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Showing posts from June, 2012

The Moonlight Larkspur

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It was 25 years ago last week that Jim and Jenny Archibald flew into Denver on their first expedition to Western America: how do I know this so precisely? Because the arrived the day my daughter, Eleni, was born (June 17, 1987)...we shall not dwell on a few of the amusing and not so amusing ramifications of this conjunction.

Suffice it to say that I was rather torn, shall we say, between my fatherly responsibilities and my pressing desire to host the premier plant explorers of the last half of the century. I couldn't WAIT to show off Denver Botanic Gardens to Jim and Jenny. And when I finally managed to shepherd them down there, I remember only two things: it took them forever to get down to the Rock Alpine Garden because Jim was so entranced with our Spuria collections (which we subsequently flushed), declaring it the best thing we had at the time...and seemingly the only plant in the Rock Alpine Garden which captivated Jim was Delphinium semibarbatum (better known by the zippy …

Thistle thistle burning bright....

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I know, I know, they are dreadful weeds, and prickly at that. Of course, there do exist rare, endangered thistles, and even thistles that are even hard to grow. But we are not talking about those obscure, recondite thistles. Here I mean to speak of the unspeakable, namely donkey farts (Literal translation of Onopordon), which are bona fide weeds no matter how you slice it. Why are such bristly, painful, nasty and otherwise so unpleasant...saddled with an ignominious Latin name, why on earth would I blog about these? Because, my dear, I love them. And I'm not even Scots.

These are rosettes of the stemless donkey fart (Onopordon acaule) which has become a sort of signature plant in my garden. I have let it naturalize and some years there are a few dozen of these scattered around my garden causing ordinary garden visitors a great deal of chagrin. You can't imagine how much I enjoy watching generic gardeners cringe. But most imaginitive gardeners are frankly quite jealous, and yo…

Elated over Yucca

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I have never heard anyone call it "Soaptree Yucca", the Universally agreed upon common name supposedly: I call it the New Mexico Tree Yucca, since it is particularly abundant in New Mexico, and the wise people of that great state have made it their state flower. There are some huge specimens in Colorado--it seems to possess amazing cold hardiness. And now that the hot stretch of summer is underway, it seems to explode into bloom. The picture above was taken about ten days ago, as was the shot below. I have had some clumps in my garden bloom in May, and I have seen it blooming in August. The form and habit of the species is incredibly varied: I suspect some hybridization may be responsible, as well as numerous ecotypes that must occur over its large range in the Chihuahuan desert uplands...

 This is a rather petite specimen in Leo Chance's amazing Colorado Springs garden (the author of Cold Hardy Succulents I blogged about a few weeks ago...). The flower color is almost…

Miracle garden

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In the course of my career--or perhaps I should just say "my life" (since the two are pretty much synonymous)--I have spent a good deal of my time in gardens. Comes with the turf, I guess...and every garden is miraculous. But there are a few....like the Gardens at Kendrick Lake--that never cease to amaze me. This is the Xeriscape demonstration garden of Lakewood, the brainchild of Greg Foreman, although he works alongside a whole team of keen gardeners, several of whom spend a good more time here than he does. The thought that you could make a three acre perennial garden in a city park (and the Lakewood crew actually have several ambitious gardens, and small xeriscapes in many of the 130 parks that are scattered around Lakewood), and keep it in tip top shape year around without volunteer help---well it boggles this professional gardeners mind. Lets not even talk about the dozens of miles of glorious xeric median strips they have installed in recent years...Greg and his troo…

CAMERA! Obscura!

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It is more or less Universal now, but when Jim and Jenny Archibald first offered seed of Digitalis obscura back in the 1980's I doubt that there was a plant of it growing in North America (at least!)...With its linear, evergreen leaves and nearly shrubby habit it is quite different from all the others members of this small, but indispensible genus of Eurasians. Above it is growing in an east facing bed along Josephine street (at a bank, for heaven's sake!), not far from Denver Botanic Gardens. That picture seems to have captured the wonderful burnt umber color of the flowers...

The second picture shows it at the Gardens at Kendrick Lake, that cornucopia of perfectly grown plants. They have planted this on North facing as well as South facing banks there: they seem to do equally well.

I have a sad little specimen at home I shall not share right now: Oh! to have the space and watering system set up to grow chubby, cheerful plants like this!

This was championed by Plant Select w…

Modest beauty

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This closeup is misleading: few gorgeous plants are as subtle and inconspicuous as the brown flowered priairie ball cactus: Escobaria missouriensis. The flower color can vary from nearly green to almost russet, and usually falls into an in between shade akin to copper--an unusual color for any flower. This beautiful miniature native cactus once grew by the untold million across the shortgrass prairie of the Great Plains: much of its range has been plowed or overgrazed. I have only found it a half dozen times around Denver, usually in the lower parts of the piedmont, and rather just a few specimens each time. I'd be hard put to find most of these locales again! It also occurs in the Intermountain area of Western Colorado, Utah and beyond. The species has been split into varieties (v. caespitosa) and even new species (E. marstoni), and one could accumulate quite a bevy of variants over time. Well worth doing.

Even when it is done blooming, the prairie ball cactus is still appealing…