Friday, October 26, 2012

Barrels of fun...New Mexican autumn

These are the literal barrels, Echinocactus grusonii to be precise. What makes this clump special is that it survived subzero temperatures two years ago for several nights (with cold days between) and survived without damage. It is growing in the Arboretum attached to the Visitor Center at Bosque del Apache, one of New Mexico's secret gems...more at the end about this wonderful place...Much could be said about Golden Barrels, but this is not the blog for just them.

Here is another view of the very artistic Arboretum plantings of succulents. These were begun nearly two decades ago by Dan Perry and Socorro Gonzalez Valdez. Big clumps of Opuntia microdasys survived the subzero devastation with equanimity.

Here is another glimpse of the cactus plantings (notice the golden barrels to the far left?)

Dan and Socorro also have a wonderful private garden with many treasures at their home (where their nursery, Rio Grande Cactus, is also headquartered. One of the MANY plants there that amazed me with this large clump of Echinocactus polycephalus var. xeranthemoides--an endemic of the high Mojave Desert that was planted by the previous owner and has persisted for many years.

There are several greenhouses, each filled with treasures in anticipation of winter (and next spring's sales): above is Gibbaea davisii, a South African succulent. Can one ever have enough?

I find rare plant nurseries like this irresistible, when they have vast arrays of the same species that are so interesting to compare. You never know when a special variation may show up. This is Mammillaria hernandesii, a rare Mexican miniature from Oaxaca.

A closeup of the Mam....CUTE!

And here are masses of Fenestraria aurantiaca in its pure white form. I find those baby toes irresistible! Don't you just want to pinch them? I am slipping! There...I can proceed more soberly...
How about these flats full of Adromischus sp. all coming to bloom simultaneously?

And one last plant: Ceropegia sandersonii in very cute bloom. Reminds me of certain stapeliads or possibly an Aristolochia (all three groups totally unrelated!)...

but perhaps some day you will meet Dan and Socorro (they take their cacti to Cactus Society meetings throughout much of the central and south western USA--including Colorado where I met them many years ago). Above is a picture of Dan--Socorro was at Angel Falls in Venezuela while we visited NM...that lucky guy!

I finish with a lovely sunset (look carefully and you will see some Greater Sandhill Cranes flying through it). Dan worked at the Refuge for many years, and seems to genuinely enjoy revisiting and taking along newbies like me and Jan. We had a magical sunset watching hundreds of cranes fly back from the fields where they were gleaning all day, and came back at dawn the next morning to watch most of them fly off for another day's hardwon food.

I have decided we must go back next year and join Dan and Socorro to climb the nearbyChupadera mountain at 5,700' and find the giant Opuntia engelmannii that grows on top. And oh yes, the yellow Penstemon pinifolius he saw a few years ago. Meanwhile, one can dream about the fact that so many "tender" cacti survived the worst cold in a century so well...perhaps we might imagine golden barrels one day that we might grow outdoors in Colorado with a bit of pampering...who knows?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Pagodas

I've grown this Orostachys for many years, but this year it has performed overtime (a dozen or more towers arising here and there all over my garden. I believe it is O. japonica: the names of these odd little succulents are in something of a muddle. But whatever the correct Latin name may one day turn out to be, it is a welcome flourish to end the gardening season. I can't seem to put my fingers on a picture of Orostachys boemeri (a much commoner plant in gardens) which is also spectacular right now...perhaps it shall merit its own blog some day...

I obtained the species above from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew--as Orostachys chanettii (which I assumed had to be correct, considering the provenance).  I have been told it is probably just Orostachys thyrsiflora, which in turn has been lumped with O. spinosa (see below). This blooms in June for me--much earlier than the superficially quite similar O. japonica.

The picture above was taken this summer at Bob Nold's garden: it is the biggest colony of Orostachys minuta (which has also been lumped into O. spinosa--go figure!). Had Bob harvested seed, we could easily have grown several trillion plants from this little trough's worth of plants to carpet the entire hemisphere. The seed are miniscule..

Here is the classical Orostachys spinosa--the form most often cultivated. I have blogged about this before...

