Friday, March 29, 2013

Bi-hemisphaeric twins: re-uniting Laurasia!

Trollius laxus v. laxus at Denver Botanic Gardens
It will be a few months before our native globeflower begins to bloom in the high Rockies--but this, it's eastern cousin always blooms in April. Trollius are widespread in the Circumboreal, subalpine regions of both Eurasia and North America--but this taxon seems to have a very similar cousin in the Dzungarian and Tian Shan Mountains of Central Asia.

Trollius dzungharicus in the Tian Shan Mts., Kazakhstan
 Although the more "typical" globeflowers with bright orange, globular heads occur in both Tian Shan and Altai Mountains, this soft yellow form is found sparingly as well--much more reminiscent of our American species.
Saxifraga flagellaris on the Tian Shan above Almaty, Kazakhstan

You can imagine my surprise when I found this whipcord saxifrage, which looks almost identical to what one finds twelve time zones away in the Colorado Rockies, growing in almost the same sorts of conditions!

                                             Saxifraga flagellaris (Colorado form) in a trough

 I actually managed to grow this in my garden--or trough rather: this is our native form of Saxifraga flagellaris--which looks identical to its Asian cousin.

Dryas octopetala on Horseshoe Mt., Colorado
Mountain Avens or Dryad is universal in tundra throughout much of the hemisphere: although they have been classed as different spedcies, or at least different subspecies, I find these two kinds almost indistinguishable.

Dryas oxydonta on the Tian Shan

This is the brilliant blue alpine geranium of the Tian Shan. It has an electric blue flower...
Geranium regelii on the Tian Shan, Kazakhstan
 Here is a compact form of the widespread meadow geranium (G. pratense) from the summits of the Tian Shan. Although superficially the dissimilar from the Pink American below--they are nevertheless related and classic examples of a Holarctic group of plants. Yes, I know there are a few geraniums in the Southern Hemisphere--they don't count because they are really different and don't fit into my grand scheme of things!

Geranium fremontii on South Park, Colorado
 Some botanists have lumped this with Geranium caespitosum. But not me! I still call this Geranium fremontii, named for the most restless and peripatetic of Western explorers...

Gentiana algida in Colorado
Gentiana algida was once known as G. romanzovii--honoring a Russian Botanist. The Eurasian manifestation seems to be a tad yellower (below) but I suspect they are equally intractable in cultivation!

Gentiana algida in the Altai Mts. of Kazakhstan
There are, of course, dozens of androsaces in the Chamaejasme section that look virtually identical: here with the rather local Colorado subspecies shown first, and the Kazakh cousin next.
Androsace chamaejasme v. carinata on Pikes Peak
The central yellow spot turns red on the American one as seen below in the Asian species.
Androsace akbaitralensis on the Tian Shan, Kazakhstan
Primula is a huge genus centered on the Himalayas: there are only a handful of species in Central Asia, and likewise in North America, but these are uncannily similar to one another
Primula xanthobasis on the Mongolian Altai Mountains
The Nivalid section of the genus Primula is apparently not that closely related to the Parryi Section of North America, but they are remarkably similar in habit and habitat: the one above is likely to be as hard to grow as its look-alike cousin, P. parryi that occurs over much of the Southern Rockies and intermkountain region.

Primula ellisiae (from New Mexico) in my trough garden
This beautiful endemic of central New Mexico has turned out to be quite easily grown in gardens--every bit as lovely as its fussier cousins.

Primula specuicola near Moab, April
There is a strong family resemblance among all the Aleuritia secion (once more graphically called "the Farinosae" for their flour like farina on the leaves. The one above grows on moist seeps in the canyonlands.  

Primula algida on the Tian Shan mountains, Kazakhstan
This one occurs above treeline over much of Asia.

Angelica turkestanica on the Tian Shan mts., Kazakhstan
Central Asia boasts a miniature Angelica that grows above treeline. It seems to be almost indistinguishable with its American equivalent below.
Angelica grayi on Horseshoe Mt., Colorado
Named for Asa Gray, the American twin is seen here growing on an almost identical alpine scree habitat. Of course, Asa Gray was the first on to note the parallels between East Asian and Southeastern American flora--but these circumboreal alpines are even more pronounced in their similarities and point to a time when their ancestors were single species spread over a single continent--Laurasia--that has now been split between Eurasia and America. I say it's high time to reunite these continents in our gardens at least, don't you agree?

