Friday, December 20, 2013

The Year of the Lecture

(Nasella tenuissima,  Mexican Feather Grass, frames my friend's garden in Denver, CO)

2014 has become the year of the touring botanical lecture for me; I'm lucky enough to be all over North America giving talks.  A nice way to avoid doing actual work.  

Here's a moment to shamelessly announce them if you happen to be in the area.

18 January  Seed Exchange Logistics: Rocky Mountain Chapter of NARGS (at Denver Botanic)
21 January   Lesser-known Hardy Succulents: Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society  (at Denver Botanic)

15 March: Piedmont Chapter of NARGS, Raleigh, NC: (Plant Hunting in the Caucasus)
22 March: Southern Appalachian Chapter of NARGS, Asheville, NC: (Crevice Gardening)

12 June Calgary Rock & Alpine Garden Society (or, I love this: CRAGS!) Calgary, AB

Unexpected Autumn Colours, 2013 edition. In winter.

Owed to the fervent effort of avoiding winter blues and sitting-down activities, a fall colour blog just before Christmas.

Mirabilis multiflora doesn't always do wild things like this.  These are calyxes. (the leafy wrapper of the flower)

Winterfat, Krascheninnikovia lanata lets its old leaves go pink while recent ones, blue-white, will remain for winter.
Krascheninnikovia/ Eurotia/Ceratoides lanata's ("Winterfat" gets to be an appealing name!) fall color is more apparent with the aid of Catalpa leaves...

Ginkgo biloba and Euonymous elata

Ampelopsis brevipundunculata, or Porcelainberry vine to us mere mortals.

Enjoy your winter. 
Or survive it to enjoy the spring, at least.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Two for the Bugs

"Knowing the insects doubles one's gardening pleasure..."

from my friend John, for whom a love of bugs runs in the family.

A honeybee redeems a Goathead/Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) by visiting it.
See, there is a purpose for even the most hated of weeds.
Well, -almost redeems it. We can look at this as lemonade from lemons...

Phiddipus aff. cardinalis.

Aphids on Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosus)

I had read the warning in drip-system books about bugs crawling into things and didn't really think much about it. But I was reminded when these four tragic gals turned out to be the clog in the wand-end rose; these crickets entered from the other end of the tube at the spigot (which I'd taken off and drained as a freeze precaution.) Nice. I must remember to clean out all the nursery's tubes before I turn them on next spring! Lesson: find some sort of cap to put on open hose/tubes.

Leafcutter Bee activity on leaves of Amelanchier alnifolia. Rose leaves are among the more common thin-textured leaves which are used. The philosopher in me really enjoys the fact that there is no real solution to this problem (no sprays, OK?) short of covering your entire shrub/tree with a fine veil of some sort pre-emptively in spring. I've never heard of anyone troubling themselves so much- Gardening should be fun.

And it's fun to look at bugs.

Public Service Announcement #6: Ants Attack Agave.

Bad News. 
But rare news its seems, thankfully; no-one seems to have heard of this, which excites the mission of this blog- to document new things in this universally-widening but often redundant internet.

Extra! Extra! Ants Attacking Agave:

This is either Agave parryi or A. p. neomexicana- I forget- but the bases of its leaves are being consumed by "Pavement Ants" (perhaps Tetramorium caespitosum) under a protective shell of glued-together dirt bits, which they will do when they are ranching aphids on the base of a plant, like strawberries.  I have brushed this shell off a bit to reveal their dirty work! 

Dirt-awning intact.  Seeing this on a plant disturbs me. It always means going to war with friends, a war which generally doesn't really end, but ebb and flow.

