Monday, October 10, 2016

渋み: the magic of the botanic garden at Tilden Park

Bart O'Brien: sage of the Golden State
渋み is usually transliterated "shibui"--defined many ways (Wikipedia can do in a pinch). I can think of few botanic gardens in America that better exemplify this notion better than Tilden Park's gem of a native garden. Like any complex notion: poetry, love, romance, nature or God, shibui is hologrammatic in its subtlety. Simple natural elegance is a connotation, of course, but it denotes a profound connection to the very essence of Nature. To my mind, it suggests that the quiddity of the work of art reflects eternal verities, and yet celebrates, as it were, the moment where light, soul, nature and man are one. I have been fortunate to have known this garden for decades, cared for successively by a host of inspired gardeners, under the baton of three brilliant directors: Wayne Roderick, Steve Edwards and now Bart O'Brien, pictured above. I had the great fortune of visiting this wonderful garden again yesterday and following Bart around with a delighted group of Salvia afficionados--the penultimate part of our Salvia Summit hosted by Tilden Park this last four days.

Salvia chionopeplica and hybrid

Scott Ogden with perched knee and the hatted John Greenlee even showed up to glean some words from Bart!

Obviously, October (after four or five months of drought) isn't the best time to visit a California garden, but the elegance of native plantings are such--and the wonderful palette of plants cared for so well--that I found the garden rewarding and beautiful. I did visit at the height of spring bloom recently: anyone would have been dazzled then. But gardens are best judged by how they look in the "off" season, and this one shines. I did take notes on species--but took so many pictures, you must forgive me if I don't annotate each one--it would delay this blog a week or more to get them all these are wonderful California buckwheats!

Don't squint too much looking at the label: it says "Mexican mahonia"--not even Tilden Park is perfect. Although I was impressed at how much was labeled well (and correctly!)...

A typical gathering around Bart: he's soft spoken, but he knows the California flora so well we hover around him like pollinators.

Salvia spathacea coming up through an agave in the desert section.

Bart pointed out a Salvia pachyphylla for my benefit--and then speculated it must be a hybrid (S. pachyphylla seems to do better in our colder climate). I'm amazed that high altitude plants as well as coastal ones all seem to thrive at Tilden.

Fabulous clumps of rock spiraea (Petrophytum caespitosum) in full seed...

I love Chuparosa--here in a yellow form. Shibui manifests with the lichen next to it.

Cheilanthes covillei
Wonderful masses of dryland ferns in several part of this garden. Nearby Berkeley Botanic Gardens are champions in this arena, however!

More coastal buckwheats in full bloom despite months of drought.

A wonderful zauschneria in late afternoon backlight...(I know, I know, they're epilobiums now--but hummingbirds and gardeners can tell the difference!)

More and more buckwheats!

A massive chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata)--a fern I would love to grow!

A purple yarrow tangled in the grass...

California tree poppies (Dendromecon) still in bloom!

Dudleya virens ssp. hassei--a rare endemic succulent

Jimi Blake, from Ireland--an incredibly talented gardener from abroad who flew to this conference.

Cheilanthes clevelandii--another wonderful fern tangled in lichens and club mosses.

I love the way the echeverias perch on these massive, lichened boulders: sheer elegance!

Eriogonum arborescens from the Santa Cruz islands

Sue Templeton--from Australia--and three of the principal conference organizers (Kathleen Navarez, Carrie Parker (in the purple) and Ginny Hunt (of Seedhunt and Suncrest fame) on the far right.

I love the rocky pathway and those lichened boulders!

A closer look at the zauschneria...

And a prostrate one...

A wonderful native tansy new to me (Tanacetum camphoratum)--looking as invasive as the exotic however!

Some splendid goldenasters

Artemisia pycnocephala--not very hardy in Colorado, alas!

A wonderful sprawling

I believe this is Calamagrostis foliosa--a very decorative, compact grass.

A VERY powdery form of Dudleya farinosa...

The Sage perched rather precariously in a wonderful new serpentine stone barren...

A saccanthera penstemon--perhaps P. azureus still in bloom...

A heuchera still blooming in the serpentine rock garden

A very congested alpine form of E. wrightii (looking perilously close to kennedyi)

A wonderful red buckwheat--don't bother squinting at the label--it's something else.

Eriogonum strictum in a very congested form

The size of the redwoods was amazing--and only some 70 years old!

I love Polystichum munitum

I can't resist taking pictures of Bart--he's so damn much fun to hang out with.

A fabulous hillside draped with Salvia sonomensis: I have GOT to try this in Denver!

Here Bart is pointing out a newly segregated monotypic taxon from Mahonia from Mexico, and pointing out an undescribed Pseudognaphalium from California...little nuggets designed to drive plant nerds crazy.

Tilden Park's botanic garden has a wonderful team of horticulturists--they were all there on a Sunday to show off their handiwork. And this wonderful garden, that has been blessed with a great deal of talent from the time of its founding by James Roof nearly 80 years ago--is entering a great new era of glory and shibui under the baton of the Sage of California I am proud to call a friend, Bart O'Brien.


  1. The flora of this garden is so different compared with where I live, the great lakes region, that someone might be forgiven for thinking it was on another continent.

    1. The next morning we went to San Francisco B.G. (which I still call Strybing): now THAT, James, is REALLY extraterrestrial. I hope to blog on that before long too--saw an incredible numnber of great gardens...


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