In a daze near Denver…tough plants, easy smiles

THE GARDEN OF JEAN MORGAN IN LOUISVILLE

Jean Morgan’s garden doesn’t take itself too seriously. She strives to offer food, water and refuge for butterflies in all their life stages (including the eating your plants to a naked stem phase) and rest plus a sip of water for her bird visitors within a native landscape that can get by when it needs to with virtually no supplemental water.

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A raucous clump of huge, bright orange poppies greeted us as we got off our bus just around the corner from Jean’s home

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Jean is standing at the ready to greet us but most of us have stopped to take in the shallow plant filled front yard which runs the length of her cottage.

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While there are quite a few permanent plantings, including this rose, the overwhelming sense of this front bed is that of masses of freely seeding wildflowers. Blue love-in-a-mist is everywhere, including cracks in the asphalt surface of the street. There are large colonies of both pink evening primrose and yellow sundrops–both of the genus Oenothera.  Although Jean has both natives and non-natives, she admits that in a conflict where one must go–the natives win every time.

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From the Denver postcards–this chocolate guardian angel watches over the yellow flowered Berlandiera lyrata, chocolate flower. The flower heads of this plants were used by native Americans to flavor their foods. Jean shares that passersby often pick up the Hershey’s wrappers she has used to highlight the plant’s fragrance and bring them to her with apologies for the actions of a careless litterer.

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Jean’s home is one of Louisville’s historic miner’s cabins. The left photo shows its original size and the right photo is of the miner who built the cabin. Jean has lived and gardened here since 1972 when her passion started with a few hens-and-chicks given to her by a neighbor.

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Jean’s love of found objects is obvious–especially those with a vintage Colorado feel
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Ants “mine” for crystal near a swath of cranesbill
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Colorado’s state cactus Echinocereus triglochiadiatus, or claret cup cactus
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Every nook and cranny has something growing out of it
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Stanleya pinnata or desert prince’s plume puts on a show of yellow blooms
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Jean identified this hardy geranium as the North American species G. fremontii AKA  G. caespitosum fremontii, or Fremont’s geranium 
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Bloggers are pretty much shoulder to shoulder in the rock garden between the cabin and its garage
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This old tub planted with succulents is called Barney Bazooka De Chomp III–I wonder what happened to I and II?
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The paths are narrow and there are few places to step without crushing some small vignette
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Jean IDs plants and answers questions–she has prepared reference sheets because she knows we’re going to want the names for everything
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The back garden’s focal point is a whimsical pond
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Bubbles the hippo peeks up from the water
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Tiny and tight succulents fill the rocky crevices
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Jean welcomes all to visit her garden, then come back again and again

Jean believes that every garden belongs to the gardener who tends and loves it. She clearly enjoys her garden every day and revels in seeing the birds and butterflies who make it their home. She is active in community causes including the preservation of other miner’s cabins in danger of demolition. Jean is also involved in annual Boulder County butterfly inventories conducted by Jan Chu, author of Butterflies of the Colorado Front Range. Her cabin and very personal outdoor space shines in a small, clearly aging neighborhood only a block from the railroad tracks–the only thing brighter I saw was her enthusiasm for sharing her garden with us.

 

 

 

 

Doing the West Coast whack…

One of the most satisfying things about participating in the Garden Bloggers Fling the last several years has been the opportunity to meet gardeners from all over the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. We are all proud of what we grow but there is no denying that we all lament over what we just can’t get to perform well (or even stay alive til season’s end) given our region’s cultural conditions.

When I lived in the deep south our hydrangeas were big, blue and fabulous and spring days were awash in color from the winter’s remaining camellias, azaleas of all colors and blooming ornamental cherry trees. I could not, however, grow a decent rose that wasn’t covered in blackspot by the time it formed buds. At the Capitol Region Fling in 2017, gardeners with massed blooming perennials and annuals mourned their lack of gardenias as evergreen shrubs rather than annuals lost to cold each year. Clematis and peonies are always wept over by those of us whose fate they are not while I’m pretty sure they grow unattended in fields in the Midwest. A fellow blogger mooned over a single agapanthus in a Denver garden as if it was the second coming; in Southern California we grew those by the freeways. Don’t get me wrong–all of us have gotten a round peg in a square hole with enough effort but more and more gardeners are concentrating on growing well what grows best in their garden’s natural culture.

