Monday, January 30, 2012

Disaster! Time to move on...

I know it looks fetching here: a solid blue cloud of aster flowers in late summer. Aster x novi-belgii 'Wood's Blue' was undoubtedly another pick of the great Portland Nurseryman who also developed the well known rooting hormone. I met Ed several decades ago when he was at his prime, and his summer aster has provided quite a few years of delight. The problem keeps spreading and spreading. And the flower show is just a tad too short to justify the real estate.

So this year i shall be removing it. Not an easy decision! Does a week or two of cloudy blue splendor justify fifty weeks of blah? If I had several acres of garden, I might be happy to create a vignette combining this with a few other thugs in a sort of battle of wills...

For now the matted mass of foliage is still out there, and I am contemplating how and when this spring to do the dirty deed: as lovely as it looks in the picture, I can't really pawn it off on anyone else around here where it blooms for such a short period, so the plants will be composted. And then...what to do with all that wonderful space? Woo hooo!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gnomic poem on Facebook...

Watch your thoughts
They become words

Watch your words
They become action

Watch your actions
They become habits

Watch your habits...
They form your character

Watch out! Your character
becomes your destiny ...

Πρόσεξε τις σκέψεις σου
γίνονται λόγια

Πρόσεξε τα λόγια σου
γίνονται πράξεις

Πρόσεξε τις πράξεις σου
γίνονται συνήθειες

Πρόσεξε τις συνήθειές σου...
γίνονται χαρακτήρας

Πρόσεξε το χαρακτήρα σου
γίνεται η μοίρα σου...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Consonance: walking in step

Our body politic may be hopelessly polarized, but our gardens can provide a salubrious model of how opposites can conmingle. Here a rare and obscure daisy from the Eastern United States (Marshallia grandiflora) is happily sharing space with a cool green African Galtonia viridiflora. The delicate tracery of lady fern behind (Athyrium filix femina) completes a cool midsummer idyll. I think that is Athamanta turbith in the picture below, yet another good companion (this time from Eurasia) in this vignette.

These pictures were all taken two summers ago in the Rock Alpine Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens....I feel comfortable posting these because they all date from the times (ever receding into the past) when I did much of the design and gardening in this area. These plants have comingled and persisted here--waxing and waning over the decades--with a sort of quasi ecological balance belying their ancestry and associations in Nature.

Marianne Moore tells us the poetry is real frogs in imaginary gardens (close enough). I think poetry is real plant combinations that are unimaginable in nature!

Winter seems longer than I remember (despite my blissful several week sojourn in Southern California in December). As I label and scroll through old digital images preparing for two talks in Germany, I am warmed by these images in the verdant and seemingly distant Colorado summer...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tempus fugit

Sandy Snyder has been scanning old transparencies and recently sent me this one, threatening to post it on my Facebook page. I know my tennis shoes are pretty shabby, and my beard is shabbier, but having one's image posted when one is half the age, and a good deal slimmer than I am now... NOT a problem!

I am much more interested in what is around me. First off, not one in many billion people would probably notice that the picture is flipped horizontally. I notice that sort of thing (of course the Rock Alpine Garden was my virtual Universe for several decades...I ought to know it (although I worry about it almost not at all with Mike Kintgen at the helm nowadays).

I am mostly amazed that there is a flourishing colony of what must be Primula reidii at my feet. I could never dream of growing that hardly anywhere I garden nowadays: it needs super fluffy soil and a cool root run, of course. Now the competition from other plants, not to mention tree roots, shrub roots and compacted soils would make this plant almost impossible.

[Insert a mental image of Primula reidii closeup here]
{Maybe someday I will scan a closeup I think I took in this spot if I ever get around to it!}

This garden nowadays is chockablock full of all manner of other treasures that had not been planted 30 years ago when the picture was taken. And what was growing there is as mysterious to me now as though i had never worked there. My memory of the garden then back then is based on the pictures I took. If I did not take a picture (and file it and revisit that picture over the years) the plant has ceased to exist for me. My memory is my photo library to a great extent.

Oh well...come to think of it I don't recall the last time I wore jeans or tennis shoes either!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Farewell, Oh Virgin Mary

Shakespeare may have said that "parting is such sweet sorrow". There is a great resonance to poems and songs that express that sorrow, and this is the anthem of Constantinopolitan Greeks, throngs of whom left Istanbul in the last century.

For those of you who read this blog for plants, you might as well skip it. In the depths of winter I stroll down various paths, (or should I say sokakia?)...And in my imagination I return to where my ancestors possibly five hundred years ago trod the narrow passages of Constantinople.

