Category Archives: Resources

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.)

Master Gardeners Heart Barbara Hyde Boardman

barbara-hyde-gardening-in-the-mountain-westWhen Barbara Hyde Boardman says she’s had the book thrown at her, she means it.

After spending 17 years with CSU Extension as a Boulder County horticulture agent, she retired and wrote the first of her gardening books, called Gardening in the Mountain West.

The publisher took issue with her manuscript because it included “too much Latin” and refused to publish it or return her original.

Because she didn’t have a copy of the book, she was relentless in pestering him for the manuscript. Then one evening he drove to her house and threw it on the front steps where it landed with a thud.

“I didn’t care,” she says. “I got my book back.”

As the first woman to graduate from CSU’s Horticulture Program in 1977, and just the second female horticulture agent in the U.S., Barbara had to learn to stand up for herself in a male-dominated agricultural industry.

Barbara, now 93 and living in Longmont, had a long and successful career with Extension even though it was tough for a woman in those days. Apparently agriculture agents didn’t think women belonged in horticulture.

Whenever there was enough money in the Extension telephone budget, she’d make long-distance calls to the other female horticulture agent so they could commiserate.

Barbara grew up in Colorado and says she always loved gardening. Her father came from an Iowa farm and her mother raised flowers so she learned gardening at an early age. She says she always had a little spot in the garden that was all hers.

“I could plant anything I wanted and some things were dreadful.”

That early start eventually led to gaining two degrees in horticulture from CSU. Working with other Extension agents around the country, she helped get the Master Gardener program off the ground. Eventually more than 500 volunteers had signed on in Boulder County before she retired in 1990, according to her bio.

In addition to Gardening in the Mountain West (published in 1999), Barbara authored three other books. The most recent is a gardening book for children and their grandparents. She also wrote weekly gardening columns for newspapers in the region and still writes for several garden club newsletters.

The second edition of Gardening in the Mountain West is a classic text on how to garden in one of the most challenging climates in the country (and it’s still available from online sellers). She dedicated it “to the volunteer Master Gardeners of Cooperative Extension. They have had a major impact on the level of horticultural excellence now achieved by the gardeners of this nation.”

Her affinity for CSU Extension and the Master Gardener program continues today. She’s contributed a tidy sum to start the Barbara J. Boardman Fund at the university.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Is Your Xeriscape Ready for the Spotlight?

xeriscapeIf you think your water wise garden is ready for its close up, the Denver Botanic Gardens would like to hear from you. The DBG is looking for showcase gardens to feature on its Bonfils Stanton Water Wise Landscape Tour this spring.

Denver metro area gardeners who’ve taken their landscape water conservation efforts to the next level are encouraged to apply to be a tour garden. Selected gardens demonstrate the key principles of a water-wise landscape design.

To be considered, your xeriscape should feature a yard with either less traditional lawn or lawn alternatives, include native flowers and shrubs, have plantings of other drought-tolerant plants, and use water-conserving irrigation systems. It should also be beautiful, too.

The selected landscapes need to be in peak shape on Saturday, June 17, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

If you have an anxiety attack at the thought of a few hundred people strolling through your backyard, this opportunity might not be for you. But if you’d like to help inspire others with your xeriscaping efforts, you might enjoy chatting with people throughout the day and answering questions about your experience, how the design saves water, how much maintenance is required, and the names of individual plants.

If you’re interested, apply sooner rather than later. “This is a rolling admission process so early submissions may improve the likelihood of selection,” says the DBG. For more information and to receive an application, send an email to Rachael Jaffe (rachael.jaffe@botanicgardens.org) or call 720-865-3613.

Getting Started with Xeriscaping

If your landscape isn’t tour-worthy – or you’ve been thinking about xeriscaping and don’t know where to start – now’s a good time start planning. Start by rethinking the ways you currently use water in your yard.

If that sounds overwhelming, start by transforming a small portion of your landscape. Small xeriscapes will still help conserve water. Look around your landscape and find the places where water use is the highest. Then find ways to reduce or limit irrigation, like seldom-used areas or parts of the yard that are highly maintained.

One of the best ways to save water in the landscape is by cutting back on turfgrass. How much irrigated lawn do you need and how much can be replaced with a lawn alternative? Just because you’ve always had a large lawn doesn’t mean you use it. Low-water grasses, ground covers, perennial flowers, and drought-tolerant shrubs can fill the space.

