Saturday, November 23, 2013

There is a certain slant of light on winter afternoons....

Quercus shumardii
Last Thursday we knew the temps would plummet Thursday night, so I made sure I got a picture of my Shumard oak in the morning, not knowing if the bright red color would persist (it sort of has)--I remember planting this when it was six or so feet high out of a five gallon pot from Home Depot (I think) and a gardening friend came by and (to my horror) snipped off the leader with his clippers. I wanted him to die. It did develop a new leader eventually...most of these pictures will be bathed with that oblique light of late autumn (or is it early winter), that Emily Dickinson alludes to: I will print her wonderful poem at the very end of this blog to save you looking it up if you're the curious type (and if you're reading this you probably are).

Pellaea atropurpurea
Tony Avent thought my rock brake was special--must remember to send him spore!

Ilex verticillata
The deciduous holly at the gardens is immense--but my little one in the rock garden is CUTE! And out of focus I know--still had to share it.

Papaver nudicaule
An Iceland poppy that survived the summer is already in bloom by our Orchid pavilion...undaunted by a month of frosts. We'll see how it holds up through the deep freeze this weekend!

Promenade along the Orangery
I think that's a spiraea behind, and maybe an Oregano in front: the color contrast (green and yellow gold) was what I loved when I took this picture...

Rosa crispa
That's not really the scientific epithet: we still have freeze dried rose flowers on many of our shrub roses...not sure which one this is...

Rosa crispa 'Alba'
Not sure of this cultivar either...another bogus name...

Nandina domestica
One does not often see "Heavenly Bamboo" in Denver, and flowers are even rarer hereabouts. But this one loves to grow along Shady Lane (across from the Orangery). Very Christmassy don't you think?

Geranium magniflorum
This magnificent South African geranium has virtually disappeared from Plant Select growers--although we have huge masses of it all over Denver Botanic Gardens: among its many wonderful traits are that it is a true evergreen (most all other geraniums go deciduous in winter). The finely cut foliage is another plus...

Ebi Kondo--an estraordinary horticulturist indeed--is managing to keep things lively in the vegetable garden even in late November!

Cupressus arizonica 'Pendula'
We have not one, but two of these outlandish giant, weeping cypresses-both gifts of Alan Tower of Spokane--an amazing nurseryman there...they look as through they're straight out of Dr. Suess, don't you think?

Plains Garden
I love the glistening late afternoon light through the seedheads of our wonderful native blazing star (Liatris punctata). Try as I may--I have scattered thousands of seeds and planted dozens of liners--I cannot get this dang plant to grow in my own postage stamp prairie at home. I grow so many other native prairie plants in it--this one HAS to like it: I shall try again next year. At least I can enjoy it at work!

Mahonia fremontii
This picture is so deceptive--this shrub is enormous. Visiting nurserymen and plantsmen go crazy over this--most recently the unflappable Joseph Tychonievich of Arrowhead Alpines who came very close to losing his cool (figuratively of course) over this plant. The silvery blue is never more stunning than contrasting with the orange red of Quercus buckleyi in the distance...I love icy blue and orange together!

Agave havardiana on Dryland Mesa
I can never have enough of giant agave rosettes. This one is in the Dryland mesa combining so well with the rest of the Chihuahuan rabble behind it: this corner is one of my favorite spots at Denver Botanic Gardens (pretty near every few feet of the 25 acres seems to be becoming my favorite spot in recent years! I live in paradise you know!)

Phlox pungens
Hard to believe this crazy phlox was only named a few decades ago by Bob Dorn. Just looking at this seems to summon up the hoodoos of Beaver Rim--its rugged Wyoming home--and the stiff breezes there--one of America's most beautiful and little known corners. And here it is, blooming in the Rock Alpine Garden at the end of November!

Townsendia sp. and Convolvulus boissieri v. boissieri
A rare, choice bindweed from southern Spain, and a tiny townsendia from the West--looking rather cozy together in early winter....the silvery foliage of Convolvulus boissieri must be seen to be believed!

 Berberis diehlsiana
This ancient mound of Barberry is nearly eight feet tall and a dozen or so feet across. The long chains of yellow flowers in spring are echoed by the yellow foliage in late autumn. Very witty! This spiny monster makes a very effective barrier plant.

Crocus speciosus
Several brave crocuses are trying to bloom still in late November!

Quercus robur (Fastigiate seedling)
There used to be a large hawthorn trying to suppress this oak--a self sown seedling from the giant columnar English oak in the neighboring park. I remember when this first germinated and I wondered whether or not to pull it: subsequent caretakers of this garden chose the oak over the hawthorn! There is another columnar true English oak near the entrance, as well as two towering hybrids between English and American oaks ('Crimson Spire' appropriately enough) flanking the LED information kiosk inside the front entrance. Some plants one must grow in multiples. Oaks especially!

