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Showing posts from December, 2010

Aloe madness...

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I am back in Southern California (again) for the Holidays, although the picture above was taken exactly a year ago at the Huntington, right now almost every other house in Palos Verdes estates where I am staying has a massive Aloe in bloom (if not a Poinsettia tree, or Bougainvillea or some other brash explosion of bright color): with heavy rains on and off for weeks, the landscape is unbelievably lush and green, and when the sun comes out the L.A. basin is crystalline, with the dark blue ocean on the left and the San Gabriels and San Bernadinos snowy white to the East..... it really is a paradise (albeit a populous one)!

That's Kelly Griffin, photographing one of his amazing hybrids at Rancho Soledad, one of America's premier nurseries for succulents, palms, cycads, tree ferns: you name it when it comes to the exotic and wonderful. Kelly is renowned for his amazing aloe hybrids, many of which he sells at this site. (Click on site to connect to the URL).


Of course, what makes …

Summer snow

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Clematis hexapetala

Since it has apparently forgotten how to snow in Denver, I thought a bit of whiteness this time of year might be in order...This is a picture of an astonishing Mongolian clematis that was blooming a few years ago at Denver Botanic Gardens. I was so delighted and impressed with this I hightailed it out to Bluebird Nursery in Clarkson, Nebraska, expressly to obtain a few specimens, which did bloom for me last year at my home garden, although not nearly so lavishly. Surely this has to be the most amazing white flowered novelty to have come around in many a year. We now have this several more spots around the Gardens, and I know a few others have obtained it hereabouts, so we can judge its merits more accurately. My suspicion is that this will become a garden staple in Denver in the next decade and a classic beyond over time as well... How many more gems will that genus keep producing? I know Dale Lindgren has crossed this with various purple gems and produced some very …

Blobs, fillers, space holders, gems

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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 y…

Fulfillment and desire

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Paraquilegia microphylla, on a high granitic ridge above Almaty in the Tien Shan of Kazakhstan in early July of 2009. For years I dreamed about this plant. Way back in the 1970's Boyd Kline collected seed of its cousin, Paraquilegia grandiflora in Kashmir: I will never forget the pictures he showed of the high crags where it grew and the cushions like this one on the cliffs, and I thought would I ever see it? Would I ever grow it?

Boyd gave me seed, and I did grow it and bloomed it several years in a row in the Rock Alpine Garden in the early 1980's: it was pure white and every bit as condensed as this form. This past September I saw the third of the three closely related species, Paraquilegia caespitosa in the Western Tian Shan on Ulken Kaindy Pass in the Djabagly nature reserve. Should I now not be replete? Fulfilled? Why is there still a burning desire to seek more of these gems out in more places. After all, I have not yet seen Paraquilegia grandiflora in the wild, nor hav…

Sotol (like: Soooo Tall!)

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Sotol, or Desert Spoon is not for everyone. For one thing the leaves have spines pointing in both directions, so you are sure to get lacerated if you try and get too intimate. (Not a good idea). And frankly, it's not the toughest of Southwestern upland plants: the several species we have grown at Denver Botanic Gardens sustain winter damage most years. And I've noticed they are horribly attractive to aphids (not a good thing). This is the hardiest one: Dasylirion texanum, available very widely and cheaply nowadays thanks to Mountain States Nursery. Dasylirion wheeleri grows much further north into New Mexico. I remember seeing this the first time over 30 years ago on one of my early field trips with Paul Maslin: it grew in the Malpais near Carrizozo, one of America's most outrageous, surrealistic landscapes. This area gets quite cold (Corona, not far to the north, is downright frigid in winter) and I always assumed it would be tough. We have grown it repeatedly from this a…

My American idol: Robert Michael Pyle

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No, that's NOT a slenderized Santa Claus checking who's good or bad: it's America's masterful nature writer and one of my heros, Bob Pyle. Bob has written a dozen or more books, and probably a dozen butterfly field guides of various descriptions. He is one of America's premier lepidopterologists, and a prose stylist second to none.


I have been re-re-reading The Thunder Tree, which is still available as a first edition, hard cover on Amazon for peanuts. This gem of a book is going to be reissued this coming spring and I hope it will get renewed attention in reviews and bookstores as a consequence. I don't think a better book has ever come out of Colorado. I believe it is a classic. The blend of Bob's personal history with the natural history of our region, and the cultural history of the Highline canal is as contrapuntal and pleasing as a Bach cantata. If you haven't read it, I urge you to do so (buy one of those cheapo first editions, Puhlease! Let'…