Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thistle make you Smile

While I'm out in the desert, finding that the native Cirsium thistles' seeds have all been eaten by bugs, here are the ones in the crevice garden.

Centaurea urvillei. 

Get you some.  
Soft yellow, not 12" (30cm) tall, red mid-vein to the leaf. Flowers positively structural.  Xeric as a lavender, but not moreso. (And, therefore, I expect, incapable of escaping a garden in a dry climate). Our bumblebees are all about it.  




Centaurea drabifolia 
is the beauty pageant winner in crevice. (especially with Moltkia petrea nearby). Waaaay petite.  Under 4 inches (10cm) and lays flat like an odalisque. Blooms hold for a few weeks, and there are several sexy subspecies, one of which floccosa, is cloaked in wooly white fur.  All are somewhat xeric and seem quite perennial. 


Centaurea deflexa is not well documented, in fact, this may be the first photo on the web, according to google.  It seems like it's going to live forever; it has that feeling. I'm not sure why it's my favorite. It does have nice sized booms that lay sideways on the ground.  Maybe that it has survived a lot of abuse, from seedpot to the sand mound, and doesn't complain it at all.  Three plants are becoming a wild shag-carpet stool cover, and one has made some politely short rhizomes near the plant.  
I'm not worried; I'm stoked.  More of that plant!



Centaurea montis-borlae 
has a pretty classic bachelor's button or strawflower bloom, but with some nice goth dark eyelashes.  Also a flat-layer under 3" (7cm) with fun, felted leaves.  It comes from crevices in nature but doesn't seem to need them in garden. I like centaureas for their ruggedness, feeding generalist native pollinators, being architectural A.F., and rocking the metal plant vibe.  We'd be fools in dryish gardens not to keep more of them. It's taken years to build up a little suite of species in my own garden, so let's hope that growers gather and share their seed so we can all have of bit of the Strawflower/Thistle rainbow in early summer.

Big News (plural)

Much activity this year. Who has time to write about it?

Folks in Denver didn't buy Dracunculus bulbs because it's usually marked "zone 6."  Global warming, folks.  To prove a point we planted it in Cheyenne.  Bulbs experience winter differently- they are effected by long-term cold and not short-term snaps aboveground. They sleep through that crap.  That and the magic microclimate explain this:





Dracunculus vulgaris at Cheyenne Botanic, photo credit, Jacob Mares.















I stop in at the APEX garden 3-4 times a year, spending a day or half weeding and cleaning up and removing the cancerous Scuttellaria I got from Denver Botanic gardens.  Timed for maintenance, I always miss the peak bloom. ' Till this year! 

Moltkia petrea just doesn't stop.  I hate to note that between it and the Castilleja integra, we've got Bronco Colors there.

Three Maihunia poepigii are in bloom, so here's hoping for seed.

 There was some rain.



(In back- Yucca faxoniana x rostrata  in bloom)

And I was honored some kids from Kew came to see it.  It's a triumph of Colorado Horticulture when Brits, the hitherto authorities on rock gardening, come here to see how it's done!  But no- Tom and Lara brought some mad sophistication to the table and blew my mind a few times about roots, containers, and public garden infrastructures. Thanks to them for a great day.


We were unperturbed by the rain. Who could resist a selfie with Lara, queen of the glasshouse? Both the old and new glasshouses at Kew are incredible in totally different ways.  Go see them if you are in London.


Anyone out there know what this Eriogonum is?  It ate its label, I'm not going to dig it out, and I forgot to record the name when I planted it.  Still rocking, with gilt edge leaves and those unusual lavender flowers. It looks nothing like the Eriogonum ovalifolium subspecies I'm familiar with.


I finally get to see Petunia patagonica doing it's thing. Both plants bloomed this year. No seed.  I wonder if it needs some wonky Argentine bug to knock it up.


Worth it. Worth the drive from the Western Slope.
The New Zealand Rock Lily,
Arthropodium candidum
Back home-ish, in my parent's garden, I'm back down to one New Zealand native.  It's a tiny bulb with leaves all summer. It's even reseeded. It came from the seed exchanges. I'm splitting it up to see how hardy it is. Maybe the shady north base of the crevice garden is what it needs, or maybe its tougher than that.  Trial will tell.





Cistus laurifolius.

The gentle, floral aroma of the resin which comes from the leaves of Cistus laurifolius gets me every time.  It's the one species in that genus that gets away from the hot-tub climate of the mediterranean and wanders up into the cold mountains, which is why it's the hardiest, by far. I've killed lots of them, still, in Colorado, until I realized "DUH!", like all broadleaf evergreens here, shade in winter is worth a lot, so the good one is planted north of the house.  The grand, crepe-paper flowers open for just a day, and closing by the late afternoon even- and the show goes for only two weeks at best.  But it's worth it.





