Thursday, July 28, 2011

Onions. Enough said.



Or has there been enough said about onions? Most chronic gardeners have tales to tell about them: like violets, onions tend to be either horrendous weeds or annoyingly hard to get going. There are no end of fairly dullish, weedy onions. But truth be said there are vast numbers of terribly choice, terribly distinctive and terribly hard to find species. Mark McDonogh, Allium guru of the World (I believe he has no peer) has championed onions much of his long, rich horticultural life. His Plantbuzz website has a whole section devoted to onions. He has written a two part article in the recent Rock Garden Quarterlies that are enough seduce even the biggest Onion-doubter.



I start this blog with an onion in seed: there are no end of seedy onions in my garden now, and this is as good of time as any to remind you to collect some seed: I managed every smidgeon of this particular plant, of which I have three portraits...







The first is of the plant in seed, the second two were taken in late spring when it was in bloom, one in oblique light, the other in back lighting. Conventional wisdom says flowers and garden should be taken in oblique light: it is somehow truer or honester or something like that. Backlighting is dramatic...true. But in a sunny climate like Colorado, drama is the norm! I wish I had photographed it in full sunlight at mid day too for comparison purposes...





What is this plant? I have had several determinations from several people. Mark believes it is a form of Allium tolmiei: it came to me as a Californian species under a different name. It is in the top handful of new treasures that have bloomed for me this year: any clue what it might be for sure? It is quite different from the other Allium tolmiei I have grown, albeit this could be a variable taxon.

And are you a backlighter or an obliquer?

Obviously, there can never be enough said about Allium!









Sunday, July 24, 2011

Summer (not so) dolrums

There was a time when July and August seemed interminable and dull. Not at the botanic gardens where I work (where summer has always been high season) but in my various home gardens. If I only grew a few more annuals, daylilies or giant phlox, perhaps things would be different. But alpines just seem to want to bloom in April and May (with some notable exceptions) and fall is a second spring. This, at least, has been my conventional wisdom...but suddenly I've noticed that summer isn't quite so bad. There are all those plants from monsoonal climates (the American Southwest, the Himalayas and South Africa) and lots of other anomalies that wait till the hot season to bloom. Once you pack enough of these among your spring and autumn blooming minions, the summer can be quite colorful. The colors may be neoclassical, but the Origanums blazing in my rock garden are primo: in fact, the whole garden is amazingly trim and attractive right now...


I should have placed the Platycodon grandiflorus 'Astra Blue' a tad closer to the Helichrysum plicatum: who thought they would bloom at the same moment? Both are stellar plants that would shine in any month...


I am amazed how many cacti bloom mindsummer: this morsel I got from Harlan Hamernik at Bluebird is one of the best: Escobaria sulcata (or is it Coryphantha now again?) is near the top of my list of favorites...although it does look like a greener, less spiny E. echinus....How could a plant frome east central Texas be so tough? Mammillaria wrightii was blooming a day earlier a short distance away.


Most garden visitors would hardly notice it, but this tiny Himalayan gentian is the sort of thing alpine gardeners coo over: Gentiana stipitata is one of innumerable treasures I've gotten from Beaver Creek Nursery, that purveyor of marvels...





Last year Jim Borland gave me seedlings of Campanula americana (now classed as Campanulastrum americanum in some places...not on my inventory however...). I had heard it was big...but I was not expecting 5 or more feet tall! I have known abbout this amazing plant for years, and am thrilled to finally bring it to bloom--and have it grace my midsummer garden: wait! I haven't shown you the edelweiss, or the masses of Mondarda pectinata blooming alongside the Tansy daisy, nor the sunflowers tangled with cowpen daisies and the deep maroon red orach everywhere, and reblooming larkspurs, and ten or more kinds of Salvias blazing in every color of the rainbow, and did I mention that the summer gentians are opening the first of their thousands of cobalt cups? Or Pelargonium endlicherianum (and a dozen more sorts of tender ones) and lilies everywhere... Summer doldrums? Pshaw!








