Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sage advice

When it comes to sage, it's easy, man: YES, yes and more yes. The season ought to be winding down, yest Salvias keep chugging along. I took the picture of the pink jobby above a few days ago at Santa Fe Greenhyouses, where I was visiting David Salman. Yes, the nursery is closed right now, but there are  a wealth of goodies still there in stock beds, borders and in the greenhouses. This pink selection I found there is a selection of S. pratensis or S. transilvanica.

I have recently joined in praise of the Texas muhly, 'Autumn Embers'--a form of Muhlenbergia reverchonii first collected by Lauren and Scott Ogden and sold for several years by Santa Fe greenhouses (High Country Gardens), here ablaze next to anther sage--Salvia grandiflora 'Nekan': both essential in my book.

What plant can challenge and match the blue of Salvia patens, still blooming prolifically in the Promenade walk in front of the Orangerie at DBG, where I took this picture last week. I understand these produce tubers that can be overwintered like dahlias? One can naver have enough of this, however you obtain (or overwinter) it!

I shall share my fantasy: on the large, southwest facing slope of my Xeriscape I call West Ridge, I have dreamed of planting all the color forms of Salvia greggii and S. microphylla, which are being hybridized so much in recent years. This year I obtained a dozen new forms--and planted them last May on that very slope. I have been busily watering and worrying over them ever since--not the best year to plant in unwatered gardens. To my delight, every one lived. Above is a soft pink microphylla in the foreground. Salvia greggii 'Furman's Red' in the distance.

I have severeal "S. x jamensis"  hybrids from Suncrest--this is the softer yellow of the two: boy do I hope this is hardy!

A pale pink S. microphylla (above)

And I am cheating by showing you this picture taken at DBG--the plants around my garden are even better, but devilishly hard to photograph: Salvia x 'Raspberry Delight', a hybrid produced by David Salman, may be the hardiest and most vigorous of the greggii types: I have it growing in part shade, in a watered garden in in the full blazing sun on West Ridge: both places it blooms more or less continuously through the growing season, and has never sown a sign of fussiness. Tough as nails!

Some salvias bloom only in springtime. But many of the best bloom much of the summer and fall--these monsoonal Southwestern salvias are always at their peak at the end of the growing season, bringing the garden to a spectacular culmination (like the cannons at the end of Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture). A few of these "Autumn Sages" have bloomed as early as April for me--making them eight month wonders. Would we were all so brilliant for such a long time of year!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Burning Bush: Salvia Darcyi?

I have referred to Salvia darcyi glancingly in many posts over the last few years. Perhaps it's time to grasp the thistle (so to speak) and acknowledge this uber-sage, this conflagration, this burning bush of garden plants. Just a few days ago, Mark Kane (an old gardening friend and great horticulturist) commented casually as we strolled past a planting of this sage at DBG) that he was with Carl Schoenfeld and John Fairey (of the famed Yucca Do and Peckerwood Garden) in 1988 in Nuevo Leon when they first collected this taxon: at the time they thought it was Salvia oresbia. A few years later James Compton and William D'Arcy accompanied the Yucca Do meisters to the same spot, and the plant was subsequently named (or renamed?...I am not sure Charles Christopher Parry's collection of S. oresbia in 1878 might not be the same plant incidentally--which would wreak a bit of nomenclatural havoc...)

I obtained starts of this from Salvia guru Richard Dufresne shortly after it was discovered and grew it in the Rock Alpine Garden where it was spectacular: I now wonder if I might not have been the first to grow this in a public garden? Is there a prize for doing that, I wonder? I would take cuttings since it was not reliably perennial in the Montane Slope where I had planted it. Years later it was planted in the Schlessman Plaza of the Romantic Gardens where it confounded me by being vigorously perennial. The spectacle it produced there (and its hardiness) led to its introduction through Plant Select in 2007 as 'Vermillion Bluffs'--the clone introduced through the program being especially vigorous, upright and hardy.

Since 2007 Salvia darcyi has been propagated and planted on a far wider scale than it would have before, and I am beginning to see it here and there around the Denver metro area thriving in places where I never would have imagined it growing before. Although it does hail from 9000' in the Sierra  Madre Oriental (and experiences some pretty frosty conditions in its native habitat) we cannot consider this an ironclad plant in our zone 5/6 Denver area--but situated in protected corners, between rocks or against buildings it has proved hardier than we ever imagined. And in places like Pueblo, Grand Junction, La Junta it is predictably and reliably hardy in most garden sites. These pictures were taken at the spectacular gardens at Kendrick Lake, where the plant has been perennial in many highly exposed situatons (and where it is wonderfully displayed as you can see).

This year at DBG the first flowers came out in April, and by May it was a mass of scarlet awesomeness. It has continued, virtually non-stop, through the intervening months--and there are still masses of flowers on most plants of this I know in Denver in late September. Not many garden perennials can boast this length of blooming season. And I can think of no other flower that is so gaudily, ostentatiously, joyously red. I have no doubt that were Moses to come across this plant, he would not be surprised to hear it speak to him! It has spoken to me for decades.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Iconoclasm: the urge to purge (in gardens too)

What does a sixth century mosaic have to do with present day gardening in America? The connection at first blush is tenuous--but first let me say that this impeccable mosaic, nearly 1600 years old, is as fresh and perfect and precisely the way it has looked from the day it was finished. I hope one day I might have a chance to visit the Monastery of St. Catherine's and gaze up (as Crusaders did six hundred years ago, as monks have continuously for nearly two millenia) at this startling depiction of Christ's transiguration.

What haunts me about this mosaic is that it is only one of what must have been thousands of similar mosaics that would have decorated churches and cathedrals at the time across the empire of Justinian...the so-called Byzantine empire ("byzantine" is a word invented by a Frenchman a few centuries ago to characterize the latter Roman empire based in "Byzance"--i.e. Byzantium--and old name for Rum (the proper name for Constantinople, the Polis ("στην πόλη"), hence Istanbul). Justinian built vast numbers of such monuments in his reign, I suspect most were as stunningly adorned....not to mention those of his predecessors and immediate successors.

What happened to all of them? Two periods of violent "Εἰκονομαχία"--Iconoclasm in English, centered in Rum from 730-787 and then again from 814 and 842 led to vast numbers of icons of all sorts, frescoes and mosaics being demolished across the Empire. I cannot begin to imagine the effort that went into scraping the walls of the myriad churches at the time--across all of Anatolia, North Africa, all of Greece, and the Near East--wherever obedient, Iconoclastic Orthodox dwelt. High on Mt. Sinai, a mosaic was overlooked. And in Ravenna (beyond the reach of iconoclasts), a very hint of what must have existed everywhere in the eastern Mediterranean has persisted in unbelievable glory in the swampland of northern Italy. There are numerous extraordinary churches and monuments in Ravenna filled with early Byzantine mosaics--the sort that were demolished across the Empire itself.

Here is one of the Ravenna gems: the image of Theodora, Justinian's wife. She was an adherent to Monophystism, which was subsequently declared a heresy after both she and Justinian were dead. In a nutshell: the Monophysites were primarily Near Eastern and African Christians who succumbed (rather willingly, perhaps) to the rapid conquest of Islam--likely because of their rejection from Orthodoxy in the 7th Century. Islam eschewed icons--which most scholars attribute the Orthodox responding by mimicking their hate of images, hence: iconoclasm.

I believe the urge to purge--whether art or people, be it be Jews in Germany in the 30's, the Stalinist imperative to eliminate kulaks, trotskyists, bourgeois elements, you name it in the same decade, the Tea Party hate for immigrants nowadays in America, or pogroms and witch hunts at any time and place--these are all brutal manifestations of the same sort of zeal for purity: iconoclasm.

I believe that the "native only" movement in horticulture shares the same sort of misguided energy: banish the iconic foreign plants from our gardens (rhododendrons in Seattle, say, or most everything we grow in Denver gardens) for the sake of the pristine, untrammeled beauty of nature.  This sort of misty eyed idealism inspires ordinances such as that proposed recently in Seattle. (I have hyperlinked the very ordinance in .pdf form for you to peruse in the last sentence, in case you missed that.) I am quoting the salient paragraphs below:

"Invasive plant species shall be prohibited from a building site.

"A plan shall be submitted to show that existing invasive species will be removed, and that 75% of all new plantings will be native to Western Washington. Said plan shall be prepared by a qualified professional or generated based upon published recommendations.

Existing native plant life shall be protected whenever possible."

I love the 75%: why not 85%? Or let's be cautious and put 50%...numbers pulled from the air (or perhaps other unmentionable places).

By "native" do we mean only plants that would have grown in the spot before "besmirching"? How do we determine just what they were? Does each home owner hire a botanist to generate a species list? Or do we simply use a Flora of the county? The state? So then one can revegetate a garden plot in Seattle with desert species from eastern Washington State because these are "native"?

