Virginia Robinson Gardens…

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I have been receiving the Virginia Robinson Gardens e-mail newsletter ever since I saw a small article about the Beverly Hills estate in my AAA magazine a few years ago. It looked like just the kind of garden I love to visit–interesting and progressive garden originators, a historic home and a size pretty easily covered in a single day. The kind of garden that locals cherish but is not widely known outside its broader neighborhood. This six and a half acre jewel is smack in the middle of historic Beverly Hills–in fact it is often called Beverly Hills’ first estate. Vintage photos taken circa 1911 show a ground hugging house built in the Beaux-Arts style on a rise surrounded by acres and acres of bare dirt. Some 100+ years later it sits behind a modest stucco wall at the end of a residential cul-de-sac.

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The home was built by Harry and Virginia Robinson in 1911. Mr. Robinson, originally from Massachusetts, was the fourth generation in a family of dry goods merchants and heir to what we know today as JW Robinson, the Los Angeles based department store. Virginia was known for her social, business and philanthropic activities and their garden, much of which was modeled after architecture and gardens she and Harry had seen on their 1911 world tour, were often used to entertain the Beverly Hills and Hollywood elite and fundraise for causes dear to the couple. Although Harry died in 1932, Virginia continued to live on the estate for another 4 decades. Upon her death in 1977, the estate was donated to the public for their enjoyment and is currently owned and maintained by the County of Los Angeles.

The Virginia Robinson Gardens can be seen only by pre-scheduled docent led tours–in part this may be due to their good neighbor policy of having all visitors park on the property rather than on the street. They have a small lot which probably only accommodates 20 or so cars and thus must maintain strict control over the size of tour groups. Every Southern California trip I have made in the last several years has started with a e-mail to them checking for an available tour spot coinciding with when I am passing through–they also periodically update days & times with open spots on their website but you must email them to secure your reservation–no online booking. Go to http://www.robinsongardens.org for all you’ll ever want to know and some really wonderful photos. The newsletter announcement of a short class entitled Re-wild Your Garden on the day after I was planning to attend an event at The Huntington in nearby San Marino was a no-brainer for me–not the docent led tour but an opportunity to see the gardens and learn about their efforts to create a more sustainable garden and habitat for pollinators and other local birds and wildlife. I’m in!!

So…the day did not go as smoothly as I had hoped–the first challenge a result of being gone too long from living in a city where you measure your trip in terms of traffic and minutes rather than miles. I checked my Map app as I wound down from my Huntington visit and noted the 39 minute driving time to Beverly Hills. All y’all from SoCal know how this turns out–that was a Sunday night about 7 pm and my drive was to be on the following Monday morning. When I got into the car (fortunately pretty early) I turned on my navigation to reveal the 1 hour and 34 minute drive time which meant that if all went well (??) I would still be 11 minutes late for class. And then there was the route over winding Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon Road…

Arriving semi-intact at 10:06 am, it was already 91° but hey..I’d made it and I was not, in fact, the last person to arrive. Tom Lindsay, Superintendent of the Virginia Robinson Gardens, introduced the concept of Re-Wilding as creating sustainable garden spaces that offer opportunities for meaningful interaction with nature and people while nurturing the health of the planet. We would walk the gardens as a group using them as an outdoor classroom to illustrate various techniques and concepts such as composting and using plantings well suited to the natural climate/rainfall.

Our first stop was the Kitchen Garden, home to this little lathe greenhouse and its surrounding veggie garden. Composting was the message here–Tim is super hands on in the management of this property and gave concise, clear explanations of how they produce and use their compost. As a note–the home, large back lawn, pool and pool pavilion are on flat ground but everything else falls off precipitously to either side of those areas. The veggie beds have only a small swathe of level ground then go right up a hill.

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To further illustrate that, base of the stairs are at the driveway level–at the top of the stairs you are on the level of the lawn and pool.

Tim shared that a mandate from the City of Beverly Hills several years ago requiring them to cut their water use by 30% was integral in sparking the desire to be more sustainable. At that time the property had two large lawn areas in the front, the Great Lawn in the back and two smaller lawn areas immediately in front of the pool pavilion. He felt the Great Lawn was necessary for siting large numbers of tables and chairs for events but decided to eliminate all the other lawn. The first season after the lawns were removed they reduced their water usage by 33%.

