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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A little less salt, please: Survivors in a salty unwatered garden

notes on Xeric Plants for {very} Salty Soil:

My very first unwatered professional landscape is a business:  Woodstove Warehouse, at 946 S. 7th Street in Grand Junction, CO.

And if I'm allowed to critique my own design, I could stand to have used multiples of one kind of plant in areas, and near eachother to prevent the plant-space-plant-space, dot-dot-dot effect I so abhore.  I've since added a few plants to that end.

But the secret is that it's salty. The soil is incredibly rich in some form(s) of salts, which I've admittedly not tested.  Especially after long periods of dry weather, a white incrustation even forms on the soil surface jsut visible between peagravel stones.  Around here, it's called "alkali" and is famously visible from your car, covering entire fields, or even miles, in white, where few if any plants, including weeds, will grow.

After rains, it is invisible and plants which suffered from it, like the Desert 4'o'clock (Mirabilis multiflora) above will grow normally for a while, then return to suffering from classic salt-burn symptoms.

True to name, Saltbrush (Atriplex confertifolia) from Chelsea Nursery
has done great in even the worst spot.

Then there are the intermediate sufferers, like the Desert Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) who opened a can of Pheonix-style:  It was planted, bloomed, and completely killed when the salt rose up, but upon the salt being pushed down by the monsoons, germinated from seed only to bloom again!

I trialed a list (which will be documented here) of plants I put in the "flowery flower" category to provide colour among the different shrubs, and most of them died, exept this, Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora), who has not even shown a modicum of distress.

Yucca harrimaniae is doing a funny thing- and this is a classic salt response.  The tips of leaves, epecially old ones, dramatically die- the salt in the plant's body is accumulated there and that part of the leaf is metabolically scuttled, if you will, to rid the plant of some of that salt in favour of preserving newer leaves. Or so the scientists say.

For the record, Ephedra viridis (Green mormon-tea) is zipping along ignoring all traffic signals- this one has grown several feet this year alone. (Amen to bareroot planting, amen.)

Perhaps it's the position in-between rocks, but the Grand Canyon Agave utahensis var. kaibabensis  is growing stronger here than in my home garden.

Prickly Pears (like this Potato Cactus, Opuntia fragilis var. denuda) seem only a little slowed-down, and there is a faint yellow mottling, which I cannot conclusively attribute to salt, but that is my guess.

A heroic Joshuatree has pushed through a near-death experience. (Yucca brevifolia)

Some Chollas suffered a little in the beginning, but they seem to be steady now, enough to send roots 9 feet away when they are under 3 feet tall themselves.  To say that Cacti are shallow or small-rooted is a gross generalisation!

Now, the meat. The lists of plants.  This is an empirical but non-scientific record of this property, which is not authoritative, but hopefully useful:

Just dandy with salt:
Atriplex confertifolia
Atriplex cana
Atriplex gairdneri
Opuntia phaecantha
Opuntia polyacantha v. schweriniana
Opuntia fragilis v. denuda
Ephedra viridis
Ephedra minima
Ephedra minuta
Echinocereus trglochidiatus f. inermis
Echinocereus triglochidiatus
Yucca baccata (Funny when others behave with complaint)
Fallugia paradoxa (this also tolerates being so wet it's underwater occasioanlly, then bone-dry again)
Chrysothamnus/Ericameria nauseosa v. nauseosa (Baby Rabbitbrush)
Chrysothamnus/Ericameria nauseosa (this grows wild around the corner)
Sporobolus cryptandra (must be included, having recently been posted about)

Suffered, but didn't necessarily die:
Yucca harrimaniae
Yucca brevifolia
Onobrychis viciifolia
Oenothera caespitosa- plants die, but seed grows during less-salty windows.
Cylindropuntia kleinii
Cylindropuntia leptocaulis
Cylindropuntia aff. whipplei (Silver Spine/Snow Leopard)
Amelanchier utahensis
Sphaeralcea grossularioides (some plants died, one thrived; borderline plant. Wierd, too, because it grows near saline soils in nature)
Sedum telphinum 'Autumn Joy' (Client pick; I never would have guessed it would work)
Tribulus terrestris (I included this weed in the list for fun and reference.  Its leaves yellow, but unfortunately, Goathead/Puncturevine {or little-devil-of-the-earth, scientifically} doesn't die!