There is also a lot of time to cuss and discuss various the cultural practices we use to get the most from what we’ve got. In front of an amsonia standing very tall in a Denver garden I commented that I had planted one in my Georgia garden but could never get it not to flop. UK blogger Michelle Chapman asked, “Do you Chelsea chop?” I was momentarily without words. She went on to explain that cutting the amsonia, along with many other herbaceous perennials, back at a certain point to encourage branching would produce a sturdier plant less likely to flop. Michelle gardens in Chippenham, England and blogs at Veg Plotting. For her area that optimal spring cutback takes place around the time of the famed Chelsea Flower Show–hence it is called the Chelsea chop. As I enjoy a longer growing season, my perennials generally have been blooming for 2+ months by May when CFS takes place. My early spring cutback to encourage branching is more like early to mid-February but I have no equally descriptive name for it. My Central Valley’s commonly 8 month growing season does benefit from a mid-summer cutback of most herbaceous and woody perennials. After they take a brief rest, I am rewarded with another full bloom cycle which carries my garden through fall. I’ve decided I’m going to call my early July cutback the West Coast whack! There is always more than binds gardeners together than that separates them–we are pretty good world ambassadors, I think.

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Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’ is ubiquitous in my garden and so is rarely the center of any photo!

As we are spending next week in the cool of the Sierra Mountains and my plants are ready even if I am not, this is my week to whack. In years past, I have spent more time laboriously making the perfect cut on each stem but life has gotten too short for that and many of the twiggier plant groups like the Salvia greggii, of which I have many selections, seem to respond just as well with a less precision prune. Roses are getting another mass dead heading also–not much escapes this mid-summer madness.

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The iris is finished and the salvias whacked!

It will take me the rest of the week, working in the cooler early morning hours, to cut back the salvias, agastache, penstemon and shrub roses. Other perennials can be dead headed and tidied up as time permits. We’ll take a rest from the garden next week as the garden starts its summer afternoon nap.

 

Poliomintha maderensis Lavender Spice™

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I’ve taken a couple of photos of this addition to my new lawn free front garden a few different times since it was planted in April. I just never quite got the post done and then the next set of pics would look even better. Sealing the deal to feature it is that it has sailed through several 100°+ days since June 1st–a good sign that it may hold up to our hot, dry summer.

Poliomintha maderensis Lavender Spice™ is a member of the mint family and commonly called Mexican oregano. Not an oregano but it is native to eastern Mexico, requiring full sun in all but the hottest regions. It is a loosely upright evergreen shrub supposedly maturing at about a three foot mound. The long tubular flowers open lavender, deepen to purple, and finally fade to white; all three colors are present on the plant at the same time–much like the blue to white fading Brunsfelsia pauciflora ‘Floribunda’ we call yesterday-today-and-tomorrow.

It has grown steadily

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May 30 and just putting on a few blooms
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Taken from a higher angle–lots of blooms on June 20

I had no small sense of unease on my Denver trip with lots of new plantings in the front garden, many untested as yet to heat, but everything held up fine with no extra attention or water other than my normal irrigation schedule–whew! I’ll let you know how Lavender Spice™ fares as the summer wears on.

P.S. Lovely true oregano fragrance, too.

 

 

In a daze in Denver…Confluence Park and REI

For two days our tour buses passed a lovely riverfront of some kind and a huge REI as we traveled back and forth from our garden tours in the communities surrounding Denver. I am not a camping and hiking kind of girl but both my adult sons are very into kayaking, fishing and all things outdoors so I decided a trip to what I soon learned is the flagship REI might give me some new street (forest?) cred with my boys. Who would have thought my second retail adventure in Denver would take me back to the birth of this mile high city?

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It was overcast as I approached Confluence Park and REI, walking the mile or so northwest on 15th Street from my hotel. This photo is taken from East Confluence Park where there is a pretty shade pavilion and this great stone leaf in which was nestled a little boy wrapped in a wet towel, fresh from some play at the river’s edge.

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In fact, every one of the several kiddos in that family had to take a turn in the leaf’s embrace before they all packed back into their vehicle and I got my turn.