The story and my working theory are this:  This Agave is not the only plant being eaten; they are otherwise exemplary newly established plants in a prvate home landscape I made this year in Grand Junction.  A Few months after planting, the plants all grew phenomenally after the monsoon rains, and this is when a Globemallow died out. Upon closer inspection, it had been "girdled" by ants, who had built their dirt-shed around the base of the plant and removed the joicy outer lay of the stems of Sphaeralcea grossularifolia (Globe Mallow), Hymenoxys/Tetraneuris/Haplopappus scaposa (Sunshine Daisy/ Perky-Sue),  Desert four-o-clock (Mirabilis multiflora) and Calylophus hartwegii var. fendleri (Fendler's Sundrops.)   They have so far not touched Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia gradifora), Mohave Sage (Salvia dorrii), Claret Cups (Echinocereus triglochidiatus/mojavensis) nor Saltbush (Atriplex confertifolia)

The landscape has been organic (in the popular sense) so far and has "sustainability" written all over its insides, so I tried "natural" methods: garlic and pepper powders.  The ants, I thnk, rubbed their jointed limbs together and said "Oh, we love Itialian!" and chowed down again.  I tried Cayenne pepper. The bits that did not wash away in the rain were ignored by the ants.  Who kept eating.  I was out of town to re-apply, so the client dumped a fat heap of it down into the rosette, and what appears to have actually stopped the ants was that the rain-wet Cayenne pepper became a hard cake physically keeping them from getting down into it again.  Alas.

My theory is this.  It's pretty weak. Once upon an April, this landscape was short-mowed bermudagrass and weeds, (mostly Kochia and Purslane), and the ants were living there sustaining themselves for years on the mini-ecology of weed parts and bugs that eat the weeds.  This summer, some clever dick with a pickaxe came in, removed the bermuda sod, weeds, most organic material (including surface weeds seeds) , added a thin layer of compost, and a thick layer of pea gravel dotted with native plants.  A real moonscape compared to the dusty jungle of weedy turf the ants had built their empire in.
Having had everything taken away, a sizable population of ants underground became more desperate than normal, forcing them to acquire new tastes, or die.  
 The End.

With the ants brushed away, too, the poor plant's fibers are exposed. This was early on and they returned several times to make it much worse.  I hope it survives the winter.

If you, too have ever seen this, please share, as it seems pretty undocumented.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Plant Probation: Euphorbia rigida

 The Mediterranean Spurge

It's rigid, yep.  Like all its relatives, it bleeds a milky sap to which the majority of humans seem allergic.   Just use gloves.  (A brilliant little blog by Denver Botanic's Panayoti Kelaidis on Euphorbs here.)

So NOTHING eats it.  Rabbits, deer, mice, deermice, giraffes...  Nope.

It looks similar, but it is not at all, in fact, the noxious nasty "Myrtle  Spurge" or "Donkey Tail." Every time I see that someone has transplanted the Myrtle-Spurge as an "heirloom"-style way-easy garden plant, I want to tear it out and secretly replace it...

This lovely cousin is the anchor of my first and puny crevice garden.  It's basically the same size as the garden.  Which is good, becasue it looks awesome absolutely 13 months of the year.

In fact, Euphoribia was quite decorative in the -15F (-25C) realm last winter just days before the cold would turn that Havard's Agave into jelly.  This spurge is tough.

In spring, the flower buds glow cooly.

The ruddy flowers give way quickly to seedpods.  
This year, I discovered why its progeny were on such distant corners of the garden: While planting nearby, I kept feeling pricks against my cheek. Finally, I realised that the air-filled fruit become pressurised by the sun and explode their seed to distant places!

Just when the tired bloomed-out stems of this year finish, A new set of spiny octopus arms has already emerged to replace them looking oceanically regal.  A mass planting of this would look great near a schwanky new building, like so much brushed steel.

BUT- and this is a big but- It is reseeding about the garden, and looking quite nice in form in the dryest and even shadiest of places. Which at once pleases me and scares me.  I am watching you, oh Mediterranean Spurge.  If you are not the next horrendous weed, you are the prettiest dang thing.

Underappreciation Files #5: Night Phloxes.

