Friday, August 18, 2017

What have I got to do to get some good tea?

"What is the summer in Scotland like?"


We'll soon find out!
The Scottish Rock Garden Club may have one of the most serious, hardcore plant-worshipping magazines I've ever seen, and some of my favorite rock garden gems came from the SRGC's massive, exceptionally rich Seed Exchange.  I finally get to get closer to this amazing group with the aid of a grant from Diana Aitchison Fund, which is designed to connect young people to rock gardening.  Tori and I will be touring Scotland and the UK the rest of August for me to give a couple talks (the Dunblane Summer Event, Aug 19th) and to interview gardeners to document what is going on in rock gardening there today- especially, of course, Crevice Gardening.

There are still important questions to ask- like the continuing: What is universal about crevice gardens world wide?

(Ian Young, of Aberdeen, at the Prague rock garden conference.)

I've already been lucky enough to meet some of the folks in the club, who have invited us to visit.

My friend Nick, curator at the Betty Ford Alpine gardens, traveled there in 2015 to research tufa beds; knowledge we put to use building those in the alpine house there now.

I look forward to having my head stuffed with great knowledge from these marvelous people, and endeavor to share it here.  And both of us are looking forward to trying out  a bit of Scottish Mountain Biking!

Oh yes, and tea.

A Crevice Garden in Wyoming

Cheyenne Botanic is finishing up work on one of the most beautiful conservatories I've ever seen.  It's three stories are clad in state-of-the-art hail-proof glass for those golfball and worse hailstorms which are a constant in life up there, and the brick architecture is classy as heck.

The conservatory is a collection of several different tropical exhibits including food plants, xeric/cacti, and a seasonal/temporary room.

So the pressure is high to create a crevice garden at the entry doors to match its grandeur.  I'm honored and excited to execute that for them.  Further, the site is a challenge of challenges in terms of possible plants, which is perhaps even more exciting.

Weather records for Cheyenne reveal that the town is absolutely shackled to a permanent west wind. Snow is blown, leaving the earth and plants uncovered and unprotected from the extremes of Northern-Plains winter.  And it's dry.

The site for the rock garden faces southwest and is backed and therefore baked by thirty feet of glass and brick, which reflect heat like a solar oven.  This is going to be one heck of a trick.  Even the crevice garden's North aspect, traditionally shaded, will have light and heat mirrored back at it!  No use huddling behind rocks, kids! Any little north-side snowbanks will get zapped by the windows, for the sun is a deadly laser!

But I feel good about it.

I think there is a plant for every place, and a place for every plant.   We all like to think we garden in the worse environment ever, and it's funny how that's all of us.  There are tough places all over the world, and beautiful plants from all over.

Erigeron compositus, with its many forms, is very adaptable, reliable, and often reseeds in new rock gardens: It's on the short list. (Wild plant in the Maroon Bells, CO, USA)

There is a small list of plants I know will be just fine, but a crevice garden is about variety, so the longer list is that of promising, not terribly common species, which should all be tried out.  The potential for experimentation and learning here is immense.  Buns and cushions are famous for their hail tolerance; this will be a true test, in a land where glass greenhouses are traditionally covered with a superstructure of chicken wire, because the hail you've really got to worry about is bigger than those holes!

Eriogonum umbellatum v. porteri provides a good green cushion and seems to tolerate winter sun.

While I'm growing and sourcing plants I know I can rely on like Eriogonum and Erigeron, who will laugh in the "breeze" and bathe in the winter sunshine (which would shrivel and destroy most leafy plants), I will spend much effort curating a squad of glorious foreigners to try out.

Austrocactus (bertinii var?) patagonicus. What if this odd, rare plant were hardy in Wyoming but not a soul on earth knew it?  Let's not take that chance: we'd better try it!

Patagonia is famous for its wind; and I've long though that Wyoming was our very own Patagonia.
Several plants from down there, like Maihuenia, Maihueniopsis, and even Petunia patagonica (mentioned recently not by accident in the bun blog) only get better with wind, so I really look forward to trying a few in there.

