Monday, February 22, 2016

Marin artistry

Of course, the ultimate garden art is the plant itself: and fortunate are gardeners like those in coastal California who can grow staghorn ferns on their walls. Our hosts the last few days have a garden brimming with beautiful plants, grown to perfection. Robin owns an extensive nursery with five hundred species and thousands of taxa of Geraniaceae: to try and capture all that in a blog is daunting. But I have admired the various pieces of garden art (mostly mounted on the walls of their spacious home) and realized that these tell a tale: I suspect all of our gardens do this as well. The plans and the symbolic tokens we choose to accompany them...

Seeing this you might not be surprised to learn that the Master of the house is an enthusiastic birder who's traveled the ends of the earth to enjoy birds in their wild habitats...

Both occupants of this home come from that "Sunburned country"--so the omnipresent, ubiquitous solar effigies are no accident...

I have always admired the artistry of the local sculptor who does these leering creatures...or in this case, solar effigies!

Not too obvious: a door knocker in the shape of a trowel. Of course, the Mistress of he house belongs to the order of the spade...

I won't swear to it, but I suspect this could be an Echinoderm: another Australian totem!

Australia abounds in lizards! (But so does the Southwest..I know)...

But only one country has the Platypus!

This bell may not be altogether decorative--so deeper meaning is not necessary!

What gardener is oblivious to the phases of the moon?

This looks suspiciously like a Eucalypt!

And the largest flower on earth grows between Australia and the Northern hemisphere...Rafflesia! With a magnolia tepal...

A tree of life from Mexico--perhaps to distract us?

And a jaunty little demon: we all need jaunty little demons in our life. We get them whether we need them or not, of course!  Better they be art than real!

And who doesn't need a basket to gather blessings?

The Parers may love their ancestral home, and keep totems around to remind them of its beauty, but they are proud Californians and Americans par excellence!

Perhaps it's not fair to read subtexts into such wonderful garden art, but I believe that we are all constantly surrounding ourselves with the regalia of our souls. Creative artists like the Parers express themselves in everything they do and touch--life, science, art spiral around them and

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Heroes of my Habitat!

Everyone needs a hero: I happen to have two! I was attracted to horticulture due to my obsession with plants, but people keep finding their way to me and into my heart: in the last two years this extraordinary couple have become two of my dearest friends and professional colleagues. Lynn (on the left) is a keen gardener and her husband Don Ireland (on the right) is a powerhouse "doer": he makes things happen. They live in a condominium complex of over 250 units: Don became president of their homeowner's board, and has helped them save unbelievable quantities of water (and money) by bringing state of the art conservation indoors and out--we're talking MILLIONS of gallons a year. In the process these two have replaced the tired, "clean and green" landscapes of overgrown junipers and threadbare bluegrass with literally acres of spectacular water-wise plantings.

This rather bleak expanse shows one of the "showier" flower beds that the Irelands inherited...Lynn transformed that very space into THIS (see blow):

I have visited them repeatedly over the last few years: nowhere in the Denver area have I seen more wonderful use of perennials, wildflowers and especially Plant Select plants used in more artful drifts: they have galvanized the enthusiasm of their fellow condominium owners: I hope to lead some tours to their complex in the coming months--email me if you are interested!

The Irelands' work has garnered enormous praise, awards and now Don is taking his message on the road: if you have a Garden Club or Nursery in the Denver area where you could use an inspiring speaker, Don is your man: I have included the prospectus he's put together. His work is being underwritten by a local foundation--so you can have him for free (for now anyway). Get to know Don and he will show you how to transform a dull, water-wasting landscape into a stunning habitat not just for birds and other creatures, but for YOU!