Friday, July 22, 2011

Prickly Heaven




It was over a month ago, and I was only there late in the day as their flowers were closing, but it would be stingy if I didn't share these pictures from Timberline Gardens' astounding prickly pear berm....They are simply amazing. Kelly Grummons has contributed so much to our local and national horticultural scene, and this is yet another of his triumphs: who ever thought putting some cuttings on a berm of heavy clay would produce this sort of show? I don't know if anyone else would do it as good, however! Long live Kelly, the prickly magician...






Monday, July 11, 2011

Consider the lilies...

My friend Bill Adams says he doesn't like lilies. Harrumph! I am quite sure he is the only person I know (maybe the only one on the planet) who doesn't dote on these quintessential flowers of woodland and garden. I have always regarded almost any lily I have grown as a sort of holiday, almost a holy day: there is a waxy succulence to the petals and a sort of graceful bearing they possess that summons images of ballerinas, or heavenly mobiles of lucent purity. The orange Turk'scap above is Lilium pardalinum, one of many clumps around Denver Botanic Gardens that are reveling in our wet summer.


This is the pure white form of Lilium martagon in Woodland Mosaic at Denver Botanic Gardens. It is self sowing all over this garden and also in the thick mat of English ivy at Waring House gardens: what a plant! It positively glows in the shadowy light!


This is the dark purple form growing in my garden: it looks just like this today: I have seen this lily in Kazakhstan, and it grows over much of Eurasia. The variability is enormous over its range. How I would love to have samples of it from everywhere! Few plants endure such dark and dismal spots as this and grow so vigorously!



And finally, the turkscap form of Lilium pumilum from the interior of East Asia. This is growing in my rock garden, and always rivets the attention of visitors. It blooms the second year from seed invariably, and sometimes even the first (what more can you ask of a gem of a plant?)...


When the iris are largely done and the peonies just memories, the lilies chime in with their infinite variety of form and color to make the dog days of summer echo with their majesty. I must remember to order a bunch more this fall! And you should too, by the way...


"Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin..." (Matthew, 6:28)



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chocolate stock: Unloved Unknown Unseen

In a garden with many thousands of kinds of plants, most of which clamor for attention with bright colors or outstanding textures or form, there are always a few modest ones that get overlooked. This little Turkish stock is a perfect example. I had to photograph it from several angles, none of which is flattering...



I guess this one is a tad better. Brown flowers (this one also comes in gray and near black) are unusual. Perhaps rightfully so. Although I have sweeps of phlox and masses of peonies here and there, not to mention mountains of cobalt larkspurs and massive masses of Glaucium and other poppies, I derived great pleasure from my chocolate stock. I believe it might be Matthiola septentrionalis. That's one of the names I've acquired it under. I grew it for several years on a flat border-like garden where the variation among seedlings was stunning: all the dullest neutral tints. They petered away in the less than optimal spot. But this clump has been luxuriating in a crevice that seems to suit it and has set heavy seed this year (hope it is viable)...


Botanical Interest Only is the category this sort of thing is crammed into. When I point it out to friends (and many saw it: it blooms for an extraordinarily long period of time--March to June) they usually chuckle or make a bad joke. Next time they visit, they are the ones who ask me its name, and a year or so later, some even ask for a pinch of seed.


Beauty can be flamboyant: Sophia Loren or Katherine Hepburn or your average advertisement in Vogue or centerfold in soft porn magazines are all immediately as stunning and accessible as a spray of fresh roses or gladiolus. And yet those I love (notwithstanding my gorgeous girlfriend, some of my photogenic friends and kids, who are certainly eye candy), let's say the bulk of those I love beginning with my dumpy self are more chocolate stock than Stargazer lily shall we say diplomatically. But give us a while, and we too beguile. I shall never want to be without my chocolate stock (although I have let many a daylily and marigold slip through my fingers...) Form does not always prevail over substance my friend!