Monday, February 27, 2017

A different kind of Russian tragedy
M. Walter Pesman

 This seems to be the classic portrait of Pesman--whose book was the bible most wildflower lovers in Colorado used throughout most of the 20th Century.

Denver Botanic Gardens have reissued Meet the Natives (considerably enhanced by Dan Johnson, Associate Director of Horticulture here) in a twelfth edition--but the first ten had only M. Walter Pesman's name on the cover. Upon his death, Pesman signed over the book and its royalties to Denver Botanic Gardens--so naturally we have a special place in our hearts for him.

It could be argued that Pesman was Godfather of Horticulture in Colorado (if one gives Saco Rienk DeBoer the title of our spiritual father). Both giant figures in Colorado horticulture spanned much of the 20th Century.  Both were giants on our local scene, and even partners for a few years (since both were Alpha males the partnership was probably doomed). Both were born in Netherlands and both came to Colorado (separately--they only met when they were here) because they contracted Tuberculosis in Europe, and the semi-arid Climate and altitude of Colorado were deemed salubrious for comsumptives. It worked, both recovered from the disease and lived rich, rewarding lives to old age....You  can read a bit about both (click on Saco's name above for the Wikipedia account and click on M. Walter Pesman to get a fuller account of his life.

What this blog is really about is something other than their rich, rewarding and influential professional lives (both were presidents at various times of various local Horticultural clubs, and if you read the minutes of those clubs you will see how both constantly stressed the importance of botanic gardens--they both were instrumental in the creation of Denver Botanic Gardens, and I doubt if my workplace would exist if they hadn't done such constant lobbying--so they are spiritual fathers to myself and my colleagues as well!).

The story I want to tell is one shared with me by his daughter. She had approached me to help with her (successful) attempt to have her father's biography included in Wikipedia. We met on several occasions and she spoke at length to me about Michiel: I've been collecting stories about him in a sort of casual manner (he's not just a hero of mine, after all, but a significant antecedent). One story she shared concerned the "Russian American Friendship Association"--which may or may not be the same as the "Friends of Soviet Russia"--and the various International organizations that rose at first to help Russia during the famine of 1921. Many of these had ties to International Communism.

It is likely that Pesman had "progressive" views, like most intellectuals in the 1930's who had optimistic hopes for Communism and were either blind or ignorant of the extent of Stalin's unconscionable atrocities. According to his daughter, Pesman was not a communist, nor deeply ideological in his bias. Like many Dutchmen, he had an intense fear and hate for Hitler and the Nazi spread in Europe. When Netherlands was overrun by the Nazis, the hate intensified and by the time the Soviet Union became the focus of Nazi attacks, Pesman had become the President of the Colorado "Russian American Friendship Association" (he became president of almost any group he joined).

He began studying Russian, just as he had learned Spanish to study the Mexican Flora--but his love of Russia was mostly rooted in the fierce struggle taking place between the Nazis and Russians on the Eastern Front. I am not sure how often this organization met, nor what transacted at their meetings--I suspect much of their purpose was symbolic: to show how "Americans supported Russia in her struggle". Perhaps some money was raised for relief in Russia...there may be ways to research and find out

The upshot of all this was that he happened to still be President of this group as the Second World War ended and the Cold War began. At a certain juncture in the late 1940's Pesman came under the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joe McCarthy's witchhunt.

Somewhere, minutes and documents must still exist from this era documenting what then transpired, the gist of it (according to his daughter) was that Pesman was called before governmental inquiry and had to testify about his relationships with the Soviet Union. This proud man could, perhaps, have denied or otherwise distanced himself from the group he'd led. Instead, he defended himself and the Association for their valiant support of an ally during the Second World War.

I do not believe he was imprisoned. but the publicity rising from the Governmental Inquests led to Pesman losing all of his jobs with State and Federal agencies (a large part of his livelihood as Landscape Architect). So notorious had he become in the course of the decade that at the end of his middle age he found himself unemployed and unemployable.

He spent several years living off savings and struggling to find work, branded as he was as a communist sympathizer.

Once Joe McCarthy was discredited and H.U.A.C. more or less dismantled, Pesman gradually regained some contracts and was able to end his life with recognition from the community and many friends returning to the fold. He was even inducted into the Colorado Nursery Hall of Fame--posthumously I might add.

Of course, there was nothing unique about Pesman's fate in those years--dozens, hundreds--probably thousands of intellectuals were subjected to incredibly caustic courtroom interrogation, economic devastation in their personal lives, and isolation from a community that shunned them as pariahs.

