Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lily love and a moral epigraph

 Few plants better exemplify the predicament we are in: I suspect that wood lilies were probably never that abundant (they are as tasty for deer as they are for cattle): but I suspect in presettlement times they probably occurred in far greater numbers than they do today. I have seen these here and there in Colorado--perhaps ten or fifteen spots along the Front Range, although they are said to occur beyond. I have also seen them on moist swales in prairie near Choteau, Montana: I nevertheless suspect their numbers in the Southern Rockies are finite: thousands, perhaps...not the millions that may or may not have once occurred.

One thing is certain: people do love and pick them as assiduously as the deer, and the riparian habitats where these are found are optimal spots for all sorts of human activities from towns and farms to ranches and ranchettes...we are undoubtedly the primary cause for the rarity of Lilium philadelphicum var. andinum.

These two pictures are of plants in my home garden, where I have fitfully managed to grow this largest flowered of native wildflowers. I shall counter the doom and gloom of my first paragraph by saying that Laporte Avenue Nursery which I have apostrophized several times before has produced thousands of these bulbs for High Country Gardens for a ridiculously inexpensive price, really. Here is yet another example of how we, humans, create a problem. Horticulture provides a solution: propagation! There is no reason to ever collect this lily when you can purchase it for a very reasonable price. More importantly, by growing and cherishing a plant you can learn to appreciate its existence in nature all the more...

Laporte seems to grow more and more wonderful lilies every year. This year at our spring plant sale at Denver Botanic Gardens Laporte had a flat or more of Lilium parryi (do check my hyperlink to remind yourself of my last blog) which I admired at their nursery a few years ago. LAST year I admired Lilium szovitsianum which was blooming at their nursery superbly last year: perhaps next year they shall have this at the sale so I can scarf up more than my share...

Incidentally, I took the first picture of Lilium philadelphicum on June 14 last year. This year they have been in full bloom a full three weeks earlier. That's the sort of year it's been. There are coarse lilies (mostly hybrids) and those with great tenacity. But most are delicate as their name implies, and it behooves us to cherish and encourage their numbers in gardens and the wild: that's our choice as humans. "The solution to pollution is dilution" may not be so very true in the closed ecosystem of our shrinking world. But I do aver that the salvation of our nation's showy rare plants lies in propagation and education.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cactus: great plants and an AWESOME new book...

 First..the plants! This is Echinocereus reichenbachii (although I would still like to call it E. albispinus), a distinctive race of the polymorphic lace cactus that comes from Oklahoma (that much overlooked, flown-over and insufficiently appreciated state full of treasures: I will be telling you more about Oklahoma in another blog to come..) This spectacular gem bloomed for me three days ago. The flowers last only a few hours. The Japanese celebrate Cherry Blossoms not only because of theri beauty but because of their transience. I celebrate cactus flowers for the same reason...Hossanah!


 Not all cacti are spectacular: this is a highly local species from the Big Bend country that has proved very hardy: Echinocereus chloranthus is basically our local green flowered hedgehog on steroids, but this is its first blooming for me. I got the plant from Agua Fria nursery in Santa Fe--added reason why I am so pleased to admire and photograph it. Many plants I grow I value as much for the nurseryman or friend who provided it to me as for the plant itself.
Just as subtle is Escobaria missouriensis, the universal ball cactus of the Great Plains and the Intermountain region to boot: despite its vast range in nature, I have only found it a few times in the wild. I think much of its range is now wheat field or strip mall. All the more reason to propagate and treasure it...the flower color is surprisingly variable, from nearly pure yellow to dark browns and every amber and bronzy shade in between. I'd love one of each, please! This is the large, clumping form from Kansas (in this case) and yes, Oklahoma...