Well, they may not strictly be night-bloomers. And they are close, but not really phloxes.
Call them "Prickly Phloxes" or scientifically (don't be afraid!) "Leptodactylon," which, if it helps, means "skinny fingers," which is a reference to the leaves, which individually look like a hand of slender pointy fingers.  

For the scientifically/taxonomically inclined, it looks like most species of these (save for L. californicum) have been re-assigned "Linanthus."  Whatever.

They are all from the dry American West, and rarely grown in gardens. There are perhaps half a dozen species, so by numbers it's easy to "collect them all," but by their horticultural scarcity and requirement of a dry garden to prosper, not so easy.

But they are totally worth it, three inches of pure joy.

Leptodactylon (Linanthus) watsonii.  Sold by Aguafria Nursery, I think. Being shy in daytime with its dark-rimmed night-flowers. Look closely and see how the leaves are not single needles as much as a set of needly lobes.

Leptodactylon (Linanthus) pungens, with characteristic "ropey" habit of stems, blooming this spring, not as shy in the daylight, in Rabbit Valley, far Western Colorado.

In a free-draining mix, I have found the seed easy to grow.  Plants are big enough to plant in less than a year, but transplanting seems where they are more fickle: my tests (resulting in the deaths of my beautiful plants) seem to indicate spring planting for these. (Neither summer nor autumn)  They do like crevice gardens. (As many, like L. caespitosum, grow in natural sandstone crevices)
Another fine plant for the parched and dry unwatered rockery.

If you are a collector, grow it!  If you are not, find out how!  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Underappreciation files #4: Torrey's Mormon Tea

I collect mormon teas, aka joint firs.  Plants in the forty-some species-rich genus called "Ephedra" from  pretty much all the major dry places on earth.  From Patagonia to Mongolia to the Sahara Desert to Utah, USA. Look it up if you want to know about some species' medicinal properties and that history, it won't be covered here.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a mormon tea/ joint fire species which never suckered? (The common green Ephedra viridis rarely rarely does, but it can...)  Wouldn't it be nice if it were a shorter, manageable size,  maybe blue or grey or silver instead of green and please- while we are asking- could it not only still be like the best of the Ephedras  which grow in perfect health and quality without irrigation- even in arid climates, and oh-yes, too, while we're at it, we want it to not mind ridiculously heavy clay; Bentonite clay, even.

Done, baby!

(pictured here with Opuntia fruit in foreground)

Enter Torrey's Mormon Tea.  Ephedra torreyana.

It's not a perfect swap, but it could replace the taller, (and more showy, fruit-wise) but potentially ravenously aggressive asian "Bluestem Joint Fir" (Ephedra equisetina) which is nicely common in the trade and eating the corner of a parking lot near you. It shouldn't be shunned, but deserves a place where it is allowed to run like a randy horse.

(Ephedra equisetina, playing the part of Hydra in the Odessey, gobbling up earth and growing back worse each time it's hacked)

Like many (if not most) Mormon Teas and no more than 99.7% of humans, Torrey's Mormon Tea plants are either male or female.  Their flowers get dangerously close to what one might call beautiful in the spring, and the female produces papery cones (as opposed to berry-like cones in other species) in early summer.

(Perfectly grown Ephedra torreyana from Chelsea's)

Problem: almost no one grows this.  That is to say, I think there is literally only one source to buy one on this fair glossy planet (aside from digging a wild one up, which is not recommended for either conservation nor practical reasons) :  Chelsea Nursery near Grand Junction.  I just bought a glorious-fat-healthy-#5-pot Ephedra torreyana from them to plant for a client this week; it did my heart good and got me thinking, with hands in dirt, that there was little info on this plant on the web.  Travesty.

I confess to allowing this underappreciation by not taking more pictures of it; I take it for granted.

A shaggy old wild plant.

Now, the fact that almost no one grows it can be amended easily, since I am pretty sure I collected a fair  full bag of seed this year that needs to find a nurseryman/woman who will convert it into a field of Torrey's Mormon Tea.

