Saturday, January 30, 2010

There's something about troughs...

At least one book has been written, dedicated to the subject of troughs and trough gardening. After this interminable winter with tons of snow and now weeks of blasting sun with night temps in the teens, I marvel that anything can grow in a trough, let alone that practically any alpine seems to do better in troughs.

I have noticed that dozens of kinds of plants--notably many Colorado alpines like Eritrichium, Phlox condensata and Clematis tenuiloba, only seem to persist in troughs.

As I was scrolling through old images, this picture with Androsace 'Millstream' and a few specimens of Draba polytricha remind me why troughs are de rigeur!

It's been heartening to see how trough gardening has spread among rock gardeners, and increasingly among the general public. We need more articles, more books and a lot more ways to educate people about these portable rock gardens, these glorious little chunks of nature. Maybe we can call them High Definition containers or Broadband gardens to widen their appeal among those poor souls with digital minds and texting fingers.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Colorado artist

I've noticed that many of the best gardeners are often trained artists. I have not seen Joellyn Duesberry's private garden, but something tells me she would be a winner. I can't think of another Colorado artist who "gets it": the colors, the light, the textures and the dynamic form of the Rocky Mountain landscape, the way she does. I have admired her paintings here and there for many years. It is a great pleasure and a treat to see a fabulous assortment of her landscape paintings on display at Denver Botanic Garden's Gates Court. It has reaffirmed in my mind that she is far and away the finest landscape artist in our region.

Why have I wandered away from gardens and plants to talk about paintings? I believe that the gallery arts may actually "pave the way" for landscape art: how much easier it will be to convince gardeners that landscapes filled with buffs, oranges, tawny browns and just a bit of green here and there (often a muted, dark blue-green) is appropriate for our gardens when they can see these colors depicted so powerfully on canvas. The emphasis on form, texture and the basic Western color palette in Duesberry's work is a fantastic color template and model for the local designer to imitate, replicate or at least aspire to in the garden.

Do come by and check it out! There's even a reception tonight where you can meet Joellyn at the Garden Court at 5:30 PM. You can find out a bit more about her at the DBG blog posted by Kim Manajek, one of our terrific exhibitions staff:


And speaking of art...the first few pieces by Henry Moore have been placed the last few days on the Grounds: watching these monumental bronzes etc. be hefted over buildings by humongous cranes is the favorite activity of staff and volunteers this week. (Spell check doesn't think humongous is a word, can you believe it?). Spell check has obviously never seen a Henry Moore!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Il miglior fabbro


I grant you, it's not in peak bloom. It may appear a tad rectilinear, but little more than a week ago I stook in front of John Stireman's Sandy, Utah garden and experienced a strange sensation: never have I seen more challenging plants better grown, arranged more artistically and in such novel ways anywhere on planet Earth. You can question my judgment if you want, you can wonder at what I'm getting at. Mosey on down to Sandy some time in April, May, June, July, August, September or October (November to March is quiet season I speck) and you too will writhe with envy and humility. John Stireman is indeed "il miglior fabbro". Of course, I'm no Dante (and eschew the anagram of Toilets as Vlad the literary impaler once observed) but I know a thing or two about gardens, and I believe this may be the Greatest Garden on Planet Earth.

Why? To create a dazzling garden in Brazil or Italy or England is not difficult: you have the Tropical Rainforest or millenia of models to draw from (and nurseries galore). To have a mediocre or bad garden in a mild or maritime climate is like having a dirty house: a sign of sloth, stupidity and aesthetic turpitude. To capture the magic of the world's steppe flora in suburban Salt Lake City is a quadruple backward axel.


To create an artistic garden in a modest middle class neighborhood. to fill it with thousands of treasures new to cultivation grown to perfection, now THAT'S art and science blended to perfection. I know of few botanic gardens that can begin to compare with Mr. Stireman on a square foot basis (Gothenburg? Edinburgh? Huntington?...perhaps). Certainly not when it comes to daring and creativity.


I plan to be back in a month. And frequently thereafter for the rest of his/and or/my life. Mr. Stireman: I bow to thee. You have reaffirmed my sense of wonder and bolstered my humility.


A few more pix of his alpine/succulent house and closeups: tantalizing and so untrue. Sorry, no pix of the magical back yard: "dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred: drink at the source and speak no word".

Il miglior fabbro himself

Click on this picture: it will expand and give you a tiny sense of the density of choice goodies planted in this amazing garden. It is the showcase of the steppe flora: how annoying! In UTAH no less ugggh! Is there no justice?

Jan standing in his alpine/succulent house: more treasures beautifully grown than you can shake a stick at! This guy kills me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The golden apples of the sun...



