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Matt's Blog

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THREE ROCK GARDEN TOURS AT THE NARGS ANNUAL MEETING IN ANN ARBOR

PULSATILLA BLOSSOMS TRY TO STEAL THE SHOW IN THE AMAZING  ROCK GARDEN OF JACQUES AND ANDREA URDA THOMPSON IN YPSILANTI, MICHIGAN - PART OF THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY ANNUAL MEETING GARDEN TOUR

I am still recovering from last weeks jam-packed trip out to Michigan where the North American Rock Garden Society held its annual meeting, hosted by the Great Lakes chapter. I've been to about 7 of these annual meetings and study weekends, and I can confidently say that this one succeeded spectacularly.  As the current president of NARGS, I could easily be a little opinionated, but it would be no exaggeration to say that this particular event was flawless - perfect spring weather which encouraged some of the finest alpines and woodland plants into peak bloom just in time for a couple of hundred plant geeks, and I really don't need to say that after the winter we all survived, was nothing more than a miracle in itself!

THE ROCK WORK IN JACQUES GARDEN WAS INSPIRATIONAL - SO NATURAL AND COMPLEMENTARY TO THE INTERESTING PLANT MATERIAL. A MOUNTAIN MEADOW AT LAKE-LEVEL!

Being my first trip to Michigan, I was looking forward to driving out from New England, even though the drive would take two days and take me through much of Ontario, Canada. I felt that I needed the time to get my thoughts together for the board meeting which preceded the event, and to relax a bit ( yes, sometimes, driving can relax me, although it took the rental of a big, new Dodge Ram pick-up and a few hundred miles of white Trillium grandiflorum, the grandeur of Niagra Falls and the magnificent spring woodlands and fruit orchards of the Great Lakes region. I should mention that this event coincided with the spring migration of warblers and songbirds - the East Coast deciduous forest was alive and singing in so many ways - why would I ever want to fly in a cramped plane?

TUFA ROCK IS A LIMESTONE ROCK CHERISHED BY ROCK AND ALPINE GARDENERS, AND THIS PART OF THE COUNTRY HAS SOME OF THE FINEST PIECES AVAILABLE. WE ALL ADMIRED THIS ONE - SINCE A PIECE THE SIZE OF A LOAF OF BREAD SELLS FOR ABOUT $25. THIS BEAST WAS AWESOME!

MY GUESS IS THAT THIS CLUMP WAS OF POLYGONATUM KINGIANUM, A RARE CHINESE POLYGONATUM WHICH HAS ORANGE BLOSSOMS AND TALL, 6 FOOT STEMS OR MORE. THE YELLOW FLOWER IS THE SINGLE FORM OF ANEMONE RANUNCULOIDES.

ANEMONE RANUNCULOIDES AS A DOUBLE FORM - IF ONLY MINE GREW AS NICELY AS THIS! A SPREADING WOODLANDER, THIS DOUBLE FORM MADE IT ONTO MY EVER-GROWING WISH LIST.
WE SWOONED OVER THIS MASSIVE COLONY OF ANEMONE  X. LIPSIENSIS 'PALIDA' , A CROSS BETWEEN A. RANUNCULOIDES AND A. NEMEROSA WHICH NOW OFFICIALLY TOPS MY MUST-GET LIST OF EARLY SPRING BULBS!

I HATE TO ADMIT THAT MY TRILLIUM ID IS WEAK - BUT THIS BEAUTY(MAYBE TRILLIUM CHLOROPETALUM - BUT PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CORRECT ME) INSPIRED ME TO BUY MANY SPECIES WHILE VISITING LOCAL NURSERIES IN THE AREA. ONE CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY TRILLIUM.

JANET LEARNS HOW TO SPLIT ROCK AND MAKE A STONE TROUGH AT A WORKSHOP THAT JACQUES HELD FOR NARGS MEMBERS.
JACQUES BEDS FROM A DISTANCE COMBINE TREES, DWARF SHRUBS, WOODLANDERS, PERENNIALS AND ALPINES ALONG WITH GRAVEL MULCH - THIS IS ONE LOOK I AM GOING TO COPY.
I NEVER CAPTURED THE NAME OF THIS BEARDED IRIS, BUT WHO CARES, IT'S JUST AS NICE WITHOUT  LABEL.

I NEVER IDENTIFIED THIS ARIL IRIS IN THE GARDEN OF DON AND MARY LAFOND, BUT MY GUESS IS THAT IT MIGHT BE IRIS ARILBRED 'OYEZ'. WHO CARES, IT'S GORGEOUS.
IRIS ARE NOTORIUS FOR BEING SHY WHEN A GARDEN TOUR IS SCHEDULED A YEAR IN ADVANCE, BUT THIS PAST WEEKEND PROVED THAT TIMING SOMETIMES ACTUALLY PLAYS OUT. THE MANY IRIS WE SAW WERE IN PEAK BLOOM.

THIS TINY IRIS WAS INDEED, TINY.  NAME ANYONE??? I KNOW I PUT IT IN MY IPHONE, BUT NOW I CANNOT FIND IT.

ALLIUM VICTORIALIS VAR. PLATYPHYLLUM, THE VICTORY ONION MADE IT INTO MANY OF OUR NOTEBOOKS AS ONE PLANT TO TRACK DOWN FOR OUR OWN GARDENS. IT WAS GROWING IN THE GARDEN OF BEV AND BOB WALTERS.
THE WALTERS'GARDEN FEATURED BOTH WATER AND THIS INCREDIBLE CREVICE GARDEN.

THE CURRENT TREND OF CREVICE GARDENING WENT TO AN ENTIRELY NEW LEVEL WIT THIS ONE IN THE GARDEN OF TONY AND SUSAN REZNICEK. NOT THAT ANY OF US EXPECTED ANYTHING LESS FROM TONY REZNICEK ( HE IS ALSO THE CURATOR AND ASST. DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN HERBARIUM.

GUEST SPEAKER, NURSERYMAN GER VAN DEN BEUKEN FROM THE NETHERLANDS, TAKES A PORTRAIT OF A SPECIES TULIP IN TONY REZNECEK'S GARDEN.

SUPERB TRILLIUMS WERE EVERYWHERE, IN ALL FO THE GARDENS.

TRILLIUM SPECIES WERE IN FULL FORCE - FAR TOO MANY TO NAME

I NEED TO TRACK DOWN THIS TRILLIUM SPECIES, UNDERSTATED YET A NICE CLUMPER.

FRITILLARIA PALLIDIFLORA - IN DON LAFOND'S GARDEN - NOW YOU KNOW WHY FOLKS ORDER THIS ONE EARLY, AS IT ALWAYS SELLS OUT IN THE SPRING DUTCH BULB CATALOGS.
THIS METAL TROUGH IN DON LAFOND'S GARDEN DEMONSTRATES HOW GREAT DESIGN AND CREATIVITY CAN BE USED TO CREATE AUTHENTIC LOOKING TROUGHS EVEN WITHOUT HYPERTUFA. DON'S ENTIRE GARDEN REMINDED ME OF DISNEY IMAGINEERING PROJECTS - PERFECTLY CURATED AND CLEVER.

