Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Caraway day!

Carum carvi
Treading gently to avoid the obvious pun, I begin (and end) this shortish blog with shots from the Wet Mountain Valley, one of Colorado's many magical and less visited corners: that's the backbone of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance, that have only one paved pass (La Veta) that traverses them at their only "low" point at 9,426' (2,873 m). Most of the spine of the Sangres stays above 12,000' for a hundred miles and more--with only a few hideous four wheel drive roads approaching the divide (but not the Continental Divide--which swerves far to the West on to the La Garitas and San Juans.) Colorado is a very cool place.
Cirsium scariosum ssp coloradoensis
On the way TO the Wet Mountains, north of Walsenburg we stopped at one foothills locale that was full of interesting flowers. This thistle may strike terror in the hearts of some gardeners, but it's not an exotic or weedy one by any means--in fact, it's possibly tricky to grow like many of our native thistles: this is one of relatively few plants with my native state's epithet--so I can't help but be rather fond of it.
A closer view of the "Scary" thistle. "Scarious" actually means "dry and membraceous" in Latin (usually referring to bract margins or leaves)--one of those words that only botanists know or bandy. I suppose I'd rather by scary than scarious.

Astragalus shortianus
This is one of our commoner Great Plains milk vetches: there are nearly a thousand taxa in this genus in the West--so one prides oneself on recognizing any of them!

Hyjmenopappus filifolius
A relatively small but widespread genus of composites--only one of which is very showy (H. newberryi which has large white petaloid ray flowers--which in fact grows hereabouts but we didn't stumble on it this trip).

Leptodactylon pungens
There are showier prickly phlox--but I even like this squinny species. The petals spread open at night.

Erigeron caespitosus
A wonderful and widespread fleabane....

Oxytropis lambertii
One of our commonest and showiest locoweeds was scattered hereabout...

Penstemon auriberbis
And then we saw our first lavender penstemon--this one an endemic of the region (largely restricted to the Arkansas river drainage of Colorado). The "golden beard" it's named for is a delightful feature. It has not proved to be one of the longer lived penstemons even in troughs. It's close relative in New Mexico nearby (P. jamesii) with wider leaves and larger flowers is likewise ephemeral for us...

Soon we came across a whole meadow filled with the lovely lavender penstemon...

Thelesperma filifolium
One of my favorite composites was blooming nearby--this threadleaf cousin to Coreopsis blooms on and off all growing season--a flush of bloom soon after a rain.

We drove further north, and took a short detour as we entered the Wet Mountain valley to where Mike Bone and Larry Vickerman had seen some yellow ladyslippers along an irrigation ditch in the scene depicted in the very first shot--those meadows dominated with Caraway (Carum carvi)...

Maianthemum (Smilacina) stellatum
Finally we climb higher onto the Wet Mountain valley--the vast hayfields stretching around us (many white with Caraway in full bloom by the countless acre). Along one irrigation ditch the starry false solomon's seal was thick (It'll take a while to get used to its new Latin name). This is a common liliaceous woodlanders all over the country, I know, and spreads in the garden like a weed--but I love it anyway!

And finally, the ladyslipper--which I showed earlier this year in a posting I did on ladyslippers in the wild: but  I didn't show this picture at that time (you see, I always hold something back for the winter months! Clever old chap, don't you agree?)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

North Carolina Arboretum near Asheville (Part 3)

I've already posted two rather longish blogs about this arboretum: and now a third? Well--it is a big place (400 acres!), and the terrain is hilly and the architecture grand throughout. There are enough cool plants to justify this focus: and the maintenance of the facility and collections is terrific. I have to say that part of the reason I seem to obsess is because he setting, the scope and the status it already has are such that it could be poised to make a great mark on American Horticulture: what's missing at this point is publicity and a more visible research and public engagement function--which could easily come about with the right new staff. Kelly Norris at Des Moines Botanical garden is the perfect example of the dynamic impact a personality can have on an institution: Kelly's put Des Moines on the Horticultural map in just a year or two! Although I have no doubt Kelly's got a terrific team to work with (and CEO Stephanie Jutila has been orchestrating effectively behind the scenes!) the catalytic impact of a driven visionary plantsman is key to the short or long term success of a botanical garden.

These long borders of perennials and annuals look so good after our arctic blast last week!

