THE GARDEN OF ROB PROCTOR AND DAVID MACKE IN DENVER
A few months ago my husband outlined the inspirational message he was to give at our youngest son’s wedding to his long-time love on a polka dotted cocktail napkin–you can actually see the napkin in his hand in the photos taken of him with the bride and groom at the altar. In the garden notes about Rob Proctor and David Macke’s phenomenal garden, I learned that 25 years ago Rob drew a layout of the garden on a cocktail napkin as he and David celebrated the closing on their new home. The cocktail napkin’s role in new beginnings and big decisions is starting to take on new meaning for me!
Rob and David invited us to enter their back garden through their 1905 brick home which displays an eclectic collection of David’s antiques and Rob’s watercolors. Rob Proctor is part of Denver’s horticultural royalty. He is a past Director of Horticulture for Denver Botanic Gardens and has written sixteen gardening books on topics from cutting gardens to how to create beautiful gardens on a shoestring budget. Rob has written for the Denver Post and is the resident gardening expert for Denver KUSA-TV. He is also a noted botanic illustrator and watercolor artist. This garden has been featured in many books and magazines and is open annually in August (at its peak bloom) for the Proctor’s Garden tour which benefits a local nonprofit community-based animal shelter/humane society.
A Denver Garden Bloggers Fling would not be complete without a chance to see Rob’s garden. Caveats to this post which simply does not do the garden justice, even in its first few weeks of the season; you get the light you get based on the time of day we are scheduled to be in any given garden and MY photography skills can’t do much to alter that; we have about 35 minutes in any single garden to not just take it all in but also photograph it. If you are a YouTube viewer, there are multiple videos over several years of this garden, several including interviews with Rob. Especially engaging is a June 18, 2019 YouTube upload set to music by fellow Flinger Janet Davis who blogs at The Paintbox Garden–unfortunately my platform doesn’t support links to video but any of the videos can be found by Googling. Your search engine will also offer you a series of Rob’s own video clips at http://www.9news.com on a variety of gardening topics. All of these are worth watching.
On with the show…
The brick patio opens to a series of very long and lush perennial borders within a formal structure “walls” provided by brick columns and lathe fencing. The garden’s folly is the visual focus from the seating area and draws the eye to the into to the depths of the garden.
The parterre herb garden as viewed from several angles. Again, Rob has used formal structure but let the plants fill it in a blowsy, live and let live fashion. The herb beds are actually sunk below grade to collect water in a technique employed by the Native Peoples which Rob describes as the way a waffle collects syrup.
The gravel allee is actually the old driveway, now transformed into a long border completely composed of pots. This is perhaps a good place to note that this garden is home to over 600 planted pots. that’s 6-0-0! They are small and large, tall and squat, mostly but not all blue or terra-cotta. Holy moly–I’m doing well to not let the ivy left behind in last year’s abandoned container croak over the winter…
The next border over–they all extend from the back of the home sort of like tines from a fork–is quite shady due to the tree cover directly behind the herb parterre but chock full of emerging perennials. Pots of color are placed in the borders to add pops of interest at strategic spots.
This magnificent plant that is sited on both sides of the border at its sunnier end (look to the very end of the lawn strip in the next to last photo for the billowy clouds of white) was the subject of much interest to many of us–finally identified as Crambe cordifolia, sometimes referred to as giant sea kale. It sort of looks like airborne baby’s breath floating six feet in the air. Even in a smallish garden it could be used as the backdrop for other more colorful perennials and annuals.
The white lathe folly at the end of the center border is filled a variety of containers potted up with succulents, ferns, tropicals and houseplants needing a little protection.
Remembering that this garden is just now in its opening weeks of Denver’s relatively short growing season, I am not sure I can imagine all 600 of the pots bursting with blooms at the peak of the season.
The central border is alive with bright and dark foliage colors and many blooms. While more is not yet quite blooming than is, the overall effect is staggering. Another plant drawing a bit of attention is this huge leafed perennial which is present is all the borders in various stages of maturity. Several Midwest gardeners recognized it right away and referred to it ask hogweed, cautioning unwitting novices like me not to touch it! David Macke identified it for us as Heracleum maximum, commonly called cow parsnip. It is a genus of about 60 species of perennial herbs in the carrot family. Apparently it can deliver a nasty rash if you handle it and then the affected areas are exposed to sunlight.
The most Westerly border ends in an arbor leading to the vegetable garden which spans the entire back of the property, mostly shielded from the view of the more ornamental borders.
I am practically on a dead run from the far back veggies to the house as last call for the bus is made-fortunately I am not alone!
The lush back garden Rob and David have planted, nourished and nurtured over 25 years after its initial plan was rendered on a cocktail napkin was beautiful on June 18th, the day of my visit. I expect that each day of its season, while different, is equally as stunning. Layer upon layer of plants will come and go through out the borders, beds and pots, rewarding anyone who is lucky enough to spend even 35 minutes amongst them. The “bones” and fundamental framework planned out on that cocktail napkin have made it possible for diverse plant materials to flourish in both contrast and harmony with one another–bits of interesting chaos resting safely in the arms of the garden’s structure. The message David delivered to the soon-to-be newlyweds was one of building a framework of confidence in one another through caring and communication. The goal being a relationship in which both can flourish individually and as partners, in times of contrast and harmony, but always in a safe space. Didn’t think you could get all that on a cocktail napkin, did you? A huge thank you to Rob and David for their generosity in sharing their garden with us on this day.