Monday, March 31, 2014

The hardy Palm Trees of Colorado.

Hardy coconut palm in northeast Denver (Photo by Michael Dodge)
You can imagine my delight the other day when driving through Denver with Jan and our good friend, Michael Dodge we stumbled on this extraordinarily healthy specimen of hardy coconut (ironclad hardy I daresay). We stupidly didn't have our cameras with us, but Michael had his trusty I-Phone and was able to document this new accession for our ever expanding e-monograph. Thank you Michael! Notice the snow. Most impressively, we'd just had several nights BELOW ZERO Farenheit--if that's not hardy, I don't know what is.

Dangerous fruit drop (Photo by Michael Dodge)

 Few people realize how many are maimed and possibly even killed by these hefty fruits. This plant in particular seemed have positively devastating pods--heavy as metal.  Perhaps explaining why more are not found in our gardens.
Washingtonia sideroclada ssp. argentea
  Palm trees are generally thought of as Tropical plants, restricted to humid, warm winter regions. Obviously, most people are not aware that there are many iron-clad species, such as this small colony that once grew along Monaco Avenue in Denver, a short ways south of Evans. Despite being planted in a rather exposed microclimate, with a deep sandy soil, these throve for many years: I would admire them as I drove by year in year out, their graceful, bending forms and rigidly proud fronds outstretched with an almost military rigidity: what's not to like? Then a day came when I noticed the sign....

Sign of things to come
 It should have worried me that the restaurant where these where originally planted was rarely patronized...the pressures of development on our endemic urban Arecaceae cannot be overestimated. Not too many weeks passed by before I discovered they were now extinct. Surely the rarest Ironclad, silver Arecas in the region (if not the world) have now joined the Dodo and the Liberal Wing of the Republican party in the annals of prehistory. We cannot be too vigilant, nor can we trust in fly-by-night "conservation" organizations like Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife, who take little interest in these urban ecotypes. They'd just as soon see this planted to junipers!

 Compare this sad sight with the glorious ecosystem that grew here before "progress" progressed! They may have painted it mustard yellow, and try to distract us with those signs--but surely you can see what's missing?
Cocos nucifera ssp. boulevardensis
Possibly always rare, and now extinct in its type locality--this high altitude coconut palm once throve along Colorado Boulevard here in Denver--producing its characteristic clusters of fruit that fortunately never fell on passers by.

We're not sure if the proximity to "Hooters" has any significance....

I admired the lofty crowns of this evergreen palm for many years, until it too fell victim to "progress"...

Cocos Santafeensis
This delightful colony of an apparently sterile form of the genus still persists--possibly responding to the abundant irrigation on the lawn beneath. I hope some of those would be "environmentalists" will make an effort to preserve this thriving colony before it's too late for it as well!

A closer look!
I am somewhat concerned by the way these are growing that they may, in fact, represent a single clone--the bane of our street tree culture nowadays. By propagating so many trees from single germplasm accessions we reduce biodiversity to a single gene pool--and lay our trees open to all manner of disease and pests. I would not be surprised some day if some sort of rust were not to set in simultaneously on all of these.
A single specimen
Here perhaps you can better admire this distinctive variant planted near a rather outlandish stylized stone: The graceful organic form of the palm makes a striking contrast to the angular, metallic and rather unnatural "stone"--true art if I ever did espy it!

A closer look...trying to ignore that "rock"
Aceca variabilis v. grotesquissimus forma Sinorestaurauntorum

 I shall end my little disquisition on the palms of Denver with this--the most colorful of all of them--reduced, alas, but to a single female that is not likely to produce viable seed with no male palms nearby. How sad it is to think that this noble varicolored hardy palm may one day join its brethren in extinction. Fortunately, we have managed to photograph a few of these to prove that the alpine palms of Denver are still hanging on (albeit by their frond-tips): there are a number of others I've spied over the years--perhaps next year this time I can expand this little monograph to capture them before they too succumb to "progress".

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My sweet Wyomin' home...featuring the blue phlox of Wyoming

Phlox pulvinata
This picture happens to be in my garden, but I have a whole suite of shots of this lovely phlox I photographed on top of Medicine Bow Pass in the incomparable Snowy Mountains of Wyoming. Hard to believe one can depart Denver, skim past the Front Range megalopolis, drive to the Laramie Plains full of steppe-climate treasures, and then traverse the montane and subalpine and arrive at a vast tapestry of this Phlox, Eritrichium, glacier lilies galore in about two hours. Most years I make the trip two or three times, usually in late June and July. But this incredibly sweet smelling phlox that varies from icy pale blue to deep purple shades is always a grail...