MY FAVORITE PLANT OF ALL? THIS SUPER RARE JAPANESE WOODLAND PLANT PTERIDOPHYLLUM RACEMOSUM SEEMS TO COMBINE THE LOOK OF A SMALL FERN WITH A CARDAMINE, BUT IT IS ACTUALLY IN THE POPPY FAMILY. THIS SPECIMEN IN TONY REZNECEK'S GARDEN IS 8 YEARS OLD.

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ROCK GARDENING SOCIETIES - BEYOND ROCKS - A SPECIAL GIVEAWAY

NATIVE PLANTS SHINE IN THIS WATER-WISE ROCK GARDEN IN SANTE FE ON A TOUR WITH THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY - A SOCIETY WHICH CAN HELP YOUR UNDERSTAND THAT ROCK GARDENS ARE NOT REALLY ALL ABOUT ROCKS.

Mention the term 'Rock Garden' and most people will offer a different definition. Even amongst the most passionate of rock gardening enthusiasts - member of the NARGS - the North American Rock Garden Society or the AGS - the Alpine Garden Society in the UK, even within the chatty, active chat rooms and forums of the very active and passionate SRGC - the Scottish Rock Garden Club folks disagree on what the exact definition is, but one thing is for certain - rock gardening has less to do about rocks, as it does about the plants - for each personal definition does provide a hint to what rock gardening is today - a hobby or interest which demands more than some basic knowledge about plant life. The art and science of rock gardening errs more on the side of science, ecology and botany than it does the 'art' part of the equation.

TROUGH CULTURE IS A VERY SPECIFIC TYPE OF ROCK GARDEN WHERE HIGH ELEVATION ALPINE PLANTS ARE GROWN IN HYPER-TUFA CONTAINERS MADE OF A SPECIAL BLEND OF CONCRETE THAT MIMIC'S TUFA ROCK - A HIGHLY POROUS LIMESTONE ROCK THAT MANY ALPINES GROW WELL ON, BUT THE TERM TROUGH CAN MEAN MUCH MORE THAN THESE 'SINK-LIKE' CONTAINERS.

Not that aesthetics aren't important to rock gardeners, far from it, but rock gardening is about as far away from landscape design or outdoor decoration as a garden can get. In a nut shell, it's more like recreating nature - think: habitat creation. Many rock gardens are like tiny zoo's for plants. Want to raise a rare, high elevation saxifrage from the Alps? Then you will need to recreate the alpine conditions as best you can right in your own back yard - right down to the perfect drainage, soil pH and rocky outcroppings or screes where the specific genus once grew in nature. It's a bit like creating a living diorama from a natural history museum - perhaps right in a small trough sitting on your deck, which is kind-of cool once you start thinking about it, right?

PURISTS IN THE ROCK GARDEN SOCIETIES STILL ENJOY ATTEMPTING TO GROW THE MOST CHALLENGING OF PLANTS - HIGH ELEVATION ALPINES SUCH AS THIS SAXIFRAGE SPECIES I SHOT IN ONE OF MY TROUGHS, BUT ROCK GARDENING TODAY CAN MEAN SO MUCH MORE.

Although many rock gardeners focus strictly on alpine plants in the UK, in the US the boundaries blur between interests - ferns, woodland plants, bulbs, shrubs, cacti and succulents and true, high-elevation alpines. So even though the first rock garden movement in the 1910's, kick-started by a British plantsman and explorer Reginald Farrer  -  the 'Father of Rock Gardening' -as he he ignited the trend back in the Victorian era and it grew into a specialist favorite throughout the first half of the 20th century. Near the end of the 20th century, the trend started to wane, to evolve into what rock garden is today - more about interesting plants and the people who crave them, than anything else. Some of use still raise proper rock gardens in the English style, others, do it with a twist, raising plants in troughs, raised beds or pots.

ONE OF THE BENEFITS OF JOINING A ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY IS THE SOCIAL ASPECT, TOURS, LECTURES, TALKS, ROUND-TABLES, PLANT AND SEED EXCHANGES AND CONVENTIONS. THIS TOUR IN NEW MEXICO WAS ORGANIZED BY NARGS LAST YEAR, AND INCLUDED HIKES, STUDIES AND PLENTY OF CHATTY MEALS.

That all said, 'Rock Gardening' expland into many tangential specialist groups including the Penstemon Society, the Primrose Society and many other highly specialized groups based around a single genus. Then, there is California and the water shortage, where rock gardening may mean a water-wise gravel or sand garden. Similarly, in Arizona, it may mean a cactus garden or a Steppe garden, or  in Colorado and Utah a mixture of all three. In the North East, it may mean getting rid of your lawn and introducing native plants.

There is still an identity issue here to those trying to wrap their arms around what rock gardening actuall is, but there is one thing clear to all rock gardeners - a rock garden is not simply a garden of rocks. It's about creating an environment or a habitat where these plants can grow, as most will sulk in a regular garden. This may mean fast drainage, protection from winter wet, or sand beds, gravel mulches or tiny crevice gardens of clay.

A VIEW OF MY RAISED ROCK WALL ROCK GARDEN WITH A MIXTURE OF LOW GROWING ALPINE BULBS, SPECIES TULIPS, DWARF EVERGREENS AND PERENNIALS. I TRY TO NOT GET TOO GEEKY ABOUT STAYING TRUE TO WHAT A TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY ROCK GARDEN MIGHT HAVE HAD IN IT, I PLANT A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING, FROM ANNUALS TO TREES AND BULBS. I NEVER HAVE TO WATER IT.

Even nurseries and garden centers are confused, often clumping together various low-growing or dwarf plants in areas and labeling them as 'rock garden' plants. There are only a handful of true alpine plant nurseries in North America, but as the term broadens to include woodland and shrubs and grasses, you can begin to see that a rock garden enthusiast could find a suitable rock garden plant in many aisles of a nursery, but the purist would most likely need to either join a local club, or order plants from a specialist nursery as few garden centers carry any rock plant beyond a sempervivum or a dwarf campanula.

WE DECIDED TO ELIMINATE THE LAWN IN OUR FRONT YARD, WHICH NOW LOOKS LIKE NEW YORK's HI-LINE MEETS THE NETHERLANDS, BUT EVERYTHING IN IT CAME FROM INSPIRATION I RECIEVED FROM NARGS MEETINGS, EVEN THIS BLACK, DWARF IRIS, WHICH I BOUGHT AT A NARGS PLANT SALE.

