Monday, October 31, 2011

I can almost smell the pungent...

... aromatic tang of the karoo in my nostrils when I look at this miniature gem: Arctotis adpressa has haunted me for nearly two decades. Unquestionably the hardiest of its genus, I first found it forming a huge mat (2 m. across!) on top of Hantamberg, in January of 1994: I scrounged a few dubious looking seedpods, and of course, they did not germinate. I found it again here and there along the Roggeveld plateau, where it is not terribly rare..but always in off season until a decade or so ago when I obtained some fresh seed that grew for Bill Adams of Sunscapes, the only nursery in the world that propagates and sells this that I know of (except, of course, for a few garden centers in the Denver area that buy this from Bill).

I am sure as I type this that tens and thousands of mats of this are blooming gloriously in the high Komsberg, on the ridges of the Niewveld mountains, on those magical high places of the High Karoo where I have spent just a few days now and again, and which nevertheless are branded on my memory and haunt my sleep. If I could only muster a few extra lifetimes, I would gladly spend one or two of them up there, in the wind, with that incredible biodiversity of bulbs, succulents, little shrubs and herbaceous treasures everywhere.

The picture above was taken last year at Denver Botanic Gardens. The one below at a private garden in Golden where it thrives.

I have a few husky specimens in my garden at home (not enough): like so many other gems I have collected, this hovers on the fringes of cultivation in America, and is by no means certain to persist. You should get one from Bill next spring! He sells them far too cheaply.

Some say autumn is a lovely season, and I guess I have to agree. The fall color was spectacular this year. But if I were a rich man, I would be treading the Eriocephalus and wandering the kloofs and koppies of the Great Karoo right now...and perhaps forever.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Improbable crosses

Can an alligator really have crossed with a waterlily and planted its progeny in the Chihuahuan desert? There are those plants that have a certain manna. You can't really call yourself a rock gardener until you have had your first feeble flower on blue Meconopsis, your giant wands on Saxifraga longifolia, or killed a few Eritrichium or Dionysia! No self-respecting Irisarian would be without an Aril iris or two, or clumps of Iris tectorum in the woods...and let's add a few clumps of 'Beverly Sills'. For us succulent types, there are a number of "touchstones": one surely is those outlandish Chihuahuan cacti that look more lizardy than cactoid: Ariocarpus fissuratus is surely one of these...

As President of the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society, I need all the street cred I can muster. I know, I know, I may have invented Delosperma for all intents and purposes as a garden plant, and I have grown a few hundred (or thousand) hardy succulents in my day, but it's these tender things that give you credibility...the reward for schlepping out all summer, and then bringing them in again is their miracle flowers you can enjoy up close on the window sill as the season transitions abruptly outside the window: last week there were dozens of flowers still making a spectacle in the garden. 8" of snow and temps down to 14F have put an end to that nonsense!

There I am: proud papa! And did I mention that Mammillaria plumosa has been blooming for the last few months? And Lithops? I can wield the gavel at our next meeting with renewed authority! Hold the applause!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Three wild and crazy guys!!!!!

I don't have a CLUE who took this. I suspect we must have taken the picture in Mexico, on the fateful trip Paul Maslin, Baldassare Mineo and I all took to collect the Chihuahuan phloxes way back in October of 1981--almost precisely three decades ago. It was about the time that Steve Martin and Dan Akyroyd invented those intrepid Brothers, although I daresay we were seeking Mexican phloxes rather than American foxes...our taste was nearly as brash in retrospect.

I scanned a hundred or so old pictures like this of friends and acquaintances that I would like to bring out of the land of boxed transparencies into the new digital realm.

The pictures have brought forth a tsunami of remembrance and nostalgia. There I was at 31, relatively svelte. Of course, Baldassare is still svelte and remarkably similar nowadays (he no doubt has a hoary portrait in his closet). Little did I imagine thirty years ago that this would be the last big trip I would take with my mentor, Paul, and that a few years later he would develop brain cancer and die in February of 1984.

I have a very few other pictures of Paul, to whom I owe so very much. The one above is from our first trip in 1978 (if you look carefully you can see Phlox 'Mary Maslin' to the left of him!) Would I had taken many, many more pictures and notes and paid better attention to this greatest of Colorado gardeners of the 20th Century. Oh, if I could only bring him back to see Denver Botanic Gardens. I can imagine few things on earth I would rather relive than my trips to Chihuahua with Paul. To hear his gentle voice and chuckle and listen to his stories one more time...

Phlox 'Mary Maslin'

Phlox lutea 'Paul Maslin'

Oh yes...and I'd like to have these phloxes back too (which I once grew in vast swaths...)

Times do indeed change.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light! Celebrating endless autumn....