Fast forward to 2017 when it appears the very President of the United States has had sustained and frequent personal and business dealings with the President of present day Russia. And it is very likely that Russian intelligence was instrumental in securing his paper thin Electoral victory (a few tens of thousands of votes in a few states would have swung the electoral college). And he lost the election by close to 3 million votes.

CNN: "The Democrat outpaced President-elect Donald Trump by almost 2.9 million votes, with 65,844,954 (48.2%) to his 62,979,879 (46.1%)," 

America is probably not unique in this sort of political and cultural Amnesia: but it's hard to believe that in a few generations we can transform so radically that a mild mannered patriotic Landscape Architects with sympathies for Russia at war can have their professional lives shattered for abstract and very likely innocent support of that ally and a few decades later (OK, seventy years later--I demur) a Television entertainer/businessman and his cabinet, (most deeply enmeshed with business dealings in Russia) can claim a mandate when a foreign power led by a malignant dictator conducted massive espionage and collusion to ensure their victory. And Republican controlled congress nods.

Our founding fathers (and Pesman too) must be churning in their graves.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Reticulata roundup (Round one) just before the snow...

Iris x danfordiae 'Happiness'
As luck would have it, the stars occasionally conjoin in wondrous ways. If you've followed Prairiebreak for very long, you will know that I have a weakness for several genera: Salvia, Penstemon, Delosperma may seem to creep into this blog more than perhaps they should. I've not done a statistical study of this blog, but Iris must be near the top...and their parade almost always starts in February with the Iriodyction section (Dr. Rodionenko is probably right to have segregated them as a separate genus). Found from Turkey to Central Asia, less than a dozen species have been the object of a remarkable Canadian's focus: of course the Dutch and English have been playing with them as well for over a century, but Alan McMurtrie has transformed this group.'Happiness' (mistakenly labeled 'Splish Splash' at first) above bloomed for the first time a few days ago and I took this picture yesterday, just before temps tanked. 

Here's a picture of 'Happiness' (the very picture of happiness!) three days later after nights in the low 'teens--what a testament to the toughness of these little gems!

is reticulata Kuh-e-Abr

I assume most of what you will see here are McMurtrie hybrids--there will be a few straight species, and some were produced by Europeans--I will try to point those out. The first of these began to bloom perhaps a week ago when the weather warmed up considerably (night time temperatures above freezing, daytime temperatures in the 70's). These are all taken in my Quince St. garden (there are more at Denver Botanic Gardens I haven't photographed yet)--but there shall be plenty to see chez moi: thanks to my colleague Sonya Anderson, who ordered many thousands of bulbs from Netherlands, many of us including the Gardens and myself shall now have lavish displays of the newer selections! This one with the mysterious Arabic name is very different.

This one has eluded me: I hope I will locate the label when the snow goes away! Or perhaps Alan will step in as Deus ex Machina? Hint hint.

Iris reticulata 'Pixie'
This has been in the ground several years--a Dutch hybrid (I believe that's what this is). The Web claims this is a "sport" of Iris reticulata Harmony. And we know the Web never lies...the spiny thing behind it is Vella spinosa, a crucifer from Spain I can never be without.

Iris reticulata 'Pixie'
Another view: I have been planting these in droves all over my garden--and when they're so perfectly poised, how can you resist photographing them?

Iris reticulata 'Pixie'

Iris x histrioides 'Sheila Ann Germaney'
Another new one for me--probably not Alan's hybrid: we will need a book soon on this group there are so many, to sort out their history and parentage...I must get a closeup of this!

Iris x histrioides 'Sheila Ann Germaney'

I no sooner typed the last sentence in the previous image when I remembered that digital images have such high resolution that I DID have a closeup--and here it is!

Iris x reticulata 'Beautiful Day'
I can imagine Alan's frustration as he names these--so many iris, so few names!

Iris x 'George'
Another older Dutch hybrid of I. histrioides ancestry: these are notably large and impressive in the garden. Adonis amurensis in the background.

Iris 'Blue Note'
This one hardly needs a comment, except to point out the rabbit pellets--its growing near their warren (at least it will be fertilized)..

Iris 'Blue Note'
View from the top, I posted a larger view of these on Facebook and it garnered 253 "likes"--far more than any other plant I showed in that lot. Popular winner!

Iris reticulata 'Blue Note'
Striking from any angle: this is one of the very best of the new ones.

Iris danfordiae (traditional clone)
I showed this same clump a few days earlier in my previous blog.

I am so grateful I have a large enough garden to accommodate all of these...mind you this first volley is just the tip of the iceberg!

Iris x 'Kaharine Hodgkin'
 Same picture on Facebook, only there it was wet with waterdrops. The Iris histrioides parentage is apparent. I have blogged on this before.

