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.


  1. Hello Panayoti, I can almost feel the flow of the black pebble walkway. It reminds me of a mosaic, without the confusion of colors. The soft texture of the ornamental grass garden beacons me to lye among the towering stems and watch the clouds pass by. The grand double border makes me want to escort my love to a dance by horse drawn carriage. The Phlox pungens leaves me wondering. Wondering if I will be able to tell the difference between this and my blue Phlox pulvinata when these first year plants bloom.


  2. What a very sweet and poetic response to my post, James! Thank you...some day you must bring your love and try out that border! You will have to be careful where you put yourself down in our prairie: it's full of cacti! Phlox pungens superficially resembles pulvinata--but there are many salient differences (size and feel of leaves--they are extremely prickly in "pungens"--hence the name. P. pungens is largely restricted to limestone outcrops at 5-7'00 feet on semi-arid steppe. Phlox pulvinata generally grows on turfy tundra at over 11,000 with two or three times as much yearly precipitation: they are very distinct morphologically, ecologically and geographically! But I do agree they do resemble one another in pictures--and may even be pretty closely related.

  3. Yesterday was a good day. After working long and hard we are rewarded with such days on occasion. I attended a workday where volunteers spread seed that had been harvested throughout the year. It was rather like ecological restorations version of Thanksgiving. We interseeded into a hill prairie restoration with genuses that should be familiar to most rock gardeners. Examples include mid-land shooting star and prairie gentian.
    Looking at your photo of an Iceland Poppy reminds me of my nearby Chicago Botanic Garden. A little healthy competition usually drives us to achieve more. In that spirit, I wonder if Denver has Chicago beat in the Iceland Poppy department? Volunteers at the CBG plant thousands each spring. It is enough to cover a small hill. Does Denver have such a display? If not, then to be fair I must admit that you surely have the CBG beat in the rock and alpine garden department.

  4. That poppy display is awesome! We used to do large scale carpet bedding types of displays--and still have some extensive strips of annuals along the main street and in our All American test garden--but most of our annuals are displayed in more modest, intimate ways. Although Denver Botanic Gardens is 25 acres, this is split into fifty different gardens (some rather small) and the effects are correspondingly modest. We have the size and the scope at Chatfield of doing some large scale extravaganzas such as they do at Chicago Botanic Garden--but I have to say (and admit that I approve) that Denver Botanic Gardens is cautious about investments in time and resources: if we are going to create a vast canvas--why not make it perennial? We miss the boat on some flashy displays--but our boat as a consequence is as big as the Queen Mary when it comes to manageable perennial spectacle!

  5. Panayoti, don't be afraid of dividing your Rhodea, they're tough plants. The Phlox is fabulous!


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