Monday, February 22, 2021

Imaginary frogs in real gardens?

One of my favorite frog sculptures at Ed and Betty Ann Spar's garden

I have a few regrets: one is that I never took enough pictures in my mentor's garden in Boulder. T. Paul Maslin passed away in 1984 and for fifteen years before that was my closest friend and garden guru. He was also a herpetologist by training, and though much of his work was based on lizards and snakes, he had a great fondness for amphibians--especially frogs. And he had many sculptures of them in his garden: none of which I ever photographed. Worse still was that I never asked Mary (his wife) for one as a memento before she passed away decades later. Perhaps that's why I've noticed frog sculptures in so many gardens I visit--and I began to photograph them thinking there may be an opportunity to share. I think that time has come...although I've lost track of where I photographed some of them!

This frog poised in a niche at Sam Hitt's garden in Santa Fe,(which I've blogged about before)

I hit Frog-paydirt this weekend visiting Ed and Betty Ann Spar's wonderful garden in Tucson: turns out Ed is a bit of a Frog sculpture fancier: they're garden was FULL of them--here are just some of the best (they became favorite birthday and Christmas presents from his kids)

Many of Ed's frogs seem especially mellow and relaxed...

I like this sleek one.

I think these could double as vases for flowers...

Slightly more stylized

More potential vases here...

A photograph taken by Jeff Wagner, a friend of mine of Kim Kori's sculpture "The Kiss" which is at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts--a pretty elaborate sculpture in this genre!

A frog featured in a friend's garden in Pueblo, Colorado

Another Pueblo amphibian: I suspect warm places like Pueblo and Tucson like the idea of these moisture loving creatures!

Marianne Moore declares that poetry is "imaginary gardens with real toads in them" (see poem at the end). Here is a frog I photographed in northernmost Yunnan, at over `12.000': this part of China is truly a real natural garden if there ever was one! Proving her right once again.

At Stonecrop garden in Cold Spring, NY,  Jan found this life sized frog and tested the fairy tale...

Presto! This may explain my affinity for frogs!

 Do take a moment to savor Moore's lovely poem which reveals something about poetry, and a little about frogs and gardens to boot!


Marianne Moore - 1887-1972

I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers that there is in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
   useful; when they become so derivative as to become
      unintelligible, the
   same thing may be said for all of us—that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand. The bat,
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
      wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
      that feels a flea, the base-
   ball fan, the statistician—case after case
      could be cited did
      one wish it; nor is it valid
         to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
      make a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
      the result is not poetry,
   nor till the autocrats among us can be
     “literalists of
      the imagination”—above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
      shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness, and
      that which is on the other hand,
         genuine, then you are interested in poetry.



Friday, February 12, 2021

Blow up

I hadn't properly labeled my images from a trip to South Africa in 2015. Through editing, I've gotten used to magnifying and examining pictures--a sort of pale echo of the Photographer in Antonioni's classic film "Blow Up" which was released over fifty five years ago (the sound you hear may be me screaming in horror at the thought)...only instead of revealing a murder or an illicit affair, my photos when blown up only show some cool plants and perhaps some stories that I hadn't even noticed when I took the pictures. I took this picture of a typical roundavel--the picturesque traditional homes in Lesotho and much of South Africa not realizing there was more inside...once I "blew it up" I noticed things.

I suddenly notice a row of what I'm sure are Arizona cypress--a tree I've seen planted a lot in South Africa (and elsewhere around the world). When on earth did they get Cupressus arizonica? Who imported it? Why this and not any of the hundreds of other conifers that would thrive in Lesotho? I have a bit of history in introducing this conifer to Colorado--a story I've yet to tell in a blog--and here they are again to remind me.

I look more closely at the roundavel in on the upper left--an Lo! and Behold! a monster Aloe polyphylla loaded with seed! The seed from that plant could probably be sold for many times the farmer's annual salary were it possible (and legal). Let's blow the image up a bit more...

Now do you see it?

And the roundavel along the road has a HUGE Kniphofia northiae--also loaded with seedpods. And a different aloe to the right of the door--perhaps A. pratensis?

 Another image of an unusual cinder block house very unlike the roundavels:  a more prosperous person? A rebel? And look at the masses of Nicotiana sylvestris growing out of the wall! The fragrance at night! And what is that symmetrical mound near the front door?

 I zoom in further: I still can't tell what it is! But cottage seems to me to show a gardener lives inside: they must enjoy the scent of the tobacco flowering all season!

As I zoom in to the right I see a raised bed with something growing in it: what could it be? protected by an orange mesh and look! There are three little children sitting peacefully: what's that all about? Taken six years ago, they're probably in middle school now. How's the pandemic affecting children in rural communities like this who likely don't have internet? ... the photo raises all sorts of questions for me.

