Showing posts from November, 2011

Little lilies...the glacier and trout lilies

I've just been sorting images, and this picture I took last July between Aspen and Crested Butte on a wonderful trip I took with the Ratzeputz gang probably is about the best I did this year: I doubt if there has ever been a better summer for our mountains...although the show only really kicked in at higher elevations (in the northern half of the state to be sure) in mid July! It was an anno mirabili for sure! I realized gazing on this how emblematic plants are: no wonder they are the logo and symbol of so many things (e.g., War of the Roses, the Fleur de lis, the Colorado Columbine). I have touched on the Columbine elsewhere...but glacier lilies are every bit as redolent and resonant for me.

Throughout perhaps half the high mountains of Colorado (mostly the Western slope) glacier lilies grow in unbelievable profusion. I recall marvelling at them from my earliest childhood: I have spent goodly amounts of time through my life simply sitting among them and revelling in their amazing…

A very hoary Ironweed: Vernonia larseni

The ironweeds may be one of the largest genera of plants in North America: although the USA only has a dozen or two species (many of which look rather similar to one another) there are nearly 1000 species scattered across Eurasia, Africa and South America. Rather like Senecio and Aster, Botanists one day will likely try to hack this genus into smaller bits. There is something gratifying about seeing how a genus adapts over such a vast area. I was enchanted with several species of Vernonia I found on my late summer visits to South Africa, some of which rather closely resembled this one from the Big Bend: Vernonia larsenii has a rather restricted distribution in West Texas (and something tells me it isn't that common there even)...

Mike Kintgen must have put this in several years ago: this year it has produced a stunning sheaf of blooms that were very striking in late summer and fall, and continue to provide terrific color even now in late November. I have a hunch the show will go o…

November sonnet...

Sacred Earth

I confess I am quite particular
About my trees above all, and yes, books.
This season when brooding lenticular
Clouds loom above and the frenetic looks

Of shoppers tell me that winter solstice
Is nigh and the sun hides mostly from our gaze
I yearn for a Southern Hemispheric poultice
Exulting upside down in summer days.

The last few colchicums are spiting frost.
The first few snowdrops are pretending spring
Is not so far away, but I am lost
In winter’s chill embrace. Oh! hear her sing!

Shear clouds, sere fields, sad heart (for what it’s worth)
A clarity of light on sacred earth.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Huggable cacti

I attended my first meeting of the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society nearly a half century ago...believe me, I find that a lot scarier than you do. I hasten to assure you that I was very young. My brother-in-law, Allan Taylor took me along (he has just built his extensive cactus garden--another story, another blog)...

Over the years I would drop in from time to time when CCSS had speakers like John Trager of the Huntington, or Gordon Rowley, or Bruce Bayer. I grew hardy stuff, and Cactus clubs are really about tender things like Astrophytum myriostigma, Ariocarpus fissuratus and of course Mammillaria plumosa, featured above. [those first two are hyperlinks, if you missed it!]Somehow, I've gotten more and more "stuck on" cacti and other succulents (obligatory pun) that my windows are suddenly crowded with these tender (and paradoxically tough) little minions in winter and I find myself performing that potentially painful dance all succulent fanciers know only too well,…

A word may be stronger than man

Enough pictures! I want to share one of my favorite poems (sad to think Volodya would have expunged this post Onegin commentary)...This poem has cheered me up many a gray day. Khodasevich apparently really did live in a circular room.

Translation of Vladislav Khodasevich's "Ballada"
By Vladimir Nabokov


Brightly lit from above I am sitting
in my circular room; this is I--
looking up at a sky made of stucco,
at a sixty-watt sun in that sky.

All around me, and also lit brightly,
all around me my furniture stands,
chair and table and bed--and I wonder
sitting there what to do with my hands.

Frost-engendered white feathery palm trees
on the window-panes silently bloom;
loud and quick clicks the watch in my pocket
as I sit in my circular room.

Oh, the leaden, the beggarly bareness
of a life where no issue I see!
Whom on earth could I tell how I pity
my own self and the things around me?

And then clasping my knees I start slowly
to sway backwards and forwards, and soon
I am speaking in verse…

Dragons in the garden...the Dragon Arum anyway!

Time slips by almost imperceptibly, but it slips by. Some time in the 1990's I was working in the Rock Alpine Garden and a couple from Arkansas struck up a conversation...somehow the topic of the Dragon Arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) came up: this widespread Mediterranean is sold by mail order nurseries nowadays, but back then it was a sort of mythical plant that was not available commercially anywhere. The picture cannot begin to convey how elegant the leaves are, and how immense and striking the flowers are as well: they both can be nearly 2' long! Steve Marak asked if we'd grown it yet: well sort of! We'd gotten some seed that year form a European botanical garden and were nursing the plant along. He said he thought had a particularly hardy strain. It may have been a year or two later, even, but Steve eventually sent us a box full of a dozen or so fat roots late one summer. I planted these with some trepidation...worried I (or Colorado's fierce winters rather!) mig…

When is a weed a weed? Aristolochia clematitis!

You know you have reached a new plateau in horticulture when you dote on weeds. I'm not talking sow thistle (quite yet) or Cardamine oligosperma--two plants I will not likely ever cotton on to. It would take a super horticulturists to warm up to those accursed little poppers! There is something a bit sad, perhaps, when you grow fond of brown, tan, gray and black flowers. We Fritillaria fanciers I suppose are prone to occasional bouts of melancholia. I have been quite keen on Dutchman's pipes for some time now, although I only have a few species thus far in my garden. They are a pretty strange lot. Most have strangely shaped flowers in neutral tints. It took quite a while, but eventually tracked down Aristolochia clematitis and planted one out in the Rock Alpine Garden...perhaps fifteen years ago. It took it a while, but I am beginning to see why I was warned never to plant it! "It is a goddamn weed, man!". Since I still do not have it in my home garden, I cannot say …

Twenty years ago this year...

Delosperma sphalmanthoides

Twenty years ago this past year John Trager, curator of the desert conservatory at Huntington Botanical Garden, was visiting me at Denver Botanic Gardens. He was intrigued when I showed him a small, tufted mesemb I'd received the year before from John Lavranos: John had sent me some plants he'd collected on the summit of Komsberg Pass. He was amazed that I had succeeded with South African succulents outdoors in Colorado, and hoped he might add some plants to our palette....boy! DID he!

"Sphalmanthus resurgens" or Phyllobolus pearsonii?

One of he plants he sent looked a great deal like a white flowered mesemb I'd grown from Mesa Gardens years earlier called (at the's changed name since) Sphalmanthus resurgens: that's it above: they do look rather similar don't they? Do you blame me for thinking they were in the same genus?

John rooted the cuttings at Huntington, and when they bloomed, showed them to Steve Hammer, who im…