Monday, September 23, 2013

The best phlox, and more (a tale of woe!)...

Phlox nana ramping through the Hayward garden in Masonville
 Time to make amends: I rather rudely (and prematurely) declared the end of High Country Gardens last year...well: I was wrong! High Country Gardens is alive and well, although reconfigured (it's complicated!)--but David Salman is still Horticulturist, and making sure the best plants are offered and grown, albeit in Denver rather than Santa Fe! David talked to me last week, and although the business is booming, he was astonished that Phlox nana (their featured introduction of the year) has sold poorly. He asked for an endorsement: I told him I'd do better than that--that I would talk about this best of phloxes: and I ought to know. In case you don't know, I happen to be a very phloxy fellow! I doubt that anyone has grown more Western phlox than I have, and Eastern ones too!

Phlox nana...a closer view
What makes the Santa Fe phlox so special? The huge flowers help (two inches across on some specimens) which are a melting pink. And they start blooming in late April some years, blooming pretty heavily and consistently after that (depending on rains or consistent irrigation) through May, June, July, August, September...I've had flowers in November as well. Tell me another plant (let alone a phlox) that blooms for seven months? And go back to that first picture--taken at Pat and Joel's garden ten or more years ago--I featured this amazing garden recently, and if you click on that link you will see this phlox blooming in August this year in the same bed! Or better yet, click on High Country Garden's link to their fantastic cultivar 'Perfect Pink' and buy one now!

Phlox nana even closer...
 This closeup doesn't do it justice. Paul Maslin, my (and Pat Hayward's) mentor in Boulder was obsessed with this Phlox and wrote an article about it in the Alpine Garden Society (Here is the citation: MASLIN, T. P. — 1978, "Phlox nana Nuttall", Quart. Bull. Alpine Garden Society, 46 (2):) and while I'm at it, here is a link to a .pdf of Paul's other article on this group, which occasioned the first color photograph ever in the North American Rock Garden Society bulletin!--check pages 62-69). NARGS has made all their old bulletins available online! I wish AGS would do the same...but I digress....By the way, for you Easterners worried about growing Western Phlox--this phlox was first featured in the Rock Garden bulletin by Norm Deno in Pennsylvania in 1976 (That's almost 40 years ago! Check page 2 on that linked .pdf!)
Phlox nana at Mike Bone's garden

 One last shot of the phlox--this time in the garden of the indomitable head Propagator and Curator of Steppe collections at Denver Botanic Gardens! You can pretty much gauge a garden's status in Denver by how big of a patch of Phlox nana they boast! I am deeply chagrined that Lauren and Scott Ogden, the Haywards, Bone and Mike Kintgen are far ahead of me in the Phlox nana department! The only issue that Phlox nana has had in the past is that nurseries had not determined how to propagate it in sufficient quantities: David Salman has cracked the code, and Phlox nana will now be reliably available, although only from High Country Gardens (until we can get Plant Select to take note that is...!)

Penstemon mensarum
Speaking of Plant Select, this penstemon was featured a two years ago in that program, and of course there was not enough to go around. But High Country has a superabundance of this right now--and this is the perfect time to plant it. I mean really, folks---this is the color of Meconopsis--it's much cheaper to buy a few plants of this rare Colorado Native for peanuts than to fly to Scotland to see the Mecs next June.

Penstemon pinifolius 'Mersea Yellow'
David told me that he was surprised at how poorly penstemons have sold this fall, and mentioned the Penstemon pinifolius group as an example...I chuckled because I focused on buying penstemons at the recent rock garden club sale--now is the best time to put these in a xeriscape: they establish wonderfully in the fall and winter, whereas spring planted plants often dry out in late spring before their roots buy some penstemons from David, already!

Penstemon pinifolius

Penstemon pseudospectabilis
He also mentioned that he has a large stock of pseudospectabilis and clutei--two of the best of the genus! Both belong to the Floribundum group (which includes Penstemon palmeri). Unlike palmeri, however, both are long lived in the garden, and share the winsome trait of blooming prolifically for a very long time...rather like Phlox nana! There's plenty of time to get these gems this fall and get them established so you can enjoy months of color too! Check out High Country Gardens right away, and bring some magic of the West to your home! Oh yes--the tale of woe? That magical plants like this are not in your garden! And by the way, isn't the Hayward's dog in the first picture adorable?

(P.S.--this is not a paid solicitation! I just want to keep that fabulous nursery chugging along!)


  1. Not only are these flowers beautiful in their own right … but a garden where they are being expertly grown impresses the women. Ok, you have the big house. You got the luxury cars. What are you going to do now to impress your lady? Nothing says love like a big "rock" ... garden.


  2. I had a very negative experience with High Country Gardens this Spring. Things kept showing as in stock and then they weren't actually. After that the ship dates I was given weren't kept by several weeks and I received no notice of the change of date. I would bet other people had similar experiences and aren't eager to do it again. They need to make a concerted effort to gain back old customers.

  3. Last spring was a transition of stock, management and location for much of the work: I am not surprised there were some breakdowns... I know many of those involved, and will be sure to pass along your comment: you know when a firm goes through this sort of change that they are often eager to make amends! If you order some phlox, I can guarantee you they will come through!

  4. I do understand hard transitions having been through an unpleasant and ridiculous sale of a company I worked for. I ordered an un-named phlox nana years ago from Plants of the Southwest which never bloomed and eventually died. I would love to try this one.

  5. I just ordered from HCG a couple weeks ago -- none of the plants you endorse, but from a group of what I guess to be their big sellers, the agastaches. So glad this nursery is still with us.

  6. How do their plants (& this Phlox) do in mid-Atlantic gardens? Rather different clime from the western mountains...


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