Thursday, March 26, 2020

A bee-line through the "B's"

Babiana truncata
 From a scanned photograph I took back in the 1990's on top of the Roggeveld Plateau in the West Cape province...usually thought of as tender bulbs, there were several Babiana growing at a altitude where hard frost occurs for many months and temperatures drop near 0F. Surely one day we will have a suite of hardy bulbs from the Karoo for cold temperate gardens?

Glen Guetenberg and Balsamorhiza sagittata
Glen (past president of our local rock garden chapter, iris groups and photographer extraordinaire) among the Balsamroot: a widespread and common plant over much of the West. And yet how often have you seen this in a garden? Alas, it's not in mine!

Wyethia alba
Since it's highly unlikely I'll continue this theme all the way through the alphabet, I'll sneak in one of my favorite Westerners I only discovered a few years ago at Yellowstone: like a giant flowered white Balsamroot! I need this desperately!

Ballota acetabulosa
 An outstanding, easy and tough Mediterranean foliage plant I rarely even seen it in the gardens. Here at Denver Botanic Gardens...I have some interesting stories to tell about this. Another time!

Beesia deltoides
 I was so thrilled to have this crazy crucifer that looks like a wild ginger. It lasted a year or two, and a crazy winter killed it. I assumed it was tender, from low altitudes in China...

Beesia deltoides
And then last year I found it growing very high in northernmost Yunnan, at Lake Tianqi! Surely there must be hardier forms! Or perhaps my plant was just in the wrong spot. Time to try it again!

Begonia evansiana
 I've grown many selections of the "hardy begonia" which do come back (weakly) and have yet to perenniate. But when I travel around the East Coast, in very cold areas of New England or the Midwest I see huge patches Obviously I do something wrong. Probably not enough water?

Berberis mitifolia
 Proof I'm not obsessed with just little things: we planted a massive screen of this Berberis between the Rock Alpine Garden and the neighboring garden (South African Plaza--then the Hildreth garden) decades ago: I admire the long chains of flowers every year: I'm beginning to think I need this in my home garden!

Bergenia ciliata
I've blogged at length about it before: although it's deciduous, this may be my favorite Bergenia--the enormous hairy foliage in summer is almost as pleasing as the apple blossom flowers in spring. There seem to be quite a few different forms of this going around: I think I need them all!
Bergenia stracheyi
I take it back: THIS is my favorite Bergenia--the first I'd seen in nature--here photographed at 13,000' in Pakistan in September 2001. Although most alpines had been eaten to their crowns, this and Polygonum affine were untouched by the sheep and goats.

Bergenia stracheyi
A picture I took when the planting of this species was at its apogee in the Rock Alpine Garden. What a fine plant! First obtained as a single rosette brought from Britain by my dear late friend Eric Hilton from his garden in Bristol where I'd admired it. Still hasn't gotten widely dispersed, alas.

Bergeranthus jamesii

I remember collecting seed of this in 2016 with Jim Archibald on high, bald rocky outcrops near Tarkastad in the East Cape. It's been one of the most reliable, long lived and long-blooming Mesembs for me.

Bergeranthus jamesii (albino)
nd, better yet! There's a white form!
Bergerlandiera lyrata
I would like to put on record here that I was the one who strong-armed Plant Select into putting this in the program: I'd admired the plant enormously on my many field trips to Southeastern Colorado in the 1970's and 80's where it has its Northernmost range extension--and brought seed back we grew at Denver Botanic Gardens. It thrived here--and thrived through the extreme drought years of 1999-2003 as if they were normal--blooming prodigally. It's wonderful chocolate fragrance in the morning (between 10AM and 1:00PM) now wafts through gardens all over the world. It blooms pretty much nonstop, and the decorative seedpods mean you don't have to deadhead. Plant it in the hottest, driest spot and it won't flop--even in wet climates. You can see why I'm proud of this one!

Bessera elegans
A tender bulb for me--and I eventually lost it in the back and forth transference of tenderosities--but I have a LOT on order this year again from Brent and Becky's where it usually sells out before I get my order in. Not THIS year!

Beta trigyna
My colleague Rich Bishop gave this to me a long time ago and I put it in the wrong spot (very front of my woodland garden) where it towers to five feet and glows with white flowers for weeks in the summer months. I notice some seedlings here and there around I move them, or try moving the whole clump now in early spring? Dan Hinkley collected this in China and lost it subsequently: I think it's a must have! Surely, if you look at it you agree it can't be beet.

Betula utilis (dwarf)
I may have lost the database (left on a computer that has been replaced two or three times) when I recorded the seed collector who gathered this: I believe it was a Czech and that it comes from China. A dwarf form of B. utilis (a name that covers way too wide a spectrum of plants in my opinion) it creates a spectacle every autumn for a week. Unfortunately, Japanese beetles dote on it.

Betula x andrewsii and Nick Daniel
That handsome devil manages Denver Botanic Gardens' succulent collections and several dryland gardens: he's also just about the best public speaker I've ever heard (along with Annie Barrow, another of my amazing colleagues)--and has encyclopaedic knowledge of succulents and more is humbling. Here he is on a field trip where we looked for and found the rare hybrids between Betula papyrifera and B. occidentalis that occur on a few canyons around Green Mountain near Boulder. I once found one with a bright pink trunk I'd love to find again.) Now that I look at this picture, maybe this one was it?

Biarum marmarisense
Photographed 11 years ago at Denver Botanic Gardens, where Mike Kintgen assured me it's persisted, I am thrilled that I obtained one last fall from Ilhahe Bulbs in Oregon--and mine bloomed (but I didn't get a picture) and miraculously came through last winter: the sort of thing that thrills the heart of plant nerds and causes family to doubt your sanity.

