Thursday, September 29, 2011


A year ago I blogged about Salvia pachyphylla (pssst! You're supposed to click on where I said "blogged"...I have a hyperlink that will call up that very blog). I am publishing this blog for several reasons: first off to show you the very same plant growing at the Gardens at Kendrick Lake exactly one year later. Several things should stand out if you compare the two pictures:

1) they were taken at different times of the day, so the plants look really DIFFERENT, even though I swear on a stack of bibles it's the same individual.
2) This is one hell of a clone. Definitely deserves to be propagated and named. (Hint).
3) The aster in last year's picture is missing: Greg Foreman tells me some yahoo dug the sucker up (i.e. stole it). I think that is a very sad commentary on humanity.
4) One of the greatest things that have happened in my life is to be party to the introduction of such stunning plants to general cultivation. Life is good: even though jerks steal plants.
5) Greg Foreman, his incredible colleagues and Kendrick Lake Gardens are among the loveliest people and places on Planet Earth.

I've written more than enough about this Salvia. I have seen it at any number of local nurseries this autumn (even though people tell me it is hard to find). It is worth any effort to obtain and grow--especially those blessed with pedocals and exposed gardens. It is the OFFICIAL plant of Lakewood, Colorado (a very wise town indeed). There are those who dislike the extremely aromatic, pungent (and did I mention fragrant?) foliage: bruise a leaf and you can smell it for yards and for hours. I think it smells terrific. Why are we pumping metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere every few minutes (shame on you, Republicans, for denying manifest truths like evolution and global warming), endangering a fragile planet and our future we are lucky enough to share this sacred earth with salviapaloozas like this. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Scare the shepherds! Colchicums!

Colchicum "Big Sucker"

I read somewhere that the Spanish call Merendera pyreneica (now Colchicum pyreneicum) "Espanto pastores" ("Scare the shepherds") because when they begin to bloom it means snow is not too far C. pyreneicum bloomed last week, and I forgot to take a picture of it, but I have realized that just as you can spend years going through classes, noticing that one who always would sit in the back, and then suddenly one day you realize you are in love, so too have I fallen in love with these diaphanous, predictably vigorous and utterly wonderful Colchicums! No, it's not really its cultivar name: I am not sure which big sucker is blooming like crazy under the Crabs here at work. I have something similar lighting up my garden here and there: I can tell I will be figuring it out soon (love leads to enlightenment you know...)

Of course everyone knows 'Waterlily' I planted three many years ago and these are now huge clumps I should have divided last July. I shall divide them NEXT July for sure, and sell a few (at their current cost that might pay off my debts)...I just planted a single, fluted corm of its pure white congener ('Alboplenum'): how many years before THAT is all clumpy like know it's autumn when these poke up!

This is Colchicum filifolium which I featured in a blog a long time ago. I took this picture last spring (it is an early spring species)...I must have a dozen or more of these tiny colchicums planted everywhere, some bloom in early spring and some in the Autumn. I never paid much attention to them in the past, but this year I find them consumingly fascinating and wonderful! Aaaaah, love! Ain't it grand? Those lucky shepherds! Can't you just see them cowering as they tiptoe through acres of these?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I know very well I could not

I have been writing a few too many memorials in recent years. I suppose when you enter your seventh decade (a grim way of saying I'm 61 years old) you can expect to lose friends. Most recently, it was Andrew Pierce, a much loved and ubiquitous presence in our regional horticultural scene, and most importantly to me, my friend.

If you click on that link you can read a short tribute I wrote in another Blog I contribute to about the man, or a very cursory allusion to a few of his contributions to my workplace. No memorial can capture the true essence of the day to day interactions over the years that accrue to create a friendship.

How could I begin to encapsulate nearly forty years of interactions with an individual with whom I had nearly daily contact with during much of that interval? When the terrible telephone call comes, and you choke back the tears and start philosophizing, you try not to be too overwhelmed with the reminiscinces that begin to jostle your memory. Andrew bringing me coffee as I worked in the Rock Alpine Garden and telling me to stop for just a minute, and chat. Andrew driving me up to his home when I was a bachelor, for dinner with his wife and kids (I would stay overnight almost every week at least once at his home in the early nineteen eighties), for friendship of course, but also because he wanted his young solitary friend to have some companionship. He felt sorry for my bachelorhood. And I was a bit lonely to tell the truth at that point in my life.

The many memories over the years of the distinctive laugh, the lunches at work, the lunches here and there all around Denver over the years, the banquets, the hikes on Mt. Evans, on Horseshoe Mountain, on Squaw Peak...

All the meetings we attended together, and the strolls in gardens. The countless hours spent in one another's presence. Hundreds and hundreds of conversations and interactions down through the mirrored hallways of reminiscence. How utterly one takes one's friends for granted.

Suddenly he is gone. Of course, one mourns one's friends for themselves. But John Donne tells the terrible truth that no man is an island, and what we also mourn is the loss of love, and half that love is directed to you and that half is now missing. You love your friend, but that friend loved you, and that you feel profoundly diminished because all the memories you cherish were reciprocated, and the other half is abruptly gone. It is we who are ineluctably halved thereby. No wonder we hurt.

This year I have lost so many people who knew me as no one else ever shall. They knew and loved me as no one else can ever quite accrue: for decades, from my youth, through my entire middle age and on the threshhold of my old age. These are the selfish thoughts that those of us who are, perhaps, a bit too reflective, whose complicated lives are prone to thinking strange thoughts.

Andrew had been losing his hearing for years due to meningitis as a young man, and a few years ago somehow miraculously began to hear quite well (an operation? new apparatus? Why can't I remember? How I marvelled at it and rejoiced for him)...but like all gardeners he was visual in the extreme. He created innumerable gardens in his life, many like Hudson and Denver Botanic Gardens were highly conspicuous and extensive. I could dredge up no end of appropriate images for him. But I find words are a greater salve for me when I suffer loss. Especially poetry. The Donne poem always reverberates in my heart when I experience loss. When my mentors pass (and I have had a few) Whitman's "Oh Captain" comes to mind, and I begin to hear the words echo in me. For Andrew, however, I think a sprig of oak with some clinging Spanish Moss says much of what is making me ache so much tonight, keeping me awake at 2:00AM remembering sweet days--decades really--of companionship. And feeling very sorry for myself.

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing
by Walt Whitman
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder'd how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there
without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it and
twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana
solitary in a wide in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I was labeling slides from this past summer and saw this iconic image of my work place (an icon in and of itself): I'd already forgotten the day I took it. But it is fresh enough a memory that I can recreate the day and remember something about it, other than the floriferous border and classic conservatory shot. The angle and the composition is better than any others this year: this is a keeper I shall use in talks. It will become a symbol, as it were, of a symbol.

The Rocky Mountains (Horseshoe Mountain in the Mosquitos to be precise) and Jan Fahs, my girlfriend. Two of the most pervasive icons in my life: I live in the shadow of the Rockies, and watch them morning, noon and evening every day. Jan is the one I spend most time with and have chosen to be my companion. Both loom large in my life, like the Pantocrator in a byzantine chapel. Large icons indeed!

I took this picture of Iris missouriensis a few months ago on a fishing trip with my two kids (my own personal symbols). Each year I make a point of seeking out this iris, and some years I may see it on five, ten, fifteen or more mountains almost anywhere in the West. I also have grown it and we have lusty plants at DBG. It is one of the many touchstones in my life: icons as it were. I have enormous volumes of reminiscences around this plant: around every plant. Plants are my icons and gardens are a sort of cathedral for me...just what does that mean?

These are my two kids, Jesse and Eleni. They have flown the coop (he to school in Arkansas, she to New York City). They are living reliquaries that contain large, pulsating chunks of my heart, where my dreams and hopes reside . They are leading their own separate existences far from me, although they stay in touch and come and live with me now and again, although I fear the gaps between their visits will inevitably extenuate. My thoughts about them are tender, complex and utterly different from my plant obsessed work and play life. For me, they are perambulating images with minds, hearts and feet of their own that wander farther and farther away it seems. Like all parents, I revere them with a sort of religious fervor....

