Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Common as dirt: lilacs and Caragana.

A wise Coloradoan knows better than to speak of the spring before midsummer: we are in the midst of the earliest and most floriferous spring ever...and still three or four weeks from the average date of last frost (our last hard frost was over a month ago....so we are talking a SEVERE variance!). What to make of it all?

Lilacs are blooming their bloody heads off: who cares? You can almost gauge the age of a neighborhood by the prevalance of Lilacs in Denver: older neighborhoods have the most. Of course, they get frosted every few years, and singed most years. But this year...THIS year, they are blooming like mad. These are pictures taken at my girlfriend, Jan Fahs', house in NW Denver.

I have rued the fact I can't seem to grow Daphne genkwa, whose main claim to fame is that it looks like a small lilac! Except it doesn't apparently smell....I mean--HELLLOOOOOO! What's the big deal? I have a thirty foot row of giant blue lilacs at my house and each time I stroll along the north side of my house I almost keel over with the smell.

A closer view: there are two kinds here (both classics): I should know what they are...but who cares? all lilacs are sublime! Oldtimers knew what they were up to. We should plant them everywhere all over again!

Here's a closeup of the Caragana: another old fashioned plant that's fallen out of fashion around Denver. You NEVER see it in new neighborhoods, but it too is fragrant and unlike forsythias, it blooms reliably every year.

"When Lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed" and "Breeding Lilacs out of the dead land": lilacs are featured in two of the greatest poems in American literature. They should be featured even more.

I like to make lavish bouquets with them and let them smell up the whole house. They bring back vast, vaporous memories of my childhood, of the park next door to my house that was ringed with lavender, blue, white, deep purple, single and double lilacs, and a few craggy Caragana (come to think of it)...from my infancy I would sate myself on their rich scent, and pick bouquets for my mother, and put sprigs behind my ear.

Common as dirt, and more precious than all the gold in the world. Gold merely gets you stuff (God only knows, we have way too much stuff as it is): lilacs give you a whiff of Heaven on earth!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Alpine treasure trove: Laporte Avenue Nursery

Gentiana verna form in a seed pot.

There are many blessings to being a gardener in Colorado, but I count as chief among these the relative proximity of Laporte Avenue Nursery, one of the greatest alpine plant nurseries in the world, and much much more. Owned by Kirk Fieseler and Karen Lehrer, they have grown thousands of plants and list hundreds of kinds of plants every year on their wonderful website.

Where else in America would you be likely to stumble on what must be Primula stuartii, a mythical plant from the Himalayas, blooming contentedly?

Here are flats and flats of Draba dedeana from Spain, a fabulous cushion plant I have grown once or twice...but not like this! Needless to say, I have a few more in my garden this spring to enjoy thanks to Laporte! They are mail order (still time to sneak in an order), but more and more they do wholesale shipments in our area, supplying the fabulous garden centers of Colorado with some of their choicest morsels. They are open by appointment to serious gardeners who intend to do some serious buying!

There is an exquisite and extensive garden around the nursery: the private garden of the Fieseler's actually, that they have been kind enough to open to some garden tours and nursery open days. There are dozens of troughs, one choicer than the next, and they were in glorious bloom during my recent visit.

Here are the two masters in their original rock garden (and also stock garden!)...Kirk does all the grafting and growing of conifers as well as taking on little projects like the ambitious and amazing Garden at Spring Creek's enormous new rock garden...Karen is the most consistent, focused and amazing propagator I know. I am sure she can root match sticks. Her eye for beauty and her conscientious love of plants is second to none. I can't say how much I respect and love these two.

Here's a typical little treasure you will find there: Androsace montana (aka Douglasia montana: it's an androsace, sure as shootin'--you might as well get over it!): I have never seen a more beautiful specimen including literally thousands I have walked past in the wild.

How about this little hummer with Primula auricula and Primula hirsuta from the Alps: makes you want to break out into a yodel (almost anyway...)

And here is the nearly mythical Gentiana oshtenica from the Caucauses, the cool primrose yellow form of G. verna....to DIE for! Can't tell you how many times I've grown seed of this and it turned out blue.

Primul marginata cunningly tucked into a crevice in the large demonstration garden at Laporte Avenue Nursery in April: just about the best place on the planet to be that day.

More shots of alpine treasures arrayed by the thousand in their many impeccable greenhouses....I could go on and on and would like to (I took dozens more pictures, any one of which would be a match to what I have shown you)...and I am drawn to Fort Collins every few months to revisit one of America's premier nurseries. I doubt that there has been a nursery that has consistently produced such a high level of quality plants in such quantities, and done so with such integrity and flair. Kirk and Karen are national treasures: and they are among the touchstones of my life, constantly astonishing me with their ingenuity, energy and accomplishment. Thank you, Laporte Avenue Nursery: you are the gold standard for our industry. Long may you flourish!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

San Francisco Flower Show and random thoughts...

Rhodies galore! Always fun--especially for color starved people like me from the Great Plains. This is reason enough to fly to California in March (although I was there to speak to California Horticultural Society and conduct some other business). I have been lucky to visit quite a few of the great flower shows of the world including RHS's gonzo July Hampton Court (which dwarfs Chelsea Flower Show incidentally), and of course Philadelphia Flower Show where I have judged about once a decade forever, and the impressive Pacific Northwest Flower show where I judged last year...

