Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vistas and vignettes: second walkabout Peter Korn's garden

Porophyllum saxifrage in a crevice garden at Peter Korn's
 A few days ago I featured some of Jan Fahs' images from Peter Korn's remarkable nursery and garden--this is the first of several posts where I will try and show a bit more: we're talking about many acres, greenhouses, gardens everywhere. How does one capture such a multifaceted spot where every view is a vista and every closeup is a precious vignette? Well--you shall just have to scroll through my blogs and try to parallax the truth! Above is typical of the intimate views one gets here and there all over the vast property....the magic of rock gardens!

Saxifraga oppositifolia covered in frost...
We had heavy frost several days in the early morning, and of course the alpines were loving it! Boy, would I love to have a nursery near me selling fat pots of this Saxifrage in my vicinity! Notice the dead foliage of the autumn gentians: the nursery has hundreds of pots full of these that must make a spectacle in the autumn! I'd scarf these up too if they were a tad nearer to me...

Pulsatilla albana in a mini-meadow
 What a luxury to have a garden of a size where you can grow drifts of plants in some spots, and yet have the occasional loner like this looking exactly as it would in nature. Here, covered with hoarfrost, is one of the homelier pulsatillas--but quite fetching nonetheless!

Androsace carnea
 This for me is simply sublime: to have a whole bank glimmering with androsaces--not even the Alps could beat this!

Androsace brevis
 Another bank had hundreds of this lovely pink androsace naturalizing...

Androsace brevis
 Another view of the same!

Rhododendron and Polypodium vulgare growing as petrophyte
 In a woodsy part of the garden there are numerous large rhododendrons--here a smaller one growing next to a rock capped with a Polypody...

Crevice garden in alpine house
 Alpine houses here and there--some designed to grow dryland plants like this one...

Fritillaria karelinii in the bulb house at Peter Korn nursery
 The bulb house is just beginning to come into bloom--I was particularly charmed by this fritillary

Spectacular clumps of Arum korolkowii in the bulb house
 And I wouldn't mind growing some of this Arum (I have some korolkowii that should be blooming one of these years--hope mine is as pretty)...

Sebaea sp. in the greenhouse
 Some South Africans here and there--this is one of my favorite gentian relatives...

Glimpse of the tarn at the bottom of the rock garden
 Lift your eyes upward, and grand vistas unfold!

Porophyllum saxifrages ready for the plant sale
And lucky locals can take a bit of the magic home!

(I have posted more pictures on another blog I wrote for Denver Botanic Gardens website)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Stranger in paradise

Henrik Zetterlund in the inner sanctum
 I was the stranger: this is a picture of the master. The paradise is Gothenburg. What can I say? Now that Jim Archibald has passed away, I think Henrik is the greatest living gardener in the world (in my humble opinion). Spending a large part of a sunny day in Gothenburg, at the height of spring bloom for the bulbs--well, what can I say? This is a day I shall long remember. If you are not aware of it, the botanic garden in Gothenburg, Sweden, is probably the finest institution of its kind on planet earth. I can think of no other botanic garden which has done more ground breaking research in the Caucasus, in China, all over the Himalayas and Central Asia, throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, in North America and the southern Hemisphere--bringing back an enormous volume of plants new to cultivation, new to science, and growing them to perfection. A visit to Gothenburg for a plant nerd is tantamount to apotheosis! And believe you me, I'm lovin' it!

Tulips, mostly in the T. montana group
 Tulips galore in the glass houses, the outdoor bulb display, in the garden...

One of literally thousands of kinds of corydalis at Gothenburg
Everything is meticulously labeled: the huge bulb display yard was in primo condition. Nuff said.

Tufa cliff in one of the alpine houses
 One of the numerous greenhouses, full of treasures... this one featuring lime loving Mediterranean plants...

Iris fosteriana

More treasures in a backup glasshouse
These pretty much speak for themselves...