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Looking from the Great Lawn to the Pool and Pool Pavilion
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One of 14 water features on the property–all maintained with the use of mosquito fish and without chemicals–provide habitat for birds and insects
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Lone pond bloom
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Pool nestled in front of the Pool Pavilion–the areas to either side of the brick surround now contain pea gravel and a tough ground cover that will take both foot traffic and dining seating when needed
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Looking back toward the house from the Great Lawn

The Italian cypress seen in this photo are a prominent feature throughout the grounds and provide a baseline of water requirements for any future plantings. The automated sprinkler system runs once every seven days and anything to be added must be adaptable to that watering schedule. Newly planted materials may get a little supplemental hose watering but only until they are established. From the Great Lawn we moved toward the Dry Border and then on to the Italian Terrace Garden both of which are off to the right of this photo and then downhill…way downhill by means of multiple sets of brick steps and walkways. It was in the Dry Border that I dropped my camera on the brick walk and it bounced off and downhill about 3 feet under a bush–good thing I was at the end of the group! Well…everything seemed to be working and it wasn’t until I got home to download my photos that those from this point on are totally black. See–I told you that you would enjoy those great photos on their website! I so wanted you to see the Musical Stairs-a set of brick stairs which have a rill in the middle (little rivulet of water) traveling downward down from a neighboring small water feature. The hillside terraced garden was spectacular as was the skyline view of LA skyscrapers. Go ahead and close your eyes and maybe you can imagine it.

Tim took the class on through to the meadow garden which has replaced the turf on both sides of the front walkway from the street. The meadow is at its peak in March, April and May and looks pretty dreadful now–which is just as you would expect it to. The dead vegetation has been tidied up and Tim demonstrated how he uses a whirlybird spreader to broadcast seed to beef up the meadow for next year. Many plants are reseeding annuals or perennials but each year something new is added to keep it filled in.

It is here our class ended but Tim offers us the opportunity to walk down into the Palm Forest across the driveway to see the newly installed pond which will be the centerpiece for many children’s programs. There are old and new narrow sloped walking paths, not yet having handrails all the way down. My camera strap was irritating my now pretty sweaty neck so I tucked the camera in my bag and pulled out my phone for some photos. I am convinced now there must have been a garden fairy on my shoulder giving me that idea or I would not have a single shot of this amazing part of the garden.

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Palm Forest seen from the driveway

The Palm Forest is a roughly two acre sloping area originally planted with citrus and other Mediterranean plants. Poor drainage and heavy soil eventually caused their demise and a consultation with a landscape architect in the 1920s led the Robinsons to dedicate the area to tropical plants. Hundreds of King palms from Queensland, Australia were planted and now provide a shaded canopy 60+ feet high. It is not known if the palms were planted from seed or small plants but it is agreed that this grouping is now the largest of this species outside of Australia. The forest floor along the upper part of the walkway is planted with Clivia miniata. Although only a few remnants of it remain today, Harry Robinson tended a serious collection of ferns in this area.

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The new pond is very large and bordered with large boulders. A duck house awaiting a coat of stain rests on the corner of a small terrace. It is hoped that a few outliers from a duck colony living in nearby Franklin Canyon will take up residence in the pond and lay their eggs in the house once it is installed on the water’s surface.

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Amazing King palms
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Looking up from the forest floor, newly planted with sun perennials, near the pond to the house above

Insane hilly driving and lost photos notwithstanding this was a worthwhile visit. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time talking with one of the children’s program docents (for 26 years!) who encouraged me to come back and take the guided tour for more history of the garden and generally more time in each area.

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She also helped me with the purchase of this wonderful book written by Mr. Lindsay and colleagues which is chock full of photos of both the home and garden from its earliest days and of Mr. & Mrs. Robinson and their friends and family in addition to descriptions  of each garden area including plant lists. I will study it before I visit again so I can be on the lookout for interesting features and details which I’m sure I passed by this time.

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Harry (named after Mr. Robinson) the Kitchen Garden cat hopes to see you soon!

