Category Archives: Ornamental gardening

Take a Virtual Container Garden Tour

CSU-Denver Master Gardeners have had extra time to spend in their gardens this summer, but few opportunities to show them off – until now.

Please join our virtual tour to see seven stunning container gardens overflowing with beauty and creativity. The tour features containers of different shapes, sizes, materials, and of course, fabulous plants. These talented gardeners also share their secrets to success.

We hope you enjoy the tour!

Steve Aegerter, CMG since 1999
Steve’s hanging basket includes Calibrachoa in three colors, sweet potato vine and orange nasturtiums (peeking out on right side). He grew nearly everything from seeds, except the potato vine. His planting recipe includes about 3-4 sections of a deep six-pack of Calibrachoa, probably 3-4 nasturtium seeds and 2 sweet potato vines from cuttings.
The basket is low maintenance as flowers are self-cleaning. Steve used 4-month slow-release fertilizer at planting, plus peat moss and vermiculite in a potting soil medium. He waters the hanging basket “every other day which wouldn’t be necessary if I didn’t use sweet potato vine,” he says.

Steff Grogan, CMG since 2018
Steff says she loves to mix perennials and annuals together in her containers, “at least until the perennials outgrow the pot!” One of her favorite plantings this summer included a large container meant for a mostly-shady spot. The container includes 6 varieties of Coleus, 1 Lime Margarita sweet potato vine and 1 purple sweet potato vine.
Steff’s foliage container get 3-4 hours of morning sun and she waters it every other day, depending on heat and precipitation.

Jan Davis, CMG since 2012
Jan sent in a view of one of her large container gardens brimming with a variety of flowering plants. Her secret to such a spectacular display is to use 2-3 plants of the same type in each pot for a bigger splash. She says the show stoppers are the fragrant pink Oriental Trumpet lilies. The lilies are planted in large plastic pots so Jan can remove them from the grouping after blooming is finished. She overwinters them in the garage, after they have gone dormant. “I love this container garden because it is right outside my kitchen window and next to our outdoor eating area,” Jan says. “It gets enjoyed all the time!”

Ashley Cosme, CMG Apprentice
“I love the simple color line of this pot,” says Ashley. “Sometimes going with a straightforward white and green color brings out the beauty in the textures. I have left the perennial lysimachia and the heuchera in the pot for a few years which is very budget friendly as well.”
Ashley’s recipe for planting includes one 6-inch Kimberly fern, two 4.5-inch tropical white sunpatien, three 4.5-inch euphorbia, one #1 citronelle heuchera, two 4.5-inch Niagara Falls coleus, one 4.5-inch ipomea and one #1 lysimachia. This pot gets morning sun with afternoon shade and requires a bit of extra water as the sunpatien and the fern are thirsty plants.

Lois Margolin, CMG since 2010
Lois’s raised bed garden was built by her son-in-law and includes three large containers, each 2-feet by 4, 5, and 8 feet lengths. She says the raised beds are large enough to grow enough vegetables for two people. “The raised beds work great because I don’t have to bend or get down on my knees to garden.” In the longest of the three containers she’s planted 2 rows of carrots along the front side, carrots, scallions and carrots on the back side. Other plants include bell peppers, marigolds, Early Girl tomato, Japanese eggplant and 2 cucumber plants along the edge so they trail over the side of the container.
Lois places plants close together and uses potting soil, compost and slow release fertilizer at planting time, plus a liquid fertilizer once a month during the growing season.

Anne Beletic, CMG since 2016
Anne’s container garden is composed of 7 troughs that are planted with 11 6-inch Pincushion plants, 5 2.5-inch Dusty Miller plants, Forget-Me-Not, Borage, Cornflowers (from seeds); trailing plants are Sweet Potato vines, variegated Vinca (both 2.5 ” pots).
Anne says she likes this planting because the Pincushions have been flowering for weeks, the flowers attract bees and the Borage star shaped flowers are “exquisite.” The only downside is the borage has become too big and thirsty, she says.
Anne used a good quality potting soil with slow release fertilizer at planting, waters daily and cuts back the Pincushions to the next bud. She plans to keep the Pincushions in a flower bed “as these were the only plants I spent real money on, and they should be a viable perennial in Denver.” Anne notes, “the Pincushions were the bulk of the planting until seeds grew, and so merited buying a little larger.”

Jill Fielder, CMG since 2012
Jill says she played with new types of fancy coleus, both for color and because many of these can now be successfully grown in either sun or shade. She has two of these containers on either side of her front porch. “They get different amounts of sunlight, are bright with color that doesn’t rely on big flowers or wide leaves susceptible to hail and these are (mostly) plants that aren’t all that attractive to Japanese Beetles,” she says.
Jill’s recipe includes 1 Coleus Fireworks (purple & lime), 2 Fuchsia Gartenmeister, 2 Asparagus fern, 2 Impatiens Walleriana Peach Butterfly, 1 Coleus Maharaja (red), and 2 Dragon Wing Red begonias.
This container gets dappled morning light, is on a daily drip system and was planted up with slow release fertilizer early in the season.

