This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
A WORD ought to be said as to the brilliancy of the flowers of the prairies and mountains. While riding on the far Western plains of Kansas, from Salina to Denver, our attention was called to a little shrubby plant, about eighteen inches to two feet high, with symmetrically arranged branches, and entirely covered over with a mass of white flowers, slightly striped with green in the center. They dotted the plains here and there at distances of fifty to one hundred feet apart, and often were seen in rows along the edge of the excavation for the railroad embankment. The sweet little things looked so pure and bright in their profuse bloom that we never wearied looking at them, and our expressions of delight became more and more enthusiastic. It proved to be the Euphorbia, and for hundreds of miles it never disappears from sight, seeming providentially to be placed there to adorn an otherwise naked and uninteresting prairie. This flower seems frequent in southern latitudes, for we never noticed it in the more northern latitude of Nebraska, and when we began to ascend the Rocky Mountains, it disappeared entirely. Its home is evidently in a moderately warm region, and the milder the climate the greater the luxuriance of blossom.
Its star-shaped flowers are always a blessed sight to the traveler.
After we had ascended into the mountains beyond Denver, we were at an altitude of 8,000 to 9,000 feet; riding along the beautiful grassy parks, studded with pines and spruces, we came to a still greater variety of flowers and rare plants, which afforded an interesting study for our botanists.
One lovely flower seemed pre-eminent - the Indian Pink. It grows to the height of about six inches above the ground, has a small stem surmounted with a cup of about one and a-half inches in diameter (when full blown), and of the most dazzling scarlet or crimson. Usually the tallest stem is surrounded by two Or three other shorter ones, which cluster closely together, and form a bouquet. I rarely saw a plant entirely alone ; there was sure to be one or more smaller attendant blossoms. This plant is said to be a parasite, its roots living upon the roots of some other plant beneath the surface of the ground, hence difficult of transplanting, or else we would have made the effort to bring it back with us. There are often other shades of color - white, cherry, cream, and deep red - six colors in all we observed; and in many parts the profusion of the little beauties over the plains was simply astonishing, often as near as five or six feet apart for miles in every direction. From their distinctive beauty of color and shape of blossom, which is not unlike a half-opened tulip, it is in common parlance called the Painted Cup. No plant of our travels, or seen in the mountains was so gorgeous in color and so delightful to the eye as this brilliant little bloomer.
In crossing the South Park one day from Hamilton to Fair Play, we came accidentally upon three or four beds, about twenty feet in diameter, closely carpeted with the CEnothera. These little plants hugged close to the ground, but turned their sweet white, yellow, and red blossoms upward to the air, and formed a prairie flower-garden of beauty seldom seen. The flowers are about two and a-half inches in diameter, and were as thick as the blossoms usually seen in a bed of Porlulacca. It is hardly necessary to say that the entire cavalcade of teams of the excursionists halted and scrambled for the prises; and the ladies were in ecstacies over the welcome sight. Among other flowers noticed frequently along the road were :
The Gilia, a plant with long, narrow stem and sub-branches, and tipped with lilylike cups at the sides. The shades of color were of every description, from white to scarlet; but the latter was most frequent. The flowers were quite small, hardly over an inch and a-quarter long, and the cup opened only about three-eighths of an inch at the ends.
The Rocky Mountain Thistle is a very large branching shrub, ornamented at the tops of the branches with very large white flowers, about six inches in diameter. These are common at a little lower altitude, where they can enjoy a little more warmth.
The Golden Rod, with its deep yellow seed-pods at top, is quite common in every part, and particularly in the interior of the South Park.
The Pentstemons, with their blue or mauve colors, are seen along the valleys or on the sides of the mountains.
The Blazing Star, with its straight stem, of a deep purple color, was seen in some parts of the prairie, but not often. I noticed it most frequently about 30 miles south of Denver.
As we were descending from the South Park toward Colorado Springs, we met in one of the moist valleys an abundance of Lupins, a short shrub two feet high, with stout branches, light purple flowers, and racemes about three inches long. There were of:en large patches of it growing wild, which gave a delicate tone to an otherwise flowerless sward.
