|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|
|Helichrysum praecurrens in the Rock Alpine Garden|
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|
|Helichrysum amorginum at Gold Rush Nursery|
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!