Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wallflower wonders

Wallflowers are one of those groups....lots of color, lots of variety and yet somehow overlooked. Taken for granted. This spring this amazing spectacle graced the San Juan trough in Wildflower treasures at Denver Botanic Gardens. The bronzy phase of our native Rocky Mountain wallflower (Erysimum asperum) is something I have admired here and there in the mountains. Usually a wand here and a wand there: nothing to write home about. Nothing to actually grow. But one of my colleagues (not sure which one) managed to get a pinch of seed, and several were planted out here and there.

To my astonishment, they have made terrific garden plants. You can't judge a plant by its looks in the wild, obviously. If this proves perennial, it will be treasure indeed! But even a biennial with this flower power (and long season of bloom) is worth growing. Our propagation staff produced many flats at the plant sale, so lots of our customers will be finding out if it works like this at home....including me!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Little iris

Certain plants forever retain their charm for me: I never seem to tire of Salvia, of bulbs, of succulents and high alpine cushion plants of almost any description. But nothing enchants me more than little iris. And of all the little iris I have ever grown, Iris tenuis, from the Clackamas and Molalla drainages of Mt. Hood just outside Portland has to be near the top of the list. This enchanting pot is in the hands of Karen Lehrer, Propagator and co-owner extraordinaire of Laporte Avenue Nursery, of the finest alpine nurseries in America. I sorely wanted to swoop that pot out of her hand...

But I can wait until she propagates it like she does so many other treasures...above is one of many forms of Iris ruthenica, which bloomed magnificently for me this year. I trod past countless thousands of this magnificent iris in the high Altai two years ago, and my few clumps here and there have gained a whole new level of association because of that.

The northern hemisphere is peppered with little irises: and seeking them out in their wild haunts, and growing them in my garden is one of the touchstones of my life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Venerability and vulnerability

I remember a few years ago an eminent plantsman from LA was visiting, and viewing our succulent collections commented that "there aren't that many venerable plants here": a put down if I ever heard one before. Venerability is not an American virtue, alas. I have always been so charmed and amazed at how the British value their homes the older they are: those with thatched cottages whose beams positively sag are the most envied of all. The Chinese and Greeks venerated the elderly (used to anyway: maybe they too have been corrupted by the fast, glitziness of modernity). I remember my middle aged uncle addressed my grandfather in the formal "You" (as opposed to the familiar thou one used almost all the time). There are still southern boys who say "Sir" to anyone a tad older than them, but that's not quite the same, somehow. A sense of respect transcending mere convention should be the dues paid to venerability.

I drove past this amazing Artemisia tridentata in a shopette close to my home years ago. Now each time I go nearby, I make a point of driving by it and admiring its hoary sculptural trunk--something you can't cook up in a day. If it were a tree, of course, it would take decades. one of the charms of sagebrush is that it hoaries up real quick. I have nearly a dozen pots around my garden with big sagebrush planted in them, waiting optimistcally for them to gnarl and age like this one, only portable.

Of course, there are ten trillion venerable sagebrush in the West: not exactly a novelty I know. Ranchers love to chain them down (just as they do the equally venerable pinon pines and junipers). Put a nice shopette on top of them, or sow to smooth brome, no doubt.

As I grow more venerable myself, I can only wonder.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Japanese gold: Hylomecon japonicum

I grew this stunning little Japanese poppywort many years ago in Boulder...and fitfully since. We had a flashy clump or two persist at the Gardens a few years, and like all good things, it disappeared (didn't propagate, you see). So what do you do when you have a great clump of something like this? There is only one good answer to a question like that: what you do is bust it up. This year I finally dug up almost half the plant for Karen Lehrer, and a chunk for Mike Kintgen. That's what you do if you want to keep a plant: give it away!

I am sure my show may be diminished for a year or so: but with some fresh compost in the hole, it will be sure to respond the year afterwards and thenceforward.

There are a few mail order sources for this gem: put it in part shade (mine is growing with lusty clumps of waterlily Colchicum and Iris cristata. Mark the spot they are growing (they go dormant in summer) and sit back and enjoy!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lucky star

Sometimes I think I was born under a lucky star. Less than two years ago I am in email correspondence with an eminent Succulent authority in Switzerland, and a picture of an astonishing scarlet Sedum booleanum is sent to me. Mexican. But hardy in Switzerland. Yeah right.

A few months later, I open a small envelope with four or five very petite cuttings. I put them in small pots and send a few Bill Adams (Sunscapes Nursery) way for safekeeping. I plant mine out last spring and they practically disappear among the pebble mulch. I forget about them.

Bill sends me this picture a few days ago from his greenhouse. What can I say? Wowza? Last winter it got down to -22F. What are the chances mine survived outside? I go out and check just in case....and there one is (one at least made it)...

I remember the day I saw Delosperma nubigenum open its first blossom on the Steppe slope of the Rock alpine Garden in late April 1981. Ditto D. cooperi a few years later (same slope, only June). I recall watching the first flowers open on Agastache rupestris in 1994: I know in my heart of hearts that the millions of plants in cultivation of these three items all emanate from those very plants I admired. Will booleanum follow suit? Stay tuned (it may take two or three years), but all I can say is that I thank my lucky stars.

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