A new crevice garden at the home of a retired botanist. I'm terrifically excited to see what grows in the climate of Gunnison, Colorado- often credited as being the "coldest city" in Colorado.  It was cool and sunny and excellent when I was there pushing 13 tons of granite. Might be the first time I've been able to use actual granite, rather than granitic or related or similar types. It's properly heavy.


I did one in Montrose, Colorado


And got to revisit one in Montrose from year's ago, grown in nicely.

Last year I made just a few crevice gardens. One or two.  But I'm doing half a dozen this year. 
My contribution waxes and wanes, but meanwhile, I'm heartened to see them gradually, steadily gain interest and become built more and more. People are discovering that they are the best way to grow saxatile plants. 

Case in point, a major milestone for Crevice Gardening, is this article in the Washington Post Article by Adrian Higgins. , a couple weeks ago.

Amusing, I've been harassed, like many Americans, by robocalls, spam calls and scamcalls. One day they came by the dozen, and by the perhaps eighth call, I picked up the phone yelling, only to find I was yelling at the lovely Mr. Higgins in Washington, DC who had so kindly called to ask me about crevice gardens for the article.

At least in the top ten of most embarrassing moments in my little life.



The Chinle Cactus Club of Grand Junction, of which I'm a member, is putting one in at the CSU Extension office at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.  The club built and has been maintaining this cactus garden garden for 15-20 years; it is often referred to by out-of-towners as the best public garden in Grand Junction.  I wouldn't disagree.

Glad it's getting a crevice garden! 
Four of us have spent two morning now so far; it's in progress. 
Lois lassoed a grant that got us more rock. 

We are tying it in with some horizontal elements to relate to the rest of the garden's existing dry-stacked knee-walls.




Cylundropuntia acanthocarpa v. thornberi (I presume) has bloomed from collection I made in Central Arizona.  I don't know if it's papa's pride or this one really does have a larger flower than the rest of the kids.  Either way, the orange and the streaks get strait at my own personal wacky tastes.

More and more I shy away from "landscaping," which I can now quite distinguish from "gardening," Landscaping has become synonymous with heavy, hard labor for the cheapest price, just to make some dirt disappear and look tamed. (Whereas a garden is a thing created to be a space, made of plants, which also happens to hide the soil, but plants are welcomed to create something synergistic and compelling.)  I've given up the "landscaping" business, but I can't let it go- not until I find a way to insert native plants which can go without irrigation into functional domestic "landscaping.'  I'll find a fancy effective way sometime, but until then-


I make rare exceptions.  


So I think of these as fine landscapes- fulfilling the bill of hiding the dirt, making it low maintenance, and unfussy.  But I happen to use special plants (which are low maintenance) and nice design. 
The last project, on Patterson Rd in Grand Junction has a troop of deep-rooted Nolina microcarpa (Beargrass) for the wise nurserypeople of the future to collect seed from when it's become illegal to water landscapes and I'm long dead.

The rest of this year is mad.  Several more crevice gardens public and private, getting the nursery solid for overwintering, installing irrigation (that's "irritation," misspelled), finally writing all the articles I've promised friends, and doing some last pushes to the book.  Next week I'm going to volunteer on the Schachen, in the German Alps outside of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which is an hour south of Munich. That will certainly be some of the most fun work of the year.  Expect a big post all about that historic garden above tree line.

2 gallon bags of homemade compost in our back garden, with the compost bin sitting like a proud momma.  

On a final note, we decided to sell some of our twice-a-year-harvest of home compost at BestSlope Coffee Company, from which the coffee grounds come, in an educational effort for the public. A fun little project that probably doesn't break even but it makes us happy.




Friday, March 22, 2019

A New Crevice Garden in the Wonderland of Far Reaches Farms





Hardcore gardeners around the US and just into Canada are well aware of Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, WA. It’s on the Olympic Peninsula across from Seattle. Plenty of my friends in Colorado are on their mailing list and make regular orders. Sue and Kelly, along with their lovely half-dozen staff and two dogs, supply by mail some of the choicest perennials you can buy in North America.  Their new Botanic Conservancy merely officializes their long-standing mission to introduce new species into cultivation, especially from Asia, where plants and their native ranges are being gobbled up at an alarming speed. I think they have the guts to quietly face and respond to the inconvenient fact that a great deal of plant species on earth teeter between either going completely extinct or only existing in domestication. So they work towards the latter.




Classic rockery plant, 
still choice as hen's teeth:
 Polygala chamaebuxus


The NW native Fritillaria pudica

Their mission and niche really reminds me of Juniper Level and Plant Delights, from their truly amusing plant descriptions and nursery which supports a botanical garden, to their propensity to grow things in those magical 4-inch band pots. 