Erigeron peregrinus
Brave little fleabane reblooming in late fall/early winter...

Berberis x mentorensis
I believe Mike Kintgen was the one who cleverly planted this evergreen barberry on a problem spot where children were wont to gambol inappropriately. This has tactfully (and tactilely) obviated that nonsense--I LOVE spiny, prickly, thorny, horny, nasty, spiteful, carnivorous, stinging, angry plants! Can you tell I'm quickly approaching four decades of working at a public garden?

Daphne tangutica
There are subtle differences between the rather larger leaved Daphne retusa that I've grown over the years and this slightly more delicate tangutica--this latter being even hardier and more vigorous. I first planted this twenty feet or so away in a spot where it became massive, produced tons of seeds and eventually one year expired. We're down to just this plant--and I must remind Mike Bone and Katy Wilcox to take cuttings soon! It is one of our best daphnes! One is WAY too few to have of this...

Crocus goulimyi
Dozens of Crocus goulimyi have waited awfully late this year to bloom...hard to believe our robust colony started with just a single bulb a few decades ago. Malthus was right!

Echinacea in a mist of Muhlenberia reverchonii
Surely the picture speaks for itself. If this grass doesn't become an instant hit, nothing will...I'm sure I've taken a hundred pictures of it the last two or three years!

Plantasia walkway
I can't say how many visitors have oohed and aaahed over the wonderful black pebble walk in Plantasia since it was built twelve or more years ago. I'm amazed that it has held up so well. I believe it was the original designer, Mark Fusco, who planted the sweep of Black Mondo grass alongside it. The path is never more wonderful than when it's sprinkled with golden Locust leaflets in the fall.

Ophiopogon planiscapus v. nigrescens
The picture is deceiving: the "grass" (formerly considered in the "Lily" family sensu lato--now lumped with the Asparagus family!)...why on earth they call these "Snake beard" in Latin (or Greek actually) eludes me. This picture does not show the dozens of stems with shiny jet black seeds. I love this plant!

Rohdea japonica
I was horrified a few years ago when the gardener in charge of this garden divided a few clumps of Rohdea as if they were daylilies and replanted them--to widen the swath no doubt. I cursed under my breath, thinking this slow growing, slightly fussy, slightly tender plant would perish. Good thing I didn't say anything--they took off just fine, and this year the ample new colony is studded with fruit. Some day I may have the courage to do this with one of my clumps perhaps? I doubt it.

Rohdea japonica seedead
Funny that a woodland plant from nearly subtropical East Asia could look so Christmas like!

Ornamental Grass Garden
I featured a similar picture taken a few weeks earlier on my Facebook page--and stupidly mis-identified the garden. Wouldn't you know, the gardener (Ross Shrigley) called me on it. So this time I shall get it right lest he keep tabs on my blog as well...What a wonderful symphony of grass foliage...

Viburnum lantana
The gardener who cares for this area (John Murgel) doesn't think this was planted deliberately--it may just be a seedling of Viburnum lantana--or perhaps the nearby carlesii type which I notice has bright foliage too. I shall check this out in April to double check. If it is a carlesii--we shall have to take cuttings! The sweetly fragrant viburnums are terribly underplanted and underappreciated hereabouts.
Thuja occidentalis 'Yellow Ribbon'
The overwhelming majority of arborvitae planted around Denver are 'Smaragd'--which is apparently NOT a very good plant hereabouts: it suffered massive dieback around town and a local gardening celebrity (Rob Proctor) has been very harsh on the whole genus--dissuading his audience from planting them. Ironically, every other cultivar I've seen around town came through our wretched April freeze just fine: the 'Yellow Ribbon' cultivars in our Fragrance Garden have never looked more resplendent. I must scold Rob for his summary (and unfair) condemnation!

Fragrance Garden container
You can glimpse the thujas lining the allee in this garden. In the foreground, one of the many wonderful winter arrangements made by the Garden Club of Denver throughout this garden. This is a redoubtable organization of which I am an adjunct and rather uncharacteristic member (there are only two of us who are male "honorary" among many dozens of very dedicated women: this club is an engine of turbo strength that has animated Denver Botanic Gardens since our inception--our benefactress, Ruth Porter Waring , was a member after all.). I have gained increasing respect bordering on awe for G.C.A. over the decades--they work behind the scenes at virtually every major public garden and museum in America to raise funds and standards.

Schlessman Plaza container
Another truly astonishing G.C.A. arrangement. There is a strong possibility that this spot will look radically different in a year: instead of this recessed alcove, there is likely to be a walk way that extends from the building in the picture below to the marvelous Waring House, whose chimney can be barely glimpsed in the herbage above: the funds to create a rose garden beyond were achieved this past week: I love the symbolism of transforming a parking lot into a garden....although I shall rather miss this alcove...