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Confluence and East Confluence Parks are two of Denver’s most urban parks. They encompass the green space at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek which is just north of Denver’s Lower Downtown historic district. During the Gold Rush it was at this junction that gold miners established a settlement for trade and commerce in 1858. When the gold panning no longer yielded riches, the settlement reinvented itself as the supply hub for new mines in the mountains. The city of Denver eventually grew out of this mining camp.

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Shoemaker Plaza with REI in the background

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From the 15th Street bridge over the South Platte River, you can see quite far upriver. Shoemaker Plaza on the river’s bank is a venue for outdoor concerts and picnics. Biking and hiking trails run along the river. On this cloudy day there were a few folks relaxing on the banks and a big yellow dog who was having a great time.

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Public art on the Plaza

REI’s 90,000 square foot Denver flagship store occupies the historic Denver Tramway Power Company building over looking Confluence Park and the river. It has its own Starbucks with a lovely outdoor seating area which was full of young people sipping their coffees and working on their tablets while enjoying at the fresh air and the sound of the rushing river.

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The building housed the boilers and engines used to generate electricity for the streetcars which were the main link from Denver to the suburbs. Water from the river cooled the powerhouse’s turbines and there was easy access to coal due to adjacent rail lines. At the height of its operations, the Tramway Company owned 160 miles of track and more than 250 streetcars. The system was decommissioned in 1950 and the building was subsequently used as a warehouse and later, to house the Forney Historic Transportation Museum. REI acquired the property in 1998.

REI Co-op was born in 1938 of the need for a better source to obtain a quality ice axe for a reasonable price–which explains its choice of door hardware. Today it has 154 stores in 35 state and the District of Columbia and more than 13,000 employees, all dedicated to bringing consumers top quality outdoor gear and experiences.

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REI’s commitment to the careful use of resources made the rehabilitation of this historic building a project which supports the environmental concerns of its members both through responsible business practices and direct support of conservation causes.  There is an amazing amount of information about this rehab project online–just Google REI Denver Flagship store or REI Denver Tramway Power Company if you’d like to read more details.

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Camping anyone?

Being a REI virgin, I thought I might participate in whatever activities were going on in the store or pick up a small souvenir. I felt pretty foolish asking some passerby to snap my photo in front of the store. More so, letting anyone else see me taking a selfie in front of the store!

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Ok, so maybe experientially this might not be for me–the 40 foot tall Pinnacle. Although I did find out that a class was available for beginners after which I could have my first pint of beer free at Denver Beer Company.

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The small boulder outside was more my level–these girls were doing time trials with Mom manning the stop watch

Maybe a kayak is more my style…

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Or one of these colorful sleeping bags…

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From the second floor catwalks I could really get a sense of the structure of the building and what a great job REI did preserving what they could and making their needed improvements in a  style that was complimentary to the inherent industrial look. My first REI so no way to know if they all look like this!

Feeling ever so much more outdoorsy than I did when I walked in, I took a pedestrian bridge back across the South Platte towards Centennial Park.

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Just before the bridge the power of the water is really evident 
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I’m sure REI has a class entitled “Kayaking for 66 year old beginners with marginal upper body strength” What do you think?

I ventured on to Centennial Gardens and saw some more fun outdoor public art on my way back to the hotel–another post for all that.

 

 

 

In a daze near Denver…600 tons and what do you get?

THE GARDEN OF TATIANA MAXWELL IN BOULDER

Six hundred tons is the tally for the Colorado sandstone used to build the walls, ponds and waterfalls in the garden of Tatiana Maxwell. This post will be photo rich–every time I went through the 75+ pictures I took of this beautiful and peaceful property trying to decide what I could eliminate…well, you get the idea!

The Maxwell home is on about 1/2 acre corner lot in the Old North Boulder neighborhood and was completed in 2010. Tatiana’s original vision for her garden was a more traditional English cottage garden but brainstorming with a friend, Thea Alvin of myEarthwork and local permaculturalist Marco Lam opened her eyes to more possibilities. Even after reading a bit about permaculture I am still not sure what its principles are but here’s how I’m going to sum it up: using perfect plants for the climate and only what works in the local environment and cultural conditions rather than starting your design process with the plants you want to use and trying to adapt your site and cultural habits to them.

We started our ramble on the driveway. I will admit I had been in the garden for almost 30 minutes before I realized there actually was a front door. I thought she had no back garden even as I was actually already in it. Let’s just walk right up the driveway which runs from street to property line near the back of one side of the lot.