The list of twins such as this could go on for hundreds of pages and not begin to exhaust the botanical twins that can be found in the Continental Western United States and then again on its steppe-sister climates of Central Asia....each year I suddenly notice a new brace of these, and am glad to be able share this!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Мать Россия

Paeonia tenuifolia
Mother Russia, if you have problem with the Cyrillic above. She is often conceived as something along the lines of the monumental  «Родина-мать зовёт!» - "The Motherland Calls!", the Soviet Realistic sculpture at Volgagrad, which I admit I rather admire (blush). But may I suggest a more appropriate symbol may be this most ethereal and evocative of peonies...or click on the video below,

Or how about Stipa ucrainica (a video made in the Rock Alpine Garden of Denver Botanic Gardens a few years ago) which may be even more appropriate...but I digress.

The real impetus for this blog post is this book. I have been plodding, or I should say, browsing through this contemporary Anthropological/Linguistic/Archeological/Historical classic by David Anthony: an astonishing tour-de-force filled with exhaustive data compiled through a suite of sciences that traces the parameters of the prehistoric Indo-European people and language in time and space. There was a pretty precise historical moment and spot (I shall not reveal when or where, however) when a rag tag tribe of steppe wanderers tamed the horse, invented the wheel and wagon and proceeded to explode their population astronomically, and expand their homeland from a few hundred miles of the Ukraine and neighboring Russia to much of Eurasia--all within a matter of centuries. What a story!

Fernleaf peony is almost more lovely in bud than in flagrant bloom
I was astonished to learn that horses that were the predominant ungulate prey of those ancestral Indo-Europeans. I don't think horses were terribly fond of eating peonies for fodder--which may explain while these are still relatively common on the pastures around the Caucasus where they occur. Of course, this is just one of hundreds of spectacular wildflowers that were trod upon and enjoyed by these ancestors of nearly three billion contemporary human beings. Is it perhaps not an accident that this exquisite gem that accompanied their wanderings strikes us as now as iconic?

Double flowered fernleaf peony and Paeonia ostii in Plantasia DBG
I have been fantasizing about these distant ancestors of half of humanity--the original Russians, on the vast Eastern European prairies so similar to our Midwest and Great Plains visually and ecologically. How ironic that our American steppes were settled and colonized (in large part) by Volga Germans who came from much the same climate in Eurasia. These brought with them from Russia the durum wheat which is the mainstay of our "Breadbasket" and many of the same weeds and even wildflowers (like this peony, an old passalong plant among them) from their ancestral homeland--a highly significant waypoint for our species.

Yes..half the world are Russians and don't even know it! Viva Мать Россия! The land of fernleaf peonies and so many of my favorite authors, painters and composers...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

When it's springtime in the Rockies..... can snow and snow and snow.
My rock garden in the "spring" (a few days ago there were a few dozen kinds of plants in bloom under there...really!
My friends in New England are complaining bitterly about their accumulating snowload, but truth be said, we are grateful for every dump of snow (although I wish my son didn't have to drive back to school in Arkansas with his friends through the blizzard conditions)... It seems as though every time Denver Water declares "drought" the Heavens open up. The bizarre and really egregious water law of my beloved native state makes a mockery of climate and weather.

I'm cheating: I took these pictures a few weeks ago after the LAST snowy episode--we have the same amount of snow today, but the rabbits and deer have yet to pock mark it with their trails. Both critters--as cute as they may be--have been causing some depredation of concern. Time to rent a cougar, or at least a fox.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Paradise postponed

Centennial Park tulips in their glory
 What if they created a park, and no one came? That's sort of what occurred at Centennial Park in the heart of Denver--a lavish, really wonderful garden built by a former mayor as a sort of culmination to his administration. I had quite a bit of input in the design of this one--but many horticulturists had a hand: the purpose was to show a Watersmart formal garden (and I think it fulfilled its purpose manifold). This year with drought restrictions already in place, perhaps the City and County of Denver should revisit this spectacular garden...the bulb displays were the best I've ever seen in town (they loved the summer droughts)...

Another Centennial Park parterre
 Yet another parterre--each one was different. You can't tell looking at this the transformation that took place once the bulbs died down. Our wonderful native Zinnia grandiflora--yes, both a native and a perennial zinnia, which does best in harsh soils and great heat--took over the space from the bulbs and created months of glorious color...check out the next one for THAT effect...

