Sunday, August 2, 2015

The KAFM 88.1 Swiss-Army-Knife Garden

1304 Ute Avenue, Grand Junction, CO

We are mostly done with our current project.  We're installing it at a rental property adjacent to and belonging to Grand Junction's Community radio station, KAFM 88.1.  My friend Georgia ("Gardens by Genie") had the idea to connect the radio station {bemoaning endless war against the weeds on the property} and me {bemoaning that there was not a public crevice nor unirrigated garden in my hometown  of Grand Junction, CO.  The answer was obvious.  That my Paintbrush Gardens donated a multi-faceted showpiece garden.  It's a mix of education, experimentation, and shameless grassroots advertising.

The facets:
-Unirrigated landscape supporting shade trees for the home and a parking lot (used for concerts).
-about 95% native plants (CO and other surrounding states)
-about 5% foreign plants, some rare, yet deserving protection/experimentation.
-A mini veg garden
-Swaths of native meadow grass
-Gravel/Desert style xeriscape
-Rare and special treesflowers, and shrubs
-Unirrigated Crevice Garden- this is about 24 tons of sandstone from nearby DeBeque Canyon.
-Unirrigated scrub-oak grove meant to attract wildlife, supported by roof runoff
-Beneficial insect nesting areas; built-in bee houses and dry soil for native bees.

"Before," as they say.

My concept/proposal sketch. 
We had to start with a sidewalk to even get to the front door...

I figured that for future renters (it is currently empty) or the present volunteers/employees of the radio station, some fresh veg would be welcome, so a small 10x10' veg patch was the first thing to go in this spring and add to the palette of features in this garden.  It will be the only irrigated bit. One hundred square feet and one-hundred percent delicious.

Was she called "Sooty" or "Smokey" who contributed the fertiliser to the veg early this spring?  Whatever her name, we are currently eating carrots while we work.  I guess I owe her a carrot, too.

The radio station itself already has a lovely bit of landscaping- night lighting and all- originally designed by Bill Richardson of Dragonfly Gardens some years ago, and currently lovingly maintained by a station volunteer. 

 But ours is different.  It will have a native oak grove.  (Quercus gambelli) My pie-in-the-sky aim is to attract a towhee.    Ya gotta have goals.

The other thing the oak grove does is draw water away from the foundations and use it up to add a bit of shade to the buildings.

Cupressus bakeri ssp. mathewsii is rare in its native California, and threatens to not only survive here but get to be one heck of a xeric Christmas tree. Anything to replace all the dang thirsty Blue Spruce which are planted around town...

There was a perfectly good tree on the premise.  A Chinese Elm once dominated the corner. Let's say we decided it was ultimately in a poor place, would ruin the future landscape, and was being replaced by other trees which will take its role.  It was "transplanted," let's say. It was just easier to do that after it went through a chipper shredder. Now it's job is to keep oak roots happy until they form their own leaf litter mulch.

Ryan, my art school buddy, had the gumption (a-thousand-mile-walk-is-made-of-single -steps sort of thing) to dig out the trunk by hand.  Here he is in characteristic "I've just dug out a giant tree stump, what did you do today?" pose. Thanks Ryan.  With all those stones to set, I couldn't bear to look at a massive tree trunk.

On-site recycling.  
It's sad to take out something alive in such a barren place, but the ex-arborvitae became mulch for the green mormon tea which replaces it { and does not block the window nor pose a fire hazard}.  Elsewhere, twigs and stems are left for beneficial insects to nest in.

Townsendia incana
Perhaps the finest omen was that there is a native wildflower which had managed to establish itself before we started work on the place.  How an easter daisy, normally growing in the Monument gets to be on the dusty rough side of town, one can only guess.  Hopefully we can coax progeny to colonize the crevice garden.

Hundreds of plants are still in line to populate the place.

Stay tuned or stop by to watch the KAFM rain-powered garden get started.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Mecca: Wisley

Wisley's Crevice Garden is Big.   
(click to see its full breadth)

42 tons. 
(The answer to life, the universe...)

(photo of me, for proportion, courtesy of Paul Cumbleton)

In January, I visited one of the largest crevice gardens in the world, one of the most important, and famous.

The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Wisley is not far outside of London, pretty close to Heathrow International Airport.