Iris reticulata 'Gordon'
 An imposing plant: another Dutch hybrid I think.

Iris 'North Star'
One of Alan's..and a striking one at that.

Iris reticulata 'Baeutiful day'

Iris reticulata 'Alida'

Iris reticulata (wild form ex Armenia)
I am generally a "species" man--most of the plants I grow are wild species. And the wild Iriodyctions are worth growing hybrids, I have to admit! But one must have species too!

Iris reticulata 'Summer's Day'
 Just added this iris a few days after the snow--it went through three nights in the teens! More fresh buds coming--so I should getter some better pix of unblemished flowers--but thought it would be good to add!

I was very fortunate to have visited Alan almost 3 decades ago--a few years after he'd been on his  collecting trip to Turkey--and as luck would have it, his reticulatas were in bloom then. I got a wonderful sneak preview of the extravaganza lying ahead. I've watched the phenomenon explode far beyond what I ever thought possible! My hat's off to you, Alan! And keep them coming...

Speaking of which, there are a LOT more reticulatas that will grace my garden (and perhaps this blog) over the next month. As Alan once said in a comment to me "We have barely scratched the surface" !

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Garden of a golden afternoon

I doubt that anyone who bothers to read Prairiebreak could not relate with my afternoon at Savill Gardens: it was in April of 1981--in the late afternoon. There were hardly any visitors there. I remember taking a lot of pictures, only a few of which I've been able to put my hands on: the sun was angled, and as I wandered from one vale to the next, I marveled at the enormous quantity of daffodils--each vale with its own subspecies or species of N. bulbocodium or N. cantabricus, arrayed by the tens of thousads...nay! Millions!

My mentor, Paul Maslin, had told me "don't miss Savill Gardens": it was my first trip to England, and we got there fairly early in the trip. The visit was so haunting I've never been back. The temperature was balmy, everything was in perfect bloom! I don't seem to have a picture of the Magnolia campbellii, there were many throughout the parks, and their enormous flowers were shedding the occasional petal that floated down, swinging back and forth a tad as they drifted to the ground.

There were streamsides lined with the white East Asian cousin of our glorious native Aroid. There were drifts of this and that everywhere. I never even got to the great scree--I was so transfixed with the meadows and naturalized bulbs. Wordsworth's hackneyed poem springs to mind...only I wasn't lonely here, and hovered more like an eagle or a hawk, devouring the scene which is branded in my brain. 

There were acres like this...

Ironically, I have never seen the fabulous bulb-fields of Spain in the spring (on my depressingly long Bucket List), but in late September of 2001--you can perhaps deduce I remember that date--I found Narcissus serotinus in bloom along a roadside not far from Sevilla in Southern Spain...once again, in grass...

Narcissus albidus v. foliosus
 Forgetting the way I saw the daffodils growing at Savill, I was on a quest! I had to grow these dazzling bulbs in my garden. I planted them on my rock garden: they were fetching there a year or two before they disappeared...

Narcissus albidus v. foliosus
 Perhaps in another climate they'd persist on a rock garden--but these hoop petticoats did not.

Narcissus cantabricus
 Maybe Narcissus cantabricus would do better here? It lasted three years before disappearing.

Narcissus asturiensis
 But I remembered that my friend Sandy Snyder had planted a daffodil in her buffalo grass lawn many years ago (in the mid 1980's!).. When I visited I was amazed how many clumps had sown here and there!

Narcissus asturiensis
 Here you can see it mingling with crocuses...
Narcissus asturiensis
 You might have thought I'd take a lesson from my dear friend...

Narcissus 'Julia Jane' and friends in Mike Kintgen's garden last year...

I didn't figure things out yet, but little is lost on my clever colleague Mike Kintgen: his fantastic buffalograss lawn in front of his house is a riot of bulbs in spring, including a hoop petticoat!


Another angle...

I did remember one year to plant Iris danfordiae, hoping it might be more perennial in grass: it has responded enthusiastically: I took this picture yesterday. I put a hundred in my meadow several years ago and they've come back stronger every year, clumping up nicely!

Next year, perhaps, I can have some daffodils join in the mix?

Here is Mike's Narcissus starting to bloom again a few days ago: it's looking very happy here.

A last glimpse of Mike's wonderful grass as it looks right now--the purple Tommies and red tulips have yet to show...


I must revisit Savill Gardens this year: what might 36 years have wrought there? I may know in a few months and let you know too!

I must plant many more bulbs in my blue gramma meadow--especially Narcissi!

