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Showing posts from October, 2010

Not to panic!

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Hard frost came last Tuesday night and Wednesday, and though Indian summer has returned and it's been toasty today, the warmer nights aren't going to last forever. (I confess, I dragged in my favorite container with begonias and coleus inside...giving it a reprieve for a while). The gardeners at Denver Botanic Gardens are thrilled: busy yanking the last tired annuals and getting around to winterizing. I have always been somewhat dismayed by their ghoulish yearning among professional gardeners for an early frost: somethings never change. I cling to the growing season. But, not to panic! Nature isn't really dormant in winter as all wise gardeners know: the next month or two are really the best time for many things. Geraniums, for instance, have yet to become truly ignited: they provide some of the best fall color in perennial borders and rock gardens after all. And grasses are really in peak splendor right now.
I took the picture above recently at Roxborough State Park, one…

The other autumn crocus

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The pleasure one derives from one's garden is often lopsided: I can look calmly over a vista with hundreds of showy mounds and mats in the border or rock garden, but when Crocus banaticus (above) produces a single lonely flower, I get really excited. I have grown it several years so far, and keep hoping to see signs that it really does spread and propagate freely as the books promise. It is a rare denizen of eastern Europe where dozens of distinct color forms including white and deep violet have been selected. What a pleasure it must be to tread the Danubian forests where this is said to grow by the million. I am sure that would be thrilling, but so too is seeing this fluted blossom with its iris like form (hinting broadly as to the family affiliation)...

I have grown Crocus nudiflorus for nearly three decades. It would appear and reappear every few years in the Rock Alpine Garden, but my frequent planting and replanting there probably led to its demise. A few years ago Jane McG…

Toad lilies on the brink...

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Plantasia at Denver Botanic Gardens is glimmering right now with dozens of wands of Tricyrtis
hirta
, probably the commonest of these east Asian woodlanders: of course in the next few days (or maybe a week) hard frost will put an end to their show. I recall seeing these the first time over 40 years ago in the garden of Sam and Mary Ann Heacock (the preeminent gardeners in Denver over much of the 20th Century)...and maybe once or twice elsewhere in the interim.

I had fabulous luck for years with Tricyrtis latifolia in the Rock Alpine Garden, although one day it was overgrown or otherwise missing in action. And I grew the giant yellow, nodding bell shaped gem that goes by various names in Boulder as a child for many years.

It is amazing to me that plants so universal in bi-coastal gardens are so utterly absent from our local scene. Each year the display of this spotted beauties expands and improves, chiding me for not trying them in my own private garden...

If you are from Colorado and grow…

Garden ornamentation: pros and cons...

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Just as cake is the excuse for frosting for some of us, gardens seem to have become an excuse for garden art. I can think of a handful of local gardens where art upstages plants (something hard to do for a plant nerd like me). Part of the reason I enjoy the Henry Moore sculptures at Denver Botanic Gardens is that despite their massiveness, the garden surrounding them are not upstaged.

Then there is this imp in Jim and Dorothy's terrific garden in West Denver (one of my very favorite gardens). This improbable totem pole is riveting. It is irresistible. I am so glad it is in their garden and not mine however: it shines like a beacon and calls forth. Look at that expression! Panic? Irritation? Despair? Fear? Self Consciousness? It is undeniably cute (in a ghoulish way) and I love it. But if it were in my garden I would burn it after a week or two: it epitomizes everything I go to the garden to escape. To each his own.

I have more than my share of little garden sculptures and ornaments…

Nodding Lady's Tresses

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Orchids have that allure: I hate to think how many ladyslippers have been destroyed over the years by zealous, would-be wildflower gardeners (come to think of it, I have a few on my conscience)...of course before we flagellate ourselves, let's remember for every rare plant destroyed needlessly for horticulture, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands disappeared for agriculture, cities, mining and other human uses and abuses that we all depend upon. Nevertheless... It is delightful when an orchid proves accommodating. The 'Chadd's Ford' selection of the common lady's tresses of the Eastern States can be found at garden centers, which is where my original plant originated. I planted it rather dubiously five or six years ago. Today, there are dozens of those shimmering white flowers gleaming and glimmering throughout my little bog. I assume they are seedlings. I have not dug them up to see if any came from runners.In fact, it's the most successful plant t…

Nature's last green is gold

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Of course, Robert Frost is right about the first green: but green turns gold again in the fall, and this autumn is shaping up pretty nicely right now. Green ash and even some cottonwoods are bright yellow around town, and the first Autumn blaze maples and Autumn purple ash are bright red and purple in the distance from my front room window. The Ohio buckeyes, which often turn orange and scarlet in September, are only now doing their thing...what a gratifying, late autumn. But the apple of my eye right now (so to speak: sounds better than saying birch of my eye) is the ten year old Himalayan birch that crowns the waterfall in the rock garden at home. It is a neutral green much of the year, but for a week in the fall it glows gold and justifies its pride of place. It's getting a tad tall, and I keep thinking I ought to take it out (its roots are probably wreaking havoc with the waterfall) but now the trunk is getting gnarly and white barked [see below], and it's forming a gracef…

The hardy Othonna...

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Some days are emblazoned in one's heart and mind forever. The first time I crossed Joubert's Pass over the Witteberg in the East Cape (in January 1994) has to be emblazoned forever in my mind: I'd already spent a few weeks sampling the glories of the Drakensberg mountains proper, and then suddenly I found a whole new suite of plants, many of them xerophytes, on this spur of those great mountains and I realized how much remained to be learned. There was a most swale filled with Kniphofia uvaria at the base of the pass far from its more Westerly distribution, and spectacular Gladiolus saundersii in the foothills, joined soon by the equally dazzling orange form of Gladiolus dalenii. Gigantic angel rods (Dierama robustum) where dangling and swinging like censers everywhere in the meadows. On the rocky summit I was stunned to find Anacampseros rufescens, Pelargonium sidoides and other shrubby pelargoniums and especially this treasure of a succulent composite, Othonna capensis.

The BEST Zauschneria

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I am not always a diehard, sticking to my guns no matter what. But I still call shooting stars Dodecatheon (even though I know they are really primroses) and zauschnerias may really be fireweeds (not a bad name for them) but I figure if hummingbirds know the difference, so might we...So I persist in calling this Zauschneria septentrionale.

I am always amazed there are not more zauschnerias planted in Denver. Plant Select has championed Zauschneria garrettii, which blooms in June, July and August but is pretty tattered by now. It is undoubtedly the toughest and hardiest...and many years the later blooming californica and arizonica are often frosted...but Zauschneria septentrionale never disappoints. This terribly underappreciated plant comes from northern California, and possibly Oregon. It generally comes into bloom in August, but it is still blazing away in mid October this year (I just took this picture last Friday in the Rock Alpine Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens.) I think I got m…

Jewels of the rainbow

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Iris ruthenica
Iris potaninii
People will insist on asking you (when they find out you make a living from plants) what your favorite flower is. Asking someone like me to pick a single favorite flower would be like asking Harpagon which coin he liked most: plant misers love all things green...but there is something about tiny iris that sets them apart.
I was astonished to find Iris ruthenica growing by the untold million last year everywhere in the Altai and Tien Shan mountains of Kazakhstan, from the fringes of the steppe in the foothills to above treeline on tundra. It makes mats a yard or more across that were studded with hundreds of those prismatic blue jewel like flowers. I have seen Iris ruthenica on the Yulongshan of Yunnan and know it makes it all the way to Ruthenia in Europe: and yet this is not a common plant in gardens. I have grown many forms. I have grown some of them in large quantities. One of the sad things of being an old gardener is you realize you have fumbled many g…