Of course, the nativists have ready answers to all these questions--answers that are easy to poke holes in if you are a seasoned horticulturist like me, by the way! "Native" is of course a very relative and political term. Perhaps what they are alluding to is the primordial, "original" landscape--before it was mucked up by Europeans.

Of course, when certain tribes of East Asians wandered over the Bering Straits and proceeded to eliminate many dozens of species of megafauna over the next few millenia in North and South America--having who knows what consequences on the native flora--how does that factor in? Since we don't have a clue what the pre-human landscape really looked like.

In order to have truly "native" flora, shouldn't we factor in a few ground sloths, mammoths and mastodons--and perhaps a glyptodon for good measure? There is a potential we can reconstitute these from DNA splicing soon...

Ideally, perhaps, we should go back further, and reconstitute Quaternery landscapes: In Colorado's case we would suddenly find that almost all our present day street trees (elms, maples, walnuts, sycamores--even Ailanthus!) which are viewed as exotics now were once native! What to make of that?

Let us banish the art of gardening altogether! Who cares about a thousand years of breeding roses, irises, fruit trees and berries? Who cares about the passion so many have for exotic flowers...they should visit all of those where they are "native" too--perhaps. Let us scrape these off our gardens as efficiently as the iconoclasts destroyed a half century of Christian art.

Plants, alas, are not as durable as mosaic tesserae: I doubt that a Ravenna or St. Catherine's would persist in the realm of gardening if the native iconoclasts had their way with our garden spaces.

As much as I love and admire "nature" (as slippery a notion as art, poetry, love or God), I believe that urban and suburban landscapes (buildings, roads, traffic) so alter the landscape that there is no reasonable way to truly reconstitute exactly what came before (even if you knew--which frankly we really don't). I think nativists would be better employed to try preserving the tatters of "nature" left in ex-urban landscapes where cities, lumbering, farms and overgrazing have still left a few islands. Or perhaps try restoring degraded wild landscapes instead.

And what of gardens and the art of combining, breeding, selecting and treasuring the vast trove of plants humans have gathered and cherished over the millenia in gardens? Shall we simply trash these because you naturist Malvolios are so very virtuous? To trash gardens for "nature" is in my view as tragic as scraping the tesserae off the naves, apses and domes of countless churches (a grueling, violent and tragic act).

Keep your mitts and noses out of our private garden beds, please, you nasty iconoclasts!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Second Spring!

OK, ok...the colors are different! Instead of Giotto pinks and blues we have these Rembrandt reds and Dutch gold--but we all know that autumn can blaze and burn in ways that spring can only dream of! I took this picture just a few hours ago in twilight on West Ridge, the native xeriscape on the west end of my garden I hae planted a dozen greggii/microphylla type salvias in every imaginable color (pinks, purples as well as the more familiar scarlets, but also oranges and yellow). The reds have lasted years, we shall see is the others are well hardy enough to survive the winter soon enough...

I have likely posted this picture before--this is Westridge in June several years ago--nice enough. At first, if you look at the September state in the next shot (from almost the same spot!) it seems rather stark...but keep scrolling down...

It may appear monochromatic--and texture is its strong point--but the brash light of late morning does make the xeriscape contrasty: check out the weeping Artemisia filifolia on the upper-center right handside--like a hoary, miniature mammoth--and compare it to the next to last shot taken at twilight: the way plants morph in their appearance this time of year astonishes me!

This is a closeup of Westridge--the very slope you saw in the previous two shots, taken in the morning with backlight on the fairy-ring muhly--the real subject of this blog: I have admired that amazing grass all my life--it forms dense pads on road cuts all over the Great Plains, and these gradually die out in the middle, producing wide fairy rings. I never seemed to be there at the right time to collect seed, but Jeff Ottersberg--the greatest native plant nurseryman in Colorado--had many flats of Muhly leftover a few years ago--and gave me a few. These are quickly forming a diminutive groundcovering turf--and this time of year they explode into a cloud of lavender-silvery beauty..

Almost the same spot--a few feet further south perhaps, only taken at twiight.. the Muhly is taking on a purple cast--the various shrubs, yuccas, cacti and clouds of grasses really do deliver color in buckets, however subtle they may be!

Another twilight shot--this time with a Cowpen daisy in front (Verbesina encelioides) and the mini-mammoth Artemisia in the background..altogether different in this light!

