Sunday, October 15, 2017

Spikethrift envy: a little interlude

Acantholimon ulicinum (graecum) on Mt. Tymphristos
While I sift through and organize my images for a re-visit to Gothenburg, I thought I'd revisit a plant I saw there: Acantholimon "ulicinum"--a large complex of species really which I call spikethrift*...This time of year it seems as though more and more Denverites (and Americans generally) are placing pots of muffin-shaped Chrysanthemums in pots on their front stoops--in lieu of marble lions, perhaps? These mums have been painstakingly bred to a dense, mounding form like THIS below:

This "pulvinate" cushion form that so many alpine plants achieve without even trying very hard! My favorite cushion plants (although I advise you not to try using them as cushions--more like pincushions!) are found from Albania to Central Asia. We have a substantial collection at Denver Botanic Gardens, but they are not terribly fond of my home garden where I only have a few. One that has proved especially captious for us--but seems to be surprisingly widespread in European botanic gardens. I was very lucky to see it several places in north central Greece in the summer of 2015 where these pictures are taken. In many floras of Greece, the Greek spikethrifts are now split into three species (A. androsaceum, A. echinus and A. graecum). They certainly look very different from the A. ulicinum I saw on Ulu Dag and Kaz dag...which we'll get around to anon.

Acantholimon ulicinum (graecum)
A closer look at the Greek spikethrift in the first picture: they're charming in bloom--and just as fetching in silvery seed as you will see...

Acantholimon ulicinum (graecum)
I probably have twenty pictures I took on various Greek mountains of this plant--one more fetching and amazing than the rest: I'm restraining myself with just this one from there--pretty imposing isn't it? I've only seen four or five species of spikethrift: in Pakistan in 2001 (A. lycopodioides) and in Kazakhstan in 2009 and 2010 (Acantholimon albertii and another species) and of course ulicinum complex (possibly 3 subspecies/species) in Greece and Turkey. Which leaves one or two hundred more in Turkey, Iran and the Stans I may not get around to visiting in this life...but have compensated by growing dozens of species in cultivation. This is, of course, the most westerly--and is found (sometimes classed as Acantholimon androsaceum) on Crete where my parents were born--and where I have yet to see it!
Acantholimon ulicinum at Royal Horticultural Society's garden at Wisley
I was astonished to see this enormous specimen at R.H. S. Wisley last April--and regretted t wouldn't see the flowers...I was wrong!

Same plant on a Chinese Website (
You can imagine my delight when I stumbled on this image taken from likely the same spot the same year by a Chinese visitor and posted on the fantastic website I noted above...computers do have a way of complementing (as well as complicating) life!

Acantholimon ulicinum (graecum)
And here is the killer clump at the botanic garden at Gothenburg I also showed on my last blog post!

Acantholimon trojanum (A. ulicinum)
For a while I grew its segregate (usually lumped with ulicinum now)--A. trojanum endemic to Kaz Dag--the ancient Mt. Ida near Troy.

Acantholimon trojanum (A. ulicinum)
The Betty Ford Alpine Garden has done much better with this--here's a plant a meter across I photographed last summer--in ripe seed!

Acantholimon trojanum (A. ulicinum)
I have used this picture at least one other time on the blog--but it's my most fetching shot from a whole hillside of these on Kaz Dag I photographed in July of 2015 in Turkey: one of the most enchanting alpines imaginable. I imagine you'd agree?
Acantholimon ulicinum
And I end with this shot I took at the astonishing and brilliant garden at the University of Wurzburg in Germany: I had always prided myself on how well we grow Acantholimon in Denver--we have some stunning cushions at Denver Botanic Gardens and I had a mound covered with them at my old house (they're not as fond as my current house, alas!). But this is the finest display I have seen everywhere of this most amazing of European cushion plants. Now put a few of these in front of your house and you'll never have to buy another Chrysanthemum , Dendranhemum or mum!

*Spikethrift as a common name for Acantholimon hasn't really caught on: perhaps you can help me popularize it. I have also seen them called prickly thrift--and they are closely related to Armeria (sea thrift) which they rather resemble--especially Armeria caespitosa from Spain--which is also prickly!.Despite the fact that most acamtholimons are rather sharp to the touch, they're being grown in more and more alpine gardens worldwide--and they're a staple in Colorado rock gardens: they NEED a common name!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The connoisseur's botanic garden part 1

Colchicum variegatum
I begin with a colchicum, which is no accident. Sweden is on the periphery of the distribution of wild colchicums, but Gothenburg Botanic Garden is the very epicenter of Colchicum research. The largest collection of the genus in cultivation resides here, curated by Karin Persson--she and her husband Jimmy (who was senior curator at the garden) spent many decades collecting and studying Colchicums throughout their range. I had always hoped I might visit in autumn at colchicum time, and this past September I finally had my chance!

Before we delve into the bulb areas (where I always make a bee-line), I'll linger a bit on the way to enjoy the many other delightful features of this gardener's garden. Although it contains precious collections of plants, the garden is also very much a park beloved by the people of the region. There are expansive lawns, forests and ponds here and there--all very restful. The entryway (above) is typically simple and unpretentious. September is not exactly peak bloom at most North Hemisphere gardens--but Gothenburg always has MORE than enough to delight any plant nerd...I mean connoisseur!