It is not a daffodil: it is from Peru.
 I shall let you guess the Latin name...

Helleborus thibetanus in the rock garden
What more can one say really?

Henrik treating botanic gardeners from Germany, all over Scandinavia and USA for lunch

Small portion of Dionysia house (there were many in bloom as well
If you are very nice to me, I shall show you some of the wonderful yellow, purple and white dionysias that were still in bloom!

One of innumerable vignettes in another greenhouse with all the finest treasures in perfect display.
A random pot in one of the functional greenhouses full of Oxalis laciniata coming into bloom.

One of innumerable the bulb display yard

Shortia uniflora coming into bloom in the Asian garden
There were countless Shortia, Schizocodon, Berneuxia in the Asian peat beds. It will be mind boggling in a few weeks. You may notice some burning on the shortias: Henrik told me that this was the worst winter they had ever had at Gothenburg, with the most winter damage ever. Which has certainly been the case at Denver Botanic Gardens this year as well....but you wouldn't have guessed it--there was so much in bloom and things were so trim. As my ex-wife once put it, one of the secrets of great gardening is removing the carcases promptly, which I think they've done. But the quantity of magnificence at Gothenburg would take a thousand blogs to begin to convey. I truly felt like a stranger in paradise.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nordic gods still around: great rare plant nurseries of the world...

Peter Korn
(all photos in this post by by Jan Fahs)
 I suppose there are people who haven't yet heard of Peter Korn: no one in the rock garden world can have missed this phenomenon who has burst upon the scene internationally. I couldn't resist arriving a few days ahead of "Nerd Day" (Peter's annual spring symposium staged in the nearby village) to enjoy his hospitality and check out his nursery...

As a botanic gardener, I am basically a frustrated nurseryman. For me, visiting rock garden and rare plant nurseries has been a lifetime mission: I have sought out dozens in obscure corners of America and Europe (and even a few in South Africa). These have been the holy grails of my professional career: the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nurseries, Heronswoods, Annie's Annuals, Plant Delights, Far Reaches Farms to name a few of the better known ones...Peter Korn's is a fine one to add to this list...with a twist! We'll get to that in a minute, but first...the bulb house...

Tecophilaea cyanocrocus
In another blog posting we will take a closer look at wide variety of goodies in this house, but who can resist the stunning blue of Chilean blue "crocus"? Not a bad display, I would think...the label is correct on the other side, incidentally...

Pulsatilla vernalis in gorgeous backlight

 Thousands of plants in pots are waiting for customers--I wish it were not so difficult to transport things to the USA, otherwise, I'd take this pot of pasqueflowers for sure!

Glimpse of the pond at the base of Peter Korn's garden

Here's "the twist" I was alluding to: in addition to being a full-scale nursery operation, Peter Korn's garden is a bonus: five acres of utter extravaganza. If you've haven't had the pleasure of hearing his incredible presentation on how he went about transforming a dense woodland into this magical alpine garden (removing countless metric tons of fill in the process and creating these enchanting vistas) you must find a way of attending one of Peter's lectures: I can assure you that you will be stunned by his energy and vision!
Pulsatilla halleri
 Of course, the dazzling vistas are more than complemented by these charming vignettes--this wooly pasqueflower was one of many that caught Jan's eye.

Another view of some of the screes that Peter created---resembling terminal moraines of a an imaginary glacier.

Peter has three of the most enchanting cats imaginable: this one lapping water at the creek-side was irresistible...

Cardamine glanduligera
 A patch of cress opening its first flowers.

One of the many troughs here, full of saxifrages coming into bloom....

