Thursday, April 22, 2010

Veteran Rockstar

(Penstemon arenicola. I want this plant. Badly.)

Of the Mad Making of Minatures:
John Stireman is no stranger to the Rock Garden world; you will find his photos on the NARGS website.

(Phlox hoodii, clearly not happy in a trough and thereby crawling out...)

I learned a great deal from this veteran plant grower. He sent me home with plants (all of which are still alive, which is not true of an equal number of commercially-acquired plants at the same time...)
(Arabis drabaformis. I also want this plant!)

He and his wife entertain a front yard and most of a back yard full of rock garden plants. He also has an expertly self-excecuted sunken greenhouse in which he propagates and grows his tender mostly-African creatures. (I mean plants) One of his current projects is hybridising Alionopsis.

Tender African succulent seedlings in his greenhouse.

Tulipa linifolia.

Hike up Mount Tzoulahem and a Walk in the Preserve

Calypso bulbosa

Tzoulahem is a small mountain, really just a very steep big hill up from Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island. It was a short hike, but I'm going to play it up like it was everest. There certainly was nice plant life, and if it impresses the reader more, I will admit that I deviated from the trail, as I often do, early on and followed game trails.

The fine Pacific Northwest native, Sedum spathulifolium. I've seen it on rocks on beaches, waterfalls, and mountainous crags in BC, WA, and OR. It has potential for turqoise-on-red colour combinations. Grow it in your garden.
The uiquitous skunk cabbage. Lysichiton americanum. We also call members of the Veratrum genus, a mountain-meadow dweller of the world, "Skunk cabbage."

Dodecatheon hendersonii (thanks to Gordon for the ID)

Let's play a game: spot that Fritillary. I took this picture for that purpose, now i cannot even see it myself. But that day it revealed itself...
The bashful Fritillaria affinis, Ricegrain Fritillary.
Let's see that one inside.

I almost didn't include the Madrone, Arbutus menziesii. Pictures rarely capture the majesty of these smooth-skinned elegances. At least, mine don't.
To prime our taste for orchids, here is a nice strong-netted-vein specimen of Goodyera, or the "Rattlesnake Plantain." I think this is G. oblongifolia, but that is a guess.
On this hike I saw my first Calypso bulbosa. A special beauty who, I found that day, has a fragrance exactly like a rose- the only time I've seen, or rather, smelled this phenomena.

More New Blood/ Old Rocks

It's nice to come home and re-examine it after being away. I went to Denver Botanic to-day. The garden was dancing a slow salsa to the music of spring, and was full of whom I assume were art school students, sketching and studying the new Henry Moore sculpture exhibit throughout the gardens. Some of the world's finest figurative scultpure. And fine plants. There were already Helianthemums in bloom in the warmest part of the rockery.

DBG's award-winning rockery is thirty years old exactly and about an acre to hold about two thousand plants, within a particularly topographical arrangement of rocks. I love this kind of garden. This one is ideal. The garden's curator, Mike Kintgen, says: "We're keeping a scientific collection alive." Music to my ears.

The garden was built up with Owl Creek limestone, and this great just-leafing-out specimen was an original native plant growing in the rock when harvested. (Cercocarpus montanus, Mountain Mahogany)

The garden receives minimum water- which varies dramatically depending on plant material, base soil, and the mood of the irrigation system at the time. Mike calls watering in general a "tricky thing." Three of its gardens are not irrigated (except for establishment waterings, of course). He notes how, unsurprisingly, the clay-soil gardens retain water by far better. Folks, stop complaining about your clay already and realise how good it is for you. Just don't eat it.

The above garden is sort of a jewel-box of non-xeric plants, so it obviously gets more water than the rest. Mike has found that of the Corydalis, C. ochroleuca is the most drought-tolerant. I failed to get a shot of it.

Iris henryi is a splendid tiny plant with petals that make paper seem rugged.

A plant I've had the pleasure of growing- Seslera huefleriana (Blue-Green Moorgrass, or Balkan Moorgrass)

Cyclamen time. This is C. pseudibericum

(A Kintgen collection- Erinaceae anthyllis from Morocco, which will have sone nice lavendar-purple flowers, even, perhaps, as it cowers under this desirable Verbascum.)

Mike is pretty amazing- a fine plantsman who has collected plants in Morocco. He does a solid job at maintaining the garden that will be on everyone's agenda at the North American Rock Garden Society's annual meeting this summer in Denver. And he's 28. It's nice to meet younger folk in our trade, we both agreed.

Which brings up the topic that has sprung up lately: what of the fact that at club and society meetings for any particular plant geekdom (Orchids, African violets, Rock Gardens, Cactus...) one sees 90% grey hair? (Let's be honest now, and don't forget that grey is "distinguished," eh?) Some folks have fears that lovers of plants are on the decline and will be dying out. Yikes, eh?