A Special Thank You to the seven generous CMGs who shared their gardens and tips with us. We hope this virtual container garden tour inspires you to plant something a little different in your garden next year!

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener since 2005
Photos provided by each CMG

Planting in Summer’s Heat

Without fail, every year I find myself adding plants to the perennial garden during the hottest part of the season. Sometimes the plant is  a gift from a friend’s yard, other times it’s a couldn’t resist variety at the garden center. Given this spring’s quarantine, trips to the nursery were delayed and even now are limited, somehow making the visits even more special.  

I seem to always be able to find room for another perennial, telling myself it is the one that will complete the garden (are gardens ever really finished?). Or perhaps it will perfectly fill an empty space, bloom when others have faded, add the ideal color, or supply needed texture.  Whatever the rationale, how could it not come home with me? 

Here are a few pointers for successfully establishing herbaceous perennials when summer’s heat, arid conditions and drying winds present challenges. While these best practices are important, equally critical is the gardener’s diligence and consistency. Plants are less forgiving at this time of year and may not recover if ignored.  Conversely, they’ll respond well with a little extra TLC.

  • Choose plants that love the heat and adapt to our semi-arid climate. Native plants and Plant Select® offerings are good bets.
  • Plant in the evening so plants have the cooler nighttime and early morning temperatures to acclimate.
  • Prior to planting, coat  the roots with mycorrhizae (my cor rye zay), a fungus which stimulates healthy root development and improves absorption of moisture and nutrients. Several companies market this ingredient under different names.
  • Remove buds and blooms, which allows the plant to put more energy into establishing roots and foliage.  Admittedly, sacrificing the blooms is hard, but it does help reduce transplant shock.
  • Unless there has been a soaking rain, water daily for the first week or two to avoid dehydration and transpiration.  Watch the plant for the remainder of the season to determine good watering practice. 
  • Apply mulch around the plant, stopping within a few inches of the crown. Mulch will cool the soil and reduce evaporation.
  • Tent the plant with shade cloth during the hottest part of the day.
  • Transplant the plant a temporary home in a large container until late summer or early fall, when adapting to a new home may be less stressful.

Are you adding to your gardens this summer? 

 

References:

https://www.waytogrow.net/blog/mycorrhizae-improve-your-yield-part-1/

CMG GardenNotes 212: The Living Soil

Help, My Garden is Wilting!

Text and photo by Linda McDonnell, A Denver County Master Gardener

Meet the Garden Squad—Gardening Help at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet the Gardening Help Volunteers

The CSU Extension Master Gardeners usually pick up the gardening helpline at the Denver Botanic Gardens or answer questions when people walk-in the door. Even though buildings at DBG are closed for now, gardeners can still get their gardening questions answered by Gardening Help from Colorado Master Gardeners at Denver Botanic Gardens, only remotely.

The interest in gardening has soared ever since people have had to hunker down at home and find ways to keep busy. First-time gardeners will likely have questions on how to get started, what to plant now, what can grow in containers, and much more.

Even gardeners with some experience have questions, too. All gardening questions can be emailed to gardeninghelp@botanicgardens.org and a CMG, working remotely, will reply by email.

Gardening Help volunteers include: Back row, left to right: Jan Fahs, Jan Davis, Ken Zwenger, Mark Zammuto, Gordon Carruth, Fran Hogan
Middle row: Lynne Conroy, Harriet Palmer Willis, Kathleen Schroeder, Leona Berger, Cindy Hanna, Mary Adams, Nancy Downs
Kneeling: Dee Becker, Charlotte Aycrigg, Jan Moran
Not pictured: Mary Carnegie, Linda Hanna, Maggie Haskett, April Montgomery, Ann Moore, Kathy Roth, Amy White

Gardening Help is a project of the CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardeners at the DBG. Volunteers provide reliable and research-based information to thousands of home gardeners each year.

Volunteers commit to at least one year in the role, with a minimum of six shifts spread across the year. The commitment starts early in the year with an orientation and training from Nancy Downs, project coordinator.

Many volunteers are GH regulars and they return to the project every year. In addition to being an active CMG, they have to satisfy DBG volunteer requirements, too. That means they’re a member of the DBG and enrolled there as a volunteer.

Some of the key characteristics of GH volunteers are good research, plant identification and diagnostic skills. Because the project is located at DBG, volunteers need to keep on top of what’s blooming at the DBG by season, so they can answer common questions that might pop up.

Photo provided by Nancy Downs

Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

No More Buds? Turn to Earbuds.

By this time in the year, I’m at the point of good riddance! with the weeds and careful tending (shout out to this cold spell for sealing the deal). Pretty much everything is done and put to bed. I then spend the next two weeks really dialing into my houseplant game before I get bored and start Spring dreaming. My Fall break from the garden is short-lived so I start listening to old episodes of now-defunct podcast series and dream with new ones.  Here are a few of my favs:

Gardenerd Tip of The Week

Gardenerd.com is the ultimate resource for garden nerds. We provide organic gardening information whenever you need it, helping you turn land, public space, and containers into a more satisfying and productive garden that is capable of producing better-tasting and healthier food.

https://gardenerd.com/

My thoughts: The host lives in LA, so this one is great for winter listening as we get chillier, I love hearing about the warmth of Southern California and what’s coming into season. Interviews with other experts and educators in the horticulture field discussing plants, but also cultivating grains, discussing bees, and seeds. Each episode ends with the guest’s own tips, many of which are news to me and have been incorporated into my own practices. 