If you are the least bit curious, you might want to listen to this anthem to a lost culture: don't get me wrong. Despite my Cretan ancestry, I am far from being a Hellenic jingoist who destests all things Turkic: I love Turkey and Turks and all things Anatolian. And there is something hauntingly Anatolian about this song, a sort of farewell anthem that so many Rums sing and sang as a memorial to a world that is no more. As my name derives from Panagia, and since my ancestors were some who departed, this has a special resonance. To get the full flavor, you should play one of the countless Youtube renditions of this song as a background. I recommend this one:

Or for a completely different version that is perhaps a tad more haunting perhaps:

There is a strange blend of emotion and rhythm in this song: the driving beat, the minor key and the shifting emphasis between the stanzas: and hovering over it, of course, is melancholia of loss and longing. The love millions of people bore (and still bear) those four hills in the mist somehow is captured in this strangely lively dirge. The words in Greek with my translation are below.

Στο Γαλατά ψιλή βροχή
και στα Tαταύλα μπόρα
βασίλισσα των κοριτσιών
είναι η Mαυροφόρα.

Έχε γεια Παναγιά
τα μιλήσαμε,
όνειρο ήτανε,
τα λησμονήσαμε.

Στο Γαλατά θα πιω κρασί,
στο Πέρα θα μεθύσω,
και μες απ' το Γεντί Kουλέ
κοπέλα θ' αγαπήσω.

Έχε γεια Παναγιά
τα μιλήσαμε,
όνειρο ήτανε,
τα λησμονήσαμε

Γεντί Kουλέ και Θαραπειά,
Ταταύλα και Nιχώρι,
αυτά τα τέσσερα χωριά
'μορφαίνουνε την Πόλη.

Έχε γεια Παναγιά
τα μιλήσαμε,
όνειρο ήτανε,
τα λησμονήσαμε

Farewell, O Virgin Mary

At Galata a gentle mist, on Tatavla a norther’
Queen of the girls, was she clad all in black.

Farewell, O Virgin Mary, we have said it all
It was a dream, and now it is forgotten.

On Galata I will drink wine, At Pera I’ll be drunken
And in Genti Koulé I shall fall in love with a girl.

Farewell, O Virgin Mary, we have said it all
It was a dream, and now it is forgotten.

Genti Koulé and Tharapeia, Tatavla and Nichori
Those four boroughs beautify the City.

Farewell, O Virgin Mary, we have said it all
It was a dream, and now it is forgotten.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Remembrance of plants past...Schivereckia

I have recently begun scanning some of my old transparencies (a depressing task at best) and I keep finding plants I once grew that have somehow disappeared from my garden (and other gardens I know as well). Here is the first of these lost little lost souls (plants must have souls: they deserve them more than we do). Schivereckia podolica is not likely to make the short list of most people, and certainly never classed among the best alpine plant by any means, nor has its demise kept me awake at night. But as I look at these faded, nostalgic pictures of plants in my old garden twenty years ago, where it persisted for many, many years (and produced enormous quantities of seed) I realize how evanescent things are. If a plant like this can disappear, what hope is there for us, or civilization for that matter? This is not a fussy plant by any stretch of the imagination.

OK: I admit a white flowered plant that blooms in April is about as novel as rain in Portland in the winter, or wheat in Kansas. But it made such a nice cushion of silvery, evergreen leaves, and the flowers are held quite gracefully, and they develop rather attractive seedpods....and how many Siberian plants do you have in YOUR garden? And it's dead easy to grow.

I have yearned to grow dionysias, and killed my share of Aretians and watched many a Meconopsis wither. There is something said for a tough little Siberian crucifer that grows gangbusters, blooms its little head off and sets tons of seed. And what a crazy name! I want it back! Time to comb the seedlists...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rosulate, Roseate but not a rose!

Dudleya cymosa, near Springville

There is something about rosettes: the sympathetic symmetry (surely not all have fibonacci sequencing?), the rotundity...something there is that likes rosularity. Nature certainly seems to--at least in some of her more challenging ecological environments. This first picture was taken two years ago this March in the southern Sierra Nevada foothills, near our friends' Susan Eubank and Paul Martin's wonderful mountain homes. I collected seed of this plant in the Yuba River canyon with my buddy Ted Kipping twenty years ago on my first field trip with Sean Hogan (I knew there had to be winter hardy forms of Dudleya). Since that time I have grown dudleyas in three gardens for years....but now I suddenly am bereft! Encore cherchez la rose!

Physaria alpina on Horseshoe Mt.

This lovely boutonniere grows only on two mountain ranges in Central Colorado. It was only described to science in the early 1980's, how strange that I and so many others walked by such a distinctive and showy plant and never realized it was new! Surely, the most rosulate of crucifers, it too is a wonderful garden plant...although I realize that it too has slipped through my fingers...Time once again to find that rose!

Rosularia turkestanica

Surely, no plants were better named than this genus of Crassula cousins from the Mediterranean and continental Asia. I purchased a plant with this name decades ago that turned out to be Rosularia rechingeri from Turkey. I believe Mike Bone and I from Denver Botanic Gardens are the first to collect and introduce seed of this to cultivation. This is one rose that has not slipped away as yet!