Another way to save is by rethinking ways to irrigate lawn areas separately from planting areas. Traditional systems can be replaced by low-pressure, low-angle sprinklers. In flower beds, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses under mulch.

Fill your xeriscape with colorful, climate-adapted plants that are known to grow well in our area, like the plants introduced through the Plant Select program. Group plants by their water needs, clustering together those that use less water in drier areas and those that need slightly more water in moister areas.

Mulch is also an important part of a xeriscape because it helps maintain soil moisture and reduce soil temperature. Depending on the plants you select, you may need rock, gravel, bark, wood chips or straw. Some xeric plants do better with inorganic mulches that let fast-falling rains percolate down to plant roots while reducing runoff.

CSU Extension has many excellent (and free) resources for getting started with xeriscaping. This fact sheet on transforming a conventional landscape to a xeriscape may lead to having your yard be part of a water wise garden tour in the future.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Tweaking Tomatoes Produces Faster Fruit

tomatoesNew research in plant biology has the potential for earlier and larger harvests of sweet cherry tomatoes. The question is, would you eat a tomato that’s been tweaked?

Scientists are experimenting with Sweet 100 tomato plants to fine-tune genes and speed up flowering and fruiting. Scientists have found these tomatoes grow bushier plants that produce ripe tomatoes faster by several weeks. A report on the research appeared in a recent article published in Nature Genetics.

The research, conducted at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Springs Harbor, N.Y., engineered mutations to “cause rapid flowering and enhance the determinate growth habit of field tomatoes, resulting in a quick burst of flower production that translates to an early yield.”

It all has to do with changes to the plants that eliminate day-length sensitivity. The lab provides more details about its research in this press release.

The technology scientists use for modifying plants is known as CRISPR (pronounced crisper). The acronym stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats – a precise laboratory method for editing plants’ genes. Because these plants contain no foreign DNA, they aren’t genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In addition to harvesting earlier tomatoes, gene editing may help grow larger yields of crops and lead to crops that resist drought and diseases. Some current applications include a fungus-resistant wheat and larger harvests of rice. Gene editing technology may also allow some crops to grow in places where they wouldn’t normally thrive.

While gardeners are always interested in getting ripe tomatoes to their tables faster, do you think there are any potential downsides to this new technology?

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Sign up for CSU’s Source for Garden-fresh Ideas

source-screen-shot-resizedIt’s a little embarrassing to admit I had to read a national green industry newsletter to learn about a unique program in my own backyard.

Even though I’m a CSU graduate and a master gardener volunteer with CSU Extension, I was left out of the loop of current events at the university.

By signing up for CSU’s informative Source newsletter, I’m making sure that doesn’t happen again.

You don’t need to be a CSU alum to get this expertly produced eNewsletter delivered to your inbox. It’s a great way to stay informed about what’s happening with all aspects of the campus, plus learning about cutting edge research along the way.

For example, you’ll be able to read about the unique collaborative partnership between the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture program and Philips Lighting. This feature story might sound ho-hum at first, until you realize the program is all about brewing more craft beer.

According to Source writers, CSU’s Horticulture Center is one of just a few facilities in the country using Philips Horticulture LED Solutions for lighting. This state-of-the-art lighting system is being put to use to grow crops of hops in a faster growing cycle for year-round production.

Craft brewers are taking advantage of the availability of fresh hops to brew batches of wet-hop beers five times a year, instead of just once. More hops means more beer for local brewers and beer lovers.

Bill Bauerle, professor of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, and students in the fermentation program explain more about the program in this CSU-produced video.

There’s plenty of other news related to the Horticulture Department on the Source website. Use the site’s search engine to read about the new Horticulture Center and its plant research and testing.  Or scroll to the bottom of the page to click on links to the College of Agricultural Sciences.

I found many stories and other items that would be of interest to master gardeners, such as Colorado’s water issues, global environmental sustainability, and creative new research programs for the future.

The twice-weekly newsletter is sure to expand your thinking about what it means to be part of CSU’s growing community.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener

Colorado Master Gardener 2016 State Conference Recap

Colorado Master Gardeners from around the state gathered together October 3-4 to be entertained, educated and inspired at the first state-wide conference. Lunch and snacks were excellent, too.

After the welcoming remarks by Mary Small, state Master Gardener coordinator, JoAnn Powell, Extension Front Range Regional Director, thanked attendees for their valuable contributions on the 40th anniversary of the Master Gardener Program.

She challenged the group to think about the direction of Master Gardeners for the future. “It takes all of us to make Extension Master Gardeners work well,” she said. “We need to be in touch with our communities, adapt to our communities, and try new things.”

One of those new things included the filming of a Master Gardener promotional video to help increase the program’s visibility in the community.

Here’s a brief recap of the first conference. Hopefully you can join us next year!

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The keynote speaker, Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott from the Puyallup Research and Extension Center at Washington State University, signed books and answered questions before the start of the conference. Chalker-Scott is the author of  “How Plants Work” and “The Informed Gardener Blooms Again.” During her two sessions she dispelled myths about common gardening products and practices. She also helped Master Gardeners understand how to apply The CRAP Test to evaluate gardening information.

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Master Gardeners in attendance included representatives from all three state regions: Western Region, Peaks and Plains, and the Front Range. In addition to the keynote presentations, attendees could choose breakout sessions on topics such as Taxonomy of Vegetables, Tomato Diagnostics, Insects, Extending the Season, Facts and Fiction about GMOs, Landscape Design, Low-maintenance Perennials, Pesticides, Herbs, Turf, and Advanced Plant Physiology.

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Master Gardeners were encouraged to engage with fellow gardeners throughout the day. The social hour was a good excuse to meet and mingle over an impressive assortment of appetizers.

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Table talks were a highlight at the end of the first day of the conference. Displays included programs from around the state like Jefferson County’s guidelines for using social media to promote master gardener volunteer programs. Other displays included Denver County’s Anchor Center for Blind Children, Arapahoe County’s work at the Colorado Center for the Blind Legacy Garden, and Pueblo County’s display featuring its Plant Diagnostic Clinic.

 

 

 

 

 

4 Ways to Share the Harvest

Share the HarvestOn August 8 I saw a picture on social media of three oversized zucchini squashes lined up against someone’s front door.

Apparently it was National Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbor’s Porch Day and gardeners were making the most of it to get rid of their giant zucchinis.

I know summer squashes can be the punch line to gardening jokes, but I didn’t know there was a whole day devoted to surprising neighbors with jumbo fruits that might go to waste.

Good gardeners know that zucchinis are best when they’re small and tender. To avoid club-sized fruits, harvest early and often, when fruits are about 5-7 inches long. It pays to remember at the height of the season, fruits can be ready to pick within a week of flowering.

Instead of unloading zucchinis onto unsuspecting neighbors, why not donate the extra produce to people who will appreciate it? Here are four ways to share the harvest with a food pantry that will distribute it to our neighbors in need:

AmpleHarvest.org
Ample Harvest is a national charitable organization that connects gardeners with local food pantries by zip code. On the website homepage there’s a Find a Pantry button at the top of the page. When I keyed in my zip code, I found a dozen pantries within a 9-mile radius.

Colorado Hunger Free Hotline
In addition to being a food resource, the Colorado Hunger Free Hotline can help gardeners find a food pantry that accepts fresh produce. Call 855-855-4626 (Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and ask about food pantries located in your zip code. Then get in touch with the pantry for details about dropping off your fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fresh Food Connect
Fresh Food Connect is a local project of Groundwork Denver, Denver Food Rescue and Denver Urban Gardens. The program has three goals: reduce food waste, collect fresh produce and employ low-income youth. Fruits and vegetables are collected from your front porch and either donated or sold at a youth farm stand. If you live in zip code 80205, you can sign up and get a weekly email asking if you have any produce to donate. Someone on a bike with a trailer will ride by and pick it up.

Fresh Food Connect organizers say the program will expand to other neighborhoods, so even if you don’t live in the 80205 neighborhood, sign up so they’ll have an idea of where to expand the program in the future.

Project Angel Heart
Project Angel Heart takes fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and turns them into healthful meals for their clients with life-threatening illnesses. Project Angel Heart has a list of accepted items, especially chard, tomatoes, zucchini! and yellow squash (see the full list and other details on the website).

Produce must be harvested and dropped off on the same day: Mondays, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the Denver office and kitchen (4950 Washington St.).

If you have a favorite drop-off spot, please add it to this list and help other gardeners find the best use for their extra produce. And let’s start celebrating zucchinis for their important role they play in our gardens — and kitchens.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Four Ways to Celebrate National Pollinator Week

Today’s the official start of summer and it coincides with another important annual event — National Pollinator Week. From June 20 through June 28, agencies, organizations, companies and ordinary gardeners bring attention to ways to help build healthy environments for bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other vital pollinators.

