BY LAUREN SPRINGER / Fort Collins, Colorado USDA Zone 5
NARGS Plant Sale, April 17
Every year, the Rocky Mountain chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS) hosts a weekend plant sale at Denver Botanic Gardens. In the confines of Mitchell Hall, plant lust and greed reign unfettered as hundreds of spring-smitten gardeners, from seasoned to novice, huddle over long tables filled with all sorts of treasures. Regional growers, mostly wholesale and/or very small, bring their oddest and choicest plants; many of these special items are never found in local retail nurseries and garden centers. Classic rock garden genera as well as unusual xeric plants, both native and exotic, line the tables. For more information, visit www. botanicgardens.org.
In Praise of Pluralism
Clearly our country is in a boisterously patriotic phase. As a child of the sixties, I’m surprised to see every other vehicle on the road festooned with pro-American stickers, and every other house in my neighborhood waving a flag from its facade. Growing up, I rarely saw the flag. It wafted above the local library, it wrapped around Uncle Sam’s top hat, and on the six-o’clock news amid riots and protests, it burned. Come the Fourth of July, a couple of neighbors would sheepishly put out a small version for the day. That was it.
I have no issues with flags or patriotism. I do have a problem with the term “American garden style.” I always have, long before fierce nationalism swept this country. It’s hard enough to define what “American” means when referring to people. Most of us pride ourselves on diversity and pluralism. When pressed for a definition by my European cousins, who tend to go for the jugular during political discussions (I think my nationality is an embarrassment to them), I was stuck for a bit and then replied that we are united only by one beautiful common belief, in democracy and all that it stands for. When it comes to the garden, nothing makes us American except that we dig our hands in soil that lies within certain political boundaries. What on earth is an American garden? A sumptuous Englishstyle border with shasta daisies, lilies, and delphiniums in Vermont? A playful red, black, and green Indonesian-inspired hillside garden in Portland? A steep rock garden in Salt Lake City? Cacti and brilliant annuals in a desert melee in Tucson? A luxuriantly fragrant subtropical pastiche beneath palms in Florida? All of the above. To attempt to define the essence of American gardening style without showing all these examples and hundreds more makes no sense. To attempt to define it by showing all its diversity negates the validity of the entire exercise. Unlike other cultures like the Chinese, Italian, French, Japanese, or English, we have not developed any characteristic garden style. Is this because we’re still so young as a culture? I don’t think so.
Rather, our pluralism hasn’t allowed it. Nor our geography. We garden by oceans, lakes, and rivers; near deserts, prairies, and forests. We grow things in high-rise apartments, in suburban cul-de-sacs, on genteel country acreage, on rustic farms. We plant on mountains, hills, and plains. We dig in just about any soil imaginable, and adapt to climates as diverse as the faces on a New York City subway at rush hour.
I make a plea that we not homogenize our gardens, nor attempt to define an American gardening style. Genetic engineering may make it possible someday to grow palms in Vermont and delphiniums in Tucson. By the 22nd century, we may all be listening to the same music, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food. Sometimes, on my travels through the country, I think we are almost at that point now. But thankfully not in our gardens. Let’s keep it that way. H
Prairie pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens)
This ethereal North American native perennial blooms before most other perennials have awakened. Large, pale, lavender-blue, crocuslike chalices open on sunny days to expose a lusty boss of yellow stamens, enticing the earliest bees. The entire six-to ten-inch plant is covered in soft hairs for protection from cold and wind. Hardy in USDA Zones 2 to 8, prairie pasqueflower is a sun lover but prefers a bit of summer shade in hot climates. Extremely drought tolerant, it needs only about 15 inches of moisture annually. Prairie pasqueflower is not fussy about soil. It is extremely longlived, producing more and more flowers with each passing year. Sources, page 122.