On the Ledge

I’m Jane Perrone, and I’ve been growing houseplants since I was a child, caring for cacti in my bedroom and growing a grapefruit from seed; filling a fishtank full of fittonias and bringing African violets back from the dead.

https://www.janeperrone.com/on-the-ledge

Houseplants, if new to the podcast start here for an overview, and guidance.

Jane is a freelance journalist and presenter on gardening topics. Her podcast has a ton of tips for beginners, and more advanced info for longtime houseplant lovers, as well as interviews with other plant experts. The website is also useful to explore the content of an episode if you aren’t able to listen. I could spend an entire morning traveling in and out of the archives. 

My thoughts: As the growing season comes to a close, my indoors watering schedule starts wobbling between what the plants need and my summer habits of watering too many times per week–welcome back,  fungus gnats! Here’s an entire episode on them

Plant Daddy Podcast

We aim to create a listener community around houseplants, to learn things, teach things, share conversations with experts, professionals in the horticulture industry, and amateur hobbyists like ourselves. We also want to bring the conversation beyond plants, since anybody with leaf babies has a multitude of intersectional identities. We, ourselves, are a couple gay guys living in Seattle, Washington, with a passion for gardening and houseplants. A lot of our friends are the same, though each of us has a different connection, interest, and set of skills in this hobby, demonstrating a small amount of the diversity we want to highlight among plant enthusiasts.

https://plantdaddypodcast.com/

My thoughts: Plants are visual, podcasts are auditory- episodic overviews with links to viewable content available on their website. Are you also seeing Staghorn Ferns everywhere? They have an entire episode (photos included!) on the fern and how to properly mount it for that vegan taxiderm look. Matthew and Stephen are self-identified hobbyists with a passion for plants all the way down to the Latin–it’s impressive.

Epic Gardening

The Epic Gardening podcast…where your gardening questions are answered daily! The goal of this podcast is to give you a little boost of gardening wisdom in under 10 minutes a day. I cover a wide range of topics, from pest prevention, to hydroponics, to plant care guides…as long as it has something to do with gardening, I’ll talk about it on the show!

https://www.epicgardening.com/

My thoughts: The Netflix-episode-when-you-just-don’t-feel-like-a-movie kind of podcast. Addresses the best varietals, composting, soil pH, and troubleshooting some common issues in the garden. With daily episodes archived back to December 2018, there is a quickly digested thought for some of your own curiosities. The website is also a wealth of knowledge. 

Eatweeds Podcast: For People Who Love Plants

Eatweeds: An audio journey through the wonderful wild world of plants. Episodes cover modern and ancient ways wild plants have been used in human culture as food, medicine and utilitarian uses.

http://eatweeds.libsyn.com/

My thoughts: most recent episode (and appropriately timed!)  On edible acorns. My fav topics include foraging and wild yeast fermentation; and when I really start missing the Pacific Northwest, The Wild and Wonderful World of Fungi sends me back to a misty forest wander politely decorated by les champignons. Posting of this pod is sporadic–only 25 episodes since 2014.

You Bet Your Garden

(no longer on air, but archives available)

 

You Bet Your Garden® was a weekly radio show and podcast produced at WHYY through September, 2018. The show’s archive is available online. It was a weekly syndicated radio show, with lots of call-ins. This weekly call-in program offers ‘fiercely organic’ advice to gardeners far and wide.

https://www.wlvt.org/television/you-bet-your-garden/

My thoughts: Host, Mike McGrath, spends much of the show taking calls and troubleshooting, reminiscent of another public radio behemoth with Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers. McGrath incorporates a lifetime of organic gardening tips with humor. McGrath features one tip to find a local “rent a goat place” (no joke) to get goats to eat the most troublesome weeds to a concerned caller considering setting much of her yard on fire.

Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell, the founder of Jewellgarden and Cultivating Place, achieves this mission through her writing, photographs, exhibits about and advocacy for gardens & natural history and through her weekly public radio program and podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden, on gardens as integral to our natural and cultural literacy.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

My thoughts: sort of like On Being, but for gardening.

A fav episode:

If you aren’t so sure about this podcast thing, and just want a place to start, start here.

Do you really need a brain to sense the world around you? To remember? Or even learn? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jad and Robert, they are split on this one. Today, Robert drags Jad along on a parade for the surprising feats of brainless plants. Along with a home-inspection duo, a science writer, and some enterprising scientists at Princeton University, we dig into the work of evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, who turns our brain-centered worldview on its head through a series of clever experiments that show plants doing things we never would’ve imagined. Can Robert get Jad to join the march?