Late in the summer every year the Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii) blooms prolifically here and there, all around Denver Botanic Gardens. It has become iconic for me as well: a flamboyant symbol of the magnificence of the waning growing season. A token of tender-seeming plants that are quite durable (at least at the Gardens!). An evocation of the Pampas whence it comes. Argentina! that silvery land of promise in the Southern Hemisphere, where Borges and the Andes, tango, gauchos and so much else romantic is encapsulated in this outlandish, utterly magnificent plant.

Our lives are every bit as iconic as the Byzantine churches that perdure millenia in Arta, in Thessaloniki, Constantinople, Daphni. At Hosios Loukas, not to mention Sicily and Ravenna. Above all, let us not forget Saint Catherine's on Mt. Sinai. Of course for the couple dozen mosaic churches that remain, there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands that collapsed in earthquakes, that were burned in sieges, bombed in wars, scraped by infidels or knocked down by change. I would like to think there may be one or two out there lurking, plastered over, perhaps. Undiscovered in Phrygia or Cappadokia.

We light the candle, and for an instant a flash of recognition glimmers from the tesselated wall.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Basking in the glow (still)...Suncrest Nursery

It's been over a week now, but I'm still basking in the glow of a really fabulous visit to the Bay area...judging by the amazing crunch of people at the rent-a-car complex, everybody else in America knows what a great destination San Francisco is (I couldn't believe the lines). In fact, as I was waiting in the Budget line two very impatient foreigners tried to cut in front of the patient American throngs. Of course, they had to be Greek...they stormed out (probably looking to see if they could find a shorter line elsewhere), but came back later with their tails between their legs, so to speak. I struck up a conversation with the husband: the Greek-American wife was here on business (American diplomatic service, actually!), he a tag along for vacation...he had a Cretan accent, I asked him where he came from. Wouldn't you know, it's a village not far from my father's birthplace, the beach town of Kalives where I spent many an enchanting weeks as a kid. Of course, we ended up knowing a lot of people in common. If we'd spent more time together, we would have probably found out we were cousins!

What I ought to be talking about is Suncrest Nursery: I don't think I have found more spectacular landscape plants I could use in Colorado anywhere ever before in such a short period of time. The place is huge: dozens of acres. They are noted for their native Californians. We got that mindboggling Monardella macrantha from them, for instance. They grow an unbelievable range of plants from trees and shrubs to all manner of perennials, succulents and bulbs. Nevin Smith is their horticultural mastermind (he was visiting daughters up north), and he hooked me up with Ginny Hunt, of Seedhunt, who works at Suncrest three days a week and has an amazing grasp of the place. Her seedlist rocks, by the way. I've known Ginny for decades: she is one of America's premier plantspeople. Nevin is obviously a horticultural wizard. I wish I had taken a picture of Ginny (she is very photogenic). I wish I had taken a jillion more pictures, and worked at it (these do not do the place justice). I snapped a few, and am sharing these with the proviso you not judge Suncrest by them. They were placeholders to remind me to go back this winter and bring back stock plants of Agastache and Salvia greggii cvs. to plant next spring in my garden. Suncrest has a dozen or more unique Agastache, all of them stunners. I liked the orange one very much (above) and the pale one below: these would make spectacular additions to the Butterfly hyssop palette of Denver (where we almost invented these as major horticultural attractions: it is such a trip to see huge clumps of them this time of year as I drive around my native town here!)

Fortunately, I took at least ONE picture of a Kniphofia (they had a ton of them, but this is one I have yet to try and took a picture to remind me to get one. It's K. thompsonii, from central Africa, and not likely to be hardy, but we need to at least try. And they had spectacular clumps of these--they had to be 6' or more tall. For just a few bucks! Sheesh! How to get them back in my luggage!

