Saturday, August 26, 2017

A walk on the beach with Ian Young

Ian Young with Mutisia sp.

Any readers who are serious flower-bulb enthusiasts know Ian already from his weekly, long-running (about 15 years), internationally followed, Bulb Log, hosted by the Scottish Rock Garden Society Website.  He particularly specializes in Erythroniums, (dogtooth violets/glacier lilies) like this one:

Erythronium grandiflorum I saw a few weeks ago in the Maroon Bells back home in Colorado.

He's written a very thorough e-book on them, too, which you are probably aware of if you love those plants. (Downloadable from the SRGC homepage in the righthand column.  What a deal!)

Ian's other half is Maggi (Queen of the SRGC in my mind- she has singlehandedly promoted rock gardening so widely on the web; she's responsible for connecting hundreds of rock gardeners through any method she can).  There was unanimous agreement in Prague this spring that the Czech conference was very internationally attended thanks to her efforts promoting it online.

She edits and organizes a periodical which is very much the future of rock garden digests: all-free,  all-international, and all-online: the IRG or International Rock Gardener.

But for years and years, many will know her from the SRGC's online forum, where some of the deepest knowledge of rock gardening is shared and stored for the world to see.

It was a total treat to spend so much time with Maggi and Ian Young.  Ian took us out to Stonehaven, where I got to learn about his philosophy of gardening and source of inspiration for both gardening and art-making (he is a painter/collage/sculptor)

The Young's Garden, Aberdeen.

Aesthetically,  the Youngs are inspired by all the places they have been and read about, but nearby nature always takes a top seat in informing the look of the garden.

He took us to ancient sandstone layers, which are actually tilted to 90 degrees the way the czech style does crevices.  This was the first time I'd seen natural, perfect, 90-degree orientation.  Were they in the mountians? The Alpine? No. The beach.

Ian looks at Gardening as "habitat manipulaiton." Build it and they will grow. What you build to accommodate the plant is everything. Understanding what to build and how to do it is key.
Each of the troughs in the garden (which are styrofoam veneered in concrete, looking very, very, convincingly of stone! One gardener credits him with inventing this now well-known technique) is an experiement in habitat.  A different soil, and different rock, and some seeds sprinkled. The plants grow, or don't, and move, or don't, and inform the gardener of what is really going on.

Another great Ian-ism, which he employs by growing Erythronium form seed is  "Climate shifting," in successive generations of seed-grown plants are grown in the garden, and each time they get easier to cultivate as the genetics conform to the environment, and tend to move away from the specific wild needs they have and adapt to the garden habitat.  This stresses the need for home gardeners to grow their own plants from seed, to share seed, and collect seed.  It's a habit built into rock gardening culture, and it has made many kinds of previously impossible plants more growable for more people.  It's accidental breeding if you want to look at it that way.

America's own John Stireman has been doing this with African mesembs, and I have experienced first hand the toughness and survival of his many-generations-in-utah Aloinopsis spathulata compared to plants grown in a nursery from wild or greenhouse seed, especially at APEX, where a nasty winter killed of literally all the commercial plants and spared his.

All over Scotland, we see fireweed, of "Willow-herb" here, or Epilobium angustifolium, which is an american plant which is an invasive weed here.  Ever feel that we've been done wrong by foreign plants like mediterranean goat'shead, or Siberian Elm? Well, it works both (every) ways.

Back to Rock Gardening.  How about the natural rock outcrops in the moors of the Highlands?  Positively blanketed in purple heather (Erica carnea) these places are obvious sources of inspiration for Scottish rock gardeners, but there may be more alpine plants and more inspiration in walks along the ocean.
We have Armeria maritima in Colorado's Mountains, but here is where it got its name, from the cliffs to just above the tide-pools of Europe.

"I go more and more native all the time... I'm more informed by this (wild rock features and plants) than any garden." - Ian Young.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What have I got to do to get some good tea?

"What is the summer in Scotland like?"


We'll soon find out!
The Scottish Rock Garden Club may have one of the most serious, hardcore plant-worshipping magazines I've ever seen, and some of my favorite rock garden gems came from the SRGC's massive, exceptionally rich Seed Exchange.  I finally get to get closer to this amazing group with the aid of a grant from Diana Aitchison Fund, which is designed to connect young people to rock gardening.  Tori and I will be touring Scotland and the UK the rest of August for me to give a couple talks (the Dunblane Summer Event, Aug 19th) and to interview gardeners to document what is going on in rock gardening there today- especially, of course, Crevice Gardening.

There are still important questions to ask- like the continuing: What is universal about crevice gardens world wide?

(Ian Young, of Aberdeen, at the Prague rock garden conference.)

I've already been lucky enough to meet some of the folks in the club, who have invited us to visit.

My friend Nick, curator at the Betty Ford Alpine gardens, traveled there in 2015 to research tufa beds; knowledge we put to use building those in the alpine house there now.

