Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crawling Creatures of Autumn Delight

This post is about low things or great autumn things, and things that are both.
The fetching Townsendia incana, in the Colorado National Monument, in spring. A low plant needing more attention from dry gardeners. Usually found in a few places here-and-there in the Monument, it is having a field day this year and is growing everywhere, probably to blooming its head off in a favourable year for it to resign to a quiet, invisible presence in the wild seed banks.

I really have got a hobby horse about this native roughneck. Distichlis stricta (aka Distichlis spicata ssp. stricta) It is an agressive underground-running sod former who should be used in places just like this spot above- unirrigated and divided from other cultivated beds. In the right place, it could be one of the most useful groundcovers. Pity it is not available. Note how it is crowding off the Weeds to the bottom right, (perhaps Lamb's Quarter and Puncturevine/Goathead: Atriplex hortensis and Tribulus terrestris respectively). It appears to also be left unmowed. I personally like the blonde look it takes on upon cold weather.

Another sod-former often growing alongside the above Inland Saltgrass and acting much the same, this is scratchgrass, or Muhlenbergia asperifolia. The left side has had a mower take out that pink-ground-cloud-of-glory. Fruita, Colorado.
Some ground-dwelling fauna to spice it up. I caught this fella by cornering him with a watering wand in our growing field at the nursery. It was nice to personally meet the enterprising fellow who will excavate and destroy the roots of a speckling of plants in their containers. I thought he might be our usual suspect, a vole, but he looks more mousy.

Little Bluestem at its most colourful. I invite the reader to count and note how many entirely different and un-subtle colours there are. The plant will all go to a pinky/rusty/ruddy colour in a few weeks, which is how it will remain all winter until new, blue or purple stems grow in late spring.
The same colours in a sunset. Nature has agreed on an autumn palette, I see.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Desert Crevice Garden

In a brief visit back to Grand Junction, I built a small experimental rockery. Using local stone and inspired by local formations. It is basically a re-build of an accidental miniature rock garden that accidentally succeeded in that location.
This is one of my favourite natural sandstone outcrops near town, halfway up Mt. Garfield. Note the interaction of soil and rock, and location of plants. Naturally artistically composed.
I love this look.
Natural desert Crevice Garden. Hedgehog/Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) Somewhere near the mouth of Ute Canyon. I think this proves that a desert crevice garden is feasible. Those cactus seem to be liking where they live.
A view from the street. There are extraneous temporary rocks on either end that are intended to keep frequent neighbourhood dogs from trampling surrounding plants when they are young; but they will stand on their own once established. I assumed this was no great place for a rock garden until I realised that flowers had indeed succeeded there, much by accident, as the tree matured and shaded more of the area. It does get full hot south sun in spring and fall, as well as some four-plus hours each afternoon. This was enough to grow some old Veronica, emaciated Zauschneria, a colony of Fritillaria uva-vulpis and a Helianthemum in dry shade in clay. Often, I think that stressful dryness keeps otherwise sun-loving plants from becoming leggy and tender in the shade.

Only one wheelbarrow of soil was added for height, and as one can see, it is rock-intensive; in the style trying to appear as an eroded outcropping. Stones divert water to the cracks between, where it is trapped and cooled under the stones. Young plants are forced to grow deep roots to bypass the stones before they spread out and will likely subtend and embrace the bottoms of said stones.

Artistically, drab sandstone was chosen to reinforce that they are each simply components that form a whole, and are meant to be visually submissive to the interesting and often loudly spiky plants.

It is a small stretch of only some eight feet, and I fancy I shall add a couple outlying and small stones to make more unity between the rock mound and the flat surrounding soil itself. ( I also just picture another nice fat Rosemary just behind to give some taller shrubby mass to relate down to the rock mound...) I know that should the Agaves favour this position and grow into it, they will overwhelm and hide their nearest rocks, and that is just dandy! (note, too, that the blue monster to the left is not, indeed, the beastly noxious Myrtle Spurge, but the Mediterranean stiff spurge, Euphorbia rigida. It was planted in that corner this spring and was luxuriously successful, beckoning the construction of a larger rock feature)

Stay tuned to see how on earth one can relate and reconcile the divergent styles of an ivy-mulched (read: evergreen and lush-looking) dry-shade near-buried basalt-boulder rock-garden swath nearer the house with a grassy, sagey, sandstone rock garden. I myself shall be interested to see how it is done.