I have already blogged about this grass last year elsewhere, and should wait a few days to post since it keeps getting more and more vivid--this is the southerly cousin of Ring Muhly--Muhlenbergia reverchonii in the lower meadow of the Rock Alpine Garden at Denver Botanic Gardens. This dazzling native grass was introduced to cultivation by Lauren and Scott Ogden from prairies near Dallas. This is undoubtedly even flashier than our local dwarf--that dark purple color does the trick--although I have seen rather dark fairy ring muhlies out there. They still trump the Texan because they are far more drought and heat tolerant!

It may be later and later in September, but more and more treasures keep emergin in our gardens---many with vibrant colors and rare beauty. And, oh yes! Fall color is kicking in to boot! Who needs spring with all this gaudy stuff?

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Suite of late summer sweeties...


My new favorite grass is this blowsy head of hair, growing at the Garden at Kendrick Lake (source of endless marvels) is Arrhenatherum calamagrostis. I think this is the form Lauren Springer Ogden brought back from Europe and introduced through High Country Gardens...this time of year it's just another tawny blond, but through the long summer months it is a chartreuse dream--at least 20 million times better than the vastly overrated, overplanted and just plain annoying 'Karl Foerster' grass (yes, I has it's place: next to Perovskia down the street in my opinion!)...Tear all them suckers out and replace them with this hotty, I say!

Not  nearly as as dazzling a blue as its close cousin Clematis heracleifolia (whose foliage does not look like any Heracleum I've ever grown incidentally)...this paler, more nodding Japanese cousin is nevertheless worth growing in its own on the Montane Slope of the Rock Alpine Garden (that endless treasure trove of novelties)...

Eriogonum corymbosum 'Henrieville yellow' at Kendrick has me dying with impatience! Another  High Country Garden special, alas, they are not selling it right now...I will be standing in line the next time they do however--it is that moonlight yellow color I love-- although it may resemble the similar domy snakeweed below...

I know--snakeweed is not exactly going to enchant customers. Neither is Guttierezia sarothrae--although I understand it has been saddled with yet another unpronounceable and endless Latin epithet--phooey! It is true...this does often grow with snakes in the wild (of course there are snakes everywhere in the drier, lower elevations where it grows) but they will not follow it into your garden. It may be a weed of overgrazed pasture as well, but I have had a little trouble establishing it in my xeriscape, Here it is glowing in late afternoon light in the Plains Garden at DBG, which is just glowing right now!

There are not many more wonderful native perennials native to Colorado than Melampodium leucanthum, the "blackfoot daisy"-- a plant desperately needing a better common name. The Blackfeet Indians did not ever range from the northern Great Plains down to the Chihuahuan highlands of southern Colorado southward where this is so common in the sparse Bouteloua and Buchloe grasslands. I have seen this blooming as early as April and as late as November--with a constant dome of color between--beating just about any mere annual in floriferous longevity. This amazing patch was only planted this year in the exciting new native garden surrounding the new Visitor Center at DBG Chatfield--designed by Scott and Lauren Ogden: a preview of a huge new contribution to our gardening scene...

I am very fond of all sedums (don't hold it against me please!), but this is one that even fussy snobs would approve of. Hylotelephium (if you must be correct--or Sedum if you are stubborn and basically right too) tatarinowii is a gem from the steppes of Mongolia I have grown for decades, usually in this glowing ivory form I photographed last week at Kendrick. Harlan Hamernik has been selecting pinker forms, which are occasionally available from Bluebird: see below (and die of envy!): Kendrick is truly an amazing many cities boast public parks full of unique and rare treasures grown to perfection and combined artistically? Lucky Lakewood!

The next morsel is a miniature succulent from the Colorado plateau blooming at Raven Ranch, Rebecca and Bob Skowron's fabulous garden near Franktown: this garden shot looks much as it would in Canyonlands! I grew this for years--just realized I need a start again--I think I know where to go...

After all these mostly xeric, mostly sun loving (and some even native) treasures, it is perhaps refreshing to go back into the cool shade and admire the hardy begonia (Begonia evansiana):  there is a floriferous and beautiful stand of these in the shade of the crabapples just south of the new Orangerie at Denver Botanic Gardens--the white form no less. We have had the deep pink under the river birch in the Rock Alpine garden for over a decade, but the spot is perhaps a bit too sunny or dry and it's not performing as well as these. I have yearned to see this in Colorado, and looks as though it has finally gotten properly established!

