Showing posts from November, 2012

Molly the Witch

We are now less than half a year away from the time when Molly the Witch (Paeonia mlokosewitchii) casts her spell: she almost always blooms for Mother's day--or even a tad earlier in these days of earlier springs. As you gain your horticultural stripes in colder regions, you must somehow get your mitts on this subtle queen of wild peonies. Here are the shoots in March and early April...emerging in my home garden...even at this early and rather provocative stage, Molly is arresting!  Here she is in her full glory, this clump happens to be at Laporte Avenue Nursery in Fort Collins--one of the few nurseries that regularly grows this gem. Although I can't guarantee they always have it in stock (it does tend to sell out quickly)... Here's a fine specimen on Ridge Road in Littleton--at the Snyder garden. I suspect more than one passing motorist has swerved... Even in seed it is a wonder in the garden. Why am I writing now, in the early days of winter about this glory of early s…

Fearful symmetry

Sunday night Jan and I went to see "The Life of Pi"--which despite having rave reviews only had a dozen or so people in the huge theatre. I thought this Watercolor tiger painting (which you can purchase if you click on the hyperlink!) captured a bit of the essence of the movie--as well as Blake's classic poem at the bottom.  Richard Parker (the tiger in the movie) was the kicker for me: how the hell they could have done such an astonishingly perfect job of cyberartistry with this awesome cat? Apparently, the critters in the boat are all phony cyber creations, although they looked distressingly real to my eyes. I don't want to spoil your appreciation of this movie--it is well worth seeing on many levels. But I realized watching it that much of my life has been a struggle with my own personal tiger. Piscine (the protaganist) implies at the end that perhaps Richard Parker (the tiger antagonist) was in fact himself...I said the movie operated on many levels! I've re…

In praise of spines

Opuntia ursina at Timberline Any fool can love a prickly pear in bloom: they are unspeakably lovely in flower. But the general run of people find the form of the plants strange--even repellent. I maintain they are an acquired taste. I adore the sumptuous flowers in early summer (and applaud Kelly Grummons for beginning to hybridize reblooming prickly pears). But I enjoy the stem shapes and colors almost as much--and for a much longer period of time than their fleeting flowers. Here are a few of my favorite Opuntias (and Cylindropuntias, to be pedantic!)
Cylindropuntia davisiae 'Golden Lion' Two cane chollas have proved extremely cold hardy as well as spectacular in their spines: This Golden cholla of the Chihuahuan desert is a show stopper summer or winter. Opuntia aurea 'Chocolate Princess' Kelly Grummons crossed two forms of O. aurea to produce this amazingly colored prickly pear that stays quite dark even in summer!
Cylindropuntia whipplei 'Snow Leopard'

Untimely daffs...

Narcissus albidus v. foliosus If it were not for the seemingly endless variability of Mediterranean bulbs (and those from Central Asia and other bulby places too I suppose) winter would be very long indeed. I only obtained these two morsels in the last few years, both blooming cheerfully the last week of November! We have had numerous hard frosts, and the temperature at night has not been much above freezing most of the last month--with one or two nights dipping into the teens. This has not been through a winter yet, but N. cantabricus below did go through last winter.
Narcissus cantabricus
I visited Savill Gardens in Windsor Great Park in April of 1981 on an enchanted late afternoon--there were hardly any visitors there, and the bright day was gradually turning golden with late afternoon light. Long will I remember the bright pink petals of Magnolia campbellii floating down ever so slowly, and the streamside planted thickly with Lysichiton (camtchaticum over there, americanum over her…

Odd couples. Unique pairings. Kooky combos.

Lovers of perennial borders are always seeking out wonderful ways of combining plants. Rock gardeners are notorious for their love of the cameo shot: and I'm a culprit in this arena. I have taken tens and thousands of mug shots of plants...finding two together in my image collection is a challenge--and when you do, what strange and mysterious things result.

I don't believe I have flaunted this one on this blog before: Paeonia cambessedessii was just moved from this spot (where it has not bloomed quite as well since I took this picture four or fice years ago.) And the Gentiana acaulis dwindled in this spot--but the Daphne cneorum 'Album' behind is bigger and better than ever, thank Heavens! This patriotic combination caused just about every visitor I led to it to glare at me with envy. Those are the moments gardeners live for.

Where else will you see Allium schubertii combined with BOTH Monardella macrantha AND Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'? I take credit for the …

Friendly strangers

There's really nothing so very strange about the "Persian candytufts" (Aethionema)--although their name derives from the ancient Greek "aethes", which means strange. They are foreign to most gardens since these are quintessential rock plants. And one of the many good reasons to have a rock garden. I've noticed over the years that the best rock gardens usually feature plenty of these, and not to brag too much, mine has more than most. Here some of innumerable Aethionema grandiflorum in my garden (the form once sold as A. pulchellum--and certainly different from the A. grandiflorum I have grown from wild seed: botanists! get your act together!). This forms a miniature, gnarly shrub in time, and lives forever, and grows vigorously provided it is not too wet or too shady. They do pop up everywhere for me: I have a problem weeding them out, so I seem to have a few more every year...oh well.

Most Aethionema are pink, but I obtained this white one years ago from …

Prickly business: a Southern California specialty nursery

Southern California might well be considered the Mecca of all cactophiles: Mexico may boast the largest number of species, and of course South Africa postively bristles with succulents (albeit not cacti), but Southern California boasts dozens of dazzling public gardens displaying fantastic succulent collections (not just the Huntington, btw), and more specialty, wholesale, and retail nurseries growing and selling succulents than you can shake an ocotillo cane at. I was lucky enough to visit several of these during my recent lecture tour: I was captivated by Prickly Palace. The picture above was not taken at that palace, exactly, but in the private garden of the absolutely astonishing garden full of all manner of spectacular specimen succulents grown to perfection. As I looked up and down their street full of conventional gardens (lawns, blobby bushes) that could have been in New Jersey or Idaho (whose owners pay untold thousands of dollars to keep their dullish gardens su…

Best in show cushions and buns

Rock gardeners are known for their interest in alpine cushion plants. Although succulents usually summon up images of fleshy crassulas or sedums, there are several succulents that can equal any alpine in their rounded, tight mounds. I photographed this amazing specimen of Deuterocohnia brevifolia (Synonym:Abromeitiella brevifolia), a bromeliad from the foothills of the southern Andes which makes a wonderful specimen in a pot. This specimen has apparently won many a medal for its owner, here shown at the San Gabriel Cactus and Succulent Show at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia, California on November 3. Here it takes the first prize in Bromeliad division. (It was just one of over 800 incredible specimens in that show: Plant shows, sales and auctions are alive and well in California, let me tell you: I attended several in a week!)
 And here is a terrific example of the same species grown as a virtual sphere by
Peter G Walkowiak, a dynamic nurseryman who hos…