Sunday, December 30, 2012

Out phloxed...Ending the year on a sad note...

Phlox 'Mary Maslin'
Let's make next year better! I have known for some time I would have to eventually write this post, and I suppose the last day of the year is appropriate. 30 years ago the Mexican phlox that my friend Paul Maslin (and I) brought into cultivation were reaching their apogee. There were a dozen or more clones making the rounds...some propagated in prodigious numbers for a while. Everyone had them. And eventually just about everyone lost them. Above is 'Mary Maslin', which Paul named for his wonderful wife who passed away in her mid nineties a decade or more ago. Paul died in 1984--he would be sad indeed to know that most of his phloxes would one day be nearly extinct. Or possibly extinct.

Phlox lutea 30 years ago at Denver Botanic Gardens

The yellow one still persists in the wild, at least. And on the fringes of cultivation...Above you can see how well it once grew for us. I thought it would be a keeper!

Phlox 'Tangelo' 30 years ago at DBG
I know a few people who still have 'Tangelo'--maybe we can bring it back from the brink...
Phlox 'Vanilla' last year in my garden
'Vanilla' which ages a pale yellow is quite vigorous still--the one that has lasted the longest..

Phlox 'Arroyito' 25 years ago or so: grown by Homer Hill (R.I.P.)
Home Hill loved this miniature that showed up at his place. It bloomed all summer. I have a real sense of loss when I view these...I remember Homer once had flats and flats of this.

There is the man: my buddy. Paul Maslin. Look five or so feet in front of him and to the left--you can see some of the scarlet and orange phloxes that filled that patch of prairie five or ten miles west of Cuahtemoc: notice the outlines of the hills behind...and compare them to the shot below.

We believe this picture was taken from roughly the very same spot as the one before. It's worth looking back and forth between them a few times. That is the story of the modern era: the wholesale pavement of all that is charming and picturesque under asphalt and cement.The curlicue and fastigiate cypresses (or are they junipers?) are small compensation indeed.

We have relinquished too much as we've overpopulated our planet. We must re-engineer our economic system--a pyramid scheme at best. We must somehow come to grips before we destroy and lose and compromise the things on planet earth that really matter: the magnificent fields of wildflowers.

We only found the bright orange, scarlet and crimson phloxes in one spot--and that spot is paved wall to wall to perdition.

New Year Resolutions:

        1) Join Zero Population Growth
        2) Send a check to Planned Parenthood
        3) Re-join the Sierra Club
        4) Propagate rare plants I grow that may be lost to cultivation
        5) Try to raise my own integrity a tad so I can be self-righteous without squirming too much

I would like to be positive and cheerful: those who know me know I tend to be. But I believe we cannot be naive, or dishonest or spend all our time whistling in the wind. Nature shall persist long after humans have bungled and blasted ourselves to oblivion. But I would like both Nature and Humanity to not just persist, but thrive. And for humanity to quit overpopulating, and even shrink our numbers a bit, and figure out how we can have our cake and eat it, dammit!

How have a Happy New Year! (Drink one for me and maybe a couple for the lovely Maslin phloxes--who knows? perhaps there's even time to salvage a few?)

P.S. I've done an album on this blog showing a variety of phloxes--these as well as lots of Western phloxes that are still wonderfully abundant in nature. (Just don't tell the engineers).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

California dreamin'

Ted Kipping on right, myself on the left. Last March.
For the last few years I've spent Christmas in California (Jan, my partner, has never not spent Christmas here) and I've been basking among the Bougainvilleas for nearly two weeks. Most years we wend our way northward for a week or so at the Bay area, but this year exigencies made us cut the trip short. I did go Bayward three times in the last year, so I haven't exactly neglected the area. Christmas here is a kick: everyone complains about how cold the weather is (days steadily in the 60's with lots of sun) and it seems to rain mostly at night...bone chilling lows in the fifties mostly. and there are masses of bloom everywhere. I am featuring one of my favorite California places--the garden of Ted and Diane Kipping, in the south part of San Francisco. This garden seems to encapsulate so many of the contradictions and delights of this amazing State for us gardeners...

