In a daze in Denver…lessons from a cocktail napkin

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!

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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…

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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.

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Flower filled intimate seating spot just a step or two away from the kitchen door
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Turf plays the role of pathway between the borders
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The lathe supports vines and climbing roses, the columns offer another location for containers
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A spot to relax on the way to the herb garden

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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.

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This climbing rose anchors the center of the parterre

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Cobalt cushioned seating along the fence line overlooking the herb garden
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A pair of potted clematis flank the loveseat

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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…

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Rob and Dave snuck this red seating area in to see if we were paying attention
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Lots of crimson and chartreuse in these terra cotta pots
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A little peachier here

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.

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Succulents planted in hypertufa boxes rest on a wooden bench at the base of a large shade tree
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One type of pot, one type of plant= big impact
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Looking down the border

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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.

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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.

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Cobalt blue pots are again prominent, many with yellowy-chartreuse foliage
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Matched hanging baskets of a huge coral hued begonia flank the folly’s doorway
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Another cluster of blue pots are nestled at the base of a spiral staircase

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.

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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.

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The umbels on this cow parsnip tower least 8 feet in the air
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Another favorite in this sunny border Kashmir sage, Phlomis cashmeriana

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.

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A huge weigela is an explosion of blooms
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Clematis recta billows at the base of the arbor
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Things get a little wilder  as you approach the veggie area.
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A little potting up space
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Once again having structure and organization firmly in place allows for freedom within the planting beds
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The “waffle” scheme is repeated here, allowing valuable water to flow into the below grade planting square
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Each square of edibles has a terra cotta potted succulent centerpiece–art in its own right
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Malva sylvestris, zebra mallow snuggles up against the base of a bench
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Clary sage pops out of the gravel in abandon
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Creative succulent containers abound

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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!

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Looking back to main patio from central border path
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Blue pots explode with pansies, succulents and more
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How could I have missed this patio water feature–hidden amongst the myriad of pots!
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Rob bids us good-bye

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.

 

 

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 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?

 

 

In a daze near Denver…art and experimentation

THE GARDEN OF CAROL AND RANDY SHINN IN FT. COLLINS

Newcomers in 2006 to the Front Range, Carol and Randy Shinn retired to Ft. Collins and have been experimenting in their garden ever since. Both are artistic by nature, Carol in the visual arts and Randy in musical composition. It was not until the next day that I became aware that this was the garden of THE Carol Shinn–a rock star in the art quilting world who is internationally known for her photo-based free motion machine stitched images.

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Their new Colorado home came with an outdated lawn, uninteresting flower borders and juniper everywhere, including block the front windows. The new garden has a small puddle of lawn and now the perennials, conifers and collection of ground covers winding through and tucked amongst the rock paths and large rock outcroppings are the stars of the show.

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A small stream bed runs left to right under the rock path
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Bearded iris are an important feature in the garden
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View from the driveway
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View from the street side
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View from the street side near the property line
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Wow!
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The same poppies from a different vantage point
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Color and textures weave through the diverse plant materials
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Greeting visitors near the front door
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One of several peonies in the garden–this one softens the front walk

Rock gardening has become Carol’s passion after adding the first granite and sandstone boulders to anchor her developing beds. She says the growth of the garden has been organic rather than that of a rigid structure based on a plan. Her experimentation with a bed of horizontal layers of sandstone, then later a bed of vertical basalt has cemented her love of crevice gardening–no pun intended.

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The largest of the crevice gardens as viewed from several angles.

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Another crevice garden with a bright lavender aster peeking out
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A little wider view of that crevice garden

All of the crevice gardens are anchored with conifers which will, in time, provide more vertical interest. A wide variety of alpine ground covers and perennials are tucked in all the crevices. Colorado natives make their presence known everywhere. So much of this plant material is unfamiliar to me but I’m sure if I’d had a decent alpine/steppe plant reference book I could make sense of it. This was not the only garden we visited that compelled me to text my husband the message, “I need more rocks!”–by the end of the Fling I was texting simply, “What I said before, DITTO.”

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This most recently planted crevice garden was designed by Kenton Seton, a rising star in this gardening style. Along with this bed Carol is developing a collection of miniature conifers. Central California gardeners tend to have conifer lust and so it’s unimaginable to me being able to grow both full-sized and miniature selections–other than a few pines, our dry air just crisps most conifers to brown sticks.

Carol’s gardening goals have grown organically also. Their pick of Ft. Collins as their retirement home was, in part, due to the belief that water was more plentiful here than other nearby cities. Her original garden goal was to create the beautiful and lush perennial garden we all covet in magazines and garden catalogs. Many of her original plantings, including a huge collection of daylilies from Randy’s father, remain but are gradually being replaced as needed with more xeric plants.

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A rose scrambles over an arbor topped gate leading into the back garden
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This beautiful burgundy clematis is tucked in the corner where the fence meets the house
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A small flowered white climbing rose distracts from the basement window well

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A narrow brick path leads into the back garden which has more traditional elements, especially in the shaded areas like this one along the fence line. Hostas, hardy geraniums and hellebores are seen here.

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On the opposite side of the path, creative pots combined with diverse foliage colors light up the shade.

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Look back down the garden path

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As the tree cover gives way to open sky another arch forms the perfect frame for the Shinn’s rusted iron water feature.

This island of plantings buffer the house from the lawn and sunnier garden areas.

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In the open and sunny center, conifers and sun loving perennials thrive. Multiple paths using a variety of hardscape materials give the garden floor interest and easy access to working beds many vantage points.

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A crevice garden in the works

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A vegetable garden occupies the back corner of the garden, mostly obscured from the view from the house and main patio area.

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The rose bed
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Runaway chives in the rose bed

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This large raised bed runs almost the length of the back of the house, allowing for trees and shrubs to become garden walls. We had a sudden rainstorm a few minutes after this photo was taken and I was sitting at the far end where you can see fellow blogger Noelle already resting–we did not get a drop of rain through the tree cover while other standing on the back patio were soaked.

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The same bed as viewed from the sunny lawn side
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Stately bearded iris in full bloom
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The backside of the same bed is adjacent the patio and perfect siting for this subdued pond

This garden is the one of the best looking works in progress I have ever seen. There is tremendous plant diversity–running the gamut from peonies to cacti and everything in between. It all is working well together supported by an eclectic group of year round structural elements including a diverse selections of conifers and a few deciduous trees.

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The stress that goes along with making your garden ready for a tour was not borne by this little copper haired neighbor–a budding entrepreneur who had set up a lemonade stand (plus cookies) hoping for thirsty garden bloggers. We gave her lots of business and I’m sure she was sad to see us go!