Tuesday, August 15, 2017

purple aster

Fall in New Mexico is heralded by the purple aster which in my part of town is probably Machaeranthera bigelovii. One year, the roadside behind my house was carpeted with them, and the fall display was stunning and lasted for several weeks. I have a photo of it somewhere, but to be honest, photos don't do this plant's display justice. The flowers are a soft lavender that cameras don't pick up very well, and the color is not really strong enough to compete with the golden yellow of Chamisa, the other flower that heralds fall here. The effect in photos is that of a field of weeds. Up close, the flowers are stunning.

Here is a portrait of one that I did a few years back.

The plants are indeed weedy looking and are not plants that you would invite into a neat garden, unless they could be hidden behind something for most of the summer. They are also biennial or short lived perennials. My experience is that "short lived perennial" is a bit of stretch. When I let one grow in my old garden, the first year it looked like a weed that I forgot to pull. It had a few flowers that first autumn, and the next year it spent the summer looking like a bigger weed that I forgot to pull. The fall show was fantastic.

But purple asters being the hallmark of fall (here and just about everywhere in the U.S.), I began looking at more garden-worthy specimens. I've been growing Aster x frikartii 'Monch' for at least a dozen years. In my mind, they are the best substitute for the native purple aster, because the color of the flowers is almost identical, although 'Monch' blooms much earlier, the flowers are larger, and the display longer. The main display is in August, which is at least a month before the native aster. It is also the first aster to bloom in my garden. The plant is much more garden worthy than the native aster, being a mound of foliage in the summer, although it needs irrigation.
 The flowers are stunning, to my eye, and similarly to the native aster, difficult to photograph in a way that shows just how beautiful they are.

Two other asters in my garden are starting to bloom right now, just as 'Monch' is past its peak.

'Purple Dome' is a cultivar of the New England Aster, Aster novae-angliae also known as the hairy aster, and was promoted by High Country Gardens as being a great aster for New Mexico due to its drought tolerance and compact stature. In my garden it is indeed compact, and requires moderate amounts of water. It is quite vigorous and small divisions in spring quickly forms a clump and put on a good show by fall. What I don't like about 'Purple Dome' is that the flowers don't seem to want to open fully, and the color is a strident red-purple. Not a very relaxing color at all, and not at all similar to the native aster in plant form or flower color. Still it is probably a great garden plant where it gets more irrigation than my garden, as I suspect this is why the flowers don't open well.

These are not yet in full bloom, when the flowers cover the tops of the plants rather impressively.
 I told my partner that I was taking them out and he told me that he loved the color, so they stay. I had purchased one plant and a couple of years later, the many divisions cover large areas of my yard.

To be honest, I'm not sure if this next aster is the first to bloom in my yard or if 'Monch' was.  This one, however, has been opening a flower or two for some time now, and is probably a couple of weeks or more from reaching full bloom. I purchased it as 'Professor Anton Kippenberg' but I knew it was not, because all the other plants labelled the same were a different color. Like the Professor, it has smooth leaves and similar plant form of the professor, so probably Aster novi-belgi, the New York Aster, but perhaps a seedling. What made me insist on purchasing it, was the color.  It is a lovely blue, whereas the Professor is more purple. Planted side by side in my garden, they are distinctly different (and the Professor is only just starting to show color in the buds). Flowers are quite small, perhaps a 1/2 inch across. It's not really a substitute for the native aster either, but may be a valuable garden addition just for the color. Much nicer than 'Purple Dome.

 It doesn't have much of a display yet, but look at those hundreds of buds.

I have two more asters to come. The real 'Professor Anton Kippenberg' has yet to start its display, and the highly touted 'Raydon's Favorite' whose buds have yet to form. I wait anxiously anticipating.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

agapanthus 'blue yonder'

I was feeling a bit homesick for the California Agapanthus of my youth when I found Agapanthus 'Blue Yonder'. It was in a catalog that I didn't trust very much, but it said it was hardy to zone 6. Unheard of! Zone 7 has always been very borderline for the Agapanthus crowd. But I had to try it. I've had it for a few years now, and it has grown, and now blooming more than it has before. I've learned a few things in the past few years.