Let's poke holes in the curbs to let rain penetrate Box-store parking lots' grave-style shrub-medians and replace the unruly pissed-off Junipers with Ephedra torreyana, whose ultimate size would require less/no pruning.
How many megabajillions of gallons of water per year (that converts to money, dude) could be saved if we did that?

Eh, it's better not to think about it.
But rather to do something about it.

Public Service #5: The Olympic-Dive-Propagation of the Self-Cloning Native Gourd

Cucurbita foetidissima: Buffalo Gourd/Coyote Melon/Calabasilla.

It is well documented that this aggressive perennial native squash-vine can increase its numbers by layering (or "spreading" by "runners") of its long, above-ground stems.  Like a strawberry, but not really.  And meaner.

 Here are some pictures that betray how the plant seems to do this not accidentally (where the stem may touch the ground randomly) but deliberately:  the tip of its long stems make a very purposeful poke into the soil.  Note how this particular shoot's leaves are reduced and there is a nacent root forming before it has reached the actual soil.  I am not sure how the plant determines at what point these growth tips do this: after many feet (6-20' or more) of trailing along the ground like a great crazy snake, it moves in slow-motion-mimicry of a dolfin,  rearing up a bit only to point immediately downward and dive into the surface.

Boom.  More plants.

Here, the tip forces a root into the soil, and the tip turns upward again back to unfurl more leaves, and will form its own new perennial plant if there is enough time before the frost.  A little like a starfish, a little scary.  Brilliant self-cloning technique on behalf of this monster plant, considered a "weed" by some, and "just plain cool" by others that know there is a place for every plant.

Note the small white bump issuing from from bent-angle bit of the stem.

(Plant pictured is in the Cactus"Arboretum" of Timberline Gardens, Arvada.)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Crevice Garden Crazy

I hate cheesy puns in titles, and alliteration.  The tides of trend are strong.

Announcing a small outbreak of Crevice Gardens in Denver.  I think Mike Kintgen said he's put in five at Denver botanic Gardens to date (not just this year). It's a better way of growing plants.

(The Big Crevice Garden at the Entry to Denver Botanic's Rock Alpine Garden, in its second season, thriving. It makes a pretty solid arguement for Crevice Gardens.

(Crevice Trough by Mike Kintgen for Anita Cox)
A crevice trough is excellent for those who aren't ready to commit to a full one or have the space- I have several of these and the crevice environment benefits are the same as a "life size" one.

So far, it's the only way I've succeeded with plants like the Stemless Beardtongue (Penstemon acaulis) and the Rimrock Paintbrush (Castilleja scabrida).  {This one has clay in the crevices} 

I wanted to celebrate three which happened this spring, and make a nod to my friends who let me build them for them.  What they do with plants will be the real show and the great glory in future.  Each  one is so different and very individual: styles are extrapolated from personal preference, site, and existing garden/home.  Such parameters make building one possible.

Linda's vertical red sandstone garden:
She sought something highly dramatic that fits her style of house and garden.  Those highest and most vertical crevices will be harder to plant and maintain, (My go-to is small Sempervivums as pioneers) but they will be quite a statement.

From above.

Her garden is bright, bold, and playful.  It takes one a while to realise how small it is.  I hope the crevice garden does it justice.

Brand-spanking new, still covered in dust.  I can't wait to see how Linda has planted it.

The elegant Anita Cox (and estate supervisor Maggie) in front of her South-African Inspired Crevice-Garden.  She shared with me pictures from a trip she took to South Africa to inform the design.  Some of those stones were a beast to wedge and support into place, but deep and spacious crevices allow for shady, wind-protected spots.  It should be great for true alpines.  

Weighing in as the largest was Lee Ann Huntington's Rockery.  I particularly like how the rocks jump the path, or does the path bisect the outcrop, like a mini roadcut?

Just finished, mid spring.  I wish this were my Mesic rockery. Note the regular stratificaiton interrupted by the terminal face of the feature, a Czech Crevice Garden rule.