Free one-hour class offered to groups!
The Journey to Your Own Habitat Hero Haven”
  Led by your Destination Guide, Don Ireland
     We’ve all dreamed about living on our own private refuge somewhere out there. Why not build your own little beautiful getaway right here at home? One that will provide more than your own satisfaction – it will help establish a welcoming sanctuary in our urban desert of asphalt and concrete. A place where birds, butterflies and hummingbirds can find a haven of natural food and shelter you’ve created for them. A place that gives you a smile, a mental and stress-reducing getaway in nature’s beauty, along with the rewards of lower water bills and the satisfaction of knowing you have helped create a Habitat Hero island for many to see and enjoy. Travel with us to this Habitat Hero haven: we’ll show you how as we take this journey together.
Purpose: To spread the news of the Habitat Hero program throughout the Audubon Rockies region, the Front Range and beyond. The discussion and presentation will include:
       The need to improve or change landscaping, especially in urban areas (by increasing the use of native and Plant Select-recommended species) to attract more birds, butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators that benefit all creatures.
       Conserving water, an especially scarce natural resource in the Colorado River Basin.
       Improving natural beauty and habitat diversity through Wildscaping.
       Offering insight and potential resources to home owners, HOAs and owners of commercial-industrial properties so they can save money through more appropriate use of outdoor areas.
Class guide: Don Ireland is the volunteer president of Cherry Creek 3 HOA in southeast Denver and a former professional public speaker from Pittsburgh. Under his leadership, Don helped his Association reduce its annual water consumption by 15 million gallons annually, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years. The water savings, coupled with a xeriscape and native plants retrofit, has put the HOA in the statewide spotlight the past two years. In 2014, Cherry Creek 3 became the first HOA named a Habitat Hero in the state. In 2015, Don and Cherry Creek 3 were the recipients of the Colorado WaterWise Conservation Award, marking the first time a non-water professional organization received the honor.
Contact Don:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow in the summer, memory in winter...

Euphorbia marginata
 We've been looking at snow for months this winter: ironic that I'm waxing nostalgic for a plant that goes by the common name of "snow in the summer"--but nostalgic I am. And with good you will see anon. As snooty plantsmen, we're supposed too look down our noses as annuals (particularly COMMON annuals), and not many plants are commoner than this. Common in the sense that it is widely sold by seed catalogs. I have seen it in cottage gardens in Kazakhstan, in Europe and even in South Africa. And there was a time it was common in nature...

For years I would drive on the "Boulder Denver Turnpike" (as we called it back then--and old timers still do: it's Highway 36 to most folk now).  Come to think of it, really old timers called it the Denver Boulder Toll Road (prophetic words those). Anyway, I commuted weekly on this for decades, and year in year out there would be these extraordinary billow mounds on one side of the road. I'd crane my neck as I whisked by at 65 m.p.h., and wonder...

One year I couldn't stand it any more and had to pull off to the side of the road (illegal and just a tad dangerous): when I got closer I was even more amazed with the brilliance of the form and color of this crazy annual weed. Once common on buffalo wallows here and there across the Great Plains, most of its habitat is now wheat field or burgeoning suburb. You still see them here and there--usually just a few stems in the shortgrass. But these were amazing!

You'd have to be a card-carrying member of the church of Tony Avent ("Friends don't let friends plant annuals") to not want this monstrous mound of delicious white and green striped wonderfulness in your garden!  Notice that it's growing on the side of a freeway, on hard packed clay. Don't try this at home! Year after year I've sowed seed of these in my xeriscapes, and miserable plants result that never look like this. Put this in rich soil, water it and you can get plants like the first image, taken at Denver Botanic Gardens years ago...

 I feel somehow guilty that I've not yet managed to produce one of these lolapaloozas in my home garden. I must remember to look in my files for old seed--or break down and order some this spring!

I wonder how many Coloradoans even know that this--one of the hoariest of cottage garden annuals, cherished in gardens around the world is our very own native weed?

 In a few weeks I will be staying at the home of the ultimate Euphorbia grower near San Diego, so I shall have a chance to admire quite a few of its congeners: Euphorbia is an acquired taste--but once you have it, you come to love even the weedy ones with the emphatic exception of our other native Euphorbia maculata--one of the worlds most pestiferous weeds (albeit native to the same range as snow in summer!)  Let's skip back to the cyathia above--are those not lovely?

I end with a picture of how this usually looks in nature--not nearly as compact as the big beach ball shown up above...

By the way, that stretch of highway I enjoyed these along for so many years was bulldozed, expanded and I haven't seen one of these anywhere nearby any longer. I have watched wildflower fields disappear like that year after year: really, folks. It's time we made preserving natural areas a bigger priority all around--although I don't think it's shown up on the planks of either party's platforms in the upcoming elections! But, this election cycle is so wacky and out of control, anything is possible, right? Here's for the Euphorbia party! Long may it rule!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Colorado! or bust (Mementos from EXACTLY five and a half years ago...)

Mt. Sopris from Tom Alexander's garden
Blame the Ratzeputz gang--a half dozen or so keen nurserymen/seedsmen/designers from around the world who swoop in on Colorado every few years and twist my arm (ever so willingly) to show them around. I show these pictures because these are the sorts of things you will see if you sign up for the North American Rock Garden Society's SPECTACULAR annual general meeting that will take place just north of where these pictures were taken, with many of the same plants and vistas: just click HERE and you can find out about that meeting (120 people are signed up already--better sign up too before you are SHUT OUT!)

Tiny corner of Tom Alexander's garden
 A breathtaking garden of one of the Ratzeputz near Carbondale: Tom is a landscape architect by training who ran a nursery in the Appalachians for years before moving to Colorado in the late 1990's: he is a force to be reckoned with!
Crow sculpture at Tom Alexander's garden

I may come back and drone on about the plants: but I don't want to delay these images from you: check back in a week and you can hear me comment on them individually: we start in the Flattops (just south of the range to be exact: Steamboat where the NARGS AGM takes place is just to the north...) and we move southward across the Elk Mountains to Kebler Pass, ending up in South Park and finally Pikes Peak. A whirwind tour over the 4th of July in 2011: Colorado in June is just about as close to Heaven as you will find. Better join us!

Allium acuminatum
I've always been mystified that this most abundant and dazzling of intermountain onions is virtually unknown in horticulture: I have seen this form vast pools of brilliant rose red in Western Colorado and many other states in May and June (Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming: it's not rare). It is beautiful close up and spectacular en masse. But don't look for it in gardens! Although I don't believe it's any harder to grow than any other Allium really. Go figure!
Penstemon commarhenus
Blue penstemons are everywhere in the West in spring and early summer: one bluer than the next. People fly from the East Coast to Scotland to see blue poppies: but there are easily fifty penstemons as blue as any Meconopsis you can enjoy anywhere in the West. They may not have a castle nearby, but you may find an equally picturesque butte or hoodoo to take its place!

Penstemon commarhenus
A closer view of this abundant species from central Colorado--abundant in the wild, non-existent in gardens!
Penstemon virens
Another brilliant blue penstemon--this one usually found on the eastern Slope of the Rockies: we found an "out of range" mass of it on a steep slope of Loveland Pass on this trip.

Wyethia amplexicaule and Eriogonum umbellatum ssp. aureum
I have driven highways where this stunning Mule's ears (Wyethia), with flowers sometimes six inches across, dots the countryside for a hundred miles. And I have yet to see it in a garden. Now the buckwheat has been sold and promoted by Plant Select for a decade--you do see this around gardens now and again--not nearly as often as you should!

Dwarf Amelanchier alnifolia and Phlox multiflora ssp. depressa
Shadblows or Serviceberries (Amelanchier) are so showy and abundant across America--and yet so rare in gardens. We have several species--each so distinct! This common species varies in form and size: I was impressed with this compact form on the Flattops.

I feel so sorry for those dolts who drive across America and hate the "empty" spaces in New Mexico, Utah, or Nevada (or Colorado!). The sagebrush "wastes' of the West have some of the highest endemism of any ecosystem. This is where the lion's share of penstemons, buckwheats and fleabanes are concentrated. Next time someone complains about our sagebrush steppe--just kick them for me.