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A sunny raised veggie bed is the front garden for the Maxwell guest house
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Guest house patio
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Attached to the guest house is Tatiana’s greenhouse/sauna
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More refuge than potting up spot-the sauna is in the back left corner
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This beautiful swing is one of many pieces of Indonesian influence throughout
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A little succulent color brightens up the sauna’s exterior wall

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Between the guest house/greenhouse and the fenced vegetable garden is the family’s handy bike storage. Tatiana’s plan was to create an urban oasis where she would be “cocooned in nature.”

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The two vegetable gardens produce a broad array of vegetables through three seasons. There are also fruit trees and berry bushes plus a couple of fig trees which live in the greenhouse.

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Catmint softens the edge where the stacked stone wall meets the gravel floor for the strip west of the driveway
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Raised beds have drip irrigation and pots for color–warm season veggie gardening is just getting started here
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A cold frame provides space to start seeds earlier than they could be directly sown
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Colorful perennials massed at the north end fill in at the feet of trellised vines

The garage is tucked on the east side of the driveway with a detached studio then nestled between the house and the driveway, a narrow walkway separating the two. As with the greenhouse and gardens no detail was spared on this charming little building.

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These galvanized gutters are like wall art

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This colorful trio lights adds interest to a very narrow planting space between the studio and the driveway. I believe the upper left is a contorted filbert, Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’; upper right is one of the lime leafed barberries; below them is a red hot poker plant.

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The front door of the studio is protected by a unique glass and iron awning. The door frame has this southwestern influenced tile work and the same rustic wood found on the window frames.

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A small walkway and ample tree cover makes it hard to distinguish the studio from the house
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A purple clematis scrambles up the gutter

Yes, it’s true that I’ve been basically hanging out on the driveway til now. Let’s dive deep into the garden!

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Approaching the garden secret entrance from the driveway–you just know you want to be in there!
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This unbelievable rock pond is a natural watering hole for pollinators
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Lots of plantings, like this Euphorbia, soften the junction of the driveway surface and the massive rock walls

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Neither the first nor the last clematis envy I experienced in Colorado
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We’re going in!
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A quick left turn allows visitors to step underneath the huge slab of rock forming the base of the waterfall
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Stepping out into a path which circles the pond offers a different perspective of the greenhouse…
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…and a up-close view of the pond’s impressive rock structure, depth and waterfall
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Back through the rock tunnel and I step out into the expanse of the garden

Tatiana Maxwell wanted to have a garden space in which she could host events for causes she is passionate about and the broad lawn provides ample space several hundred people to be seated.

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Red rose climbing up the side of the pond wall
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Another contorted filbert–‘Harrry Lauder’s Walking Stick’

The entire south side of the lot is enclosed with a massive very high stacked stone wall which turns the corners on both the east and west sides, allowing for several elevations of planting places on the interior of the walls. These beds are lushly panted with a variety of foliage colors, shapes, sizes and textures.

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A fringe tree in bloom

I literally stood mid-lawn and turned 180 degrees right to left to photograph the interior borders. They are well kept but not fussy–looks to me like a gardener who likes to be out in her garden snipping and picking here and there.

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Looking back toward the home, a shady patio is a wonderful place from which to observe the garden goings on
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Iron hardware supports the arbor
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Rustic bell shaped light fixtures on both the home and studio
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Looking back at the pond
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Looking back at the patio from the east lawn

It was not until I had walked out far enough to take this photo that I recognized that this patio was not the front of the home–that we had actually entered at the back of the property.

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Around the corner from the driveway and looking back into the garden–really the only side open to street view
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Found the front door!
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Tatiana’s green roof through the tree branches

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I love this somewhat understated front entrance into a home which I’m sure is very large and beautifully appointed. It says to me that this home is about Tatiana’s connection to her family, garden, neighbors and friends rather than that she needs a “grand entrance” to make a statement about who she is to those who don’t know her. Again, old world and international details set the tone.

