Monday, December 30, 2013

Life sucks

A memoir of changes in the land and people
I will get to the bad part eventually. I sometimes think my life could be described as a series of love affairs with various kinds of plants and gardens, and definitely I am a serial killer of books: I find a writer I like (not an easy thing any more) and I quietly munch through their oeuvre. I did this in the past few years with Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin. Some authors are so voluminous that I space them out over decades: John Updike, Robert Graves, Philip Roth, Nadine Gordimer and many more--I read a book or two, and then move on. A few months ago my colleague Mike Kintgen found Grass by Joe Truett on remainder at the Tattered Cover and gave me a copy. By the time I finished the first few chapters I knew I'd found a contemporary classic: Only Robert Michael Pyle among contemporary naturalist/scientists wields  such a wonderful pen. I'll get to the Grass in a bit. Tonight I finally finished Circling Back: I don't think I have ever read anything that cut more quickly or deeply or decisively to the bone of our modern dilemma: Joe combines a history of his family's ancestral land in East Texas, and weaves into it his own very rich life story--and overarching the whole thing is our dilemma as Americans, as modern humans: he maps out a dozen ways the enormous cost of technology on the American landscape: a fabulously rich corner of America has essentially been turned into a botanical slum of wall-to-wall Loblolly pine plantation, and the rich tapestry of human habitation that goes back to the Pleistocene has been eliminated, leaving a mere residue of Duck Dynasty level ex-urbanites who by and large have only the most tenuous connections to the land. It is a terrifying and graphically described horror story: written with such charm and nostalgia that you almost forget that it's a tale that's been repeated in every corner of America. It is a tale we need to read, internalize and act on. It has the heft and import of Silent Spring or Ominivore's Dilemma in that it limns the ecological disaster we are all party to--although he does put out the slimmest glimmers of hope as well. Assuming you're not a complete literary light-weight (i.e. if you don't move your lips while you read)--and no one who reads my blog would do that--this book would be your cup of tea.
A serues if essays about grassland: great science and cadenced poetry all in one
I shan't belabor the grass book--it's very different--a whole series of essays that encapsulates Truett's lifelong work as an ecologist on the American prairies. Once again he shows the ways we have damaged and compromised biodiversity at every hand--but I hasten to say, this book gives hope: as lead biologist for Ted Turner's endangered species initiative, Truett had enormous sway and success in reintroducing prairie dogs to former habitat, and helping the success of black footed ferret reintroductions. He devotes several chapters to prairie dogs--and I have come to realize their enormous importance to America's prairies thanks to I must get the rest of his books right away!

Reading two awesome books by a contemporary (just five or six years older than me), you can hardly blame me for wanting to talk to Joe, to contact him and let him know how much appreciated his work his prose. I was hatching a secret plan to see if we couldn't invite him to speak, perhaps at a lecture series. I was savoring the possibility that we might walk together around Denver Botanic Gardens, or on Mt. Goliath: For me, books are a kind of tangible friendship--alas! Most of my favorite authors are classics whom I shall not meet in this life. But Joe lives only down the road in New Mexico! Heck, maybe I could drop in on him this summer?

Google search makes everything so much faster than it used to be: I punched in his name and the town he lived in and Google provided a long list of valuable information about Joe: there are several publications by Joe you can download off of various websites (just click on that link to see them)...and there was (here's the sucky part) his obituary and a wonderful tribute to him by the Wildlife Society.

In Circling back, Joe describes the pathway that took him back to his roots, and the appreciation of traditional American agrarian life practiced by his parents and grandparents. It is sobering when people more or less contemporary with you pass away like this, all the more so since I felt I had not only found an author I admired intensely, but someone who could be a friend.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pinky and the brain! "Springtime...for Germany..."

Hans Graf surveying his realm!
I was going to write new lyrics to the wonderful theme song of the musical within a musical in the Producers (everybody's favorite Mel Brooks, no?) but it was just too tacky...but I have something even more tacky to provide the overarching theme here, and that's Pinky and the Brain! I have realized in retrospect that one of the great cartoons of my childhood has resurfaced, so to speak, in Germany...wait and see!

Old poster on the wall for Kasteengarten
This faded poster on the wall in the headhouse spoke a bit to the history of this has not come about overnight....I give you the link once again here, if you didn't get it on my last post...I warn you, if you are an American you will be very jealous (many of his plants are not available state side as yet...)

Opuntia erinacea form--possibly trichophora

Husky young gallons

I'll buy it! (an aurea form)

More gems just starting to grow!

Lots of Echinocereus and other ball cacti as well...

Two Pediocactus simpsonii--bet they're from the Front Range, warmed the cockles of me heart...

Container plantings everywhere

Token representation of tender cacti as well...this is a hardy cactus nursery after all!

Finally! PINKY!

Little clarification: when I wrote this blog I'd forgotten that there were TWO cylindropuntias: the true 'Pinky' is the smaller one on the left. Hans has also introduced a much larger one (on the right) which is Cylindropuntia  imbricata 'Marco' The text below has them confused--but once you look at them you can see the difference: just keep it in mind when you read my florid descriptions. Thanks to Gerhard Gussmagg in Austria for catching my mistake!
I don't know the history of this incredible form of Cylindropuntia imbricata--but it is one of the really outstanding plants featured by Kakteengarten! And boy, do they grow a lot of them. It appears to be somewhat dwarfer than typical imbricata. We have specimens growing in Denver, and some day I shall report on how it does here--can't imagine it won't thrive: it's awesome! The name is doubly apropos, since it will no doubt conquer the world. (check out the cartoon if you don't know what I'm talking about). We'll get to "the brain" in a minute. (I re-linked the cartoon, since I'm quite sure you didn't check it out the first time!)
MORE Pinky

And even MORE pinky...This really IS 'Pinky'
And even MORE 'Pinky'
This may not actualloy be 'Pinky' but a larger name yet I don't think..[I see I did recall there were two: this is definitely the bigger, salmon colored one: 'Marco': you really need both!]

Grusonia clavata 'Wicky' (crested)
So as not to waste time, here it is! THE BRAIN! What a terrific cultivar name this would make: Grusonia clavata 'Brainiac' say, Alas! If you read the comment by Die Wüstengärtner below you will realize it has a perfectly good cultivar name: 'Wicky' is what this should be called--and shall henceforward in my books  Wouldn't you know, there is a colossal irony here: Wickie is also a cartoon character! You may know it as Opuntia clavata, but Rob Wallace will convince you too that it should be segregated, so just give up. Again, I did not get the story of when or how and who discovered this: I was too stunned gazing at hundreds upon hundreds of what has to be one of the most extraordinary hardy cactus ever--one that grows a day's drive from my home, and which (as far as I know) is unknown in America. Leastwise till Hans sent us a bunch a year ago.

More Brains! (or 'Wicky' to be correct!)

and MORE cacti!

A wonderful chocolate flavored prickly pear..not sure which one, alas.
Gerhard Gussmagg from Austria sent me a very gentle email with several corrections to this blog: he says that this goes by Opuntia rhodantha ssp. pisciformis in the trade in Europe, which he does not believe is a valid name: but now you know what to look for. I believe it is similar to what we grow as Opuntia 'Dark Knight'--but without growing them together I'm not sure I'd buy that! Whatever it is--we NEED it!

Cati outdoors as well

I have to say, it was an eye opener for me to see so many superbly grown cacti: had I not actually gone to Oettingen and seen with my own eyes, I would not have thought it possible that this quantity of cacti were being grown commercially--and grown with such outstanding culture. Hans puts American cactus nurseries to shame.

More views of the nursery

So well grown!

An opuntia selected at Hamburg Botanic gardens (I believe)
 It is mildly galling to me that the Germans have been doing so much work for so long that is so little known or appreciated in America where these grow wild. So many Americans regard prickly pears with scorn--and yet throughout Hans' nursery I found cultivars named after this or that botanic garden 'Freiburg', 'Munich' and here--'Hamburg': but can we find these in America? As John Belushi would say..."NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Shame on us!

And more.

Stooping lovingly to check it out...

I think you're getting the point!

Oh yes, he grows yuccas too--this one is Yucca gloriosa 'Walbristar'...which is really quite tender and used in containers in colder regions. (Thanks, Gerhard, for the correction!)

I believe this was a Maihueniopsis ovata type...he had a few South Americans [Gerhard Gussmag believes this could be M. platyacantha (P&W 6473, ex CJH 380] One last loving look at one of the greenhouses: Thank you Hans!
 Looking at these pictures brings back three of the most wonderful days: I wish I could share them all with you: Hans took us to a wonderful local castle, and to a large estate where a huge fair was being staged (full of rare trees and wonderful gardens). He took time out of his extremely busy schedule--probably the busiest week in his year, to drive through the woods where I saw many classic European wildflowers for the first time (Anemone ranunculoides, Asarum europaeum and much much more)...I should perhaps share those with you--but then I've not really posted anything on most of the great gardens we visited that trip either (Frankfurt,Wurzburg, Hamburg, Munich)...oh least I've given you a pretty good overview of one nursery (among hundreds of great German nurseries): I, for one, can't wait to go back! Meanwhile, I'll watch another of those "Pinky and the Brain" Youtubes..they are fun don't you think?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hardy Cactus Heaven....In Bavaria?

 SPOILER alert: here at one of the most amazing cactus nurseries I've ever visited, I will be showing you many things....the cacti however were be mostly in absentia (a few peek in here and there): there was so much ELSE at this nursery, I've decided to show that first! The cacti shall follow....anon....hang in there!

Hans Graf--owner of this amazing nursery

False alarm: there's a cactus right there!...but please turn your attention to Hans Graf, owner and peddler in chief (and an amazing gentleman altogether). He started and runs Kakteen-Garten, one of several large nurseries in Germany that specialize in hardy cacti. By the way..the above ^ is a hyperlink--click on it and you can get a taste of the amazing offerings (and if you live in Europe you can place an order, you lucky dog!)...

Proprietor's vehicle (and my reflection too btw)
This is actually one of several vehicles that Hans and his family drive all over Germany to sell at all manner of outdoor markets, fairs, plant sales--you name it. As I mentioned, he sells mail order, but also has a good traffic at his actual garden center site where many of these pictures were taken (he has greenhouses there, but many more at other sites near Oettingen, where he is headquartered.)...It's good to be the king of hardy cactus in Germany!

Delosperma seanhoganii

I believe that's the name it was recently christened--and an appropriate name too. What a wonderful delo! Alas, not the easiest to grow in the garden...
Delosperma sean-hoganii
Altrhough Hans obviously has no trouble growing it in pots as you can see!

Delosperma 'Gold Nugget'
There is something terribly gratifying about seeing a plant you've helped popularize growing in these kinds of numbers. And this is one of the very best!

Delosperma 'White Nugget'
In the USA, Hans would get a cease and desist: this is a patented plant here in America! But the rules don't extend across the pond...Little known fact: I wrote up the legal papers for 'White Nugget' (so does that make me its Godfather?)...

Delosperma 'Garnet'

Don't bother squinting: there's a different name on the label: these lovely morsels--bred by a Japanese breeder who lives in Peru for a Dutch company targeting American gardeners--are delightful, if a tad miffy. This is my favorite (which bloomed in my garden all summer--it likes me).

Delosperma 'Jewel of the Desert'

'Perfect Orange' now also goes by a different name as well. I don't think it's quite that perfect an orange, however. A rather nice tint nevertheless!

Arenaria alfacarensis by any other name
Spain boasts an amazing number of cushion sandworts: this one is apparently synonymous with our better known name. I rather like Arenaria lithops! And to think fourteen years ago I was only a mile or two from where this grew--and had to turn back (traveling with lightweights)..

Veronica repens
Not sure I buy this name: would love to have bought a plant or two however! Hans grows a lot of wonderful alpines, and has some extensive areas where he grows them in the ground as well--and mind you cactus is his real business!


Penstemon uintahensis

One of the rarest and choicest penstemons, which I've only seen once in the wild on Leidy Peak when I nearly froze myself and whole family. Another story, another time... it was a thrill to see this (he had quite a few of them in pots, actually)...

Ponciris trifoliata

He had a much larger specimen growing at his wonderful home--and we saw some monsters at Frankfurt Botanic Garden--a wonderful plant this. I believe it's the cultivar 'Flying Dragon'...
Lots of succulents!

Succulents are so cool! Glad they've become so fashionable...

Orostachys spinosa

His "run of the mill" O. spinosa doesn't quite match up with what we grow here, I don't think. I must get some of those to compare.

Orostachyhs spinosa (red tinged!)
Hans did give me a big clump of this red-flushed Orostachys--which is to DIE for...and it arrived in the US as pink mush. I can't wait to get this one again--what a gorgeous plant! I feel sorry for those who don't experience plant lust. BTW, please ignore the cactus in the lower right...not time yet.

Sempervivums galore: At least once a hear some idiotic person says to me "I don't like hens and chicks" (gag me)

A few cute Tschotchkies to the good...
There is a law somewhere saying that all gardens featuring succulents must have at least one corny tschotschky--and Kakteen is no exception here (nor is my garden for that matter...) 
Acantholimons warm the cockles of me heart: any garden containing even one is automatically upgraded!

More cushions!

I believe this is the wonderful fescue (Festuca scoparia) from the alps (Pic Carlit?). I love it!

Planted areas in the Garden Center portion

Glimpse across part of the Garden Center

Little demonstrations areas and planted beds dot the nursery--some serving for stock plants as well as display--and little stands to show off the smaller things. You could spend hours here...(In fact. We did)...

Yes, there is even 'Angelina'
Is there a succulent enthusiast anywhere in the temperate world who doesn't have 'Angelina' yet?

Sales beds in garden center portion
More displays and plants to buy (or else drool over in my case)...

More demo/stock beds

These would sell like hotcakes at Denver Botanic Gardens mother's day sale!

Don't examine these too carefully--since they do contain (cacti) which we are excluding from this discussion...

All these pix represent a visit last May to Oettingen and the wonderful hospitality we experienced there. Our trip to Germany will be one of the horticultural highlights of not just this year, but my life. I yearn to get back and see more of those gardens! More nurseries: half the size of Texas, Germany boasts over 100 major botanic gardens, each with unique designs and each having many spectacular and superior collections of plants. Quite simply, it's Heaven for a plant nerd like me!

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