A bit further down the road I see a school and snap a picture from afar. After I zoom in I see an older lady rapt on her phone, and the one on the right has been on her cell phone too (amazing how quickly cell phones have spread around the world). And the grumpy kid in the middle: what are they waiting for?

With digital cameras and phones, we can take photos with enormous detail that lets you blow them up to a huge size. Unlike David Hennings in movie, we as photographers can do this on our phones or at a desk top--no need for dark rooms and processing film nowadays. And yet how rarely we do it!

Looking at hundreds of images from Africa, I am getting homesick. As I worked on this blog post, I realized it's Black History month: Lesotho has a relatively recent historical record, but Africa is the ancestral home of all of us (or as they say at the Cradle of Mankind museum near Pretoria: "where our collective umbilical cord is buried"). We are all Africans, although some of us have lost most of our melanin in our skin (this has only been in the last few tens of thousands of years according to recent anthropological research). As rustic and exotic as these roundavels may strike us--the life of many Lesotho farmers is not that different from the first generations of North Americans who settled the West: rustic homes, big hearts and a lot of hard work. After all, the Basotho people only settled the Maloti highlands in the last few centuries (supplanting and absorbing the San people in the process--much as the American Indian was) Lesotho is frontier culture much like European settlement of Colorado. Which is why Americans may squirm a bit when we first visit.

On the several trips I've taken to Lesotho I have seen no end of floral treasures which are so well adapted to Colorado: I've passed some of the best times of my life there, and now in COVID isolation I re-enjoy these trips, seeing things I never noticed at the time! As I do so I realize Lesotho has pyroclastically blown up so many of my prejudices and preconceptions as well..

Monday, February 8, 2021

February gem

One of the greatest perks of being associated with a large public garden is that our members and people in our community often call to let us know they have something special: that's how I came to know Judie and Fred E. more years ago than they or I care to confess...let's put it this way, it was in a Millennium long ago and far away! This is the front of their home in Lakewood which consists almost entirely of Western native dryland plants.
Last year I'd heard that friends of mine had taken over a thousand cuttings of a monster manzanita in their front yard: I invited myself back then to check it out--here it is next to their sidewalk (with smaller Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis in front.)
And there's Judie standing next to her incredible Arctostaphylos patula: I imagine by next year we'll have plants from the cuttings on this (Kelly told me they had almost 100% rooting). I have a patula or two in my garden, but their petite compared to this! I need this clone baaaaaaaaaaad.
I should have moved back more to show this monster Cercocarpus ledifolius: it's a stunner--I think the largest in the city. Although there were once several big ones at Pete Peterson's old home...
A closeup of the rugged trunk: I wouldn't want to try and cut this town. It got its moniker "mountain mahogany" when someone tried to fell one and the wood was harder than mahogany.
This was the excuse for this visit: Judie emailed me to let me know this Sternbergia candida she obtained a long time ago was in full bloom: I missed seeing this the last time "in the chlorophyll", but this time drove 18 miles directly West of my house and BOY was it worth it. I kneeled down in worship and took a lot of pictures....there is a long story about this plant I've blogged about before...but this blog is mostly meant as an appreciation for a remarkable couple I connect with far too rarely--always though to celebrate some wonderful horticultural event in their remarkable garden. I recall when Yucca elata bloomed for them once in August--I dropped by their home after a tour with a dozen or so interns and seasonals, and they were blown away by the giant inflorescence (their yucca had to be 15' tall!)...        One of the things I cherish about our visits is remembering long gone nurseries where they obtained their plants and stories about them: Western Evergreens and Old Farm nursery in Golden/Arvada, George Kelly--one of the Godfathers of Colorado Horticulture....needless to say, in a few weeks when the giant patula is in full bloom, I'll hijack a few colleagues and we'll come to bend a knee for yet another of their treasures.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Prickly Pears: two seasons of beauty!

Opuntia 'Chocolate Princess' June 9, 2015

I recently did a presentation on Opuntia for the New England and Connecticut cactus clubs--and gathering images "then and now" I was struck at how attractive some of the prickly pears were in various seasons...I have selected a few examples here that show just how interesting these plants appear at polar opposite seasons of the year.

Opuntia 'Chocolate Princess' January 22, 2021

Opuntia basilaris v. brachyclada June 19, 2014

Opuntia basilaris v. brachyclada January 21, 2021

Opuntia basilaris v. brachyclada March 11, 2020

Opuntia 'Garnet Glow'  June 19, 2014

Opuntia 'Garnet Glow'  June 9, 2015

Monday, January 25, 2021