Geranium maderense at Kippings'

Ted and Diane's sidewalk view is an uncharacteristic monoculture of Geranium maderense from the Canary Islands (which I first stupidly published as Geranium palmatum). Ted (who corrected me) points out that this is the largest of true Geranium. The pictures were taken in March, but this could have been taken most any month of the year...the danged plant never quits! Ted also emailed me a much nicer picture of the same which I shall post at the end of this post (post-haste!). Fortunately, not by parcel post...Ted also added this note in his email:  Some of mine have reached six feet in height along that front fence. They are so deliciously OUT of proportion there and in violation of most tenets of genteel gardening. Was it not Mae West who said "too much of a good thing is just wonderful!" ??

Ted and I regard one another as "Brothers by Choice" ("BBC's") since our friendship stretches back over three decades. I must scan the pictures of this handsome devil I've taken over that interval--he really hasn't changed much. He is the impresario of gardening throughout his region--like Shelley's poets who are "unacknowledged legistlators of the world", plantsmen of Ted's magnitude maintain the bonds of humankind with the Natural world, which he knows better than anyone: from tiny alpines he has pursued around the world, to tropical cloud forest woodlands, there are not many habitats Ted has not photographed and brought back in spirit to his home. As the premier tree shaper not only of the Bay area, but of America, Ted has a special bond with woody plants as well...and his raptor like gaze belies the gentlest of vegetarian hearts. He's near the top of my favorite people...and that garden reflects his uber-Catholicism (in plants that is...)

Senecio stellata
Most of us would be content with a mere Cinerea, but Ted must have an electric violet blue African gem positively glowing on his porch!

Ranunculus cortusifolius

And of course, he has to have the gigantic Azores endemic buttercup (a sort of book end to the Geranium earlier on.) A stroll through this garden is a bit of a whirlwind tour of the whole world.

Dierama sp.

 The pond margins seem to always have a Dierama blooming every time I visit no matter what the season...
Agave, Euphorbia cf. chacaricias, Trough with raoulia and miniature plants

A fairly typical vignette with a xeric American Agave next to a xeric Mediterranean Euphorbia, and a bevy of miniatures (knit together with a New Zealand scab plant) in one of his innumerable troughs...

Bromeliad tree
 How's this for a living Christmas tree? Growing bromeliads outdoors almost any time of year in Colorado is iffy, but here they delight year around in the cloud forest atmosphere...

Schizostylis coccinea
 For me, Schizostylis (I know they are now trying to lump it into Hesperantha!) blooms in September and October--for Ted it  blooms sporadically year around...tree ferns here and there around the yard...

Pond with mixed treasures...

I know that looks suspiciously like a Colorado blue spruce on the upper left...orchids and ferns everywhere again...
Warty trunk

I can't swear it's not a Ceiba--it could be anything in Ted's garden. And every winter as we drive around L.A. or San Diego you aren't sure if the paper birch will be growing alongside a Bismark Palm tree or a native Redwood.

Stumbling around California horticulturally for me I am reminded of snippets here and there of Andrew Marvel's great poem:

"...what wondrous life in this I lead?
Ripe apples fall about my head
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine.
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar'd with flow'rs I fall on grass..."

(from "The Garden" by Andrew Marvel)

P.S. Ted sent me a list of plants blooming in his garden on January 1, 2012: check below his picture...

Ted Kipping's MUCH nicer picture of Geranium maderense in front of his home...Mae West would approve!

Budding Body Count At 257 Joost Avenue, S.F., CA  1/1/2013  - in yore Honor – taxa observed with 1-scores of blossoms – some hanging on to the remnants of the last season and some precociously pushing ahead adumbrating well ahead of the flashflood of blooms to come:
1 Centranthus
1 Zantedeschia
1 Xanthorea
2 Melastomes
1 Brugmannsia
6 Cupheas
5 Begonias
1 Thunbergia
2 Potentillas
1 Cyclamen
2 Ranunculus
6 Fuchsias
1 Stachys
1 Prunella
2 Gunneras
4 Campanulas
5 Orchids
1 Galvezia
1 Heteroheca
1 White Mtn Daisy
3 Cestrums
1 Iochroma
17 Abutilons
2 Senecios
1 Schizostilis
1 Catananche
5 Oxalis
10 Geraniums
2 Myosotis
1 Parthenium
4 Helleborus
1 Heuchera
1 Tiarella
16 Bromelliads
3 Euphorbias
1 Hieracium
2 Cestrums
1 Clivia
2 Verbascums
1 Oenothera
1 Lithodora
1 Crassula
1 Kalanchoe
5 Echevarrias
1 Verbena
1 Iris
3 Aloes
5 Salvias
1 Lepechinia
1 Achillea
1 Dicentra
1 Armeria
2 Primulas
1 Cotula
2 Fragarias
1 Lobelia
1 Allium
1 Franchoa
1 Heather
1 Plectranthus
1 Impatiens
1 Calceolaria
1 Hydrangea
1 Erysimum
1 Nemophila
1 Leucodendron
1 Ginger
1 Polygonum
2 Vireya

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I want a blue Clematis!