Biarum tenuifolium ssp. zelebori
You know you've got a problem when you start collecting Biarum: I kept ordering them and have various what I suspect are B. tenuifolium all over my rock garden where they seem very happy.This was the first to bloom this past year--which gave me a thrill. I posted it on Facebook and it was identified  no less than Peter Boyce (author of The Genus Arum, published by Kew which you can buy from Amazon from quite a few sellers for around $700 if you like--the book, not the plant)

Botrychium virginianum
I grew this for years as a young man: I'm astonished that the grape ferns seem to establish relatively easily in cultivation. This one had its only known Colorado native population growing not far from where I grew up: I looked for it but never found it. Yes, I'm nuts about ferns too!

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'
Discovered by David Salman, when it was adopted by Plant Select I was a tad dubious. Many years later, this has been far and away the most successful of all plants in the program. It may one day threaten and even surpass 'Karl Foerster' grass as the darling of parking lots and strip malls: which will thrill me no end (it's prettier, native and drought tolerant for three things). A much glorified variation on our blue gramma grass, which predominates sandy areas of the Great Plains (and likely the dominant plant on my property before it was "developed".

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost'
I have always had a fondness for Siberian forget-me-not---which has much nicer foliage than Myosotis for one thing. This cultivar seems less rambunctious than the common form (see below)

Brunnera macrophylla
Here is what Brunnera can do in an unwatered garden in Boulder! Obviously, not for a choice spot--but what a fantastic groundcover. I was startled to find this not far from the Black Sea near Batumi in the Caucasus in 2018 growing with its cousin Trachystemon. It's obviously not confined to Siberia!

Buchloe dactyloides
The dominant grass of the short grass prairie that nurtured millions of bison, elk and pronghorns in its day. Here the male flowers make a subtle show--a wonderful turf grass that should replace as many square miles of Kentucky bluegrass as possible in the Great Plains region and beyond!

Buchloe with bulbs
My talented colleague Mike Kintgen has an impeccable buffalograss lawn in his front yard filled with thousands of miniature bubs that create a kaleidoscopic carnival of color all late winter and spring.
Buddleia alternifolia 'Incana'
No Buddleia seems to seed much in Colorado. But of all the genus, this prodigious weeper is my favorite. Can't quite figure out where to shoehorn one into my garden...

Bukiniczia cabulica
First introduced by the Swedish expedition to Pakistan, Dan Johnson located some in seed on our trip to Pakistan near Skardu in 2001 when we were airlifted thence, cutting our trip short (remember 9-11?). Little did we realize we were flying so near to Osama-bin-Laden those days when Al Qaeda were words nobody recognized!
Bulbine abyssinica
I've obtained this from David Salman and Tony Avent and eventually lost both--but grew it for many years. A plant I yearn to try again in a better spot.

Bulbine abyssinica at Sentinel
Here it is growing at 9000' or so on the trail up to Mount-aux-Sources--one of the most magical placs I've ever been. And I've been to a lot of cool places!

Bulbocodium vernum
Delighted to have this settle in quite a few spots in my garden. I think it's sensibly been placed in Colchicum recently, but we'll ignore that (I have too many "C's" anyway!)

Bupleurum cf. aureum
I photographed this in Kazakhstan ten years ago...Obviously not the plant that goes around with this name in colleague Mike Bone managed to germinate and grows this in his garden. But I have yet to get it in mine!

Bupleurum spinosum
Rather different--one of the finest shrubs for a rock garden. This one is in bud, or seed--in bloom it's more yellow (photographed in the Rock Alpine Garden). Mine do just as well at home. I admired this on the Sierra Nevada in 2001 and yearn to go back to the spot it grows with a half dozen other acanthamnoid shrubs (Erinacea pungens, Vella spinosa, Ptilotrichum spinosum to name three of them). What fun it would be to create a garden with all the spiny Spanish shrubs growing together as they do in nature: not many humans or critters with molest it!

Buxus sempervirens
Boxwoods deserve at least one (or ten) blogs all of their own: when I began my career they were thought to be too tender for Colorado: now you see them everywhere (often looking miserable and sun or winterburned). But no one ever mentions their flowers--which I find rather cute!

There! A lot more "B's" than you reckoned on, don't you agree?


  1. Thanks for posting this alphabetical tour. It's a great reminder of plants I want to try myself, and ones I've killed too many times, will just enjoy your photos and comments instead. Some days, every plant I see is my favorite, so do not worry about calling species after species your favorite!

  2. Berginia is a plant that I so admire and can't seem to find a place in my garden where it will grow. I have one hardy begonia Grandis Alba, that has survived in my garden for quite a few years but it doesn't spread. I do so appreciate it tenacity.

  3. Baptisia, Besseya, Boltonia, Brickellia ...

    I might be one of the few who think Brickellia is worth growing. It seems to only grow in high quality natural areas, or at least locations where the soil had not been destroyed by agriculture. Therefore, it has a special place in my heart. Special plants only grow in special places.

  4. Those are some good "B's"--my pix weren't quite good enough to include, however! Had no idea there was a Midwestern Brickellia! Will have to look that one up, James.

  5. I'm sure you've run across the species we have in Illinois since it ranges from west of Colorado to the east coast.

    For the grasses, in addition to Bouteloua gracilis I would include Bouteloua curtipendula. There are also some native bromes that only grow in high quality prairies and woodlands. They have a look much like sea oats, but more delicate. These bromes are largely ignored, even by those doing native plantings. Although those doing ecological restoration work include them.

  6. I saw the Bouteloua gracilis at he UMN arborteum, and fell head-over for those eyelashes. My first crush was on the first day of school, where my bus-mate was a boy with dimples and long curly eyelashes. Sigh.


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