Agapanthus prefers a Mediterranean climate. No question about that. Even this hardy form has struggled. The leaves are late to emerge, and when they do, the tips are always brown. The growth has been very slow. Although my plants have expanded, there were very few flowers the first two years, and the plants are very very small compared to the non-hardy forms in California, only about 10 inches tall (the flower stalks taller). The flowers and umbels are also quite small, an umbel being about 3 inches across, which is miniscule by California standards. Also, they need a lot of water to be happy. The one that died was because the drip emitter to that plant wasn't quite reaching it. Two that I transplanted from under a tree that had grown since planting them, were not happy this year, with only one umbel between the two of them.

It is clear that although these are Agapanthus, they are not the same as the Agapanthus in California. Maybe if I planted these there, they would be different. This does not mean that they are not worthwhile garden plants here, however. Although they might need some coddling (which I have yet to give them), the vibrancy of the color is incredible, and stands out from across the yard. This photo is after several weeks of bloom, so the bloom season is long. They have survived and grown despite no extra winter protection, which was surprising. Overall, I'm enjoying them quite a bit, but I think I'll have to pamper them a bit more. More water, more fertilizer.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

first plum

It's been four years since I planted two plum trees in my yard. They are probably not planted in the best position, since they are against a south facing wall, and with root competition from other trees. I had chosen two European plums because they are said to bloom later than the Asian plums, and would more likely avoid late frosts. New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, says either Asian plums or European plums can be grown in New Mexico, although the late frosts are more likely to affect the Asian plums.  European plums are said to be better for cooking, and the stores sell Asian plums. I wanted to grow something that couldn't be bought in stores. How could I resist the delicious descriptions of the European plums? Here's Trees of Antiquity description of  'Bavay's Green Gage':

"Bavay's Green Gage is one of the best gages, or old European plums, this is still considered the ideal dessert plum in Europe. Not to be confused with Asian plum called "Green Gage". Bavay's Green Gage has meaty flesh with a rich gage flavor and incredible candy-like sweetness. Juicy, smooth-textured amber flesh is also delicious cooked, canned or preserved. Performs better than the old Green Gage in coastal California. Productive and highly recommended."

They are not as vigorous as the Asian plums, however, and mine have grown very slowly, probably in part to the less than ideal growing conditions. There have been some blossoms in the spring, and unfortunately, even though my resources and the catalogs say they they are good for cross pollinating each other, the 'Early Laxton' and the 'Bavay's Green Gage' I purchased have not bloomed at the same time in the past couple of years. They are said to be self-fruitful, but less productive. I tried hand pollinating (the flowers fading on one tree while the fresh blossoms appeared on the other), but it did not seem to be successful.

Today, sniffing the roses, I looked up to see a single fruit on my 'Bavay's Green Gage'. How thrilling! Testing its firmness, it seemed ripe, and the reason I think I even saw it was because it had developed a golden tinge to the greenness.

I split the tasting with my partner. Tasting it, the description seems accurate. Yes, the rich flavor, the intense sweetness, juicy but not as smooth textured as the description would imply. Delicious. One plum in four years. I hope next year brings on a bunch more.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


I don't like this new trend of naming roses whose name includes punctuation, and by punctuation, I mean the exclamation mark. It seems silly and forced. Does that exclamation mark really add anything? For marketing purposes, am I more likely to purchase "Voluptuous!" rather than "Voluptuous"? Adding that punctuation is naming for the mindless masses, like the buyer can't make up their own mind, so adding that exclamation mark tells them what to think. I find it rather offensive. When reading a list of my varieties, it does catch the eye, but my first impression is that the exclamation mark makes the word preceding it a title of the list, rather than the name of a rose itself. "Fabulous!" being the quality of roses in the list rather than the name of on of the roses itself. Personally, I think the name "Voluptuous" would be kind of cute. I still don't like the strident glowing lipstick red of that rose and wouldn't buy it with either name, but "Voluptuous!" seems rather presumptuous, particularly because I don't find it to be very voluptuous, and that punctuation seems to try to force that opinion onto me. It's like saying "The sky is RED!" or "It's FAKE NEWS!" The emphasis doesn't make it true. And although names of cultivars frequently do describe a color or mood of the plant (such as Hesperaloe parvifolia 'Brakelights' which is an unusually red form), I find this forced word to convey falsehood.