Leo Chance in Colorado Springs has grown Lithops salicola outdoors for years (multiple generations as a matter of fact), and Rebecca Day Skowron has had blue Meconopsis thrive for decades...I have had Eritrichium howardii in a trough for fifteen years, and we have overwintered over twenty kinds of Agave: from cactus to begonias--that's Colorado in a nutshell!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Aroidiana: three more delightful weeds...

I can almost hear my friends in wetter parts of America groaning! Pinellias! Panayoti! You have GOT to be kidding...these are ineradicable weeds for many of you I know. That's punishment for living where gentle rains soak your landscape on a more or less regular basis...for those of us who live on the godforsaken steppes of America (they're simply awful--stay where you are) we can grow these things just fine. They are even a tad, well, picky (we have to put them in shade, in places we actually commit to watering. If not...bye bye! The one above is Pinellia pedatisecta, which I enjoyed finding on top of Confucius grave. Quite Qufu, Shandong province to be exact. I do have it seeding here and there--just enough to share with friends. It is green flowered, like most pinellias--if you do not like green flowers, have a good long chat with your therapist and get over it.

This is public enemy number one: Pinellia has the famous bulbils in the axils of the leaves which (along with real seeds) are responsible for its bad habits. In Colorado it doesn't seem to be a problem. Here it is in Sandy Snyder's wonderful garden. I must remind myself to ask her for a piece so I can traumatize wetlanders when they visit's green too!

This is the polite one that no one seems to resent too much: Pinellia tripartita. I am very fond of it myself--like a summer blooming Jack in the Pulpit. There is a slightly more purple form that goes by 'Atropurpureum'--but like the others it is green...
For those of us who live where sun and dryness are the norm, these accomodating (and yes, vigorous and possibly even invasive where you live) plants are very welcome...
Invasiveness, like beauty and lots else is in the mind and eye (and garden) of the beholder. If you live in wet regions stick to the last one and perhaps Pinellia cordata--a spectacular species that has not proved hardy for me in Zone 5/6...
When I was a child, the premier Delicatessen and specialty grocery store in North Denver was Pinelli's, where we would go to buy cheese, olives and suchlike many decades ago...I rather like the thought that that long gone delicatessen is commemorated by such a sweet suite of aroids--the first of which, come to think of it, even has a sweet smell...wonder if the grocer and botanist were related?

Monday, September 10, 2012

What the world needs NOT another yellow daisy...

And yet...I did collect a pinch of seed! We grew this for years at the Gardens, but I think we renovated the garden it grew in one too many times: this is a picture of Heliomeris multiflora (long known as Viguera multiflora), a widespread composite of the Southern Rockies found in a wide range of xeric habitats from near desert up to montane meadows--this picture was taken in the carport of Kerry and Laura Kaster's wonderful home where we spent the weekend...(that's my sweetheart Jan, by the way, doing her Vanna thing.)

The forms we grew in the past seemed to have squinnier flowers: this one was nearly 3" across! It is one of those strange plants that may be perennial--probably short lived. If you put it where it is happy, you will have more than enough. Forever.

Of course, the aspen were turning...and we saw many other flowers at Yampa River Botanic Park, which I will discuss in another place, at another time...if you check back, perhaps I shall even hyperlink it here...

But I end with this twilight image of the namesake rabbit ears of Rabbit Ears' area I have rhapsodized at another time...I didn't find a single stem of glacier lily this time (I hoped to gather seed)...the season was unusually hot this year. Maybe they aborted. Or were grazed...or maybe I didn't stop enough. The aspen were about a quarter turned, but did I take a picture (what was I thinking?).. I did manage this distant shot of those ears that fascinated me as a child--as distant as my childhood, as far as the moon really--since we were speeding away almost a hundred and fifty more miles and actually made it home by ten PM that night--we live in a strange and wonderful world!

We need world peace, and greater wisdom, and far less money spent on campaign advertising--especially by PACS and corporations! And I think we can use a vibrant DYC--vibrant indeed! When I Googled Viguera, lots of helpful sites on Viagra popped up, so to speak. As well....

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hint of autumn

Naked lads, Naked ladies, Colchicum, fall crocus--whatever you call it, when it emerges the gig is up: you know the hot days are numbered.

There are large drifts of these at Denver Botanic Gardens, and I have a handsome clump at home as well...I remember as a child walking past a decrepit wall garden a block or so from my house in Boulder that was a weed patch much of the year, but every fall burst into glorious bloom (the whole schmeer with those giant lavender-pink goblets....

Goblets indeed, filled with autumnal memories and toasting the dying sun.

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