Friday, December 30, 2011

Diminuendo: a year comes to an end....

Of course, the beginning and end of years is (or are) highly artificial boundaries. Nature never sleeps really...although our long winter (already several months slogging with five or six sizeable snows) does imply a sort of pause. Time to reflect. I naturally begin with a glimpse of my home rock garden, which gives me so much delight and which will be blooming gloriously again in a few months...nay! Weeks! (The first flowers always manage to peek out in January after all!)

Peering backward through the calendar year, and slogging in reverse alphabetical order, I can count my blessings phytologically, as it were. Each group of plants seems to embody some quality or feature. Veronicas seem to ratchet a bit up every year: most are very fine indeed, and some are simply divine like Veronica bombycina var. bolgardagensis. My British and European friends tell me this is not an outdoor plant for them, which gives me an extra measure of pride. I planted a husky plant of Veronica densiflora out this summer thanks to Bill Adams: the spectacular high alpine of the Altai mountains. Maybe I shall feature that next year this time? Veronicas are those gems that you take for granted, that are always there for you and show up special new traits, like old friends.

Phlox albomarginata has convinced me that I must rededicate myself to growing, loving and seeking out this fabulous group of American natives. Along with Penstemon and Eriogonum, Phlox is the special glory and vast treasure trove of alpine treasure unique to our country. I have a sneaking suspicion not many people have seen, grown or loved more of these than I have, and I intend to renew my vows to our triumvirate of treasures! I vow to find a few more species in each of these genera in nature or my garden this coming year!

Aaaah, South Africa. If I were wealthy, I would live there in November, December maybe up to March every year. And I would explore endlessly in the East Cape mountains and elsewhere. The six trips I have been blessed to take there have been summits in the mountain range of my life....lofty summits. This picture was taken in the Menter garden and conveys just a smattering of the magnificence of Kniphofia caulescens. My torch shall blaze for these and their compatriots until the day I die!

Irises and Salvias (I am eschewing the mints: they are simply too diverse and wonderful to encapsulate in a single taxon) are my bugabears. I can never have enough. Iris cycloglossa is miraculously sold by the Dutch for a very reasonable price nowadays. What a joke! This most magnificent of bulbous plants (Iris cycloglossa) is sold for a pittance, while sports stars are lavished millions: tell me that there isn't something amiss in the body impolitic? When I win the lottery and build my castle in the hills, I shall plant a parterre filled entirely with this.

There are people who don't love cacti. I pity the poor souls. I can't remember where I took this picture of this champion Echinocereus triglochidiatus, (there are quite a few superlative specimens of this in my own garden, Denver Botanic Gardens in in my friends' gardens). This may be from Kendrick Lake. I probably have twenty kinds of trig and coccineus, and it's not nearly enough. Certain plants (Eriogonum ovalifolium and Zauschneria californica spring to mind) are so wonderful and variable that you must have every form that you find. Most cacti fit into this catergory as far as I'm concerned!

I never met a daphne I did not lust for. Daphne x shytleri in two forms graces my garden (and my life). I possess perhaps sixty daphnes. Several have profound significance for me as they were gifts of dear friends. Four or five of my choicest came to me this past year from Bob Stewart, mere months before he died. He speaks to me each time I see them.Tell me plants don't bear a burden of great meaning, and carry it with unutterable grace (and fragrance in this instance). When I look at many plants, I see in them the associations of so many I have loved and lost. Miraculously, they live on, and can even be propagated and spread far and wide. What better immortality can we want than to be personified by a daphne...

I have not properly acknowledged woodies in my life. My first love was trees, and shrubs like this Cotoneaster multiflorus are not just the backbone of my gardens, but they are the companions and delight of my daily lilfe. This specimen is in DBG's Plantasia. I will not be content until I have a wonderful cascading mound of it of my very own....

I end with Corydalis shanganii ssp. ainii, a plant of great allure for me. There is something evocative and daring about combining sulphurous yellow and lavender pink. I visited the very valley where this plant originates in Kazakhstan in 2010, and the very next spring it bloomed for me. Tell me there is not a wonderful pattern in life.

