Shhh… the Plants are Listening!

Corn silks_LAHQ: What has ears but cannot hear?
A: A field of corn.

Q: Why is corn such a good listener?
A: Because it’s all ears!

Q: Why shouldn’t you tell secrets on a farm?
A: Because the potatoes have eyes, the corn has ears, and the beans stalk.

Are you groaning yet? We make (bad) jokes about ears of corn, but it appears that plants might really have ears.

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Sensational Silver

Artemisia 'Seafoam' - Seafoam Sage @CSUtilXeriscapeGarden 9Aug2006 LAH136Ask 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.

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An Invitation to Hummingbirds

Broadtail Hummingbird_COS_LAH 780My yard is full of hummingbirds! Last summer I faithfully put out feeders full of sugar water, but had no takers. Not a single one. The only hummer that visited was a Broad-tailed Hummingbird that stopped by to check out the lone flower on a honeysuckle vine that was sitting in its can, waiting to be planted. But this year! From mid-July to late August, I probably had over a dozen in the yard at any one time—Broad-tailed, Rufous, and even several Calliope Hummingbirds that hung around for over a week. It was all I could do to keep my two feeders filled.

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Bountiful Bugs

Mountain Bluebird_ChicoBasinRanch-CO_LAH_1248-001The bulldozers are at it again. Another swath of short-grass prairie is being turned into houses. I can’t complain—I live in such a house. A mere three years ago, birds and bunnies made their home in what is now my yard. The voles and cottontails are still here and thriving, largely at the expense of my landscaping. The birds—assorted sparrows, hawks, Say’s Phoebes, Horned Larks, Scaled Quail, and Killdeer—decided to go elsewhere.

Now I’m trying to lure them back by replacing what nature has lost. Instead of the typical neighborhood rocks-and-grass “zero-scape,” we’ve included shrubs and trees that offer wildlife food and shelter. Native shrubs such as three-leaf sumac, manzanita, Boulder raspberry, buffaloberry, and chokecherry all offer berry-like fruit. Our roadside oak will one day provide acorns, the limber pines have seed-filled cones. Seeds come from native grasses and flowers, too, while dwarf conifers and dense shrubs offer a place to hide from predators and the weather. My nectar garden feeds hummingbirds and other pollinators. Feeders offer additional seeds and suet, and my heated birdbath is a year-round source of water.

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In Praise of Poisonous Plants

Convallaria majalis_Lily of the Valley_HudsonGardens-CO_LAH_5740Maybe hemlock has the right idea.

I’ve always avoided incorporating poisonous plants in my garden. When our children were small, I was worried that they would eat a leaf or berry. Now we have small grandchildren who come to visit. Years ago, back in California, we tore out the oleanders and privets, replacing them with artichokes, strawberries, and other “edible landscaping.”

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Plant Science for Gardeners

How Plants WorkNew gardening books seem to pop up as regularly as springtime dandelions. Most simply rehash what has been said before—perhaps with a new twist or better photos. But How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do (Science for Gardeners) isn’t your typical treatise on how to grow what. Instead, the author, Linda Chalker-Scott, explains the “why” behind the “how.”

An extension urban horticulturist and associate professor at Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, Chalker-Scott knows what she’s talking about. This is her third book on horticulture, but there is a lot more. She’s written a series of articles on “Horticultural Myths” that I strongly urge you to read. Then, learn more at “The Informed Gardener,” a series of podcasts, or the informative Garden Professors website. She’s also a driving force behind the Gardening Professors Facebook blog (an extremely helpful research-based Q&A site).

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Gardens Fit for Royalty

royalbotanicgardens-sydney-nsw-australia_lah_7215

One of the joys of traveling is that you can visit gardens in other parts of the world—places with different climates growing plants totally unlike those in we have here in Colorado. I just returned from a long overseas trip that included visits to botanic gardens in both Australia and Singapore. Talk about different! On the one hand, the tropical blossoms and exotic ferns were a delight to the senses. On the other hand, there is no way I could ever grow any of them at home, except as houseplants. And even then, our low humidity would discourage most of these species.

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