This rockery is actually just an outlier itself, and will compliment a larger rock garden across the driveway which is still under construction, which waits for the builder's energy to be enough to handle its several-hundred pound components once again.

And one last picture to justify my design!:

Somewhere near Monument Canyon, Mesa County. Maybe.

"Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal..."
T. S. Elliot, Maybe.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Colorado Day; August First.

August 1
is the 135th Anniversary of Colorado joining the union as a State.
And what a fine state it is. 'Tis a privilege...
Corydalis aurea is a Colorado native yellow bleeding heart. I'm pretty charmed by them. (not too far from Fairplay, Colorado. )

Looking East from partway up the side of Mt. Sheridan, which is shoulder-to-shoulder with the more famous Mt. Sherman (a 14-er) to the North.

At the top of Mt. Sheridan before I did that thing that all mountaineering books spend their introductions warning you about: getting caught on a peak in an afternoon lighting storm. I often hope mother does not read this blog.
The treat of 12 thousand feet elevation: Alpine forget-me-not: Eritrichium aretioides.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Small and New Horizons

Expect to see more Nananthus transvaalensis in gardens and about in future. I am currently in love: I find that this one doesn't need fancy dinners out, cute chocolate/gifts, nor have I heard it ask to borrow one's letter-jacket. Just an occasional splash of water and well-drained soil.

New Digs: Pots for Hope

(As a short personal note: I have started work for the unsurpassed Timberline Gardens in Arvada, Colorado; managing perennials. I feel I should be given a degree after everything I'm learning from this work. I certainly have a better headache at the end of each day than all those times I "crammed" in college.)

My job at Timberline is gardening en masse, and all in pots- thousands of them. Keeping the plant ready to deliver to garden all over the front range and beyond.

My trouble at home is that I am not yet landed enough to have land.

A gardener finding himself maniacally without an actual garden, I have been humbled to explore the advantages and limitations of the humble pot. It is a great and terrible thing, keeping a plant in a container. While I suffer from my trials and error and error and error on my fine Balcony "Garden" with everything from peas to Cholla cactus, I want to share some pictures from around everywhere meant to inspire the user of the potted plant.

It's really all about the ground not being right (or maybe existent) for the plant, or the plant not being right for the ground (or hardy - like a tropical this-and-that in a cold-winter place). So we improvise, with pots.

The ingenious lemons-to-lemonade treatment of a broken terra cotta pot by a late Victorian Alpine Enthusiast.
A memory that inspires me perhaps more than any that I can indeed garden, even if my garden are spread far from my dwelling. This, above, is part of my buddy Zhiro's Tulip collection on top of his grand parent's garage roof in Armenia. (The white veil keeps extra-special plants protected from well-meaning bees who may carry virus.)

Even in the confines of a soilless courtyard-neighbourhood in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, a housewife has a tinket collection of doorstep plants.

Another one in Georgia- probably Batumi. Even I've fallen to the simple charms and promise of eternal flowering from a potted Zonal Geranium (Pelargonium)

Someone, or a couple someones, who have by far less balcony (and sunlight) than I do. Somewhere in London.

Home sweet boat. Nothing beats a fresh BLT. On the water. Lincoln, UK. I didn't check to see if it had an appropriate bumper sticker that read "My other boat is a bike."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sexy Sedum spathulifolium

A quick pin-up for plant lovers out there.

This little hottie gets around. It's strictly a west-coast plant, but can be seen from California to British Columbia, and most of the time as a beach bum. Above, it sunbathes (And what a nice two-tone tan!) in the mild light on an oceanside rock outside of charming Nanaimo, BC.

There are a few variations/cultivars around, but all of this species is good-looking. Above, you can see the skeleton of last year's romantic fling (a dried flower stalk, as some would call it) above the supple new stem of tryst-to-be. The second and third/last pictures were taken on the mossy cliffs on Vancouver Island. Yet again, I saw it growing in the mist issuing from a waterfall in Oregon's Silver Falls State Park. Although in cultivation, we don't have to grow it next to the soap dish in the shower. I'm pushing it in a pot outside here in Denver, where it squints perturbedly up at me, stressed and cold, just surviving our winter but promising to grow back come spring. One last picture this creature that gets cat-calls from me every time. Oh, you could just squeeze those lovely pudgy leaves!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Eco-Tourism and my friends in Georgia (the Country)

I'm thinking of my time last year back in Georgia- sweet Sakartvelo (as it is known to Georgians themselves). Georgia holds a great collection of the world's oldest hilltop churches and hillside monasteries- these things are the top human symbol of Georgia to me.