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Lovely tracery of the vine on the stucco wall
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Just north of the front door is an almost hidden entrance to a walled secret garden
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Subtle water sounds
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Bold Indonesian lanterns flank French doors leading to? I would want it to be the master bedroom!
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A mix of colorful foliage
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These steps make a statement–I think they are basement access

It’s time to walk back to our buses, still parked by the driveway. Now I get to see what I would have normally taken in first on any garden tour–the street view. Behind its stacked sandstone walls, Tatiana’s home is virtually invisible except for a the space open to the lawn on the east side.

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The raised beds resume and round the corner
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The set back raised beds in front of the higher walls result in three planting levels–this is the point where the two streets of the corner lot meet
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Flowering trees, shrubs and perennials fill all levels–this lemon yellow pine leafed penstemon contrasts brightly with the catmint and lily-of the-Nile
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Corner of the street and the driveway–I’ve come full circle (square?)

I found both this home and its garden very appealing. I have never seen so much rock in any other garden anywhere but many lush plantings soften it throughout. Equally suited to a young family or empty-nesters, this property could meet most everyone’s desire’s for ornamentals and edibles plus a wide swathe of lawn. Gardens that look so casually beautiful are not without maintenance but the permaculture nature lends itself to the need for less water, less fertilizer and lower energy requirements. Every garden requires maintenance and I think working in this one would be a great pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a daze near Denver…a prairie meadow

THE GARDEN OF MARY AND LARRY SCRIPTER IN NIWOT

Mary and Larry’s rural Niwot garden occupies about a quarter of their 5 acre lot. With roads on two sides of their property and fields on the other two, you couldn’t ask for a more serene location. Unless you could also have an unobstructed view of the Rocky Mountains–did I mention that they enjoy that also?

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Adding to their sense of privacy, a long driveway well treed on both sides brings us to their neat 70s ranch home. Mary notes in her garden profile that they started their garden in about 2011 challenged with bindweed, thistle, quack grass, dying aspen trees and clay soil. I don’t even know what those first three things are but I’m sensing they are not good.

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The island in the driveway is only a couple of seasons old and filled with a variety of perennials,  small scale shrubbery and iris

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The barn takes on a quasi desert look with this colony of shapely yuccas. Larry recounted that plants in this group have all descended from a small one he found out in the field and stuck in the dry ground. When asked what species of yucca they were (as garden bloggers do) he replied dryly, “field yuccas”.

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Looks like a field yucca to me…

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This sprightly little pine had a spot just at the end of the field yuccas. It is one of the lodgepole pines, Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ and should reach 12 ft. high and 8 ft. wide and sports those new bright yellow needles for about two months each spring. Although this pine was new to me it would not be the last time I saw it during my Denver stay.

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Mary’s front porch adjacent plantings were colorful and traditional–roses, salvia, and a number of other low fillers not yet in bloom.

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Centranthus ruber, also known as red valerian or Jupiter’s beard is a tough prairie perennial very attractive to butterflies

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It was impossible not to gawk at the exquisite woodwork around the front door, not at all usual for the style and age of the home. Larry shared that one of Mary’s many endeavors had been dealing in European antiques and that this piece was from a French cathedral.

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Our first glimpse of Mary’s sense of garden whimsey: busy iron ants amongst scrambling poppy mallow

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The garden slopes down at the end of the home and as we descend the stairs, Mary’s numerous fairy gardens, both sun and shade, come into view.

At the northwest corner of the garden work began in 2011 to add privacy from the road and increase bird habit. The design was done by Lauren Ogden Springer, an internationally known garden rock star who lives and gardens in nearby Ft. Collins. She and her husband, Scott, have written two books together: Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens (Timber Press 2011) and Plant-Driven Design (Timber Press 2008). Lauren also authored The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Water-Resilient Beauty (Fulcrum Publishing 2011). She is currently overseeing the planting of a newly designed public garden named the Undaunted Garden at The Gardens at Spring Creek which is on our tour itinerary. The Scripter privacy screen contains over 60 trees and shrubs planted with the help of their backhoe and 600 blue grama and little bluestem grasses. To deter the weeds and keep the new plantings moist they were covered with free mulch from tree contractors. Now established, the area is only watered about four times per year.

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Looking into the privacy screen from the end of the Scripter home
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Sort of an organic “Please don’t walk on the grass” sign
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My first view of the prairie meadow–in the foreground, masses of columbine

In 2012, Larry prepped the area behind their home which was destined to become their own personal prairie meadow using 800 pounds of alfalfa pellets and 10 cubic yards of compost, working it into existing clay soil  with his tractor. With Lauren Springer Ogden’s meadow design in hand, Mary spray painted the ground, laying out the matrix of plants, section by section.

