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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10 thoughts on “In a daze near Denver…a prairie meadow

  1. I loved this garden so much ! I have all of Laurens books and remember a couple hundred years ago when photos of her groundbreaking hell-strip garden in Boulder (I think) were published in Sunset-back when the magazine had much more garden content.I’m pretty sure the term was coined by her. I’m going to fail you on the flower ID , but if I have it in my photos I will post on the FB Fling site and see if anyone knows.

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    1. What am I going to do when you don’t have an ID for me?? Your knowledge is twice that of mine. I thought this was an idyllic location–I am not sure I could live with the mosquitos though. Otherwise I could just sit our on their deck 24/7.

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      1. The verdict is Potentilla nepalensis. There are quite a few varieties but the closest I found was ‘Melton Fire’ ,though that was on a UK site .

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      2. Ahh…potentilla. I have seen that in catalogs although not this coloration–not sure we grow much it commonly in the Valley but this one’s color is really appealing. Another one to research. Thanks to K from K

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      1. ‘Field yucca’ might be a general term. There are a few species that grow in the plains, and a few that grow in the Rocky Mountains and Colorado. I would guess that this particular ‘field yucca’ is a Yucca glauca, which is endemic as far north as Alberta. However, the flowers seem to be a bit more impressive. Some species of yucca really get going if they get water through summer.

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  2. What a lovely writeup Donna and we appreciate the depth of your blog. We agree the mosquitoes were awful and apparently hatched the night before – normally not this bad as we sit out here nitely. But as the old saying goes “if it ain’t the windmills, it’s the hogs.” The poppy is called Lauren’s poppy (after Lauren Springer) and is papaver somniferum and the other little plant I don’t believe was in our garden as I comb every inch of it regularly. Enjoyed meeting you and thank you, Mary and Larry

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Mary–you, are right the little orange flower which has since been identified as a potentilla is in the garden we saw immediately after yours! I’m going to pull the photo plus add the ID for the poppy–I have seen Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ in catalogs for years and didn’t realize that it was named for Lauren Springer Ogden. I really loved the beautiful bird bath in the meadow–is that a one of a kind piece or one that is commercially available

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