Sunday, October 9, 2011

Denver-A visit to Kendrick Lake Park and Jim Borland's Garden

Panayoti was keen on showing me the gardens at Kendrick Lake Park, which had been adding more interesting plants in recent years due to a knowledgable horticulturalist working there.  They suffered a serious hailstorm earlier that year, so some plants had damaged leaves (only tallish ones with broad leaves for the most part) and several had been cut back to remove affected portions.  Still there were a number of interesting plants in good shape to see, some of which resisted the hail and others which were recovering fairly quickly.  Clematis fruticosa "Mongolian Gold" is a shrubby clematis with golden yellow flowers and the typical fluffy clematis seedheads.  It made a small shrub which arched outwards and had many flowers on it.  You really have to click on the photo to see the enlarged version to get a better idea of just how floriferous it is.  A mat of gold in front of a bush of gold describes the combination of the flat growing Zinnia grandiflora and Chrysothamnus nauseosus (rabbit bush).  The zinnia is very different from what easterners think of as zinnia, it is perennial, everblooming, and very weather resistant, though I suspect it would not like our peristant high humidity and precipitation.  Chrysothamnus is a native shrub in the Denver area, and comes in several variants (if not species, there is debate about whether there is one variable species or a group of several species).  Its a good bloomer, and the various variants can basically be any combination of tall/short and green/grey leaved. I believe this is a dwarf form and it is obviously one of the better ones.  Vygies, or mesembs, from South Africa love Denver's sunny and low humidity climate.  While most cannot take the winter cold, many do just fine, and grow to form enormous mats in favored situations.  This one, and the closeup, are Delosperma ashtonii "Blut".  I was too late to see vygies at peak, but this one was still blooming strong.  It is anything but subtle.  The tall red flowered plant is the rare Scrophularia macrantha, endemic to New Mexico but doing fine indeed in this location.  A beautiful but frightening cholla (I think this one is the silver cholla, Cylindropuntia echinocarpa) had an odd out of season yellow bloom.  While theft seems not to be much of a problem in this garden, if it were I doubt this plant would have an issue.  The mere thought of having to weed anywhere near it frightens me! 
Later we visited the garden of Jim Borland, who is an expert on growing native western plants.  He has quite a diverse collection of natives and some non natives on his suburban property.  It was cool to see a Buffalo gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima) wandering around the front sidewalk.  This one splays itself over a saltbush (Atriplex canescens) in its quest, like many cucurbits, to conquer the world.  The fruit is attactive but not edible, though apparently the seeds are okay to eat.  It is a perennial vine that produces absolutely massive roots, from which the vines radiate outwards during the growing season, only to die back completely when colder weather sets in.  Jim had two species of dwarf goldenrod, this one is Solidago nana.  It makes a showy edging/groundcover looking its best in the difficult garden month of August.  The next two photos are of Cleome lutea, a southwestern native species not often tried in gardens.  It makes a nice contrast to the larger flowered but unpleasantly prickly stemmed garden cleome (C. hasslerana), and a good companion for the native lavender Cleome serrulata, which seems to be more commonly grown in Denver area gardens.  I was thrilled when Jim gave me a good supply of seeds to try it next year in my gardens. There are a few non natives in his garden too, and this quince, Cydonia oblonga "Pineapple", was one of them.  This cultivar was bred by Luther Burbank.  Quince is an odd fruit originating in caucasus area of western Asia.  The large fruits require frost action (bletting) to soften them so as to render them edible, hence they are not the kind of thing one sees in grocery stores.  I was way too early to taste one, but it was a cool fruit to see anyway!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rocky Mountain High Part 3--A visit to Mountain View Experimental Gardens

