Tuesday 1 December 2015

Pikes Peak, Colorado: The Alpines

I arrived in Denver late on the afternoon of June 24th, 2015. I had to work the next day, so I didn't have a whole lot of time. On Mike Kintgen's recommendation, I decided to drive to Pikes Peak for an evening of exploration.

Arriving at the base station that exists at about 11,000 ft above sea level (asl), I found the mountain road to the peak just re-opening after a late afternoon rain/snowstorm. After a short wait, I was allowed to proceed up the hill. Here's what I saw.

Aproaching the summit.

At the summit, there were still vast snowfields - particularly on North-facing slopes.

In areas free of snow, Claytonia megarhiza was going to flower soon, but was probably a week or ten days away. This is very plentiful at the summit, which is at over 14,000ft elevation! Step away from the tourist amenities, out onto the tundra. This plant will be everywhere underfoot.

Thlaspi montanum was also plentiful, and just starting to bloom.

As I drove back downhill from the summit, I stopped at perhaps 13,000 feet asl and immediately stumbled upon Paronychia pulvinata. This is literally 50 feet from the road.

Silene acaulis was still a ways away from blooming, which is a shame. Still a neat cushion though.

Geum rossii blooming at about 13,000 ft asl.

An otherworldly tundra landscape circa 12,500 ft asl.

Colorado endemic Oreoxis humilis at about 12,500 ft asl. This is really easy to find just above and below treeline. Interesting plant - looks like a tiny Lomatium. Same family.

Ah yes, I definitely came to see Erytrichium nanum, which was in bloom just above treeline at 12,500 ft asl or so.

What are YOU looking at?

More Erytrichium nanum. I will never forget seeing one of the classic, definitive alpine plants.

Primula angustifolia among Erytrichium nanum, Oreoxis humilis, Silene acaulis, etc. Just a wonderland.

Well I already can't wait to go back, but I figure the first or second week of July is probably optimum. Stay tuned for "Pikes Peak, Colorado: Below the Treeline"

Tuesday 3 November 2015

Best Cacti of 2015, Part 1 - The Opuntiads

This was not a banner year for Opuntia, or Prickly Pear cacti, in the mountain garden. A lot of plants really seemed to peak in 2013 and 2014 - the following Spring seasons saw me pruning large portions of mature plants to remove rot and disease. This cycle has been my experience growing many hardy Opuntia in this garden since 2004. Since these plants produce flowers on "old wood" - mostly last year's pads - the Summer following heavy pruning is light on flowers.

I hope that my new South-facing gravel bed, which was basically a natural feature in the yard "helped along" by the construction of a ramp down to the floodplain along Hayes Creek, will bring about more stability in my Opuntia populations and offer new possibilities with its natural attributes. This steep slope accumulates much less snow during the winter. It is snow-free weeks ahead of my other garden beds, and its Southern aspect ensures it dries out very rapidly and remains well-drained once the snow is gone. It should help me grow more cacti, more successfully. It could really rejuvinate my interest and enthusiasm for these plants. In fact, it already has - I have high hopes for the many cuttings and seedlings I planted in that bed this past Summer.

Anyhow, here is my review of the best Opuntiads of 2015.

Opuntia "Sandy Hook" is a hybrid by Jean Wieprecht of Edmonton, Alberta. Jean described as being of Opuntia fragilis lineage but in those days (80's, 90's) anything small and cute, including what is now called Opuntia debreczyi, was lumped into O. fragilis. There is no way of knowing for sure, but I'd say this is likely to be of O. debreczyi lineage.

Close-up of Opuntia "Sandy Hook". Blooming on June 20, 2015, this flowered appoximately 2 weeks earlier than usual - the earliest I have ever seen Opuntia bloom in this garden!

One more of Opuntia "Sandy Hook".

I love the acid yellow blooms of this Opuntia polyacantha from Colorado.

A close-up of that same Opuntia polyacantha. I got this from Beaver Creek Greenhouses, although the vast majority of my Opuntia now are hybrids I made, or collected myself in mountainous regions of North America, or traded for from other breeders & collectors.