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/smarty-plants

Hummingbirds in the Garden

Hummingbirds have been dancing around my yard this summer, lured by plants including Goldflame Honeysuckle, Penstemons (Red Rocks and Pike’s Peak), Coral Bells,  Butterfly Bush and brightly colored annuals such as Verbena, Salvia and Geranium. Red Birds in a Tree was irresistible to them last year, but sadly did not return this year (any suggestions for getting this perennial to reliably come back year after year?).  Agastache and Bee Balms are among other highly prized nectar sources. The Hummingbird Society offers this list of recommended plant families.

Hummers are guided to nectar sources by color – they have no sense of smell – they rely on their keen vision to spot plants or the common red bird feeder filled with sugar-water. Bright hues, especially red, orange and purple, which can be seen from distances of 30’ to 50’ in the air, signal that a good meal awaits. Tubular flowers allow hummers to hover near the bloom and lick nectar with their forked, fringed tongues. As with other pollinators, swaths of the same plant make for effective grazing and a succession of season long blooms encourages return visits. Avoidance of pesticides, a  good source of water and shrubs or trees for perching and nesting also make an inviting habitat.

According to the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine,  a hummingbird’s wing beat ranges from 720-5400 times per minute when hovering and they have been clocked in flight at 33+ miles per hour!  On average, a hummer weighs less than a nickel and consumes about twice its weight in nectar, spiders and insects  daily. Their metabolism is 100 times faster than an elephant’s, requiring them to busily visit 1,000 to 2,000 flowers daily. They can fly in rain and are the only bird that fly backwards. The distinctive humming sound is made by the wings in flight and actually sounds more like a whistle to me.

Several varieties of hummingbirds have been identified in Colorado, with the most common being the broad-tail. The Audubon Society has established a citizen science program, Hummingbirds at Home, to  chronicle sightings and learn more about food sources.  If you’d like to contribute observations, it’s easy to get started here.

These aerial acrobats will be around till September when they start their journey back to Mexico, with the promise of return next spring. If you don’t already enjoy hummingbirds in your yard, consider adding some plants to lure them in – and encourage your neighbors to do the same to create a larger, more inviting haven for these birds. You won’t regret it.

 

Written and photographed by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

10 Reasons for Becoming a Denver Master Gardener

If you like to plant and grow things, you may be a Master Gardener in the making. A desire to help your community is another plus. In case you need more convincing, consider these 10 benefits of joining us and then take the next step to become a Colorado Master Gardener.

Number 10: You’ll be a better gardener. Becoming a Denver Master Gardener doesn’t mean you’ll be a perfect gardener, but at least you’ll know why the daisies died, what’s wrong with your tomato plant, why the lawn has brown spots, and what the heck is eating those roses. The CSU Master Gardener program is like getting a mini-degree in horticulture.

Number 9: You’ll help with important research. Master Gardeners are often called on to help with CSU Extension research projects. One recent project included collecting tree data as part of the Rollinger Tree Collection Survey project, a collaboration with the Denver Botanic Gardens and other partners to understand the past, present and future of Denver’s urban forest.

Master Gardeners like to meet, mingle and break crab legs together.

Number 8: You’ll meet and mingle with like-minded folks. Gardeners like to talk—and listen. Whether you’re a social butterfly or just like to belong to a tribe with similar interests, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company.

Number 7: You can share your knowledge. People have questions and now you’ll have the research-backed information to provide answers in person at farmer’s markets and special events or by answering email questions from home. There’s a lot of gardening misinformation out there, but you can help dispel the myths (except when it comes to marijuana).

Number 6: You can volunteer in meaningful ways. Community outreach is an important part of being a Denver Master Gardener and others appreciate your contribution. The vegetables grown in the Harvard Gulch Demonstration Garden are donated to help feed the hungry; The Haven at Fort Logan offers another chance to serve others with your gardening skills.

Master Gardeners plan and plant the CSU Extension exhibit at the Colorado Garden and Home Show.

Number 5: You’ll get to work behind the scenes at the Colorado Garden and Home Show. A favorite volunteer project is being part of the annual show whether helping to build the CSU Master Gardener display or answering attendee’s questions. Free entry to the show is an added bonus.

Number 4: You can stretch your leadership skills. Being a Master Gardener lets you take the lead on a special project in a safe and supportive environment. Creativity, innovation and new ideas keep the program interesting.

Number 3: You’ll receive a well-recognized credential. Anyone who’s been paying attention has heard of CSU Extension’s Master Gardener program. The title is a well-known and well respected credential in the gardening world and in every state across the country.

Number 2: You’ll be supporting an important educational program. Becoming a Master Gardener isn’t free, but the nominal annual fee ensures the Denver Master Gardener program can continue its mission.

Being a volunteer at the City Park Greenhouse refreshes gardening skills for the new season.

And the Number 1 reason for becoming a Denver Master Gardener: Volunteering at the City Park Greenhouse.  It’s one of the most revitalizing volunteer gigs, and it happens at a time of year when gardeners need it the most.

Those are my top 10 reasons. What are your top reasons for becoming a Denver Master Gardener?

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener since 2005

Pretty Tough Plants Book Review

I love the name of the new book by the experts at Plant Select. Pretty Tough Plants describes the family of Plant Select plants perfectly.

If you’ve grown any of these beautiful plants that are so well-suited to our gardens, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t grown any Plant Select recommendations, what’s stopping you? These are the plants that can help you be a more successful gardener.

