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!


  1. that you have made me seriously homesick for the Bay Area (hardly ever occurs) and made me mournfully miss the likes of plant buds TK and Annie-bannanie, along with all things CA plant-related, well, I don't know where to go from here...

    Good thing I like you so much, Mr. K. Very happy your times there were good :>]]

  2. You ARE sweet! I have visited the Bay seemingloy at least once a year (sometimes twice or more yearloy) for over a half century. I has never ceased to delight me. I lived there one summer...and it has done much to forge my love of plants and my character. It is my home away from home! Sounds like we have yet another bond...

  3. It was my home for a long time. I think my forge might have been quite big - bigger than I admit most of the time. That's ok, isn't it. Often we have to be away from a previously loved thing to really SEE said thing. And I do think that plants can bind us in ways that we have no control over, HA!

  4. If you had stayed longer, you could have visited ALL your friends ... Oh, that would require you actually living here full time ...

  5. There may still be remnants of the Clerodendron on the south side of the berm on the south side of the R/A garden at DBG in Denver. I kept one alive for two years but it finally succumbed to cold and too much shade.

  6. Darn it, Jim: how could you have noticed it and I have missed it? If I was the one who planted it so much the worse!

    I was tempted to ask to crash at Novato, Saxon, but the road on the map seemed a tad long (and I was behind the eight ball as usual)...I thought of you as I whizzed by. Next December you may not escape my clutches (or visit to be more precise)...


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