Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Nymphaea, nenuphars but alas, no nelumbos in this one...

Yesterday I strolled Denver Botanic Gardens for a while with John Greenlee and Neil Diboll--two of America's premier plantsmen. It's hard to convey the sort of pleasure that a curator derives from listening to connoisseurs comment favorably on the workplace where you have lavished many decades of love and concern. Both were generous in their observations and praise. One thing that John said that struck me was "there's a heck of a lot of water in this place"...the waterways and ponds and water features are undeniably present: I wish I'd asked him if he meant that having so much in the way of water features was a bad thing. Or if he was referring to the enormous impact that our water gardens have thanks to the abundance, variety and artistry of the plantings of water plants. The Victoria water lilies in particular--positioned strategically in several areas--attract a great deal of interest and fascination.

I think that the simple elegance of water lily foliage, and the calm manner in which it splays on the wide expanses of black water (yes, it's dyed) creates a fabulous counterpoint to the complex and variable flower gardens that the water gardens complement and pass through. And there are the reflections of clouds, and the gardens themselves glimpsed in reverse, as it were in the water gardens. I am mot sure they really occupy more than a fraction of the actual acreage in the Gardens, but their impact far outpaces their physical dimension.

Agdd caption
I recall the beginnings of these displays in the early 1980's: Joe Tomocik explored all manner of displaying water lilies. For a while he simply planted more and more of just a handful of species--filling the ponds a la Monet. After one especially outrageous year when practically every pond was filled chockablock full of waterlilies (it was spectacular) he was disciplined by his boss and told to be more restrained. And he obeyed: henceforward the displays would be less lavish and more focused. Joe retired several years ago, and his mantle was taken up by Tamara Kilbane who has expanded the collection enormously, and shows off more and more spectacular hybrids that are really something. You can see many of their names on labels (or better yet, come see them in the chlorophyll. As in the garden, I find that these are best appreciated for their splendor. Knowing precious little about water gardening, I'll restrain myself in this blog and just show some pictures I took last week on a magical late summer day of one of our premier collections. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Gadding about Globe thistles...

Echinops ritro in the wild, near Troy
I doubt many people would be globe thistles too high on their favorite lists: more is the pity. I love the thistle-like foliage and wonderfully prickly flowers. I have admired these over the years in the wild--from all around the Mediterranean to the Altai Mountains in Central Asia--everywhere they stand out in the landscape and provide wonderful closeup images, often bristling with insects. And they are endlessly variable, as this picture I took a year ago shows.

And they are much more diverse than first meets the eye: here is a tiny monocarp from Kazakhstan. We collected this on steep screes in the Altai. It bloomed, but we didn't get viable seed in the garden--so alas, it's a memory!

A closer view of the unknown species from Kazakhstan.

Echinops ritro 'Veitch’s Blue'
An especially vibrant sapphire colored form growing in the El Pomar Waterway at Denver Botanic Gardens--planted only a year ago!

Echinops ritro 'Veitch’s Blue'
 A closer shot of the same...

And from further away: I find this planting to be utterly delightful! Credit goes to Mike Holloway--one of DBG's incredible horticulturists. A fabulous eye for design and raucous sense of humor to boot.

Echinops ruthenicus
Here is one of the giants of the genus, towering in the Perennial Border at DBG...

Echinops sp. ign. Kazakhstan
Alas, we never got seed of this stately beauty!

I love the contrast of white stem and blue flowers on this one...

And here is Echinops sphaerocephalus growing in my garden--a paler, but still very striking plant.

And here is Echinops sphaerocephalus growing in the Watersmart garden at D.B.G. Dan (in charge) assures me this is from our 2001 expedition to southern Spain.

I have an excessive fondness for Echinops (as do the bumblebees)
We finish with closeups of some giant echinops in the Birds and Bees garden at D.B.G...what other plant is so imposing from a distance and so intricate close up? (Rhetorical question--I can't think of any!)

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