've been observing. And since we've only had an inch or less of rain in the last seven months, this could be the start of another period of "Water Provider Incapacity to Supply Demand" cycle (drought doesn't really occur in nature, there are wetter years and drier years. Nature doesn't care). So pretty soon everybody will be in a state of hysterical idiocy over lack of water once again...ho hum.
Or we could just plant more native and adapted dryland plants like this one. There are even some that qualify as sexpots...but that's another blog...


  1. Then, after everyone plants their quota of the described Rhus we can everywhere admire the ill-shaped spheres that is the apparent default shape that landscape plants attain soon after planting. Hedge shearers (manual and power) should be licensed.

  2. I was about to take Arrowhead Alpines to task for purposefully omitting cold hardiness ratings for listed plants when I read "Still Alive" in his on-line catalog preface. Good God! We are losing them left and right. Please tell me that there are tons of young up-starts amassing huge collections of mail order plants.


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