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?"


1 comment:

David Cristiani said...

Years ago I visited Annie's Annuals in the SF Bay Area, such a clever nursery right down to the 70's music and a bubble machine going full-bore into the rows of plants for sale. No nursery-lame there. They would answer your last question well, I think!