Fireworks goldenrod in the O'Fallon Perennial border a few weeks ago: what a great plant! And what an amazing autumn: on and on and on it goes...ordinarily we would have had at least one, maybe two dustings of snow by now and hoar frost at least. They predicted hard frost tonight and tomorrow night, and now maybe not. Gotta love Colorado! You NEVER know what to expect!

Found this self sown sporeling of Pellaea atropurpurea growing on solid Limestone in the Rock Alpine Garden a few days ago. I wonder if one out of 100 visitors notices (despite the fact it is at eye level)....maybe one out of 1000? Would you?

Many is the year this Hosta tardiflora would have been fried by now. Come to think of it, Bergenia ciliata right next to it shows a bit of damage, so the Rock Alpine Garden (which is a frost pocket and gets the first frost anywhere in Denver) has been kissed by the Frost goddess...but not enough to fry this yet.

I blogged about this elsewhere, but can't resist yet another shot of this stunning grass introduced by Scott and Lauren Ogden from central Texas: it is obviously a huge winner: Muhlenbergia reverchonii. I regret to say it is not a plant for dry gardens (it grows in my unwatered border but will not bloom much): not that this matters much. 99.9% of Colorado gardens are horribly overwatered...Sheesh! What will it take to wake people up?

I end with a closeup of Aconitum carmichaelii...or is it A. henryi? Or A. cammarum? I have seen a dozen names attached to this giant, late autumn blooming gem from East Asia. Whatever the name, few plants are more majestic or gratifying in the dying ember of the growing season...

I, for one, rejoice in this sempiternal fall. I feel about winter as Dylan Thomas does about "that Good night" in one of the greatest poems of the English Language:


Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Last Love

Love at the closing of our days
is apprehensive and very tender.
Glow brighter, brighter, farewell rays
of one last love in its evening splendor.

Blue shade takes half the world away:
through western clouds alone some light is slanted.
O tarry, O tarry, declining day,
enchantment, let me stay enchanted.

The blood runs thinner, yet the heart
remains as ever deep and tender.
O last belated love, thou art
a blend of joy and of hopeless surrender.

-Fyodor Tyutchev

I remember when the horticultural staff at Denver Botanic Gardens would practically dance snow dances to hasten killing frost this time of year: they were so tired of dead-heading annuals, I suppose, and were waiting for...what? Death I suppose? Nothingness?

Winter may have it's threadbare appeal...but don't we have time enough for that? Although Tyutchev undoubtedly had an aging couples romance (rather like Antonio Machado's Guiomar poems)--love so deep, so tender that young love pales by comparison...It is a bit dramatic to say I feel that way about the growing season. But I do: they are predicting killing frost Tuesday night, and I shall drink in the banks of Salvia splendens I saw the other day on my commute with passionate ardor! A few glimpses of a few of Denver's terrific annual plantings around town (mostly torn out, I fear, by now...why are they in such a rush?)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hardy in Cortez? Salvia guaranitica? Get real!

I took this picture last Saturday at the truly amazing home and garden of David and Pati Temple who live in an enchanting and remote canyon 16 miles from Cortez. The plant is Salvia guaranitica, native to warm temperate and subtropical South America (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil specifically). It is generally regarded as marginal, even in Zone 7 (maximum lows above 0 Farenheit). This plant has survived 4 winters here and come back strong (as you can see it is a husky individual). Yes, yes, I's on a south wall, and it is Southwesternmost Colorado. But they do get winter, and last winter was fierce!

I should not have been so surprised that this made it for the Temples: we have grown Salvia uliginosa for years in Denver, which has a similar range in nature. Needless to say, I asked them to save seed for us to work on this seemingly hardier strain....

While I'm showing off the Temple's Salvias, it would be wrong, wrong, wrong if I didn't post this picture of Salvia darcyi, practically the size of a Smart Car, growing a few feet away. Wonders never cease! Few places I know are as wonderful as this Trail Canyon paradise....aaaaaaah.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gem of a garden

A cloudy, blustery day in October is hardly the time to visit or photograph a garden, but there are those who are up to the task! I had visited Lisa and Drew Bourey's gem of a garden a half dozen years earlier (in September that time) and was anxious to see it again. Like all plantsmen's gardens, this one is multidimensional: I can only imagine what it must be like in the magical months when there are hundreds of flowers everywhere. But autumn has its compensations, like the heavy fruit set on the Pyracantha espalier!

Durango is not just in Southwest Colorado, it is a beacon in the Southwest! I think this may be one of the great gardening climates, judging by the astonishing array of plants not just in the Bourey garden, but everywhere. What impressed me most about this area is that the plants LOOK good right now after a very hot summer: the cool nights at the relatively higher elevation are no doubt part of the reason. And more reliable snow cover. I love the melting tones of the zinnia with the casual purple Amaranth (Lisa had cut the giant purple amaranths the night before: they had predicted 23F and of course it didn't freeze at all!)...