Funny--I've done hundreds of blogs--but this is only just the first time I've shared one of the most wonderful visits I've ever had in a garden...and one of the most exciting ways to grow plants ever: in native western grasses! (I guess I've not scraped the barrel quite yet...).

Friday, February 17, 2017

Crush tree Monoculture! PuhLEASE!

I realize the print on this is ridiculously small: if you email me at (put TREE BROCHURE in your subject line) I'll send you a .pdf of this file you can blow up much bigger! But you get the drift--we keep planting crappy trees and they keep dying (in most of our cities anyway). We need to plant a much bigger variety for many reasons--warding off major pests is certainly one of them!
The speakers are stellar: I regret to say I've only heard ONE of them--but we have had rave reviews of the rest--it is sure to be inspiring and information packed...

Everyone SAYS they love trees, but in the final analysis, most people would rather watch NFL football or go shopping than spend a day with people like this. Not me...

I've been part of this symposium from its first year: every year we've had fantastic talents (we've had Guy Sternberg TWICE--and will have him again)--the subject of trees in Urban landscapes impacts the quality of our lives so very much.

Of the many initiatives I've helped nudge along: rock gardening in public gardens, appreciation of Western Landscape ethic, Xeriscape, South African cold hardy plants, the birth of dozens of public gardens in the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, the appreciation of species irises, hardy succulents, crevice gardening (although I don't have one myself...)...have I mentioned Steppe awareness and Plant Select? Of all these endeavors I've joined in on--the Tree Diversity initiative may be the most lasting and valuable.. but you'd have to come to this conference to "get it"!

Hope to see you March 10!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Michigan wild

Viola pedata
In May of 2015 the Great Lakes Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society hosted the annual meeting. We visited spectacular gardens (some of which I've featured in five or six of my previous blogs). There were also fantastic field trips to natural areas in Michigan...the following pictures were all taken in one of these hikes. I will return to the fabulous birdsfoot violet at the very end--I've seen this in several states east of the Mississippi--but never so many nor so variable of forms. Surely this is one of the choicest native wildflowers! And I'm glad to say, I have it in my garden (thanks to a lime tolerant race from Kentucky)...

Arisaema triphyllum
If you don't look a bit carefully you may miss quite a few jack in the pulpits that were not quite in full bloom yet in this picture...and the first Trillium...

Mitella ? nuda
Alas, I didn't try and take a closeup of this beautiful miniature--so I can't be sure of which of the two possible species it might be...

Trillium grandiflorum
One of the glories of the upper Midwest, the grandest of trilliums was everywhere--you'll see lots more soon. But look at all the other gems it's growing with!

Geranium maculatum
One of the loveliest of our native geraniums was already in bloom in early May!

Trillium grandiflorum
Had these aged pink--or is this one of those mythical forms that opens pink? I can't say for sure...

Poldophyllum peltatum
Masses of May Apple: forgot to peek under the leaves to see if they were blooming...

Viola ? sororia
There were several violets in bloom including this variable blue one...

Trillium grandiflorum
Just a few trilliums...

Dirca palustris
I was thrilled to run across this cousin to the daphnes--we have so few in the family in North America growing wild!
And more trilliums!

And more trilliums!

And more trilliums!

Trillium grandiflorum galore!


Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)

Trillium grandiflorum and Anemonella thalictroides

I think I will make this my Facebook header!

Panax trifolia
Who knew there was a tiny Ginseng relative that made wonderful colonies in the wild? I didn't until I attended a North American Rock Garden Society Annual Meeting in Ann Arbor two years ago!

Here is an overiew--and yes, that's May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum) above it.

And I didn't know that Golden Smoke (our wonderful annual fumewort of the West) also grew in Michigan...

Viola pedata
Did I mention there was a lot of Viola pedata?

Look at the variation in form and color!

And more...

They filled the woods

You can probably tell that my dear friend Marcia Tatroe is smiling her head off!

This was sheer bliss for me...

Enough comments for now! The plants speak for themselves!

I'm not sure if this is a plum or a cherry--I suspect Tony Reznicek will straighten us out! He was the chairman of this fabulous meeting...

Jack in the pulpits again...

This year the North American Rock Garden Society will hold its Study Weekend in Madison, Wisconsin--the wonderful capital of that state. There will be some spectacular gardens there...and in November we will meet in North Carolina for our Annual Meeting: Montrose--Nancy Goodwin's fantastic garden--will be featured (with its millions of fall blooming snowdrops--click to see my blog about it at the same time of year as the meeting)...and oh yes, J. C. Raulston Arboretum--and Juniper Level Botanic Garden with Plant Delights--that endless source of fabulous plants! Time to join up (just email NARGS Secretary  ("Bobby J. Ward" and he'll fix you up!)

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