This Opuntia polyacantha from the Red Deer River Valley's badlands near Jenner, Alberta, has done well for me in certain conditions since I collected it in 2005. It does not like excessive snow and a wet shoulder season, and so does very well permanently planted in this trough which is kept dry and virtually snow-free by the roof of the adjacent potting shed. This plant sees temperatures below -30C every year, and is unaffected. There are many ball cacti in this trough too, including several collections of Escobaria vivipara and many Pediocactus simpsonii. All of these enjoy the drier conditions of the trough. More on those in Part 2.

Another shot of Opuntia polyacantha from Jenner, Alberta.

This Opuntia polyacantha is one of the original bunch I purchased in 2004 from the now-defunct Cusheon Creek Nursery on Saltspring Island, BC. The only information I have is that it's from Utah. It is one of the most winter-tolerant Opuntia I have.

Another shot of that Utah Opuntia polyacantha.

Good old Opuntia "Namao Rose", another Jean Wieprecht hybrid that is hands-down the best performing Opuntia for me since 2004. This plant handles cold, wet, and is a prolific bloomer. Jean said it was an open-pollinated hybrid of Opuntia basilaris, but in those days, people referred to Opuntia aurea as O. basilaris. I believe it to be the progeny of O. aurea, based on its habit and characteristics.

I am quite excited about this Opuntia, which I received in trade with Francois Pare of Montreal. The pads are beautiful and the plant seems to do okay sitting underneath Pinus contorta. I got seed from it last year and am working on seedlings.

Opuntia "Sandy Hook" and Opuntia "Namao Rose", both Wieprecht hybrids.

Opuntia "Linz" - a European hybrid I obtained in trade with Martin Tversted of Denmark. I love that colour - looking for a higher resolution version of this photo.

Opuntia "Indian Princess" is a third Wieprecht hybrid developed in Edmonton (quite by accident - Jean's hybrids are the product of open pollination). Another amazing colour - looking for a higher resolution version of this photo.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Bulb-Mania in Both Gardens

My interest in bulbs really exploded about this time last year. Photos of Mike Kintgen's gardens in Colorado, subsequent conversations with him and then seeing his buffalo grass lawn awash in Crocus last Spring, and finally Brent Hine's photos of rare Narcissus in Vancouver's E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden provided most of the inspiration.

This is what it's all about! Tulipa clusiana "Peppermint Stick" in the Vancouver scree garden, Spring 2014.

This Fall, I've planted well over 50 varieties of bulbs / tubers/ corms in both my Lower Mainland / Vancouver and / or mountain gardens. The majority of these plants were botanical or "species" Tulipa, Reticulated Iris, various Spring and Fall blooming Crocus, rock garden Narcissus, Galanthus, Colchicum, Erythronium, Lilium, Chionodoxa, Scilla and Cyclamen.

Just a very few of the bulbs I ordered.

Special measures were taken, at the mountain garden, to protect vulnerable plants, particularly botanical Tulipa, from voles - which are tunneling rodents that ravage plants and their roots under the cover of snow. Squirrels and pocket gophers are also an issue. I built these sturdy, metal, sealable cages out of hardware cloth and baling wire, with Mike Kintgen's encouragement.

Hardware cloth cages to protect bulbs from rodents. The bulbs can be placed inside the cages. Then soil is packed around them until full. Finally, seal the cage lid shut with baling wire and bury the entire cage. Note the hardware cloth used for the lid has larger holes than the sides - to allow the flowers to emerge. I hope!

Now Mike Kintgen has advised that in his mountain garden at Steamboat Lake, Colorado, he has found that voles will sample just about anything except for Narcissus, Galanthus and Colchicum. Even "deer resistant" bulbs such as many Crocus and Iris are vulnerable. I am keeping my fingers crossed. If I had built cages for every variety of bulb I planted, I would still be making cages!

Anyhow, I've already been treated to some Fall blooms in the Vancouver garden, with more on the way:

Colchicum "The Giant" in September.

Crocus speciosus in early to mid October.

Crocus cartwrightianus last week.

Crocus sativus - from which the spice Saffron comes from - just starting to emerge last week.

Cyclamen hederifolium - unfortunately not going to bloom this year.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

What Will I Find, Where the Sun Don't Shine?

The valley cut by Hayes Creek, where my mountain garden is located, runs almost due North/South, so virtually every surface and aspect in the valley is exposed to hours of sunlight. In the summer, temperatures can soar to the mid-30's celsius in the afternoon, although they almost always dip to the single digits at night.