So it was with great hesitancy that I purchased a rose named 'Fabulous!' I still hate the name. But it was one of those rare occasions where people have commented saying that it is indeed fabulous, with or without the exclamation point. They also commented that it is rarely sold anymore, which nearly convinced me that it really is a dud as the name would suggest. I did purchase it because a rose grower that I've appreciated, said that it was a good rose. Here in its second season, it has indeed turned out to be a good rose. It is vigorous, disease free, and blooms frequently, even in 100 degree heat. The only things that keep it from being "Fabulous!" in my book is that it has very little fragrance, and that the flowers are a little small. So "Fabulous!" or not, it's a pretty good rose.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

rest in peace, dad

My old faded and worn out Sunset New Western Garden Book, from 1979

My father passed away this past week, on July 17, 2017 at the age of 86. People said that I looked a lot like him. My sister says that I inherited my sensitivity (and intensity and tendency to worry) from my mother, and that I inherited my father's artistic nature and his love of plants.

Well I think I far outstripped Dad in plant fanaticism. if I had to relay a story of Dad when I was a kid it go like this:

Imagine, it is 1979, I’m 12 years old and I just returned from a bus trip to downtown Oakland, (on my own!), and Dad is watching the football game.

Announcer: “The Saints and the Raiders have taken the field once again and we are moments away from the beginning of the second half, we’ll look at the statistics, New Orleans who piled up at one point a club record of 28 points in one quarter...”

I’m sitting on the couch ready to break open my brand new book. The New Western Garden book, which had just been released and I had saved enough pennies to buy one on sale.

Dad says, “Peter! Come sit next to me and watch the football game!” It’s not a request, it’s a command.

I’m thinking “oooookay....” so I get up, sit next to him....and open my book and begin reading. It goes something like this: Let’s play a game where I just read off the names of plants I know, and get familiar with the layout of the book.
Abelia grandiflora
Abies concolor
Abutilon hybridum, Abutilon megapotamicum,
Acacia baileyana, and Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’
Acacia farnesiana (can’t wait to sniff that one)
Acacia melanoxylon (oh, that one’s in the back yard)
Acanthus mollis
Acer macrophyllum...

Dad: “Peter! Are you watching?”
I look up:
 Announcer: “...Oakland! With a first and 10, Arthur Whittington gets the call for this out over the 35...”

Me: Acer macrophyllum (that’s a cool one!)
Acer palmatum
Achillea tomentosa
Acoelorrhaphe wrightii (why can’t we grow anything cool like that?)
Adianthum raddianum

Dad: “Peter! Did you see that play?!”
Announcer: “..and out comes Rick Partridge, presumably to punt, and Russell Ergsleger, their #1 draft pick kicker...”

Agapanthus africanus,
Akebia quinata...”
Dad looks down at me: “What the f....smiling mighty Jesus!”
Looks up to heaven “Why couldn’t you have given me a normal boy?”

Nope, as my father told me, I was never the son that he wanted. I think that was because in some ways, I was too much like him, the parts of himself that he didn't like. But I don't think those were necessarily bad qualities.
My Garden Books. No I don't have the newest one.


I think it is important to document the failures as well as the successes. Sometimes plants start out promising, do well for a season, or with special coddling, then fail. Sometimes I buy plants that "should" do well, since they do well in Santa Fe, or Denver, but don't.