The lichened trunks on the shrubs speak to the growing venerability of this garden
I made note (and lost it) of what these multitrunked trees (shrubs) were--but I'm a sucker for lichens. I recall that this Arboretum was started after I'd begun my own career--so we're not talking centuries here--but trees and shrubs grow quickly in North Carolina, and there's obviously humidity here!

The keen gardeners I met educated me to the extent that microclimates prevail around Asheville--there's a significant difference in temperatures and rain/snowfall depending on aspect and especially the location--due to prevailing storm patterns: a factor of almost two from one place to the next: such is the power of mountains!

Schizachyrium scoparium
It never ceases to surprise me how widespread and adaptable little bluestem is: the USDA map (q.v.) shows that it grows in practically every state, and all Canadian provinces south of the Arctic--except for Oregon and Nevada. If I were a resident of those two states, I'd go find a promising hill at middle elevations and show me some bluestem seed pronto!I think it merits "National Grass" status--although if Obama proposed it, I can pretty much guarantee the House and Senate would vote it down!

More elegant interpretation--here of the Quilt Garden (See next slide)

I showed a number of panels of this garden in the previous blog post I did on NCA--but this one shows the viewing stand where I took some of those pix (and where you get the "intended" view of the quilt. Here Carpet bedding has been literally raised to plain bedding, if you can forgive the exerable paranomasia.

Why did I take this picture? The lush pots are nice enough--oh yes--that gray flagstone: love it!\

Hibiscus coccineus: on of America's great wildflowers

There are those who are crazy about poppies, and those who are nuts about hibiscus. Some of us are fond of both groups! This wonderful giant perennial, with leaves like marijuana and these outlandish spidery huge crazy red flowers--can't believe we don't have it at Denver Botanic Gardens yet!

They even put Mallows on their banners!

Another of those enormous allees! They're ready for throngs here!
We could have used a few miles of these vast allees at Denver Botanic Gardens this year to accommodate our way over a million visitors (who filled our paths and made it hard to get by all over the gardens from opening to closing). I luxuriated in these empty ones (although I did wish to see a FEW more people on them!)...
Celosia argentea var. cristata

Contrast between the architecture and well grown annuals (like this scarlet coxcomb Amaranth) that invite a closeup look--part of the charm of Gardens.

And the luxury of lawns and distant views of hills...

If you don't have flowers handy, you can always put up a banner with sunflowers...

Lagerstroemia 'Natchez'
Here we are quite high in the hills of the Appalachians, and crepe myrtles are hardy--with no damage even after the notorious Polar Vortex winter...we have to try these here in Denver!

You can see the flowers were starting...

Here beautifully sited surrounded by sensual grasses

And a view from further away--I find it fascinating to see plants in different contexts and distances...

How's this for an interesting play of shape and form? The Pennisetum is twice as nice thanks to the meatballs.

Who comes up with these names: "Bunny Blue"? I've never seen a blue rabbit!

The obligatory green roof--here a rather rustic one (which I enjoyed...)

The grand lawn alongside the greenhouses

Tipularia discolor

And now we're in the woods! Having an Arboretum is a good thing: having that arboretum cocooned, as it were, in a vast forest of extraordinary biodiversity--well, that's just peachy! Finding a new wildflower (and an orchid to boot) for the first time--now that's the bee's knees! You may be getting a sense of what a lovely day I had at the North Carolina Arboretum: late summer--warm but not hot--a gentle breeze. Great views, architecture, flowers: I call that Heaven!

More Tipularia. What a great name...what the hell does it mean?

Goodyera pubescens
ANOTHER dadburned orchid--in this case the Rattlesnake Plantain (great common name)...although I've seen this before (not quite so rare)...(Thank you James for the correction)...

I love ferns (in this case a bevy of dryopterids I think--should have looked more closely). Colorado has over sixty kinds of Pteridophytes, and you can drive from one end to the other and not see one. One of the many reasons I enjoy going East!

I love the seedling Sassafras and oaks--so cute and small and portable--surely they could spare a few (no I didn't dig them up: I don't do that sort of thing...).

I walked quite a way through the woods--lovely big paths here too! Wish I'd seen just a few more walkers..

A young planting of Arizona cypress--I'm surprised that this Southwestern tree does so well in the East.

Some dramatic clumps of Switch grass liven up an out of the way grassy bank. Nice tough.

Liatris sp.? or was it Lobelia?
There were a number of "pocket" prairies tucked here and there that had to be deliberate since they were full of cool plants. Lobelia siphylitica now that I look more clearly (thanks for corroboration, James!)

