Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My secret weapon.

Three rock garden champs

I confess, I am a Plantaholic. Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m crazy about plants—alpines of course, but desert plants, trees. You name it. And very rarely a person impinges in a post: almost by accident. But I do love people—and my favorite people are members of the North American Rock Garden Society. This first picture shows three of the all time greats: Norman Singer in the bright yellow sweater, and tall Geoffrey on the left. In the middle, the white haired gentleman was Bob Heapes. Norman was Secretary then President of NARGS and brought the organization to its apogee. Geoffrey was his partner, who wrote (with Norman’s prodding) two of the greatest books on gardening ever: if you don’t own them, your library is poorer for it. Bob was a very successful businessman and one of my greatest mentors: he became President of our Rocky Mountain Chapter at a crucial moment and helped it thrive. Norman helped me in my career enormously. Bob was my best friend for nearly twenty years.

This goddess is Marion Jarvie who attended the 1986 Interim International Rock Garden Conference with Barrie Porteous, Andrew Osyany and a few other Ontarians--and became so inspired they started the Ontario Rock Garden Society, which Norman Singer brought into ARGS, and ultimately changed us from a National to International Society. Marion has become one of the leading speakers and garden designers of Canada and North America--and we have maintained a friendship for three decades thanks to NARGS.

Bob Nold has published three landmark books (Columbines, Penstemons and High and Dry): I met him through the North American Rock Garden Society, and we meet regularly at sales and meetings of our local chapter.

Boyd Cline was co-founder of Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, which I have described as my Correspondence College of Horticulture. He was one of my greatest mentors and a dear friend with whom I explored the Siskiyous (not enough) and we spent two unforgettable weeks in the Colorado Rockies together in 1977,. He was a stalwart of the Siskiyou chapter of NARGS. His wife won a Million dollar lottery, and he lived to be 100 years old: good things happen if you join this club.

Darrell Probst is probably the greatest hybridizer of perennials in America. I met him through NARGS: he practically invented the genus Epimedium and worked closely with our first long time NARGS president, Harold Epstein,  for whom he named one of the most spectacular Epimedia: you too might have something wonderful named for you by Darrell--but only if you join NARGS!

This is Peter Korn, whose nursery and garden in Eskilby are one of the wonders of the Gardening world. He's written a fabulous book (Peter Korns Trädgård) which describes how gardens are microcosms of natural ecosystems, using his Eskilby garden as a model and example. It is also in English. Peter has invited me to come to Sweden twice: he has also convinced me that the ancient Nordic deities are still treading the earth (and creating great gardens). I would never have met him were it not for NARGS.

 I scanned a photograph I took in 1982 when I took Ted Childs (front), Linc (middle) and Timmy Foster on a field trip to Hoosier Pass and South Park. Linc wrote "the Book" on Rock Gardening--and Timmy edited the NARGS journal forever. Their garden, Millstream, was a dream garden if there ever was one, and they built an enormous and gorgeous garden for Ted I visited once (the first time I was served dinner by servants): you meet giants of all sorts if you join NARGS.

She may not be GIANT, but Bernice (Pete) Peterson produced enormous results. She volunteered for Denver Botanic Gardens and Chatfield Farms for sixty years, working harder than most professionals (and longer hours), editing our journal, proofreading everything that came out of the office, being a receptionist and starting what has become one of the largest plant sales in the world (it has grossed over half a million dollars in two days). Pete was a charter member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of NARGS and had the finest rock garden in Denver for much of the 20th Century. The highest award to volunteers of Denver Botanic Gardens is the "Pete Peterson" award, given once a year to the most deserving of the several thousand volunteers who follow in her pixie footsteps. Paeonia tenuifolia naturalized in her garden.

Roy Davidson contributed more articles to the NARGS bulletin than anyone else: he was the acknowledged horticultural authority on Iris, Penstemon and just about everything else native to the West. He had a spectacular garden in Bellevue, Washington. He started our Rocky Mountain Chapter in 1976 and visited us annually for decades and wrote the definitive monograph on Lewisia. He became one of my dearest friends and mentors, thanks to NARGS.

 Sue Milliken, half of the duo who own Far Reaches Farm--one of the world's greatest rare plant nurseries in Port Townsend, Washington. She and Kelly Dodson visited us a few years ago--another of the treasured NARGS links! She's admiring Penstemon virens on Loveland Pass.

Ted Kipping, the impresario of the Bay in California, when he (and I) were much younger (and slimmer). I met Ted through NARGS and we always palled around at the dozens of study weekends and conferences we attend together, most recently in October in Berkeley. He is a Lifetime member of NARGS.

I believe Tony Avent  is the greatest plantsman in America: I met him through NARGS and he invited me to speak to the Piedmont Chapter when he was their President. If you don't know Plant Delights you must be living under a rock...

