Michaux and Michauxia

Most keen botanist are familiar with the late French botanist, Andre’ Michaux (1746-1802). Michaux was a pioneer in botanizing North America, but how many people have actually grown the plant genus named in his honor. Michauxia is a genus of seven species, sister to campanulas, that hail from the Mediterranean though much of the Middle-East. We are fortunate to have his namesake, Michauxia campanuloides in flower this week for the first time, where it is thriving in the crevice garden.

Obscure and Ambiguous

To identify plants that are new to us, we start with the time-tested step of determining how close plants look to relatives we already know. This comes first, before we dive into floral dissection, etc. In most cases, we can get pretty close to a correct id, since we’ve grown and seen such a large number of plants. Two plants that threw us completely off the trail when we first saw them, are flowering now in the crevice garden here at JLBG.

The first, below, is Digitalis obscura, the Spanish Foxglove. I’d have lost big had I wagered on its identity when I first saw this, since I would have bet the farm that it was a penstemon, since the flowers and foliage share such an amazing resemblance to that genus. It’s taken us years to find a spot well-drained enough for this to survive in our rainy, humid, climate, but the wait was worth it.

Digitalis obscura

The second plant that doesn’t seem to fit its genus is also flowering now in the crevice garden…Penstemon ambiguous. This Southwest/Great Basin native, known as sand beardtongue, looks nothing like other members of the penstemon family, which are usually easily recognizable at first glance. Instead, it could easily be mistaken for a phlox. This is our third year for this gem, so perhaps this may appear in our nursery offerings one day.

Penstemon ambiguous

Little ledebouria

Most people are in too much of a hurry when they visit gardens and subsequently miss so many of the tiny gems in the garden. Here our clump of the South African native Ledebouria inquinata that was in full flower in the crevice garden during our recent spring open house. I wonder how many people actually walked slow enough to notice this tiny gem and its massive floral show. How about a “slow gardening” movement?

Staring at Ostara

Allium ‘Ostara’ is a new bulbous ornamental onion from a cross of the lovely, but difficult to grow (in the southeast US) Allium karataviense and Allium atropurpureum. We’re growing this in our crevice garden, which is working well…so far. We’re hoping the genes from Allium atropurpureum will make this more growable.

Allium ‘Ostara’

Kale for Life

Blooming now in the crevice garden is one of our favorite edimentals. If you haven’t heard this word before, it’s the new combo term for edible ornamentals. Crambe maritima, known as sea kale, is a plant we first grew for its fragrant flowers, only to find it incredibly tasty, both fresh and cooked. We are constantly grabbing a leaf for a garden snack. Best of all, Crambe maritima is a perennial that doesn’t need to replanted yearly. We can’t imagine why every lover of kale doesn’t grow this. Dry full baking sun is all that’s required.

Crambe maritima

Ice Red

Looking truly superb this spring is the South African ice plant, Delosperma dyeri in the crevice garden. We can’t grow this in typical soil due to our high rainfall, but in our crevice garden where gravel is the main planting media, it performs like a champ.

Delosperma dyeri

Rock Garden Daphnes

While daphnes have a reputation for being tough to grow, many are actually quite easy if given proper siting. My life with daphnes changed significantly after my 2010 botanical expedition to Crete. I was shocked to find daphnes growing in full baking sun in bone dry regions among large rocks. Before then, I had obviously taken far too good care of my daphnes. Once we constructed the crevice gardens at JLBG, we replaced all the daphnes we’d killed in “better” garden locations. Here’s the Cretan native Daphne sericea in full flower.

Kale by the Sea

When we finally discovered that sea kale (Crambe maritima) is indeed growable in our hot, humid climate, we’ve planted it all around. It’s also been rewarding that people have actually purchased it to try for themselves. Frankly, I’d grow sea kale for the ornamental value alone…a perennial with blue waxy foliage and an incredible show of white flowers in spring! Then, there’s the edibility, both cooked and raw. Also, for us, unlike other cabbages and kale, it has been virtually untouched by the pesky cabbage loopers.

Here is a photo of sea kale in our crevice garden this April, growing in a soil mix that’s 50% gravel, with no summer irrigation. Read my lips, I mean text…full baking sun and no irrigation after establishment. We recommend you never let your plants read the repetitive on-line sites that all tout that it only grows in cool, moist, climates…hooey!

A Concrete Idea

Unless you’ve been hiding under a piece of concrete, you’ve no doubt heard of our crevice garden experiment, constructed with recycled concrete and plants planted in chipped slate (Permatill). It’s been just over three years since we started the project and just over a year since its completion. In all, the crevice garden spans 300′ linear feet and is built with 200 tons of recycled concrete. The garden has allowed us to grow a range of dryland (6-12″ of rain annually) plants that would otherwise be ungrowable in our climate which averages 45″ of rain annually.

One of many plants we’d killed several times ptc (prior to crevice) are the arilbred iris, known to iris folks as ab’s. These amazing hybrids are crosses between the dazzling middleastern desert species and bearded hybrids. Being ready to try again post crevice (pc), we sent in our order to a California iris breeder, who promptly emailed to tell us that he would not sell them to us because they were ungrowable here. It took some persuading before they agreed to send our order, but on arrival, they became some of the first plants to find a home in the new crevices. Although we’ve added more ab’s each year, the original plantings will be three years old in August. Here are a few flowers from this week.

Iris are just a few of the gems that can be found in our “cracks”, continuing below with dianthus. As we continually take note of our trial successes, more and more of those gems will find their way into our catalog and on-line offerings…as long as we can produce it in a container. Please let us know if any of these strikes your fancy.

If that’s not enough, here are some more shinning stars currently in bloom.

If any of this seems interesting, you probably should be a member of the North American Rock Garden Society…a group of similarly afflicted individuals. If you are specifically addicted to cracks, check out the nearly 2000 strong, really sick folks on Modern Crevice Gardens on Facebook

Cyclamens in the cracks

When we completed our crevice garden, we wanted to see if it would be a good home to cyclamen, since they like to grow naturally in well drained sites, and sites that are very dry during their late spring/early dormant period. Here, they also get a couple of hours of morning sun, but shade after that and no supplemental water. The soil mix is about 50% Permatill and 50% native soil/compost. Here are some photos recently taken this winter showing how they have fared. The joy of growing cyclamen is that each seedling has a different leaf pattern…what amazing plants!

Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen coum