If you are the least bit enchanted with these treasures, you must obtain Leo Chance's brand spanking new book on them: Leo is a dear friend of mine who has grown more hardy cactus than almost anyone I know (okay, Rod, you may have grown a few more in your day!), and he has certainly succeeded with more Southern Hemisphere cacti in Zone 5 than anyone I know. His book is chockablock full of first hand information gleaned from not just his own experience, but our entire regional community. The pictures throughout are wonderful and show the extent and complexity of the hardy plant enthusiasm in the Southern Rockies: Congratulations, Leo: may your book hit the stratosphere in sales!

(Disclaimer: I did write the Foreword to Leo's book, but I shan't even get a toaster if it does hit the stratosphere: my praise and delight in the book is pure as the driven snow! Or as a cactus blossom).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Perennial annuals...

 Everyone eventually grows Larkspur (Ajacis consolida), which is the ultimate annual that comes back with a vengeance. Tony Avent famously says that "that friends don't let friends grow annuals" (something I don't necessarily agree with)...I find myself growing more and more annuals each year, and none delight me more than those that come back on their own. Self sowing annuals are potentially a bane in the garden if they become too rambunctious, like larkspur, Rudbeckia triloba. Even Nigella and bachelor's buttons can truly overwhelm a small space without some judicious thinning early on...

But Orlaya grandiflora (photographed in Mike Kintgen's incomparable garden) above is very seemly for me: I show his plant rather than mine which are smaller, and more dispersed and not quite so photogenic! I recall seeing this brilliant white umbel in the wild in Greece some time ago, and love to lacy look and its unthreatening nature in the xeriscape.

 I took an awesome opicture of this same species of poppy this morning in my own garden but haven't downloaded it yet...so you must settle for the shot I took a few days ago in the amazing garden in the central square of Fayetteville, Arkansas. (That's where I took the Spigelia picture in the previous blog)....Papaver rhoeas spreads modestly for me, but reliably, needing a bit of moisture in spring to germinate and do best, but is otherwise a very heat and drought tolerant plant. And the color is spectacular...
 Although said to be a perennial, I find that Gaillardia pinnatifida is a facultative annual for me (I doubt that many have ever come back for me after flowering well). It is found on both slopes of the Colorado Rockies, the picture above was taken last week in Oklahoma, just south of the Colorado line.

The white froth you see in this picture is Erigeron divergens, one of the most universal annuals in the American Great Plains and the Southwest deserts as well. I took the picture two weeks ago in my unwatered xeriscape. If you came by today, it would all be gone (I found it a tad too spready for this area and pulled all of the daisies in this picture....and scattered the ripening seeds in the meadows surrounding my house. I have no doubt that by this autumn there will be lots of this back again, and just as much growing here next year. I never planted this incidentally: it is native in my garden!

I could extend the list of persistent annuals indefinitely: I recently obtained Limnanthes douglasii (which is the subject of a similar post by Matt Mattus recently), which I sincerely hope will persist...I could add many more poppies, Ziziphora capitata, no end of crucifers and best of all, Ammi majus and A. visnaga---we shall save these for another posting later in the season perhaps!

Friends do let friends grow annuals, Tony!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Spigeliosity. Spigeliousness. Spigelicious.

I took this picture Monday morning at the central square of Fayetteville, Arkansas: not many downtown's boast extensive perennial borders full of unusual plants, but that city does. And what plants! I've known Spigelia marilandica for 30 years (and killed my share of them) but  here they were growing prolifically and combined artistically with Hakonochloa macro-aurea...

And then I mosey on over to the Botanic Garden of the Ozarks (at the edge of Fayetteville), very young but lovely public garden...and in their native section, what do I see? MORE Spigelia. In fact, it had self sown rather excessively in this garden (there were big clumps here and there, some of which should REALLY have been removed...if you know what I mean). But I didn't have the gumption (or the space in my car) to ask for one...

A slightly more closeup picture. It LOOKS tropical doesn't it? this is an outlier of the tropical family Loganiaceae (which is nevertheless related somewhat more distantly to the very temperate Gentian family). You can see a bit of the gentian in these, especially those outlandish Andean gentians, some of which have this same color scheme...

Seeing these plants has redoubled my determination to grow big clumps of these myself. I can think of few plants that inspire greater greed or envy in those who have been denied.