Plants on the property, but I'm not sure their feelings about salt:

Opuntia 'Dark Knight'
Cupressus arizonica
Perovskia atriplicifolia
Grusonia clavata
Agave parryi
Agave kaibabensis
Escobaria sneedii var. leei

Forget it/ Epic Fail:
Artemisia tridentata (no kidding, sagebrush can't take it)
Stanleya pinnata (so shocking, I tried 3 times!)
Astragalus mollissimus (more shock)
Castilleja integra
Hymenoxys acaulis
Calylophus fendleri (crispy critters)
Eriogonum corymbosum
Ephedra torreyana (this is wierd, since this is the species which naturally grows closest to "alkali."
Mirabilis multiflora (one plant is barely alive from many plants dead)
Nolina microcarpa (I'm willing to kill this again just to make sure)

Upon writing this, I realise I need to try Berlandiera and Penstemon. How dare I forget them in the great procession of death and suffering?

Goodbye you lovely terror

Grasses really do deserve more use in rock gardens.   I hate to ruin the romance of the effect by even desribing it: the trembling impermanent softness of grass against the immobile permanent hardness of stone.

{Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) has suprised me with its irrigationless performance as well as weed-supressing frame for one end of the crevice garden, despite what I'd heard about it; Bob Nold says it will fail to suppress weeds upon being mowed. So I don't.}

Muhlenbergia torreyi

The old-school Czechs point out that it is one of the finest ways to making a naturalesque garden-outcropping look like nature.  Currently, I am trialing Muhlies, Fluffgrass (Erioneuron- it's a real thing) and others for garden-worthiness.  But this Halloween post is in honour (or horror) of one of the first plants in my first crevice garden which was removed, with great apology and ritual (and a little bit of cursing) recently.

 Sporobolus cryptandra, or Sand Dropseed, is an elegant and unmistakable plants who, like a custodian to the dirtiness of roadsides, seems to often be the first native perennial to colonise and resolve weedy verges, medians, parkways, and college-rental-houses around here.  I saw it rubbing shoulders with Kocia today all over town on a bike-ride, slowly and politely taking the land back from those tumbleweed hordes.

Sand Dropseed is incredibly xeric and of elegant lines, with a shining straw-blonde colour in winter.

It was the only plant to survive the initial planting of the hot South-face of my unwatered sandstone crevice garden, and even in dry years it is also an unforgivable, aggressive, effective, systemic, psychotic reseeder.  I kept finding its slightly-different green coloured blades among the buffalograss below, as well as sprouting in the middle of prized cushion plants.

And so, my old friend, whom I grew from seed collected from a littered, sunbaked knoll in Denver, whose off-centred suave parted-hairdo aesthetic I've grown to love, was axed (table-knived, actually) from the rock garden last week.

Sentimentally, the dried carcass of the plant was stuffed in a paper bag to dry and shed its fine seeds, which I'll fondly store in the fridge until I can find the right place for this great plant, which might just end up taking in a view of the neighbourhood from my apartment-house roof...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The APEX project, with paths, un-day 16

A small recent return to Denver brings a couple new developments to the APEX crevice garden.
1. It has a path ("Tan breeze" from Pioneer Sand to inquiring minds)
2. Some Sprinklers moved
3. Some places are too dry


The idea behind keeping the stones, gravels, and path in the same brown family is for two reason: to unify the surface colour of the hardscapes and allow to show the form (shape) of the mounds, and to allow the highest colour-contrast to be on behalf of the plants.  Since 90% of the plants will be only a few inches  tall, they need all the help they can get in such a massive area.

2.  Originally, I was told that pop-up MP-rotator irrigation heads would be safe if they were both among the rocks in the beds and imbedded in the path.  The nice irrigation fellas (Singing Hills Landscaping, Aurora, CO) knew better and say that the heads will get detroyed if left at the path level and stepped on over time, so they took on the challenge of re-routing the path-heads and putting those in the stones.  As tight as we arranged the stones, I was dubious how well they could get those heads in there and did not envy the tedious work it'd take to dig under/through our stones.  But they were doing it.

3.  Calling back to the reason that most gardeners in the dry west have not embraced sand as a growing media, some places in the garden became incredibly dry, even in not-too-hot autumn weather.  But I noticed that, unsuprisingly and not disastrously so, the south faces were drying out sooner (which is fine as well as welcome, we expected this microclimate fomation), but to a bad degree in places where the gravel was thin.