Virginia Robinson Gardens is located at 1008 Elden Way in Beverly Hills, California

All things Robinson, including a timeline of the garden’s development, great photography and information you need to visit at http://www.robinsongardens.com

 

 

 

 

 

A hot minute at the The Huntington…

In the many years I lived in Southern California I never visited The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino just north of Los Angeles. An overnight road trip to attend two educational lectures in the LA area, one at Rothenburg Hall on the grounds of this sprawling 120 acres of specialized botanical gardens, offered me a very brief window to view a small part of the gardens. The Huntington Library is a collection-based educational and research institution established by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. The institution also has an extensive art collection focused on 18th and 19th century European art and 17th to mid-20th century American art. When I say hot minute, I mean just that. I arrived at 1 pm, about 45 minutes before the lecture was to begin, and it was 92°! Fortunately I had checked the weather forecast before leaving my Central Valley home where temps have been comfortably in the 60s and 70s–which is pretty warm for us in mid-November.

Knowing I would not be able to do the world renown Japanese and Chinese gardens justice and that the Australian and Desert Gardens were a pretty good walk away, I stayed close to the Education & Visitor Center and took in what I could. To experience all the themed gardens and see the art and science exhibits to boot, I think all but the most casual visitor probably needs 2 full days and then to visit again at different times of the year as the scenery is ever changing.

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Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court

The 6.5 acre Brody California Garden fills an allée central to the Education & Visitors Center. My map tells me that my lecture hall is reached through the Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court so I locate that first to get both my bearings and my time frame available for wandering in perspective. The California Garden is home to 50,000 California native and dry climate plants, reflecting the area’s Mediterranean climate. The purple emerging foliage on the silvery Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea” is reflected in its name.

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Hedge sitting rooms on either side of the wide walk offer a little shady seating and a quiet place to enjoy the surroundings
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Rosemary used as a lush groundcover

At the end of the olive allée, the garden transitions to the historic core of The Huntington property.

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The Celebration Garden greets visitors with a shallow stream of recirculated water that empties into a rectangular pool. Plantings here, including those in pots, negate the common belief that drought tolerance equals dry and dull. Vibrant salvias and lavenders plus the varied hues of succulents, large and small, offer a riot of color.

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The Orbit Pavilion

Just beyond the Celebration Lawn is an outdoor installation which inaugurates the new /five initiative at The Huntington focusing on creative collaborations with other organizations. NASA/Jet Propulsion Labs is the first of five partners (over 5 years) and the project’s them was drawn from The Huntington Library’s aerospace history collection.

While standing in the middle of the pavilion, visitors hear sounds which represent the location of 19 NASA satellites orbiting and observing Earth’s surface, biosphere, atmosphere and oceans. NASA satellites say “hello” as they move across the sky by pairing the live trajectory data of each spacecraft to artistically created sounds. You can find extensive information about this unique installation and the initiative at http://www.huntington.org/orbit.

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From a distance The Orbit looks a little like a spaceship crashed on an alien world
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Amazing agave spike
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These agaves glow in semi-shade
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The outskirts of the Palm Garden and Jungle Garden

At this crossroads I elected to see the more European inspired gardens surrounding the original mansion, leaving the palms and their friends for another trip.

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The Huntington residence, now home to the European art collection, peaks out from behind a pocket garden anchored by mature trees

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A fanciful fountain anchors the little garden which is filled with an assortment of unusual, international plant material

Native to the dry regions of Argentina, the trunk of the white silk floss tree (Chorisia insignis) stores water in its bulbous, spiny trunk. At first I wasn’t sure that the flowers were actually part of this tree rather than a vine which had scrambled up it willy nilly.

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Otherworldly cones of the south African cycad, Encephalartos arenarius, planted at the tree’s base
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The North Vista from the mansion/museum to the San Gabriel Mountains–many tree sized camellias line either side of the lawn

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As you would expect of a home from this era, plantings of mature mixed shrubbery wind among broad expanses of lawn.

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The Bard himself, shaded by a rambling ‘Snow Goose’ rose welcomes visitors to his namesake garden
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The Shakespeare Garden features plants grown in the author’s time in addition to those mentioned in his literary works

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The 3 acre Rose Garden was originally created in 1908 for the private enjoyment of Mr. and Mrs. Huntington. It now contains more than 3,000 plants and 1,200+ different cultivated varieties. This arbor covered pathway leads to the Japanese Garden.

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Spectacular vista from the Rose Garden

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Rounding the house through the Rose Garden the expansive raised back terrace comes into view. The floribunda rose seen in the lower left is ‘Huntington’s 100’, named in honor of The Huntington’s Century celebration being held throughout 2019.