Plant Select calls itself “a nonprofit collaboration of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists.” I call it one of the best plant testing and introduction programs in the country.

Pretty Tough Plants: 135 Resilient, Water-Smart Choices for a Beautiful Garden (Timber Press, 2017) is a follow-up to Durable Plants for the Garden: A Plant Select Guide published in 2009.

This new edition seems to be more user friendly, both by its manageable size and in the plant presentations. Plants are divided into groups that include tender perennials and annuals, petites, groundcovers, perennials, grasses, vines, shrubs, and trees and conifers.

Each Plant Select description includes its scientific name, common name, mature size, flower type, bloom time, and best features. Understandable icons give details on sun and water requirements, as well as if the plant attracts pollinators or if deer resist browsing it.

The “Landscape Use” information is meant for gardeners who have difficulty matching plants to place or are unsure of how to combine plants for the most striking effect. The descriptions make suggestions for perfect placement and the best Plant Select companions.

Many of the gorgeous, full-color images show both a close-up view of the plant and a shot of how it looks in the landscape when in full bloom. One of my favorites is Redleaf rose (Rosa glauca) shown as a fabulous specimen plant, and closeups of the star-like single pink flowers and brilliant red hips.

An especially nice feature for this volume is the Plant Reference Guide in the back of the book. This guide provides a quick resource for matching the right Plant Select plant to the right spot in the landscape.

Besides the typical categories, there are two additional and interesting categories: Special landscape use and North American roots. Not every plant has a special landscape use, but when a plant is recommended for “dry shade, cold hardy,” like Denver Gold columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), gardeners can trust the endorsement.

Prairie Jewel penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus) is one Pretty Tough Plant in my xeriscape.

I’ve grown many different Plant Select recommendations in my perennial beds, and I can vouch for their resilience – one of the seven qualities a plant has to have to be added to the program.

In addition to being able to stand up to a challenging climate, Plant Select plants have to thrive in a variety of conditions, be water smart, have that “it” factor, resist insect pests and plant diseases, offer long-lasting beauty, and aren’t invasive.

I can tell Pretty Tough Plants was a labor of love by a group of passionate plant people. The photo credits read like a list of area Who’s Who, from well-known horticulturists to CSU Extension Master Gardeners. Pat Hayward and David Winger had the happy task of sorting and selecting images, including many of their own.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener
(Timber Press provided a complimentary copy of Pretty Tough Plants for this review.)

It’s Winter and, Yet, I Dream of Cactuses

It’s January.  As I write, it’s cold.  It’s snowing.  The garden is frozen solid.  There isn’t much that can be done out in the garden.  But indoors, we can do a lot of thinking about and planning for about our gardens.  For me, this also includes thinking back to what has already been achieved. My special joy has been planning, making and planting my “desert garden”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Prickly pear peeks out of the snow

Having gained my gardening skills and horticultural knowledge in the temperate south of England, I was excited on moving to Colorado to try my hand at growing these interesting, drought tolerant plants.  Cactuses in England are generally small prickly jobs which sulk year-round in dry pots on the windowsill, gathering cobwebs.  I knew virtually nothing about them when I came to live in the USA.  My husband wasn’t much better; he told me he knew his cactuses had been over-watered when he saw mushrooms growing in their pots!

Call it what you will – rock garden, trough garden, crevice garden, desert garden. From big deserts to tiny tufa troughs, cactuses and succulents can be grown and enjoyed in many situations.  I know it’s the middle of winter right now, but I’m thinking of the sunny joy of seeing the Community Heroes Crevice Garden in Arvada and the new steppe gardens at Denver Botanic Gardens in the summer of 2016.  These showed me what could be achieved.  And as I gaze at the tips of Opuntia (prickly pear and cholla) plants poking through the snow in my front yard today, I am in awe at the extremes these amazing plants can tolerate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Opuntia x pinkavae

 

 

Our front yard faces north, not auspicious for cactus growing, but safely out of bounds to the dog and small grandchildren, and raised up above the sidewalk, so safely out of reach of passers-by.  The area I designated to be the “desert garden” is about 20 x 10 feet, bisected by the path from the sidewalk to the front door.  Despite its northerly aspect, this area does get a lot of sunshine from spring to fall.  A minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily is recommended for cactuses.  When we moved in, this part of the garden was just a boring flat patch of clay soil with rather elderly wood mulch strewn over it.  Again, not exactly the well-drained, lean (in terms of nutrients) soil usually associated with cactuses.  But I like a challenge!

