Perennials for High(er) pH

A visit to the Pacific Northwest makes me pine for acid-loving plants—Japanese maples, azaleas and rhododendrons, to name a few. But I live here in Colorado, where the soil is often highly alkaline. Our pH runs over 8, much too high for many landscape plants popular in Oregon, Washington, and other areas with high rainfall and acidic soil.

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A Not-So-Common Black Hawk

Sometimes you can wait for hours, poke into thorny bushes, hike through snake-infested fields, get tired and dusty, become overheated or risk frostbite—and never find the rare bird you’ve come to see. And other times, you park the car, climb out, look for the crowd with binoculars and floppy hats, and know you’ve hit the jackpot. On Saturday, my friend and I were blessed to not only see the rarity, but to get up close and personal.

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A Hidden Garden Near Seattle

I just spent a couple of weeks in Western Washington. While most of my time was filled with giggling granddaughters, a good friend and I managed to sneak away to visit a tiny gem of a botanic garden, one I’d never heard of in spite of our frequent visits to the area. Located in a quiet neighborhood in Federal Way, just north of Tacoma, PowellsWood is well worth a stop. (It’s also conveniently close to one of my favorite Indian restaurants, East India Grill. But I digress… )

I’m thankful that I can call Colorado home, as there’s no place I’d rather live, but my second choice would  definitely be Washington. I don’t mind clouds and rain, and all that water, plus a relatively benign climate, results in gardens that can only be described as stunning. PowellsWood is no exception.

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Fall Frustrations

While some species are easy to identify, many birds present challenges. Look-alike species such as scaups (below), sandpipers, gulls, and the notoriously difficult Empidonax flycatchers, are enough to keep birders working to improve their skills for years to come.

But as if that wasn’t hard enough, just as we begin to feel confident, fall arrives. Birds are migrating, males become drab and the world is flooded with a new crop of immature birds. It makes me feel like a beginner birder, all over again!

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A Botany Blog for Plant Nerds

Are you a plant nerd? Not just a gardener, no matter how passionate, but interested in the plants that aren’t found in a garden? Are you excited about botany? Then, I have a website for you:

In Defense of Plants

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The Good Guys: Native Thistles

Cirsium scopulorum_Frosty Ball_SummitLakeMtEvans-CO_LAH_5720

Last month I wrote about Scotch Thistles, a noxious weed in Colorado and in many other states. Then there are Bull Thistles, Musk Thistles, Plumeless Thistles, and Canada Thistles, also on the Colorado noxious weed list. This begs the question, are all thistles invasive, nasty plants, or are there some good guys among them?

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Leaves of Gold

Rhus typhina_Staghorn Sumac_DBG_LAH_0350r

When we think of adding warm shades to our garden—yellow and orange, gold, lime and chartreuse—we immediately start listing flowers. But it’s time to think beyond the blooms and consider the leaves. Foliage comes in a variety of warm tones, and the color lasts all season—or longer. We don’t need to wait for fall; many of these plants make spectacular focal points in the landscape all summer long.

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Where’s the Bird?

Birds are sometimes amazing at disguising themselves, but we birders can rise to the challenge and spot them anyway. Just for fun, I think it’s time for a little quiz. No, not an ID quiz—this one is simply “Can you find the bird?”

Easy, right? Here we go…

White-tailed Ptarmigan female_RMNP-CO_LAH_9130
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

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Container Makeovers

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We’re nearing the end of August, and both the garden and the gardener are… tired. This has been a long, hot, summer, and the entire state of Colorado is in a drought. The unending parade of 90+ degree days, unusual for our elevation, has left the plants bedraggled, the flowers faded, the leaves with crispy brown edges.

The large pots of color on our deck are the worst. The violas that looked so pretty in June are now covered with powdery mildew. In spite of what the seed packets promised, the cosmos and zinnias grew too tall, towering over the petunias, and the snapdragons stayed too short. My chard leaves are tunneled with leaf miners, and it’s nearly impossible to keep them sufficiently watered. (Memo to self—do not plant chard ‘Bright Lights’ in a container with more xeric annuals, no matter how colorful the stems or how many seedlings are left over after planting the veggie beds!)

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