Quite distinct from this is Orostachys spinosa, which we found almost everywhere we stopped in the Kazakhstan Altai from the lowland steppe to the tundra. Orostachys have accrued an amazing number of common names--considering they're exotic:"little duncecaps", "pagodas" and of course the many variations on their Japanese common name (iwarenge)...I must have a dozen distinct species and hybrids, and would like to possess even more. Few plants add such a sweet little riff to the late season rock garden or containers. Try one! You'll like it!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Rock Garden Design

My favorite Mr. Anonymous (that's YOU Jim) emailed me today saying "you always do plant portraits" (or words to that effect) asking me if I might not address Rock Garden Design (which I have capitalized ot underscore its significance. I occasionally brush briefly past the subject here and there, I aver, and have written a number of pieces, most recently in the Rock Garden Quarterly (pp. 106-117) as well as contributing pieces to various other magazines over the years and several books. Like most other person on the planet, I do not claim to be an "expert" designer, but like EVERYBODY on the planet, I know what I like. Above is a picture of Sandy Snyder's wonderful crevice garden which is fifteen or more years old now: the rock placement is rather schematic, but the plants love it and have knit it together...

This is my home rock garden: much of the flagstone and especially the wall and stairway were here when we bought the house. The rock work was largely done by Homer Hill under the supervision of Gwen Moore (my ex-) although the upper lefthand corner of the garden was built by Zdenek Zvolanek (with some revision by Gwen). I have tweaked things here and there, and am largely to blame for the plants--must of my original collaboration with Gwen having been superceded by time: the garden is 20 years old...

The idea of rock garden design must be "in the air": two of my favorite bloggers have just touched upon it: Martin and Alxe's wonderful "Textures of Sacred Space" and Jocelyn Chilver's Medicine Mountain ponderings...

I have literally hundreds of images of rock gardens I have taken over the years in private and public gardens both. I have one or two friends who have documented their gardens from scratch to finish--and I shall see if I can perhaps feature them in an upcoming blog...

I can honestly say that designing a rock garden is one of the most enjoyable, complex, physically demanding and really astonishing things a person can do in their lives: I recently wrote a piece about the seminal rock garden construction event that inspired my love of gardening that was just published this month in a book called The Roots of My obsession: this delightful, slim (and very inexpensive) volume edited by Thomas C. Cooper is well worth your purchasing (it features the likes of Tony Avent, Dan Hinkley, Penelope Hobhouse, Roy Lancaster--you know, the general riff raff of our art! I squirmed a tad seeing my name sandwiched between these glitterati). I know I'm being a complete sleazebag to duck out of this blog with a crass self-promotion like that...but it is election season!

Speaking of which, I must tell you that I've had sleepless nights anticipating a Mitt and Mutt victory in November. I realize you do not check in on my blog to be preached to about elections, but I hope you vote for Barack Obama: the candidates are night and day in my book. And Barack has my vote, my confidence and my respect. I believe he has earned your's as well. The alternative makes me sick to my soul.

(See: you can never get away from politics--especially in our poor swing state of Colorado!)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A must have Sedum from Siberia

If this were called Echinacea or Hosta, there would be scads of gardeners buying it, and hybridizers fussing over it and nurserymen loving it. Alas, it is but a mere Sedum (or perhaps more correctly Hylotelephium. I prefer to use the latter as a Sectional of the genus Sedum [and stick to the old generic] for the sake of simplicty, clarity and to annoy sticklers). This pink form is to DIE for: it's growing (like so many treasures) at the Gardens at Kendrick Lake, the Lakewood city Xeriscape demonstration garden.

Here is a pure white form of the same taxon, growing the same place. Dontcha love variability?

And here is a rather impoverished individual I photographed years ago at my old house: in more shade and otherwise tortured it does not make such a wonderful dome, but it is still charming (and you can see the terrific, silvery, toothy leaves. I first obtained this from a great rock gardener from Brooklyn named Louis Budd Myers--we're talking thirty years ago. The two plants at Kendrick are from a subsequent expedition to Inner Mongolia where seed was gathered by Harlan Hamernik. Bluebird Nursery still offers this wonderful plant that I rarely see in people's gardens, and more is the pity. It never spreads, and makes a perfect dome in late summer just under a foot tall and across--great to grow where spring bulbs come up early and die down in time for this to do its thing. Like all sedums, it's dead easy to grow. You should try it: you too will like it (in pink or white--or both perhaps!)...And besides, the name is fun to say!

Monday, October 8, 2012


A highly impressionistic, shall we say, depiction of the "hard frost" that was supposed to occur last Saturday night. It did drop to 28F, and fried most Coleus in exposed spots, as well as Basil and Salvia fulgens. But, like Superman, the Southerwestern "Autumn" sages (S. greggii and S. microphylla and their kin) revealed their true, mountaineer souls by coming through pretty much unscathed. That's a seedling S. greggii above that decided it wanted to grow in my pathway: so be it!