And trust me, I have been denied big time! Grrrrrrr.............

Friday, May 11, 2012

Spike

 I have friends who like the daisy form in flowers, and those who shun daisies and only approve of posies (took a while to figure out what a posy flower was)...then there are those bedding plant folks who seem to want everything to be a sort of mound, rather like rock gardeners and their buns and cushions. And then there are spikers: usually tall, slender folk who like things long and lanky like themselves. Rob Proctor  eschews dumpy little annuals, and always goes for tall willowy thing. Most penstemons (like this rather squat little P. alamosensis) fit into this plant body type pretty well...and who doesn't love penstemons?

 When I say spike, Eremurus are realy what fit the bill: here is E. fuscus which I grew from seed nearly twenty years ago. When we sold our last house, I dug up no end of things (like my senescent non-flowering clump of this) and divided it: now I have nearly a dozen blooming clumps...a success story!


 This is an exemplary spike, one of Bob Nold's signature plants: Asphodeline damascena. An Asphodel from Damascus--pretty heady stuff!  He has this growing prolifically all over his garden (no mean feat). I have a mere two he gifted me. And alas, they are blooming now--which means that I shall have none soon, since they are monocarpic. The flower may be merely white, but with wonderful bronze stripes and undertones, and that wonderful boss of foliage! Diana Capen has urged me to nominate this plant for Plant Select, she is so fond of it. Tracing its pedigree through her, Bob and back to Jim Archibald would certainly add cachet...but a monocarpic, white-flowered spike: that is a tough sell except for us plant nerds. You should see people's eyes glaze over with boredom and disdain at committee meetings when I propose plants like this...Once in a while I've thrown a tantrum and they consider and even accept white monocarps such as Seseli gummiferum (which has enjoyed modest success in the program)--let's not even talk about Salvia argentea (which lives forever despite its reputation for monocarpism--and nurserymen only sell one to each customer per generation)... What they really like best are flashy groundcovers that propagate like schmoos (Delosperma Firespinner being the poster boy currently)...Sorry Diane!

 A closer view of the Asphodeline damascena above...and now for my piece de resistance; Eremostachys laciniata.

 This is a sizeable genus of labiates found mostly on the steppe in Western Asia. I have scene a miniature species growing above tree line on the Tian Shan, but most species are taller, from lower drier altitudes. I have grow this perhaps five or six years and it bloomed perfunctorily last year...but this year it is giving a sense of its grandeur. The foliage is bold and pleasing in its own right, although it reveals the dry summer nature of its habitat by going dormant as the plant reaches its peak of floral beauty...

Cushions, posies, daisies, buns and mounders: gotta love 'em all: but these spiky things pierce my sensibilities with their bold presence: What can compare with the steppe spiked and aspiring with countless foxtail lilies intot he distance, or the swale where I saw thousands of cornflower blue Delphinium elatum rise and melt into the distant azure of the sky...or Madrean hillsides towering with agaves in full bloom. Ah! The places I have been, the things I have seen!

And yet, I may never see Puya raimondii growing profusely on Andean puna, whole hillsides spiked with innumerable giant stems dozens of feet tall, each spike containing myriad myriad speckled, brooding, trillioid flowers of ghostly creamy white...but I have seen Guillermo Rivera's stunning images of these and can only dream...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cactus ticky tacky


What is it about cacti that makes otherwise sensible people a tad tacky? The Cactus Shop somewhere in Utah or Nevada may have moved, but the happy Saguaro (staring at the burning trash can) is permanently there to remind us that this is the West with a capital "W"!

And here a cement subspecies of Saguaro has infiltrated the otherwise impeccably tasteful garden of Bill and Sandy Snyder. I don't blame the statue--what  a great garden to hang out in (I do it frequently)...but Cement?

There are many who say they hate cacti. And the stems and pads are not all that user friendly, to be sure...Here Coryphantha sulcata perks up my garden on and off all summer long with these heavenly chalices of gold. Some day perhaps I shall track it to its native hills in the Great Plains of Texas....