Arctostaphylox x miwukka 'Chocolate Drop'
(An Allan Taylor selection)

This is not  shocking, nor the end of the world.  The nice thing is, there is a flexible fix- a person can simply add more gravel to keep it moister longer.  So, in all, I fancy we will have to go back and carefully seek out and address those spots where the gravel setteld away  or were originally applied too thin. Gravel changes two things, which millimeter-for-millimeter, greatly impact the drying-out of soil:

1. Gravel absorbs the sun and does not transfer this heat down to the lower media as badly as open soil.
2. Gravel deflects the wind; protecting the sand from the drying movement of air. (like a wind-jacket or "slicker," as we westerners like to say)

Decreased air movement and decreased heat sounds like the opposite effect of a hairdryer, eh?

So, my worries are calmed by a fact others have long known:
Gravel is not a hairdryer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The APEX project (basically ultimate) day 15

(Note the truck in the garden to the left for scale)

Today saw the last stones placed, the topdressing finished, 

 and the first 29 plants, including Othonna capensis, aka "Little Pickles" in homage to the site and gherkiny spirit of the place.

After dinner, I was aided by Kevin and Kevin.  Kevin of Timberline and Kevin Pykkonen from the Rock garden club, who has been fascinated with Manzanitas in recent years, so here he is with an Arctostaphylos patula getting married to the sweet earth...

We are bareroot-planting everything. Look how long those roots are when teased out of the "ball."   Kevin (the younger) was eager to plant on account of growing many of these plants up form propagules in the nursery and wanting to see how they do in the "real world."  He grows the manzanitas in a higher-perlite mixture, which has been the breakthrough for successful production of these enigmatic things.  We are planting them now because they are in active root growth, therefore fall is a good time to plant.  It's been warm enough the Muhlenbergia are still rooting, too.  

(Secret to timing for planting:  slip a plant out of its pot before planting to see if it is growing new translucent or white root-tips.  If so, it will establish quickly and healthily.  Looking at roots is an unrthodox but totally legitimate thing to do at a nursery to ensure a beautiful looking plant is also doing well below the soil. )

We worked until sunset.  I found myself lingering behind after closing up the fence. I'll be back to tie up loose ends and arrange the path grading/dressing, but this beast, phase one (stone) is essenitally done until early spring's phase 2 (plants plants plants).

I don't have an exact number yet from all the weights of loads of stone, but I know we are near or just under 60 tons, which would potentially and accidentally make this the world's largest crevice garden.  It depends how one measures it- square footage? Square footage excluding path?  Tons of all materials?  (That honour would go to Montreal Botanic) Tons of stone?  The latter is the practical measurement I use in business.

It's been fun. It's been exhausting.  It's begged people to meet eachother who never would have met- and have them work together.  It's asked questions like "How the heck does a person do such-and-such with such-and-such limitations…?" It's exposed weaknesses and strengths of people.  It's helped a few of them pay thier bills; distract them or stimualte them outside of their normal lives.

A friend of mine says that a way we humans find purpose in contributing to something larger than ourselves.  Perhaps.  I'm happy, right now, to be a cog, a component, in a machine like this- a great hulking heap of bafflingly upright stones which beckons exotic plants to lounge like sun-warmed green odalisques, which all consipire to turn a head- pique a nose- toward botanical curiosity.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The APEX project, (penultimate?) day 14

The fifth and last bed, far left, is halfway done.  The stone part of the project will finish tomorrow.  Epic front-range skies all day.

The fifth bed, half done, betrays our process: sunk perimeter stones encircling the sandy mix, which is in turn paved with stone and topdressing.  That's it in a nutshell.  After all the other beds, this one seems a breeze, even with only two of us working on it today.

The first plants- the largest  in the garden and the "accents," Mostly from Timberline Gardens, await planting tomorrow when the stone is done. They will keep guard all winter until 1200 of their friends arrive in spring- 90% of these being buns and cushions: classic and natural crevice species.

You see here: the prized electric Moltkia petrea, Muhlenbergia reverchonii, Juniperus scopulorum 'Woodward,' and 8 different true Manzanitas, who may benefit most from autumn planting. (Arctostaphylos pungens, A. patula, and A. x miwukka.)

Thank you to all who have stopped by to have a look at it in-process and encourage us on.