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Showing posts from August, 2012

Cardinal sins

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Scarlet letter, Scarlett O'Hara, scarlet fever, crimson tide--there is something about fire engine red that fulminates, that dazzles, and that calls to most of us (forgive me those who are color blind!) much as it does to hummingbirds.  The sin in this picture is no doubt the twining Ipomoea tendril I didn't remove. I do think this conveys that shocking impact that this plant produces early in the morning when I look out at my garden and a random sunbeam piercing through the giant Scots Pines ignites that beacon of late summer. See next!


Backlighting is of course effective at all times of year--but something about the declining light of late summer that makes things shine and glow with special fervor. Denver Botanic Gardens is full of brilliant color that makes a late afternoon visit a positive feast of backlight (try it!), but all of our gardens have vignettes like this that provide those little epiphanies through the days that are the very fragrance of our lives. Alas, they…

Gentle weeds...

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Everybody has them: plants someone else considers to be ineradicable, hateful weeds,but which you find tolerable--even desirable. My list of these is very long: I begin with the Star of Persia (Allium christophii or albopilosum), which my colleagues at Denver Botanic Gardens have come to almost detest. If you are lucky (as I have been) you can occasionally find large mounds of these that have been removed in early summer once they bloom--bulb and all! You pay many dollars apiece for these mail order, but Denver Botanic Gardens carts out thousands almost every year (do the math!)...at my garden they are very manageable: I water so little the seedlings don't proliferate as much as I would like. Location location location!


Here is my sad, lonely single specimen of Alyssoides graeca, another wonderful self sower--below you can see a small part of a huge patch on the conifer berm at DBG.


I have planted my single plant on a nice slope alongside other rather challenging plants: but not…

Flossy perfection: the hunt. The story.

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You know the drill: first you see it...and then you notice it. Finally you realize how special it is. You begin to fret a bit...why didn't I know about this earlier? Where on earth did it come from? Who is responsible for it? That's what I have been going through the last few years with the silvery Vernonias that have suddenly graced a very few fortunate gardens (not mine, incidentally). This one (Vernonia lindheimeri) is in Mike Kintgen's wonderful private garden (which is filled with unique and special treasures). There are some equally spectacular specimens of this at the Gardens at Kendrick Lake...but this should convey the silvery, silky majesty of foliage and graceful form. And those rich violet-purple heads of bloom? This constitutes perfection! And it is not mine! Is there justice in the world? The answer is...until I possess this and grow it at least half as well I shall not rest content!


You know you have a wonderful plant when it looks good from far away, and s…

Queen of torch lilies: Kniphofia caulescens

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Anyone who has spent any length of time in South Africa will come back with pictures and tales of Kniphofia caulescens, which should rank near the top of any sane person's list of best torch lilies. You see, this is a widespread plant found in vast throngs, as in the picture above--usually at very high elevations in and adjacent to Lesotho. This is one distinctive and very hardy red hot poker! The blue leaves are diagnostic--they almost look like a blue leaved yucca or agave they are so distinct and sculptural all on their own.


But it is the amazing, nearly profligate display of the flowers that makes this so special. This clump above is blazing away in the middle of the Rock Alpine Garden as I type this: it has been blooming for nearly two weeks, and promises to go on another two at least. If you live in or near Denver, trot on down to worship it soon--you will not regret it. Actually, if you live anywhere, hop on a plain, train or automobile and hustle your tushy down here anyw…

The paradoxical plants of a thousand names...

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The names? Corn lily, False hellebore, False Poke,American False Hellebore, American White Hellebore, Bear Corn, Big Hellebore, Corn Lily, Devils Bite, Duck Retten, Indian Hellebore, Itch-weed, Itchweed, Poor Annie, Blue Hellebore, and Tickleweed....and that's just out of Wikipedia! I'm trying to remember what my dad called it (it was everywhere in the Flattops where we went fishing)...I think there is a rule somewhere that you cannot be considered a wildlife photographer in the West unless you take pictures of the pleated foliage emerging in early summer. I guess I'm in the club.