The crevice garden, built by RHS staff (headed by the kind Paul Cumbleton at the time) and led by Zdeněk Zvolánekwas executed in 2010.  It is based on sand, which is entirely invisible.
For nitty-gritty details, see the diary of its construction.

Pictures I had seen of the garden didn't move me much, but perhaps that is the artist blood in me, because visiting it was different.  To be in the same space as this installation is truly, unequivocally impossible to convey in a picture.   Standing next to it was dizzying.  Know that pictures will never serve, that this is a fine art peice that one must be near to experience.  Would you judge Old Faithful by it's mugshot?

The sense of space is staggering.  It is very much a small mountain-range enclosed by hedges and within the auspices of an alpine house.  It's a pet mountain range, if you will.  The dramatic verticality of the stone is so catching, no passerby, no matter how disconnected from nature nor the physical world, could walk by without being taken aback.

The rest of Wisley is a special treat; a jewel in the crown, not to be ignored. Even in January.

The Alpine houses are institutions to themselves, requiring the toil of a fine staff to maintain a stock of plants outside of the exhibit which outweighs what is publicly seen at any given time.  It is so important to honour the appreciation of the relationship between gardeners (or caretakers, curators.) and the exhibit (plants, collections).  This is not immediately obvious to non-gardeners, but plant lovers are the heart and soul of such places.  They know the balance between nerdy botanical curiosity and general appeal, because the not only deal with the public who patently remind them of this truth every day, but live with this balance in themselves.  The truth is that both are critical.  Both are essential.  A stunning masse of fiery orange annuals  may be a hook which lures a human to a deeper love-affair with plants, but there must also be a substance and a culture of sophistication for the world of horticulture in an exhibit somewhere else.  Wisley's Alpine Department is one of those places, and their front-line exhibit is still stunning even if it is not a sugary bed of bright daisies.

There is a trend wold-wide in botanical gardens for sex-appeal, shock-and-awe, and bottom-line-worshipping marketing-efficacy fever.  As a business owner, I am deeply and profoundly aware of the importance of the bottom line (since it is directly tied to being able to eat or not!), however, the culture of "public impression," "public face," "public perception," and image,  driven by a campagn to make better numbers (visitors, income, etc) is starting to dominate like white blood cells attacking their own body.

The quality, the work, the legacy, of botanical institutions everywhere, is suffering.
All this marketing, business-headed priorities, perhaps fueled by the birth of the information age, is a fertile environment for performance-based and purpose-forgetting corporate style.  Worst yet, it sustains itself and progresses forward, since it feasts on numbers and is mathematically justifiable.  But that does not make it right.  

Botanical sophistication is being censored.
Perhaps Mark Twain's quote on censorship will serve:
"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.'

Shall Botanic Gardens stop planting Lewisia because most visotors don't knwo what one is?
Many are.

(Photo courtesy of Paul)

Britain's botanical instotutions have a longer and deeper history of honouring "collections" (or, the variety and documentation of all the plants they grow and show) than other gardens around the world, whose main goal is an attractive public space which uses plants as the material to get it done.  This balance msut be reckoned.

 My greatest thanks to Mr. Paul Cumbleton, who is the retired ex Alpine Head at Wisley.  He took the time out of his day to shoehorn me into the garden in my limited time in London.   I regret having so little time to spend with this humble yet deeply effective man.

An institution which prioritises education and "collections" has plant signs...

A study of the plants in it betray that all sorts of fine things are happier there which were not possible in other areas, and that a small set of plants are not happy, including a fir or two, as I recall, perhaps because they want rich, humusy soils and cannot get their nutrients from the minerals in sand.  But look at the rest that do! 

And even the Royal  Wisley had not even been able to fill every crack, every nook and cranny!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

APEX: the last days

My calculations showed we'd need about 1000 plants for them to even be visible in the garden. It's a big space, so I budgeted for that. Donated plants brought the total aim to 1200 plants.  Soon, I'll have a final count.

The big news was the help.  Just about the time I should have been panicking about being able to get all those plants in the ground, friends came out of the woodwork (and even faraway places) to plant.  Having been quite occupied with the logistics of acquiring such a large number of exotic plants from all over the place, they totally saved the day. Truly, it would have been a disaster without their deus-ex-machina efforts.

Photo courtesy of Van Milton

Margie Frey, left, former horticulturist/head gardener of the Western Colorado Botanic (where she did a heck of a job making more improvements with plants than anyone had in recent memory, in my opinion) came to plant.

Creating the system for recording where everything was planted was Kevin Pykkonen, of Boulder, who has been present and involved with every part of this thing.  His keen passion for the fanciest plants made him a specialist at figuring a few things out.

Gordon and Stephanie surprised me by coming all the way from Colorado Springs. They bravely faced the most barrel-cactus intensive bed.  Gordon did it with sandals.

Van will now demonstrate the right way to plant a cactus.  With salad tongs. A trick courtesy of the Chinle Cactus Club in Grand Junction, Colorado.
He'll even translate into Japanese.

The right depth can be maintained with the tongs while one backfills the hole with the other hand Yep, we even bare-rooted the cacti.  

Proof I actually did some planting myself,
photo by Van Milton

Marla of Roots Medicine Gardens, threatening to show us what a little agave medicine is like.
Marla is responsible for compiling the database of plants which will one day be online for public access.

I really do like the way radially-arranged Agaves look in the matrix of a crevice.

Stomatium sp, from the soon-to-be-closed Timberline Gardens opens in the late afternoon, just as the nearby 'Gold Nugget Delosperma basuticum is closing.  It's a fun handoff.  There are varied opinions, including fruit, as to what the Stomatium ("Hardy Tiger Jaws") flowers smell like.

Deb came down from Boulder several times to get sandy hands. She's been madly engaged with this whole crevice garden style thing.  I'm jealous because I think she was having more fun that I.

Ken was a stalwart presence for the planting.  He made lots of friends by bringing snacks.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lectures/Classes 2015

25 February, 6pm in the KAFM radio room, 1310 Ute Ave, Grand Junction, CO
Waterwise: KAFM community radio's Lifelong Learning: a class on unwatered gardening techniques

14 March: Western Landscape Symposium, Pueblo Community College, Pueblo, CO
Crevice Gardens and Fully-Xeric Landscapes: Two developing approaches to saving
water and growing cool plants.

19 April: 1-3 pm, Timberline Gardens, Arvada, CO ($15)
The Waaaay Alternative Garden: off-the-wall and lateral-thinking garden approaches

21 April:
6-8pm, Golden Community Center, Golden, CO
Xeric Natives

22 April: 7-9pm: Ft. Collins Senior Center: Twinberry Audotorium
Lush Unirrigated Landscapesand Rock­- Crevice Gardens.

April: Crevice Garden construction demo/talk/workshop co-presented with Mike Kintgen!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

For lack of better material: your quiz

There is a nice stack of fun new information to share on the blog, but stacks of discipline do not abound {needed to research and compose it}.

In the interim, here is an appeal for identification.

This Fumariaceae member appeared out of recycled potting mix, which has subsumed many many year's worth of ungerminated trays sown with European seed exchanges.  These pictures are not sufficient for me to properly identify it. (One needs to see what the tuber looks like, the sexy bits on the inside, and basal leaves/scales.)  It has grown quite strongly, re-bloomed, and even survived drought in a pot before it went into the woodland spot in the garden.

Any ideas?  I'm 90% sure it's a corydalis.

Friday, January 9, 2015

To Friends in Santa Fe

I'll be giving a talk in Santa Fe in two weeks, and I wanted to post this in case anyone dying of winter stir-crazies nearby wants to come out and join us in warm talking and dreaming about gardening (mostly Rock Gardening) to melt away the winter blues:

Rock Garden of John Stireman, Sandy, Utah, November 2014.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bee sex-dolls.

Thanks to a comment in a research article within the SIGNA newsletter (Species Iris Group of North America), I learned this morning that one of my holy grail plants recently earned a devious title.

Orchids have been the long-known tricksters which, through appearance and smell, convince bees to try the hanky-panky with them, of the genus Ophrys, one species of Seraphias.  

Warning: the following link contains apian* pornography.
Once you've gotten over the fact that you have just watched a video online of a bee dry-humping a flower, note gracefully and with wonder how the orchid actually affixes a fancy gluepad-strut-and-pollen-bag device to the back of the bee. Fantastic, eh?

But there is one plant which is clever enough that is not an orchid which some of us know and love already- a certain rare bearded iris, in fact- Iris paradoxa.(1)  I am tickled to learn this little raunchy fact about one of my favourite plants.

 Iris paradoxa

* bee-related


Lastly, know this blog will swing back into its less-seen theme of travel for a time this winter.