Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The best design is accidental...

We THINK it's Melica ciliata...and it has produced a few unwanted babies here and there, so it probably is a potential weed. I would never in a million years have planted it on that amazing perch next to the waterfall, but somehow it got there, and for weeks in late spring and early summer it makes a spectacle of itself in this highly visible spot. The spot it's growing in gets very dry and is extremely exposed, so the plant is probably a fraction its usual size: typical Melica ciliata can grow a yard tall if pampered while this barely exceeds a foot. In nature it occurs in much of Europe eastward to Kazakhstan--central and western Eurasia.

Over the years I am constantly surprised at plants that somehow miraculously appear in the perfect spot: often plants I am sure I never planted (sometimes, like this one, I hadn't even heard of them before I had to research them to put a name on them), suddenly appear in just the right spot and proceed to flourish and grow better than dozens, maybe even hundreds of plants I laboriously study, nurture and plant out in just the right spot, only to watch them languish or die. And then a bird plants common Japanese barberry in the Rock Alpine Garden, where it forms a dense mound turning bright scarlet in fall, festooned with red berries all winter, and attracting more attention than all the choice gems in that magnificent garden.

I suppose one can strategically say that we gardeners in the 'Tao' and in the know (so to speak) work hand in glove with nature, collaborating, as 'twere. The results can be delightful indeed!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Moment of glory


My moment of glory is over: the summer doldrums have started in earnest. A couple of days in the 90's and the alpines have hustled through blooming, everything looks a tad wilty and the mariposas are done for the year. One or two bedraggled blossoms are left is all. The bluegramma meadow (my pride and joy) in the soutwest corner of the garden is drying out again, and the speckling of calochortus you see in the picture above are forming fat seedpods. I wish Wayne Roderick were alive for many reasons, not least of which would be to show him how his godchildren, his minions that he sent to Holland have come back to the state where his mom was born and grew up in to thrive. Amazing these California lotus eaters thrive so well in our dusty steppe prairie. But life is mysterious like that: Wayne's house is where Tom Peace's brother now lives, Tom being a good buddy of mine who lives not far away: it's a small, cuddly world, this gardening world of ours. Spangled with magical flowers like mariposas: I'll share a few of the red ones that knocked everybody's socks off (beginning with me). Don't you love it when life is as sweet as good red wine, or Burgundy Calochortus venustus?




Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A REAL xeriscape


Pictures do not do the Barnett garden justice. I have been lucky enough to visit hundreds (maybe thousands?) of great gardens in many countries, but Don and Celia's Pueblo xeriscape rates near the top. Nestled in a pleasant suburb not far from CSU campus in North Pueblo, whenever I turn the corner and see this shocking, extravagant and faithful tribute to our Southwestern canyonlands my heart skips a beat: if I had not visited this great garden repeatedly I wouldn't believe it was possible to pack a hundred species of penstemons and many times that of cacti, lots of other native wildflowers and shrubs and have it in glorious bloom whenever I drop by. And it's beautiful in the dormant season. And needless to say, they water with a teacup.
I've never asked, but I doubt if the Barnetts have "studied" gardening formally in school. And I doubt if they are botanically trained. But you would be hard put to find a botanic garden with as much integrity in its vision and execution. This underscores for me that horticulture is supremely an amateur art: amateur (remember?) means lover: these lovers of plants and gardens who are not burdened with too much academia invariably surpass us working grunts with degrees and credentials! Luckily, I can go back to school in their garden...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Raining on my parade...


I would have liked to show you pictures of my mariposa lilies: several hundred blooming. But it's been drizzling/raining for 3 days and they're all drooping and looking miserable. And I publicized my garden to several hundred people as open (in about an hour)....oh well. It rained on Atlanta Botanic Garden's special evening when we visited a week and a couple days ago, but the sun providentially emerged as well, and the glowing evening ended with fireflies glimmering in the woods.

Eastern wildflowers seem to hold up in the rain better than our poor sun loving westerners. The pitcher plants peppered with Calopogon were incredible at ABG. I had been wanting to visit Atlanta for ages, and the APGA (American Public Gardens Association) annual meeting was really good: a chance to reconnect with friends and meet new colleagues and the sessions I went to were good, but the evening dinners at Atlanta and Calloway gardens were really over the top. It was humid, but not hot, and lush and flowery and the Southern magnolias (M. grandiflora) and crepe myrtles were blooming everywhere.

Lucky is he (she) who throws a garden party in the rain and pulls it off with style!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pax Verbascum


There are those purists who would object to a verbascum (even a dainty one like this) in a rock garden. There are those who regard all mulleins as noxious weeds. There are a lot of silly people in the world. Last year was the year of the Verbascum at my Quince St. Garden...I kinda overdid it. This year I edited the vast majority of seedlings when they were small. Instead of two or three hundred, we probably only have fitty or so here and there: nothing too radical.

I think the only plant that gets more commens in my garden than the mulleins is Anthriscus sylvetris 'Ravenswing'. Although, I confess, with the tall bearded iris are in bloom, or the peonies, people do gawk. And of course there's Glaucium, a whole different story!

As for mulleins, I really can't have enough kinds. And miniature hybrids or sports like this one are all the more beguiling.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Columbine of the rocks...



I've struggled for years to grow Aquilegia scopulorum, and finally this year it grew and bloomed marvellously. Of course, so did they prosper for all my friends. In the top picture a fine clump is blossoming on Jon Lawyer's exquisite crevice garden. Below it's blooming away for Bill Adams, owner of Sunscapes, in Pueblo.
Botanists are tempted to lump this into our Colorado columbine, but it must surely represent an ancient (and stable) intermediate between A. jonesii and A. caerulea. As you would expect of something of hybrid ancestry, it is enormously variable: I remember climbing to tundra on a central Nevada peak and finding hundreds of them growing soboliferously on a slope, in every pastel shade with white petals. And I recall the tiny, deep blue gems on a high, limestone scree on the Aquarius plateau.
Something about this spring has inspired our cultivated specimens to grow and bloom like crazy and set heavy seed (notice the pods on the plant in the lower picture)...or maybe we are developing strains that like cultivation.
Whatever the cause, this sprightly, miniature columbine is the gem of the genus for gardens, and is well worth seeking out in nature (to admire) or a nursery (to buy). And of course in your garden (to worship).

Monday, June 7, 2010

The last tulip



Several tulips are in contention to be the last to bloom in the garden, but in my experience, Tulipa sprengeri takes the prize. It has lots going for it: although tulips seem to have perfected the color red, few plants seem to have as laquered and shiny of Chinese red flowers as this amazing species. Don't bother looking for it in catalogs: it eschews the conventional methods of cultivation used in Holland. This is one to get by getting a handful of seeds from a friend and scattering them hither and yon. It seems to grow wherever you put it. These came from my late friend John Worman, who gave me an envelope of seed from his garden almost 30 years ago. They have been prospering in the Rock Alpine Garden ever since (still blooming on June 7!). I have scattered them in my old and new gardens, and they have popped up in shady beds, rich borders and in bluegramma lawns, growing as lustily in shade as in full sun.
I have read that this is extinct in the wild. I somehow hope some of this accommodating plant has survived in Northern Turkey where it was first collected. I understand Kew is trying to reestablish it in the wild. What better argument for ex situ conservation than this plant, which is thriving in gardens world wide, naturalizing in wide swaths and giving us inordinate pleasure.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Succulent fire...


It's hard to believe there was a time when we thought Lewisia cotyledon was a challenging alpine. Nowadays you can find it sold occasinally at box stores and even rarely at grocery stores even, and finding it in a garden center is no great feat. Yet there was a time when this local endemic of the Siskiyou mountains was coveted and yearned for by gardeners. The two plants in the lower of the two pix above are growing at the fringe of my dry garden, where they rarely get a drink of water. The red one above is at Denver Botanic Gardens. The secret, of course, of growing this Lewisia is to grow tons of them from seed, plant them everywhere, and keep propagating them: single plants usually only last a few years, and you never want to be without this gem.
I remember finally getting to Vincent Square a decade or so ago, where the Royal Horticultural Society still held its fortnightly flower show in a cavernous, Victorian hall the size of a football field. Although massive, the dingy setting was almost Dickensian in muted, gray and black. A few dozen dark bodies moving around the exhibit hall randomly while a single smoky parallelogram of sunlight beaming downward from a large skylight, making the various booths and exhibits all the darker by contrast. I went to the competitive displays first--a tad disappointing after the huge alpine shows I'd seen elsewhere already in brighter settings. But soon the beam slid onto the sales stand of Ashwood Nursery, the premier hybridizer and producer of Lewisia on planet earth. Their stand consisted of hundreds of heavily flowering Lewisia cotyledon in pots, arranged in a sort of spectrum--the yellows and oranges on one side, the violet, purple, magenta and rose reds on the opposite converging on a bank of hot scarlets, crimsons and a fiery chinese red monster plant with literally thousands of blossoms. Like zombies, everyone gravitated like honeybees, drawn like iron filings to the magnetic, shimmering color of the Ashwood stand, and everyone was scarfing up lewisias. Gradually the sunbeam trickled on, the hall got gray again and people scattered to other booths.
I must remember to ignite a little more succulent fire this coming winter!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Atraphaxis on the Oxus

Do we really need another white flowering shrub that blooms in May and June? Albeit this one can grow in Colorado with no summer watering. The name is intriguing: Atraphaxis buxifolia. It sounds to me more like a Persian satrap's name than a plant. We grow several accessions of this genus at Denver Botanic Gardens, although the monster above is on East Ridge at my Quince St. garden blooming several weeks ago. The second picture shows what it looks like almost a month later from the same spot (the magic of gardens is their changeability after all)...full disclosure: there is a certain little down side to the plant.


It stinks. Literally: a strange scent somewhere between rancid and down right pungent. I planted it fifteen or more feet from the nearest path, but the scent still wafts along. During my garden open day the stiff breeze saved the several hundred visitors from staring at one another and wondering who hadn't showered...small compensation for stiff breezes--when you want to have that late afternoon glow and calm air (and perhaps a string quartet tucked away in the background) to help with the illusion that you have created a bit of paradise. Instead, hurricane force winds buffeted the poor plants and visitors alike. Sheesh. Blew the damn smell all the way to Arkansas.

Even if it's stinky, I love it. For the name first of all (I love all plants beginning with Z for the same reason: Zauscheria, Zinnia, Ziziphora, Ziziphus, Zizia and what about those zesty "x's": Xanthorhiza, 'Xanthoceras...of course, Atraphaxis has that marvellous "x" in it) Can't you just see Ataxerxes treading the Atraphaxis on the Oxus? Oh excellent! Gently turn up the volume on Borodin's "steppes of Central Asia", and let us tread the Ziziphora past the Ziziphus, seeking the traces of Iskander on the gray and feathered fields on the road to Samarkand!

Xanthoceras sorbifolium