Phlox kelsyi is a miniature phlox which is sold by alpine nurseries, High Country Gardens, and had a good review by Robert Nold in his book High and Dry. He does describe it as having a "preference for wet, alkaline areas, these do dry out in summer and autumn, and so P. kelseyi will work quite well in a dry rock garden." I was very optimistic, since I think that Phlox kelsyi vies with Scutellaria resinosa for being the cutest plants ever, to grow in my climate. I've tried Phlox kelsyi 'Lemhi Purple' and Phlox kelsyi 'Lemhi Midnight' which originate in Idaho. 'Lemhi Purple' survived in an area of the garden with high shade from a pine tree, but then one of the three plants died after being shaded slightly from a nearby rosemary plant. I'm not sure if it was the shading that did it, since soon after, the next plant down died also. 'Lemhi Midnight' bloomed about the same color as 'Lemhi Purple' after shrugging of the winter without complaint, but once the heat came, the plant except for the part directly under the drip emitter. Even that part doesn't look very happy. Hand irrigating didn't seem to help. I think these plants are cold tolerant, but not heat tolerant. This is a big disappointment for me, since I love the look of these plants.  Maybe it needs heavy irrigation.

Phlox kelsyi 'Lemhi Midnight'
This is what it looked like this spring:

I also love the look of the dryland clematis, also known as sugarbowls. These are also incredibly cute and apparently do well at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I'm not sure if these count as a failure, if they are marginal, or if I'm just not doing something right. They seem to emerge robustly in the spring,  and I did have two blooms this year (none last year), but when the heat hits, the leaves die. The interesting thing is that a few weeks later, new leaves spring from the roots, just in time for (but before) the late summer monsoons. This happened last year as well as this year, and irrigation didn't seem to make a difference this year. I'm not sure if this is just the way the plants grow, or if they are killed by the intense sun and this is a survival mechanism (and the plants are barely surviving). In either case, I'm still trying. I'm also going to try growing some companion plants around some of them, to see if that helps.

Here's what one looks like today, with the spring foliage brown, and the newly emerging late summer growth. 

As a reminder of this past spring, this is the reason why I want to grow them:

I also tried Clematis integrifollia 'Lake Baikal' from Plant Delights nursery. This one did not survive its first summer, the leaves burning even with fairly attentive hand watering and heavy mulch.
When it was alive, it had nice flowers. Unfortunately, it is now dead. I'd like to try again in a different location if I can find a source for a good Clematis integrifolia, especially since C. integrifolia 'Rooguchi' seems to be doing adequately well for me, and is lovely.

Clematis integrifolia 'Lake Baikal'

acantholimon halophylum

Now that the flowers are done, the calyces have become larger and extend to the end of the spikes. They make a nice show, when the flowers didn't.  It's interesting that the calyces close in the rain, then open up again. Is it worth growing? You be the judge.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

mystery lily

Overall, the lilies did not do well this year. The heat and wind caused the buds of many to blast or burn. 'Scheherezade' did okay, although the leaves burned. I also have a mystery lily that was struggling in the shade of a mugho pine, so last fall, I dug it out and put it in a pot. It is much happier there, and I also moved it around as the weather warmed up, so that it didn't stay in a place that got too much sun, or too little. Maybe next year it will be even better. I'm not sure if I think it is a very pretty lily, though! From the side it is nice, but face on, not so nice. Flowers are 7-1/2 inches wide, natural spread.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

rose roundup

With the heat settling in, the rose season is ending. Well, not really ending, but flowers come much less often and are in much less than prime condition. Temperature this week is supposed to hit 107F. Here are some of the highlights of the year, so far. I hope there are more to come once the weather cools down some.

Abraham Darby

Abraham Darby

Alexandra Princesse de Luxembourg

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Bishop's Castle

Bishop's Castle
Claire Austin

Claire Austin




Jude the Obscure

Princess Charlene de Monaco

Pure Perfume

Radio Times


Sonia Rykiel

Sonia Rykiel

William Shakespeare 2000