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.

A Rainbow of crazy cactus colors

Here are a couple more cactus hybrids flowering in the gardens of JLBG, both created by our volunteer cactus/succulent curator, Vince Schneider. The first is a Trichocereus cross, the parents of which were created by a former volunteer, Mike Papay. Vince crossed two of Mike’s selections to come up with the gem. My camera had trouble since I don’t think this color is supposed to exist in nature.

Trichocereus ‘Big Time’ x Irridescent Watermelon’

The second is Vince’s cross of Echinocereus dasycanthus x ctenoides…an amazing blend of colors. We can’t imagine anyone with a dry sun garden that isn’t growing these amazing plants.

Echinocereus [dasyacanthus Cornudas Mts, NM x ctenoides (SB1536 form)

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?

Hot as Ice

Here are more delospermas (ice plants) looking great at JLBG this week. The first two are the most moisture tolerant, Delosperma cooperi (purple), and Delosperma ‘Kelaidis’ (peach). At the bottom is Delosperma sutherlandii, which is a species that we’ve never been able to keep alive in our wet summers prior to building the crevice garden.

Delosperma cooperi (purple), Delosperma ‘Kelaidis’ (peach)
Delosperma sutherlandii

Rockin’ Rose

We’ve tried for years to grow Helianthemum, the European native rock rose, which is highly prized by rock gardeners. Over the last 35 years, we’ve failed miserably…until we built our crevice garden. Here, it is currently, thriving in our soil mix of 50% Permatill (popped slate).

Helianthemum ‘Belgravia Rose’

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’

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

A bleeding Ox….really?

There are several tiny rock garden-sized phlox, bred in the EU, and sold by specialist nurseries as forms of the Western US native, Phlox douglasii. The only problem is that Phlox douglasii isn’t really growable much outside climates similar to its native haunts. Phlox expert Charles Oliver determined these are actually hybrids between Phlox douglasii and the East Coast native Phlox subulata. This week, one of those hybrids, Phlox ‘Ochsen Blut’ is ravishing, and thriving in our crevice garden. The name, which translates to Ox Blood, indicates that the breeder most likely doesn’t have any training in marketing.

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