Phlox pulvinata on summit of Medicine Bow Pass in late June

 Here is that vista, from on of my many favorite "sweet Wyomin' homes"-- a place I have come to again and again over the past four or five decades. I am actually imagining the smell so vividly of this phlox, a fragrance that wafts up on warmish days (it's NEVER hot up there) and envelopes you with a strangely tropical, muskiness that belies the alpine vistas. Just three little months and I can stand here again...aaaaah.

Phlox pulvinata closer up
 A little closer view showing how dense the colonies are up there, interspersed with all manner of other alpine gems. Our winter is lasting so long this year (although daffodils are out and the first magnolia blossoms are opening on the x loebneri at the Botanic Gardens' house), our landscape is as sere and harsh looking--freeze dried from a had winter, and sun baked from lots of sun and wind--rather like Wyoming in a way. It's an acquired taste: once you acquire a love of the brash steppe you feel constrained and overgrown after a few days in the perpetual greenery of Maritime climates.

Phlox pulivinata, up close and personal! in the wild...
 Mugshot of a particularly blue violet form of this cushion phlox. There are other blue phloxes--the two primary contenders are of course Phlox divaricata of the Eastern woodlands,  and Phlox bifida of the southern Great Lakes sandy prairies. I did select a particularly deep violet blue of the latter in the garden of the late great Betty Blake (a plant that may persist somewhere still). Neither of them are quite this winsome a shade of blue violet. Laporte Avenue Nursery is not currently listing Phlox pulvinata (although they have) but they do offer 'Betty Blake' in a good form, but probably not the real form I once grew which was much bluer.

And here is the REAL 'Betty Blake' from around 20 years ago at DBG

The original collection from Betty's garden was a pretty dark, good blue. But it may be MIA...and I admit that many pulvinata are paler in hue, but there is sure to be one at least as good as Betty up there on the Medicine Bow (or the dozens of other ranges in the west where pulvinata is supposed to grow). And they are sure to have that heavenly fragranc.

 One last lingering look from the Snowies....oh yes, the title of this blog comes from an enchanting song I learned from Gwen Moore, my ex--she would sing it very winsomely on our many trips across Wyoming--it was one of her favorite songs, and remains one of mine. One may divorce, but one stays married to the better memories, which were legion.  It was made famous by Chris LeDoux (famous is a relative term--hard to believe such a really wonderful song isn't that famous in a world of American idol and "Voice" contenders singing songs I find pretty repellent--and let's not even talk about "Rap"--which deserves the parentheses.) This song was written by Bill Staines, one of America's great song writers, whom I've had the privilege of hearing a few times. I link the lyrics to the song here, and click on the two previous links on this blog to hear two very different versions of this song: both pretty cool in their way...the song being a tribute to a great state, and a sort of musical equivalent to this exquisite and little known plant (rather like the song in meriting a little more love!).

A flower. A song. Some memories. A backdrop of sagebrush and distant pronghorn. Our lives are comprised of these quiddities, these tesserae, which gradually mesh and form the mosaic of our personalities, the sum and substance of our souls.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The other state cactus...

Pediocactus simpsonii 'Snowball'
Recently, a bill in the Colorado Legislature was introduced and subsequently passed nominating Echinocereus triglochidiatus as Colorado's state cactus. Now, I have to say that no one is more fond of claret cups than I am: I probably have a few dozen planted around my house. I have sought them out in every state where they grow, and when they bloom, I hover as expectantly as a hummingbird over them, although perhaps with less efficacy. But claret cups are even more abundant in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and California than in our state where they are concentrated along the Western plateaux west of the Continental Divide at modest elevations, with a second population hugging the foothills of the Eastern slope.

Pediocactus simpsonii occurs in other states too, I aver. But I am quite sure if you gathered all the simpsonii in the other states where they occur and weighed them, they'd be a fraction of what occurs in our state. Colorado is the epicenter, the Omphalos, the heartland, the bees knees and cat's meow of mountain ball cacti, and don't you forget it! And the snowball, once abundant along the western fringe of Denver (mostly supplanted by suburb) is the loveliest of all in my book.