The patterns in my life are many, but the amazing grace of plants constitute many of the leitmotifs and often the very substance of the tapestry. I am profoundly grateful for the gene flecked with chlorophyll in my chromosomes. And for those who share that gene!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

For we are most artistically caged

California is a lovely cage indeed! The view from Kristen McNany's lovely home in Palos Verdes where my girlfriend Jan is staying right now. Jan has never not spent Xmas in California, and this year is no exception. She called tonight to say there was another fabulous sunset (I took this one two weeks ago already). Los Angeles has more than its share of glorious sunsets this time of year.

Our view from Debra Lee Baldwin's wonderful guest quarters in Escondido. The Baldwin's made Jan and me feel utterly at home and Debra more than dazzled us with her garden, the gardens of two of the leading designers of San Diego and a sampling of nurseries a stone's throw from her house including the one below. The Escondido to Vista area has to be the succulent equivalent of Heaven: I can't imagine another place on earth with so many extensive and fabulous nurseries of all sorts, but especially for succulents.

Another of our wonderful California hostesses was Robin Parer, the undisputed royalty of Geraniaceae in North America (at the very least)...This is the second year that Jan and I have visited Robin and her husband Bill (who had only just arrived from a trip to visit crows in Hawaii--I kid you not). I could easily spend a lifetime at the Parer's and I doubt that I could exhaust their phenomenal library, not to mention Robin's gourmet repasts! We visited her nursery in Richmond yet again, taking away some treasures. Robin drove Jan and me out to Tamales bay for a wonderful oyster lunch and a hike out on to this point, another vista peering out to the Pacific.

Finally a glimpse of San Francisco from Kristen's wonderful home in Sausalito where we dropped in for an open house the Sunday after her daughter Britt was married. If, as Nabokov suggests, we are indeed caged artistically, what a commodious and lovely cage California comprises in December. I came back to a sere, windy, cold Colorado. Enough said...These still warm memories linger nonetheless.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Geranium magniflorum: underappreciated and then some...

Few plants are more useful in the garden than geraniums. I have patches of geranium I planted decades ago that cheerfully persist with little fuss or bother, providing masses of flowers in season, often with a second season of fall color and of course months and months of just plain great foliage. I just spent a few days with Robin Parer, the proprietor of Geraniaceae, and I shall blog about her wonderful nursery anon (once I download the images) but my visit with her reminded me of this amazing South African gem: Geranium magniflorum. If you click on that hyperlink you will see that this plant is being promoted by Plant Select, and several of the nearly sixty cooperating wholesale nurseries produce it...well, I believe they do. There's this little problem you see...

Despite the fact that this plant is incredibly cold hardy (South African pedigree notwithstanding: it's tough as nails!)...despite the fact that it has the most finely dissected foliage of a lustrous green that is soundly evergreen (unlike most geraniums that die down in winter) albeit it takes on lustrous, purple tones in winter...despite its stunning display of lavender salvers over a long season...despite its resemblance to the very similar (and very tender) Geranium incanum-- a mainstay in subtropical gardens--

This plant has somehow missed the mark. People just don't get it. I suspect part of the problem is the Latin name: "magniflorum" sounds a tad too much like "magnificum", the latter being a buxom Asian, with coarse foliage by comparison and large lavender flowers that last a bit too short of time. EVERYBODY has grown G. magnificum, but hardly anybody grows G. magniflorum, and more 's the pity. There are spectacular plantings of this all over Denver Botanic Gardens and the Gardens at Kendrick Lake. And up at PERC in Fort Collins: what are we to do about this pitiful state of affairs?

I guess I am a tad too attached. After all, I collected the first seed of this on my 1997 March trek to South Africa with Jim Archibald. It was one of hundreds of fantastic plants we collected back then on that amazing occasion. And it deserves to be known! Do put it on your want list for this coming year: there are lots of places you can get it...mail order check Laporte Avenue Nursery or one of the many wholesale sources at Plant Select if you represent a retail nursery. Let's get this wonderful plant out there!

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