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Rosa ‘Huntington’s 100’

Huge hibiscus shrubs were tucked up against the house and still sporting their bright tropical blooms a month before Christmas.

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View from the back terrace

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Back almost full circle from the little garden where I started (you can glimpse it through the columns on the left) is this lovely covered area with a panoramic view of the grounds on two sides. Closing my eyes, I can see this exquisite space at dusk bathed in candlelight with gracious ladies in long gowns and men in tuxedoes milling about with brandies in hand, enjoying the coolish night air.

With the lecture time drawing near, I quick walk back to the glass domed garden court. It is fabulous inside with the air somewhat cooler and many places to sit for a bit.

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The program begins only moments after I get settled into my seat in the adjacent auditorium.

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James Brayton Hall, Chairman & CEO of the Garden Conservancy is speaking on America’s Outstanding Gardens as part of a quarterly lecture series sponsored by the California Garden & Landscape History Society. Although this organization is new to me, I have been a member of the Garden Conservancy for many years and attend as many of their California Open Days as I can fit in each year. Look back at my post A little Mendocino madness… for a look into the work of the Garden Conservancy or go directly to their website http://www.gardenconservancy.org for information on their mission and programs.

Mr. Hall’s slideshow featured photos of and commentary on many of the gardens that the Conservancy has helped to preserve for the benefit of the public, as well as his thoughts on what makes a garden outstanding and how the Conservancy goes about its preservation efforts. Of special interest to me were the historical perspectives on two of Garden Conservancy’s ongoing projects: the Gardens of Alcatraz and the Gardens at Palmdale in Fremont, CA–both on my road trip wish list. We also got a video introduction to a new project they are calling the Garden Film Documentation program. Short films are being produced telling the stories of gardens which have been the focus of the Conservancy’s preservation efforts. So far two have been produced and you can see a trailer for the film on the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Short Hills, NJ on the website. Check it out!

So much more to be seen at The Huntington than the small part I toured today–I always like to find out about the people behind these fabulous properties enjoyed by the public on a daily basis and I’ll try to do that before I return. I can see that each of the major themed gardens will be deserving of its own post. Reading about them beforehand helps me to not miss any of the high points because I’m caught up in the wonder of each new plant combination or fanciful garden structure.

Tomorrow I’m off to see the Virginia Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills and hear Tim Lindsey speak on Re-Wilding Your Garden–focusing on creating a garden with plants for wildlife, pollinators and people. This is a garden I’ve been trying see for years and have no idea what to expect from this 6 acre property in the heart of the city. See you soon!

What’s your number?

Proven Winners, one of the 2019 Denver Garden Bloggers Fling’s phenomenal sponsors shared this bit of gardening whimsy with us and graciously gave me permission to share it with you!

2018 GBF Program Ad - Plant Geek

I’m calling myself a “5” because my sons, at 39 and 42, are long past standing anywhere I tell them to, so clearly I can’t be a six…the fact that you read this blog puts you at least at a three or four!

In a daze near Denver…The Gardens on Spring Creek

It is not very often one gets to experience a public garden in its infancy. The Gardens on Spring Creek is the community botanic garden of Ft. Collins, Colorado. It opened in 2004 as a public-private partnership between the City of Ft. Collins and the Friends of The Gardens on Spring Creek. The botanic garden’s vision is stated as “to be a world class botanic garden that is community oriented, educational, experiential and sustainable.”

The Gardens on Spring Creek is in the midst of a two year expansion and renovation project which increases its size to about 18 acres, adds four new themed gardens plus a new, larger Visitors Center. Because of their proximity to the Visitors Center construction we were unable to visit several of the garden’s more mature areas such as the Children’s Garden (2006), the Garden of Eatin’ (2009), the Sustainable Backyard and the Daylily and Turf Demonstration Gardens. We did get to see just how the new gardens were shaping up and for some inexplicable reason I was faintly surprised to see that they look just like our own gardens do at the beginning of their lives–lots of smaller plant material, exposed irrigation systems and bare ground awaiting mulch! I guess I assumed public gardens just spring right out of the parched earth, immediately lush and mature.