In many ways, the North American Rock Garden Society is stuck with a very unfortunate name.  It may have been appropriate in 1930, but today, it can be misleading. First, the idea of a 'society' is limiting and off-putting to some, then there are the words North and American - it used to be called the American Rock Garden Society, but once again, Canada is left to fend for itself, so the name was changed. Even so, North America is limiting as well, especially as NARGS is a global society now. The word 'Rock' has many believing that rocks are essential to rock gardens ( and in many, they are), but as you can see here - rocks are only part of the story.  What about bulbs, ephemerals, woodland plants, wildflowers, prairie grasses or ferns and mosses?

Clearly, this is simply a PR and identity issue more than anything else. We should be smart enough to be able to overcome such issues, but changing names of large organizations is challenging, and although acronyms seem to only make the matter worse (NARGS…really?), the future of these groups weighs more on the members and what they believe in more than it does what they are 'in to'. It's safe to say that NARGS, AGS and SRGC attracts the most intellectual of the plant people, sure, but it also attracts those who are curious, smart, adventurous and who love learning more about plants.

A GROUP OF NARGS MEMBERS MEET ON A SATURDAY FOR A BOTANIZING HIKE. USUALLY THERE ARE A COUPLE OF INFORMED LEADERS, AND EVERYONE ELSE TAKES NOTES AND INSPIRATION. THESE ARE ALWAYS A GREAT TIME FOR NOVICES AND EXPERTS ALIKE.

Of all the benefits that are worthy with these groups, by far, the best part of membership are the sed exchanges. Annually, each of these clubs offered members a long, long list of fresh seed - seeds available from no where else - forget about saving heirloom tomatoes - what about an endangered plant from Brazil who's habitat has been destroyed, thought to be extinct? I want to save THAT seed. Not a bean that I am saving because of some crazy, unfounded GMO fear. Make a difference in the world.

MY LOCAL CHAPTER, THE NEW ENGLAND CHAPTER A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, WHERE THE LUNCH-TIME TALK WAS ON GESNERIADS WHICH ARE ALPINES. YOU MIGHT THINK THAT THIS WAS TOO INTENSE, BUT EVEN FIRST-TIME ATTENDEES WHERE ENGAGED AND MADE MUST-GET LISTS, 

Attend any NARGS meeting ( there are many regional clubs that you can join, or you can simply join the national organization of NARGS, which, some full disclosure here,  I am currently the president of NARGS, something of which I am proud of, even though I still feel a bit inadequate in the role.  Attend any local or even the national annual meeting ( in two weeks???) and  you will find a cheerful, friendly group of plant enthusiasts who welcome both newbies and experts.  You just need to be curious and open about learning new things. Friends tell me that attending meetings is a little bit of boy scout meets a college lecture.

THE BRITISH SOCIETIES ARE VERY SOPHISTICATED ABOUT HOW AND WHAT ALPINES TO GROW, AND I TRY OCCASIONALLY TO IMITATE THEM IN THIS ALPINE HOUSE COLLECTION OF POTTED, TRUE ALPINES AND SMALL BULBS. NOT FOR EVERYONE, BUT I REALLY ENJOYED THE CHALLENGE.

My love for rock gardening and alpine plants started early in life, when I was a gardener at a small estate here in my home town which happened to have an extensive rock garden, tufa rock walls and an important collection of true rock plants. I just never took it all very seriously until I was much older, when about 20 years ago I started visiting some of the British sites - the Alpine Garden Society in the UK , in particular, as well as the Scottish Rock Garden Club. Both have deep sites where they share many  photos of their shows which happen it seems, every other week. No one can grow alpines in pots as well as those in the UK can, but believe me, I try. Just check out their show reports here - the Scottish ROck Garden Club imges are here.  Ian Young's bulb log was the inspiration for my blog, he and his wife Margaret are both active members of the Scottish club, you just have to visit his extensive collection of images on his bulb log here. It is insane!

THE PLANT SHOWS OF ROCK GARDEN PLANTS IN THE UK ARE SPECTACULAR. MOST GROWERS RAISE THEIR ALPINE IN POTS AND IN ALPINE HOUSES, WHICH ARE ESSENTIALLY COLD GREENHOUSES. ALPINE HOUSES ARE DIFFICULT TO KEEP HERE IN THE US, BUT MANY OF US TRY.

I kind-of knew that I could not raise such plants here in the US, but I have tried - unfortunately, our climate doesn't' cooperate in most of the US (unless one lives in Alaska or the North West), but I tried, and continue to try to raise alpine-type plants in pots and containers. I brought a few of these to my first NARGS meeting where I quietly entered them into a show - basically, a folding table near a window in an all-purpose room our local chapter rented at a state park. Most meetings occur monthly, and some include an opportunity for 'show and tell', where members can bring in a pot or even a cutting of a precious plant, and members talk about it - sharing how they grew it. There is usually coffee and treats, and then a presentation of some sort, usually a guest speaker. A great way to spend a Saturday.

FORMER NURSURY OWNER AND PLANTSWOMAN ELLEN HORNIG, THE PRESIDENT OF MY LOCAL CHAPTERS AUCTIONS OFF A RARE MONOGRAPH ON THE GENUS GALANTHUS (SNOWDROPS) AT OUR LAST MEETING. I LEFT WITH ABOUT 25 BOOKS! THE TABLE IN BACK WAS A SHOW AND TELL OF MEMBERS PLANTS. IT WAS MARCH, AND MANY PLANTS WERE LATE THIS YEAR.

It was at this first meeting when I realized that although I knew so little about these plants, that everyone was taking notes, laughing, sharing stories about how they killed something, or triumphed with it.  There was a plant auction ( it was spring) and members brought in plants that they grew or divided at home ( a note about this - NARGS members run the full gamut, from novice to expert - and it's these experts, which most chapters have in one way or another, that make membership so special - in this way, NARGS is not unlike an elite country club.

At this first meeting, I met and became friends with Darrelll Probst, the then epimedium expert who offered up few flats of rare plants that he raised from seed that he collected on expeditions to China with Dan Hinkley. These were amazing, to say the least - I mean, podophyllum that were just too precious or rare to sell to commercial nurseries like Plant Delights because he only had ten of them - each plant made me want to empty my bank account. " This white dwarf Iris came from my last expedition to China, we are not sure about the taxonomy, the species may be new to science, it's only 8 inches high, and covered itself with white Iris blossoms early in the year,  super hardy and it makes a huge mound - no one has it yet, so I'll start the bidding off at $5 - any takers?). Crazy.

At the same meeting, I met chapter members allium expert Mark McDonough, bulb expert Russell Stafford of Odyssey Bulbs and the speaker who spoke on water-wise sand beds. I bought a beautiful hyper-tufa trough and a few flats of woodland plants, bulbs and alpines, a small Daphne shrub that a member started from seed ( a species which was hard to find) and I bought a tall stack of old journals that another member was selling. Throw in a few books from the chapter library that would be lucky to every show up on Amazon, and I was hooked.

I couldn't wait for the next meeting - but I had to wait for an entire month! How could I ever survive?
NARGS is like that. Nothing at all like what my mother said rock gardening was about - rocks, placed in a garden. Ha.

THE PAGES IN THE CURRENT JOURNAL OF NARGS SHOWS THE DIVERSITY OF WILD PLANTS IN NATURE, FROM PATAGONIAN OXALIS  TO RARE PRIMROSES NOT IN CULTURE YET AND POPPIES FROM THE HIMALAYA. TELL ME - WHAT MAGAZINE FOR $35 OFFERS THIS SORT OF CONTENT TODAY 4 TIMES A YEAR? AND AT THE SAME TIME, OFFERS SEEDS OF MANY OF THESE PLANTS?

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of rocks in rack gardens - in particular, tufa rock, a porous limestone rock treasured by rock gardeners for true alpines, as they can root directly into the rock, but it is difficult to come by, and if you do, it is expensive. Hyper-tufa is a concrete mix, I think you've all seen it - people use it to make troughs or bowls in which to plant alpine plants.  You may remember it being used in some classic Martha Stewart Living TV episodes, or from a few DIY craft blogs. If done right, it can look very much like rock, and it is the preferred method for creating troughs, a very specific type of alpine garden where high elevation plants are raised in carefully constructed troughs which mimic the stone sinks early rock garden enthusiasts used in England, but if done poorly, it could look like dinosaur poop.

TROUGHS, WHICH ORIGINALLY WERE WHAT FARRER  CALLED SINK GARDENS IN 1900, ARE GAINING POPULARITY - EVEN IN THE SOUTH WEST - WHERE THIS ONE THRIVES IN THE SHADE OF A PINON PINE.

Regardless of how you define rock gardening or what a rock garden is, the art and science of it makes sense, as explained in a nice post on the NPR blog this week - where the author has shared some interesting thoughts about how relevant rock gardening can be today.

A SPREAD FOR THE CURRENT JOURNAL OF THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY, THE ROCK GARDEN QUARTERLY FEATURING AN ARTICLE ON PLANTS FROM AFGHANISTAN AND MUCH MORE. THIS IS CLEARLY NOT GARDEN DESIGN MAGAZINE OR WILDER, BUT IT SURELY HAS SUBSTANCE.

MY VERY SPECIAL GIVE AWAY

So in an effort to promote rock gardening or alpine gardens, I am offering two precious copies of the latest journal of NARGS to two randomly selected readers who leave comments on this post - how great is that? In this issue, you will see articles on plants from expeditions to Afghanistan, to China, and Patagonia, but mostly, I hope that you will see that rock gardening is more about discovering the wonder of some of the most special plants in the world, be they endangered or threatened, curious or odd, or simply rare and undiscovered.

I AM OFFERING A GIVEAWAY TO TWO WINNERS - THE LATEST ISSUE OF THE ROCK GARDEN QUARTERLY, THAT I HELPED REDESIGN - NORMALLY ONLY AVAILABLE TO MEMBERS OF NARGS. BETTER YET, JOIN!

All this said about rock gardens because our national Annual Meeting is being held in a couple of weeks in Ann Arbor. Hey, you could always attend and really get introduced to the whole scheme - I am bringing a couple of friends who have never been. If not, then at least check the NARGS sites for a local chapter of NARGS website here, and attend the next meeting - I promise you that people will welcome yo - tell them I sent you, and maybe you will be so inspired that you will join this great plant society that has such a long and respected history.

ALL SORTS OF INTERESTING ARTICLES COME IN THIS PRESTIGIOUS JOURNAL, FOUR TIMES A YEAR.

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Santa Fe - Botanizing the sub alpine zones with NARGS members

A just past prime Spotted Coralroot or Corallorhiza maculate blooms near the Santa Fe Basin Ski area.
One of the best things about attending a North American Rock Garden Society meeting? Well, it's hard to tell.  It might be the in-depth presentations by world class rock gardeners and botanists, or it may just be all of the amazing inspiring members who attend these annual events. The local garden tours are inspiring and impressive, as is the incredible plant sale - where some of the rarest and hard to find plants can be purchased from local nurseries, some long before most ever become available elsewhere - but I have to admit that my favorite part is the botanizing with friends -  fellow plant geeks and plant lovers. There is always the hiking on trails and subalpine meadows in and around spectacular Santa Fe, New Mexico. Honestly, I loved it all.
This year, I am so honored to announce to my readers that I have been nominated and voted in as the new president of the North American Rock Garden Society - a tremendous honor and responsibility in the plant world, and one which I intend to leverage, as I have a great affinity for all plant societies, and in this one in particular. Rock gardening is very inclusive - it covers the culture and study of high elevation alpine plants, naturally, but also includes woodland treasures, ephemerals, wild flowers and native plants, ferns, bulbs, trees and much more. Essentially, rock gardening today encompasses much more than merely rock gardens and alpine plants. The society attracts those who care about preservations, botanical diversity, wild species and native genera seed collecting and the study of many types of interesting plants. Some may consider NARGS to be an elite society, but I like to think of it as a plant society for those who really love plants, and for those who want to learn more. I encourage you all to consider a membership, to check out our beautiful color quarterly journal, and to participate in the annual NARGS seed sale. Feel free to learn more about NARGS here at our website.
Click below for more:


NARGS members stop and gather at a trail head, before heading into the forest for our first hike at the Annual Meeting of the North American Rock Garden Society in Santa Fe.
Allium ceruum, the Nodding Onion blooms in the Sangre de Christo mountains at around 9,000 ft.
Please don't take this the wrong way, but……well, look - - NARGS members are terribly nice, but I had to feel sorry for our eager, perky National Park Service volunteer  -  who was hired as a botanical guide. He clearly woke up that day believing  that he was going to be leading a quaint, inexperienced retirement group for a  light 'flower walk' for the day. No such thing.
Oh, I so wanted to warn him - to give him a heads up, but it was too late.
" Ok ladies and gents - who can tell me what those tall yellow daisies on the side of the road are? 
He continued, "Don't know? Well, those are actually called sunflowers! "
 Poor guy, he didn't stand a chance  as everyone else started discussing if the yellow daisies were either Helianthus or another similar species. People remained civil, however, and an exciting day progressed as Gatorade, water and Cliff bars were handed out. The event was well planned, and the weather superb - cool, dry with bright blue skies.
An Acer glabrum, a trifoliate maple looks a bit like poison ivy to me!
Geranium richardsonii
Common Woordland Pine Drops, Pterospora andromedea on the trail

Look! A Gilia flower! We ere excited, that is until we found many more on another mountain ( see below).

Common Harebells, or Campanula rotundifolia
We were so happy to have found this alpine saxifrage, Saxifraga bronchialis growing on a rock
at around 9,000 elevation. I had to crawl out onto a ledge to get a photo of it.

Gentiana calycosa (?) not sure. Please correct me! Image taken  at 11,600 ft above the Santa Fe Ski Basin.
Sorry for the poor quality, my battery pack ran out so I had to use my iPhone.
The great Panayoti Kelaidis from the Denver Botanic Garden, our hiking buddy, teaching me how to collect seed.

Ligularia pudica, a Ligularia with nodding flowers grows in a sub alpine meadow around 12,000 ft.

Zigadenus elegans ( or Z. venenosus)  the Meadow Deathcamas

High above the Santa Fe ski basin, at about 13,000 we could see for over 100 mile. Absolutely incredible.

Panayoti from the Denver Botanic Garden and my friends, Bella and Barbara from the Ontario Chapter of NARGS
check out the roadside for some botanical treats. Below is what we found at about 10,000 feet.

A close up, or as close as I could get with my iPhone camera of Gilia ipomopsis aggregata

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The NARGS annual meeting in Santa Fe

This weekend I am attending the Annual Meeting of the North American Rock Garden Society being held in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Having never been to either Santa Fe or even New Mexico for that matter, I discovering why so many artists and creative people love this city. It's unique Pueblo style architecture with adobe brick and stucco is amazing, not to mention the food, the people, the weather and the chili's.

As some of you already know, I am so proud to have been elected as the new president of NARGS this weekend, and I am so excited to have been both nominated and elected into this two year term with such a respected plant group as the North American Rock Garden Society. In many ways, I feel so un qualified as there are many expert gardeners more qualified than I, as the membership includes some of of the finest botanists and plant enthusiasts of any plant group, but I understand the mission at hand - revitalizing, re-energizing and perhaps reinventing a group of smart, passionate and dedicated plant people and leading the way for a brighter future. Something many plant societies will need to address in the coming years. I cannot make many big promises, but I can and will tell the membership that I will do my very best to inspire and bring a positive energy to the group.

The adobe architecture in and around Santa Fe keeps authentic, much like parts of New England.

I am very busy here, as meetings and hikes continue every day, but I thought that I might share some images - with very little text. Enjoy!

Centranthus ruber  growing in a border in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

Street markets around Santa Fe feature exactly what one would expect in such an alley.

NARGS members gather at a trail head for one of the many hikes, botanizing the mountains of Sangre de Christo in New Mexico.

The view from - of all things, the hot tub at one of the private homes we visited.

Many Salvia thrive in the arid, desert-like climate which still gets snow in the winter, but hot, dry drought in the summer. These plants were in the gardens at the home of a NARGS member.

This Erodium, related to the geranium, blooms in the bright shade. Not many alpine plants bloom in August, but the Erodiums do.

This Saliva azurea was stunning! I wonder if I could grow this blue beauty in my greenhouse?
A Cyclamen hederifolium in New Mexico? If sited right, many zone 5 plants can grow here if a bit of water is offered. Besides, this climate in not unlike that of Turkey or the Steppes of Asia.

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The Alpine Rock Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens

 The Alpine Rock Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens is world-renowned for its diversity and collections of high-elevation alpine plants, and western US native plants, steppe plants and succulents. One of the largest rock gardens in the United States, I saved this garden for a different day, as it deserved a more focused visit. Rock gardens can be controversial - at least properly defining them when garden geeks get together. Even today, many gardeners cannot agree on where they should be gardens filled with rocks, or gardens constructed to house true rock plants or alpine plants. The Alpine Rock Garden at the DBG is a little of both - but it is clearly inspired by the great European rock or alpine gardens from the turn of the century. This garden houses many plants native to the prairie and steppe areas of the great American south west. Purists may grumble, expecting to see sweeps of gentians and pulsatilla such as those seen at Kew or the Montreal Botanic Gardens, but the DBG garden is unique in the world of alpine gardens, and it is often listed as one of the great three ( Kew, Edinburgh and Denver) Rock Gardens maintained today. It alone is worth a visit while in the Denver area.

MANY TRUE ALPINE PLANTS GROW DENSE AND TIGHT UNDER THE EXTREME CONDITIONS FOUND AT HIGH ELEVATIONS. THE TIGHT GROWTH HELPS THE PLANTS CONSERVE ENERGY, AND MANY FORM TIGHT BUNS AND TUSSOCKS, LOOKING MUCH LIKE THE ROCKS WHICH THEY GROW NEXT TO,

A NICE, WHITE ALPINE CAMPANULA
ROCK GARDENS ARE HABITAT GARDENS, THE CLOSEST THING IN ANY BOTANIC GARDEN TO A WILD HABITAT.  IT'S THAT BALANCE BETWEEN ROCKS AND PLANTS, THAT MAKES A ROCK GARDEN SO APPEALING, AND PRACTICAL - MANY ROCK GARDENS CAN ALSO BE XERIC GARDENS, REQUIRING LITTLE WATER IF PLANTED WITH THE PROPER SPECIES. ALPINES HAVE DEEP TAP ROOTS.

A NEW FEATURE AT THE DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS IS THIS CZECH STYLE CREVICE GARDEN, NEWLY PLANTED WITH ROCK PLANTS.

Ehedra przewalskii,  WITH RED BERRIES. IT'S IN THE JOINT FIR FAMILY- EPHEDRACEAE
A POISONOUS PLANT, THIS IS THE EPHEDRA THAT CAN CAUSE HEART PALPITATIONS 

Phlomis alpina, ALPINE JERUSALEM SAGE LOOKS NICE, EVEN AS DRIED SEED PODS FORM

Manfreda virginica, THE FALSE ALOE, NATIVE TO THE SOUTH EASTERN US. STILL A MEMBER OF THE AGAVAEAE ( AGAVE or CENTURY PLANT FAMILY), THE FLOWER STALK WAS NEARLY 5 FEET TALL.

A PRAYING MANTIC, HUNTS FOR SNACKS ON A Pelargonium englicherianum WHICH HAS GONE TO SEED

A MORE WELL BEHAVED FIREWEED, THE ALPINE WILLOWHERB OR Epilobium fleischeri, ALSO A PLANT SELECT® OFFERING IN THE SOUTH WEST.

MANY DESERT PLANTS AND DRYLAND PLANTS ARE INTERPLANTED WITH HIGH ELEVATION ALPINE PLANTS IN THE DBG ALPINE AND ROCK GARDEN. I WAS IMPRESSED WITH THE LABELING, MOST EVERY PLANT WAS LABELED, AN ENORMOUS TASK, BUT HELPFUL FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE STILL LEARNING.

THIS TINY FLOWER ONLY A HALF INCH IN DIAMETER ON A THREE FOOT SHRUB IS A CLEMATIS.
MEET Clematis stans NATIVE TO JAPAN

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE CREVICE GARDEN. I WILL HAVE TO COME BACK AND SEE THIS IN JUNE.

SENIOR HORTICULTURIST, MIKE KINTGEN, CAN BE FOUND TENDING THE COLLECTION IN THE DBG ROCK GARDEN MOST EVERY DAY, AT LEAST WHEN HE ISN'T IN HIS OFFICE.  WHO COULD BLAME HIM!
MAIN VIEW OF THE DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS' MAGNIFICENT ALPINE AND ROCK GARDEN

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Early Alpine Primroses

PRIMULA ALLIONII  X 'JOAN HUGHES'. IT LOOKS BIG, BUT USE THE SPRUCE NEEDLES FOR SCALE

As many of you know, I adore alpine plants, and some of my favorites are the Primroses ( Primula) which grow near the highest peaks of the world. Here are a few of the highest elevation primula, which happen to be our first blooming primula of the season - much more to come. These are being grown in stone troughs, and in crevice gardens, where the tight spaces allow the primula's roots to grow deep in search of water. Primula allionii blooms very early in the Alps in France and north western Italy, where it grows on steep cliffs where it is protected. Hard to reach, these tiny primroses can grow in the tightest of crevices. There are many named forms and selections of P. allionii, and in England, a plant grown in a cold alpine house with care, can be covered completely with flowers so thickly, that you cannot see the foliage ( see one here). In North America, we are lucky if we get 5 or 6 flowers, which are still beautiful, especially this early in the year.

Look for plants at Wrightman Alpines and Arrowhead Alpines.
PRIMULA MARGINATA, A HIGH ELEVATION PRIMROSE, WITH SERRATED LEAVES AND VIOLET FLOWERS.

Primula marginata have beautiful leave, they really don't need to bloom at all, for many varieties have farina ( white powder) on their leaves, which makes the outlines more attractive, and if the rain doesn't wash it off, the entire plant can look silver. I have plants that I am grooming for a primula exhibition in two weeks, and I am keeping them under glass outdoors, so that the rain won't wash off the farina.
PRIMULA MARGINATA, GROWING IN A CZECH STYLE CREVICE GARDEN, WHICH MEANS ROCKS VERTICALLY PLACED CLOSE TO EACH OTHER LIKE A SANDWICH.

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Sax in the City part 2

Saxifrages, the high alpine encrusted ones found on the worlds highest mountain peaks are addictive, and I love to grow many that are planted in limestone rock and tufa rock, and all in alpine troughs that are planted all over our garden. The silver Saxifrage is a noble alpine plant, a true alpine that is one of those plants known as a 'bun'. The hard, dense, limestone encrusted rosettes that can survive the roughest mountain goat hoove and glacier like snow. This past winter had our troughs under a glacier of thier own ( see pics from January), and now that the snow has melted, they are none for the worse. Soon, they will bloom and be covered in bright delicate blossoms.

 There are many named selections of Silver Sax's as well as many species but they are not easy to find. One must either mail order them from a handful of alpine plant nurseries ( mine are from Wrightman Alpines) or, one can start them from cuttings that you can take from a friends' plant. I plant my cutting in holes that are drilled into Tufa rock, a limestone rock which is porous, and also hard to find, but worth searching for at alpine nurseries, for it is the only rock that these planted will grow in. You might try these alpined in soil or a gravelly mix, but between you and me, there is really only one way to grow the giant specimens like these, and that is to root your own plants directly into Tufa rock. Once established, they are rather care free.

A silver saxifraga growing in a trough. I still need to clean up the troughs, use tweezers to remove pine and spruce needles, and then spread a new layer of granite chips, but beyond that, there is little care.

These tiny rosettes are smaller than a blueberry, but en masse, they form an dense bun that will be covered in flowers in a few weeks. The Saxifrages sold by Harvey Wrightman are all grown in little tufa rocks, so even if you can't find some, he can sell you one via the mail, that you can pop right into a trough. Even better, try one of his alpine rocks, where three or more plants are planted in a much larger rock.

Not a saxifrage, this is tight bun that also grows at high elevations. Arenaria tetraquetra ssp. granatensis is another 'bun' plant that is a bit more challenging to grow but one that is easier when grown in rocky troughs or in crevice gardens. It looked completely dead a few weeks ago, and I almost yanked it, but upon closer inspection, you can see it starting to green up. Yay.
(For a good laugh, check out this video of a kid planting his own trough at 6 years old, after watching J. Halda plant one) here.

Speaking of alpine meadows, this Pulsatilla or Pasque Flower is a favorite floral image often seen on alpine plant calendars and placemats at pancake houses. Since it is nearly Easter, I thought that I should share what it looks like as it emerges - like a baby chick, all fuzzy and safe in its 'nest' of old foliage from last year. If you don't know this plant, you will once you see it in bloom, but sometimes it nice to see what it looks like before the money shot. If you are going to try alpines, start with this one, they are easy, and they become larger every year, just like a Hellebore does. This is a plant where the seed pod is a nice as the flower is, but even the emerging bud is interesting.

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Yummy Auricula - YOU CAN GROW THEM TOO


A DOUBLE GREEN SHOW AURICULA
Speaking of Groundhogs, the surest sign of spring is that primroses are showing up at the supermarket. We all are familiar with those green plastic pots of harsh acid yellow flowers and screaming red blossoms looking as if a circus clown designed them, all sitting squat on a plant that looks more life an African violet on steroids, then a alpine plant, these plants are specially bred for the potted flower trades, and are short lived in hot and dry modern homes. Buy them for temporary displays, and then toss them. There are far nicer Primroses to grow, and perhaps none finer than the choicest of all flowers, the Auricula.
 
For this post, I am going to focus on  Auriculas, or more accurately, Primula auricula, a plant native to the Swiss Alps and high elevations, but also, an important plant historically and culturally. Today, it is rarely seen anywhere, and a cold, snowy night in February seems like a good time to address the subject of ‘what are Auriculas” and more importantly,” how can I find some and grow them?” I will provide answers to all of those questions, and more.
A FANCY EXHIBITION PRIMULA AURICULA. THE WHITE PASTE RING IS CALLED 'FARINA' AND IT IS HIGHLY TREASURED. DAMAGED BY RAIN, THESE ARE ALWAYS GROWN UNDER COLD GLASSHOUSE CONDITIONS IN ALPINE HOUSES OR COLDFRAMES.
We are all familiar with the image of the classic Auricula, they appear in old Dutch floral paintings, on teacups, I even bought a set of tea towels at Crate & Barrel last year that had some embroidered on them, but the question I get often is ; Are they real? They do seem rather artificial, with white pasty rings and true black, all contained in one high-contrast flower, but it’s true - they are real plants, and outside of a select few nurseries in North America who grow them and a couple of active Auricula Societies in England, they are are as scarce as  the rarest spice or ingredient, you could ever imagine. But why is that?  Easy answer – they are challenging to grow unless you live in England.

 
A RED SELF SHOW AURICULA IN MY ALPINE HOUSE LAST MAY
Auriculas are difficult to cultivate but not impossible, for all of these pictures are mine, and are from our local American Primrose Society show, so they are proof that indeed, they are growable. If you live in an area where you can provide them with the exacting conditions they require, I highly encourage you to try them.
WILD PRIMULA AURICULA I PHOTOGRAPHED LAST JULY ON NEAR THE NORTH FACE OF THE EIGER IN SWITZERLAND AT 10,000 FT
In many ways, Auriculas are like Pandas. If you can’t provide fresh bamboo and cool temperatures, Pandas will die, for Auricula’s. if you can’t protect them from the hot, humid weather and can provide the a cold, dry winter under glass or snow, they too will die. Specialized collections of fussy plants appeal to some of us ‘plant geeks’, it’s what make growing them so appealing, the challenge!
First, you must find them. Sources are on the Internet, my favorite sources in the US and Canada are Wrightman Alpines in Canada, Mt. Tahoma in Washington State, and Evermay Nursery in Maine. In the UK, I highly recommend Pop’s Plants, for that is where I get my plants. This is a great time to order them. Another source in the UK is Drointon Auriculas, but I am not sure if they ship overseas. Another way to obtain plants, if by joining the American Primrose Society, or one of the British Societies, for although they all sell fresh seed in their annual seed sales, it is far easier to begin with plants and if there is one good bit of news about Auriculas is that they off-set prolifically. One plant, will quickly become seven plants in a year.
 
YOUNG PRIMULA AURICULA AS SHIPPED FROM ENGLAND AWAIT REPOTTING
Once you find a source, you need to find a place where you can grow them. Some quick basics about Primula auricula – there are five types of auricula, for anyplant with a British blue blood background and 400 years of culture, has an enormous classification principle behind them – The American Primrose Society is less strict about classification, but the Brits have raised the division of this one species to an artform, without overwhelming you, all you need to know is the following, which will help you navigate the British sources on-line:
1.     Border Auriculas -are the easiest for culture in gardens, but less pretty
2.     Alpine Auriculas – nice eyes and some white farina paste, and will do well in an alpine garden, or in pots. These are the easiest Auriculas to grow in container in you want that authentic “auricula theater” look.
3.     Show Auriculas, which are sud-classified into  four categories.
a.      Edged Fancies – these have green edges, grey, whites and black
b.     Edged Shows – Many of these are parakeet green varieties with true black tones and white farina rings.
c.      Show Auricula – Solid color forms all with white rings of farina, typically, there are Red Selfs, Yellow Selfs, and Blue Selfs
d.     Stripes – these are striped in radial tones of grey, black, white , green and colors.
e.      Doubles – They look like roses, but in colors like fawn, doe, cinnamon and green.
 
A DOUBLE AURICULA
Once you have your plants, they must be planted in the  proper soil mix, which in itself is a subject for fifty blog posts. Feel free to search online for a historic blend, for there are many to choose from, such secret Auricula soil blends as “ fresh bulls blood and urine, with bone meal and sand”. The Seventeenth Century had their crazies too, but I grow mine in a simple soilless peat mix ( ProMix) with some additional gravel or grit. No big deal. I am a bit of a crazie, since I make my own pots ( I found that stoneware pots that I throw and fire in my kiln with extra magnesium grit, tend to survive our winters better, but then again,  I am a little obsessive). You can ask a local potter to try making you some!




 
A BLUE SELF SHOW AURICULA
Once potted, you must find a place to grow them. Auriculas love cool, fresh air, and those few places in North America where they grow well, will hint to what conditions they love. Auriculas grow best in British Columbia, Washington State, and parts of Southern Alaska. I can grow them in Massachusetts, and I have a friend who grows impressive collections in New Hampshire, but it’s not easy. In the Pacific North West, the ideal location allows them to rarely freeze and at the same time, the rarely experience temperatures above 75 deg. F.
 
A STRIPED SHOW AURICULA

The cool Maritime air or marine layer is perfect for them ( Hello, Great Britain). In Alaska, they do surprisingly well, because Auricula Primroses can freeze hard, in fact, they can handle very cold temperatures (down to zone 3), but what they don’t like, is thawing out, and refreezing. Once frozen, they want to stay that way- frozen, and dry under layers of deep, dry snow- exactly the way they grow high in the Alps ,where they come from. And this, is the problem. Cold, dry and frozen is the most difficult environment to recreate when you live at sea level ( or in California). So you must be realistic about growing Auricula.

I will share my secrets, if you can call them that, and you can make up your own mind about growing these beautiful flowers. I grow Alpine and Border Auriculas in my raised alpine bed garden, but potted Auriculas are what we all want, so let me address how you can grow the fanciest. I had some luck growing potted Auricula in my twin-wall Juliana greenhouse in raised beds, where I plunged the pots into a sand bed. The problems I encountered, specifically the freeze.thaw cycles breaking the pots and then spring sunshine heating up the soil too early, were overcome by the removal of the sides of the greenhouse so that in the winter, the cold air could blow over the plants, keeping them frozen, but not covered with wet snow. I would actually replace the sides of the greenhouse when snow was expected, and remove it when it stopped, and the pots just remained frozen, since the alpine house was positioned in the shadow of our home.
 
A YELLOW SELF SHOW AURICULA
In the summer, care was far more challenging. I kept the sides of the greenhouse off, but I would have infestations of root aphids ( they look like uglier forms of Mealy Bug, but on the roots), which required deadly systemic insecticide drop – some times, you just have to – so if you are green? Sorry, no Auricula for you. I would lose most of my collections in the summer, only if the pots were kept too wet and thusly, rot would set in. Some pots I placed in the open shade outside on the walk to the bigger greenhouse, and they did much better. The trick is, to control moisture in the summer. Not too wet so that they rot, but not so dry that they shrivel up and dry.

After blooming, Auriculas have a growth spurt, but once hot weather arrives, they go rather dormant, but retain their leaves. So just enough water so that they don’t wilt too much. Avoiding stress is key. In Autumn, if your plants survive, you are golden, for once the cool weather arrives, Auricula have a major growth spurt, and you want to fertilize and encourage this, for buds need to be formed soon. This growth will continue into late November, which is when I would normally return my pots to the sand bed under the protection of glass. In winter, simply let them freeze, foliage and all and pray for flowers starting in March.

