sticks and stones

I should have named the garden that. Sticks and Stones. “We toured this garden and it was aptly named. Nothing but sticks and stones; it was awful.”

Well, what do you expect? The soil here is too dry to support the kind of plants that comprise a traditional garden, and even a lot of the so-called xeric plants fail just when I need them the most. I was driving down Kipling Street the other day and saw huge fat clumps of the sacaton, Sporobolus wrightii, in full flower in the medians; this is what it looks like in dry soil.

Sporobolus wrightii, needing a drink.

The grasses here are old plants, too big to dig up, so they’ll stay where they are, a monument to reality.

Not that reality has much of anything to do with gardening. The sacaton has been labeled “xeric”, which it most certainly is not, but labels tend to stick. Here’s Range Plant Handbook: “Unlike its relative, alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), this species will not grow on soils which are highly impregnated with alkali and it is more exacting in its moisture requirements, although fairly drought-resistant after becoming established.” Fairly drought-resistant, big deal. “When overgrazing is continued, rain and floodwater cut the trails deeper until the tussocks are finally left high and dry and eventually die.” High and dry, eventually die. Not a description of a xeric plant. More like Kentucky bluegrass.

All of this would make me feel better about the condition of my sacatons, not to mention my approach to reality, were it not for what came in the mail today, which, among other things I’m too timid to mention, were a bunch of keckiellas for the front garden.

They used to be called penstemons, “bush penstemons”, and David Keck, mentioned in the previous post, segregated them into a separate subgenus, Hesperothamnus, in 1936. These are mostly Californian, woody (one, cordifolia, is climbing), with galeate flowers. (If you make a G with your hand as though doing a shadow puppet, your fingers form the galea, or hood.)

They became Keckiella when studies showed that they differed from penstemons in having a hypogynous nectary disc, the name honoring Keck, who did the first systematic treatment of the genus Penstemon, and are yet another thing to collect, or at least think about.

I admit, most people would think it’s weird to want to grow keckiellas in Colorado, but then, they would also think it’s weird not to water. Keckiellas are hardy, at least in my garden, or sort of hardy anyway (I’ve grown them before), or not hardy at all and I’m just deluding myself, but they are drought deciduous, and so will look like not much more than a bunch of green sticks in weather like this. Blooming in spring, then turning into sticks. Here are the plants, looking just like I expected. Now this is what I call exciting.

Keckiella antirrhinoides, K. breviflora, K. ternata var. septentrionalis.




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