There is a nice mix of conifers in the valley, including (in order of frequency): Pinus contorta, Picea glauca x engelmannii, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Pinus ponderosa, Juniperus scopulorum and Abies lasiocarpa. That last one is special. Abies lasiocarpa (Subalpine Fir) dominates (surprise) subalpine habitats in Western North America, up to treeline. This tree requires a cold winter, and won't appear in locales where summer temperatures are too high for its liking. It also has higher moisture requirements than any of the other native conifers. So it is associated with a lot of interesting plants that have similar requirements. I would suspect that in my valley, which can be very hot and dry in the Summer, it is an indicator of conditions that would more likely support other members of its assocated subalpine community.

About 2 kilometers North of me, at the same elevation, there is a bend in the road where the valley runs East/West for a few hundred metres. On the South side of the valley bottom, it is very shady and sheltered from the hot Summer sun. At that location, Abies lasiocarpa is one of the dominant species. The area where this tree is most dominant is private property. I need to secure permission to go and look at the spot more closely. Working on that.

Further Eastward about 200 metres from that spot, it is a little more exposed and not as shaded because the hillside to the South is not as steep. Abies lasiocarpa is still quite common, but not as dominant as in that one magical, shady spot. It occurred to me I have never really explored this area. If I can gain access to the private property, what will I find there? Are there shady cliffs above the creek where I will find Saxifraga tolmei, like I did at that shady cliff-face 200 meters from the house? Or will I find the rumoured, but never seen Erythronium grandiflorum (my favourite, remember?) that was reported less than 2 kilometers from here by researchers working on the BC biogeoclimatic zone project?

The bend in the valley where it briefly runs East/West. The forest of Abies lasiocarpa is at the foot of the hill, next to the pasture. This is the most dense concentration of these trees in the valley. Of course, further up the hill to the left, they become more and more common until they are almost exclusive with Picea engelmannii.

Through binoculars, one can clearly see the trees. They have a very distinctive, narrow and conical shape that is iconic to subalpine forests from the Rockies Westward.

200 meters further East, there is Crown property and I am able to access the A. lasiocarpa habitat. However, it is not as dominant here.

Abies lasiocarpa 200 meters East of the pasture site.

The classic, upturned and soft/round-tipped needles of Abies lasiocarpa. It has distinct cones too - upright and purple.

Will I find Erythronium grandiflorum, such as this one photographed by Mary Mastriel of Princeton, at the China Ridge Trails, just outside of Princeton?

How about Dodecatheon pulchellum, like this one I photographed with Kenton Seth near the juncture of Highway 3 and Friday Creek?

Sunday 13 September 2015

E.C. Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia in Summer 2015

I have the opportunity to stop at the Park, Southeast of Princeton, BC, on my way to and from my homes in the Lower Mainland and the Southern Interior of the province. This year, Summer came so early that I made my first stop at the Cascade Lookout and various spots on the road to the Park's Subalpine Meadows on June 5. Here I found plants in bloom weeks earlier than usual.

Phacelia sericea at Cascade Lookout, June 5.

Phlox diffusa in a natural crevice garden at Cascade Lookout, June 5.

Viola glabbela? Near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5.

My favourite, Erythronium grandiflorum, near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5. Normally around this date, I see this plant blooming at elevations 1500-2000 feet lower.

Arenaria capilaris near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5.

Penstemon fruticosus near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5.

Castilleja hispida with Lupinus arcticus near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5.

Eriogonum umbellatum v. subalpinum, July 15.

Penstemon serrulatus, July 15.

Chamerion latifolium on a dry, rocky bank, July 15. Usually this is seen on riverbanks or streambanks.

Slopes at the Subalpine Meadows, July 15.

Seemingly giant Anemone occidentalis with Castilleja rhexifolia or C. miniata at the Subalpine Meadows, July 15.

Castilleja parviflora v. albida at the Subalpine Meadows, July 15.

Castilleja rhexifolia or C. miniata - I need to key this. July 15.

Lupinus arcticus overlooking a forest of Abies lasiocarpa near Blackwall Peak, July 15.

Chamerion latifolium on the banks of the Similkameen River beside Highway 3, August 16.