Thursday, June 23, 2011


Just a few days ago, as I hiked Gregory Canyon west of Boulder, I saw the common sulphur flower in its full glory. This is Eriogonum umbellatum v. umbellatum, the type form of the most universal of western buckwheats. There are those who don't like yellow in the garden: to them, I say "fiddlesticks" or "phooey!". Nature loves yellow, and lavishes it everywhere...There are dozens of subspecies of just this one species of buckwheat: I've grown nearly a dozen in my day. But these two forms are the ones that have stuck by me longest.

Here a month ago is the Western slope subspecies of E. umbellatum, var. aureum, in Wildflower Treasures garden.

This picture just taken a week or so ago shows why this is one of the great groundcovers: thrives in Denver with no supplemental water, but certainly loves it when it gets a bit. In a week or so this will turn a burnished orange, with reddish tints. Even the plant in seed is stunning. And of course the mat turns a burnished red all winter long.

The common sulphur flower is anything but common in its utility: it is a rare plant that delivers such a long season of glory for us, requiring so little attention or fuss. And it delivers gold in spadefuls. It always comes into fullest bloom around the solstice, reflecting the shimmering brilliance of the very sun when we enjoy the longest days and hours of golden light.

Yellow flowers? I say Hallelujah!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Flocks and flocks of phox

Few spectacles enchant me more each spring than the masses of creeping phlox that carpet the steppe, prairie, meadows and tundra of the West. Everyone knows the Eastern phloxes--the ones sold at every garden center. There are a half dozen species (or less) found east of the Mississippi, and these are pretty well known in garden centers and are certainly revered among rock gardeners. The dozens and dozens of species of Western microphloxes are another matter: they are wonderfully treated in a brand new monograph by Jim Locklear (do check out the hyperlink if you don't know this modern classic)...

But I have a quibble with this book: Jim lumps this luscious phlox shown above (and below) with the straggly Phlox longifolia found universally in the west. I don't deny they are related (after all, Twiggy and Dolly Parton could well be cousins). But for gardeners, Phlox grayi is THE Western phlox. These pictures were taken on the green roof (for Heaven's sake) at Denver Botanic Gardens new Children's garden. There are vast sweeps of the phlox that have been blooming for the better part of the last two months. And the variation is spellbinding.

I first obtained this phlox from Sonia Lowzow Collins, a wonderful gardener who lived in Showlow Arizona. My plants thrived a few years over twenty years ago and finally perished. I was thrilled when Allan Bradshaw recollected seed of this plant, and from his seed Laporte Avenue Nursery produced abundant plants, which found their way onto the Children's Garden last fall: these have thrived and bloomed prodigiously.

Among them are a few particularly stunning selections, like the one below...

A xeric phlox, with that sort of color, that blooms for months in the spring and reblooms in late summer: I don't know about you, but that sounds like a winner to me.

If you get by the Gardens in the next few weeks, you will see what I mean. Do make sure to check out the Children's Garden: it's not just for tykes. It's full of gorgeous rarities not found elsewhere at DBG (or at any other public garden in the world)...

Aaaah. What wonderful times these are!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dark beauty

Iris barnumae v. barnumae

Iris 'Oyez'

Various Arilbreds on East Ridge

There is a problem area in my garden we've dubbed East Ridge: not many choice or interesting things seemed to grow there because of the deep sandy soil and extreme dryness until one day when I put an arilbred on the slope. It waxed and thrived so (something arilbreds don't often do) I realized I'd inadvertently discovered a perfect spot to collect this marvellous group of plants. Two years worth of bonanzas from the Aril Society international, some trades and purchases, the slope now has dozens, maybe even a hundred or more plants established.

For the last month or more I have had the delight of watching a parade of aril and arilbred irises bloom along the length and breadth of East Ridge. The show is not over yet, but it's past its peak. We were blessed with incredibly cool, often rainy weather this past month, so the flowers lasted and lasted. One blossom lasted a whole week!

Although I am a devotee of the tiny and delicate beardless irises (in fact, most anything in that family enchants me), I grudgingly admit that Tall Bearded irises join peonies and roses as queens of garden sumptuousness. But when it comes to allure, the arils and arilbred irises are right up there with the sexiest aroids and orchids for sheer gorgeousness and exoticism.

You may have noticed that my posts have slowed to a trickle in the last month: I've been to busy worshiping these amazing plants. I am sad to see the show slow down and just can't wait till NEXT April now as the clumps increase and the show goes on again!

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