THE GREAT LAWN AND THEMED GARDENS

The Great Lawn is a two acre garden with a soaring stage and featuring a half acre of amphitheater lawn seating surrounded by educational themed gardens. Garden Bloggers Fling participants assembled on the lawn for our group photo and had a short time to walk the surrounding areas before reuniting for lunch on the stage.

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The asymmetrical roof over the stage is a show stopper. Shade structures similar in style are located throughout the surrounding themed gardens. Raw wood, hefty metal and rock–very Colorado.

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Welcoming spot to lay out a blanket and enjoy a picnic or musical performance

A Rose Garden, Fragrance Garden and Moon Garden are newly completed and adjacent to the Great Lawn.

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Clematis start their climb on supports in the Rose Garden

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The Fragrance Garden’s raised beds bring the scents closer to visitors. Raw and new now, I can imagine that in a few years when the shade structures are massed with foliage and color this will be an appealing area for young and old alike.

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Lonicera reticulata Kintzley’s Ghost® is planted at the base of the metal supports. At first glance to a California girl it looked like eucalyptus but I would later learn it is one of the Plant Select® program which features plants designed to thrive in high plains and intermountain regions. After we returned to our bus I realized I had totally missed a plot dedicated to Plant Select® specimens–a great resource for a local gardener to explore choices well suited to the area.

THE UNDAUNTED GARDEN

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In In a daze near Denver…a praire meadow I introduced you to the work of internationally known landscape designer, author and Ft. Collins resident Lauren Springer Ogden. The 3/4 acre xeriscape Undaunted Garden was designed by Lauren and is in the plant installation phase. Named after one of Lauren’s books, the garden will artistically showcase plants native to western North America and non-native plants adapted to grow in drought prone areas. Fling organizers had arranged for Lauren to meet with us in the garden but we soon learned that just a day or two before she had fallen and seriously injured her knee–as we were walking the paths she had laid out, she was having needed surgery. The structure in this garden will act as an outdoor classroom.

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From a distance the foliage on this succulent looked almost navy blue and made a striking contrast with its bright green neighbor.

THE NEWLY REOPENED ROCK GARDEN

This unique and naturalistic garden features Colorado native plants and plants adapted to local growing conditions. Dwarf conifers and specialty bulbs are set among the locally quarried rock. It first opened in 2011 and is the largest rock garden in northern Colorado. I readily admit to spending most of my browsing time in this area–it was spectacular and came equipped with a very knowledgeable young horticulturalist, Bryan Fischer, ready to answer all our ID questions. This garden was very well marked but over time plants have wandered about and popped up far from their tags and original sites! Happy plants!

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Winding stone paths wander amongst more than a half dozen bermed beds
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Drifts of pink Phlox grayi and yellow Alyssum stribryni
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Serene stream bed
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I have conifer envy
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Waves of blue flowering ground cover
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A few columbine still blooming
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Whirligig seed heads of a clematis–maybe Clematis scottii  and what looks like snow in summer
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A lovely mix of texture, foliage and flower forms
Staychs lavandufolia--mountain tea
Several large mounds of Stachys lavandulifolius drew a lot of attention–a xeric lamb’s ear relative
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Every level of mounded rock offers new planting opportunities
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Marked as Clematis integrifolia Mongolian Bells®–loved the two toned bells
Onosma alborosa
Identification anyone??
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The rock offers a canvas on which to paint the plants, never overwhelming them
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A final alpine scene

Our time was very limited at The Gardens on Spring Creek. I could have spent a half day in the Rock Garden alone, noting plant names and combinations. I have an irrational fondness for small conifers (poorly suited to my garden conditions) and they were wonderful here in combination with so many other plant forms. I think much of the appeal of the rock gardens I saw in the Denver area is that they lend themselves very well to the personality of a plant collector. While still resting comfortably in the arms of the design principle of repetition of form and color there is always a little spot somewhere to sneak in that plant that could not be left behind!

The current construction phases are due to be completed this fall. You can find more pictures of the ongoing projects and learn about future events and programs at The Gardens on Spring Creek by going to their website http://www.fcgov.com/gardens/ –I’m going to give this developing garden oasis in Ft. Collins a couple of years after that and then schedule return trip. It will be fun to see how the newly planted areas have developed and to be able to see the older gardens not now open to the public.