To get things started, I raked off the wood mulch and underlying landscape fabric to reveal a flat, compacted, grey soil surface covered in the wriggling, white stems of bindweed like ghostly spaghetti.  I pulled as much of the bindweed as possible. Then to create some height and slopes I dug and shaped the soil into small hills sloping down towards the sidewalk.  We inherited hundreds of large granite boulders with the back yard, so my son and husband hauled a couple of dozen out to the front for me.  I chose the most attractive boulders and made sure they were of similar or complementary colors.  These were placed on the slopes, either singly as “specimen boulders” or in groups forming little “canyons” in which I could plant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rocks, soil, river rock and neighbor’s turf

The slopes help to ensure rain (when we get it) runs off quickly so the plants don’t sit in puddles.  Pockets of water are trapped by the boulders giving little damp areas against the boulders and allowing water to slowly trickle down into the soil below.  To improve the soil drainage further, I dug in a couple of trailers’ worth of “squeegee” to a depth of approx. six to eight inches.  This is the name around here (I gather) for crushed gravel.  It is pinkish in tone and halfway between pea gravel and sand in size. Areas of small river rock (obtained for free from a neighboring garden which was being “re-done” – I love a freebie!) were laid as a transition from the “desert” to the greener area of the yard and the sidewalk.  After planting, a thick layer of pure squeegee was used as a mulch over the whole area.  This has been very effective at keeping the bindweed at bay, helped by merciless hand pulling of any little shoots that do make it to the surface.

The choosing of plants followed considerable book research, web browsing and advice from local nurserymen.  I used a mix of cactuses, succulents, grasses, small drought-tolerant perennials and bulbs.  Naturally, none of these are hot-house types.  They are all cold hardy down to at least Zone 4.  For many of them their natural environment is arid mountain-sides in Arizona and New Mexico where they bake in the summer and freeze in the winter. A couple of dwarf pines provide year-round green and structure.  (I had to remind myself that these two needed regular watering, unlike the rest of the desert garden, as they are young trees, albeit small.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pinus mugo var. pumilio

Planting took place in June 2015, so these plants are now “enjoying” their second winter in our garden.  They spent two and a half months under snow in winter 2015/6 and came up smiling in spring 2016.  There were just two losses, both small Yuccas which had rotted at the crown.  Fortunately, I had extras safely potted up behind the house, so they were immediately replaced.

For the first summer, I watered maybe twice a week, using the mist spray on the hose head.  The second summer, 2016, I did not water at all.  The winter snow that laid on the area for two or three months or more, had provided a good reservoir of moisture which saw the garden right through the summer.

The immediate effect after planting was of a lot of very small plants stranded in a gravelly desert.  I believe in buying small and being patient for a year or two while the plants bulk up, seed around and acclimatise to their environment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just planted, June 2015

 

And, now, after another summer, they are starting to do so.  I see little “pups” on the Echinocereus.  There are Sedum and Stachys seedlings. The stars are the Opuntias (tree chollas and prickly pears) and the Delospermas.  These have grown quickly and the Delospermas were carpets of jewel-like flowers for months on end.  Dianthus and Artemisias are soft foils to their prickly companions. Groups of Nasella tennuissima provide a feathery backdrop and transition to greener and moister plantings at the rear.  The gentle movement of these grasses is a nice contrast to the static cactuses. The little species tulips ‘Persian Pearl’ popped up beautiful purple-red blooms with yellow centers in spring.  I hope to see more of these this coming spring.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tulipa pulchella @Persian Pearl’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Summer, 2016 (after the hail storm had knocked off all the flowers!)

 

Now it is getting established, it really doesn’t require a lot work.  No watering if we have enough snow in winter.  Minimal weeding.  A gentle blow-off of leaves and some careful extracting of same from the Opuntias’ prickles with the kitchen tongs once in the fall.  That’s it.

I love my desert garden and see passers-by enjoying it too and that just adds to the pleasure for me.

PS:  Cactus? Cacti? Cactuses?  Who knows … ?? Who cares … !!

Anne Hughes/a Denver County Master Gardener

https://communityheroesgarden.jimdo.com/

http://www.botanicgardens.org/

www.coloradocactus.org

Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate by Gwen Moore Kelaidis. Publisher: Storey Publishing.

Cacti and Succulents for Cold Climates by Leo J Chance. Publisher: Timber Press

Plant List

Cactuses

Echinocereus coccineus

Echinocereus triglochidiatus ‘White Sands’

Escobaria forcottei ‘Koenesii’

Agave utahensis var. kiahabensis

Tree cholla – Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens ‘White Tower’

Tree cholla – Opuntia arborescens var. viridifloa ‘Santa Fe’

Creeping cholla – Opuntia clavata

Prickly pear – Opuntia x pinkavae

Texas red yucca – Hesperaloe parviflora

Yucca flacida ‘Bright Edge’

Herbaceous perennials, bulbs and grass

Dusty miller/artemisia – Artemisia ‘Beth Chatto’ & Artemisia absinthium ‘Silver Frost’

Woolly thyme – Thymus pseudolanuginosus

Yarrow – Achillea sps. various

Sedum- Sedum spectabile various

Pinks- Dianthus sps. various + garden cuttings

Rock rose – Helianthemum sp.

Ice plants – Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’ &  ?