As a dutiful blogger, I should be giving you the names of all these gardens: needless to say, there were a dozen, maybe two dozen gardens: a cottagy one, some with trim hedges, the one brimming with Rhodies, Japanesey ones and naturalistic ones...the usual gamut. None quite to the standards of the astonishing abandoned nursery at last year's Seattle Show.

There has to be one in every group...the wierdo in the San Francisco show was this illuminated tornado. Not exactly what I would put in my back yard.

Many of the gardens at these shows are relatively simple--understandably so since making a tangled wild garden is a challenge to create and maintain in a huge convention center setting in penumbra for a week. After a long, cold, Colorado winter, even these simplescapes are a relief!

But like most attendees to these events, we come for the competitive divisions, the displays of various kinds and above all to buy stuff!

Here is one of the hundreds of entries in the vast plant competition rooms: a rather unconventional pot for a plant, but I thought rather charming. Botanical dreadlocks!

A feature of this show I particularly liked was a room filled with benches with non-competitive exhibits by people and nurseries highlighting new plants or novelties.

This selection of Helichrysum "amoginum" looked suspiciously like the plant I grew as Helichrysum virgineum in the long distant past (now apparently H. sibthorpii). It reminded me how much I liked this plant which I grew for years and want to get back again...time to hit the search engines!

This purple leaved primrose from Skagit Gardens caught my eye..

But the trade show is always where we end up spending the most time! Robin Parer's wonderful Geraniaceae was a favorite stop. I had a devil of a time finding a minute to talk to her, the line of buyers was so long!

Here's a better view of her booth: I noticed that many of the non-nursery booths were the same high end garden companies that I saw recently at the Pacific Northwest show, and several mentioned they had just come from Philadelphia...there is a definite circle of shows they visit. Pity Denver is not on that list!

Here is George Hull with a few of his students from ASU in Tempe who created a lovely garden of raised beds. I met George years ago when he was developing new product lines for Mountain States Nursery. It is fun to run into old and new friends at these events and find out what people have been up to in the last few years!

I can only give the tiniest glimpse of the varied exhibits, the hundreds of trade show booths, the diversity of this terrific show in the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show...I am already thinking about going back all the way from Colorado NEXT year (how convenient that they already have the dates set!)...

P.S. Congratulations to those cities that can manage a REAL flower and garden show like Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco. I understand there are more...If I visit them, I will vouch for them. But otherwise, buyer-beware: most "Flower" shows have more spas and tile vendors than plants and gardens...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Small azure irid

It is barely April, and the crocus season is almost over this year! We are weeks ahead of schedule, although this evening it is chilly and snow is predicted for the morning...so a brief glimpse back Crocus sieberi in Sandy's garden a few weeks ago...widespread in Greece and Crete, I particularly love this tricolor form which was once rather dear, but has become quite inexpensive lately: I must remind myself to buy a few more hundred to plant next Autumn for my meadow !

In Greek, κρίνο (=crinum) can certainly be used for the Amaryllid it is applied to in Scientific nomenclature. But in fact, it is used for most any small wild petaloid monocot. It is applied to irises and lilies as often as Amaryllids...so stretching it to apply to a crocus (even though that is a common Greek name today as well) is not unreasonable! I find it charming that the song that propelled Nana Mouskouri to superstardom in Greece, namely Nikos Gatsos classic "Athina" sums up the vast, sprawling metropolis of Athens as a "small blue irid": surely, no city has had a more charming or lyrical song written about it than this classic of modern Greek lyric poetry.


By Nikos Gatsos

With white birds and clouds

I shall dress up the sky

And your deathless name

I shall carve upon the stone

In the orchard of the sky

I shall enter and select and pluck

From the myrtle bush and everlasting

I shall weave a crown

Athens! Athens!

Joy of the earth and of the dawn,

Small azure irid

One evening, upon the beach

I shall remain your little sea shell

Αθήνα -

Μ' άσπρα πουλιά και σύννεφα

τον ουρανό θα ντύσω

και τ' ονομά σου αθάνατο

στην πέτρα θα κεντήσω

στο περιβόλι τ' ουρανού

θα μπω για να διαλέξω

κι απ' τη μυρτιά κι αμάραντο

στεφάνι να σου πλέξω

Αθήνα- Αθήνα

Χαρά της γης και της αυγής

μικρό γαλάζιο κρίνο

Κάποια βραδιά (δις)στην αμμουδιά

κοχύλι σου θα μείνω

Viva sweet love!

For the last few years spring has been a long drawn out affair, with Japanese Quince blooming in late March and April and the crabs in late April and May...but every so often we get a hurried, crazy spring when they all bloom together. I recall the last time this happened was seven or more years ago and then we get this sort of, well, rather peculiar mix of colors in a few gardens here and there...I rather look forward to it. If there is one time of year when clashing colors can almost get away with it is in springtime...speaking of which, every spring I re-recite and relish one of the many fine spring poems by e.e. cummings: you must chant along with me now:

sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love
(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)
lovers go and lovers come
awandering awondering
but any two are perfectly
alone there's nobody else alive
(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes)
not a tree can count his leaves
each herself by opening
but shining who by thousands mean
only one amazing thing
(secretly adoring shyly
tiny winging darting floating

merry in the blossoming
always joyful selves are singing)
sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love

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