Mike says he likes to think positively: "I can't think about the end of horticulture."

The going theory I hear and agree with is that members of the-first-half-of-life are too distracted with unimportant things like child rearing and life to have time to get gardening and find themselves entwined in a ridiculous affair with green things, symptoms including a small but packed greenhouse in the back yard and a front yard without turf. My succulent-collecting friend, who is good at growing both kids and plants says "Growing succulents is so much fun, I don't know why more people don't do it." Yeah. I wonder the same thing all the time.

But truly, I wonder what the demography was of the plant-oriented societies back in the day. Any kind of society, Say 1950. Say 1850. I always picture land-holding British rich-guys or retired professors populating those old clubs, but that is my imagination. Were there any youth? If there were not, an if my pipe-smoking image is correct, then young blood is on the rise.

New Blood

I met Gorgon Mackay, Sonia Ottosen, and their two boys, accidentally at Mt. Tehoma Nursery outside of Seattle. They are starting a new Nursery: "Alba Plants: Gems for the Rock Garden" in Cowichan Bay, under an hour north of Victoria, British Columbia.
"Alba" may mean "white" in scientific nomenclature, but for Gordon, it is from Gaelic for Scotland, his homeland. They took care of me my last day and a half on the island.

Making a quick nod (or shameless explanation) of the title of this, mention is made when someone under the age of fifty is interested in Rock Gardens, and that goes for all sorts of other specific horticultural following like Orchid collecting, Cactus and Succulents, et cetera. And thus fellow "Young People" in our trade make a surprised and refreshing instant kinship.

Isn't their alpine house sweet?

That's his aptly-named Ceanothus pumilus,
"pumilus/pumila" meaning "dwarf." It and that rock seem to be getting along pretty well.

And here, the kind-looking Fritillaria pontica, one of my home favourites.
Let's have a closer shot of that one. Yes.

It shares those nectar-target-for-pollinators spot with the more well-known Frit. imperialis

Yes. Give up your pretentiously showy Petunias and move on to some classy subtle Frits.

More argument is Frit. pyreniaca

I get lost is that interior tesselation. And look at the buds, eh?

Gordon is particularly fond of Salix, {Willows} which, can, in fact, be rather diminuative, like Salix yezoalpina from Northern Japan. Other small trees, but with small leaves, he offers for use as bonsai.


Here we have a super layout of Ceanothus pumilus, Fritillaria pyreniaca, Juniperus communis ssp. saxatilis 'Crowsnest Pass,' Erigeron trifidus, Narcissus 'Golden Bells' and Chiastophyllum oppositifolium 'Variegatum' peeking out from under the latter. Looking closely, you will find the dear little Hosta 'Cherish.'He also fancies peonies. This is Paeonia mlokosewitschii, affectionately known to the formerly tongue-tied as "Molly the Witch." I am hoping to see this one haunting its native hills in the Caucasus very soon.

When I arrived, his boys were at the road selling rhubarb. Looking here, it looks like they will be at the road later this summer selling Figs.

Yes, bring on more plant porn. Thank you. Iris-whatsit (was it I. setosa?) has fun rhizomes that buck out of the soil.

Dear fellow.

Gordon introduced me to his buddy, Paul Sprigg, a native of Victoria. Paul has a seven-man crew {including himself, and his wife, bookkeepingm, make eight} that gardens in the city. His front home-rockery is pictured above. Note the severe lack of colour in the area...

I'm going to keep taking pictures of T. linifolia until it kills me. It could happen.
Both Gordon and Paul are students, if you will, of the great Zdeněk Zvolánek, of Victoria, Canada and Prague, C.R. (That's the Czech Republic.) He writes books on the subject of Rock gardening and some individual plants, including Daphnes, and is considered an authority on Czech-style rock gardens. I want to see his garden next time...
I'm very attracted to this dense-plant material style planting, in which solid clumpers stand out from speading whispy things. It is very much seen in nature and hardly seen in gardens. I also approve of that Iris, mmm.Genius. Here, the Czech style is as obvious as a lightning storm, and he's artfully jammed a party of Primula on this horizontal-curving-curving-to-vertical area. They are all different species save for three, he said.

We plant people are very stoical, and never get excited. Paul.

What gets us going are things like white forms of a happy old Penstemon davidsonii
P. davidsonii is rather the straw that fed the camel, who got in his truck and drove from Colorado to Canada to look at flowers. Some time ago, I, the metaphorical camel, was enjoying the University of British Columbia's Botanical E-mail Photo of the Day, and was a straw away from falling out of my chair at a picture of P. davidsonii praeteritus. It is under snow in its home places at present, and I was suprised to hear that it is found on Vancouver Island's high places. I was not finished with this species, the grail (big fat excuse to myself) of my pilgrimage...

My Colorado breeding prevents me from posting this until I put in one more picture with rocks in it.