Two row stonecrop – Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’

Other stonecrops – ‘Vera Jameson’, ‘Lidakense’, ‘Angelina’

Mullein – Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Polar Summer’

Lambs ears – Stachys byzantinus

Feathergrass – Nassella tenuissima ‘Ponytails’

Species tulip – Tulipa pulchella ‘Persian Pearl’

Trees 

Dwarf mugo pine – Pinus mugo  var. pumilio

Dwarf mugo pine – Pinus mugo ‘Teeny’

Under the Denver Sun

Beginnings of a Small Italian Garden

Italy. Hazy grey vistas are punctuated with narrow vertical trees. Nodding sunflowers laze in stony fields.  Knotty ancient thick-trunked olive trees hold forth in blazing sunlight. Window boxes are crammed full of vibrant red Pelargoniums or cascading petunias. Peeling walls, old doors and white sculptures are pierced with long rays. Shadowy evenings are filled with bees humming, and the breeze surprises with soft scents of lavender, roses and rosemary. Fountains play, and nearby the pergolas and arbors anchor verdant vines.  At once the designs are structured yet informal.  Italian gardeners tend to trim, pollard and generally shape many aspects of their plantings so keeping discipline within the freedom of the overall design. How could I bring these colors, textures and smells to a small sunny south-facing Colorado garden?

img_7190

Imposing Facade Bramasole, Cortona , Italy

img_7183

Roses, Lavender, Hibiscus, and Bees, Bramasole

img_7180

Blues in Foliage, Movement in Growth Pattern of Lavender Bed, and Lemon Trees in Movable Containers. Credit Patty Hollis Bramasole Photographs

We actually have some similarities here in Colorado to Tuscany: the purity of the sunlight, the ability to grow many of the same plants, and the often-disappointing soil!  Moreover, in Denver there is a propensity of Italian style houses needing yard work done, so as to create harmony with the home design.
We had this situation: a somewhat imposing stone house, with a tile roof, overwhelming a sad small lawned plot. We needed a plan that captured the essence of Italy. An Italian garden is rigid in some ways, but flowing and full of playful surprises as well. First, I put in the new curving flagstone pathways, then we had a focal point gate inserted in an existing wall (the only big expense), and I marked-out (with garden hoses) the new meandering borders for future flowerbeds.

Spring 2015, I laid six layers of newspaper, then topsoil and finally mulch (begged from a tree felling crew) on the new borders. Meanwhile, we planted the biggest items first so trees were positioned in the remaining grass areas. This stage included three small standard flamingo willow ball topiaries, and we were happy with how their pink spring delicate leaves brought in movement. In June I put in marker flags and then dug holes and planted the bulk of the borders.

img_6826-1

The New Reclaimed Border: Newspaper Layers, Topsoil and Mulch with Roses, Lavender, Speedwell, Tiny Dusty Miller, Boxwoods AND June Hail

From the house foundation to the front this was the order: Spiraea on one side (part sun), alongside large Rose of Sharon shrubs (full sun). Also, dusty pink climbing roses mixed with Russian sage were set-in at the base of the sunny wall. Then Moonstone™ floribundas were the next tall, back layer. Coming forward I placed Veronica (speedwell), and then lavender (both grouped in threes and fives), catmint (in a sometimes boggy drain outlet area), Bonica roses, and in front random plantings of soft grey Dusty Miller (which I planted as a annual but has thrived into this year). Finally, I nestled in boxwoods at the front of the new borders.

img_6871

New Garden Gate- Early Days

Boxwoods were intrinsic as a uniting design element, but I worried in this hot aspect that they might not thrive. They have done well so far (after some initial winter bronzing that righted itself) and although slow growing they add dark green shiny all-year round formality. I planted many more this year, and slowly I will add different sizes to bulk out the design. Also, I just put in a mixture of own-root end-of-year bargain miniature roses, in the same soft pink scheme.  Someone else might have chosen to go for more vibrant colors in so much sunshine, but for us the dusty pink and muted blue palette suited and followed our Tuscan inspiration.

img_6834

Cosmos: First Year Quick Dramatic Interest with Daisies and Spiraea

img_7036

Boxwood, Roses, Catmint, Russian Sage, Climbing New Dawn Roses and Trumpet Vine

img_6906

img_6840

Moonstone Rose Large and Long Lasting

There was also an arid area around a large blue spruce so my latest additions have been barberries, grasses and low growing, tight growth junipers.

img_6973

Dwarf Hameln Grass, Barberry and Blue Spruce

Additionally, we have a small curved 270’ pathway that needed a focal point. I had a thriving eight foot Aspen, along with cankers and overnight new saplings.  It did hurt to rip it out, but it needed to be done. Ideally, a hundred year old olive tree was called for. But for a substitute we have just planted a Twisty Baby Black Locust to add the gnarly element that mimics a grand olive tree. I have given it a weekly dose of sugar water to possibly help with rather dramatic transplant shock more information here. This specimen tree should be interesting winter interest too, and we are hoping in time it will produce its lovely large white spring blossom.

img_6913

Dramatically Staked Rather Droopy New “Twisty Baby”

 

Recently we were pleased with how things were shaping up, but we still felt our house overwhelmed the plot and we were missing some movement, texture and color. I realized the design was devoid of a crucial element that separates the Italian landscape from any other, and without which Tuscany and even Renaissance landscape paintings would be dull.  The strong narrow verticals dotting all the land, lining the roads to cemeteries and grand villas.  I needed some upward movement.  In lieu of cypress I have planted, somewhat symmetrically, some Blue Arrows and Medora junipers. They have added the strong missing element, and should be interesting in our monochromatic winters.

img_6870

Assisi, Umbria Vertical Inspiration

img_7061

2017 One of the New Vertical Evergreens

img_7049

Whimsy. Perfumed and Perfect

img_6917

Structure in the Design, Clipped Hedges and Flamingo Willows.

img_7060

Blue Arrow Vertical Defining House with Speedwell & Sweet Drift Rose

img_7003

Part Sun Textural Plantings and New Verticals.