This is the real gem of the bunch: Salvia 'Raspberry Delight' represents a hybrid between Salvia microphylla ssp. wislezinii (a.k.a. Salvia lemmonii) and a greggii parent, produced by David Salman several decades ago: this has been far and away the toughest, most cold hardy and just plain wonderful of the autumn sages in my garden. I have it on my unwatered xeriscape where it must have several hundred thousand flowers right now, and this specimen that gets more shade near my rock garden--and still blooms prodigally for almost six months.

This "artsy" shot with backlight gives a bit of a flavor of its piercing purple-magenta flowers. Pictures (and I have taken dozens) can't seem to really pick up the right hue. It is wonderful! David tells me he has a plant that is even an improvement over this. I look forward to trying his new gem--but meanwhile, I treasure my 'Raspberry Delight': if the greggii/microphylla salvias are tenderish for you, try this one. I have a hunch it can even survive Zone 4 in a sufficiently dry spot....

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I'm changing my name to Ptolemy...

 Crocus speciosus 'Albus'

Yes! I am the "King of De Nile": after two nights of dodging the frost bullet, the Weather Service is predicting anything from 23F to 25F tonight. I have lugged all the tender plants I care most about indoors--a real mess--and am wistfully looking at the dozens of pots full of still cheerfully blooming Pentas, Plumbago, Callibrachoa, Gomphrena, Petunia, Nicotiana, Angelonia, Euryops--and more--that shall succumb to the Grim Scythe of Hard Frost. Rather than dwell on the demise of all my tropicalia, I have decided to declare premature spring: since Autumn Crocus has been comandeered by Colchicum, I propose we call these "Premature Spring Crocuses" and just declare spring once and for all.

 Crocus pulchellus

Once again the wonderful throng of Crocus pulchellus I planted decades ago in front of the Alpine House in the Rock Alpine Garden which have proliferated, are doing their thang. I must find a spot where I can get these to repeat the show at my home garden: their pale lavender goblets cheer me up each time I walk by them. Cheers!

Crocus kotschyanus 
I have one or two blossoms on my  C. kotschyanus at home, but Mike Kintgen has got a great little colony started at DBG.: I believe these trace to Loren Russell, who knows a place where they have naturalized in Corvallis. He is a very good man to know, incidentally! An admirable man. A generous man. A good man. A great plantsman!...(I must remember to send him this link...).

 Crocus boryi

I have been mildly taunted by friends for my love of white (and pale) flowers. Taunt away! You have obviously not spent the dusks and twilights I have, padding about my garden, yearning for the lingering light to stay, for night to delay so I can drink in a few more minutes in the magic of my fellow beings, these adorable little plants I love so much. And the pale ones, the white ones respond with seeming to almost glow: I know this all sounds terribly maudlin and corny for you cruel cynics, but true plant lovers will understand. Vita Sackville-West understood only too well. I have yet to go to Sissinghurst, but when I do, I shall make a beeline for the White Garden (a splendid idea in my book).
Crocus cancellatus v. cancellatus
I put in one darker blue premature spring crocus for you color-whores. I do not think that a garden can have enough crocuses. Or irises for that matter. Or eriogonums, salvias or saxifrages. Or any one of another few hundred other genera...I suppose that is why I have dedicated my life to worshiping and studying these delightful minions of nature. And since you are reading this, you must agree. Thank you brother/sister/friend. Would everyone were flower besotten as we are!
Ptolemy Kelaidis

Thursday, October 4, 2012

First frost

There is something sad about a fellow who loves alpine flowers and plants from cold temperate climates generally, and who resents the winter that these plants require in order to exist. Doesn't make much sense, really: I know I should give up my resentment of frost and learn to appreciate the crisp, clean outlines of winter, her simplicity.

Everyone says we are burdened with too many things...rather than the garish displays of poppies and pansies, as we see above, I should enjoy the crisp gray outlines of the hills and the clean, crisp emptiness of winter.

And a piece of me does: I get a lot of reading done in the winter months (which I love), and get to California (which I love) and sometimes the southern Hemisphere (which I love a lot)--which is cheating I know, because I'm escaping into lushness and verdure (and summer) again.

One of my favorite poets is Antonio Machado, a wonderful Spaniard, who sings the praises of the bleak Castilian landscape at all times of year, especially winter, in muscular, elegant verse.

Last night we had frost, and killing frost is predicted the next two nights. Maybe I would resent it less if the word wasn't modified so cruelly.

Suddenly I notice the Rockies outside my bathed in gorgeous crimson Alpenglow (a mostly winter phenomenon): I give it up! Bring on the snow! Welcome winter! Bring it on!

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