Clematis integrifolia ex Baikal in my home garden
Baikal clematis on Sandy Snyder's rock garden
 Now that I have Elvis' annoying Christmas song ringing in your head, I should clarify: even the BLUEST clematis has more than a hint of lavender. I've tried expunging that with Adobe, and a touch of pink still lingers. Oh well...lavender is a wonderful color too...if you are reading this, you have probably grown lots of Clematis integrifolia--that massive Eurasian clump forming perennial that annoys nurserymen who can't figure out what department it belongs in (shouldn't it be in with the vines?)

As you can see, it's habit is not really vining: here on Sandy's rock garden it makes a wonderful columnar statement, rather like this column of text.

Clematis integrifolia on the foothills of the Kazakh Altai
Clematis integrifolia 'Mongolian Bells' selection in blue
 The typical forms of Clematis integrifolia found in nurseries grow several feet tall (I've seen them more than a meter) and of course, they flop and cause no end of annoyance to fastidious gardeners. but those heavenly blue flowers! You can of course stake them, and fuss to no end. Or you can seek out of of several outstanding new selections that are making the rounds. Ellen Hornig sold that wonderful Lake Baikal form, which stays under 18" tall and has been far more reliably upright than most in my experience. I'm not sure if anyone has continued propagating this wonderful dwarf with such rich color (rather like a compact race of what I found in Kazakhstan)...I have several in my garden and that's not quite enough! I also have many 'Mongolian bells'--an incredible selection made by Harlan Hamernik in Inner Mongolia which is more of a groundcover--spreading out from a central crown and blooming profusely for a very long time. We have found if this is cut back it reblooms well in later summer as well. It comes not just in this good blue, but more pinkish forms, and a near violet as well as pure whites--you have to keep buying them to see if you can get all the forms, you see!

Mongolian bells clematis in Plantasia at Denver Botanic Gardens: the first public display of this form
 I had to show the original bed where the first 'Mongolian Bells' were planted at Denver Botanic Gardens--this is near the west end of the gardens, in a wonderful drift of yellow foxtail lilies (Eremurus stenophyllus). I am not sure if the clematis grows with the foxtail in the Hindu Kush, but I did see lots of other species of Foxtail lily growing with this same clematis in the Altai and Tian Shan.
Clematis tenuiloba
A number of Viorna section Clematis must be very closely related to C. integrifolia--I find that Clematis fremontii seems especially similar to its Asian cousin. Clematis fremontii deserves (and shall surely one day get) a full blog post of its own, but meanwhile I thought it would be interesting to compare the jaunty sepals of Clematis tenuiloba from the Rockies to the Mongolian Bells--they do seem to be cousins. If you look up C. tenuiloba, you will see that some botanists have lumped this under the vining Clematis columbiana...They may be right, but for us horticulturists they are worlds apart. This dark blue specimen is growing the the Pikes Peak trough of what was once Wild Flower Treasures...

Clematis scottii
And Clematis scottii has likewise been lumped under Clematis hirsutissima by non gardening botanists...they are so different in habitat in nature, and the way they grow, I suspect the botanists will come around. The picture above was also taken in that late, departed garden. I hope we can soon regenerate spectacular specimens like this elsewhere at Denver Botanic Gardens: meanwhile, I'm glad I took lots of pictures (and planted them at home!) This last is one of the special Plant Select petites being premiered this spring: do check it out at their website!

And  may you too have a blue blue blue garden this coming year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Waiting for the Barbarians

If you have never read C.P. Cavafy's eloquent poem, "Waiting for the Barbarians" do yourself a favor and click on that URL...

The apocalyptic light of sunset (that was a few weeks ago not far from my house) peppers Facebook. Everyone seems to be allured at some point or another with the fascination of "the end". One of my friends is passionate about Horror Movies, and we all know far too much lately about the disgusting American addiction to firearms--another form of frenetic (if sublimated) barbarism and deathwish.