Okay! So I lied. They are not golden apples at all, but Fuyu persimmons in my brother's front yard. We picked dozens and dozens and ate dozens and dozens and there are probably still hundreds if not thousands on the damn tree! California in winter is pretty nifty indeed. There were flowers everywhere and fruit and fall color galore (the Liquidambar not liquid amber at all but refulgent Rembrandtian purple) and of course glistening evergreens galore not scorched by snow and cold and brash winter sun on frozen ground. We ate mandarins and oranges and even the last of last year's grapefruit. And apple preserve from the apple tree, and lots and lots of Avocados too (Haas and some seedling types George kept apologizing for, but they sure tasted good to me)...The Golden state lived up to billing. We even found silver apples of the moon:

I lied! It's not a silver apple at all, but close! It's Pyrus pashia from the Himal Pradesh in India. One of innumerable treasures we encountered at Quarryhill Botanical Garden where we spent three magical days. Bill McNamara is this year's recipient of the Scott Medal: he brings additional lustre to this medal. Bill is a visionary designer, plant explorer and a very thoughtful and philosophical individual. We really enjoyed deepening our long friendship with him at this extraordinary place.



One of hundreds of vignettes from the trip: wouldn't it be fun to leave out your donkey tails and Succulent Senecios all winter? They do at the Elizabeth Gamble garden, which I only first visited a few weeks ago, although I've been driving by it every few years at least for the last half century...


Paperwhites at the Gamble Garden: the fragrance outdoors is not really cloying at all, and refreshing this time of year.


There must be somewhere in Colorado where I can grow Iris unguicularis. I saw it quite high in the Peloponese in Greece. I'm sure the leaves for us will brown and crisp at least at the ends, and the flowers will come in February or March, and even then freeze crisp most years. But some day I must tame this gorgeous winter iris, here blooming at Quarryhill (despite its non-Chinese origin: they have a few exotics in one or two out of the way spots)...

California, I love you!

The Song Of Wandering Aengus

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands.
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

By W.B. Yeats

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery


I have seen the picture above (which incidentally, I photographed myself) reproduced on other websites and used on a brochure cover to promote containers and a similar picture was taken and published in a book (I was the author of the planting by the way, incidentally: so is a picture taken by someone else not a form of plagiarism in a way?) Some people would be piqued by all this casual internet larceny and mimicry. And a small piece of me is ticked, to be sure. But frankly, I'm also flattered. There's no better way to know you done somethin' right until it's copied, you see.

The plant, by the way, is Orostachys spinosa, which I have rhapsodied about elsewhere (notably this month's Sedum Society bulletin--which I bet you don't subscribe to! Ha! Gotcha!). And in my Pagodas of Lushan piece from a few weeks ago in this blog. This terrific plant must occur in the billions, nay, the trillions throughout much of Central and East Asia (and that's a mighty big chunk of country): we saw it on every gravelly patch or rocky outcrop we stopped at in Kazakhstan and Mongolia last summer. My mentor and brother-in-law Allan Taylor saw the plant in Yakutia, also called the Sakha Republic, where it has weathered -50F and colder on the banks of the Lena River.

I'd grown it several times early in my career, without much success. Then one day I visited Sandy Snyder who possibly possesses the most beautiful and innovative garden in the Front Range: she had planted this orostachys in a dish garden where it was thriving and I realized it grew best in shallow containers: so I copied her idea and created this trough that is now busy replicating itself further in cyberspace. Why is my act of mimicking Sandy's cultural technique not plagiarism? Two reasons: I didn't try to pass the trough above as her trough, and garden copying is generally approved of rather than becoming the cause of litigation. Ironically, Gwen took that trough to Lakewood when she moved there. So I replicated it on a shallow stone basin where it still thrives for me in a slightly different guise. Plagiarism and replication are not just flattery: they are the very secret of DNA and survival of the species--or of a good idea for that matter. Very little that we do is truly new. You just have to find ways to mask your lack of originality as I did!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Unprepossessing at first





I can't believe the only picture I have in my files of Paeonia officinalis is this wishy washy distance shot. The trouble with growing many thousands of plants is that you often don't get around to taking proper pictures of them. And among the dozen or so peonies I grow, this is one of the best. And there is a good story attached.

We got it six or eight years ago from Bluebird Nursery. Two plants. They graced what we rather grandly called the Perennial Triangle for years until The Separation when in the rush of things and perhaps with just a little bit of malice I noticed that Both of Them had been removed in the division of possessions, and now My perennial triangle was bereft of the essential pink flash in April and May. I was Bereft. And piqued...Considering the many plausible and potential tragedies that the dissolution of 23 years of marriage might cause (and there were a number--thankfully not too many, and none devastating: a tribute to both of us) this was a particularly galling little fillip. After all, there were two of the suckers. Shouldn't one have been left?

Two years transpired from the time the peony was disappeared...and Lo! and Behold! last April what was that pink flash I noticed from the window? Not one, but both of the peonies had arisen like little pink phoenixes and were sporting wan flowers: forming quite dense little tufts from the root cuttings that had been left behind. I must not have noticed the foliage the last year, but there must have been some to have garnered enough sunlight to produce a bloom!

So now, instead of two little tufts, I have two robust colonies of this winsome gem. And meanwhile, a friend in Arvada has given me a large clump of the double, scarlet form! Tell me there is not a hidden meaning (and justice) in the Universe? Check out the picture below when the peony was in its glory days (bright pink in front of the gas plant): you can see why I'm glad it's back!

