Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The RED ones: the loveliest everlastings...

Helichrysum vernum

Knowing that a few of you are so sensitive you may not have been getting much sleep since I promised this blog some weeks ago,  So I shall interrupt my interminable accounts of the fantastic Central and Northern European botanic gardens I visited over the last month with a longing look back at this extraordinary and underrepresented genus of composites that is so prominent throughout much of South Africa. I start with the first of the reds: Helichrysum vernum is largely restricted to the northern Natal Drakensberg--mostly in what the locals there call the "Little Berg'--or middle elevation sandstone formations. This blooms earlier than the next two species--I photographed the specimen above in October of 1998. I don't believe this is currently in cultivation. It is one of the most spectacular daisies ever--and more is the pity!  It varies from near crimson and scarlet to the rosy red above.
Helichrysum adenocarpum
 This picture was scanned for me by Ann Frazier, a remarkable volunteer at Denver Botanic Gardens who has been busy preserving some of the more important images I've taken as transparencies. I took this picture in 1994 on Platberg--a remarkable nature reserve above Harrismith that is chockablock full of treasures. This may be the most widespread of these three species. There were hundreds of these in bloom that late January. I was taken to Platberg by Dr. J.P. Roux whom we tragically lost last month (see below for a brief tribute).  I have grown this in Denver, but it only lasted a few years. This is in bloom for most of the summer months. I likewise believe this is not in cultivation at present.

Helichrysum ecklonis (Photograph by Todd Boland)
The unquestioned gem of the genus is this monster--whose flowers can often be nearly 3" across. They vary from pure white through soft pink to deep crimson in color. This blooms in late spring--essentially spanning the season between the previous two species. As you can see if you are a dutiful reader and click on my hyperlinks, this one is widespread at higher elevations than the others. I have seen it in many places, although usually when it's past peak, so I have asked Todd if I could use his wonderful image. If you search the web, you will see a vast clump growing at Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, where so many choice plants have had their debut--particularly south Africans--thanks to the work of Olive Hilliard and Bill Burtt (the preeminent botanists of the Drakensberg).

Koos and Kobus

I received an email from a friend telling me that Dr. J.P. Roux, curator of the Compton Herbarium at the South African National Botanical Institute at Kirstenbosch was killed in a bicycle accident on Sunday, May 12, 2013. His son, now 19 years old (this picture was taken some time ago!) was also injured but will live. Dr. Roux was the authority on South African Pteridophyta (that's ferns and fern allies) and a great deal more. He was an extraordinary horticulturist who created the Drakensberg Botanical Garden in Harrismith, which unfortunately was de-commissioned in the late 1980's. I had a chance to walk this garden with Koos not too long after it had been jettisoned by SANBI and it was in wonderful shape still in 1994: sweeps of rare bulbs and choice alpines grown to perfection. A few years later entropy set in, and now it's pretty much back to nature. Some day I must scan those pictures and give this garden and Koos (as he liked to be known) a proper tribute. No one (except perhaps Olive and Burtt) knew or loved the Drakensberg more than he did.

Koos surveying Helichrysum pagophilum in Lesotho
I was so fortunate to have traveled with Koos through the Drakensberg on four separate and magical occasions. He was the best of traveling companions and a friend that many people will miss deeply, especially his loving wife and son.   I offer them here my sympathy from afar.

Koos admiring Mohria vestita and Cheilanthes ecklonis on Platberg
Whenever I think of the Drakensberg and its unbelievable wildflowers, their names often come back to me in the deep, husky, Afrikaans tones of this gentleman's voice. A voice I shall often recall with gratitude, fondness and enormous respect. Everlasting be his memory. (Αιωνία η μνήμη του).

1 comment:

  1. The reason no one is commenting must be because they are all gardening. I like color in the rock garden. I look at my small crevice garden and realized almost everything is white. White is a color that does not show up well against limestone slabs. I am going to have to try to get brighter colors in my garden. It is the first in the neighborhood rather making it an ambassador for rock gardening. I need to do better.



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