Denver Master Gardeners Look Back at the Growing Season – Part 2

Compiled by Linda McDonnell, Denver Master Gardener since 2013

Welcome back to part two of our garden season recaps. We hope you enjoy this look at the wins, challenges, and surprises from Denver Master Gardeners. If you missed part one, you’ll find it here.

HUMMINGBIRD BANQUET  Barb Pitner, Denver Master Gardener since 2012

This season’s goal was to create a garden to attract and feed hummingbirds. I started by removing a twelve-foot-wide circle of lawn with a two-foot-wide circle or “bullseye” in the center. The soil of this center area was prepped with compost into which four scarlet sage vines (Salvia coccinea) were planted around a four-foot-high decorative tower.

The remainder of the full-sun, brightly colored pollinator garden was filled with containers, which encircled the scarlet sage and descended in height from the center.

The tall scarlet sage vines were surrounded by containers of vibrantly colored ‘Giant’ zinnias alternating with containers of crocosmia varieties including ‘George Davidson’ (yellow), ‘Lucifer’ (deep red-orange), ‘Emily McKenzie’ (red-orange-maroon with a yellow eye). Cypress vines (Ipomoea quamoclit) were added to the crocosmia displays.

The outer ring of the garden was made up of smaller containers, brimming with lower growing annuals such as marigolds, blue Victoria salvia, red calibrachia, and red-yellow lantana.

Daily watering, regular feeding, and deadheading insured constant blooms from July to September. In addition to hummingbirds, the garden was regularly visited by native, honey, and bumble bees. All have been kept in good supply of nectar and pollen.  

WINTER-SOWN BAPTISIA  Susan Tamulonis, Denver Master Gardener since 2018

Last December I was given thirty-eight Baptisia seeds (Baptisia spp; variety unknown, aka wild or false indigo) from a neighbor. This gift launched a multi-season challenge to nurture, document, and transform the seeds into healthy plants. Baptisia is in the Fabaceae (bean) family and requires cold temperatures to germinate – perfect timing for this project.

The dense, hard-coated seeds were treated to two boiling water baths and then soaked for two more days. The seeds were then planted in “mini-greenhouses,” constructed from milk jugs (one 1-gallon and two ½-gallons). The uncapped containers were cut in half horizontally and drainage holes were poked in the bottom. Seeds were sown in the base of the containers, lightly covered with soil, and watered. The top portion of the containers were replaced, creating dome-like planters. The containers were placed in a shady outdoor spot immediately after planting and were regularly checked for moisture and good drainage.

In April, to allow for more light, the top half of the containers were removed; germination began in May. By mid-June, seedlings were four to five inches tall with three sets of leaves. It was now time to plant them in full sun. In August, the seeds yielded seventeen healthy plants for a 58% germination rate.

And here’s where the story takes a turn…I returned from a fall vacation to find the young plants were mowed down by a hungry visitor, likely a rabbit. So while the winter-sowing process was successful, the plants didn’t survive!

A FUN & BENEFICIAL SURPRISE  Jodi Torpey, Denver Master Gardener since 2005

My biggest gardening success this season gave new meaning to the old saying about keeping one’s ear close to the ground. That’s because I grew an ear in a container of radishes.

Although I didn’t set out to grow a body part in my garden, I was delighted to see this flesh-colored, earlike growth pop up among the radishes during this year’s cool, wet spring. My “ear” was most likely a type of cup fungus belonging to the genus Peziza. These fungi are real bodies – the fruiting bodies – of cup fungi that usually live underground but can grow above ground in mulch or compost when conditions are right.

While they don’t all look like ears, they’re all good for gardens because they break down organic matter to make nutrients available to plants. An ear growing in that container turned out to be a real fun guy.

A TREE WORTH WAITING FOR!  Lori Williams, Denver Master Gardener since 2016

After a four-year delay in planting any tree, finally this summer a long-awaited, lovely peach tree found a home in our yard. It came with baby peaches all over, but we popped most off so the energy would go to the roots. The only decent gladiolus I planted this year were around the new peach tree – and we enjoyed nine very tasty peaches in mid-August. Highlight of our summer!

NATIVE POLLINATOR GARDEN: YEAR TWO  Ann Winslow, Denver Master Gardener since 2019

Last year, I shared my adventure creating a pollinator garden using native plants on this blog. You’ll find the posts here and here. This year, I’ve watched and recorded what has flourished and what has struggled – maybe because of weather, where the plant was sited, and in some cases, for reasons I can’t tell.

One big success was chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata). At one end of the garden, three plants became massive, merging into one enormous display, which will be divided in the Spring. They have been abuzz with native pollinators since June. Just what I hoped for!

In contrast, wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata) has struggled. It’s possible that the heavy spring rains caused it to grow leggy, splay out on the ground, and have few blooms. I’m cutting back the long, dead stems now as I see it’s getting new growth in the center.

Always something to learn. Every year is a new adventure in gardening.

Many thanks to the Denver Master Gardeners who allowed us to peak into their gardens, learn from their experiences, and be inspired by their results.

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