Then there were the Salvia greggii and S. microphylla block. Literally dozens of selections of these, most of them crosses made by Nevin. The flowers were huge, and they were just awesome. I wish I had a truck to get a sampling of these: I can just TASTE them on my big West Ridge in my Xeriscape (where I have several greggii blooming now as I type)....if these prove as hardy as 'Furman's red' or 'Wild thing' they would trump these in the market place. And those have been cash cows for the local garden centers. I don't think Nevin has tried to patent any of these: Plant Select could make a MINT on any of them...(Pat, are you listening?)...but whatever Plant Select does, I can assure you next autumn I will have these blazing away in my own garden...(insert all sorts of snorting and grunting sounds here)...Brawww hahhhh hhhhhaaaaaaaaaa!
Is this not the most luminous, moonlight, glowing yellow thing you've ever seen (a selection of Salvia "jamesii"--basically just yellow greggii). It comes from the same area in Nuevo Leon where S. darcyi, Scutellaria suffrutescens and Hedoma ciliolata all come from (all of which are hardy, and all of which I have blogged about--I'm too lazy to hyperlink these, sorry): I gotta go there before I get to be even older and more decrepit and check that area out...I'll bet there's TONS more good stuff around Galeana the Yucca do boys missed....(insert more grunts and snorts here). Get a load of this lovely pink one: me wanny! me wanny! (insert jumping up and down)

Just LOOK at these massive blocks: pinks next to yellows next to magenta: all under a wonderful slightly foggy light. Suncres,I love you! (Gawd, I admire production nurseries: how do they do it?)

Another pale yellow. We have GOT to get some hardy forms of these. I know that if I planted them out of gallons like this in late April they would all thrive in my big Xeriscape and bloom like crazy after each rain. And I have a hunch most of them will be landscape plants across most of America before too long. Nevin: you are amazing!

Twenty years ago they would think you were crazy if you suggested Salvia greggii was a hardy plant in much of America. Even in Denver, there are lots of great gardeners who struggle with it...not me: if you leave off the damn hose in late summer and harden them off (and put them in the right microclimate, needless to say), you can grow a wide suite of these. And of course, they are great even as annuals. We only have three or four cultivars growing at DBG: I can't believe my clever colleagues haven't figured out about these. My 'Hot Lips' (a microphylla from Southern Mexico for God's sake) has thrived for nearly a decade on the south side of my house, blooming for MONTHS AND MONTHS with its astonishing red and white flowers. It must be nearly 4' tall and wide. Is there one at DBG? (Do put on your best Belushi voice for this one.... )


Are any of my several dozen horticultural colleagues reading my blog? I doubt it. Oh well. They're young and have better things to do. But you can trump those clever youngsters by hightailing it out to Watsonville and loading up....

I'm already planning my raids next December and April. See you there!

P.S. Thank you again, Nevin and Ginny. You give Walters, Kurt and Pierre a run for their money... and have even more plants for sale I can't live without!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Plant heaven: Annie's Annuals...

I briefly mentioned Annie's Annuals in my last blog...well, that was cruel! If you do not know this unbelievable nursery, well, you are still in the Dark Ages and might as well go drink some Grog. The name is misleading: of course, they offer what has to be the most amazing selection of non-traditional annuals (i.e., what you could get from Park Seed Co. or the like) in America, and probably beyond. Things like a full range of California, Mediterranean and every other kind of poppy imaginable, really hard to get treasures. But they have all manner of perennials, bulbs, shrubs, trees and succulents: you name it! Don't expect anything common or humdrum: Annie grows only the best!

There are delightful display gardens everywhere, and containers galore...the next few images are to tantalize you with some of the specimen plants blooming late summer. Namely, a fabulous assortment of buckwheats...

Drool on!

I think just about everything at this nursery is grown at this nursery, mostly from seed. The quality and size of plants for the price have to be the horticultural bargain of the decade. Do restrict your budget before you visit. You will want far more than you can afford: even you too, Bill Gates!

I finish with a bang: Crassula coccinea modestly exploding in the succulent section. I first visited last December and was dazzled (how could it be so good midwinter?). I just checked it out at the end of the long California summer: just as dazzling. I suspect it will be like that no matter when you drop in. But if you are in the Bay area, do check them out. You will be as hooked as I've become (already planning my next visit in December, then next April....then next fall again....). Easy to find using their URL I listed above: here it is again:

I warn you, however. You will never again visit the Bay area without dropping in there. Annie and her crew ROCK!