The very same parterre in late summer: Zinnia grandiflora doing its thang
 The pictures were taken at slightly different angles, but if you look at the buildings, yes, indeed, this is the same parterre, Virginia! I have seen few more elegant double uses of a space. If this bed had been given even the slightest attention (a bit of extra water in winter, perhaps, some bulb feeding), this would only get better with time.

A closer view of the Zinnia grandiflora
 Of course, you can only grow this zinnia in very hot, sunny exposures like this--without much supplemental water. This was a dream come true really. I'd like to think it was my idea--but quite a few horticulturists contributed. Well, a number did (Maria, Margaret, Rob--you know who you are...). I did think up some of the shrubs we used--which have turned out to be a colossal success. There is a sign on Centennial saying it will be open "this spring" and to call a number (720-913-0642 to be exact) where I have left my name and number to find out just when. Several times (no call back yet). There is always a recording when I call--it is sad how City agencies have been starved for resources...maybe you will have better luck? The Garden really looks stunning right now, and I'd love to have a closer look. At least I have pictures to remind me of an experiment that succeeded--and yet failed. It's not too late with an improving economy and worsening drought, perhaps, to resurrect it.

Another view of Zinnia grandiflora--this time in the gardens at Kendrick Lake in late summer

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The magus of Santa Barbara

I have been privileged to visit many gardens in many cities, but few have enchanted me like John Bleck's little masterpiece. "Little" sounds so patronizing--John's garden is in a suburban neighborhood with typical modest lots--his does seem more generous than most. But it is the way he has conjured it that is amazing: Jan and I spent several days with John as his guest (our stay had been arranged by Greg DeChirico--president of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, who had just arrived back from Columbia about the same time we got to Santa Barbara). Typically, John opened his house to strangers--although I think we stayed in that state for a nano-second: like all bona fide plant nerds, we bonded promptly and eternally! What can I say? I am posting a ridiculous number of pictures of John's majestic, endless, artistic, jam-packed and just generally perfect garden: can you imagine--in February? Santa Barbara is everything it's cut out to be in the mythology of gardeners: a paradise of subtropical, warm temperate and even a few borderline tropicals all seem to find it to their taste...and an astonishing number of them in February, for God's sake!
The "grand" view out the back of John's living room window/ February, mind you!
A Lachenalia: John had it labeled. (I was lazy)

One of the raised benches on the left hand side of the yard as you look out: full of pellies, mesembs and more...all perfectly grown!

He grows tons of sedums--most of which I'd never seen before like this one...

One of dozens of Pelarboniums...should have written the name down for you. Sorry!

An adorable tiny sedum (notice the fingers below--it's minute!)

This is not Scilla peruviana--it's yet another similar species I'd never heard of...

Kniphofia--he had the name. I forgot it..

I saw this Moraea here and there around the garden....forgot which. Kill me!

I do remember this is Sedum dendroideum--but a special subspecies (forgot which)...

Aeoniums and Aloes whereever you looked--giant ones on this steep slope at the back...

A view down towards the growing areas from the top of the garden. This place is endless!

The guru again--with a giant daisy shrub...

Raised beds with agaves et al. All impeccably maintained...

Forgot this one two..but it was a gem!

I believe this is the plectranthus discovered by and named for Ernst Van Jaarsveld, the monographer of the genus...

He had Senecios from the Canary Islands hybridizing with African species...showed me the subtle differences. I forgot!

A friggin' SOW THISTLE! On steroids of course (also from the Canary Islands)..

His orchids are housed in a quarter section of a sort of lath structure: this one was a stunner.

More sedums and more Sencios (a different kind)...Sheesh!

A succulent Bonsai--to die for!

Bulbinella hookeri from New Zealand: in the front garden...


Another quadrant of the lath house is given over to Bromeliads...Tillandsias mostly...

A brilliant yellow Lewisia cotyledon: I praised this a tad too much and he gave it to me (along with divisions and cuttings of dozens of plants: this man is SERIOUSLY generous...I can't wait to visit his garden "when there's more to see"--gimme a break! I know many botanic gardens that would kill to have collections half as well maintained and numerous. I have not told you that John has been a lifetime gardener (professionally too), and maintained the University of Santa Barbara's greenhouse collections for years--although he worked as a conchologist for many years, and has had great experience in coastal ecology. He's one of the most modest, accomplished horticulturists I have ever met. I'd find out how to visit him if I were you!

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