I often imagine the apocalyptic horror that my distant ancestors must have experienced in 1204 and a few centuries later in 1453 when the Barbarians did indeed breach the walls of The City. I shall never forget one of my aunts as we sat gazing from the summit of Roca near Pervolakia, describing how they watched the thousands of Nazi paratroopers descend like confetti a mere fifteen miles away on Maleme in May 21, 1941. The barbarians are out there all right: C.P. is wrong.

The Barbarians are everywhere. They massacre innocent children in schools and theatres (not far from where I live you know). They have killed a dozen or so of my extended family over the last century alone. They cause us to lock doors and fret when we travel (or sometimes when we are at home late at night). Although the Mayan Calendar was apparently wrong this time. I do hope against hope my many Republican buddies (in terminal and truly asinine denial about global warming) are right. I know Pastor Joe, my Facebook buddy I used to work with at the Gardens, is dead wrong about Obama being the "end of the world". The ultimate Barbarism is our blind faith in technology.

I vastly prefer Cavafy's gently optimistic nihilism to T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": I would have posted a Youtube of Eliot reciting that poem, but it was removed from that site due to "multiple third party notifications of copywrite infringement" (a sort of bureaucratic world-ending whimper if there ever was one). But searching for that pitiful poem of tragic endings I stumbled on something much, much nicer indeed: Groucho Marx's account of the evening he spent with Eliot in 1964. The thought of Julius and Tom stumbling over conversation, and writing notes back and forth is just too rich: no...the world is not ending today, not tomorrow. Not when Groucho is clearly eclipsing Prufrock as an American artistic legacy. He's my kind of barbarian! Vita brevis, Ars longa.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A cup of claret to cheer the season....Christmassy cacti

Echinocereus polyacanthus

I know these aren't Zygocacti, for Heavens sake... discounting those (which deserve their own blog by someone who can actually grow them well) I realize that Christmas isn't exactly cactus season (except maybe in Patagonia)...but there is something terribly Christmassy to my eyes about the flowers of the myriad claret cup cacti (a section of Echinocereus that is distinctive for its badminton birdie flowers that stay open rather than close at night like most echinocerei). A dozen or more species have been named in this section of the genus based on their genetics and distribution: one of the most spectacular, Echinocereus polyacanthus, is found primarily in northern Mexico--but has proved very hardy at Denver Botanic Gardens for twenty or more years. It has especially lovely, immense crimson chalices--a rich claret cup indeed! Cheers!

Echinocereus coccineus ex Taos
David Salman, proprietor of the recently disbanded Santa Fe Greenhouses, once gave me two seedlings of Echinocereus coccineus he grew from seed collected above Taos: this high elevation form is remarkably diminutive--those stems are barely two inches across! E. coccineus tends to form much larger cushions than E. triglochidiatus, is usually a bit more orangy in flower, and blooms a week or two earlier in my observation...

This is one of the many fine cushions of E. coccineus at Denver Botanic Gardens Dryland Mesa.

For contrast, here is a form of Echinocereus gonacanthus (probably best treated as a form of E. triglochidiatus) on Dryland Mesa as well: I have admired large mounds of these on the cliffs at Royal Gorge, not far from Canon City in central Colorado.

And here is the giant of the group: the huge "White Sands Form" of Echinocereus triglochidiatus. This performs quite a ballet in the garden, rising to great heights in summer, and shrinking to half its summer height in winter. I remember seeing this everywhere around White Sands in the 1970's and nary a one on a recent field trip: were they hiding? overcollected? was I just in the wrong spots? I have observed areas with widespread cactus die off periodically (they succumb to prolonged drought or insects as other plants do--and will come back). One of the above no doubt is correct. Fortunately, my buddies (Dan and Socorro) at Rio Grande Cactus grow this by the thousand! (I blogged about their enchanting nursery a few months ago).

Back to Echinocereus coccineus--the clumps above are probably 50 or more years old: we transplanted them from Red Rock park where they were the centerpieces of a cactus garden created more than forty years ago by our local cactus club (they were expanding the gift shop and wisely contacted us to rescue these mounded monsters)...I suspect they had to be at least ten years old at that time--hence my estimated age. They are likely even older than that: admiring these is a highlight of every May for me at work.
And finally, there's my favorite clump in the wild, south of Moab a dozen miles or so in a wonderful canyon. I have brought many dozens of people here on field trips from Denver Botanic Gardens in late April when the canyonlands are at their peak of spring bloom--that's only four months away! An even larger clump growing at the fabulous cactus garden at the old Fairgrounds on Orchard Mesa south of Grand click on the blue highlighted link at the start of this sentence to check that one out!
Meanwhile, I shall tip a cup of claret this Christmas and toast this past rewarding year and to your health! Clink clink!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Going with the Phlomis...