Stay tuned to see what we learn.  Oh, yeah, and we're trying some wild stuff for the soil mix.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Two Plant Digests for Your Eyes and Ears

But first, we were excited to hear our dear friend, a mentor of mine, and perhaps the kingpin of anything horticulturally good in Colorado, interviewed on Colorado Matters on Colorado Public Radio: Panayoti Kelaidis of Denver Botanic.

The interview by Ryan Warner.

My favorite fact about him I share to try to shed light on a such such a multi-faceted dude is that if you are traveling overseas, and meet the horticulturist in even obscure botanical gardens, and when they learn you are from Colorado, USA, they will ask: "Do you know Panayoti?"
The answer is always yes!

Now, for the featured media.

For Your Eyes:

(by the University of British Columbia- link above)

A person can subscribe so that an email comes to you almost once a day with a gorgeous picture and usually some fantastically fascinating details about the plant or organism, like how an edible plant got into cultivation, or mechanisms recently discovered in that plant, et cetera.  They are short enough to consume daily and long enough to feel that beautiful stretchy feeling in your brain when you increase your understanding of the natural world.  When I visited UBC, I could not help but be a total fanboy and stop into their offices just to thank them for this wonderful educational service.  Don't stop, Daniel Mosquin and friends!

(Picture: in UBC BG)

For Your Ears:

(get happy and click the link above)

Podcasts make long drives or tedious deadheading (I don't do that anymore; I grow better plants) not just bearable but enriching.   Creator Matt Candeias an Illinois Ph. D. Student.  The blog, whose goal is to "fight plant blindness" has become a semi-weekly hour-long podcast in an interview format, and he talks to incredible people in the plant world ranging from a lady botanist in Syria putting together a flora of the country, to the Smithsonian's orchid curator.  In Defense of Plants is one of the finest brushes to paint for us the picture of the what's going on in the whole world of plants.

(Picture: A sand prairie I saw in Minnesota (thanks Rick); an ecosystem recently covered in an In Defense of Plants Video.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Great Celebration of Buns

Got Buns?

We hope so.
For otherwise, you are missing out on a seductive and satisfying class of collectible plants.

Bun plants.   Also called cushion plants, but perhaps with a more specific descriptor, bun plants are almost always perennials from dry, sunny, and often windy zones around the world.  A bun is just a shape  strategy that plants have adopted to survive against harsh climates.

A specimen with a bit of age would turn rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot into an avid horticulturist. (Don't click that link if you have no sense of humor.)

Many rock gardeners, especially crevice gardeners like the Czech seed hunter Mojmir Pavelka are voracious growers of bun plants.

Perhaps one of the most famous high-mountain buns is Yareta, (or Llareta), which is
 Azorella compacta, in the Andes.
A voluptuous Azorella trifurcata (syn Bolax) at the rock garden at University of British Columbia in Vancouver.  This plant is actually in the carrot family, and feels like plastic to the touch.

It seems, lucky for the plant collector-gardener, that ever family or group has a bun in it.  I'm in the small fanclub of Mormon Tea / Joint- Fir lovers, genus Ephedra.  

Again, UBC-BG exhibiting: Ephedra frustillata

Recently, thanks to Mike Bone of Denver Botanic Gardens (If you have yet to experience the new Steppe Garden there, you are really behind in new great things in Western American gardening) I got to see a North american equivalent to Azorella, a Beartooth Mountains (Wyoming) endemic,
Shoshonea pulvinata.

Looking close, you can see the resemblance to Parsley.

Shoshonea can grow alongside another extra-fine bun plant, Kelseya uniflora,  which is actually in the rose family, with extra tiny pink flowers!  Both are seen here in limestone fissures. 
You'll notice, Shoshonea, like so many cushions and buns, is a crevice plant in nature! Don't you have a crevice garden yet?
Kelseya enjoys a long standing following the world, over for good reason. I saw it blooming at Munich's botanic gardens this May.

A more widespread American rose-family cushion, which has gnarled woody trunks, is Petrophytum caespitosum,  here admired by New Zealand Naturalist and Crevice gardener Michael Midgley in Wyoming.

Well-known and long grown by rock gardeners is Arenaria alfacariensis which has surprised me to do so well in the dryness at APEX.  In the dry Western US, it seems to appreciate a bit of a North shadow.  It's from Spain.