Artemisia tridentata bonsai
As much as I love the showy wildflowers, the gnarly shrubs one finds here are every
Artemisia tridentata
Another prize winning bonsai--if it were in a pot in a show that is!
Delphinium nuttallii meadow
The ubiquitous tuberous larkspurs of the West: a different name in every state for pretty much the same thing: D. menziesii, D. bicolor, D. nelsonii, etc. Wonderful garden plants as well: I suspect the Dutch could grow these like they do bulbs--since that's basically how they act in nature and the garden--only with little swollen spidery roots.
Delphinium nuttallii pale form
A uniquely colored one...
Erigeron pinnatisectus
Ordinarily strictly alpine, we found this growing on subalpine limestone pavement on the Flattops.
Penstemon comarrhenus and Oxytropis lambertii
It is hard to express how eloquent the bright colors of the steppe can be in spring--the fourth of July is still spring up on this subalpine and montane steppe!
Montane `sagebrush steppe in Garfield County
Canyon country in the distance is quite hot, but a cool breeze always blows on the higher montane.
Steppe in bloom
The colors clash wonderfully...
Gilia aggregata
I've grown this many times, but it doesn't persist as well as its cousin G. rubra...
Hydrophyllum capitatum
I wonder why I've never tried growing this: it's abundant and widespread and probably easy to grow. The other common species in the genus growing in similar habitats is shown in a bit...
Mertensia brevistyla
This winsome miniature grows everywhere in northwestern Colorado. I've grown it as well....
Pediocactus simpsonii
Those seedpods didn't last very long...
Penstemon saxosorum
Blue penstemons do look good with orange lichens.
Penstemon watsonii
A remarkable and abundant species in much of Colorado and Utah--fantastic masses of blue in early summer...
Penstemon watsonii

Penstemon watsonii
The silvery Artemisia makes a pleasant foil for the cobalt blue of penstemon.
Phlox multiflora ssp. depressa
The fragrance of our native western phloxes is unforgettable: tropical richness mixed with innocence. Reason enough to grow them.
Ratzeputz gang on the Flattops
The redoubtable gang...
Frasera speciosa (Swertia radiata) and Allen Bush
This polymorphic gentian relative can top out at a foot on tundra!
Viola nuttallii

How can a plant that thrives from the Great Plains to the Intermountain steppe up to tundra in the Rockies be so challenging in the garden?
Viola nuttallii
Nuttall did get around.
Wyethia amplexicaule and Delphinium nuttallii
That shade of yellow-orange that looks so good with the blue-purple of larkspur. And I've never seen this in a garden anywhere.
Kebler Pass
On top of the pass: a majestic place! carpeted with glacier lilies!
Actaea rubra
Our only Actaea, alas.
Allium textile
Another universal plant--from Great plains to alpine tundra. It CAN be grown easily.
Aquilegia elegantula
Much more delicate than canadensis or formosa (it's east and westerly cousins) it is usually found in subalpine woods in rather dark shade.
Aquilegia elegantula

Arenaria congesta
It takes a real plant nerd to collect Arenaria...I'm such a plant nerd.
Caltha leptosepala
Not easily grown for us in Denver--but we can grow the yellow Eastern and Eurasian species!
Trollius albiflorus, Caltha leptosepala and Erythronium grandiflorum

Corydalis caseana ssp.brandegei
 We're now on the West side of Kebler pass: the woods are full of this largest of corydalis in summer.

Corydalis caseana ssp.brandegei

Erythronium grandiflorum and Claytonia lanceolata

Erythronium grandiflorum

Erythronium grandiflorum

Hydrophyllum fendleri

Lomatium dissectum

Mentzelia bakeri

Salix cf. glauca
 On the top of Kebler Pass...

Veratrum tenuipetalum

Crested butte with lupines

Lupinus sericeus

Mountain elf on Cumberland Pass

Anemone multifida

Cumberland pass with Rydbergia grandiflora (a.k.a. Tetraneuris something or other)

Ranunculus pedatifidus

Mentzelia speciosa
 Now we're in the dry center of South Park (nearly 9000')

Mentzelia speciosa

Aster (Machaeranthera) coloradoensis Albino

Aster (Machaeranthera) coloradoensis 

Aster (Machaeranthera) coloradoensis

Geranium fremontii

Penstemon virgatus ssp. asa-grayi

Mertensia alpina
 One of the many gems of Pikes Peak!

Devil's backbone, Pikes Peak

Androsace chamaejasme ssp. carinata

Androsace chamaejasme ssp. carinata

Aquilegia saximontana

Eritrichium aretioides

Heuchera hallii

Hymenoxys caespitosa (Tatraneuris somethign or other)

Oreoxis humilis

Penstemon brandegeei

Pinus aristata and Kurt Bluemel (not in that order)

Telesonix jamesii
That's all folks! See you in June in Steamboat!

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