 Early summer, planted!  Photo Courtesy of Lee Ann herself.

She's aleady got a fine collection tucked into those hospitable places.  I'm finding that the tighter the spot, the closer to the meeting point of two rocks, the better the plants. Nice work, Lee Ann.

Each gardener was honoured to host a garden tour this spring, the first two by the  Rock Garden Club and the last by the Park Hill Garden Walk: so hopefully, tour-goers were introduced to the wonky and wonderful style of Crevice Gardens with these nacent ones.

Thanks all.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

One for the Bugs

This is one for the bugs.  A most springs has been good for insects, too.  In the past twoo weeks, bugs abound.A post to honour them.
Warning: Photos contain many shots of my unclothed left hand. This is for size.

A Mason Bee, (Osmia sp.)  tries very hard against slippery plastic to stuff "bedding" for its progeny in a screw-shaft.  Hey, it's easier than drilling your own hole.

An accidental hitchiker from a field collecting trip- the desert denizen, dweller-of-under-rocks, Jerusalem Cricket.

Bugs get big in the Desert.

A moth- note its very subtle forest-green flecking between the brown, the same hue as the plastic irrigaiton timer in my nursery.

Larvae of what must become a butterfly, chowing down on Paintbrush:  Castilleja chromosa, on the Uncompahgre plateau.

 Four "bugs" on one flower stalk.  Of the Mustard Dynasty, reigning over the June desert after a good rain, Prine's Plume (Stanley pinnata ) hosted ants who were harvesting nectar from the flowers. (A parastic wasp just crashed into my coffeecup as I write this, and flew away)  I moved in to Poke at a Flower-Spider, clad in the same yellow as the flower and totally invisable.  But note how some buds did not open, but are swelling obesely.  These are a "gall," enclosing a small white grub, who squirmed, annoyed, in the sun when I cut open one of the parastitised buds.
And at the very same time, a true bug (Hemiptera- always have a triangle between their shoulders and include squahbugs, stinkbugs, leafbugs, and box-elder-bugs...) crawled onto my hand wearing that same lemon yellow camouflage.  I wonder if its assymetry is intentional or a defect.

Word of the day:  Glandular.
Here, the sticky, glandular-haired stems of the annual desert Unicorn plant/Devil's Claw/Double Claw  (Proboscidea parviflora) in my nursery attracts and kill gnats, whose carcasses remain on the sticky-hairy stems.

A dinosaur-looking dobsonfly/doodlebug-style creature... Note the oddly long neck for an instect.

Other creatures have made an appearance inside my apartment in larger number- one day: common house flies.  One week: tiny golfball-shaped-boxy-ruddy-beetles with antlers.  There were some in my seed storage box.  Oh dear.  Seeking specifically seeds big enough for them to be emerging from, I failed to find the seed they were attacted to, or more likely, hatching out of. The adults probably lay eggs inside of the flower- the larvae growing up in the ovary simultaneously with the maturing seed, feeding on it, and enjoying the luxury of the hard seedcoat growing around them.  So, instead of morning glories germanting, there are beetles hatching.  Brilliant and beautiful parastism.

I had also experienced zero germination from said Bush Morning Glory (Ipomoea leptophylla) seed this year.  I collected the seed in Las Animas County, CO, last October.

I did not figure out which seed produced them until trying to fall asleep one night, I tracked the sound of their scrambling around in my seed envelopes.

No wonder.
What clean-cut escape trap-doors, eh? 

The "Red Megacerus," weighing in to the mega size of a dried pea: Megacerus discoidus (ID courtesy of Trina with help from the folks at  "Cerus" from "Keros" means horn, in greek, by the way.  "Mega" means big.  Maybe.

At once, I felt helplessly guilty for accidentally allowing some of these Southeast Colorado creatures escape on the Western Slope- until their description notes that they are also parasites to Convuluvulus arvensis- AKA Bindweed!

Godspeed to you, Megacerus!