One fine day I went around the mountains with Randy and Marcia Tatroe, first to Boreas Pass (more on that in a later post), then to Breckenridge, and then to visit Jane Hendrix on the outskirts of Breckenridge.  Remarkably, according to what I was told there are two gardeners named Jane Hendrix with a Breckenridge address--I met the one whose website is .  Believe me when I say her garden was a special treat--it was amazing what could survive and, in fact, flourish, in such a high alpine garden.  The short but sunny and cool growing season suits some flowers perfectly, and I saw in August things that would be blooming in spring back home.  Jane is an expert on the native flora, and behind the house was an open conifer woodland with masses of lupines and castillejas in bloom.  I found it funny that she almost apologized that they were a bit past peak, I sure couldn't tell, as you can see in the third photo it looked like something out of a Monet painting.  In the first photo a stunning mass of Primula florindae shows off flaring flowers in shades of red and yellow.  Castillejas are everywhere, even in the front gardens where their bright red flowers combine nicely with mainly european flowers in a slightly bizzare, but beautiful, scene. The incredible yellow nodding daisy is Senecio (or Ligularia) amplectens. Why haven't I ever heard of this one before I saw it, its a truly gorgeous perennial.   Luckily I was able to purchase seed of it in the small shop that Jane has in the house.  There she sells seeds of both natives and garden flowers (from her garden) for what I must admit are very kind prices. I hope to have some plants of the senecio growing by next spring to set out in my school garden. I also got three of her booklets to help me with wildflower identification, they are inexpensive and have lists and color photos of plants from locations that tourists are likely to hike in/visit in the area.  I was impressed with just how bright colors were, even though it was lightly overcast (great for picture taking) while we were there.  In the fifth photo a red Penstemon barbatus combines nicely with blue and yellow neighbors. A graceful spire of soft pink Ipomopsis aggregata rises above lavender Aster alpinus and a white silene.  I finally get to see Meconopsis baileyi in bloom in a garden, for the first time in my life.  What an interesting combination with the firey red flowered, purple leaved,  L. x arkwrightii 'Vesuvius'!  Felicia bergiana is a small blue annual daisy from the drier areas of the Western Cape.  The ray flowers open flat in sunshine, and curl backwards in shadow.  Jane told me that she needed to collect and save seed, it refuses to self sow for her.  I imagine that is because it is naturally a winter growing species, primed to germinate in fall, so perhaps the seeds germinate too early and the seedlings freeze during the long harsh winter.   In the cool bright mountain air, it grows far better than it does during our hot humid summers in NY--I have sucessfully grown it, but it expires before the end of summer here (indeed, that is what it does in its native haunts too).  Oh my, so many wonderful pansies--in early August!  They never look that good in NY, and although pansies are not exactly rare, they are a really wonderful flower, so many colors and patterns, and they are fragrant too.  Instead of expiring or limping along like they do when it gets hot here, they look perfect all summer long in Breckenridge, and nowhere more so than in Jane's garden.  Finally I am posting a photo of a mystery pink Penstemon that grows in her garden.  She was wondering about its identity, so if any readers care to hazard a guess, let me know and I will pass it along to her. 

Ok, its Horseshoe again, for the last time (promise :)

Not since I last was in South Africa in 1993 have I seen so many different flowers in one small area. The snowlover, Chionophila jamesii, looks like a small white penstemon, and indeed is rarely found far from some snow lying around on the ground. I used a hat I borrowed from Panayoti to deal with the bright sun, but failed to use sunblock and got a really bad sunburn.  Its easy to forget in the cool mountain air just how intense the UV light is--at that altitude (we climbed to over 1300 feet) the air is thin and sunlight very intense. I found out what "Rocky Mountain High" really means when I got a touch of altitude sickness, first comes stomach discomfort, then one actually gets a bit loopy (probably from low oxygen levels, you can feel yourself thinking slower), and a light headache sometimes.  I was proud that I got to the top of our trail, while not the mountain peak it was damn close, and one could look over the continental divide to the watersheds that flow west.  I took the photo of Panayoti Kelaidis and Jan Fahls at the summit of our hike, and they took one of me as well.  Just before those photos, one can see a pink mound of Silene acaulis, which is yet another circumboreal tundra/alpine species.  It is quite common on the mountain, and some variation in shade of pink and floriferousness can be seen among the large populations of it. White daisies and pinnate foliage characterize Erigeron compositus.  Erigerons are generally easy to germinate and grow in rock gardens, and they are quite abundant and diverse in the montane West. One of a few alpine Trifolium species in the area, T. parryi is everywhere in the mountains west of Denver.  With its large trusses of purple flowers, its a serious improvement on our lawn clovers.  A yellow draba, which I dare not attempt to identify (the genus is a taxonomic nightmare with many similar species) thrusts its bright yellow flowers skyward, though at its size it doesn't get very far.  Androsace is a genus of often lovely plants, mainly Asian, but a tiny and rather insignificant one which might be A. septentrionalis (identifications are welcome) hides among the rocks in Colorado.  Rather more attractive in the horticultural sense is Eriogonum, possibly E. umbellatum, another diverse and confusing western American genus.  Both the silvery leaves and bright yellow flower umbels are easy on the eyes. In favored locations with some moisture Arnica cordifolia forms large patches of yellow daisies. The famous Colorado columbine, Aquilegia caerulea was only present near part of a nearby trail some of us took on the way down.  One can see why it has been brought into cultivation, the large blue and white flowers are quite nice. Finally a small Heuchera parvifolia hugs the light colored rocks it grows among. The foliage is quite attractive, though the greenish yellow flowers are more modest than some of its more showy cousins.
Hiking up Horseshoe Mountain with an enthusiastic and informed crew from the Denver Botanic Garden during what apparently was an optimal time during an exceptionally good flower year was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.  

And even more from Horseshoe

The white flowers of Dryas octopetala are a familiar sight in northern tundra and alpine areas and plenty of mats, some quite large, of it, were to be seen on Horseshoe.  An interesting fact about this plant is that it apparently is one of the plants that survived on often isolated mountaintops when the glaciers spread during the ice ages in the valleys below, despite what must have been fierce winter cold. Two primula species exist in the area, the smaller P. angustifolia and the larger P. parryi. Yet another northern genus that left a few representitives behind in North America when it was separated by tectonic activity and rising seas from Eurasia.  I was suprised to see Claytonia megarhiza in often wet areas, it looked best where there was plenty of water near it.  Some of these huge plants must be many decades old.  Lychnis apetala (or Silene uralensis) is a circumpolar species which  we found near the top of the mountain.  Its calyx is conspicously striped and inflated, the petals barely noticable. Papaver kluanense was rather scarce and only found near the top of the trail. The striking blue Mertensia is M. lanceolata. It is one of the larger plants in the upper part of the trail, with piercing blue flowers.   What looks like a refined sweet alyssum is Thlapsi montanum, sometimes called mountain candytuft with good reason.  Rhodiola (formerly Sedum) integrifolia does best in moist areas, and is widespread in the Colorado mountains.  Particularly nice red ones were seen on Horseshoe, though I saw some paler pink ones on Mt Evans later on. The prize of the hike, the focus of our search efforts, was the tiny blue Eritrichum nanum, a very diminuitive forget me not.  It has tiny fuzzy leaves and sky blue flowers.  I was especially proud to be the first in our very talented group to find it, even though I had only seen it in photographs before.  There may have been more of them in bloom earlier, we found several that were past flowering, not an easy task as they are even more inconspicuous without flowers.   This species only grows in the most desolate coldest upper reaches of the mountains in dry rocky areas.  There are many white flowered mat forming plants in these alpine reaches, and Arenaria is well represented.  This one might be A. obtusiloba.  The last pic shows Ranunculus eschscholtzii, another pretty alpine buttercup with rather large flowers.

Horseshoe Mountain continued....

 More beauties from Horseshoe as we climb higherm the  first photo shows a particularly nice form of Erigeron leiomerus with an extra row of rays.  The odd plant in the third photo is some kind of endemic to Horseshoe and perhaps another place or two, is Saussurea weberi.  This plant was in bud, bud later should open purplish flowers.  Aster (or Machaeranthera) coloradoensis is a rare species in general, and we didn't see many on Horseshoe, one of the handful of areas where this sprawling pink daisy is found.  Fortunately it is well established in cultivation as a rock garden plant.  Growing in shallow running water is Ranunculus adoensis.  I can imagine how difficult it would likely be to grow such a snowmelt plant of such a specialized habitat in cultivation.  Another rarity in nature, but not so hard to grow in rock gardens, is Townsendia montana.  It forms little bouquets of daisies which cover the foliage against the stark rocky substrate it grows in.  Senecio (or Ligularia) holmii forms attractive little clumps of leathery foliage and nodding yellow daisies.  Panayoti remarked how these resemble Cremanthodium from Asia, and I have to concur, they look very much like them and may even belong in the same genus. Its not too hard to visualize the genus stretched across the North American Eurasian landmass before the Bering strait formed ,isolating the ancestral stock to two distinct alpine locations, the Himalayas and the Rockies.  The bold yellow daisy known as Old Man of the Mountain, Hymenoxis (Tetraneuris) grandiflora is quite common in the Colorado mountains, and it was abundant on Horseshoe as well.  Phlox condensata is also common in the area, and on Horseshoe I found many flat rounded mats of it, most in full flower with five petalled white flowers.  Senecio (Packera) werneriaefolius var alpina is yet another one of the attractive yellow daisies of the high mountains, forming a low mat of tightly packed dark green foliage covered with numerous bright flowers.  In the last photo, a Frasera speciosa has finally reached maturity, shooting a meter high inflorescence packed with odd but pretty flowers, the culmination of several years of gathering and storing food for its final dramatic act of reproduction.