Wiert Nieumann, now retired as director of the fabulous Utrecht Botanical Garden in Netherlands, on a field trip to Wyoming with Kirk Fieseler of Laporte Avenue nursery (the best in the United States for alpines) when I took this picture. They are treading on Astragalus sericoleucus. If you join NARGS I might take you to see it too--but you musn't tread on it.

I took this picture at the 1981 Interim International Rock Garden Plant Conference in England--that's Will (left) and Paul (right) Ingwersen. We corresponded and swapped seed for years after that conference. I also met Wilhelm Schacht there, and started a treasured relationship with Jim and Jenny Archibald we maintained on three continents. And so many more people...

I first met Zdenek Zvolanek face to face at that same conference, and he has come to visit me (as a speaker for our chapter) at regular intervals since 1983--and this May I finally visit him!

I have met literally HUNDREDS of great gardeners thanks to NARGS--these are just a few. And they are the ones who have taught, mentored and nurtured me along the way. Funny thing is--I joined for the plants.

I hear people tell me they "aren't joiners": I sigh and chuckle inwardly: they're missing so much. I didn't join NARGS to meet and become friends with these people (nor Anita Kistler, Pamela Harper, Tony Reznicek, Mark McDonough, Roxie Gevjan Katrink Hull, Joel and Ellie Spingarn, Paul Halladin, Baldassare Mineo--really the list goes on for pages: you should probably insert your name in here:_________________. If I don't know you I probably will.).

"But" you say, "I'm not a FAMOUS person like all of those guys. You just like to NAME drop". If you think that, you really don't know me at all. I could do a blog a hundred times longer than this with the "little people". Come to think of it, I HAVE:--I feature dozens of gardens elsewhere on by blog of people who don't have nurseries, or write, or be "honchos": and I met almost all of them through NARGS as well. They are the ones who have given me my best plants (hardly a week goes by when I don't get an offer of seed or a plant). The "average" rock gardener usually has the best garden--they aren't distracted by public gardening demands, nor nursery management or writing. They are the ones who arrange for me to travel to 150 cities and 12 countries to give talks. They host me, show me natural gardens as well as their own. NARGS (and her sister organizations: the Alpine Garden Society, the Scottish Rock Garden Club, the A.G.S. of British Columbia, the Vancouver Island Rock Alpine Garden Society [the first of them all!], the New Zealand Alpine Garden Society-- which just had me tour that fabulous country), these clubs (and many, many more) that have been accused of "dying on the vine" in a recent Garden Rant. They're not dying on my watch. Their members and plants have become the warp and woof of the fabric of my life. They are wind beneath my wings. And YOURS too, if you let them! If you join promptly, you can still get seed from the fantastic NARGS seed exchange, and get the latest bulletin, which is chockablock full of dazzling pictures and great articles (I should know, I wrote one!)...

What are you waiting for: click HERE to join....


  1. Panayoti, Finally got to meet you when you spoke in Bowling Green a few years ago. I joined NARGS (Berkshire Chapter) in the mid 90's when I lived in NE NY. Geoffrey & Norman were still alive in those days & I had the opportunity to meet them at meetings & plant sales. Truly wonderful characters. I recently purchased Geoffrey's 2 books on line & I agree totally with you about them. Must haves for any gardening library. Patiently awaiting my 2016/17 Seed Ex order. NARGS is a great organization for sure. Thanks for your great post with pics of some of the "giants" Best regards, Paul Schneider, Portland, TN

  2. PK, what a phenomenal post! We all shouldn't forget your name as well, perhaps Dean of this great Hall of Fame of plant people! I only joined NARGS in 2001 but as a plant group (society, club - whatever we wish to call it) surpasses all plant groups on so many levels. Many of these people I have met and have become friends with, while the others reming me of what I missed out on because I didn't join earlier. Becoming a 'joiner' with NARGS has not only changed my life, it has added value in countless ways - knowledge, friendships, and the richness that comes with enhancing ones own life experiences with others. My first winter study weekend introduced me to the magic of NARGS - where beginners, experts and just plain 'ol enthusiasts who are curious about all types of plants (not just alpines of course) mingle together. Bulbs, trees, shrubs, desert plants, wild flowers, ephemerals, ferns, - NARGS is like a university - vibrant with curious students and rich with an alumn list which you only touched upon. Thanks for making my lunchtime reading so enjoyable once again!

  3. Thank you, Paul and Matt, for your kind comments: I was getting a little paranoid (there were supposedly 561 visits to this and no one said anything. I feared I'd pulled a Mariah Carrey! (Only my hair isn't quite so long, nor my voice quite so good). And thank you, Matt, for seeing NARGS through one of its little dips, and heading us in the right direction! You and "Growing with Plants" are pillars in my life!

    1. Oh PK, you make me blush. WE all know that I am just a master delegator and all glory goes to to board and officer team. Now, I need to that image of you pulling a Mariah Carrey out of my head!

  4. HA! I love your blog but never left a comment, because, a.) I rarely do and b.) I feel like one of the "little people." But no more! Love all your writings, and as a new member (2015) I am so excited to continue the journey with all the other plant nerds.