Pediocactus simpsonii ex New Mexico
Though who can fault it in any of its color phases--it pretty much covers the purple-red, yellow and cream--all the delicate pastels. And it has a powerful fragrance to boot.

Pediocactus simpsonii (more snowballs)
These are snowballs I'ave had in this trough for years--if you look carefully, you'll see lots of little seedlings...wooo hooo!

Closeup of Pediocactus simpsonii 'Snowball'

Pediocactus simpsonii ex Aquarius plateau, UT
A very strange collection from the Aquarius: it must be 20 years old and hasn't done much more than this...Utah simpsonii is often strange.

Pediocactus simpsonii ex Idaho
Here's one of several Idaho collections that have even been put in a different species by a well known German splitter...

Pediocactus simpsonii ex Irish Canyon, nw Colorado
This is the giant of the genus in my experience--I grew this clump for almost 20 years--I love the pale yellow coloration. This is typical of what you often find around the Uinta Basin.

Closeup, Pediocactus simpsonii ex Irish Canyon
Closeup of the Uinta Basin form.

Pediocactus simpsonii ex Monarch Pass, Colorado
An enchanting form from very high on Monarch pass where this is abundant on southern slopes to almost 10,000'!

Closeup of Monarch Pass Pediocactus simpsonii
Closeup of the same...

Another yellow flowered form, this one from near Mt. Borah in Idaho

Snowball blooming on Green Mt., Lakewood, Colorado
Here is the snowball in the wild--blooming in late March a few years ago. This year, I suspect it will be April before we find it in the wild, but they are budded up all around my yard as I type...

Pediocactus robustior ex Nevada
ediocactus robustior ex Washington State 
 The two above represent a heavily spined, coarse form from the Columbia plateau which makes enormous clumps and has other subtle distinctions--it has sometimes been classed as a species, and other times as a species in its own right. It is distinctive to my eyes, and very beautiful.

Pediocactus simpsoniii in seed, on Flattop Mts., Garfield Co, CO (9000'!)
 Even our southerly forms can clump up pretty well--this massive clump from the Flattops produced a wealth of seed that year.
Pediocactus simpsonii in seed on Green Mt.: yum yum!
And finally, the snowball in seed. Almost as fetching as it is in bloom. Prettier if you're a little piggy like some people who read this!

A week from now the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society is holding the annual Show and Sale. There are always a few of these in the show--and since they're usually in bloom--they can take a prize or two. But in my book, they're our ultimate cactus--and one of the most precious wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Palmengarten in Frankfurt: A snapshot in early May, 2013

"Open daily at 9:00AM" in case you were wondering (Jan Fahs photograph)

Few things are more cliché (think Henry James) than pointing out how sophisticated Europeans are compared to us American rubes--but surely, what American botanic garden would show a frog emerging from a pitcher plant pitcher on the back of a bus? The Germans possess a level of cool and botanical class that beggars my imagination (for one). This is a truly Chekhovian teaser for a monumental botanic garden. Palmengarten is as good as it gets. And of course, my camera battery gave out and I had no backups, so you must endure Jan Fahs' much better pictures than mine (I'd be showing mug shots of a ton of obscure rarities, while Jan clicked the essence, my sweetheart!). This is a snapshot in early spring: imagine the kaleidoscopic changes through the season! Enjoy...

Aesculus hippocastanum (Jan Fahs photograph)
Jan managed a few mug shots as well: like this elegant horse chestnut:  I saw no evidence yet at Frankfurt of bleeding canker, Pseudomonas syringae pv. aesculi a dread bacterium that is affecting the genus throughout Europe. I sincerely hope they can control or at least contain it before it spreads hither.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
A sweet vignette in one of the woodland gardens: we were there at prime time for the early spring display--and there were goodies blooming everywhere in wonderful drifts--the naturalistic style has really been perfected by the Germans. I
(Jan Fahs photograph)
The wonderful blend of foliage textures in this pictrure almost obscures the flowering gems contained therin as well...
(Jan Fahs photograph)
Of course, there must be interesting birds at a bortanical garden as well: notice the dandelion seedheads? German gardens are remarkably weedfree--but I noticed dandelions everywhere in all the gardens: I think they like them. Perhaps we are fighting the wrong battle in trying to eliminate these? Or as Georg Uebelhart told Jan when she pointed one out in his garden (with a twinkle in his eye) "That's a double form"...

(Jan Fahs photograph)

And a few hoary sculptures are apropos.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
The pelargonium collection had just been laid out for the summer outdoor display--neatly labeled of course...
(Jan Fahs photograph)
I would have loved to see this in full bloom a few weeks later...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
A trough display featuring South African plants outside of one of the alpine house complex: what delightful stone pathwork? Everything was so crisp and elegant and the artistry was always wed with science--and this was the more "popular" of the twin botanical gardens (the former University botanic garden next door has been combined with Palmengarten under one management--but still retains a more academic focus.)
(Jan Fahs photograph)
Jan was getting a tad artsy with this shot....

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Palmengarten is so dang big they have a frickin' TRAIN to drive people around...sheesh.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
One can never have enough random stone mossy lions on pedestals...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
A bit of production tucked behind a staged exhibit--almost as trim as the exhibit itself...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
A shot of our host, Sven Nürnberger, a dynamic, extremely knowledgeable and very youthful horticulturist at the Garden. We were lucky to have a few hours of his time showing us around.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Here am I along with Sven oogling all the gems in one of the amazing alpine houses!

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Another view of some awesome Mediterraneans in the cool glasshouse...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Not reliably hardy for us in Denver, this Erodium reichardii is such a gem, it's worth an effort (or a cool greenhouse) to enjoy it's endless display of color.
(Jan Fahs photograph)
Elegant island plantings...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
The prairie garden makes a wonderful contrast to trim grass on the right...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Neglected to note the species of Dryopteris--Jan was obviously entranced and has two great shots...
(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)
I believe this was a greenhouse demonstrating an ancient flora--I believe Gondwanaland-- (Subarctic house?)--love the stumpery effect...

(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)
This undoubtedly explains it all!

(Jan Fahs photograph)
More of Gondwanaland...
(Jan Fahs photograph)
I saw several German botanic gardens with wonderfully revegetated North American prairies--Frankfurt's was one of the best. The Germans do eco-gardening better than anyone.
(Jan Fahs photograph)
Another glimpse of the Teutonic naturalistic gardening--which they do superbly...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Anemone sylvestris--a classic plant for us as well. I'm amazed not to see this vigorous spreader in so few gardens.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
The Eurasian complement to the North American prairie gardens: one of my innovations in Denver was to attempt to do this sort of thing as well, so you can imagine I was interested!                                                                   
(Jan Fahs photograph)
I love meadows--and Frankfurt does them superbly.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Beautiful vistas, with fountains summoning in the distance (as in one of my favorite books, Pale Fire)
(Jan Fahs photograph)
Surprised to find waterlilies blooming already--they must have had a head start. What other plant is so irresistibly photogenic?

(Jan Fahs photograph)
The garden goes On and need that tram ride after a while...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Lovely arbors, ponds, edgings...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Mixed bulb and annual plantings--common in Germany, rare in Colorado.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Some things hardly need a caption... Europe is so dang picturesque!

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Bedding with ferns--never seen this one before done so well...

(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Sven Nürnberger again, showing us the treasures in the recently re-worked Asian garden--a wonderful, mostly woodland swale with large drifts of all manner of rarities he'd designed.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Labeling is inconspicuous, but ubiquitous and extensive in data.

Another example of the same...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Wonderful combinations among the Asiatics...
(Jan Fahs photograph)
More foliage combos...
(Jan Fahs photograph)
Must be a Fothergilla--don't remember this (Jan was off on her own part of the time)...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Primula cortusoides or saxatilis in peak bloom.
(Jan Fahs photograph)
Unraveling croziers on a Polystichum in early May: aaaaaah.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Rocky shady bed...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
The lawns are often nearly meadows--a lovely effect...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
A lovely naked lady at the edge of the woods--garden sculpture done right is a delight...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
The Dove tree in full bloom--always a highlight of a garden visit...

This one has a bit of history...

(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Can you tell I like Davidia? And Jan too?

(Jan Fahs photograph)
More enchanting misty vistas...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
(Jan Fahs photograph)
More vistas

(Jan Fahs photograph)
A German-American botanist who was staging a large geo-botanical exhibit and joined us for the tour...embarrassed I forgot his name--can someone remind me?
(Jan Fahs photograph)
The exhibit half up: I would have loved to see this finished.
(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)
More paths, more ponds...

More misty views...

I can't believe I've flown into Frankfurt a dozen times over the years and missed the chance to see this extraordinary garden through the seasons. You can bet your petuty I'll never miss it again! (I hope I spelled petuty right...)

A graceful woodland...

The magnificent, immense rock garden, undergoing a major renovation under Sven's baton. This was exciting!

(Jan Fahs photograph)
The rock garden...(always the best spots in any botanic garden in my humble opinion...)

(Jan Fahs photograph)
They have trouble with bozos wandering off paths too--in two languages!

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Is there anything lovelier than fruit trees blooming on a misty spring day?

(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)
On and on..

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Bluebells (I have a hard time giving in to Hyacinthoides non-scripta from Scilla)...
(Jan Fahs photograph)
A rhododendron--possibly augustinii--that lilac blue is so electric in that light....I hope you appreciate my alliteratility.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
I'd give at least one eye-tooth for a patch of Adiantum pedatum like this...or at least a wisdom tooth.

(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)

A lovely patch of Hyacinthoides in white...

(Jan Fahs photograph)
I don't think I was boasting about the fish I'd caught...

(Jan Fahs photograph)

(Jan Fahs photograph)
The rhododendron fine fettle.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Wish we could get away with these Mediterranean Euphorbs--every few years the winter gets them.

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Don't recall the species of abies--looks Mediterranean I think...(cephalonica?) Love those strobili!

(Jan Fahs photograph)
Sven and another horticulturist whose name I neglected to write down--genuinely proud of their work.
(Jan Fahs photograph)
Grrrr. I'm jealous! Either characias or var. wulfenii...obviously happy there.

Pathways are endlessly variable and elegant (Photo by Jan Fahs)

Enchanted vistas in the mist (photo Jan Fahs)

They probably wouldn't be as thrilled with the snail--but it was cute in a way...         (Jan Fahs photo)

More misty vistas (Jan Fahs photo)


We must have a thousand Pulsatilla vulgaris pix (Jan Fahs photo)

Aquilegia sp. (Jan Fahs photo)

Polygonatum odoratum (Jan Fahs photo)

Jah Fahs photo (this doesn't need a caption obviously)

Even the benches are elegant and novel (Jan Fahs photo)

Mildly provocative...(Jan Fahs photo)

Pruming is restorative, Pollarding is work--rarely seen in America.

Would we had crepe myrtles this big to pollard! (Jan Fahs photo)

Lots of visitors: Germans love their gardens

The greenhouses were vast, extensive and superb.

Even workspaces are trim, orderly and interesting

Add caption

We then went across the street to the OTHER Botanic Garden--once part of the University, but now combined with Palmengarten (but still kept distinct)--one organized along ecological principles, with many gardens meant to recreate German and other European ecosystems. Many visitors might be underwhelmed with the unrelenting naturalism, but for me this was an epiphany. These two botanic gardens combined are on a par (or more) with any on Planet Earth: it was a revelation! You can deduce the ecosystems by looking at them...enough comments from the peanut gallery (me)...

If you scroll up among these thousands of pictures (or so it seems), you will see the map of the Palmengarten--here's the map of its naturalistic twin next door: how many cities on earth have two great botanic gardens--one more popular and municipal, the other a masterpiece of naturalism with an academic bent--next to one another? Frankfurt is a lucky place indeed for horticulturists and botanists both!

(Jan Fahs photograph)

The greenhouse with South African plants in island beds: doesn't look like much from this angle, but I could have spent half the day there on my knees--treasure heaped on treasure...

I have had many magical days in botanic gardens in my day: the late afternoon I spent at Savill Gardens in April with Magnolia campbellii petals floating down in the golden afternoon light onto meadows full of Narcissus cantabricus. Gothenburg--any time, any day. Wisley and Kew any time any day. The dozen or so occasions I've visited RBG Edinburgh, or the brash, blushful sunny day at Wurzburg, or the misty light of Branklyn blazing with Meconopsis. Frankfurt is an equal to any of these and with a special touch--because they seem to do everything: tropicals, desert plants, alpines, rhodies, Woodlands and naturalism as good or better than any. I can't wait to get back--and I'd put it on your short list!

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