Monday, January 11, 2010

A great unknown





OK: I'm a lazy bum! So sue me! I still haven't downloaded my images from my recent trip to California and Las Vegas (and there were plenty of them). Colorado obliged by being sunny and warming up once we got home, and I had a cousin visiting and so on and so forth, etcetera, et al... amazing how we either have our excuses or our results!

But I still have some tricks from previous years up my sleve...Like this wonderful penstemon relative from high elevations in California's coastal mountains. Typical forms of Keckiella corymbosa can get a foot or two tall, but Ron Ratko has collected this miniature many times. Why is it so special?

Well, it's a perfect size for a rock garden (in other words, miniscule).

It blooms for weeks and months on end IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER (when rock gardens are often moribund). Best of all, it is a fine flashing red color that appeals to hummingbirds and us Westerners who love flashy things.

Only problem is that there is no commercial source any more since Ron doesn't seem to have recollected it and I know no nursery that sells it.

Nonetheless, this is one of the finest rock garden plants for sunny climates. Maybe we can coax some cuttings off our only plant this coming year?


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

California dreamin'


Why bamboos? Well I took this picture in July, but it looks almost exactly the same in late December so I can pretend it's one I downloaded (I haven't downloaded my current pix yet...) but I am ready to blog about lotusland...yes, the whole friggin' state of California, not just Ms Walska's gem in Santa Barbara...I could have downloaded one of a dozen pix of Yucca or Nolina in glorious bloom at the Huntington (where these bamboo are and were), only now the place is blazing in orange, scarlet and yellow aloes.
I feared midwinter would be rainy and chilly here. It's been sublime: most days in the sixties and downright toasty in the sun. Pelargoniums blazing and more flowers than you can shake a stick at. Everyone back at home is grumbling about the cold, and I'm thanking my lucky stars again that I took a much needed vacation with family and friends in paradise.
I'm in the cottage at Quarryhill where Bill MacNamara and Joanna Guy Welti have so graciously let me and Jan stay. Alas! Only three nights: there is so much to do hereabouts I could easily settle in for a month or two...
Quarryhill is an expansive recreation of East Asia, a grandiose and magnificently realized vision of Jane Jansen, a remarkable woman I feel extremely fortunate to have met almost a decade ago. I've been here one time at least since then, and am delighted to watch the progress here: there is something incredibly gratifying about watching a huge collection of Chinese plants in this context: it's really quite outrageous. Of course, the climate isn't quite right (they have to water a lot in the summer) and the notion is really quite outrageous (plant thousands of Chinese plants in Sonoma)...but art is not about doing the obvious and the hum drum. The great native plant gardens in California are all fantastic and appropriate and artistic in their own outrageous ways, but poetry (as Marianne Moore observed) is having real frogs in imaginary gardens...and it could be said having imaginary gardens in a real setting like this is poetic as well.
By the way, I do not agree with her when she says she "too dislike(s) it". That's rankled like crazy. I hate most modern poetry (and visual arts too, by the way): so much contemporary and modern art let's face it is just crap. But Keats and Lorca and Cavafy are the very stuff of life. If you diss that you might as well just buy season tickets to the Baseball game. Harrrummph.
I would love to show you the picture of the ersatz snowmen in a bed of gloriously blooming Iceland poppies (warmed the cockle of my heart, that did). Or the fabulous way the folded hills in the distance fuzz with mist in the late afternoon diffusion of golden sun (so Californian!). Or the verdancy of grass and weeds in the Eucalyptus and oak savanna that is Stanford Campus. Or my brothers Fuyu Persimmon tree, loaded with translucent orange orbs that positively glow in the backlight. Or any one of ten thousand vignettes that have feasted my eyes these last few weeks. But I shall have to download them first! I think there may be winter enough for me to get around to it...alas.
Jan really really wants to live here. And a piece of me agrees.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year vignettes


A great way to celebrate this past year is to review some of the highlights: few days of my life can match that early July day in Kazakhstan. They may look like pansies, and they are in a way. These are the two color phases of Viola altaica, one of the principal ancestors of the garden pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) growing above treeline on the Tien Shan mountains above Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. The alpine pansies grew in amazing abundance everywhere on the Altai mountains, and I was surprised to see the same color phases growing every bit as abundantly on the Tien Shan: coloring the tundra with violet and pale primrose yellow in every direction. This closeup includes one of a dozen or more buttercups we saw that day: name unknown.


This is the local manifestation of a buttercup relative known as Callianthemum alatavicum: there are superficially very similar calianthemums growing everywhere from Japan in the far East to the Pyrenees in the far West of Eurasia--the same pattern followed by Adonis and a handful of other alpines that are universal in the high latitude Eurasian alpine ranges and absent everywhere else on earth.....This genus takes relatively well to cultivation, although I'm not sure this Central Asian form is being grown yet. Two more of the hundreds of beautiful vignettes captured on just one day, on just this one mountains...what a great year it was for new plants!