Ask any 4-year-old what color leaves are, and they’ll confidently proclaim, “Green!” And green leaves are just fine, for the most part. We expect gardens to be basically green, from the verdant lawn to the tops of the trees (at least during the growing season). When it comes to plants, that glowing, chlorophyll-derived green implies life and health.
But one can have too much of a good thing. That’s why our landscaping includes plants with leaves that are a soft silver (that sounds much better than “gray”). No, I don’t want an entire yard full of them, but as accent plants, silvery leaves can make quite the impression.
Do you like flowers? Are you passionate about purple? If so, you can’t miss out seeing the newest themed garden at Denver Botanic Gardens. Carved out of previously inaccessible space, this small but packed area is dominated by purple in all its glory. From mauve to plum, through violet to amethyst, every shade of purple is represented by the variety of flowers chosen.
When I asked at the information desk, I was astonished to learn that the plants have only been in the ground since August. You’d never guess. While the shrubs are still small, and obviously new, the annuals and perennials spill over rocks, fences, and one another in a profusion of blossoms.
I love to visit botanic gardens (look for my previous posts under the category Gardening: Gardens). In addition to enjoying the beauty of these places, they also provide ideas for my own landscape. Denver’s is one of the best, and many of the plants there will grow happily 2,000 feet higher. But many won’t. The Betty Ford Alpine Garden, in Vail, is another lovely spot, but that garden features plants that only thrive in the mountains, where they enjoy exceptionally well-drained gravelly soils and cooler days. Yes, there are several demonstration gardens here in Colorado Springs, and I’m well acquainted with what they have to offer. But perhaps I’m too well acquainted. I need inspiration that I can apply at home.
This summer, I found a botanic garden with growing conditions just like mine. In just five acres, the Yampa River Botanic Park, in Steamboat Springs, offers all the inspiration I could ask for. And since it’s situated at 6,800 feet, what grows there will grow for me, too.
Do you enjoy big flowers with bright, showy colors and carefree maintenance? It’s hard to beat annuals for season-long impact. Whenever I think of annuals, I immediately think of cosmos, one of the very best annuals for Colorado gardens.
There are currently thought to be 36 species in the genus Cosmos, but the two most often grown in our gardens are C.bipinnatus (left) and C.sulphureus. (There are two other Cosmos species in cultivation. One is a frost-tender, tuberous perennial known as Chocolate Cosmos, C.atrosanguineus. The other is Cosmos parviflorus, a wildflower of the western United States.)
Nature is an excellent gardener. Take a walk through any pristine boonies and you’ll be amazed at the beauty of what grows untended. I’d never consider combining flowers in shades of fuchsia, orange, yellow, and blue, but when nature does it, we stand in awe. Ferns tucked alongside waterfalls, acres of wildflowers, pink Oxalis carpeting the ground under towering redwoods—it’s all stunning.
How would you like a perennial that is hardy from USDA zones 3 through 9, tolerates browsing deer, drought, and smog, while attracting butterflies with its brilliant flowers? Moss phlox (Phlox subulata, also known as moss pinks and creeping phlox, does all that, and more. A very low growing groundcover that barely reaches six inches in height, moss phlox spreads to a diameter of two feet, making it ideal for the front of a border. The leaves resemble short, prickly pine needles, and are a gray-green in color. But it’s the flowers that cause me to run to the garden center for more.
Yuccas are as much a part of the Colorado landscape as red rocks and towering peaks. I admit, I didn’t like them at all when we arrived 25 years ago. Yuccas? Yuck! But in the intervening years, they’ve grown on me. I now acknowledge that yuccas have their place—as long as it isn’t in my yard.
I think my initial antipathy came from driving by a yard in a Colorado Springs neighborhood. The homeowners clearly didn’t want to deal with landscape maintenance; their front yard was mostly rocks. A scraggly Ponderosa sat to one side. The only other plants were a few yuccas stuck between some ugly boulders. It was probably intended to be a xeriscape. I thought it was a “zeroscape”!