O'Fallon Perennial Border
The grand double border is lovely in the late autumn light--the groundcovers and remaining shrubs decked with thousands of Christmas lights--it looks very different at night I can assure you!

Cistus laurifolius
We have had the laurel leaf Sun rose planted many places over the years--this may be the only spot left at present--look carefully and you can discern the Christmas lights...I deliberately refuse to use the silly euphemism "Holiday lights": political correctness is a social disease that is devouring our language and a bit of our soul...

But frustrating as politics and human folly may be--we should take a hiatus from cynicism in the "Holiday" Season--although we plant geeks need only to stroll among the chlorophyll for a few minutes and our batteries are charged, our blood pressure drops and we are real humans once again.

And now for the promised poem: one of my favorites by that amazing maid of Amherst:

There's a certain slant of light
By Emily Dickinson

There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's a gas...............................plant!

Gasplants gone wild in Wisconsin (Sachtjen garden)
I know, I know...My silly titles. Full of pleonasm, paranomasia, and persistent and pestiferous be it! Life is too short to be too serious. Dictamnus is truly a gas to grow--although not always easy to find in nurseries: a dirty little secret I will share with you: it transplants rather easily despite what the literature says! Marlyn Sachtjen--an almost mythically ambitious gardener in Waunakee, Wisconsin--had it self sowing wildly throughout her garden.

At my old home (no longer mine, alas)
Above are a few of literally dozens of plants I had at our old house. My ex transplanted these from the first of three cutting gardens we once had at DBG when it was being torn up (it was a cutting garden, then Wildflower Treasures and now a large Potager)...they moved just fine. I dug up no end of seedlings here to share--and many went below...

at my NEW home (in high spring with roses)
Here's part of my NEW garden--the triangle bed in its full pink phase. Each spring I pot up dozens of seedlings which are ready to share in a month or so--or grow cheerfully through the summer to plant in the fall. This picture taken earlier this spring.

Same garden as the last, a few years earlier...
This picture was taken eight years ago: the bed was sparser. That peony on the far left was dug up (a pink form of Paeonia officinalis from Bluebird) to my chagrin....but has come back from the roots...worth a blog of its own!

At Eudora (the old place)...makes me very nostalgic...
This shows a single plant much better--the flowers remind me a bit of azaleas flowers. It's amazing what a range of soils and exposures this tolerates--from heavy clay or sandy soils that can be completely unwatered in our dry climate...but it thrives just as well in rich loam regularly watered--or here in a rock garden.

The albino at Quince (the new place)...
An evening shot of the pure white form is as lovely as the pink. I treasure my big husky plants out front--here you can see that the giant Reed grass (Arundo donax 'Variegata') is starting to come up: completely swamps this part of the garden by midsummer--but the gas plant doesn't seem to mind the competition at all.
Growing in a huge clump of Arundo donax 'Variegata'
Here a neighboring clump is shown in early morning light--combined with a wonderfully complementary clump of Clematis integrifolia--I'd love to pretend we planned this! This is probably a good place to mention that it's called gas plant because it produces a volatile oil you can ignite on a warm day that will envelope the whole plant in flames. One is also obligated to mention that this is in the Citrus family, and has a surprisingly strong citrus-like smell when brushed. Oh yes--it can produce dermatitis on some sensitive skins--so watch out (not on mine--I brush and handle it all through the season with no problems)
Dictamnus angustifolius in Kazakhstan
I was thrilled to find masses of Dictamnus throughout Kazakhstan--growing mostly on the dry, open steppe. It differs from the more Western Asian forms in subtle ways. Beaver Creek Greenhouose in British Columbia sells a Dictamnus alaicus which finally bloomed for me this year--looking almost exactly the same as this taxon.... Of course--as a collector, I need them ALL! And if you've read this far, you probably do as well...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Regal blues

Delphinium grandiflorum
 Who doesn't sing the blues, when it comes to gardens? There are simply not enough blues: knowing that, why are delphiniums not more often seen? This outrageous clump bloomed magnificently at Dan Johnson's home garden for months it seemed this summer. I had Delphinium grandiflorum self-sowing so exuberantly in the Rock Alpine Garden in the early years I pulled it all out (and have regretted that ever since: it was a midsummer wonder).

Delphinium nuttallii
 Not all larkspurs are summer bloomers--of course: this is a native tuberous rooted species that acts like a bulb--popping up and blooming in the spring and dying down promptly. Here it is in my meadow in early May--I've been delighted that it's begun to self sow (at least the rabbits don't eat THIS!). The blue is just as fetching, although with violet undertones.
Delphinium occidentale
 There are three high altitude larkspurs in our mountains that grow in mesic habitats: I have never tried growing this one, which I suspect might be growable. I photographed this above Crested Butte this July where it grew by the thousand in the lush meadows. The similar, but huskier Delphinium barbeyi from further north hates our summer heat. Strange that I have never seen such a fabulous potential garden plant in a single Colorado garden: what HAVE we been up to? Watching the Broncos instead I suppose?

