Category Archives: Resources

A Poison Plant Primer for Halloween

While on a garden tour a few years ago, I crossed over to the dark side. Instead of admiring the frilly flowering ornamental plants, I spent my time inside the Poison Plant garden. 

The gate, decorated with a large iron spider in a large iron web, creaked eerily on opening and then slammed shut behind me.

The spider signified the potential dangers that grew inside that garden, like Oleander (a glycoside). This innocent-looking plant can cause respiratory difficulties and heart problems. Although this Mediterranean shrub can be a fragrant addition to the landscape, every part of the plant is poisonous when eaten. The smoke is also toxic if plant parts are burned.

Other glycosides in the garden included foxglove and lily-of-the valley.

Why would a perfectly nice botanic garden include harmful plants among the others? For the same reason so many other plants are on display: to educate gardeners and the general public.

We can’t escape poisonous plants because they can grow anywhere. Jimson weed and nightshade; soapwort and poison ivy; stinging nettle and even St. Johnswort were a few of the other plants growing in the garden.

“A recent increase in herbal usage has given rise to misuse and mistaken identities,” explained a sign near the poison garden’s entrance. “It is important to consider means of preventing a toxic encounter as well as enjoying the contributions of poisonous plants around us.”

Because Halloween is a time for delightful frights, I recommend taking a read through Amy Stewart’s entertaining book called “Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities” (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009).

She includes poisonous plants familiar to most gardeners, like Castor Bean, Henbane, Hemlock and Deadly Nightshade. But she also includes some surprises like Habanero Chile, Sago Palm, Tobacco, Junipers and Bermuda grass.

“We assume if it grows out of the ground, a plant is natural and natural is good for you,” says Amy. But cyanide is also a natural substance that comes from some plants, and it definitely isn’t good for you.

Speaking of deadly plants, what do you think is the world’s most wicked plant? Scroll past the following poison plant resources section to learn the answer.

Resources

A nice addition to Amy’s book is a list of poison gardens throughout the world and a well-research bibliography with many poisonous plant resources and identification guides. Here are a few links to help get you started:

CSU’s Guide to Poisonous Plants database lists trees, shrubs and perennials that can be harmful to animals.

Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a searchable database of plants that are poisonous to livestock and other animals. The color images help with plant identification.

The University of Illinois Extension has a comprehensive list of links to poisonous plant information. 

The World’s Most Wicked Plant?
Tobacco

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

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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

When it Rains, Let’s Measure It

Nolan Doesken of the Colorado Climate Center at CSU demonstrates how to read a rain gauge.

Denver Master Gardeners had the chance to learn why Colorado’s climate can be so frustrating during an entertaining presentation by Nolan Doesken of CSU’s Colorado Climate Center.

The July program was one half continuing education on the basics of our state’s climate and one half recruiting effort for more rain gauge volunteers. Both halves are important to anyone who’s affected by Colorado’s crazy weather.

Doesken is the state climatologist and the founder of CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. What started as a small volunteer effort in 1998 to track and map precipitation in northern Colorado has expanded to include thousands of volunteers in all 50 states, Canada and the Bahamas.

CoCoRaHS volunteers measure and report the amount of precipitation that falls in their yards. The combined data gives a comprehensive precipitation picture that’s important to natural resource education and research.

Colorado’s early weather reports were sent by telegraph from the top of Pikes Peak beginning in 1873.

Colorado started tracking climate data in the 1870s, but that data was collected only at weather stations. Some of the first official weather measurements were on wind pressure, speed and direction.

But there’s an ongoing need for data that helps tell the weather story in more detail. The combination of Colorado’s high elevation, mid-latitude location, complex mountain topography plus our location far from the continent’s moisture sources make for a challenging climate, Doesken explained.

We can also blame those confounding 40-degree temperature swings from one day to the next on those factors, too.

Anyone who has an interest in being a citizen scientist or learning more about the weather is invited to join the CoCoRaHS network. Volunteers use high-capacity rain gauges placed wherever rain can land without interruption.

Because precipitation can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, volunteers are needed in all areas. Each time it rains, hails or snows, volunteers measure the amount of precipitation and report it on the program’s website.

The rainfall reports get used every single day, Doesken said. Even 0″ precipitation reports are important. Data users include weather forecasters, hydrologists, researchers, farmers, ranchers, engineers and many others.

Interested volunteers can learn all the details at CoCoRaHS.org. Many helpful video tutorials are available on YouTube, too.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Slow Food Helps Grow Kids

An important part of the children’s garden was helping kids connect to nature by learning about the colors and magic of fruit. Other beds were filled with all the plants needed to make salsa, a nutrient scavenger hunt and salad greens as an equation for success.

There was a lot to love about the Slow Food Nations festival in downtown Denver over the weekend.

The celebration of local, organic and sustainable foods included free food tastings offered by Slow Food groups from around the world, educational programming and vendors selling to the thousands of foodies that attended the event.

But one of my favorite displays was the children’s garden, located on the sidewalk just north of the Taste Marketplace.

In this series of raised bed gardens, kids had the chance to get their hands dirty by exploring gardens filled with fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and flowers.

One of the premier gardens included a sample of the modular Learning Gardens, created by The Kitchen Community. The Kitchen Community’s mission is “Community through Food” and it accomplishes that goal by building outdoor classrooms on school playgrounds around the country, including Denver and Fort Collins. There are more than 400 to date.

The customizable gardens are designed to fit into each school’s landscape and become part of the educational process. As a teaching tool, the gardens help students learn about growing and eating nutritious foods and gaining healthy habits to hopefully last a lifetime.

A bowl of dried corn and a grinder were placed next to a bed of corn plants. Kids were encouraged to try their hand at turning corn into a grain for cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Low Tunnel garden bed introduced kids to the the concept of helping plants grow before and after summer. Books on year-round gardening surrounded the bed as resources for kids and their parents.

 

 

In addition to all the herbs, fruits, and vegetables, there were beds of flowers to promote planting for pollinators. A sensory garden helped kids see, smell and feel the benefits of plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

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.