Saturday, May 31, 2014

A garden of Edenic charm.

Wendy Cornwall
One of the many pleasures of taking a lecture tour to a new place is meeting gardeners and seeing new gardens. And one is usually taken to the largest gardens with the most commanding collections of plants. My current jaunt through the Maritime provinces of Canada is no exception, and the garden of Wendy Cornwall has been one of the many highlights of this trip. She has finally read this blog posting--which had several egregious mistakes and misrepresentations, which I hope to rectify on June 17, 2014. The garden is the joint effort of Wendy and her husband John, who passed away several years ago. It is a tribute to their joint talents that such a really large garden can be maintained by one individual, who is fortunately retired and can devote lots of times to the task. This is a grand garden legions of spectacular specimens of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants at their peak of high spring glory during my visit. It is living proof of what super landscape plants rhododendrons can be.

Primula veris
The garden, of course, is primarily a spectacular showcase of mature rhododendrons: dozens and I suspect hundreds of them. But there was no lack of companion plants like this delightful patch of cowslips near the house.

Stephen Archibald and Magnolia x soulangeana
Stephen, who (along with his wife Sheila Stevenson) hosted me at his own remarkable home and garden not far away is standing alongside a spectacular magnolia near the home.

lower garden
A glimpse of the sweep of lawn in an enchanting vale below the house separating it from the street--with woodsy borders full of herbaceous treasures coming into bloom: one could spend hours savoring all the details here: hydrangeas, viburnums and no end of hellebores, trilliums and other gems in sweeping masses. Wendy and John were both Economists by profession,Wendy taught at Mt St. Vincent and he at Dalhousie. The garden is their loving collaboration in their spare time: what greater tribute can there be to plantsmanship than that this garden can have matured to gracefully? This past winter is reputed to have been a fierce one--but I saw no evidence of it in this garden.

Magnolia x soulangeana
Another glimpse of the magnolia--which I drank in deeply since our magnolias in the Denver area were frosted in April (and the late ones in May) after only a few days of bloom.

Heather garden
A very expansive slope featuring all manner of Erica and Calluna--all growing superbly on the bank--obviously enjoying the exposure and drainage. The heaths and heathers love the Maritimes!

The rock garden
There are several gardens featuring rocks and alpines around this enormous garden--this one being alongside the house--with a crevice garden filled with saxifrages and miniature shrubs. Only the earliest rhodos were blooming at this time (the season is almost a month later than usual), but they were spectacular. I can't imagine what this garden will look like in a few weeks: a mass of color!

Side yard with road in the far distance
Looking down from the rock garden to the street in the far distance--a very wide sweep of a view!

Cardamine pratensis
along streamside

Once you have turned and headed the other direction through a bank of rhodos you come on to a vast area focusing on a seasonal stream full of primulas and this delightful vignette--a Lady's smock I've never seen before emerging from the rocky bank.
Closeup of same
Wendy has recently emailed me to say that she brought the seed of this lady's smock from England, and has watched it spread around her garden over the years.

Stream in the upper rock garden
Clumps of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) are perched strategically along the long stream, with a huge rock garden extending on all sides filled with enormous, mature specimens of rhodos--any Botanic Garden would pride itself on having such extensive and superb rock work and collections. The rock work is apparently largely natural--stones that were on site, although I suspect there was a great deal of enhancement. It is characterized by what the Japanese term "shibui"--the utterly natural elegance of harmony with nature.

Caltha palustris

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)
Closeup of cinnamon fern croziers

Practically every garden I've visited has huge stands of cinnamon fern--all apparently simply native to the site...and the gardeners are wise enough to leave them! I was so jealous...

Wendy and my old buddy Bob Howard chatting and reminiscing
I've known Bob Howard for nearly a half century--since we were both youngsters--and he is the impetus and principal oranizer of my trip to the Maritimes. He is education chair of the local Rhododendron society, and was swapping stories about Captain Steele--a local hybridizer and nurseryman who revolutionized the region, showing that a vast range of rhododendron species and hybrids could be grown (where only the rather limited palette of "ironclads" had prevailed throughout much of the 20th Century). Wendy's garden is a veritable museum of Steele selections grown to perfection. And she has a story for each one. I hope someone is recording these.

Mind you, these are only a smattering of the pictures I took--very early in the gardening season. I hope you can imagine just how wonderful the garden was in reality, and what a work of tender love and care it represents.

The rock garden
The mass of iris on the far left, the sweep of juniper on the rock, the cunning mats of geranium on the right--the rhodos placed just right here and there in the background--all balanced in juxtaposition with the massive rock work--all maturing gracefully over the decades: this is gardening on a grand scale.

And of course the vignettes everywhere of rhodos coming into imposing bloom! I apologize for not recording the names of them all.

Wendy and Bob surveying the upper garden
A gorgeous yellow rhodo with more bright color in the distance

  More glimpses of the garden, and its vistas from various vantage points.

Lawn speckled with Ajuga repens

Wendy was embarrassed by the masses of bugleweed in the lawns: I thought they were charming. I suggested she not view it as a lawn so much as a meadow!

Two large lapponicum section hybrids at base of steps

And a final glimpse of two wonderful lepidote rhodos at the base of a stairway--as we walk away from one of North America's grand gardens. We all plant, dreaming of a time when things mature, and we have lots of great specimens to admire. What a joy to see a garden which has come to such glorious maturity, and seems to have achieved a sort of grace and balance that suggests the eternal. Truly a garden of Edenic charm.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Is beauty its own excuse for being?

Rhododendron rhodora
 Since you may not have read the poem since childhood, or paid much attention to it then, I shall copy Ralph Waldo Emerson's classic tribute to this astonishing early azalea from Eastern North America:

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

Rhododendron rhodora
 I have been in the Northeastern US and eastern Canada on many occasions--but never quite at the peak of bloom of rhodora. This trip has made up for that lapsus: I have glimpsed them many places, but the very best of all the spots was in downtown Halifax, very close to the "narrows" where they biggest explosion aside from the Atomic Explosions once occurred. Just below the crest of the hill there is a magical spot teaming with Vaccinium galore, Kalmia angustifolia, rhodora and a dozen other choice plants I could identify--I was transfixed. I have taken a few shots of that spot so you can enjoy some of the remarkable variation in color of this lovely creature.
Rhododendron rhodora
 I would have a hard time determining a favorite among these. I clambered here and there, taking pix and enjoying closeup views of these spidery, hot pink flowers.

Rhododendron rhodora
 I suspect if I picked a shady spot, put in some peaty soil and kept it moist, I could grow one like this. It would probably bloom in April. I think I shall do it! I want a Lambkill too...

Rhododendron rhodora
 The flower suggests honeysuckle to me more than most azaleas. A very hot magenta/lavender pink honeysuckle to be sure...

Amelanchier sp.
 There was a distinctive dwarf, silvery leaved shadblow there too (they call them Indian pears hereabouts)

Chamaedaphne calyculata
And lots of this strange ericad I fell in love with too--love the bronze leaves.

Not the most spectacular immediate setting. I don't show the couple who were also there surveying the spot--which is about to be turned into a community garden...

So much for yet another spot of teeming wild biodiversity, succumbing to the Human death wish.

Do we have to screw* up  every square inch of the planet and make it "useful"??? He asks incredulously...Is this a race? Are we going to destroy the planet first, or just accelerate our own demise?

I guess that beauty isn't a good enough excuse for being.

*Those who would have read this post earlier would have found a more emphatic and relevant term in place of "screw"...a good reason to read my posts promptly!

Friday, May 23, 2014

O, the month of May, the merry month of May,/ So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!

Anemone narcissiflora
 Thomas Dekker must have had a spring like our's in mind when he wrote his song: it's been raining every day for much of the last week--some coming as torrential downpours, accompanied by hail (although I admit it's not the hardest hail I've experienced): some of the larger leaved plants like Crambe kotchyana and rhubarbs are a bit tattered: I just call them forma laciniata.

I struggled for years to grow Anemone narcissiflora and had decided it had to be rather finicky. Then I got this specimen in a rather difficult corner of my garden that's come back and even gotten bigger the last few years. I had to lead this blog parade with those lilting, dancing, virginal white flowers.

Delosperma 'Garnet'
 I was just a TAD annoyed a few years ago when a Dutch owned company began touting "hardy" delospermas in fabulous new colors. Yeah, right...I eventually discovered they're being created by a Japanese breeder, Koichiro Nishikawa, who lives in Ecuador (or is it Peru?)...The gall! To invade MY turf like that? But as a friend of mine pointed out, a Greek-American can hardly feel he merits a monopoly on South African plants. I planted several of these out dubiously...well, they came through this vicious past winter just fine. And I believe the flowers speak for themselves. I smugly told myself "they're just little alpine morsels--great for a rock gardener, but useless in a large garden". Then this year I've discovered they're selling a NEW series "W.O.W." (Wheels of Wonder) Delospermas that are more landscape in scale. They're at Lowe's already in Tennessee and Michigan: And they too are amazing colors that I can't wait to try...My delo monopoly was sweet while it lasted....

Fritillaria sp.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who worship all fritillaries, and love them as dark and green and dingy as much as the flamboyant few in the genus. And there are those who have no use for them at all. I am of the former category--this is one of the dingiest of the lot--Wunderbar!
Allium nevskianum
 There are are some plants that quickly climb to the top of one's favorite's list: I realize this superficially resembles Allium cristophii (which is high on that list too) but they are distinct in several ways. The flower on this is not so massive, but an even darker, more vivid purple with more spidery flowers. The leaves are stained purple as well: and best of all it's blooming several weeks earlier. You can bet I shall be saving seed on this!

Dicentra formosa 'Sweetheart'
 I have grown this bleeding heart forever: I believe this is the same white form of D. formosa that I had in my parent's garden almost a half century ago. It spread around there, and yet somehow (college, transition) I managed to lose them. I am so pleased to have it back in my new garden, already ramping almost a yard acress. I love the contrast of the dicentra foliage and heuchera leaf almost as much as I enjoy the contrast of the white flower and purple and ferny leaves.

Dianthus minutiflorus
 One knows one is a plant nerd when You love this sort of thingy. The plant is hardly worth a spot in the garden, but I love it and am delighted to have had it overwinter in a container. Who but a rock gardener would buy a plant called "D. minutiflorus"? I mean REALLY.

Triumvirate of Delos...
 How witty for white, yellow and bright red delospermas to bloom all at once!

Silene petersonii
 Today I had over 100 people tour my garden: I doubt that anyone noticed this, my pride and joy. I've grown this rare silene in the past, but never so well. Growing an obscure and rare plant well is a pleasure plantsmen relish.

Ranunculus gramineus and Iberis taurica
 The ranunculus has always been one of my favorites--one can never have enough. But I have enough of the iberis that is trying to swallow my rock garden whole. I left them for the tour today, but tomorrow there may be a substantial purging...

Aquilegia fragrans
 I grew a compact form of this years ago: this one is twice or three times as big, but still lovely. I hope one day I may run across my little specimen again. There are several awesome columbines in the Himalayas, a deep purple one as well that I grew for a while. So many plants, so little time!

Allium karataviense var. henrikii
 I would love this plant even if it weren't named for Henrik Zetterlund--one of my heros whom I am proud to count as a friend. Henrik is the heart and soul of Gothenburg, one of the world's two or three greatest botanic gardens. Now that we have tragically lost Jim Archibald, Henrik and Ron McBeath are my nominees for the world's greatest gardeners. I'm thrilled this is setting fat seedpods! And no other karataviense blooming nearby to pollute the genepool...he he he....

Geranium 'Purple Passion' (I think)
A bevy of wonderful new dark leaved geraniums have been produced with G. sessiliflorum as one parent. This one overwintered (and snuck into my garden so that I don't have the name in my database). I am mightily pleased that it did, however...

Annuals: batch one
 Garden tours are an excuse to "add a little color"--and of course, planting these probably precipitated the next four days of torrential thunderstorms mixed with hail! I'm not sure if planting more annuals as I have in recent years isn't an early sign of the onset of dementia. So be it!
More annuals!
I shall undoubtedly photograph the pots I've planted these in later this summer. The jewel-tone colors are really a kick: it will be nicer than last year's more garish primary tones...

I spend all year looking forward to May--and it shoots by like a bullet! Oh if we could only add another May to the calendar...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Milestones: the Ridges are coming of age.

The Ridges
 You may have noticed I have installed a different header: it's about time we let winter have a rest! The two ridge gardens that form a large xeric bulwark to my garden are the most challenging and interesting section of it, I think. Visitors arrive at the top and look down at this unruly madness wondering what the heck is going on...

The ridges are scary most times of the year for most visitors--because they are so gray, dusty and prickly I suppose.

 I have watered parts of them now and again--during dry spells (when plants really looked as thouygh they might perish)...not very often. Had I tried to develop water intensive gardens in this half of my gardens as well, my water bill would have been astronomical. So there is economic logic in xeriscaping!

A long time ago...
 The ridges have been the most dynamic part of my garden--mostly due to self-sowing of perennials and many annuals (and weeds!)...I think they've come a long way when you compare what is in the first frame (taken a week or so ago) and some of these other views over the past decade.

So daunting on a hot, sunny, summer day!
I shall eventually find the image that headed this blog for most of the last year or two to  append here--the ridges in winter. But I think these varied images of my scruffy, constantly shifting Kaleidoscopic (and Kelaidiscopic!) garden of steppic delights reveals that what this blog is about (much like our lives) is change, evolution and hopefully a little progress!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The greatest landscape designer in Denver...

Penstemon angustifolius
I shall never forget the first time I drove by this garden a year ago: I noticed the sheen of white and wondered what it could be: the white was an almost contiguous mass of white evening primrose (Oenothera coronopifolia) which you will glimpse among the following pictures. I simply had to trespass (I have subsequently knocked on the door many times: I don't think they live there all the time). Among the primroses were an number of other choice wildflowers including the penstemon, which is the primary subject of this blog. This is near the top of most penstemaniacs "top ten" list due to the intensity of the aquamarine flowers. It causes me a certain amount of consternation to think this once grew by the untold million in my neighborhood before we paved the place over and landscaped with bluegrass and junipers. Who could have planted and designed such an amazing replica of our native prairie in my neighbor's house?

Penstemon angustifolius
 It had to be a landscape designer of great talent who would know how to establish such thick stands of primrose and intersperse them with the blue penstemon...and then it occurred to me, perhaps the owners simply instructed their builder to NOT disturb the prairie around their house as they built it and they've simply kept it mostly weeded and allowed the good stuff to other words, the designer I allude to is not one of my many Landscape Architect and Designer buddies (who were perhaps hoping I might be promoting them!), but the Supreme Designer--God or Evolutionary Biology (for you heathens)...These twp may be be proved to be synonymous one day...

Penstemon angustifolius
Martin Walsh, intrepid Himalayan explorer and Irish garden designer in the distance, can vouch for the beauty of this spot. Notice the snow along the north side of the house: left over from the previous weekend! And we're having 80F days this week--typical Colorado extremes.

Penstemon angustifolius
The colony goes on and on--each plant a slightly different form or hue.

Penstemon angustifolius
On a slightly overcast day the color is really day-glo. Some are just coming into bloom...

Penstemon angustifolius
I think you can tell I'm enamored of the little punk. I live less than a mile away and have a dry garden: you'd think I could replicate this!

Penstemon angustifolius
Maybe this was my favorite clump...

Penstemon angustifolius
Or the even lighter color on this one...

Senecio fendleri
The evening primroses are just coming on, but Senecio fendleri is at its peak--a wonderful golden yellow to contrast with the blue and white.

Penstemon angustifolius
The top part of the picture shows how the three plants in greatest bloom all seem to have their special center of abundance...
Rhododendron 'P.J.M.'
The owners of the lot have a rhododendron by the front door--as if to highlight the enormous contrasts within their garden.
Senecio fendleri
The plants are so elegantly grouped you can almost believe that it's been deliberate...

Senecio fendleri
The Senecio is really quite fetching close up--and variable.

Lithospermum incisum
There were only a few puccoons--but robust specimens. A challenging plant for the gardener...

So when (I wonder) will we see the landscape architects and designers coming up with gardens this "sustainable" and lovely? They can take a page from this one...that's for sure!

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