There is certainly no shortage of advice when it comes to gardening. Everyone has an opinion, and when that fails, there’s the Internet. When you garden in Colorado, however, you quickly learn that much of the advice available doesn’t apply. It’s aimed at gardeners on the coasts, or the Midwest, or even the south—but not a place with harsh winters, false springs, sudden freezes, minimal rainfall, hail, gale-force winds… the list goes on and on. No wonder so many people give up and plant rocks!
This is National Public Gardens Week. I was all primed to write about all the public gardens we can visit, but as you know, many (most?) are inaccessible. For example, there are currently ten thousand tulips are blooming at Denver’s Botanic Garden, and no one can go see them. It breaks my heart.
I was feeling a bit despondent—I desperately crave flowers by this time of year—when I considered that not all public gardens are surrounded by walls. I typically drive to Denver because spring comes earlier at 5,280 feet than it does here in Colorado Springs (with our 6,000 – 7,000+ foot elevation). But we have gardens right here in town that I can visit any time.
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.
As an enthusiastic gardener, I spend a lot of time in my yard, but it’s always a treat to visit other gardens. Just as sandwiches always taste better if I don’t have to make them, a garden I haven’t tended seems more lovely somehow. Perhaps it’s because I’m not responsible for pulling every weed; I can just relax and enjoy the flowers.
I’ve been garden hopping a lot this month. Earlier this month, our house suffered 45 minutes of half-inch hail accompanied by a torrential downpour. Runoff scoured my gravel paths and adjacent flower beds—I never did find some seedlings I had just planted. Happily, other parts of town completely missed the destruction. I find their intact flowers and un-shredded leaves therapeutic, easing my bruised sensibilities while my garden heals. Continue reading “Garden Hopping”
Basket of Gold is a long-lived, low maintenance ground cover for small spaces. Gray, slightly fuzzy leaves are present year round, forming clumps 6 to 18 inches tall and 6 to 12 inches wide. In early Spring the plants are totally covered with masses of tiny cross-shaped flowers. Eye-catching colors range from soft yellow ‘Citrina’ or ‘Dudley Neville’ to the blindingly intense golden yellow of ‘Gold Dust.’ A similar species, Mountain Gold (Aurinia montanum) is more compact, with smaller leaves. Mountain Gold is also a bit harder to find at a garden center.
Last week I was complaining about catalogs full of tempting, desirable plants that simply will not grow here in Colorado. Today I want to introduce you to a catalog full of tempting, desirable plants that love it here.
Most experienced local gardeners already know about High Country Gardens, but if you don’t, you should. Based in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico, this company specializes in perennials suited for the high, dry gardens of the western U.S. In fact, a lot of their stock won’t do well in “average garden conditions” (a phrase that means “conditions in gardens that are not in Colorado”).
Cupid’s Dart comes to Colorado from Europe, where its historical role as an ingredient in love potions gave rise to its common name. Clumps of slender gray-green leaves grow about a foot tall and wide. Wiry stalks extend past the foliage, supporting a myriad of striking periwinkle-blue flower heads, each set off by papery bracts behind the petals. If left to mature, the two inch blooms turn into attractive seed heads that last all winter.
According to a recent report from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, “Extreme drought conditions exist from Colorado Springs and Pueblo to the San Luis Valley and over most of the plains to the southeast of the big metro areas.”
If you live here, this isn’t exactly news. The fields are turning brown months early, wildflowers are small and sparse, and even the most aggressive weeds are wilting.
Living in the low-rainfall west, we’re used to gardening with minimal water. Xeriscaping is a household word, and basic principles of low-water gardening are widely available. (I’ve written several posts on it too—just type “xeriscape” into the search bar.)
Successful gardening in Colorado means choosing plants well suited for our arid climate. Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) maintains two demonstration gardens, featuring beautiful perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees that are adapted to limited irrigation. Many people are aware of the large garden at the CSU headquarters on Mesa Road, overlooking Garden of the Gods. I wrote about it in April. But very few people are aware that there’s a second, smaller garden in front of the Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center at 3920 Dublin Blvd., just west of Rangewood Drive.
While much more limited in scope, this garden provides plenty of inspiration for a homeowner seeking to conserve water and still enjoy a beautiful landscape. When I visited in mid-June, a large swath of Stella ’d Oro daylilies were in full bloom, their bright golden yellow accented by the soft lavender of the surrounding Walker’s Low Catmint. The colors were repeated in lovely deep blue irises, purple Jerusalem Sage, and pastel yellow Moonshine Yarrows and Pineleaf Penstemon.
The Carnegie Library Garden may be one of downtown Colorado Springs’ best kept secrets. That’s a shame, because it is truly a gem. This is one of several public gardens featuring water-wise plants especially suited for our climate and soils. It was designed by landscape architect and master gardener Carla Anderson, and is maintained by a team of dedicated volunteers.
Blossoms abound throughout the growing season. When I visited last month, red and yellow ‘Lena’ broom was beginning to fade, while several types of Mockorange were in full bloom. Rosettes of huge, fuzzy, silver Salvia leaves were topped with tall white or purple flower stalks, and brilliant Colorado Gold hardy gazanias were everywhere. An arbor with a built-in bench supports a beautiful pink climbing rose, while honeysuckle grows on up a nearby trellis. By the time you read this, new plants will be in bloom; it’s worth coming back for repeat visits.