I look forward to having my head stuffed with great knowledge from these marvelous people, and endeavor to share it here.  And both of us are looking forward to trying out  a bit of Scottish Mountain Biking!

Oh yes, and tea.

A Crevice Garden in Wyoming

Cheyenne Botanic is finishing up work on one of the most beautiful conservatories I've ever seen.  It's three stories are clad in state-of-the-art hail-proof glass for those golfball and worse hailstorms which are a constant in life up there, and the brick architecture is classy as heck.

The conservatory is a collection of several different tropical exhibits including food plants, xeric/cacti, and a seasonal/temporary room.

So the pressure is high to create a crevice garden at the entry doors to match its grandeur.  I'm honored and excited to execute that for them.  Further, the site is a challenge of challenges in terms of possible plants, which is perhaps even more exciting.

Weather records for Cheyenne reveal that the town is absolutely shackled to a permanent west wind. Snow is blown, leaving the earth and plants uncovered and unprotected from the extremes of Northern-Plains winter.  And it's dry.

The site for the rock garden faces southwest and is backed and therefore baked by thirty feet of glass and brick, which reflect heat like a solar oven.  This is going to be one heck of a trick.  Even the crevice garden's North aspect, traditionally shaded, will have light and heat mirrored back at it!  No use huddling behind rocks, kids! Any little north-side snowbanks will get zapped by the windows, for the sun is a deadly laser!

But I feel good about it.

I think there is a plant for every place, and a place for every plant.   We all like to think we garden in the worse environment ever, and it's funny how that's all of us.  There are tough places all over the world, and beautiful plants from all over.

Erigeron compositus, with its many forms, is very adaptable, reliable, and often reseeds in new rock gardens: It's on the short list. (Wild plant in the Maroon Bells, CO, USA)

There is a small list of plants I know will be just fine, but a crevice garden is about variety, so the longer list is that of promising, not terribly common species, which should all be tried out.  The potential for experimentation and learning here is immense.  Buns and cushions are famous for their hail tolerance; this will be a true test, in a land where glass greenhouses are traditionally covered with a superstructure of chicken wire, because the hail you've really got to worry about is bigger than those holes!

Eriogonum umbellatum v. porteri provides a good green cushion and seems to tolerate winter sun.

While I'm growing and sourcing plants I know I can rely on like Eriogonum and Erigeron, who will laugh in the "breeze" and bathe in the winter sunshine (which would shrivel and destroy most leafy plants), I will spend much effort curating a squad of glorious foreigners to try out.

Austrocactus (bertinii var?) patagonicus. What if this odd, rare plant were hardy in Wyoming but not a soul on earth knew it?  Let's not take that chance: we'd better try it!

Patagonia is famous for its wind; and I've long though that Wyoming was our very own Patagonia.
Several plants from down there, like Maihuenia, Maihueniopsis, and even Petunia patagonica (mentioned recently not by accident in the bun blog) only get better with wind, so I really look forward to trying a few in there.

Stay tuned to see what we learn.  Oh, yeah, and we're trying some wild stuff for the soil mix.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Two Plant Digests for Your Eyes and Ears

But first, we were excited to hear our dear friend, a mentor of mine, and perhaps the kingpin of anything horticulturally good in Colorado, interviewed on Colorado Matters on Colorado Public Radio: Panayoti Kelaidis of Denver Botanic.

The interview by Ryan Warner.

My favorite fact about him I share to try to shed light on a such such a multi-faceted dude is that if you are traveling overseas, and meet the horticulturist in even obscure botanical gardens, and when they learn you are from Colorado, USA, they will ask: "Do you know Panayoti?"
The answer is always yes!

Now, for the featured media.

For Your Eyes:

(by the University of British Columbia- link above)

A person can subscribe so that an email comes to you almost once a day with a gorgeous picture and usually some fantastically fascinating details about the plant or organism, like how an edible plant got into cultivation, or mechanisms recently discovered in that plant, et cetera.  They are short enough to consume daily and long enough to feel that beautiful stretchy feeling in your brain when you increase your understanding of the natural world.  When I visited UBC, I could not help but be a total fanboy and stop into their offices just to thank them for this wonderful educational service.  Don't stop, Daniel Mosquin and friends!

(Picture: in UBC BG)

For Your Ears:

(get happy and click the link above)

Podcasts make long drives or tedious deadheading (I don't do that anymore; I grow better plants) not just bearable but enriching.   Creator Matt Candeias an Illinois Ph. D. Student.  The blog, whose goal is to "fight plant blindness" has become a semi-weekly hour-long podcast in an interview format, and he talks to incredible people in the plant world ranging from a lady botanist in Syria putting together a flora of the country, to the Smithsonian's orchid curator.  In Defense of Plants is one of the finest brushes to paint for us the picture of the what's going on in the whole world of plants.

(Picture: A sand prairie I saw in Minnesota (thanks Rick); an ecosystem recently covered in an In Defense of Plants Video.)

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?"