Kelly and Sue invited me up to build a crevice garden for them; they’ve been planning one for years. 
Since my crevice garden buddy Paul Spriggs is just right across the water, I insisted we invite him down, too and make it a crevice garden party.  It has been.

Their immaculate, organized, and efficient shipping room.

Their greenhouses are full of cutting-edge, extremely rare, dreamy, drool-inducing taxa. And you can just buy them. Just order them online. It’s insane. And wonderful.

I need to try not killing Pleione one more time, don’t you think?

The peninsula, by nature, is almost entirely dominated by basalt. So this sandstone which They sought out and stockpiled came all the way from Eastern Montana. It’s ideal for a crevice garden. It was 10 pallets weighing 15 tons.

It’s also possible that the stone dealer, the bubbly and brilliant Jeanine, who is totally passionate about stone, appeared one evening and a party broke out. For fun, she showed Paul and I proper technique of chiseling stone (for words and designs) as well as sharing some useful safety and rock-in-the-workplace tidbits.  Like this one: she recommends opening the wire cage of a stone pallet a bit at a time as it's used so that the lower layers are supported while you pull off of the stack, lessening the likelihood of them falling on toes or just collapsing on you.  Good trick. She and I bonded over a shared love for having a good clear work path between the pile of stone and the destination. I’m serious. It’s a big deal.





Senna has a rotating wardrobe of dog shirts; this one is her “eagle jacket” made of kevlar for when raptors are in the area, because she is right at the weight cutoff for being a bird supper target.

Callie, resident mouser and ratter, keeps watch and keeps cool belly.

I ordered and grew Iris unguicularis in Colorado. (This one is "Mary Barnard') For me, it sure wanted water, did bloom early, and the leaves came through winter even rougher than this.


Libertia peregrinans is not usually appreciated for its foliage; and I doubt it wants to come back home with me to Colorado.  



They are known for Cardiocrinum- the giant Himalayan Lily- and even a pinkish form. The seed pods are strait out of “Little Shop of Horrors,” eh? The massive 15 foot stems remind me of agaves; I wonder if they are related to agaves, as they are also monocarpic.


Wintersown seedpot frames. Everyone take a lesson from this. They face Northeast, which is a nice soft, cool, exposure. They are solid, foam-board insulated coldframes which have three possible covering layers: a foam top for super cold winter nights (and tender seedlings inside), the always-closed wire mesh (for animal and litter protection) and clear panels for warmth and winter wet protection. His version has sturdy braces to hold and lock the lids open. That’s a neat trick.

Their greenhouses are names after dead plant hunters.
I love this so much.

They are incredibly cognizant of fertilizer and chemical use and the environment -- In a daily, real, practical way. I watched Kelly dismount from a tractor to save a worm. They didn’t develop the crevice garden spot for some years because it was erstwhile a favorite nesting zone for killdeer, for whom Kelly and Sue chased away hawks and coyotes during several springs, until their dogs took over watch and starting chasing off predators on their own volition. A pair of ducks comes in an out of their small ponds all day.



By day, there is a cacophony of redwing blackbirds in the next-door wetland, and by night, a chorus of frogs.



This is a magical place.

Here is a new thing we're trying in this crevice garden. It's inspired by Cam, a friend of Paul's I recently met in Victoria. Cam is overwintering winter-wet sensitive succulents (like my heartthrob Aloinopsis) by tucking them into tiny overhangs. So, Paul and I engineered some overhangs- the lower stones are tapered so that their points support the rock above but provide a planting pocket in between them. The "roof" rocks above are wider so their rims catch the rain. We are excited to see how it works; we've designed little overhangs all over the garden facing different aspects.


With the Crevice Garden half-built, we will be having our workshop today where folks are coming from as far as Victoria, BC, and Oregon to learn about building a crevice garden. The workshop filled online in an hour and a half. These folks are going to be keen learners!



Sue and Kelly have spoiled the crap out of us and made us feel like family. They are obviously lovers of people, too, for their staff often eats together in the shade house. They also know the customers so well- their lives and histories and gardens.

Unusually, they also have volunteers, and have done for years, in addition to staff, because its such an enriching environment with such a real, meaningful mission. 

You may croon for the satiny petals of Olsynium (Sisyrinchium) douglasii, but did you know there were clown striped forms? Gush.  Note how all their pots are topdressed with Hazelnut shells which suppress weeds, moss, and liverworts. Brilliant.

One morning we heard heavy metal music blaring from the office. We were told that Kelly must be writing plant descriptions. If you've read them this will make sense to you.


I get to be here until Tuesday, pushing stones under an unusually clear sky (for spring in the Pacific Northwest).