The land were "Shenandoah, across the wide Missouri" was composed is inceasingly a site for tchotchkies and wind mills, and endless slag heaps. I am amazed that so many Westerners are under the delusion that unbridled development and waste of resources are somehow patriotic...

Just back from a whirlwind, 2500 mile five day trip out to the West Coast and back...There are still lots of relatively pristine mountains and sagebrush valleys...but more and more signs and signatures of humanity, who loves the idea of wildflowers, but meanwhile we are busy paving, mining and simply ignoring (when not destroying) the last tattered wildflower vestiges on Mother Earth...

You see, I'm not optimistic and cheerful ALL the time.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Euphorbs: mixed messages...

Exhibit number one: Euphorbia cyparissius 'Fen's Ruby'--a plant I brought back from a March visit to Chanticleer many years ago. I wouldn't want to be without this plant, and it is likely I shan't ever be without it (it is determined to stay put)...although it was recently removed from the Rock Alpine Garden for its unbridled exuberance...but between a wall and a rock or along a path, I find it is relatively easy to subdue. The Euphorbia clan is decidedly a mixed bag. Some are irrepressible weeds, others are rare as hens teeth. It's the weeds I'm concerned with....
Exibit two...Euphorbia nicaensis: looks just a tad weedy doesn't it? In my experience, it sees little and spreads modestly from the root...been waiting for a seedling to commandeer...In another garden perhaps it is a thug. For me, it is a prize. Although it has the typical chartreuse charms of the genus, I find its form to be pleasing and it has fall color to boot. Alas, it is has a local look-alike:
The picture above and the closeup below are of Euphorbia esula, one of the worst weeds of the northern Midwest and Rocky Mountain area...growing contentedly in a container provided by the city of Aurora. I could have posted pictures of this from all over Denver as well. Despite the fact that this is an undeniable noxious weed, little seems to be done to eliminate it in the Denver metropolitan area.
 Instead, the dreaded "donkey spurge" of the Mediterranean is the Metro areas culprit (an undeniable pest in the foothills, but hardly a problem in metro Denver gardens where homeowners love it). I do not seem to have a good picture of the much maligned Euphorbia myrsinites, which I have a grudging fondness for (and all kids seem to love it too, by the way: it is so quaintly reptilian). I am concerned that there is insufficient warning to homeowners (upon whose doors a rather threatening citation is being hung as I type this) that they are very likely to suffer severe lesions and burns removing the offending weed unless they take great precautions to protect their skin (let's not even talk about eyes--it can cause blindness)...
Why, prithee, is the rather attractive Euphorbia myrsinites being targeted instead of the much more invasive Euphorbia esula? Could there not possibly be that puritanical environmental extremists might have a hangup about ornamentals? Euphorbia myrsinites occupies a fraction of the range that Euphorbia esula has usurped in Colorado. Euphorbia esula causes devastating damage to range land and cattle: I believe this is a great example of the misplaced priorities and myopia that have so often hampered and compromised the environmental movement. Time and again they target horticulture rather than the real culprits that operate on a colossal, industrial scale. Let's begin by getting the damn E. esula out of the Metro area first! But then you couldn't hang warnings on doors--you'd have to actually go out and weed.

To end on a slightly more positive note...the above is a wonderful dwarf Euphobia capitulata from the Balkans, a plant I have loved for more years than I can say...why? it is so tiny, and so modest in its charms. Euphorbias are an acquired taste.
One of the largest genera of flowering plants, it is enormously polymorphic in foliage, stem and blossom. I end with my favorite of all Euphorbia, the succulent clump former of the high Drakensberg, Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata. I took the picture above on an enchanting March day on Ben McDhui in the East Cape fourteen years ago. I doubt this shall be targeted by the weed police in the immediate future (thank Heavens!)--my two little clumps are not quite fifty cent piece in size yet...but just you wait, Enry Iggins!