  5. Thank you so much Panayoti for that visit with so many old friends I met at NARGS events through 40 some years. Nice to see Boyd Kline my mentor and a leader for years of the Siskiyou Chapter NARGS. He sent seed, plants and long letters to so many NARGS members and others around the world enriching thier lives and gardens. And now there are new and fantastic people leading the way to NARGS and I am excited to get to know them. Mike Bone, Joseph Tychonievich, Mike Kintgen, and Matt Mattus to name a few of the New wave of leaders. We also have new members in our chapter and it will be so important for them and the chapter members through out to join NARGS, to attend the mettings, to meet the people and learn about the plants, and places they are from. This is what has made my life so much richer. As some of our new members are finding NARGS speakers, meetings and plant exchanges are what makes our lives and our gardens so much richer.
    Phyllis Gustafson, Central Point, OR

  6. I read the link to "dying on the vine" in garden rant.

    In my defense, it is not my fault I am a codger. I've been that way since I was born. :)

    1. I spent the last day trying to prove to myself I was not a codger.

      Last night I was covering plant trays and pots with shredded leaves because the snow all melted and the temperature dropped to below zero degrees F. While I was working a stranger pulled their car into my driveway and shined their headlights on me for a couple minutes before backing out and leaving. I cannot deny it. Some of the things I do could be considered quite eccentric. I think it is hard to not be a little eccentric and be a gardener.

    2. It would be fun to know what was going on in the mind of the person(s) in that car, James: but the only thing odder than someone mulching their nursery pots at night is someone spying on them! Anyone who has been as faithful a blog-follower as you have been to mine is no codger in my book! It's 4F as I type this, but we do have four or five inches of fresh fluffy snow...and 60F predicted by Monday!

  7. A fun intro to some of these folks, and refresher for others-- cool to add faces and/or anecdotes to some people who are/have been key in our plant world :)

  8. PK, memories run thick reading your blog, what an inspiration! I've forgotten the year I joined NARGS (was ARGS back in the day), but over 40 years ago. Looking through your list of great gardeners, I feel privileged to know some of them well (yourself included of course). I remember working closely with Timmy Foster on a number of NARGS articles, and on promoting introduction of a green-flowered
    Anemonella thalictroides selection (eventually resulting in confusion over the chosen name with 3 names for the same plant, I have my story about what name Timmy chose).
    I lived in the Seattle Washington area for 4 years in the early eighties, met many great NARGS plantspeople. I lived about 1 mile from Roy Davidson in Bellevue WA; what a privilege to visit him so often, and drive him to NARGS meetings in Seattle for those years and share such memorable discussions. At the time, his garden was
    overcome by 6' tall horsetail, but the structure of his garden remained and many fantastic plants prevailed. He allowed me to chop through the horsetail forest to rediscover perhaps a dozen of his named wild-collected clones of Penstemon, take cuttings, root all that I could, then send them to my pal Baldassare Mineo at Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery to re-introduce them to Horticulture. Also in the
    Seattle area, the wonders of Betty & Ned Lowry's garden; and the unbelievable accomplishments of plantsmen extraordinaire Steve Doonan & Phil Pearson in Issaquah WA (just 20 minutes from my house), horticultural superstars!
    Closer to home in Massachusetts, I cherished my visits with Geoffrey Charlesworth & Norman Singer, two accomplished plantsmen and gentlemen, I remember Norman politely
    offering grammatical corrections on articles I wrote, which I appreciated. And the remarkable gardens of Ev Whittemore in western MA and later on in North Carolina, where she could grow most anything, including all 3 species of Hudsonia like they were pansies.
    I fondly remember your gracious hosting of my few visitations to Colorado in the early days; our careers taking off in divergent ways, mine a struggle between two loves, that of Architecture and Horticulture (my selection was Architecture), sitting in your car eating some take-out and debating our chosen careers; decades later able to reflect on what's transpired. We share a true love, that of Plants. Thanks for your support and friendship.
    As you say, the list goes on for pages, I mention but a few of those that come to mind. Let me send out a special "hey" to Matt Mattus... I used to be the young punk in New England Chapter NARGS, until whirlwind Matt came along, and thankfully he did, he's full of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas, but we commiserate the problem of careers way too demanding to properly address our plant lust. Matt, in NEC NARGS you are the new "Young Punk" (relative term ;-) ) in the group, we don't see you enough there, but I fully understand why after having similar time pressures through the years.

  9. Delightful. Just delightful. Thank you so much for this warm, wonderful post. It was just as much fun (maybe more!) than your plant/travel posts.

  10. Great post! People I've heard of and some I've even met. I love NARGS. Sorry it took me as long as it did to join. Great group and some wonderful meetings. I'm so looking forward to Dolomites! Thanks for all you do, your spirit, and inspiration.

  11. Well , I hope to meet you in Prague next may. Steven Stehouwer New Brunswick, Canada

  12. Absolutely wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing with us.


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