I realize this looks suspiciousliy like Lamb's ears--and the Phlomis are distantly related, it's true--but these fluffy, very touchable leaves are one of the innumerable "Jerusalem sages" that have barely entered cultivation, or have yet to do so...the Mediterranean is chockablock full of Phlomis--and strangely few are out there. This is one that Dan and I collected half way up the Sierra Nevada above Granada, little suspecting it would have such lovely, burnt orange flowers...

Which I have yet to photograph properly. I suspect if I take the time and photograph this in just the right light, it will get the notoriety it deserves. Dan has propagated dozens of plants which now cover a wide swath of the Watersmart garden, producing buckets of seed. Now if it would only do this in MY garden!

Here is yet another execrable picture of a fabulous plant, in this case Phlomis lychnitis--we managed to get only a little pinch of this at a high elevation on Sierra Mágina, a magical mountain in Andalucia. I shall never forget the day or the plants there: practically the whole mountain for miles was wall to wall Phlomis lychnitis--all with seedpods sticking up, and ALL were empty, except for one which had a few flaky black seed. I think only one germinated. and this one has persisted at DBG, and despite Mike Bone growing dozens of seedlings a few years ago from our home grown seed, it is still not being sold by K-Mart (in fact, I think we still just have one or two measley plants). It is really not so easy to introduce plants, no matter what the Plant Nazis say!

Here's a closeup of a dwarf Phlomis that Marcia Tatroe grows to perfection. Alas, it never produces seed (she says: I secretly think she's hoarding it and just enjoys watching me writhe with envy each spring when I visit). She keeps telling me the name, which I suppress. I think it is close to P. armeniaca--but truth be said, there are several dozen dwarf yellow Phlomis, one cuter than the next..

Here's my picutre of a very different Phlomis I took in the Tian Shan in 2010: it grows EVERYWHERE there, and also in the Altai: Phlomis oreophila has not proven as amenable as I'd hoped--although we collected much seed. I'm afraid we've been treating it too harshly--it does like alpine conditions and lots of moisture. I'm growing the somewhat similar Phlomis bracteata which I admired in Pakistan, so I hope we can finally tame this one: it is wonderfully wooly for much of its juvenile stage as it emerges in the spring....surely a plant this abundant and widespread in the wild will be growable?

And then there is this little munchkin: I got this decades ago from an Index Seminum, and it has persisted cheerfully in the same spot in the Rock Alpine Garden. Truth be said, I'm not sure I trust the name: it looks so similar to a bevy of Sideritis I have grown, and come to think of it it could almost pass for Stachys citrina: that pale yellow color seems to be widespread in Mediterranean mints. I love this thing, but I have not researched it: the flower morphology screams Sideritis to me: I wonder if there's been a mistake?

Is it not strange that such wonderful plants, with evergreen foliage (mostly) and a long season of summer bloom have not gotten more attention? I for one will not be content until I've grown every species of Phlomis on the planet, and then some!

I believe this genus has got to be one of the very best for xeric to fetch the other hundred or so species we're still missing!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Autumn embers redux (April in December?)

Autumn embers still? And what's this "April in December?"--hold your horses, it'll all come out in the wash! The "April in December" is the easy part: April is the perfect month at the beginning of the growing season. March is a tad too early (and ragged around the edges, so to speak) but by April the bulbs are all out in force, the first lilacs and flowering trees are blooming and the alpines are going great guns: everything is crisp and full of promise and the hailstorms and summer droughts and insects have yet to take their toll. December represents a similar sort of perfection: We've finally managed most of the fall cleanup, and the beds are pretty trim, the last bulbs planted, and the last fall color is glowing and lots of bulbs are actually poking up their cute little noses (you should make some squeaky sounds here)...winter has yet to wreak its worst--and one can admire with optimism the many new succulents (and other plants of untested hardiness) you have put out before they are blasted to oblivion...hopefully not the Cotyledon orbiculata pictured above. This is the chubby, very silvery form that Agua Fria nursery says they obtained from me nearly 20 years ago which they have grown for years and propagated...finally coming home to roost, as it were, in the very best, steep crevicy spot I could find... 
This is a hunkering giant form that Dan Johnson planted in front of Marnie's Pavilion. It made it through last winter...and grew enormously this summer...I walk by here several times a day at work, and needless to see I shall be observing its progress through the next few months with intense curiosity! 
I've grown several Nananthus in the past--one (N. transvaalensis) bloomed through much of the winter one year. I believe this is N. vittatus--and it has been blooming from late November to this past week. Any plant witty enough to bloom this time of year has got to be a keeper--now let's just hope it keeps alive through this winter! Most Nananthus I have grown in the past bloom in April, funnily enough...(Here you should prop your right elbow on your left palm, and scratch your chin thoughtfully with your right index finger, saying "Veeeeeeeeeery interesting".)
I have grown quite a few Narcissus bulbocodium in my day, and they have always bloomed for me in, yes, April. Last autumn I obtained six bulbs of Narcissus cantabricus from Brent and Beckys and was disappointed when they did not bloom this last April. Lo! and Behold, a month or so ago I noticed buds near the base of the stem...precocious buds for next spring? A few weeks ago the first bud opened, and since then three of the plants have come into full bloom. I shall be intrigued to see how they make it through the next few nights in the lower teens!

Above is a closer look at N. cantabricus--which does bear a strong resemblance to its cousin below....

This is Narcissus albidus var. foliosus, planted this year from Mark Akimoff and Jane McGary's outstanding bulb list. It has not been through the winter, but I realized I have another clump from them that did make it through last winter unscathed, but without blooming opened its first flower in mid November and is still blooming on December the way, we've had almost summery weather in that interval (days often in the 70's: what better definition of a steppe climate: a place where spring flowers bloom in late autumn with summerlike days when it should be winter!)
Here is the late autumn/early winter view of my rock garden slope I featured in a blog several years ago. That year I took the picture of this same slope in October (this October the slope had not turned color) is instructive to compare the two pictures--they both are surprisingly similar. Hence my revisiting "Autumn embers".

Hardly April, I know--but there is a wonderful blend of Rembrandtian colors in the early winter (as opposed to the Giotto tints of April). The bright white clump in the front left is Sideritis cypria--a wonderful new plant that is untested for hardiness--what will it look like in April? And the Green rosettes at 4:00PM (birders will know what I mean) is Erigeron glaucus--a coastal California-Oregon endemic that burns pretty badly most winters, but comes back. And so it goes around my garden--lots of promise and many questions...and much the same excitement that April brings in a different way. And we're only four months away!

Thursday, December 6, 2012



....Thus life has been an endless line of land
receding endlessly.... And so that's that,
you say under your breath, and wave your hand,
and then your handkerchief, and then your hat.
To all these things I've said the fatal word....
"Softest of tongues" Vladimir Nabokov (the fatal word is "прощание"=farewell: pronounced "praschay" more or less...)

Don't be alarmed: I'm not going anywhere. Yet. I am simply acknowledging the universality of leavetaking (something we do every day: you break a spatula. You throw it away--and shall never see it again [ever] although it was something you used for years almost every day): that simple parting repeats itself every moment: that very breath is gone never to return, that sunset was unique and evanescent--and then there comes a certain age when you quite often see old friends for the last time quite frequently: I took leave of more people in the last year, shaking their hands or even hugging them for the last time (and yet not realizing it would be so until a few weeks or months later when I attended their funerals...)

I took this fun picture of my friend, Harlan Hamernik, with his Plant Select award in June never suspecting that would be the last day I would ever see him.

Vladimir Nabokov (far and away my favorite 20th Century author) wrote "Softest of Tongues" in the Atlantic Monthly in 1941--saying farewell to the Russian Language which he had decided to abandon in favor of English (he was 42 years old, and had been writing professionally in Russian for nearly 20 years at that point--and had come to be acknowledged by many emigres as their premier author at the time). Leaving your native language for a writer is a sort of death. Venturing forth in a new language...with tools of stone as he says...he had no idea where it would lead. But he captured that extraordinary pang of loss in that superb little poem...although he does revisit the Russian Language in his second greatest English poem a few years later: you can actually hear him reciting "An Evening of Russian Poetry" in 1958 if you click on that link! More bittersweet nostalgia for us "preterists" (and heady stuff it is too if you grok it).

