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.
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.)
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”!
It looks like the sky has fallen and landed among my perennials. Purple-blue flowers formed a dense carpet nearly obscuring the thick layer of green foliage underneath—and the whole show was only a few inches high. I have a weakness for “blue” flowers (when it comes to botanical descriptions, usually that means purple), and the various speedwells are at the top of my list.
All summer, the shrub sat in the back corner of our yard, quietly filling the space between the fence and a dry creek bed. The olive-green leaves were a bit drab, but provided a nice, neutral backdrop for an adjacent Blue Mist Spirea (Caryopteris). The shrub had been a bit late to leaf out, and I was contemplating replacing it with something more interesting. I’m glad I waited. In the last few weeks, that inconspicuous shrub has suddenly become the star of the garden. Continue reading →
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) used to be purple. You can still buy the purple-flowered version of this perennial (actually more of a pink, at least to my eye), but purple is only the beginning. Consider passionate hues such as raspberry pink and florescent orange. On the other hand, perhaps you’d prefer delicate pinks, or even an innocent snowy white. A related species, E. paradoxa, below, is a pure lemon yellow.