See Mountain Plovers in Karval, Colorado

Like most people, I used to associate our state with mountains, skiing, and aspen. But now, mention Colorado and I think of prairies, cowboys, and most of all, hospitality.

karval-2007apr29-lah-075My focus changed because of the town of Karval. With Pikes Peak barely visible on the horizon, this tiny town in Lincoln County, an hour east of Colorado Springs, doesn’t fit the typical person’s image of a vacation destination. Yet, I had a wonderful time there.

You have to have a reason to search out Karval. In my case, I was eager to attend their Mountain Plover Festival, held yearly at the end of April.

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The Bluebirds are Coming

Western Bluebird @home 2008jun03 LAH 015rrWhile we’re still shoveling snow and scraping windshields, bluebirds are thinking about spring. Colorado has three species of bluebirds, Eastern, Western (seen here) and Mountain, and all of them are what birders call “early nesters.”

Why do they arrive here so early in the year? Maybe it’s because they don’t travel very far for the winter. While other kinds of thrushes migrate to central America, bluebirds tend to stick closer to home.

Bluebirds living in the southern parts of the United States stay there year-round. Western Bluebirds from harsher climates winter along the Pacific coast or in the dry scrubland of the Southwest and Mexico. A few stay in Colorado.

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Lenten Rose, Hellebore

(Helleborus orientalis and hybrids)

helleborus_lenten-rose_portlandor_20100208_lah_9260Lenten Roses are a welcome sight after a long, lifeless winter. Hardy between USDA zones 4 – 8, they are among the earliest flowers to bloom., emerging from clumps of attractive, evergreen foliage about two feet high and 15 inches across.

The colorful sepals come in shades of green-white, through mauve pink and plum to a deep wine red. Some newer hybrids add a pale yellow to the mix. (The inconspicuous petals act as nectaries, luring bees with their sweet nectar.) Blooms come in single or double forms. Recently, breeders have developed cultivars with an open, anemone-type flower.

Originally native to Eurasia, all Hellebores are dangerously poisonous. From their roots, ancient cultures created medicines used to treat paralysis, gout, and especially insanity. It was frequently used as a purgative. Historians believe an overdose of Hellebore may have killed Alexander the Great. As some people are sensitive to the sap, it’s a good idea to wear gloves when tending your plants.

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Giving Your Seeds the Cold Shoulder

Bleeding Heart seeds need chilling.
Bleeding Heart seeds need chilling.

Are you itching to get started on your spring garden?

Regardless of the prognostication of groundhogs, those of us living in the high country can expect far more than six additional weeks of winter. It’s only the end of February, and we can get snow through May and even into June. Yet, reports of crocuses and rhododendrons from other parts of the country waken in us hope that there must be something we can be doing now.

If you placed your seed order last month, odds are you’ve received your seeds. You’re desperate to plant some, but you know it’s way too early. Overgrown, leggy seedlings are failures in the garden.

Well, you’re in luck. You can—you should—get started on some of those seeds.

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Durable Plants for the Garden: a Review

durable-plantsIf you garden in Colorado, you should own this book. If you garden anywhere in the high, dry west, you should own this book. It’s that simple.

Gardening along the Front Range isn’t for wimps. Rainfall is sparse. Leaves scorch in the harsh sunlight. Weather is capricious. Soils are lean and hungry. And then there are the critters—deer, rabbits, pocket gophers—who come looking for a salad bar.

If you’ve dealt with our high winds, decomposed granite (mixed with studio-quality clay), Saharan humidity, and apocalyptic hail, you know that plants have to be sturdier than Everest and more determined than the IRS to survive.

This book introduces  you to the superheroes of the plant kingdom. It’s a guide to Plant SelectTM winners.

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Birding the Colorado Tropics

Lady Ross' Turaco_DenverZoo_20091007_LAH_3617x-1
Lady Ross’ Turaco

It’s the middle of winter. We could go birding, but it’s hard to juggle binoculars when one has on several layers of insulation, hat, scarf, and wool mittens. Cold weather has us huddled indoors, wishing we could migrate to someplace delightfully tropical. Well, we can. I recently visited a place that’s always nice and toasty, filled with moist air, green plants, and exotic species, and is only an hour or so from my home—the Denver Zoo.

Bird World consists of a series of three large, sky-lit rooms, each with its own assortment of brightly colored birds from around the world. The rooms are sized so that you don’t need binoculars to get a good look. Natural surroundings encourage natural behaviors, even courting, nesting and raising young. Because the birds aren’t in cages, there are no bars between you and your subjects, making this a great place to take pictures. Connecting these rooms are wide hallways where more birds live in glass-fronted enclosures.

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Big, Hairy Spiders

My brave husband holding a Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula.

I confess—I am really afraid of spiders. While my rational side finds them fascinating, my emotions run screaming, and so do I.

In a determined effort to overcome what I see as a major stumbling block for a nature lover like myself, I decided to get better acquainted with arachnids. What better place to start than with tarantulas.

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