Delphinium barbeyi dwarf
Here is my nemesis: I have tried this many times--like D. occidentale this grows in subalpine meadows, but really hates the lower elevations. Usually five or six feet tall, John and Peggy White took me to an alpine meadow high above Silverton where there were dozens of these tiny alpine specimens a foot or more tall. Alas, they seemed to be almost as intractable--although they would thrive in Steamboat or Vail where there are exquisite gardens. The brooding deep purple black color is a hallmark of midsummer in our mountains.

Delphinium alpesre
Of course, the real gem of our native delphinium is this tiny alpine that is quite rare. I have only seen it twice (and never re-located the hillside on Hoosier pass where I first saw it forty years ago despite many attempts). Fortunately, I know just where it grows on West Spanish Peak, where Bill Adams and I have climbed many times to visit it. I just realized that after growing it a decade or more I may have lost my last plant in my alpine garden: time for another climb this coming fall!

Delphinium pylzowii
 This has become my loveliest pest: like a more willowy D. grandiflorum, this closely allied taxon is seeding all over the central bed in my rock garden, coming up in the middle of saxifrages and drabas--it pains me to have to root them out, half destroying their predated cushion in the process. They open their first flowers in May most years, blazing all through the summer months. Believe it or not--there are still a few fresh blossoms on these and it's November 20 today: making this my champion delphinium for long season of bloom (that seven months if you haven't counted). Not bad for a blue!
Delphinium pylzowii
I took this picture a month or so ago. Notice the buds coming on--they're the ones that are open now...
Delphinium sp. unknown
I don't have a clue what this magnificent thing is: it was growing in one of the many fabulous private rock gardens in Denver (this garden happens to belong to the owner of a gold mining company who is one of Denver's leading philanthropists: good friends to have!)

Delphinium tricorne
I am so jealous of these in the Rock Alpine Garden: this husky eastern cousin to our nuttallii makes a spectacle for a few weeks in mid spring and dies away. I have to get some (Munchkin Nursery sells it...) I have seen woodlands in the Midwest full of this in spring. And Norman Deno grew it like a weed in his amazing State College garden.

Delphinium geyeri
 A truly horrible picture of one of our best delphiniums. This grows in dense patches along the Grand Hogback just at the west of Denver, making a spectacular display along the foothill highway for miles every June. I drive that way deliberately several times each summer to admire it among the cacti and yuccas--which is where Dan Johnson has naturalized it in our Plains Garden. One of America's greatest xeriscape plants--and you will not find it in a local nursery,,,,of course!

Delphinium virescens
Two or three times I've seen this pale larkspur sold by Jeff Ottersberg's Wild Things Nursery in Pueblo: It's never quite the right time when I see the flats for sale to plant them in my xeriscape, so I have missed out on adding this sprightly (if rather unprepossessing) native perennial to my garden. DRATS!

Delphinium elatum in Kazakhstan steppe
 And the holy grail: we found acres of the famous "Pacific Northwest Hybrid" style classic delphinium growing on the windy, dry steppes of Kazakhstan: I think we pamper these too much. The best delphiniums I've ever seen in America were growing in think clay all over Newcastle, Wyoming--forming huge clumps with literally dozens of stems. It's been bred to death in Europe and the Pacific Northwest to tolerate pedalfer soils, but on its native steppe its growing on pedocals in hot baking sun.
Delphinium elatum
The flowers on many specimens here on the foothills of the Altai mountains were as showy and brilliant as any of the so-called "hybrids" (which are just gussied up really--I prefer nature always). We essentially had a crop failure on this wild form (something my clever boss reminds me of from time to time--nothing slips by him). Fortunately, there is banked seed in Germany...
Delphinium semibarbatum

 And now my Grail: the ultimate delphinium for me is the golden larkspur of Central Asia. I grew a truly deep yellow-gold form for many years (it was in full bloom the day Jim and Jenny Archibald first flew to Colorado: June 17, 1987: a day I shall not forget because my daughter was born that same day. In fact this may have been the only plant in the Rock Alpine Garden that impressed Jim at the time). We got seed from a commercial source and grew it a few years ago--and it produced this pale, diaphanous thing almost identical to what Mike Bone and I saw north of the Tien Shan in Kazakhstan--not the bright yellow gold one I grew once. I love them both. I look forward to the day our xeriscapes are full of both forms of "Zalil"...and the literally dozens of other choice delphiniums that are found throughout all Eurasia and in all the deserts, steppes, montane forests and alpine slopes of America as well (including the red ones too--another blog!): strange indeed that so few of these are grown !

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