Sunday, March 22, 2020

A few A-listers to look out for! (plant faves beginning with "A")

Abelia monacensis
I've always been mystified that so many of my favorite plants cluster around a few letters: "A" is defiitely well represented, but so is "C"  "D", "M" and especially "P" and "S"...I don't know how far down the alphabet we'll get (a lot depends on how long COVID-19 sticks around and how many snows keep coming)...but let's begin with a shrub with heavenly fragrance, nice habit and tremendous range of tolerance for garden conditions. Only problem is--it's not sold many places!

Abies koreana 'Horstmann's Silberlocke'
I can't promise that all 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' will have Red Admirals hanging about on them: for years I thought my yard high specimen had to be the best in Denver until walking in my neighborhood I spied one 15' tall, thick and bushy on the SOUTH side of a house--which still dumbfounds me. And sporting Vanessa atalanta to boot! Harrumph!

Abronia fragrans
Fragrant is a bit of an exaggeration!  I find the smell to be borderline offensive--strong and somewhat musky: I had this self sowing vigorously in my Xeriscape several years, and then Poof! I lost it. I now miss its smell and the masses of white flowers all summer. Annoyingly, it's common on road verges in Colorado Springs and even a few vacant lots in Aurora.

Acantholimon litwinowii
All spikethrifts are wonderful in my book: this one is a steely blue color in winter, with steely pink flowers in summer: it tolerates more moisture than most and yet can take heat and drought. In other words--it's a winner. I suspect all plants in cultivation came from the one in the picture that grew at my Eudora house at least a decade before the next owners mucked up the back yard with an expansion.

Acanthus syriacus
Mislabelled for years (As Acanthus dioscurides var. perringii--which it is not: I must tell Kelly and Sue to correct it on their website where alas, it's out of stock). It is much less aggressive than other Acanthus in our experience--here growing in part shade.

Acanthus syriacus
As you can see from the PREVIOUS picture, it's handsome in foliage--but the flowers are stunning. This specimen is in hot full sun.

Acer grandidentatum (genetic dwarf forms)
For years my brother-in-law Allan Taylor would rogue the runts out of the rows of Acer grandidentatum seedlings at Fort Collins Nursery Wholesale, pot them up and share them I can't swear that's where these fantastic specimens I photographed one late September at the Betty Ford Alpine Garden came from. But I can't wait till my two seedlings get that big!

Aconitum lycoctonum
Every summer for years and years I've admired this pale yellow Wolfbane blooming in the Shady Lane at Denver Botanic Gardens. I grew the similar Aconitum anthora for years--but eventually lost it. Now that wolves have apparently self-introduced themselves to Colorado, I hesitate to grow either--just kidding: I know no wolf is stupid enough to eat these. I really have to get a better picture this year: it really is a stunning plant.

Adlumia fungosa
I'm pretty sure this is a lineal descendent of the plants I admired decades ago (probably at least three) draping a fence at Vera Peck's home. Vera was the impetus behind the Vancouver rock garden Club's seed exchange when she lived--packaging and sharing thousands of seeds every year. That lovable Czech-Canadian gardener gave me a packet of fresh seed of this that still drapes yards down every summer at Denver Botanic Gardens' parking structure (and drapes up on my lath house). I think of her whenever I see it in its full glory. One of America's greatest vines. (Biennial: be warned)

Adonis aesivalis
I think we finally lost it--for years this self-sowed in the Rock Alpine Garden--just this side of weedy. I hope we get it again (I've also admired it in Greece and all over the Caucasus!)

Aesculus carnea
Surely one of the most magnificent American shrub/small trees. I gasp every time I see it in full bloom at Denver Botanic Gardens. This year I have to get one for my home--it's very reliable and tough and should be seen more often!

Aethionema capitatum
There are no end of stunning Persian Candytufts--this is one of the best that Bill Adams sold for years (this is his parent plant growing in his fabulous garden)

Aethionema subulatum
Possibly even nicer, this is one I got from Zdenek's Turkish collections--here growing in the Rock Alpine Garden (but also at my home for years).

Allium altaicum
You can tell a Colorado plant connoisseur: almost every one I know here had a clump of this fantastic onion. Plant Select missed the boat by not including this in their lineup: their bad!

Allium akaka
I have had this come back year after year. And never seed around, dangnabbit! I suppose I'll have to encourage it.
Allium carolinianum
I believe I photographed this in Kazakhstan. But it does the same thing every year in my home garden and also in Jan's hell-strip with no supplemental water. And now the Dutch are selling it cheaply--one of the very best ornamental onions--you should seek it out (easy and fast from seed, by the way, and never weedy). I always contribute seed to NARGS--which you should join if you haven't.

