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.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Fresh Things: In Nature

Actostaphylos patula.
The Greenleaf Manzanita, 7700 feet up (2300m). Southwest of Grand Junction, Colorado, USA
A particularly dark pink plant. 

I have never seem them bloom so heavily in my life.

Not too far away, Colorado's highest-elevation cactus (as far as I know) is the Mountain Ball, or Pediocactus simpsonii, which here is just shy of basketball size, adding "grandma's house" fragrance to the air, Allen (background) noted.

It's worth risking a little prickle to your nose to experience the fragrance.

A new plant to me, the first flowers mere millimeters wide following snowmelt in the Flat Tops area of Northwest Colorado, is the carrot-family's Orogenia linearifolia.  It has a little not-even pingpong ball sized corm giving it the "Indian Potato" moniker. 

It's special because it is literally the first and only flower right now in bloom at mid-high elevation, patiently getting buried in intermittent, melting, spring snows.

A strange, whole-leafed form. (Usually, Orogenia linearifolia has split, thin leaflets which cluster, looking like a tony tuft of grass. Note the charming leaflike-sheath below it all which enclosed and protected everything as the plant waited, mostly grown but hiding in that sheath ready to unfurl as the wildernesses real first flower, content with gentle flies for pollinators.  "Often overlooked..." According to Ackerfield.  I can see why.  It's not half an inch (12mm) tall.

Fresh Things: In Gardens

My granite crevice garden with golden-groove bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) in the background, which in its yearly ugliness in this climate, begs me to finally tear it all out.

Crevice Gardens are starting to peak in bloom, like mine here, which is probably why the International Rock Gardening Conference is about to happen Wednesday in Prague. Oh, I'l be there, yes, thanks to Denver's Rock Garden Club: RMC-NARGS, who graciously sponsored my trip and for whom I'll be reporting everything I dig up.  Just the best crevice gardens on the planet will be on show, that's all, and the world's finest plant-collecting talent will be presenting programs.

Stay tuned for  updates this week as Paul Spriggs and I dig deep into Czech rock garden history and pick every rock garden innovator's brain for every trick they have.

Iris acutiloba ssp. lineolata.  These things always bloom when I'm out of town.  So I schedule a trip, then go a day later so as to catch them in bloom the day I leave...  It and its onco iris kin are the reason for the crevice garden's construction, and luckily they like it.  Next door to it is a native mint shrub:  Monardella odoratissima, and it grows in the West Elks in Colorado (where I probably got my seed) and in the La Sals, which are the backdrop to Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah.

An old friend.  Or foe. "Frenemy" as we millenials say. An aggressive friend. Colorado native skullcap, Scutellaria britonii, is an shameless underground spreader and must either be put in check every spring it shows up everywhere or planted in a place where it can go nuts.  Think 4-7 feet (1-2m) expansion underground per year.  It gives spring weeds like Dandelions something to contend with; I am trying it as an underplanting for warm season clump grasses.  It goes dormant soon after blooming.  You should see the piles of pearl-necklace like underground rhizomes.

New to me, and an exciting Southwestern US native which not only seems small enough for a rock garden, even crevice garden (said to be a limestone chasmophyte in nature) but is red!   Salvia henryi,   grown from Alplains (NM) seed, has been super easy to germinate and grow in the home nursery. I'm excited to try it in the ground; I think it will nicely replace the habit of Verbascum rupestre  which had to be kicked out of the garden for its terrifically agressive reseeding.  Except this is red!  Red!  

Many people have asked if Joshuatrees would grow here in Grand Junction, CO. (Yucca brevifolia) Here is the answer: seed-grown plants ( I think young is the key- most transplants fail) by Don Campbell are about 12 years old and taking on real character, several feet taller than a person now.  CSU extension office demonstration gardens, at the Mesa County Fairgrounds- this is the Cactus Club's section.

It's amazing how natives quickly fill the niches weeds had.  Oenothera caespitosa and Sphaeralcea munroana take to the cracks!

Spring number two, the radio station garden is filling in nicely.  Stanleya pinnata (yellow) does most of its growth in very early spring for a big brassicaceous romp in Late April/May- the desert US answere to Asia's Eremurus. The Penstemon eatonii, perhaps thanks to a snowy winter (read: well charged soil) has reseeded madly, and we're not stopping it.  Next year will be a firestorm.

In the ongoing quest to find the perfect way to grow Paintbrush (Castilleja), here is Castilleja integra  planted with two plants as hosts: Penstemon secundiflorus (which can be short-lived) and Echinocereus triglochidiatus/mojavensis (Which is long-lived - the Claret Cup Cactus).  My feeling is that the best host is a strong host; for Castilleja  seems capable of killing weak plants.  Now, I favor small, established shrubs like Black Sagebrush, Artemisia (tridentata v.) nova, Yucca sp, Agave, et cetera.  In a perfect world, you will plant a new Castilleja  with it's roots touching a healthy plant which has been there and established for a few years.  It's working.

Penstemon acaulis, luckily two plants here, promises good seed this year.  I pray it doesn't spill away before I get home to collect it.  A testament to the efficacy of the clay- laced crevice.