Category Archives: Shrubs

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?

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Imposing Facade Bramasole, Cortona , Italy

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Roses, Lavender, Hibiscus, and Bees, Bramasole

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cosmos: First Year Quick Dramatic Interest with Daisies and Spiraea

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Assisi, Umbria Vertical Inspiration

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2017 One of the New Vertical Evergreens

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Whimsy. Perfumed and Perfect

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Structure in the Design, Clipped Hedges and Flamingo Willows.

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Blue Arrow Vertical Defining House with Speedwell & Sweet Drift Rose

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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

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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)

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Five Favorite Bulletproof Plants for Denver Gardening

Just about every gardener I know lost a favorite plant or two over the winter. Most of my hardy roses died to the ground, but eventually returned.  Sadly, the tall and lovely redleaf rose (Rosa rubifolia) is gone for good. Whether a rose, shrub or fruit tree, losing a prized plant is like losing an old garden pal.

The only way to get over the loss is to replant with something that will survive the challenges of living in our climate. Here are five bulletproof plants that seem to thrive in spite of the vagaries of weather:

Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle smallKintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle (Lonicera reticulata ‘Kintzley’s Ghost’)

If you’re looking for a dependable woody plant, Kintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle is it. I planted this Plant Select recommendation years ago and it continues to surprise me every year. The vine does well with only the precipitation it receives. When there’s wet weather through the winter and spring, it grows a bit taller with more foliage. During drier years it still shows up and looks good. In addition to its low-water, low-maintenance needs, I appreciate the eucalyptus-like foliage on vines that crawl up and over the picket fence.

Gold flame spirea smallGoldflame spirea (Spirea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’)

In 2001 I planted three of these tidy shrubs and they’re still going strong. Even after the shock of the sudden freeze last November, all three returned with only a few dead branches. A quick trim was all they needed. This spirea is a compact deciduous shrub that grows to about 3 feet tall and just as wide. Drought-tolerant once established, it can brighten any spot with crimson-red leaves in spring that turn to vibrant green by summer. Reddish-bronze fall color is an added bonus. Small pink flowers can bloom twice over the season if dead-headed.

Silver Fountain butterfly bush smallSilver Fountain butterfly bush (Buddleia alternifolia)

This Plant Select winner is a beautiful shrub with graceful arching branches. In spring there are tons of light-purple flower clusters that attract butterflies like crazy. If you plant one, be sure to give it plenty of room because it can grow to more than 10 feet tall and wide. I’ve found the only downside is the long branches are surprisingly brittle during winter and some may break under heavy loads of snow — nature’s way of pruning so you don’t have to. This butterfly bush prefers well-drained soil and is adaptable to low-water conditions.

yarrow smallMoonshine yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’)

Some gardeners think yarrow is the least sophisticated of the xeric plants, but I appreciate it because it loves my landscape. Its tall, shrub-like habit makes a nice backdrop in a xeriscape garden and the silvery-gray foliage and bright yellow flowers really shine in summer. I started with two plants but yarrow needs to be divided every few years, so I’ve transplanted more around the yard. I leave some flowers on the plant through winter, but I also clip some to use in dry table arrangements and crafts projects.

Brown-eyed Susans smallBrown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)

Brown-eyed Susan is smaller than its black-eyed cousin, and that’s fine with me. This biennial coneflower behaves more like a perennial because of its generous seed-sowing nature. My large collection started as two small starts and have spread throughout the garden on their own. The sunny yellow, daisy-like flowers have beautiful brown “eyes” and stand tall from mid-summer through fall. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the long-lasting blooms, but they make nice cutting flowers, too.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener

How to Grow Blueberries in Colorado Gardens

BlueberriesColorado gardeners who fall in love with the idea of growing their own blueberries may be disappointed with the results. There just isn’t enough room on a planting tag for all the information they need.

Even if they carefully follow the basic planting instructions, blueberries need much more than “Full sun, acidic soil (incorporate peat moss or organic matter into soil), good drainage, fertilize in early spring, moderate watering.”

That’s because blueberry shrubs arrive in Colorado from growers in the northeast or the northwest where conditions are ideal for growing the plants. The climate on each of those coasts is significantly different from Colorado’s land-locked and semi-arid climate.

The two main challenges the blueberry planting tags don’t cover are the soil pH problems and the way winter dries out plants in our region.

Both of these problems can be solved, but it takes extra effort.

Thanks to CSU Extension blueberry experiments, gardeners have a proven blueprint for blueberry success.

The experiments, conducted by Joel Reich while he was a CSU Extension Horticulturist, are detailed in a one-hour webinar recorded in August 2012 called Blueberries for Colorado Gardens.

Anyone with online access can view the free program to learn all about the best blueberry varieties to plant, where to find them, how to plant and fertilize them, best practices for winter protection and how to keep birds and deer from getting to the juicy fruits before gardeners can enjoy them.

The blueberries growing in CSU’s trial gardens in Longmont show that if gardeners plant in sphagnum peat moss and provide special winter protection, they can enjoy fresh blueberries season after season.

Joel grew blueberries in the trial garden for more than 16 seasons in the same bales of peat moss. He devised a fertility maintenance program with a special combination of acidic fertilizers to use on a May, June, July schedule.

Planting

Best practices for planting blueberries mean planting directly inside the sphagnum peat moss bales. The bags are opened only part way to help retain moisture. Holes in the bottom of the bag provide drainage. Drip irrigation is important to make sure the soil stays consistently moist.

The bags are placed in trenches so they’re at grade level, but they could also be placed in a raised bed. Gardeners could grow plants in patio or balcony containers if they select the blueberries classified as “half-high.”  Plants growing in containers will need even more protection from wind in winter.

Protection

The key to providing winter protection is to prevent the damage caused by dry weather, low humidity and winds. It’s especially important to wrap or cover each plant so winter winds can’t suck the moisture out of the dormant buds.

The blueberry shrubs need to be wrapped in layers of burlap with the branches tied up and together. An alternative is to cover each plant with a trash barrel that’s weighted down.

By Jodi Torpey