Anthericum undulatum
Like Anthericum ramosum only blooming two months earlier, this grows reliably and comes back better every year. From Spain, I think. Unfortunately, no one sells it--but I donate seed to NARGS where you can get it.

Alyssoides graeca
It's only fault is that it is so easy to grow almost anywhere. And it blooms yellow--alas. But gorgeous mounds of foliage and showy seedheads. And tough as nails. Don't know why you rarely see it: easy and fast from seed (remember NARGS?)

Aquilegia canadensis 'Nana'
I may have lost this. I must get it back--it's cuter than the proverbial mouse's ear!

Aloinanthus hybrids
Taken at Bill Adams' greenhouse: he invented these dang hybrids, although John Stireman and David Salman are cranking them out as well: they bloom in February in his greenhouse, but in a sunny crevice garden they bloom in April in Denver. A very good reason to build crevice gardens (the only way these will persist in our Zone 5). Except for cool greenhouses of course.

Arctotis adpressa
I well remember seeing this in foliage my first trip to South Africa (on top of Hantam Mountain near Calvinia). It took another three or four trips, but I eventually got viable seed and since then Bill Adams has been propagating and selling it. Alas, it doesn't seem to set viable seed in cultivation. Some clever hybridizer should cross it with the tender Arctotis and produce an everblooming, gorgeous foliaged perennial line for cold climate gardens--but I dream.

Amsonia jonesii
I've grown nearly a dozen Amsonias over the years--all very useful, tough and handsome critters: this is unquestionably the toughest of the lot and has the deepest sapphire  colored flowers in its best forms. I've seen it growing wild in the driest corners of the Uinta Basin, on the sandy desert of the San Rafael Swell and on vacant lots in Grand Junction where 10" of rain is a good year. The original plants at Denver Botanic Gardens were planted 35 years ago and they're still there! It has been adopted by Plant Select--a very good choice I would think!

Androsace sarmentosa
Why this Himalayan grows so vigorously on plain loam I'll never know when so many of its congeners are fussy. The fluffy ball like rosettes on strawberry runners are delightful in their own right--but as you can see the flowering is prodigious! Should be in every garden.

Aquilegia fragrans
I have I need grown this twice for a few years each time. I need to get it again--one of the most elegant and beautiful columbines, from the Himalaya to boot! And it's fragrant! What else do you need to know? Except seed doesn't always produce plants this good.

Aristolochia clematitis
I should warn you, it spreads at the root. Quite a bit. So give it room and don't plant it with delicacies. But I find the little pipevine blossoms charming and the outlandish swollen seedpods delightful.

Arenaria alfacarensis
Photographed at a public park in Lakewood--this Spanish sandwort is among the easiest (to grow) and hardest (cushions) for a rock garden. People find it irresistible to touch.

Arum dioscurides
If you're a sucker for Aroids (pity the few who aren't) this should be high on your list. I'm amazed that it's been hardy for the better part of a decade. The first blossom (shown above) on the day of a garden tour in my garden and was the star of the day (it had a lot of competition in early May)...

Athyrium filix-femina 'Minutissima'
I recently found this for sale at a Box Store. There's a spot for a miniature lady fern in any garden! This one is easily divided and grows gangbusters--no need for it to be rare!

Aubrieta gracilis
I love any and all Aubrieta. This one (which I have admired on its native home on Mt. Olympus) is the smallest and densest and almost always has this smoky lavender color. Can't imagine being without it!

The poor "B's" are pretty paltry by let's stick with straight "A's" for now!


  1. Abronia fragrans is a special favorite here (western Montana) that took years to figure out how to germinate reliably, something for which I can take no credit. The trick was posted one year by JL Hudson Seeds: apple slices (presumably releasing ethylene) in an enclosed container will trigger germination at room temperature in just a few days. In several trials, this method has consistently worked. If getting the seeds out of their papery husks were only so easy...

  2. I am surprised you can grow Arum dioscurides in Colorado, it is listed as Zone 7 plant

  3. Fortunately, plants don't read very well! It's come up strong again this winter!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Some Class A nibbles you've selected, although one has moved over into Class C (Anthericum undulatum is currently Chlorophytum graminifolium). Going down your A-list, would've needed to chide you if no alliums included, fortunately you included three top flight onions, two of which are double A's; A. altaicum and A. akaka. Love the Arctotis!

  6. The panic regarding COVID-19 is in ways similar to how I feel working to control invasive species. Some natural areas are almost like members of my family. I work hard to save them, but my efforts are not nearly enough to flatten the curve. The losses are terrible and get worse over time. The big difference this time is what has been introduced from a foreign land is not coming for only my world. It is coming for me.


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