The most silver buns above, admired by Ian Bainbridge (of Scotland, touring the Prague-based International Rock Garden Conference this spring) are certainly decades old in the garden of Stanislav Čepička.

The Czechs are perhaps the worst effected by bun-mania, constructing dry tunnels to accomodate the rarest and most beautiful (and slow-growing) bun plants.

Like Jiri Papousek, who has made great waves in social media with his incredibly artistic gardens.

For the lover of baby's breath, there is Gypsophila aretioides from the Caucasus.  For Carnations, there are various Dianthus, including arpadianus.

For lovers of statice or sea lavender, there is the rugged and easy Limonium minutum,  from Spain, again.  I love how it turns purple in winter. (Garden of John Stireman in Sandy, Utah)

Even Petunias:  here Petunia patagonica blooms in the alpine house at Munich.  It is an evergreen shrublet.
I am proud but frustrated that it bloomed at APEX, outdoors in Colorado, this spring while I was not there to see it!

Also blooming for the first time at APEX, and again, while I missed it, was Maihuenia poepiggii, is a weird cactus from South America that keeps its leaves.   Others like Escobaria sneedii & Escobaria leei, from Texas/New Mexico are bun-forming, creating satisfying mounds for the drier gardens.

There is even an alpine cholla which is a bun in Peru! Austrocylindropuntia floccosa

For spurges, try

Euphorbia spinosa at APEX.

For Penstemons, if you are an American nativist, grind your teeth on
Penstemon acaulis, because it's not easy to maintain. And it really sucks when your long-awaited seed pods disappear magically.

An Eriogonum sp., in full bloom here, (Any guesses, friends?) on tan limestone in Utah's San Rafael Swell represents buns in the cold, dry deserts.

If you love iceplants, the mesembs, you have an array of  Living Stones:
 Aloinopsis spathulata being the hardiest for us.

But lastly, one of my all-time favorite plants from Southern Spain, the Blue Gorse (a spined Peashrub):

Erinacea anthyllis.

Can't get enough buns?  Was this vegetable pornography not enough for you?
See the recent article series by the North American Rock Garden Society, by Ger van den Beuken, Volumes 74(4) to 75(3)

Where are they from?
Sunny, as well as windy or cold places.  The alpine environments worldwide have them, and Wyoming and Patagonia seem to be rich in them for the same reason Cowboys and Gauchos have hats with stampede strings.

What are the advantages of them?
They are long-lived, evergreen, require no deadheading, generally pest-overlooked, and small enough you can grow a great variety in a small area.  And you can pet them.

How do you grow them?  
Troughs and Crevice gardens.  Good air circulation, high light, and free-draining soil.   Fertile soil or fertilizer is a probably-not, as it will overgrow the stems, losing the character in lankiness.   There are bun plants from tropical to tundra climates, so there is a selection appropriate for the climate wherever you garden.  From the "Moroccan mound"  Euphorbia resinifera in Tucson to Silene uniflora in cool continental climates or even subarctic of the Northern Americas and the EU.

Where can you get them?
I, myself, dream of my own patio garden someday of nothing but buns.
There won't be one source which specializes, but
Wrightman Alpines in Eastern Canada
Arrowhead Alpines in Michigan (This is where we got Acantholimon for APEX)
Sunscapes in Colorado for dryland natives, and
LaPorte Avenue Nursery, also Colorado, for alpines.
But the greatest pleasure is growing them from seed, which you can acquire through seed exchanges and mail order.

And don't forget to confuse your local nursery by asking them:
"Where do you keep your buns?"

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Thistle Love

Ptilostemon hispanicus has sat quietly and grown slowly for years; here in bud for the first time.  I have wooed over its golden midribs and spines; but the bicolor phyllary spines have been worth the wait.  Is it wrong to grow this?  It's no spinier than a prickly pear (Opuntia) and it's been sited as such: well beyond arm's length in a rock garden bed.

I don't know if Staehalinia dubia is actually a thistle, but it shares that appeal. It is a small shrub about 10"  (25cm) tall and wide; look close at those bits which make up the flower heads (phyllaries). No spines.

Leuzea conifera. Thanks for the seed, Bob.  (syn Centaura, or Rhaponticum coniferum)
It has no spines, does not spread, and it is rugged and long lived.

And just for fun, not a thistle at all, but recently assigned under the morning glory family:
This is the parasitic "Farmer's Dodder," Cuscuta sp. (formerly known as?) 
I don't see it often in field around the valley, and I've never seen it, until now, in one of my landscapes! (Swallowing Eriogonum corymbosum)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The love is in the doing

Hard at work in the nursery.
In our characteristic poses.

(photo courtesy of Marla of RootsMedicineGardens)

Allen waters in new plants at KAFM. It's grown a bit.
Go buy Stanleya pinnata from Chelsea Nursery now.
It's worth it. One word: Hummingbirds.

Have Crevice Garden will Travel.
(That's Agave parryi v. couesii looking all dangerous)
At the CSU Extension Office's Demo Days in Early June.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Pilgrimage to The Crevice Garden Capitol of Crevice Gardening #1

This is day two in the rich midst of 140 experts, specialists, amateurs, botanists, horticulturists, and mad plant people from around the world, here at the

Third Czech International 
Rock Garden Conference

in Průhonice,  outside of Prague Czechia (Czech Republic)

It's being held just steps from UNESCO World Heritage Site, Průhonice Park, in which the above rock garden is kept.  That rock garden goes on for acres/hectares with a narrow, steep, informal path. We were all very impressed at the size and how keeping it informal (not painfully tidy) made it possible to have so much garden a person can be totally immersed in for half to a full hour walking, so that the visitor feels like he/she is in a wildflower mountainside daydream, rather than looking at an installation of rocks and plants.   The rock garden is just a part of the park wrapped around a pond, edged by a Castle, with 40 kilometers of walking path. A marvelously indistinguishable meld of park, forest, and garden which fools you into feeling you are in nature; something I am not sure that North American gardens or parks do.   

From a horticulture and maintenance standpoint, I was deeply impressed by the minimal yet effective (efficient) style of maintenance: a careful balance.  It is managed en masse, not fussy, and it totally works.  But I understand it still takes over a hundred staff to do it.

Much note-taking, business-card-sharing, and sketching has been happening during programs.  Ideas are passing hot like soccer balls at the world cup.  No, those aren't even my sketched, but it is my cuppa tea.

It's intense!  Not only are piles of old friends catching up with one another at every break and meal, sharing their newest experiences in growing plants, but the official educational programs run from 9 am to 11 pm!  At least a third of the group actually stayed up late to attend all the late-night lectures tonight, including a gorgeous travelogue from plant hunter Julia Corden on the elusive himalayan blue (and other color) poppies.

Hard core plant lovers here.

Paul and I enjoyed an evening and morning wander through the garden of the contemporary godfather of Crevice Gardening, Zdeněk Zvolánek.  His own garden southwest of Prague is a massive and steep "Beauty Slope" integrated into and sourced from a present real rock outcrop.
The paths are narrow and full of plants. Less room for weeds, more room for garden.

He is a shameless user of Sempervivums in every shade and shape; they make useful and non-competitive coverage in crevices, for they play well with others and do not overwhelm prized cushion and bun plants.  And look at the color they add!

Iris reichenbachii 'Balkana'

The (Spanish) Blue Gorse, and spiny heartthrob of mine, Erinacea anthyllis.  

Vigorous rock garden plants which do not need irrigation but are not too aggressive to contain are allowed to fill all niches; leaving little room for weeds.  For- it's very near  being steep enough to need climbing gear for  Mr. Zvolánek to access his planted slope.  You are looking at a south-facing dense matrix of Aethionema, Linum, Aubretia, Sempervivum,  Globularia, Dianthus and Campanula, with choice showings of Daphe, Acantholimon, Genista, Dwarf conifers, and Moltkia.

His style and approach certainly takes a great deal of actual work- hand labor to keep it going, but it is done with a finesse and deep intelligence of the plants where he plays a balance, between grown and overgrown, aggressive and weak, tended and unkempt, so that there is not a giant, unnecessary effort to make the garden do things it doesn't want to. He gently pushes the plants towards thriving, the energy is so un-forced that the garden exudes it and even the visitor can be relaxed while stimulated at the sheer volume of incredible plants.

A living masterstroke of genius.