The Geranium, or Crane's Bill, a miniature bush, with a profusion of single light pink flowers at the top and sides, was often seen both in the mountains and on the plains of the eastern slope.
We clambered up to the very top of Pike's Peak, and there, nestling in close to the huge boulders near the summit we found a strip of tender grass, a little stream trickling its tiny drops down and saturating the sod, and over ail grew two plants of the Gentian, with its deep green leaf and pink blossoms. Truly wonderful, we thought, that a flower thus lovely should grow so far upward in this cold atmosphere, for it was 14,000 feet high.
On descending the divide between Colorado Springs and Denver, we came upon a plain studded over with lovely Prairie Roses, ornamented with their beautiful pink and white flowers. They had doubtless been more luxuriant, for it was nearly beyond the season, but a few of the latest flowers still hung expanded, seeming to show what lovely objects the shrubs might be when the blossoms were in full prime. After a while the Prairie Roses disappeared, and then came a mile-square patch of the Rooky Mountain Creeping Convolvulus, a sort of Ipomaeu, of a thick shrubby character, drooping over on the ground, its branches forming a head about two feet in diameter, tipped with large white and red blossoms. It seems to prefer a sandy soil, quite warm, where even grass grows with difficulty.
Even the most casual observer, unfamiliar with botanical descriptions or names, will be delighted with the rich flowers of the mountains. Our trip was taken in the month of August, when many of the spring flowers had disappeared; yet every month has its own series of flowers, and from spring to fall there is always something in bloom. But in June and July by far the largest number can be found, for then the spring flowers are most abundant.
At Denver, and also at Greeley, I noticed in the gardens of amateurs how inexpressibly brilliant was the bloom of even our ordinary garden flowers. The colors of every variety appear to be intensified, and every petal a marvel. In one garden there were petunias and phlox, the bushes of which were so large and the color so vivid, I could hardly recognise them as some of my Eastern favorites. Marigolds form little miniature hills of yellow flowers, almost perfect in their regular form.
Double zinnias were even as large and fine as ordinary dahlias, and a pyramid of ornamental gourds had covered a trellis so densely in one season, that I surely thought it must have been made, not grown. The soil has a tendency to produce flowers and seeds in perfection, rather than foliage and stalks. This is explained by the fact that the soil is full of mineral matter, and irrigation only develops the grains or blossoms, while it does not excessively stimulate the foliage or stalks. John Seavey, a florist from New York State, has a little flower garden at Greeley, one hundred feet square, containing little beds of brilliant dahlias, zinnias, gladiolus, blotched petunias, and even canna in bloom, with finely colored leaves. The irrigating ditch runs along in front of his place, and immediately over the trough he has erected several floral vases and stands, which contain specimens of all .his plants. So pretty a floral garden, right under the shadow of the grim peaks of the mountains, affords a contrast of a remarkable nature, only too truly realising the truth of the remark, "that man in his wildest nature, or in the wildest regions, is still a lover of flowers; and the greater the contrast of condition, the greater the love for such simple beauties".
I ought to notice with admiration the exceeding fondness of all the Western people for flowers. Sometimes when traveling among the wildest and most rude portions of the Rooky Mountains, I often came upon a ranche with its rough log-cabin, where I had least reason to expect anything but rough, coarse furniture or the rudest style of living. Yet I almost always saw some flowers in the windows, or a little bit of flower garden below, and some clustering plant clambering up along the window pane. The old fruit-cans, which have been emptied by travelers and thrown away, have often been picked up by the women of these cabins, filled with earth, sowed with seeds, and now were blooming little flower-pots, full of balsam or other simple flowers; while in one case a larger can had been converted into a hanging-basket, and it hung suspended before our gate, full of the brilliant cups of the Portulacca. I often noticed strawberry vines growing in the gardens of these mountain ranches, and probably not one out of five cabins failed to have some flowers around the door.
In Greeley every yard has its share of flowers, and some one inside is sure to decorate the window-sash with pots or hanging-baskets, full of green things. Everywhere in Kansas this taste for flowers is universal, Many have brilliantly beautiful flower gardens, of quite large extent; and wherever such taste exists we may all know that there is culture and refinement, even among the rudest surroundings.