Here are four ways to celebrate pollinators this week. Please add your ideas to the list:

Million Pollinator Garden Challenge1. Register your garden on the National Pollinator Garden Network.

Become one in a million by registering your pollinator-friendly garden as part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to register 1,000,000 public and private gardens and landscapes that give pollinators what they need: nesting sites and plants that provide pollen and nectar.

Pollinator Friendly Jacket Image2. Learn more about pollinators.

There are many free pollinator guides available if you need help deciding which plants give the biggest bang for pollinators. There’s also a new book written by a gardener for gardeners. Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes explains that no matter the size of your garden, there are dozens of good plants for helping pollinators. Her detailed plant lists simplify selecting flowers, herbs, vines, shrubs and trees.

3. Become a Habitat Hero.

Encourage more feathered friends to gather in your landscape through the Habitat Heroes program with Audubon Rockies. Apply to have your landscape recognized as a Habitat Hero wildscape. Some of the basics include planting bird-friendly native and regionally-adapted plants, reducing herbicide and pesticide use, and controlling invasive plants.

Pollinator Bee4. Plant zinnias.

A single packet of zinnia seeds will give you a summer full of color and plenty of lovely nectar-filled landing pads for bees and butterflies. Zinnias are some of the easiest annual flowers to grow whether in garden beds or containers on the patio, balcony or deck.

Please keep pollinators in mind and let’s work together to create a lot of buzz during National Pollinator Week!

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver master gardener

 

Seed School

You may be familiar with the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. As a member you can buy or exchange seeds with other members.  They encourage heirloom seed saving.  You can grow the same variety of Hollyhock or Sunflower that your grandmother grew because people have saved the seeds and passed them along for other gardeners to grow.  seeds

A relatively new organization is the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.   The founders of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance spoke at the Denver Botanic Gardens in September 2015 – “Seed: the Future of Food”.   Seeds saved from successful plants are uniquely adapted for the local environment which makes local or regional seed groups important.

Both of these organizations offer “Seed Schools” where they teach best practices in seed harvesting and preservation.   The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance offers webinars on seeds and has a seed school in Aurora, CO in August 2016 

If you want to see some interesting videos about International Seed Banks see my earlier post on this site.

Master Gardeners Plant Flowers and Ideas

CSU's annual display at the Colorado Home and Garden Show starts with a plan. But it's the master gardener volunteers who take the plan from paper to planting.

CSU’s annual display at the Colorado Home and Garden Show starts with a plan. But it’s the Master Gardener volunteers who take the plan from paper to planting.

Master gardeners fill each garden bed with soil, cover it in mulch and add the larger plants. Space is reserved for garden details, like a concrete bench, fire pit, lawn chair and table.

The demonstration gardens are like a blank canvas. Volunteers cover the planting beds in mulch and add the larger trees and shrubs. Space is reserved for special garden details, like a concrete bench, fire pit, lawn chair and table.

Racks (and racks) of plants wait for their cue. Sometimes plants fit perfectly into the design, other times last-minute changes need to be made to adapt to floppy flowers or clashing colors.

Racks (and racks) of plants wait for their cue. Sometimes plants fit perfectly into the design; other times last-minute changes need to be made to adapt to floppy flowers or clashing colors.

Master gardeners put their heads together to make sure the garden plan comes together. Mike Archer and Laura Roiger confer on plant placement while Linda McDonnell starts planting.

Master Gardeners put their heads together to make sure the garden plan comes together. Mike Archer and Laura Roiger confer on plant placement while Linda McDonnell starts planting.

Planting at the show's display garden is almost as difficult as planting a garden at home. The main difference is plants are planted in their pots. But no containers can be showing!

Planting at CSU’s display garden is almost as difficult and messy as planting a garden at home. The main difference is plants are planted in their pots here. But no containers can be showing!

Plants have to be kept fresh, so there's no drooping before the show. Anne Beletic takes time to make sure the spring flowers have that just-bloomed look.

Plants have to be kept garden fresh, so there’s no drooping before the show. Master Gardener apprentice Anne Beletic takes time to ensure the spring flowers have that just-bloomed look.

When visitors stop by CSU's demonstration garden at the show, they probably don't think of all the hours and hands that go into creating it. What they can count on is inspiration and reliable information to take home and put to use in their own gardens.

When visitors stop by CSU’s demonstration garden at the show, they probably don’t think of all the hours and hands that go into creating it. However, what they can count on is reliable information and inspiration to take home and put to use in their own gardens.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener