Thursday, April 28, 2011

Daft for Daphnes

I remember fifteen years ago or so when my ex (that's Gwen Moore) started buying every daphne she could get her hands on. I thought she was a tad daft at the time: do we really need that many daphnes? They are expensive and come as tiny rooted cuttings. Of course, with time, you realize that's the only way to grow daphnes.

And grow they have! the last ten years they have been sheared repeatedly by Laporte Avenue Nursery, By Sunscapes, By Mike Bone of the Botanic Gardens...and a few others too. Hence their delightful compactness. They would bloom quite well...and then last year no one came. They had enough cuttings from their own plants, perhaps. I reminded them in the springtime, but everyone was too busy. I reminded them again in the fall: big projects at all these places precluded the yearly haircut. So my poor daphnes spent a year unsheared...

And they liked it! In the picture above, the small white one on the left is Daphne x hendersonii 'Ernst Hauser' (A hybrid of Daphne petraea and Daphne striata). The big one on top is Daphne x susannae 'Anton Fahndrich', (a hybrid of Daphne collina and D. arbuscula) and the more sprawling one on the right is Daphne x schlyteri 'Lovisa Maria', a hybrid between Daphne cneorum and D. arbuscula.

This is another view of the two larger ones, from the front, with 'Lovisa' on the left and 'Anton' on the right.

I think the garden now boasts over 60 species and selections of Daphne, and a Wikstroemia to boot (and I've just gotten seed of Dirca). And that's not nearly enough...I ascribe to the philosophy that one can never have enough thyme nor Thymeleaceae in one's garden. I confess I'm daft!

The lines from my very favorite English poem (Marvell, "The Garden") ring ever so true....

"...Apollo hunted Daphne so

Only that she might laurel grow

And Pan did after Syrinx speed

Not for a nymph but for a reed.

What wondrous life in this I lead!

Ripe apples drop about my head;

The luscious clusters of the vine

Upon my mouth do crush their wine.

The nectarine and curious peach

Into my hands themselves do reach

Stumbling on melons as I pass,

Insnared with flowers I fall on grass..."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Iris bucharica: treasure from Bokhara

I believe I obtained my first Iris bucharica from Cruickshank Nursery (do they still operate I wonder?) in Canada nearly a half century ago. Even back then I was a little nutty about irises and grew many well I no longer do (not everything progresses!), although I have to confess that in most spheres of my life, reality has far outpaced my fondest expectations. My first few irises prospered in Boulder and formed clumps--eventually about like what you see above (although I just took that yesterday in the Rock Alpine Garden).

Above is one of many incredible plantings of Iris bucharica throughout Denver Botanic Gardens: this one in the Lilac garden (a bit of an understatement that name: it contains lavish collections of daffodils, irises of all sorts, peonies, daylilies, phloxes and all the garden classics grown to amazing perfection by Ann Montague, one of the most talented horticulturists I've ever had the privilege to know: and I get to work with her every day!)...there are similar super plantings of this iris in the Rock Alpine Garden and Plantasia. These all derive from the even more lavish and remarkable plantings of this iris made almost ten years ago at Centennial Gardens, once under the aegis of DBG. They persist there, although could use some dividing (hint hint).

I have rhapsodied elsewhere and repeatedly about Juno Iris, including quite recently. Obviously I like them. More to the point, they are very well adapted to Colorado's amazing climate (don't get me going). Much of the genus Iris can be grown very well in Colorado, but I suspect most of the section Juno could actually be adapted to gardens here without water. And since they have such an astonishing range of colors, form and habit, what a great group to pursue.

And if you do, begin with this one. I have not been to Bokhara, nor to Samarkand, Chimkent, Herat, Tashkent nor many of the other mythical cities of Central Asia (with the notable exception of some places in Kazakhstan and Pakistan)...they are near the top of my list however.

Growing plants named for these cities and places may seem a bit lame, but so be it!

I remember digging my four or five big clumps if Iris bucharica from my private garden in 1980 and dividing them into a few dozen pieces and planting them on the steep, hot south facing slope of the Moraine Mound in the Rock Alpine Garden. The next year each division produced a stem or maybe two, and within a few years I had a modest show that I was inordinateloyo proud of. The site was not optimal, however, and gradually these petered out. I never dreamed that a few decades later there would be lavish plantings throughout Denver Botanic Gardens and that we would be dividing our own clumps and making divisions available fresh at our autumn bulb sale!

This is just one example of how my dreams and expectations have been repeatedly outstripped by the wonderful reality of a career I happened to stumble into. Although there have been the occasional setbacks and disappointments (I still rue the fantastic Spuria collection that we bulldozed to create a mediocre garden that itself is now long gone): the net gains have been astronomical. And come to think of it, I may yet help resurrect those Spuria!

And I imagine an early morning, after breakfast, going out to the car and driving through the bustling morning crowds of Bokhara (a distant mosque glinting gold over there, and blue tiles shining)...the neighborhoods thin out and soon we are on the sage-green steppe on the hills not far from town, already speckled with early bloom. A half hour later or so I stop the car: there they are, scattered in groups here and there, butter yellow and cream irises, still dewy from a light rain the night before glinting in the early morning light.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

True blue

I don't think I have ever met anyone who doesn't like blue in flowers, and I have met a good many people who are crazy about it. Meconopsis, Delphinium and Gentian are three genera that have a sort special cachet for their true blues. And all three have their "issues" that make them somewhat problematical for many to grow them. Meanwhile, Veronica spreads vast mats and positive carpets of true and dazzling blue, and no one seems to notice.

There are pink and even white veronicas, and they have their place. But most veronicas are a clear, pure blue. And most are very accommodating. The genus (including a few bona fide weeds) seems to really thrive in Colorado, and I have written for Fine Gardening and elsewhere about some of the commoner sorts.

But right now the queen of the genus (or one of the royalty anyway) is in peak bloom in my garden, and I thought I'd share a picture of it: Veronica bombycina var. bolgardaghensis is a rather long name for such a compact plant, but so be it.

When I began rock gardening a long time ago, Veronica bombycina was a rare and elusive alpine I actually grew on several occasions. The only form grown once was the Lebanese form, with pale flowers and narrower leaves. This and another subspecies were introduced over the last few decades by several Czech seed collectors: I believe my seed came from Josef Jurasek. It is the form growing on Bolgar Dag (as reflected in its name) in the Cilician Toros mountians. It is a high alpine crevice dweller there, but in Colorado it grows in almost any well drained site in a sunny rock garden or trough. And if you find a good spot, it seems to settle down: both specimens photographed today and posted here have been in the garden for five or ten years and show no sign of slowing down.

I love my gentians, dote on my delphiniums and wish I could grow more Meconopsis (horrida is the only one that seems to like us, and it's monocarpic!). But I love my veronicas, and they (bless their blue little hearts) seem to requite the love!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Coming full circle: Iris orchoides blooms for the first time in my garden

Juno irises have enjoyed quite a vogue for some time in Britain: the Scottish and Alpine Garden Society journal's have scrumptious pictures of huge clumps in full bloom on show benches. You must go to considerable lengths to grow a juno iris in a pot. We have almost the same climate in Colorado that juno iris experience in Asia, so mine are just planted out in a dry garden. Fortunately, they seem to like it. I received this as a seedling several years ago from Beaver Creek greenhouses, and it has finally built up the stores to bloom.

I collected seed of several forms of this iris last autumn in Kazakhstan: It is an act of faith to grow these from seed, since they can take five or more years to bloom. It is worth the wait. I photographed this gem in several qualities of light: which one do you prefer?

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