From Mary’s garden profile, “Over a period of three weeks, we planted 1,800 plants, including 70 types of perennials, shrubs, native wildflowers, and 13 types of grasses. In the fall of the same year, we planted 1,500 bulbs–daffodils, camassias, tiger lilies, eremurus, gladiolus and various alliums plus many flowers for cutting.” Using a shovel and a wheelbarrow, Larry spread 25 tons of pea gravel around all the precious plants to deter weeds from the hayfield and retain moisture. They had realized their goal of having a prairie meadow with a view of the Rockies.

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Wide gravel paths allow easy access for maintenance

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Keep in mind that this meadow was covered with snow a short three weeks ago. While it is mostly green now, it has many diverse plant colonies which will come into bloom throughout the summer and probably reach its peak in August.

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Eremurus (desert candles) just rising up
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Waning Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’–named after garden designer Lauren Springer Ogden
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Sanguisorba, I think–commonly called burnet and endowed with astringent properties

This prairie meadow under the big Colorado sky lies not much more than a hay field away from the Lagerman Reservoir. Mary had laid out several bug spray options for us on the deck and you only had to venture out into the meadow to understand why–it was swarming with mosquitoes. Many of us, including me, just weren’t able to spend much time photographing plant groupings because you couldn’t stand too long in one spot before they found you!!

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This striking bird bath was one of my favorite meadow elements.  Mary shares that the ever changing meadow landscape is full of life year-round, including hundreds of birds. The entire meadow is a certified Pollinator Habitat, feeding wild bees and the bees from neighboring farms.

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Viewing the meadow from the southwestern end of the back garden. This area is shaded and planted with many traditional shade loving species.

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The shaded back deck is perfect for relaxing and enjoying the view of the meadow and the Rockies beyond.

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The back deck bears witness to another part of Mary’s collecting life when she dealt in    cowboy and western items. This vintage Americana seems just right for Colorado decor.

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This delightful photographic essay on the meadow development which also included photos of the Scripter’s family and friends was available for us to enjoy.

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A memorable moment

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Although the meadow is now well established, the Scripters concede that no garden is ever done. A meadow this size requires significant maintenance with weeds, weather and critters all being unpredictable factors from year to year. Regardless of the work involved to maintain their stunning long range view from the meadow to the mountains, they express that they are very grateful to live here. I am very grateful that Mary and Larry were willing to share their garden with us.

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In a daze in Denver…the Dairy Block

On my first day walkabout I stumbled on one of Denver’s newest cool hang outs in the LoDo/Ballpark area, the Alley at the Dairy Block.

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Debuting in April 2018, the Alley at the Dairy Block is downtown Denver’s first “activated” alley. The alley stretches from 18th to 19th street between Blake Street and Wazee Street.

The alley was once home to Windsor Dairy, the premier creamery in Denver dating back to the 1880s. So what’s an “activated alley”? The length of the alley has been cleaned up, repaired, and decorated with murals and other outdoor art.

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Worthy words near a restaurant at the Blake Street end and I think lit at night
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Two stories of funky graphics

Most important for LoDo Denver residents is that now it has a common consumption liquor license which allows visitors to purchase a drink at one of its trendy bars or restaurants and carry it along with them to visit with friends at one of several outdoor patios or even peruse the shops. Signage on both ends of the alley reminds visitors that their alcoholic drinks cannot leave the alley.

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Open patios are defined by chunky woody and iron planters
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Just about the worst photo I’ve ever kept but these young people were happy to be captured playing a spirited game of corn hole at mid-afternoon
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Check out the cafe lights strung throughout–their “globes” are opaque milk bottles

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One corner of the Wazee Street end is anchored by the Milk Market, a unique food hall concept which opened in June 2018 with three bars and a dozen food vendors–also a very engaging sign on the alley side. I can imagine the success of this venture will spur development of other activated alleys throughout the historic district. Check out the happy hour or nightlife the next time you are in Denver. When you are thinking about dining at a restaurant you could find in your own home just because it’s easy or familiar, why not try someplace new and encourage Denver’s entrepreneurial spirit?