But this is blog is not about Nabokov: it's about leavetaking of gardens and suchlike: some merely change. For nearly ten years I helped create and maintain (along with Denver Master Gardeners) a garden for Mayor Hickenlooper at Civic Center: last summer it was completely changed and is now maintained by Parks staff again: I shall have to dedicate a whole Blog to that bittersweet story [it might even merit a book]. Here is a picture of that garden a few years ago...

And likewise Centennial Garden (which I helped design)--once one of four of DBG's "main" gardens, it was jettisoned (for those everpresent fiscal reasons) four or more years ago and is now succumbing to a sort of elegant entropy: here's a picture of Centennial in the spring:

Below is its mirror parterre in late summer: Zinnia grandiflora as a groundcover over bulbs. That was brilliant (I'd like to also think it was my idea)...Maybe it was? I certainly did suggest the Mountain Mahogany as hedge.

In the course of my 33 years tenure at Denver Botanic Gardens, I would guess I have seen nearly 100 garden changeovers: for instance, the area that is now our Bonsai Pavilion was an official American Rose Society test garden when I came: I transformed part of this into an ice plant test garden in 1982 and subsequently it went through several iterations I have completely forgotten (they must have been memorable) before being turned into a cutting garden in 1999-2001 which was stunning for nearly ten years, when it was turned into a holding area for construction projects for several years, and this past winter was transformed into our stunning new Bonsai area. Wildflower Treasures (which I worked on so much I'd call it WFT) was created about the same time as the Cutting Garden as part of the "Rob Proctor" era--he and I designed what may be the most "botanical" garden ever--a wonderful accurate if stylized depiction of Colorado ecosystems through the prism of art. This garden was extremely popular with sophisticated visitors. Today it is a blank slate (it will be transformed into a vegetable garden extravaganza this winter)...

I hasten to say that those giant troughs--built by Mark Fusco and originally planted by my ex-wife Gwen Moore--have been preserved and will hopefully be moved to Chatfield next spring...

Am I bitterly disappointed? A piece of me is. I was asked early on in the process by several of the "eminence grise" of the Gardens if I objected to the change (presumably they would have fought it). I am frankly so thrilled by the colossal transformation at DBG that has transpired in the last six years since Brian Vogt became director that I felt that this single "setback" was trivial stuff: besides which I am a strong believer in the current "Vegetable Boom" and think that the new garden will do much to help sustain it...

More to the point, this garden had 10 years of glory--not bad for a public garden! And has been secretly and accidentally reincarnated in a much more glorious and artistic and much larger format by Lauren and Scott Ogden around the Visitor Center at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield (where they designed the perennial component much more artistically than Rob and I did in WFT): so there has been a net gain in the big picture...I'm a big picture kinda guy--you gotta get! WFT is leveled, but WFT lives on at Chatfield! Long live WFT!

And finally there is High Country Gardens, which David and Ava Salman created 19 years ago as a "sideline" for their incredible nursery Santa Fe Greenhouses. I would love to know how many millions of catalogues the Salmans sent out in those 19 years: I guess at least ten million. That enterprise brought the very highest standards of plantsmanship and artistic expression of Western Horticulture to an unparalleled mass market. I've had an inkling for a year or two that things were not going well and that one or another of their garden centers in Albuquerque or Santa Fe might close. I had no idea that everything: their Bernalillo growing areas and catalogue operations, would be put up for auction and that the whole shebang would end abruptly.

Here's David in one of his greenhouses looking at what might be the very best hardy Salvia of the microphylla/greggii persuasion yet...the picture was taken barely a month ago--about the time the final decision was being made no doubt...

People ask me why? I answer that 19 years is a hell of a run for any nursery. The Salmans released an explanation that the economic conditions in New Mexico these last few years (exacerbated by drought and fires) decreased profitability such that the corporation did not feel it was wise to continue. I have a hunch this is the bald truth in a nutshell. And yet none of us can imagine the enormous energy, effort and just plain hard work that goes into managing hundreds of people and literally millions of plants over a period of decades. The Salmans have earned a break--and we should just count our lucky stars we had High Country Gardens and Santa Fe Greenhouses as long as we did! Thank you, David and Ava, for your shimmering and enormous gift (I have a big section of my bookcase dedicated to your catalogues I shall always treasure). And I look forward to what comes next! прощание!

I began with Nabokov, but I shall end with Prospero's exquisite leavetaking in
"The Tempest"...possibly the loveliest valediction ever written.

...Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

             William Shakespeare

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A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

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