The more you look at this amazing container, the more astonishing its scale and design. And don't you love the Grass Guru's prancing pose upper left!

And just inside you look up the hill--a wonderful tableau.

A staff horticulturist was busy primping the huge containers...

John Greenlee--an unalloyed extrovert who makes friends everywhere--naturally struck up a chat with her...

A closer look at these cloud-like planting beds near the entrance. Bold, but not ostentatious.

I take that back: this is both bold and pretty darned ostentatious.

I have admired this vista on two other occasions: it changes from year to year...

I should look up and see what annual design was behind the pond my other visits: it's always something interesting...

One of the many grand borders....

This path captures the mystery that is so wonderfully present in many Scandinavian gardens: no accident Ingmar Bergman came from here!

Here we are in the bulb house: Of course, March, April and May are when this is blazing--but there are a few other plants in here as well: in September the Acantholimons (one of my loves) were in full seed: I was intrigued to see which species they had...

They're quite different from one another..

And of course there were lots of Colchicums!

I always had a hunch we were responsible for getting this around the U.S.A.--but it was introduced by Henrik Zetterlund who collected it in Pakistan in the early 1980's: First labeled Dictyolion macrorhabdos, it morphed into Aeoniopsis cabulica and now passes as Bukiniczia cabulica..

They once had the true Dictyolimon in the alpine houses, but no longer...

Us plant nerds even love to just look at the labels by themselves!

Of course the plants growing here have a great deal of interest for us in Colorado: these are plants we can grow without watering.

I was amused by the sunflower. Gothenburg has a sense of humor...It didn't escape me (nor likely them) that Helianthemum annuus (like all the North Temperate Cereals and most vegetables) is as much a child of the steppes as the bulbs around it.

An acantholimon to die for: I have admired this in the wild, at Wisley and Wurzburg. We have it in Denver too, but not yet so well grown.

A stuning mat of the silver bindweed: NOT a weed, believe me. I thought we grew it well..

We were a merry company, all there thanks to Peter Korn and Julia Andersson whose Kinta Garden sponsored the lectures that brought us here. The Dionysia greenhouse is like arriving at Mecca for a devout Muslim...

I was intrigued so many had random flowers: apparently they always do..

You are not a rock gardener if you haven't killed a few of these. Many die if you look at them askance. These are among the summits of the art, and Gothenburg is one of the premier showcases for them.

I show the label of that soboliferous Linaria--a genus one doesn't usually think of as choice. L. alpina nearly swallowed up my garden once.

Greenhouse after greenhouse, one more full of treasures than the next, all in perfect condition and I've never seen a weed. All plants you will rarely see anywhere else--some perhaps at Kew, some at Edinburgh, others at Munich or Wurzburg or one of a handful of other great European gardens. Very few American gardens even dream of trying this sort of collection. Alas.

Lots of random pix in the alpine houses--we were delighted and enjoying each others company as well as the collections.

The wonderful autumn snowdrop about to bloom!

And the sexiest of Veratrums, V. fimbriatum from California.

A cluster of autumnal alliums, for my friend Mark, who will doubtless read this blog.

On and on it goes...

Yet another greenhouse with crocus in pots--the autumn species putting on a show.

Even a few Cacti! (they have many more in a succulent greenhouse of course)

IO could spend days here, drooling over the labels and the little gems!

I had a mild shock seeing this: one of the plants I have most yearned o grow--and they have a whole row of them (Tchihatchewia isitadea). Gothenburg is very generous: we are apt to get seed if it sets: their Index Seminum is generally regarded as one of the very best of any garden.

Here I am utterly delighted to be between Henrik Zetterlund (on my right) who has done so much to create the collections here. On my left is Johan Nilson, who oversees much of the alpine collections from day to day: two of the premier horticulturists in the world. No wonder I'm beaming!

And there is more...

And now the colchicums! Mecca indeed! THE place to be if you love bulbs in September...

Oh the hours one could spend worshiping, admiring, and learning.

Each plant labeled, researched, unique and with a pedigree going back decades sometimes. All part of the monograph. A large percentage of these represent taxa new to science that were described here. Not many gardens boast collections like this.

Even the dormant pots are fascinating to the likes of me...

A bulb with a swollen stem like our Western Eriogonum inflatum: I'll bet it's "inflatum" as well...ain't Nature grand and so subtly repetitious.

On and on they go...with military precision The treasures of the temperate world!

I love the thistle in the middle of the treasures. It is apt o be a treasure too.

Some yummy ferns...

And a bevy of Dicentra...

Finally we venture forth into the gardens. They even have beds dedicated to cultivated dahlias!

They were in prime form when we were there, and with a dahlia fancier in my house I had to photograph them!

Cobaea scandens, one of my all time favorite tender vines looking great...

And we finish part 1 with a mass of scarlet dahlias: we've barely touched the Garden outside the alpine collections. Many other classic tropical and Mediterranean greenhouses I didn't even see this trip, but I spent a long time in the woodland gardens, the vast rock garden and elsewhere--and if I can only trim down my hundreds of pictures, perhaps I shall share these with you too. My suggestion, just pack your bags and go there! It's worth it whenever you might visit, believe me!

Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive