Friday, December 30, 2011

Pavonia missonianum

This is a very bright red little hibiscus that has been self seeding for a few years in my school garden.  It flowers in late summer and early fall from self sown seedlings, but a longer blooming season can be had by starting seeds indoors in spring to give it a head start.  It grows best when it is warm, and prefers a sunny spot.  Pavonia missonianum is native to Argentina, and my plants were started from seed I had stashed in the fridge from some long forgotten Index Seminum.  My original plant set copious seed, and although I have stored plenty of it, apparently quite a few remain in the soil to give rise to seedlings every year as soon as the warm weather hits. 
It is a trouble free plant save one problem--it is a preferred favorite of budworms that destroy the flowers and seed pods.  This caterpillar pest seems to appear sometime after the weather begins to cool, and is also fond of petunias and nicotiana.  Ruthless hand picking helps, but spraying insecticide or BT powder (a bacterial disease of caterpillars) would be necessary if one had more than a few plants.  The stems, seed pods, and foliage are somewhat sticky, and this deters most insects, perhaps the problem is that it deters ants that might otherwise prey upon the budworms.  Still it is a very worthwhile flower to grow, the flower color alone is worth it.  Thus far plants do not survive NY winters, but plenty of seed is set (if the budworms don't get the pods) for another generation.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mystery Arctotis--What are you?

Flower of mystery Arctotis

Foliage of mystery Arctotis

Helichrysum splendidum (front), Mystery Arctotis and some Berkheya radula flowers in back

I do have a bad habit of losing labels and although I have a near encylopedic mind when it comes to plants, I am not sure what this plant is.  It probably came from Silverhill and is a rapid growing plant with very divided leaves, I want to say its Arctotis revoluta, but the flower color is wrong. I like the interesting foliage, and it spreads out over a fairly large area, but alas it is not a profuse bloomer.  I counted something like two flowers all season long.  Perhaps it had something to do with the lack of sun this past summer, or maybe it is naturally a winter growing plant that wouldn't flower well if it doesn't get a prolonged chill.  The flower is very much like the flower of Senecio macrocepalus, and about the same size too, which would be more impressive on a smaller plant.  This Arctotis is not hardy at all, frosts quickly did it in, but not before I took cuttings and rooted them in water in my classroom.  With some luck, I will overwinter them under lights and set them out again next year to see what they do.

Two Special Gaillardia Species

A pinker form of Gaillardia aestivalis var winkleri

Gaillardia aestivalis var winkleri

Gaillardia aestivalis var flavovirens with male Monarch butterfly
Gaillardia aestivalis var flavovirens

        Gaillardias are pretty common in gardens, and I do have some of the more commercially available versions in my school garden, where they are valuable for their profuse and long season of flowering, pest resistance, and the lack of interest they engender from the resident voles (who have been a problem this year) and occasional deer.  I also like the fact that they attract butterflies and other pollinating insects, so they help the garden become alive as the pollinators flutter and buzz around on sunny days. 
        But there are some rarer gaillardias, which are nonetheless great plants for the garden.  G. aestivalis is pretty much a Texan species, with three recongized varieties. G. aestivalis var winkleri is an endangered species native to a limited area in 3 counties in Texas, and it is unusual among gaillardias in having cream, pink, or in at least one selection (Grape Sensation--have to get a hold of that one someday), purple flowers.  In nature it grows in sandy soils in areas with clearings in oak pine woodlands.  My original plant came from Plant Delights and seed of it (I purchased it in flower, so it may have crossed with neighbors) gave rise to the plants I now have.  The original plant perished after one winter, but I germinated some of the seed indoors and set it out in 2010, about 3 plantsg grew and flowered, but little seed was set due to the few and late flowers I had that year.  Surprisingly they all survived the winter of 2010-11, (which did feature unusually excellent snow cover) and reemerged more vigorous, and flowered like mad this past growing season.  One of the plants had deeper pink flowers than the others, and all of them set copious seed, so now my seed stocks are replenished so I need not fear losing it if this winter turns out to be particularly harsh (so far, not the case).  I am also curious to see if it self sows next year. 
     G. aestivalis var flavovirens came from Bustani Farms, a great nursery in Oklahoma (sadly they stopped doing mail order shortly after I got my first order from them, I do hope they reconsider, its getting harder to find cool nurseries with interesting and different plants these days--and what they sent was second in quality to none).  I got two plants so as to get seed in case they are self sterile, and both plants started blooming a bit later in summer than did var winkleri.  They produce more flowers than var winkleri, and also set plenty of seed.  I wonder if the two "varieties" crossed, when I raise the seeds or evaluate whatever self sows in the future, I will find out the answer.  If I don't see any evidence of hybridization, I would assume that they are in fact two very different species and not varieties of the same species.  In nature var flavovirens grows not only in Texas but also in several other states to the north and east.  Its flowers are yellow, with contrasting purplish centers that are attractive in their own right.
      While neither one of these gaillardias has as full petalled flowers as the standard ones in gardens, they are valuable for their more delicate, whimsical look and profuse flowering.  Despite excessive record rainfall from midsummer through early fall, these gaillardias still performed very well, though I did have them planted in a special raised area with well drained soil.  When they die back for winter, nothing is alive above ground, so don't assume they are dead and rip them out.  Sprouts reemerge from beneath the soil near the old dead stems in spring.  I think both gaillardias are excellent candidates for rock gardens, cottage gardens, and prairie/sunny wildflower gardens. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rocky Mountain High-Boreas Pass

Helianthella quinquenervis and Zigadenus elegans

Calochortus gunisonii with blue butterfy

Helianthella quinquenervis backed by Veratrum tenuipetalum

Delphinium barbeyi

Geranium richardsonii

Cirsium scariosum ssp coloradoense

Linium perenne and Potentilla sp

Pyrrocoma crocea

Calochortus gunisonii

Boreas Pass must be one of those exquisite places where heaven and earth meet.  I rarely have been in such a stunning field of flowers, at least in this country.  Marcia and Randy brought me here, and it was another major highlight of my trip--so many flowers filled this subalpine meadow.  The vegetation was very different from the alpine vegetation on Horseshoe, this was basically a vast field of flowers with forest elements not far away.  Calochortus gunisonii was in spendid abundance, protected from the native rodents by growing in thick grass thatch. which makes it harder for them to get at the bulbs.  It was the major reason for our visit, but there were so many other floral treasures to see too. Helianthella quinquenervis is a nodding sunflower cousin that also is abundant in this area, the nodding flowers probably shelter its pollen from rainstorms, or else must be some strange adaptation to enhance pollination in some way. Pyrrocoma crocea was another (of many) yellow daisy species,  but it bore masses of upfacing flowers from a rosettes of straplike foliage. The toxic Zigadenus elegans is abundant here too, with white spikes of small flowers poking up between more showy flowered plants.  Delphinium barbeyi is a fairly robust plant that forms noticible clumps here and there.  Its blue flowers can be mistaken for Aconitum columbianum from a distance, the latter occurs here too.  Geranium richardsonii has finely veined white flowers and is frequently found as single plants interspersed among the mosaic of other flowers and grasses. Cirsium scopularium ssp coloradoense appears here and there with white flowers on a plant that probably is a biennial or short lived perennial.  Bright blue flax flowers(Linium perenne) stud wispy branches that reach not far above the numerous anthills among the grasses--ants must be a major ecological factor in this area, there were so many of them. A particularly majestic stand of Veratrum tenuipetalum grew in a low damp area, when massed together they were quite striking.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Rocky Mountain High-Loveland Pass

Loveland Pass View
Randy and Marcia Tatroe
Me at the sign

Penstemon whippleanus, purple and white forms

P. whippleanus and Castilleja minata
Sedum lanceolatum

Castilleja miniata and Juncus sp
Viola adunca
I had the pleasure of travelling for a day with Randy and Marcia Tatroe, very good friends of Panayoti who are likewise well known in horticultural circles in the Denver area.  They often go hiking in the mountains, and definitely knew the coolest places to go.  Marcia's book, Cutting Edge Gardening in the Intermountain West, is a great read.  I highly recommend it for anyone planning to garden in the region, especially for transplants used to gardening in gentler climates (Colorado IS different......).
One of our stops that day was Loveland Pass, where a well built road leads one right to the top of the pass.  While the flowers were generally not as in their prime as they were at Horseshoe, there were still many nice thing to see.  In this locality one can find different color forms of Penstemon whippleanus, perhaps best known in its darkish purple form, but here alba forms grow along with intermediate purples as well.   Castillejas were abundant, I am tentatively calling what I saw C. miniata, but the different species are hard to tell apart, and some hybridize.  At Loveland they came in various shades of pink and red, and were still looking quite nice.  Perhaps the best specimens of Sedum lanceolatum, a species found wherever I went in the local mountains, were to be seen here.  Its brillant yellow flowers make it quite noticible among other low growing vegetation.  Unlike Sedum acre, which it reminded me of, it clumps but does not run, so I imagine that it would be a far better behaved plant in suitable gardens. A sedge of some sort, perhaps a species of Juncus, is noticibly attractive with dark brown flower heads--it also is seen in various permutations throughout the Colorado mountains.  Finally we came across a colony of Viola adunca, which I have grown before in containers back east, though I no longer have it, I do recall it being easy to grow. 

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.