Monday, September 5, 2011


Seedpod of Magnolia hypoleuca

I finally looked up the words of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah! and I confess, they are a complete disconnect from k.d.lang's haunting rendition of that classic which I was privileged to hear from the artist herself at a Botanic Garden's concert early in August. What does this have to do with California? The soaring harmonies of that song somehow colored my month, a scorching August culminating in a cool week in the Bay area. I shall share a few treasures of that week (during which you should have the golden notes of the song soaring to give you a sense of the utter quiddity of things...the textures of time are evanescent. Prose, rough to the touch, only hints at the magic of the moment. I nevertheless will try. Hallelujah!

Magnolia hypoleuca (see?)

Quarryhill has loomed big in my life the last few years. Bill McNamara (it's CEO and mastermind along with the late Jane Davenport) have created a stunning concatenation of East Asian plants (all of documented wild origin) on a steep hillside in the heart of Sonoma County. I first visited not long after they opened, almost two decades ago, and have gone there every few years since. No matter what season you visit, any month, any week, any day, dozens of exquisite plants will be in their peak bloom or foliage color or fruit. Not many public gardens can boast that! Bill received the
Arthur Hoyt Scott award this past spring: no recipient has ever deserved it more. Hallelujah!

To your left you have Ted Kipping. To your right, Clerodendron trichotomum, which has quietly haunted me for many years. I have seen this growing cheerfully in New England, which means this outrageous Oriental ought to be hardy in Denver in a properly prepared microclimate.... Getting back to Ted, he is my "B.B.C." (Brother By Choice): for decades we have wandered gardens and mountains and conferences together, sharing some of the most enchanting days in our lives...Hallelujah!

A closer look at the Clerodendron: the seedpods are even more entrancing...What astonishing transformations in a single taxon on this hallowed planet we are ineluctably despoiling...Hallelujah!

Fleurs-de-lis are not just the sacred blossoms of the French: here we have Iris ensata in its wild form ("spontanea"), the ancestor of the outrageous Higo iris of Japan, which resemble nothing so much as Majolica porcelein, with all the lustrous pastel tints characteristic of Chinese porcelein. I grew this svelte, elegant thing for years, and shared seed widely back in the 1980's. Decades have elapsed, and here it is in California, reblooming in late summer (they never did that for me in my godforsaken Steppe!) and taunting me with their memory. Hallelujah!

As the afternoon shadows lengthened and the light grew golden, the sizeable crowd of botanic gardeners gathered for drinks and delicious hors-d'oevres as a prelude to two days of Symposium on Plant Collecting at nearby Rohnert Park. Four past recipients of the Scott Medal were lined up for pictures: what a treat to be grouped with the likes of Peter Raven, Peter Del Tredici and William MacNamara respectively....Hallelujah!

At the summit of Quarryhill, overlooking the verdant, rolling Sonoma countryside there stands this monument with Tibetan prayer flags. Perhaps there is hope for us, for me. For us addled creatures addicted to Carbohydrates and Hydrocarbons. What are these botanic gardens, but cathedrals to Carbon, that chemical that is the basis of life itself, and yet which in excess may yet snuff out life as we know it? Hallelujah!

(Postscript...I fought and resented taking these 8 days away from hot, dusty Colorado to visit California and attend the APGA meeting. The meeting itself took several days, but packed into this week I spent a day at the University of California at Berkeley (launching the Jepson Herbarium monthly lecture series and reconnecting with a colleague, Andrew Doran, and meeting many interesting new people). I spent an enchanting afternoon [and a wad of cash] at Annie's Annuals (arguably, the most amazing garden center on Planet Earth). I drove to Watsonville in the fog and spent an incredible day at Suncrest Nursery with Ginny Hunt, another treasured friend of decades. (that is likewise arguably the best wholesale nursery on the planet). And did I mention that I spent much of the rest of the week with my B.I.F. (Brother In Fact--but I would choose him too!) George and my niece, Eleni Callas--wonderful repartee, eating his awesome gourmet food and drinking fine wines? You get the drift--I am truly blest and when it comes to the Golden State, all I can say is: Hallelujah!

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