Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The second snowiest winter in Denver history: as I look at this picture of my garden in late June, I am startled at all the verdure, the lush seems like another planet, not something that will be ho hum in four months. Nothing terribly rare here: Clary sage, Achillea filipendula on the right, The speckled blue flowers under the purple shrub are on Geranium magniflorum, which I blogged about recently.

A view of the same scene looking back towards the house from the path in the middle: I took the first picture from that balcony. The orange and yellow are Glaucium spp., and the lavender purple is Salvia cyanescens.

Even the prairie garden and xeriscape look positively verdant in June....aaaah! This time of year when I look at these pictures, I yearn for heat. Of course, next June I will be looking back at winter fondly....are we mortals ever satisfied? This one was probably taken in early June. Hard to believe every winter the difference a few months of growing season makes. (Notice the Calochortus venustus on the left in the blue gramma grass, and the yellow is Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum 'Kannah Creek', the wonderful Plant Select introduction). Summer! Can't wait!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Memory is iconic: of nerds and travel.

Don't expect a disquisition. I have actually studied Byzantine art and traveled in the eastern Mediterranean seeking out the tiny remnant mosaic clad churches of that era. I could bore you to death with art history. I know nothing about stained glass, and likely won't ever. I took these pictures on Monday, February 20 at the marvellous Cathedral in Basel. I'm not even sure why it is called the Münster (as are several other glorious Central European cathedrals including the one of the city of Münster with that name as well: I was going to do some scholarly research and tell you why, but this blog is really not about history per se: it's about color, perhaps. Touristing). Like all Blogs, it's about the blogger. And you, the reader. My blogs are usually about flowers and plants. And color (since flowers and plants are all about color). Like flowers, stained glass fits into the category of "something everyone enjoys looking at but not necessarily knowing a whole lot about"...unless you are a plant nerd, or stained glass nerd...(I plead yes to the first, no to the second).

I just spent two weeks traveling through Germany, Switzerland and a slice of France, accruing the sort of fragmented memories that one does: in this case, the incredible intense learning and camaraderie of the Fifth International Perennial Plant Conference in Grünberg, my ostensible reason for going. That really merits its own blog. Thence we traveled to Basel, then to the Vaud Alps (with touchstone visits to Montreux and Gruyere going and coming: each worth another few blogs) where we spent four days in a ski resort near Villars in high season: more blogs! Summon towering snowy peaks out your window, swathed with lavender and peach sunset light! Summon up images of nearly two feet of snow settling on Chalets overnight. Back in Basel, we trammed all over the old town for several days, and hung out on our lofty perch at a childhood friends in Munchenstein. Did I mention a luminous day in Alsace? All blogworthy, all comprising iconic panels that illuminate our memories from a two week jaunt.

Of course, who wants to go to Central Europe in February? I usually time trips when I can to high flower season (here it would be the summer months in the Alps) when costs are astronomical and travel even more hectic. Lufthansa and every other direct airline offers ridiculous fares this time of year (I once flew my family of four for under $1000 round trip for all of us to England). I must remember when I can to scarf up these offers and just go: late winter or late fall, either way, Europe is worth it if only to visit cathedrals and stroll twisty, cobblestone backways (they are a Gasse, if you will forgive a feeble pun).

And here is the grand Münster from a distance, from a nearby gasse: giant, pink sandstone (remimniscent of Canyonlands) and Romanesque. Erasmus of Rotterdam is buried in it (I discovered after we visited and I was researching it). There are many things to see and do in Basel, and this is certainly a highlight...

I have sketched very briefly two weeks of my life: I have not recounted missing a train but having the Director of a Botanic Garden in Mannheim, drive us a hundred miles or more to catch it later...nor the hundreds of exotic plants I saw in various cities including huge and very happy palm trees here and there in Germany and Switzerland both. It does not include the myriad meals, some sumptuous, a few not so fancy, nor the strolls nor the bric-a-brac of diurnal observations of daily life that constitute living for all of us. Our daily routine becomes a blur: on trips these moments flash prismatically, with stained glass precision and clarity. the whole trip was colored for me by reading The Anthropology of Turquoise: a strange, flawed but wonderful book by Ellen Muloy that touched on many suchlike themes. And of course, can I gloss over the time spent at the elegant home with my friend of 55 years , Lesley Andrew and his wife Mariko Hirano? Continuing one of the deepest, longest term and most rewarding relationships of my life. Would I could capture the trip in my own cathedral of memory, awarding each glimpse, each day, each memory a glowing panel of vibrant color. Or perhaps that is the secret of such trips? We do. We do.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Eye of the Pheasant (Adonis)

Almost a year ago I blogged for Denver Botanic Gardens on Adonis amurensis, one of only a handful of plants that will bloom in the depths of winter. I recall the first time I saw this species was at my mentor's house (Paul Maslin), well over forty years ago, blooming during a January thaw. A small clump in the Rock Alpine Garden just managed to pop a few flowers last week, maintaining, its unsullied reputation as harbinger...

This is one of my champion clumps at home: I have not been on the famous spring bank at Winterthur in early spring, but apparently they have hundreds if not thousands of these that bloom there in March (weather dependent of course)...that I would like to see! I blather on quite a bit about this in my other blog, which you should reference (it is hypertext in the first sentence of this blog), but for now, all I wish do ask is why pheasant's eye? that seems to be the only common name attached to this genus...

Perhaps this is the reason: I have seen pictures of some gallinoid birds with bright red eyes. Maybe this annual Adonis anuus is the source of the fanciful common name. Strange to think those hoary yellow perennials (that can live for decades) share a genus with a handful of evanescent annual species. Each year I am nervous at how many of these return on my big xeriscape: even though their flowers are the fraction of the size of their winter cousin's, the color makes up for size. Now all I need is a real pheasant or two, and life would be perfect!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Just a few more months...

We just had Scott Winter talk to our rock garden club--the very talented fellow who created this gem of a garden at the Colorado Springs' Untilities' Xeriscape Demonstration garden just north of Fillmore on Mesa: this is just one corner of an extensive and beautifully designed garden that features no end of microclimates and rocky gardens. I know there are great charms in winter--and it is stunningly beautiful outside as we accumulate nearly 18" of snow in much of Denver (and over 45" in one day in Gilpin County nearby!)...and in a few weeks I shall be in the Swiss Alps at a ski resort gazing at glaciers and freezing my Euro-tooshie...

The Nobel-prize winning Greek poet, George Seferis wrote a poem that has resonated through my life (and expresses some of my yearning for spring coincidentally)...recalling Xenophon and his tattered troops, perhaps, after the nightmare crossing of Anatolia:

Just a little more and we shall see the almond trees in blossom
the marbles shining in the sun
The sea, the curling waves...

Just a little more.
Let us rise just a little higher.

(Sherard & Keeley translation virtually identical to Rex Warner's [and mine for that matter])

Almond (Prunus dulcis) blooming in Denver two springs ago...

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