Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mullein vs Green Gentian by Irene Shonle

This year, we're seeing a lot of Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa, also known as Monument Plant) blooming.    This spectacular plant is monocarpic, meaning that it blooms once and then dies, much like a Century Plant (Agave).  It was formerly thought to be a biennial, but research (much of it done by Dr. Inouye at Rocky Mtn Biological Laboratory) has proved otherwise. It will often sit as a rosette for 20-80 years before blooming, and once it reaches blooming size, it waits for an environmental cue in order to synch with other plants (this allows for cross-pollination).   It seems as though this year, we're having a modest mass flowering (some years are much greater, apparently there was an unbelievable flowering in the Crested Butte area in 2003).  For more on this interesting plant, see this article from the Montana Native Plant Society.
Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa)

I point this out because I am worried that people are confusing this cool plant with the Colorado  list C noxious weed, Mullein (Verbascum thapsus).   I don't want people to pull the wrong thing by mistake; several people who have come into my office have almost done so.

Here's how you tell them apart:
Mullein has fuzzy leaves, Green Gentian's leaves are smooth.
Mullein has yellow flowers, Green Gentian's flowers are a greenish white.

Pictures of Green Gentian:

Pictures of Mullein:

The last picture on this post on mullein has a side-by-side comparison of the rosettes of Mullein and Green Gentian:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Something different to consider ……

In early 2013, I was entranced by an article I read on Hellebores, a delicate early flowering plant with dark green leaves and a glossy stem.  To my delight, I also discovered that it is possible to grow them at altitude!  I immediately put this plant on my wish list for 2013. 

Hellebores the article claimed were gaining a cult-like fancy & following.  What??  I thought … what have I missed, where have I been? Where do I find them??  I think all too often we get stuck in favorite routines of perennials, natives, vegetables and the annuals we enjoy for color in our garden.  I offer we should take advantage of the opportunity to broaden our plant experiences with new things.  How can we miss on a plant that is billed as early blooming (late winter to early spring), long-lasting  delicate flowers, frost resistant and low maintenance ?!!  Can we be so fortunate to have this as an option in our special foothills environment?  These plants are not usually found in the big box store nurseries, you are better off looking at your local garden center or trying an online grower.  Different varieties of hellebores offer a fairly broad range of growing zones as well.

The history of Hellebores is intriguing.  It is said that in Arabic, “helibar” means a remedy against madness – maybe appropriate for determined gardeners at altitude, I wonder??  It is also hinted that its mild leaf toxicity may have played a part in the poison solution that killed Alexander the Great.  The Europeans have long valued this plant from medieval times.  Today, visitors can even visit the Jardins de Bellevue, France’s National Collection of Hellebores located in Beaumont-le-Hareng.

But back to the Rocky Mountains for further insights.  I purchased 2 plants from a garden center in early March.  These would become my test plants.  They are Helleborus niger – HGC Jacob, pretty much the only variety I have found locally. The plants have white flowers that turn green when they reach maturity and begin to nod a bit. They do well in part to full shade – best in a naturalized setting.  It will bloom from Nov – Jan.  My garden center subjects finished blooming in late March.  They need slightly alkaline soils, well drained.  Allow the soil to dry between waterings.  True growers and those into cultivation of different Hellebore varieties may preach on care and fertilization plus all the right “rules of the road” for proper growth. Being a true novice with these plants, I am taking the course of learning by experience, like watching leaves turn yellow after indoor blooming ended.  Thinking that I was killing the plants, I started giving them sunshine breaks outside in preparation for outdoor life after the April snows.  Immediately, the leaves started turning green again and the plant, now 2 months later, has survived several curious attacks by elk or deer that’ve pulled the plant out of the pot but didn’t touch or eat a single leaf!!! 

Could it be I’ve discovered a true browse resistant plant for our altitude and local critters??  Perhaps I should not hex myself by wondering, but if you’re in the mood to try something new – try a Hellebore.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Morning at Applewood Seed Company …

Trial Garden
How often can we awake and wander outdoors with our coffee or water in hand to watch expanses of blooming flowers and happy bees, butterflies and beetles cruising through delightful trial plots in need of pollination?  Such was the case in late June when the Native Masters group, metro area Master Gardeners and interested others attended a tour and educational session at Applewood Wholesale Seed Company in Arvada.  What a bit of heaven to have tucked away in our own urban corridors!!

Our tour was mostly led by Diane Wilson, but we were also treated to a historical review of the company and the work they do by Gene Milstein, president of the Applewood Seed Company.