I should have expected as much, but of course, our Nordic godly host is also a gourmet cook: we were astonished to watch him put this repast together in record time last evening.
I am not sure how or when, but somehow in his spare time Peter wrote an account of his garden filled with wonderful pictures, describing some of the thousands of plants that he grows. I have reviewed this elsewhere, but this  contemporaryclassic is surely the 21st Century update of Reginald Farrer's The Rock Garden....and it will be out in English in another two weeks or so! (although I'm glad I own the Swedish version, although I shall have to cheat and read the English version to comprehend much beyond the Latin Names...)
He's planning a trip to Turkey this summer, then the the USA in October (he's speaking at the Scott Arboretum's Perennial symposium mid October--so you Easterners had better put it on your calendar...) It's not every day you get to watch a living, breathing Nordic deity perform.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Winners and losers

Echinocereus reichenbachii (dwarf form)
 In this never ending winter (which is quickly racking up the longest list of damaged and dead plants I've tallied in years), there are some clear winners and some painful losers. It is probably premature (not to mention somewhat tempting the fates) to be too sanguine about the former....but I think I can say that native plants in general, and cacti in particular do not seem to have shown the slightest problem with our arctic blast of early April (7 degrees on April 8 with very little snow cover): Many, many Eurasian plants (Iris, Narcissus, Paeonia, Lilium, Tulipa, Hyacinthus) and almost all flowering trees (Magnolia, Prunus, Cercis, Malus) and shrubs (Forsythia, Syringa, Viburnum, Ribes) that would normally make this time of year wonderfully festive are fried, cooked, zapped, blackened, and possibly damaged beyond just this spring's display. I suspect there are some plants that have been killed outright. Not quite ready to name names--but are Colchicums usually pitch black in April? The leaves I mean?

Echinocereus viridiflorus in trough at DBG
 So as I stroll around my garden and see sprawling mounds of cacti (some of which come from very warm temperate regions, looking simply peachy--with Pediocactus blooming already, and all the others starting to get a hint of summer life--but not one of them show the slightest stress or necrosis. Maybe I should hold my horses--who knows some may have sustained damage. But they sure don't show a trace of it thus far. I think that cacti must maintain quite a bit of antifreeze (in the form of sugar) in their stems in winter--and don't really rouse into growth until well into late spring--so late frosts are not apt to take the toll with them one might have expected...

Rosularia sempervivum ex Eggli
 I suppose for "truth in advertising" I should show you current photos of these plants: but I'm so starved for color I've dipped into the archives to show them blooming--which I expect they will do in a few weeks: but I have to put in a big plug for north Temperate succulents: just like their American cousins, the Crassulaceae of the North Temperate zone seem unfazed by late frosts: Sempervivum, Sedum, Rosularia all are plump and happy. I wish I could say the same for Dudleya (they don't look so good) and I have never had so much damage on tender South Africans--at least not in a decade. But the Holarctic succulents don't seem to mind late frosts at all: they are all looking perky.

Stipa ucrainica
And grasses--they all look completely cheerful in the cold. The Kentucky bluegrass around town is bright green already, and almost all grasses are showing a bit of a sign of early growth--cold notwithstanding. It's no accident that our dominant vegetation on the Great Plains is grass.

I am not sure the average gardener has measured the extent of damage we have sustained this winter: people are so oblivious of their surroundings. But the real gardeners I talk to have a strange look in their eyes--real anguish and suffering. We feel enormous empathy for our plants. This spring will be one that goes into the log books, the annals, the history books as the Wasteland spring--the spring the bulbs were blasted and the flowering trees and shrubs were silenced. For those who are not experiencing the eerie emptiness of a record-breaking cold April--I can just say enjoy! And may you never have one like this. Ever.

Thank Heavens for alpine plants (which laugh at cold) and natives and especially for the prickly, nasty, spiny and ironclad clan of cacti! Without them I can't imagine how much worse I would feel!