Above is a shot of Veratrum tenuipetalum, the current name for the universal false hellebore of the Rocky Mountains. Some years vast fields of foliage dominate whole valleys with nary a one in bloom. Then, boom! One year there are flowers everywhere. Such a year was last year (2011): this picture was taken on Kebler Pass between Aspen and Crested Butte.


Here we have a closer shot--they are majes…

My very first contest! Wooo Hooo!! : Iris RULE!

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Iris x germanica 'Many Mahaloes'
I have heard them called (ever so cruelly) "poor men's orchids". A certain "Jim" from Kansas City once wittily (and even more cruelly) quipped "they're just hankies on a stick".  To the first comment I simply say that I have found sumptuous TRUE orchids for sale at Whole Foods recently for under ten dollars, but try and buy the latest awesome tall bearded for less than three figures and I say good luck! Orchids are now the poor man's iris!

And when have you seen a hanky with such silky texture, shot with highlights and shimmering in the moment? Never, I say! NEVER! No hankies these! And the names! 'Many Mahaloes'! 'Batik'! Reading through a list of tall bearded iris is as evocative for some of us as reciting Lolita's class list was for Humbert Humbert.

 Iris x germanica 'Batik'
Isn't this one amazing? I wish that that all bearded iris in my home garden:(note to self: bette…

Zeus beard?

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In case you are still sadly esconced in the 20th Century (remember then?), succulents rule in this millenium, what with global warming and micropropagation. What more iconic succulent for temperate climates than hens-and-chicks? The sizeable clan of Sempervivum contains a discrete subset that have traditionally been called Jovibarba (literally Jupiter's beard), which just about any Sempervivum (or Jovibarba) connoisseur will tell you is the creme de la creme of the genus (or should I say genera)! Are you confused yet? Just wait until the Sempervivum/Jovibarba bug bites you and you discover there are hundred of both, all of them delectable.

Although only a handful of species, Jovibarba encompases vast variability. So let us focus on just Jovibarba heuffellii, the most diverse and confusing of all! This varies from typical Sempervivum in that it divides like an amoeba rather than sending out "chicks" and the flowers have consistently fewer petal segments. And they bloom l…

A Colorado treasure: the Tatroe Garden

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Marcia and Randy Tatroe have lived in their suburban paradise almost a quarter century. In that time Marcia (with lots of brawny help from Randy) has utterly transformed a very conventional piece of lawn with a few shrubs into a year around wonder. I don't suggest you ask Marcia what she thinks, however: she is a consummate perfectionist: she told me last week that her garden had been devasted by hail twice this summer, and that drought had destroyed half the plants utterly, and the other half were gasping their last.

The garden (however) looked pretty snazzy. It is chockablock full of thousands of plant trasures that seemed to love the drought, and were positively exploding with color. Above is a closeup of Clematis fargesii (perhaps better classed as C. potaninii nowadays). Mind you, those flowers are two inches across--produced lavishly ona rambling vine that once clambered twenty feet or more up the trees in her back yard. She has trimmed it back, but it was still festooned w…

Rare Plant Nurseries rule!

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Some people collect rare coins, others collect stamps. I collect rare plant nurseries. During my recent visit to Spokane I was lucky enough to have time to visit not one, but TWO such nurseries...which is appropriate since when I grew up, several aeons ago in the middle of the 20th Century, two Spokane area nurseries provided "correspondence school" plants for me (so to speak) that helped enormously in my horticultural education. Before I address the here and now, I would like to pay tribute to Lamb's Nursery and Thurman's Gardens: I practically wore their catalogues out over the years. Lamb's was one of the premier sources for garden perennials (which were not as popular back then as they are now), and Thurman's had the glitziest of rock garden/wildflower catalogues with a positively lascivious picture of Lewisia tweedyi on the cover. I made the mistake of loaning this last one out to someone years ago, and I have not had the opportunity to glimpse it in ye…