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…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 near Denver…High Plains Environmental Center

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The High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC) is a non-profit (501c3) organization located in the Lakes at Centerra neighborhood in Loveland, Colorado. HPEC manages open space for the Centerra Metro district, homeowner’s associations and other landowners. In the simplest terms, revenues from those management fees support the operation and projects of the center. The organization’s website http://www.suburbitat.org has a wealth of information about the vision that inspired the center and the road it has taken to result in the current method of operation.

THE MEDICINE WHEEL GARDEN

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The under-construction Medicine Wheel Garden is an ethnobotany garden which features plants that are used by Native American tribes of the Great Plains for food, medicine, and ceremony. The site also hosts powwows with regional third grade classes. The plants in the slightly raised, cut stone bordered beds which form a circle are just recently planted and very small.

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Looking back toward the HPEC’s office building it is obvious that this is not a manicured garden space but a natural space whose primary goal is that of environmental stewardship and education. They are focused on community outreach rather than elaborate structures. Executive Director Jim Tolstrup shared that everything on their site, save the actual buildings, has been built by volunteers.

The geographical area known as the High Plains or Front Ridge enjoys 300+ days of sunshine a year and rarely more than 15″ of rainfall. It is a rich habitat for both wild life and plant life.

Centerra is a 3500 acre mixed use, master planned community in which people can live in harmony with nature, work and play. Seventy-six acres of land, three miles of trails and two lakes totaling over 200 additional acres are managed by HPEC. They work to create sustainable landscapes, restore native plant communities, and provide habitats for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. In addition to the Medicine Wheel Garden, the site includes a Native Plants Demonstration Garden, an Heirloom Fruit Orchard, a Community Garden, a Native Plant Nursery and a kids area they call the Wild Zone.

NATIVE PLANTS DEMONSTRATION GARDEN

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We don’t always co-ordinate our outfits to the border colors!

The Native Plants Demonstration Garden showcases Colorado native plants and promotes a regionally appropriate style of horticulture that celebrates the natural beauty of the state, conserves water, reduces reliance on pesticides and fertilizer, and provides habitat for birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

This very long double border contains trees, shrubs and perennials. This area had snow only a couple of weeks ago and thus is having a very late spring. Lots of healthy foliage throughout the border but not as many blooms as I had hoped for.

Although the Falugia paradoxa, commonly called Apache plume, on which these flowers and seed heads were born was pretty well past its prime, there were still many of the clear white blooms and even more of the fluffy, plume-like developing seed heads. I first saw this shrub in Austin and have lusted after one ever since.

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The mountain ninebark, Physocarpus monogynus, was in full bloom.

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Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’, the Montgomery spruce, is not only structural and sturdy but also provides a pop of blue gray to the border. Denver gold columbine is seen in the foreground.

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Several nice colonies of showy milkweed caught everyone’s eye.

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A logistically lucky shot caught its flower in all stages.

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I think the penstemon were the stars of today’s show. I think this is Penstemon strictus, the Rocky Mountain penstemon.

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Penstemon grandiflorus

THE HEIRLOOM FRUIT ORCHARD

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Northern Colorado was once a significant fruit growing region. Apples, plums, cherries and blackberries with historic significance have been collected and are grown here, celebrating and preserving a piece of Colorado history.

THE COMMUNITY GARDEN

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The Jeffers barn at the far end bears this banner–Nourishing Children Through Nature–what an inspiring thought

Garden plots here are cultivated by local families and the garden serves as an outdoor classroom for instructional the cultivation of food crops.

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A living willow tunnel connects this garden to the Native Plants Demonstration Garden

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Talking red wigglers with staff member Lauren

THE NATIVE PLANT NURSERY

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The NATIVE PLANT NURSERY works in conjunction with the demonstration garden to help local homeowners establish their own native plant focused landscapes–they can see what mature plants look like and how they perform and then purchase their own small starts. The nursery grows over 80 species and propagates much of what is planted throughout the center. Plant sales provide an additional revenue stream for the HPEC.

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THE WILD ZONE

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The Wild Zone is an area dedicated to letting kids be kids in an unstructured natural environment. The signage says, “Please DO climb on the rocks, wiggle your toes in the water and create your own art projects using natural materials found here. Go Wild!

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The High Plains Environmental Center is both proud of and passionate about its commitment to the community and Colorado’s natural world. Jim Tolstrup shared that Centerra has been registered as Colorado’s first National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat–way to go!

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