I have to end on a positive note: our blasted sun is so cheerful: you drive around Denver and the lawns are glistening green, the clouds are puffy white, the sky is azure blue most days between our wintry blasts and you peer at the shimmering white Rockies to the West and think--wow! What a gorgeous place! (Not noticing the banks of frost singed bulbs tucked away here and there with their flowers burnt off or nodding pitifully and that half the trees around you have blackened flower buds)...I can't say I envy the average bloke who doesn't notice and goes on perfectly content with their day...but I do look back at the string of seven magnificent springs we just had with more than a little twinge of nostalgia!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wordy Wednesday

Sorry: no pretty pictures!

I might have had some pretty images to share yesterday: snow on agaves, snow on yuccas--that sort of thing (we got almost 10" of snow that melted like butter on a skillet--mostly gone in a day!), but I forgot to load my charging battery in my camera: you shall just have to imagine them.

I happened to look at an old blog from last year--there was more blooming in February than there is now in mid-April: the most devastating spring in over half a century. It will take months--maybe years--to assess the extent of damage from our severe frost on April 8--when we had 7F and only a dusting of snow. So strange to have almost our entire suite of spring bulbs wilted or frozen utterly--and all the flowering shrubs and trees fried for at least a month: no crabapple fruits to bother tidy gardeners this year.

I am sure that by mid-summer our gardens will have "healed" and the damage will not be as obvious. But after seven of the most perfect springs in Colorado history (I now realize--we did have a late frost or two one or two of those springs that curtailed some of the magnolias or forsythias a bit) but nothing like this. This was a Lollapalooza that will go into our history books like the October 31, 1969 early autumn freeze when the temperature dropped 100 degrees Farenheit in 24 hours and killed marginal trees (and many toughies) outright.

Every climate regime has its moments: hurricanes in Florida, drought in Texas, winter cold in Tucson have all taken great tolls in recent years. We are not immune on the steppes of Colorado--in fact, we have more than our share of untimely frost and hailstorms. One could argue that it's these BAD times that make the Good Times GOOD.  Just as we need the Damocles sword of death to make us realize how precious life is. Perhaps this explains the media frenzy over the terrible Boston bombings of yesterday: the awful contrast of bombing at such a joyous event--making us realize our hum drum lives are not so bad?

I look at the lush Facebook postings of springtime in New York City by Gary Lincoff (the great mycologist), or Gerry Barad's daily images of gigantic cherry trees in blossom, or suchlike and I sigh. We too have had lovely springs. And maybe when I get back from Europe in a month or so things will have healed a bit.

Speaking of Europe, Peter Korn writes that this is the latest, coldest, and most miserable winter where they have had the most damage ever: sound familiar? So out of the frying pan into the fire! Great!

I may have to change my Avatar name to Eeyore.

I promise: I'll find something pretty to post--even if it is a big pile of snow with a few agave points sticking out of it!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Daft over Drabas!

Draba polytricha in a trough yesterday

I know, they're almost all the same crazy tone of chartreusy yellow. And yes, I know they almost all bloom in the early spring. But after the last nutty cold snap on April 8, when the temperature dropped to +7F with only a dusting of snow (I know--it could have been -7F), just about the only group of plants in my garden that haven't wilted or just plain turned black are the drabas. And yes, I know--most of our native plants are still dormant (they know about these late frosts)--but alpine plants are a different creature altogether: they LIKE the cold! Which is why you must come to our Rocky Mountain Chapter rock garden sale this Saturday at Mitchell Hall (Denver Botanic Gardens) and load up! The Draba polytricha above was taken yesterday: could anything be more enchanting?
Draba hispanica and Corydalis solida 'George Baker'
 I can tell your eye is drawn to the bright red Corydalis solida 'George Baker' in this picture: Stop that! Look at those lovely cushions in front (those red corydalis weathered the frost OK, but look a little worse for wear this week--but the Draba looks better than ever!)