Late summer sees our humble garden at its best.  It is textural, perfumed and the air is filled with bees. As the boxwoods grow larger, and the narrow upright junipers extend upwards, the design will strengthen.  But for the moment I am content with the first steps on this project. Once established it has been low maintenance, with little room for weeds to grow. Ideal additions would be a little flagstone wall to step the front lawn, more beds, a sculpture or a sundial, and citrus in movable pots.
Anne Beletic.
A Denver County Apprentice Master Gardener

Appendix : Other Images Showing Details

img_6880

Bees and Hummingbirds

List of Main Plants:

Barberry: Berberis thunbergii for winter interest; slow growing  and perfect in front of blue spruce and Spiraea)

Lavender ‘Munstead’: Lavandula angustifolia for bees and constant summer blooming

Lavandin: L. angustifolia x L. latifolia

Russian sage:  Perovskia atriplicifolia  as a foil for roses and kept in check behind them

Catmint ‘Walker’s Low’: Nepeta racemosa covers unsightly gutter and run off area

Dusty miller: Jacobaea maritima gives a lot of bang for the buck and adds amazing light grey and texture to the design; much taller than the 10” I expected!

Speedwell: Veronica longifolia was cut well back in July for a substantial second bloom

Yellow trumpet creeper: Campsis radicans  f. flava Still waiting for flowers- value to be decided!

Junipers:  Juniperus scopulorum ‘Medora’ and Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’

Flamingo willow: Salix integra ‘Flamingo’

Boxwoods: Buxus sps

Black locust : Robinia pseudoacacia  Twisty Baby™

Roses:  ‘New Dawn’ – climbing; ‘Moonstone’™ – floribunda, highest maintenance, has had aphids, rose midge and very bothered by Japanese beetles, but are flourishing at end of summer with massive blooms; ‘Nearly Wild’; Bonica™; Blushing Knockout®; Pink Double Knockout®; Sweet Drift®; Whimsy™ – miniature, amazing fragrance.

Pre-existing:

Michaelmas daisy:  Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Spiraea  sp. Large and formally cut box shape house foundation plant, dark green leaf and few white flowers

Spindle:  Euonymus japonicus

Rose of Sharon: probably Hibiscus syriacus ‘Collie Mullens– has  very short “giving season” but is glorious August and September.

Semi Arid area under blue spruce tree:

Red barberry:  Berberis thunbergii

Mound grass: Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ – divided and planted late summer, so hoping it will thrive

Juniper: Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star – hoping to block out bindweed in time

Annuals:

Red fountain grass: Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’

Verbena  sps – in pots with boxwood 2016

Pelargoniums: Pelargonium peltatum ‘Contessa White’ – ivy’type for window boxes. I didn’t actually succeed in overwintering these and expense prohibited from re-buying, also they were not exactly an ivy geranium in their growth pattern, having only a slight “tip-over”

Other Plantings:

Bulbs, Cosmos, Chinese bellflower – Platycodon grandiflorus-  and ground covers including several Veronicas

List to do in Fall:

Anti-desiccant spray liberally on boxwoods and young evergreens

Wrap trunks of new trees

Twine wrapped around length of blue arrows (so snow doesn’t open the growth)

Collar grafted floribunda roses, pile mulch around other roses

Fertilize remaining lawn

Top-up mulch for general root protection and neatness esthetics (dark brown)

Smart, Smiley Sunflowers

Can you think of a flower with more personality than the sunflower?  Their wide faces, perched atop strong stems seem to nod and welcome garden visitors. Varying from the 16 foot tall Sunzilla, to the petite 1.5 foot Teddy Bear variety, there is a sunflower to suit most needs. Other fun, descriptive common names include Big Smile, Moon Walkers and Paul Bunyan. Newer introductions include bronze, bicolor or orange blooms in single or ruffled double flower varieties. Multi-stem cultivars are available, but for me, the classic Jack in the Beanstalk-like single stem yellow bloomer evokes childhood memories and is the one to grow.

Beyond their charming appearance, sunflowers are fascinating plants. It’s long been observed that as they grow, the flowers turn to follow the sun in a daily sun bathing ritual. Until recently, why this happens has been a mystery. Science, a scientific peer reviewed journal, reports “a new study suggests that this daily sun worship activity is guided by circadian rhythms during development.” So just like us, sunflowers have an internal clock!  Until full maturity, sunflowers will move with the sun’s path throughout the day, stretching to capture the sun’s energy and  warming the flower to entice more pollinators.

Check out this one minute video to learn more and if you don’t already grow them, consider sowing sunflower seeds in a sunny spot next spring. They are a fun and fascinating addition to the garden.

 

 

Submitted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener