Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Andes: the last great hold out for Colorado horticulture!

Bolax glebaria in an old book print

A photograph taken in 1885 on the expedition of the H.M.S. Challenger on the Falkland Islands (or Malvinas--as your political persuasion my fall!)...a century and a half later, this Bolax glebaria has grown for decades in Colorado gardens, but precious else from the Andes or South America...why is this the case? Twenty years ago I was preparing for my first trip to South Africa--a place where equally few plants had proven hardy--but I had a hunch. Well, we have a hunch that South America may likewise prove to be a wonderful source of garden plants!

Alstroemeria umbellata
 This incredible cushion Alstroemeria is growing for Jane McGary in Oregon--and yet as you can see from the background, it is an alpine from Valle Nevado not far above Santiago at the latitude of Denver (albeit alpine!)--why do we not have this in our gardens? When I photographed this a decade ago I fantasized about the wealth of incredibly beautiful plants we would one day have here: and yet of the nearly 300 collections Nicola Ripley and I made back then, not one persists.

Calceolaria lanceolata
 Although I did grow this Calceolaria just as well--maybe better--for many years, where it formed two foot mats for me in Denver. But we eventually neglected to take cuttings or save seed and it was lost. I took this picture on screes above Laguna del Maule, where I walked for acres through wall to wall Viola cotyledon--in every vivid color and almost the size of pansies, plants forming mounds a foot or more across. I stroll through that meadow again and again in my mind...the violets were interspersed with Oxalis adenophylla, which thrives for us. What's up?

Montiopsis (Calandrinia) sericea
 I believe I photographed this at Lagunillas--another astonishingly beautiful alpine site in the Andes, chockablock full of treasures. I managed to get some seed, and Laporte Alpines grew it for years (see below)...

Montiopsis sericea (with Oxalis squamata in the background)
The Montiopsis proved not hard to grow--only trouble was no one bought it, and Kirk and Karen (those amazingly talented but sometimes misguided souls) dropped it. As they did the Andean Oxalis squamata which you can glimpse behind (because they were afraid it might become a weed I recall: weeds like that I can USE!)

I end on a positive note...
Sisyrinchium arenarium
Karen took cuttings of this a few years ago, and has produced numerous husky plants which are now prospering in many local gardens: so not everything is doom and gloom.
On July 27, two of the leading authorities on South American alpines and steppe plants are giving a dynamite seminar at the lofty and cool (and beautiful) Castle at Cherokee Ranch, one of Colorado's most beautiful venues. There are short tours of the castle, and some hikes in the amazing country nearby with panoramic views of Denver below and the stark spine of the Continental Divide: the two Marcelas who are presenting are filled with Latin fire: I believe this will be a historic occasion which will usher in a wonderful new world of hardy plants for our gardens.
My colleagues Dan Johnson and Mike Kintgen have taken several trips to research South American plants, and we have tested many that are in commerce--some day I predict our gardens will be full of gorgeous Phaiophleps, Rhodophiala and Azorella...not to mention mouth watering Alstroemeria and Calandrinia galore. The scenery and biodiversity of the Southern Andes is mind boggling--do join us at Cherokee Ranch next week...
Or if you are in the Steamboat area on July 20, the Marcelas will be speaking at the Trillium House at Yampa River Botanic Park at 3.30PM.
They are also presenting at the Gardens at Spring Creek in Fort Collins on July 25. You must make a reservation for that one too, however.
I was thrilled hearing the two of them speak Tuesday evening here at Denver Botanic Gardens: their depth of knowledge and passion for their work (and the delightful delivery) was over the top. Don't miss them!

1 comment:

  1. Cliff Booker - EnglandJuly 18, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    Oh man ... so, so envious!!!!


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