Draba strreptocarpa in a trough
Here is a native alpine draba growing in one of the monumental troughs that were in late lamented Wildflower Treasures garden--now mothballed in the nursery. It almost looks like it was taken on Mosquito Pass, don't you think?
Draba bruniifolia
I finish with the dwarf form of a widespread European draba, this one from southern Turkey--which has formed thick masses on one of my rock gardens--and gets better from year to year. One could have hundreds of variations on the theme of draba in a Colorado rock garden--and after this nasty spring--that's a pretty appealing idea to me at least! I know there will be LOTS of drabas at the sale this Saturday. Don't miss it!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

HELL! ichrysums! The white ones...(Good as it gets, buster!)

Helichrysum milfordiae on the Black Mts. of Lesotho near Sani Pass
I think I have already quoted my ex (Gwen Moore) in this blog, who used to say that "white is not a color": here too we disagreed. I do think white is a color and a damned nice one. Ten jillion Bridezillas a year can't be all wrong (white is the cliché color for weddings is it not?), and Vita did not choose orange for her twilight garden at Sissinghurst. If you are not a fan of white flowers and wooly white cushions, you do not deserve to know or visit the Drakensberg (which are acre per acre the greatest place on earth for alpines including your frickin' Himalayas). Why do I bring up the Draks in mid April, 2013? Because if I could that's the place on earth I'd most rather be right now--OK, Maybe I'd settle for the steppe near Almaty, which is probably a sea of tulips blooming!
I kick off the blog with the kicker of the genus, the silky, gorgeous Helichrysum milfordiae--well established in horticulture from the time it was first introduced by Helen Milford. I actually grew and bloomed this well for a few years--and since that time probably killed a dozen plants trying to repeat the feat. I have seen it looking stunning in many a British and European collection--and once or twice in the Pacific Northwest. Despite its frothy, silky, silvery leaves--it tolerates damp climates well.
Helen Milford (for whom it was named) wrote several magical accounts of the South African alpine flora which she practically invented for Horticulture almost seventy years ago. Scary thought this: I first read those accounts half a century ago! That's how long I've been in this business!
A closeup of one of the ubiquitous gems of the highest altitudes of the Drakensberg: I photographed this just a few dozen feet from the Chalet on Sani Top where it carpeted the ground by the thousands for acres. That area is horribly overgrazed by sheep that must shun this and other helichrysums (a half dozen species are growing thick there). I suspect this is fluffy with seed there as I type this (the picture was taken in February)--do you mind harvesting some for me if you are headed there this week?
Helichrysum montanum on Mount-aux-Sources
I know, I know--the flower is yellow and not white as I implied in the title! But the foliage is as white as lamb's ears, or as Moby Dick (if you have not read the White chapter in Moby Dick you are have missed the greatest Rant in Literature, other than the "Nick" rant in Tristram Shandy, of course). If Herman had seen Helichrysum montanum, I am sure he would have stuffed it somewhere in his white rant--the foliage is too yummy for words. I grew this five or ten years, and even produced flowers and seed (which I put in the exchanges). I have never seen it in horticulture otherwise. More is the pity. Some day I must do a blog on Mount-aux-Sources--second highest peak in the Drakensberg. In a perfect world, I would like my ashes scattered there. (This world is not perfect--I may have to settle for the mere Rockies).
Helichrysum marginatum: I shall have to upload this again at work: the original was crisp!

I probably grew this sucker for twenty years: I first was sent seed by Olive Hilliard. To be sent helichrysum seed from Hilliard is tantamount to having a sonata dedicated to you by Bach. I'm too young for the latter. I grew this superbly back when the Rock Alpine Garden was a borderline Zone 4B USDA garden. Today it is probably Zone 6B: those who deny global warming will one day rue their stupidity. I rue it now.

Helichrysum pagophilum on the Black Mts. of Lesotho

 It was about ten years ago I took this picture, and the picture does not show that the plants were in full seed in February (I collected much too small of a pinch). I have grown this once or twice--not an easy one to grow. I think Wrightman's still sells it, and Rick Lupp grows it and sells it too (but you have to visit him to buy it). I don't think it looks in gardens like it does plastering the cliffs in Lesotho, however!

Helichrysum praecurrens in the Rock Alpine Garden
 This is my one and only success story in this magical, infuriatingly elusive genus. This clump in the Rock Alpine Garden gets bigger and bigger each year, blooming magnificently, superbly, wonderfully for weeks on end in May and June, and setting copious seed (which we seem to always forget to harvest--sorry folks: it's a busy time). The seed we grew this from was collected by Dick and Ann Bartlett on an AGS trip to Lesotho in January, I believe, some fifteen years ago or so...thank you Dick and Ann! It can be propagated by cuttings, and I believe Laporte Avenue nursery listed it for a while (they gave up: no demand). I have seen carpets of this two meters across in Lesotho--and some had bright rose red flowers. And Graham Stuart Thomas had the temerity to say that all the best rock garden plants had already been introduced (even Homer nods).

Perhaps you agree with Gwen, that white is not a color? And are not utterly charmed by those upfacing chalices of innocence. As a young teenager, I doted on spoonfuls of "Vainillia" wonderfully sticky stuff scooped out of a jar in a spoon served in a glass of chilled water in Crete at "Sugar Stores" (confectionaries--there were tons of them in Xania where I spent several magical summers). Come to think of it, Crete has some awesome helichrysums, and of course Mt. Athos boasts one of the very best, which I grew superbly for years and which Marty Jones propagated and sold for years too--I'm beginning to feel like such a codger.  These are still around under new names...You realize there are probably 100 more fabulous white helichrysums in the Drakensberg along I have not talked about (quite a few of which I have pictures of--which you shall be spared.)

Helichrysum x amorginum
 For whatever reason, there were a TON of these at the San Franciso Flower Show in 2012--in the non-competitive "new plants" category. The hybrid above was well and good...

Helichrysum amorginum at Gold Rush Nursery
But this, of course, was to die for--the flowers open white so it merits inclusion in the blog, don't you think? We grew something very much like this as Helichrysum virgineum throughout most of the 1980's and 1990' the heck could we have lost it? Must add it to my voluminous list of "Plants I grew easily for decades and then fumbled because I did not browbeat nurserymen friends or colleagues to propagate"--that list is unconscionably long, btw. So South Africa does not have a monopoly on fabulous helichrysums...

Have I mentioned the best helichrysum by far? You can catch a glimpse (terrific closeup shots by Todd Boland) if you click on this...scroll half way down the page: the picture is just above Helichrysum ecklonis--one of my Holy Grails--(a plant which I collected a thimbleful of seed of once (on Tiffendell) and never got a bloody one to germinate! But it's pink, and doesn't count here, so let's get back to Helichrysum confertum.) One sunny, gentle day, Jim Archibald and I strolled several vertical thousand feet down from Sani Top Chalet (where we'd stayed a couple incredible days), and on our descent, one magical March day I shall never forget, we would come up to cliffs again and again plastered with huge cushions a meter or more across of tight white rosettes absolutely covered with trim, tiny white daisies in full bloom. At the time I remembered thinking it was probably the best cushion plant I'd seen in such perfect form--and that includes things like Kelseya uniflora on the Bighorns, Saxifraga albertii on the Tian Shan and a good many more gems I've admired in their native haunts in perfect bloom. I have a hunch some of those must be puffing up seed as I type this--boy, would I like to gather some up, wouldn't you?

If you are good, one day I shall blog about the gorgeous golden and yellow helichrysums, and if you are very, very nice to me I shall share my pictures of the three bright red helichrysums of the Drakensberg!

P.S. You can hardly blame me for fantasizing about helichrysums: we have had seven of the best springs every in front range history since 2006 and seem this year to be having just about the very worst one ever. Although half an inch of rain last night and a crisp sunny day today almost persuade me otherwise--forecast: the next three days will be snowy with lows on Wednesday night near ten above...give me a break!

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