Mountains bejeweled with special plants is the natural image.

Dr. Shamil Shetekauri (in red, between his incredibly professional drivers Valeri and Valiko) is a botanist, working for Tbilisi's Botanic Gardens and University. Not only does he know his plants, he cares about them and knows them intimately in their native haunts in the Caucasus.

(Gentiana verna var. angulosa: please note the incredible darker blue edging)

An Armenian friend of mine says that "Caucasians know how to make diverse incomes for themselves." I assume that this is true for Mr. Shamil and his business. He puts his knowledge to work and takes international naturalists on bus tours and hikes through Georgia, taking them strait to the best and most beautiful about his country's wilderness.

What is lovely about eco-tourism is that it puts economic value on biodiversity in places where biodiversity may be incredibly rich but incredibly threatened. The reason is simple: The world's folks are just more interested in feeding their children than the length of the list of endemics in their country. I don't blame them.

Ecotourism, as small or as large as it may be in any given area, is a beautiful solution to this. Beautiful.

But speaking of children, I must write about Shamil's sons. Gaga proved to be the official sales rep for Dr. Shetekauri's book on Caucasian plants. Then there is Tolkha. (Above: presiding over a lunchtime picnic spread for a group of visiting flower fanatics such as myself) He and I got be be friends. I admire him. He puts american kids his age to shame. He is quiet, not a whiner, and is studying Botany to follow his father, while working hard on the side in practice as translator and a very professional tour guide the family business' tour groups. Add German and English to his pursuits and you've got an exemplary teenager. He is already quite familiar with much of the country's flora and carries a certain peace and humility about him (rare in young people) that looks quite right with a backdrop of verdant steep Georgian mountainsides.

He taught me much, inadvertantly, about Georgian people and flowers. I think so warmly of him and cannot wait to go hiking with him again someday; I expect we both will have grown much by then.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Interview with Crispleaf Buckwheat

KS: So, Eriogonum corymbosum, or Crispleaf Buckwheat- what would you like me to call you?
EC: Well, friends call me E. corymbosum; I'm mostly known in specialised circles, where they know me by my latin name, but if I find myself on a larger stage, perhaps the public will get tongue-tied and call me -maybe just as hard to say anyway...

KS: Could you introduce Eriogonums in general to readers who may not know about them?
EC: Yeah, sure. We are all North American and major players in the floras of the West. We are among other international "Buckwheats," like the famous fellow who is cultivated argiculturally...

KS: Yes, right...
EC: ..."but we are shrubby little tough plants that do a lot of work out there in terms of diversity and colour in the North American landscape. I'm excited because in recent years, we've gotten some press from the xeric people and native folks. In fact, last year saw the formation of the Eriogonum Society.(
We're a motley crew, all performing at different things- oh golly, I just love Eriogonum caespitosum's subtle approach to size and use of whitish leaves, she's so great at that- you should go out and see her if you can. My colleagues are all totally fabulous, but I've got to thank Eriogoum umbellatum, gosh, he's be so busy, he's even worked for Plant Select, and has a bunch of cultivars out there, my favourite being those that are bright carmine all winter. His work is getting us more known out there...
KS: Yeah, let me put up a photo for viewes.
EC: Ah, wonderful. Oh, look at him in the snow. Nice.

KS: Indeed, that is actually why I'm interviewing you now out of season- because of what you are doing now, but before that, can you comment on your general work and past summer projects?
EC: Yeah. Well, I'm a not-too well known and taller species of Eriogonum, I'm in the Southwest and Wyoming. I do a nice big cloud of clear to pinkish white flowers (you can check me out on USDA plants) off of leaves that are special- sort of multi-layered surface interest. In Utah, I've got some nice yellow-flowered populations. I prefer more barren places and rocky infertile hillsides where some colourful shrubs are needed. In cultivation, critics say I'm slow growing, but we're working on that despite the fact that that is a totally unfair judgement in a category Americans are just way too caught up on, if you ask me. My contributions are more sophisticated (no offense to the Petunias and Pansies, they have their place) and work well within the sort of rustic gardens and multi-season perennials, but our main goals are sustainability using a cast of local characters. I don't think I'm limited to the sort of harsh twiggy sagebrush gardens, myself, because my current display is adaptable: glowing masses of ruddy remnants of the past season that really catch the light. Anyway, My show in Colorado is on the Western Slope- I'm in the Colorado National Monument...