This is, of course, a modest sized lot in a city neighborhood: my pictures just catch a few glimpses here and there: I love the way the Snow in Summer Euphorbia (E. marginata) picked just the right spot to come up!

This is a native around Denver, and yet we hardly ever see it in gardens hereabouts. I was surprised to find it grown in Kazakhstan, and in Europe it is a popular passalong plant: and here it is growing with debonaire charm on the West side of the divide...where it isn't native!

I forgot to ask which Carex this is...but I think it is particularly enhanced with the lush, green spread of Geranium magniflorum in front of it. Lisa made much use of this woefully neglected Plant Select offering, which warmed the cockles of my heart (I collected this with Jim Archibald in the late 1990's on Joubert's pass)...

Two enviable specimens: a gargantuan blooming Sedum cauticolum, and next to it one of the biggest Pelargonium endlicherianum I have ever seen: I would love to see that one in bloom! Plantsmen's gardens are above all about plants themselves, their intrinsic majesty and beauty, but these gardens are also about juxtapositions and combinations and a story. In this case, Lisa has decades of experience with plants a nursery manager at a local garden center, as the leading landscape designer in Durango. Her husband, Drew, obviously shares much of her enthusiasm, and is no horticultural slouch! He takes the initiative with the large collection of succulents scattered throughout (check out his blog: you can see evidence of his and Lisa's formidable photographic skills)...and read about a man who lives his dreams!

A few more vignettes from here and there in the garden: isn't this a great way to show off the seedheads of Allium christophii?

A cloudy, chill October morning, yet this garden entranced me: I could tell that Lisa and Drew and their kids have endless fun there. Despite the small size in square feet, it really seemed endless in its convolutions: what a great place for kids to grow up! I doubt I have seen more great plants superbly grown in such a small area, nor more imaginitive design. I nominate the Bourey garden as the epitome of the Colorado garden: rich, varied and lovely year around!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Zillions of zany zinnias!

" set budding more later flowers for the bees
Until they think warm days will never cease
for summer hath oerbrimm'd their clammy cells."

Ode to Autumn, John Keats

We rarely have mists although mellow fruitfulness is apropos. The last few autumns we have had such a promising beginning: I have all the windows open (it's 5:30 AM) on October 5--it is almost summery in coolness with just a nip of fall. Although cooler weather is predicted in a few days...

My last blog showed a sumptious Salvia at the Gardens at Kendrick Lake (that Lakewood wonderland I have not yet truly done justice to on this blog--I just show snippets here and there of the many treasures there)...that garden is quite spectacular this time of year with literally dozens of plants in full glorious bloom. None are more lavish in their display than our modest Zinnia grandiflora,

I say "our" advisedly: the late Andrew Pierce, whom I have eulogized recently, insisted that he and I introduced this to Denver Botanic Gardens early in the 1980's on a field trip he and I took to Phantom Canyon. I am happy to take credit for this introduction (our accession files should tell the tale): I wonder if this might not be the earliest evidence of its being cultivated--at least locally? I suspect Plants of the Southwest must have offered it in the sixties and seventies...

I think each of these pictures is actually taken of a different spread of zinnia at Kendrick Lake. We grow this at DBG and I had a fine spread in my own home xeriscape, but our's are not quite so lusty. The finest planting ever was (and I suppose still is) at Centennial Park, once an outpost of DBG which we sadly released to oblivion...perhaps I shall share pictures of that one day.

What can I tell you about this zinnia? Common throughout southernmost Colorado southward to Mexico, throughout the Chihuahuan uplands (it could almost be the mascot of the Chihuahuan steppe/desert). It often begins to bloom in late spring, and lasts through the summer (older flowers turning parchment yellow and papery) so it presents the same sort of floral show one would want of an annual. Except this plant is totally drought tolerant, and will grow in the stickiest clay with equanimity.

Some time in the late 1980's I wrote an article about this plant for the Denver Post: I remember getting angry calls and notes from local nurserymen who of course were caught with their pants down: you see, it was not being produced commercially at the time and customers were demanding it after reading my piece. I learned a lesson there! That was a lesson I took to heart! One or two local nurseries are growing this now (Little Valley Wholesale Nursery and Country Lane spring to mind) so Plant Select should really revisit this plant.

It belies' Robert Frost's wonderful short poem, "Nothing gold can stay" which I read to conclude my eulogy for my dear friend Andrew's memorial service on Monday night. This is gold that indeed stays and lasts and blooms its zany head off for months and months.

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