Another pocket prairie

Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
I realize this is just a weedy little Senna, but I love the Partridge Pea--I must see if I can locate seed--we need a weed as pretty as this!

Ripe fruit on the Hawthorn
Late summer is definitely the season of fruiting trees... 

What an aristocratic parking lot planting: Franklinia altamaha--in full bloom no less!

Any Arboretum that fills its parking lot with a plant that is extinct in the wild deserves three blogs! I would love to come back in April one day and see the woods full of their ephemerals, and enjoy the spring blooming perennials and flowering trees. Here's hoping they glom on to a great Plantsman soon, and that they don't get too crazy a marketer in there who will try to turn it into a garish Cathedral. Botanic gardens tread a fine line, and so far North Carolina Arboretum has tread it like and acrobat!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prose poem: "The house on the hill with a view"

Hang in there....[I get deep quick in this short Post (just one picture [can you believe it?]!): I promise it's worth it if you can untangle a few baroque threads of thought]. For as long as I can remember, I have marveled at this house on a hill a mile or two east of the Clifton cutoff (on Highway 141) Just east of Highway 50 just south of Grand Junction heading back towards Palisade. If that sentence made sense to you, you're a bona-fide slopey and deserve an extra box of overripes next August (you'll know what I mean)...

How far back do I remember? Forty years minimum it's been since Paul Maslin taught me about this cut-off that saves at least half an hour when you're tooling north alongside the Gunnison river which is headed that direction. You've just passed Whitewater where 141 goes West towards Gateway (another long story--that haunting canyon where the Gunnison once raged).

Back to the house: I've decided it's a symbol of Civilization: we've plunked ourselves on top of nature. We've planted trees on the desert in a nice row leading up to what must be a heck of a view. I'd like to think that block shaped house is more interesting than it appears in this picture: perhaps there's a garden surrounding the house worthy of the view. I will probably never know. Did I mention Land's end road we just drove past? I've never driven it--and every year I forget to photograph the sign saying "Kannah Creek" to email Pat to post on Plant Select's website: life consists of these details that slip by (except when art snatches them up). Oh yes! The Grand Mesa. Off to the right in the picture (you can click on the pic and see it up a little closer, you know)--one of the Many Marvels of my State! Have I ever mentioned I'm intensely proud of my silly rectangular state? Just us and Wyoming are so profoundly trapezoidal on this planet earth--kind of putting a house on a butte.

There's a boldness verging on--nay, exceeding arrogance--in the act of plunking a house atop a mesa--and watering the bejesus out of it to grow those trees (I should say "them trees" as a true Westerner).  This spot is where steppe verges on and frequently is true desert after all.

Each time I drive this cut-off I marvel at that house and wonder who lives in it and what it looks like close up: I have probably driven that road 100 times over the decades (it's forty years after all--and I've driven it at least twice, maybe four times or maybe eight some years--do the math). And this last September was the first time I took a picture of the spot. There are probably a thousand touchstones like this on my travels around Colorado alone (let's not even talk about the rest of the West--or South Africa!).  If you're a Denverite, think the clamshell house (or hamburger, false teeth or whatever your local idiolect called the Sleeper mansion on Genessee). Or Finger Rock near Yampa (it's labeled that way going one way and labeled "Chimney Rock" coming the other way on the highway--did you ever notice?).

I am about to write the profoundest paragraph in my whole blog series, sit tight: In the Songlines*, Bruce Chatwin delineates the way that primitive cultures like the Aborigines have an enviable sort of Unity of Culture: song, cultural and personal history, the very act of moving through the landscape, the rhythms of both the individual and the social unit's lifetime, lifelines actually, are knit together such that one cannot distinguish where one ends and the other starts. In other words, the landscape is the song is the culture is the individual. In a poem I can't put my hands on any more, Jorge Luis Borges observes that if you could raise yourself above, you would see that the steps you take in your life actually trace the outline of your face (or words to that effect). Although supposedly civilized, we are simply aborigines lost in a technology of our own making, which tricks us into thinking we're alienated, when in fact art (and art alone) reveals that we too are synonymous with the road we travel, the song we sing. So sing! and soar!

Perhaps before I die, I shall have a chance to visit that mysterious house on the hill up close. It's been like that with most of my pipe dreams, ya know?

*Since I can't really promise to buy you those peaches, I thought I'd link you to a .pdf of the whole frickin' book: one of the best books ever! Don't try reading it at one sitting however (it's pretty rich).