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Showing posts from March, 2011

Plant crush on Fritillaria raddeana...(blush)

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Every so often something comes into your life that captivates you: for the late lamented Elizabeth Taylor it was husbands. I have a few friends that fall in love every few days with someone new (a charming, if somewhat problematical trait). For us plant geeks, our infatuations are somewhat less perilous to our well being. I fall in love with plants at the fall of a leaf. Right now I'm enchanted with Fritillaria raddeana. Frits are an acquired taste. Most are brownish or purplish (not the most thrilling of hues). Many are checkered and spotted and otherwise mottled. They are the plant equivalent of baroque music: intricate variations on a theme, leaving many people non-plussed. Poor them (the people, not the frits!) I, for one, dote on Vivaldi and Handel (and let's not even TALK about Boccherini, Albinoni, Scarlatti and the rest of those paragons whose names so sensibly end in "i"!)...to carry the tenuous metaphor one stage further, this Frit is a veritable Bachian c…

Spring is a coumin' in....

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Thirty one years ago I visited Ernie Lythgoe's incredible garden in Victoria that had a long border full of hundreds--nay thousands--of hot magenta flowered Cyclamen coum. A few years later I visited Lawrence Crocker (co-founder of Siskiyou rare plant nursery) who was busily weeding Cyclamen coum (and a good many other bulbous treasures) out of his lawn. I can still visualize the sizeable mound of cormous, bulbous booty he had accrued (no doubt to be composted or thrown away)...why didn't I ask to put it in a bag for me to take back home? I naively thought, I believe, that you couldn't transplant bulbs "in the green", that they had to be dormant. And yet again a few years later I saw the round leaves of Cyclamen coum scattered abundantly in the late Nina Lambert's lawn. All of these great gardeners have passed on (they don't get greater than these three), but I suspect the cyclamen are persisting in their gardens...
Nina gave me a handful of corms a long t…

What's in a name?

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The late Jim Archibald told me several times of his fondness for the Hodgkins, great rock gardeners and close friends of his from the south of England who have left a peculiar monument or two. Of course, this iris--strange, diaphanous and ruggedly tough, now growing in countless gardens across the globe is monument enough: 'Katharine Hodgkin'* (Eliot grew all manner of rock garden plants: campanulas were a special interest of his, as were saxifrages: I am quite sure he would be surprised to know that a lifetime's gardening has been condensed down to a single cultivar name with variable spellings.)

Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin' is a hybrid between two rarely encountered species. Iris histrioides was once fairly common in the Dutch bulb trade, but has more or less disappeared in recent decades. It is the largest of reticulate irises: we still have a clump or two of var. 'Major' persisting at Denver Botanic Gardens from the 1980's! The other parent, the fabulou…

It's a mystery...Draba that is.

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There is a very small, very select group of congnoscenti who like drabas, and an even smaller coterie who seek out white drabas. I confess I belong to both idiosects. Drabas come in yellow, egg-yolk yellow, daffodil yellow, plain old yellow and white. Each day this time of year yet another species of draba pokes open a blossom, like prying open a sleepy eye, to see if perhaps there are any pollinators foolish enough to be out there already.

I obtained the draba above as Draba dedeana, which I am quite sure it is not. I have grown D.dedeana several times as a matter of fact--a lovely thing--and it is much coarser in foliage. This thing makes an incredibly dense cushion almost as diminutive in rosette as D. bryoides. I have seen white Draba oreibata on Mt. Borah, and Mike Kintgen collected seed of D. oreadum on the Atlas Mountains of Morocco: lovely indeed, but not my wooly cushion. I grew a wonderful white dwarf from Wyoming whose name I have forgotten, and the tiny, white-flowered D. …

Scroffy? Yes! Scruffy? No!

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I agree it doesn't exactly knock your socks off...I doubt you know this plant: Scrophularia chrysantha from Western Asia. but their are plants whose quiet charm creeps them into your affections. The genus Scrophularia contains more strange, negligible plants than almost any other I know of in its namesake family (which botanists are busy busting up and parcelling elsewhere: Penstemon, for God's sake, is NOW classed as a Plantaginaceae: a friggin' plantain!) If there's one genus homelier than Scrophularia, it's Plantago. I cannot tell you how many homely brown-black-gray flowered Scrophularia I have seen across Eurasia and America for that matter. Some are so ugly that they are actually interesting. Scrophularia macrantha has achieved an apotheosis--I shall deal with her anon. Plantago is the epitome of dowdy by and large (plaintain flowers are usually GREEN, not even brown or black). Both genera have their winners...and believe it or not, this is one. What makes t…

Crocus dawn

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"With this the son of Saturn caught his wife in his embrace; whereon the earth sprouted them a cushion of young grass, with dew bespangled lotus, crocus, and hyacinth, so soft and thick that it raised them well above the ground. Here they laid themselves down and overhead they were covered by a fair cloud of gold, from which there fell glittering dew drops."

TheIliad by Homer, XIV 346 translated by Samuel Butler

Just as crocus makes an appearance at the very beginning of Western literature (in a most sexy manner, need I point out?) so do these impossibly bright bulbs signal the very start of the gardening year. Above is a picture of the common Dutch form of Crocus flavus, very possibly the same bulbs Homer might have conjured, since they grow in the Ionian environs where the poet lived.
A vast literature has accrued around these tiny bulbs, and they have cropped up just as liberally in world literature since Homer. Much of the writing is dedicated to saffron, which has such hoa…