KS: Congratulations- yeah, I think I saw you there. (Here's a shot for readers). You were quite orange, my favourite. And you did that with an incredibly nasty bentonite slope to work with.
EC: Thanks, yes, that was a sort of monologue where I was at my most raw. some folks will appreciate that. In gardens, I'm more showy, for sure, like in the CSU extension's garden in Grand Junction next to the Fairgrounds- definitely a great production and one of the finest secrets over there-
-Just an absolutely fabulous desert garden that really does deserve more attention. My thanks to Don Campbell and his crew for putting us all together for that spectacular exhibit. Can you put up a general slide of that one for folks?
KS: Sure, here.
The Joshua tree, aka Yucca brevifolia, suprises everyone.

EC: Oh, yes, and there I am between the Chollas. This is where my warmer, softer character works as a good foil to their strong personalities. Plus: white and red, I have always thought, are very classy.

But I am also at Chelsea Nursery (one of my best producers- thank you guys so much!).

Yes, here you can see me with the Blue Avena Grass backing up this wonderfully rusty chair. see, it's that kind of aesthetic I am good with. Some folks just don't see it. If everything isn't a background of turf-green, or they don't see bright pink and other pop junk they are used to, they find it easy to completely overlook our art, but we are working on that.

KS: Right, so just what do you fancy is in store for your future?
EC: Well, I think that the Eriogonum Society betrays that there is a growing interest and growing work on our genus by very capable people- so I am hoping that I will get the attention to be improved to the point that I'd be useful and ready to be cast in the cutting edge of dry-land gardening, because it is work I know well and I think I present some significant contributions- we've got to connect the good actors with the public, but we have to educate them to make that transition happen. Yeah, I think that in time I could be more of a household name, at least among gardeners, but all that depends on the success of the dry and native garden movements as a whole.

KS: Let's hope.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Love

Some two-hundred seed pots under lights this winter keep me out of one trouble and into others.
The number of proper winter days we've seen so far in Denver are countable on one human hand. The rest have been warm and most of them sunny. I am growing veg in pots that come off the balcony and indoors overnight (but I am recently questioning if bringing them in is even necessary most of the time.) The veg seedlings are officially one month old now- they have grown considerably in the few days between to-day and the above picture.

Oxalis versicolor (growing in Timberline Nursery) makes a super kitchen-windowsill denizen (because its flowers will look out the window, turning their backs to you while you, who is washing your dishes and inexplicably find yourself craving a candy cane.
But some things are properly beautiful being alseep right now.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Steadfast Garden Presence

Galanthus elwesii has been the best performer of three or so species I've tried in the general long run for gardens. It is bigger, earlier, and prettier, ( in my opinion) than G. nivalis (common) or G. ikariae at my old garden in Grand Junction. Also more rugged to mistreatment.
I have found that one of the several better patches of it try to bloom in the middle of winter rather than at the end, and this is one of those. The day after the photo, snow finalyl came to Colorado lowlands, and stayed.

Bird's Eye view of part of my first garden. Now that it has had a few years to settle in and fill in, I feel it is time to rip up a part of it whose design I've never liked. I'm so fickle. Just enjoy the different colours in the winter.
Bergenia cordata hybrid. It always signs up for bold evergreen burgundy presence. A commonly available plant that ought to be thought of more for that characteristic.
A new Fargesia nitida and a bird-donated in-situ Mahonia sp. seedling. Both keep the garden's foot in the door so that it does not become invisible in winter. Sometimes I really appreciate the help they lend. The leaves of the Mahonia ("Oregon Grape") are so very nice backlit with winter's low sun, and will go back to dark green right after they have complimented the daffodils. Any design subtleties are accidental for me. Like I wrote, sometimes I really appreciate their (the plant's) work. For instance...

My Oregon grape gets me all New-Year Sentimental: This is what the Mahonia (before you get too attached to calling them Oregon Grape) in Southern India's high mountains are doing in winter; photo taken almost exactly a year ago. Mahonia nepalensis.

If it weren't for simple plants like these, I would be tempted to go indoors, go into a nice little clinical depression, and write off the idea of being outdoors when winter comes in earnest. Fancy that.