Claytonia megarhiza on Horseshoe Mt.

The bigroot spring beauty (Claytonia megarhiza) is one of our most abundant rosulate native plants at high elevations, seemingly growing bigger and more robust as the altitude climbs. My friend, Loraine Yeatts, once pointed out the strange anomaly that dryland plants from the subtropics and tropics like Echeverias, bromeliads and agaves have evolved the same succulent rosulate form as montane and high alpine plants such as those I'm featuring here. Notice that the Claytonia is actually growing in running water (something anomalous for it to be sure) can the same morphological adaptations: rosulate form and succulence, work both for desert xerophytes and high alpines growing in running water? The mystery of rosularity!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

First flower of the year: Titanopsis calcarea

Titanopsis calcarea, photographed 1-4-12 at Quince Garden, Denver.

The first flower of the year was actually Rabiea albipuncta, which was in full bloom on 1-1-12 in the rock garden along the north side of the parking lot at Timberline Gardens. Of COURSE I did not have my camera with me. But Woody Minnich did, and photographed it and some day perhaps I will get a picture from him...meanwhile, you shall have to settle for the image below, scanned from a transparency I took decades ago...

I suppose there are fussy gardeners addicted to gargantuan floral effects (you know the type: peonies, lotus flowers, colocasia...anything gigunda) who might find this tiny, warty, scrunched up little plant a tad homely. Even those luminous lemon blossoms would not melt their bloated, overblown fleshy-flowery hearts.

I read once that Titanopsis was discovered when a botanist sat on a limestone boulder and felt it give a bit with his butt. There is no way of tactfully saying that, so I am being vernacular. I mean, I could say "a botanist detected a certain resilience in the Magnesium carbonate exudant with his Gluteus maximus." But the demotic gets the point across better, don't you think?

I wonder if any other plant owes its initial discovery to an ass?

Whatever! Any plant that mimics rocks is fine by me. As for the Rabiea, their huge flowers are a shock whenever I come upon them! They can bloom now and again for the next three or even four months, a charming trait in any plant.

Long live these winter bloomers! And may we find even more to add to their glory!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brave heart

Since this is my 200th Blog posting, not to mention the first of a new year, the selection of which plant to feature borders on the fatidic. Should I pick a flamboyant petaloid monocot (an Onocyclus iris perhaps?)....or some flashy steppe denizen? A Penstemon or Acantholimon (my avatar after all). I fret and decide to scroll through my albums. Not far into the "A's" Adlumia floats by...for that's this image that is so similar to our beloved bleeding hearts (Dicentra). If Botanists can lump Belamcanda or Pardanthopsis into Iris, one wonders how long it will take them to make Dicentra swallow up Adlumia: to the casual eye of the gardener they certainly seem every bit as close...let's see if a botanists rises to this bait.

So why Adlumia? This monocarpic vine of the Eastern hardwood forests forms a lacy rosette year one that is charming in its own right. The second year it starts to climb, and if there is a post or plant nearby it can clamber over, soon it will reach amazing heights (I have had them grow over 15' tall!). If the soil is rich, if there is enough water and they are happy, these will produce hundreds, nay thousands of flowers over the course of the growing season. This is a plant of woods and hedgerows in nature, and seems to do best on the fringe of woodlands. Mine are mostly concentrated around my nursery which has fences to lean on and lots of water. I always seem to have plenty of seedlings each year, and I find that young first year rosettes pot up easily and can be moved. And shared.

My picture really does not do justice to the lacy charm of foliage, nor the sprightly bleeding hearts. But I hope my prose pricks your curiosity (if you are not already growing this) to seek this gentle treasure out.

I confess, I love it for more than its intrinstic charm. I first saw this twenty or more years ago in the remarkable garden of Vera Peck, one of the pillars of the Alpine Garden Club of British Columbia. Vera was an incredibly energetic and passionate gardener. She contributed countless hours to her rock garden group in all manner of service, primarily managing their ambitious seed exchange (I suspect she did a lot of the work herself). She had a large garden full of all manner of gems, which is where I first saw Adlumia and fell in love with it. Vera pressed a packet of fresh seed upon me, and I have grown it ever since.

I may have met Vera a mere dozen times over the decades, exchanging occasional pleasantries and asking questions back and forth here an there at a study weekend, or visiting a garden together or at a meeting. She would put up a sort of blustery facade of pseudo-gruffness to stangers that fooled no one: I knew that behind that crusty exterior lay a heart as sweet and mellow as the vast vistas of her native central European homeland, rich and evocative as a Dvorak symphony. She passed away six years ago, but like my myriad gardening friends over the decades (so many, like her, now gone) they persist, they endure and propagate their memory and essence through the seeds they share. And their hearts grace my gardens quite literally, just like this Adlumia. Long may they self sow around my garden, and the gardens of those I share them with. And they continue to blossom in our hearts as well.

New Year's resolution #1: gather, grow and share more seed!

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