If this all sounds like too much trouble, then clearly, Auricula primroses are not for you, but don’t fret, they aren’t for many people anymore. You can cheat. Auriculas, in England were often so cherished that they would be exhibited in what estate growers called ‘Auricuaal Theaters’, fancy wooden showcases complete with velvet curtains, backdrops and tiered steps on which the talented grower could exhibit their tiny pots of Auricula. The rules for exhibition are strict. Stamens must be longer than the pistols, and all others destroyed ( Pins and Thrums), the plants must be exhibited in 3” diameter pots, clay, with all stems removed except one, and each blossom ( pip) must be trained with cotton balls and twigs, to grow to perfection. At home, we can relax these rules a bit, unless you are really anal.
An ALPINE AURICULA
Garden Auriculas can be potted for temporary display, and to the untrained eye, they are just a lovely, but once you see a real show Auricula, you life is changed forever. It is easy to understand why in the coal-dust polluted air of Eighteenth Century England, such plants with such colors in winter became the valuable treasures of the wealthiest, and the poorest, for anyone then, could belong to various Auricula societies and exhibit with their own classes, of course.
Auriculas have an impressive history with humans, for they are one of, if not the first, potted plant grown by humans for  decoration. Excluding China, where some Cymbidium orchid species may actually be cultivated earlier than 1400 AD, the Auricula indeed was the first European potted plant that florists grew in the 1600’s. In fact, the very name ‘florist’ comes from these very men who braved the Alps to bring back some color and life into the dusty, coal-stained cities.
So if you still love the green plastic potted Primrose acaulis or P. polyanthus hybrids that are in the market now, go knock yourself out. I think they might be fine as bathroom deco, but for real knock-your-socks-off impressions, I leave that to the Auriculas. If you live in Arizona, Florida, Georgia or anywhere else where they cannot be grown, any Home Goods store will surely have enough Auricula needlepoint pillows to at least, make you wish that you lived in Victoria, B.C.!

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Adonis vernalis -The Spring Pheasant's Eye




This slow to establish beautiful and rarely seen member of the Buttercup Family is perhaps only occasionally seen in plant collector's gardens, but that's a shame, since once established ( it is only difficult to transplant), it can live a long time. As one collector stated, "Adonis are easy to grow, but difficult to find", this is because they plants resist domestication. If one is able to obtain a plant that was carefully divided while dormant, and gets it planted immediately, then one must leave it alone and let it grow undisturbed. If new plants are desired, even seedling resist any disturbance, so although not difficult to raise from ones own fresh seed, success if better if the plant is allowed to drop its own seed into the soil, and young plants moved extremely carefully in the following years.

This is our second year with this division so it is still just settling in, but once established, I expect a dozen or so of these bright cheery yellow buttercuppy flowers very early in the spring, perhaps even with some snow on the ground. It is perhaps the most desired plant by many plant enthusiasts the Ranunculaceae family and its leaves and flowers look very much like the genus Anemone, and not buttercups, which is a good thing. In the garden, the overall appearance in not very buttercup-like at all, and more like Eranthis, the winter Aconite, if anything.

Adonis vernalis is native to Europe, whereas the more commonly seen, if one can say that about Adonis, is the Asian species, Adonis amurensis, which is highly collectible in Japan where many forms have been introduced. Our Adonis vernalis was started from seed collected in the Czech Republic started by Harvey Wrightman's Nursery, where he shared a few plants with us. Harvey WrightmanMostly this is a plant shared by collectors, but look for it, for one could call this the Peony of Ranunculus'. The other species which is sometimes more available is the Asian form, Adonis amurensis. Try ordering it from Asiatica.com.

When I planted the dormant potted division last autumn, I didn't realize that I planted in near a dormant Corydalis bulb clump, so this late summer, I will relocate the Corydalis solida, not the Adonis.

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Winter Stars, winter sax's


Saxifraga longifolia


Many non gardeners may think that the winter garden offers little in the way of interest or display. But many plants offer year-round interest, and walking to the greenhouse today, I noticed how pretty my many troughs of Saxifrages look in the winter, with their lime encrusted foliage, and their silvery leaves that are as hard as rock. I am amazed at how sturdy these high mountain plants are, and each and every year, as I add and collect more, their diversity and beauty stops me, and I am reminded of why I love unusual plants so much. You are unlikely to find Saxifrages at your local garden center, or at a big hardware store garden shop. But you can find them online at a few alpine plant nurseries. Saxifrages are worth searching out, for these are one of those things like the finest cookware is to a cook, or a fine imported tool, that get's better with age. Saxifrages seem to say " Hey, you are a serious gardener, and you undoubtedly know what you are doing". Well, if you are like me, you may like things that 'say' that.

Not all Saxifrages are alpine plants, for some are downright huge, and tropical. But it is the alpine species that are so collectable and cherished by rock gardeners, and alpine plant enthusiasts. Saxifrages that are alpines are tiny, lime encrusted plants, and often for dense, hard mounds that alpine gardeners lovingly call buns. The dense buns are hard, and tight, they way we like buns. In the wild, they cling to rocks and cliffs on the highest peaks above the clouds, in in the mist, but they are sturdy and strong, in fact, they are designed for snow and harsh, misty conditions, but, conditions that are exact. T

So why don't you see them everywhere? Well, the reason you don't see them that first, they are considered challenging to grow, and, they are not suited to mass productions for retail garden centers. Plus, they bloom in the late winter, or very early spring. When you see a trendy trough garden workshop on TV or on a make over show, what the host reccomends planting is often hens and chicks, sempervivums, and sedum's. These are incredibly foolproof we all know, but hardly something you can show off or impress with. I like semps, but sempervivums are best left to the casual gardener, for although pretty, they are rather unexciting, and boring, a toddler can grow them.

Saxifrages require an informed mind, and an experienced alpinist to master. ( They don't, but everyone still thinks so, even experienced rock gardeners ( read on) Or, so, they did, for today, I feel most anyone can 'master' growing this once difficult and fussy alpines, but don't share my secret with too many people! Just quietly order some, and pot up a trough, and leave it alone. Then, sit back and watch the most experiences horticultural snob's eye's pop out when they see your trough of these precious, high alpines, all dense and bun like, and you can exclaim...."oh those?, They're so easy, I really don't pay much attention to them". And, here's how...

Here is my big secret - although they are notoriously fussy ( I don't think so, though), they are easy if purchased from one retailer online Harvey Wrightman, for he not only has a premiere collection from the finest sources in Eastern Europe where the best come from ( the Czech's are crazy about Sax's), Check out their Rock Garden site if you want to see some incredible Sax's. But the reason you must get your plants from Harvey is because he grows his Saxifrages in blocks of Tufa rock, which makes them incredibly fool proof.

Look, you can still kill them, but think about this: I lost hundreds of Saxifrages until I bought Harvey's stone grown plants. I have lost none in over 4 years, and although costly, they have grown into large, if not huge, specimens in my troughs. And.....I rarely do anything to them. They get snowed on, rained on, full sun, and rarely watered, they are exposed to all of our New England elements. So, if you've ever wanted a winter garden, or a container that looked as good on the New Year, as it does in March, and in August, then consider planting a trough of Saxifrages, and maybe next year, you too can have a container of stars on your terrace or deck.

The only thing they dislike is winter moisture, and summer humidity. Many of these Saxifrages offer pretty flowers early in the year, perhaps late February or March here in New England, and often are the first sign of spring in our garden, long before the crocus and spring bulbs even think of emerging. Easy to grow in Hyper-tufa troughs, the sort Martha Stewart has shown being made out of concrete and peat, or grown in a frost proof stoneware container, Saxifrages are fun to collect, for there are countless hybrids and species.