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!

In a daze near Denver…sculpture on a grand scale

THE GARDEN OF SCOTT AND PAULA DEEMER IN NIWOT

Scott, owner of a Boulder landscape design-build company, and his wife Paula have transformed a distressed property in foreclosure into a beautiful and highly functional indoor-outdoor living experience inspired by the fusion of art and nature. Warning–this is another garden whose photos just would not allow me to delete them! A riot of foliage, form and texture makes a statement in its rocky surroundings. The garden is not only filled with art but is home to many specimen plantings whose forms are natural artwork.

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The home’s clean lines and muted palette allow the landscape to shine
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Sitting on a rise at the end of a cul-de-sac, massive rock installations create structure and planting terraces in the modest front garden
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The front walk has a life of its own
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Boulders grooved to accept curvy lengths of steel produce small flat planting pockets–loved this idea
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Creeping color is tucked into the rock work, softening edges
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Access and view from the driveway
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Peony and catmint loving their time together
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Casual gravel path right of the front walk from the lawn–almost a small secret garden perfectly visible from the basement windows
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Massive stones tucked against the house bridge the elevation as the lot falls off away from the front porch
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Wider angle of the same area with plantings at every level
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Lovely mix of conifers, iris, perennials and woody shrubs
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Eye-catching combo tucked between driveway and the front porch–Japanese maple, daphne and a twisty blue spruce
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Color gets a bit more intense as you approach the front porch
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Notes of burgundy in both flower and foliage are found throughout the garden
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A pair of these huge planted metal bowls flank the porch
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The view from the porch to the mountains on the horizon, we’re in for a brief rain
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Selenite desert rose crystal

This very large piece of crystal (usually only found as one or two of the little ball formations) was hauled back from Mexico by Scott and foreshadows many other unique pieces of art we will see in the Deemer’s home and gardens. This lovely couple graciously opened their home to the Garden Bloggers Fling participants, allowing us to wander through to view their collection of modern paintings and sculptures and soak in the home’s modern mid-century vibe. As welcomed as we were I would not post photos of the home’s interior or art in deference to the family’s privacy. I did take some shots from the balcony off the second story master bedroom and will share those further on.

Only steps from the sleek modern kitchen is an outdoor world the Deemers enjoy through every season. Multi-level living and entertainment areas have been developed with extensive rock hardscaping and lush plantings and large windows on the home’s rear allow almost all of the shallow and wide back garden to be visible from the interior living and kitchen spaces.

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Modern but very comfortable dining spot with the kitchen and outdoor grill close at hand
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Stunning stone and plasma cut steel fireplace evoking the nearby Rocky Mountains
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The mixed material garden “floor” adds interest and offers wee planting spots

The back garden runs the width of the home but not the full depth of the lot which slopes uphill. The Deemers have left a naturalized meadow strip behind the landscaped areas. The home is flanked by two undeveloped lots and the cul-de-sac is adjacent to an open meadow area. The meadow area is a favorite pass through for many types of Colorado wildlife. The massive stones used throughout form a natural feeling retaining wall and soft line of demarcation between the tamed and the wild parts of their backyard oasis.

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The fire pit is surrounded by enough open space for seating–yet another garden floor, this one small gravel
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Looking as if this all has just found its place naturally even though I know every stone and plant was meticulously planned–it is hard work to make it all look so easy

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A massive set of stone steps allow the basement to be accessed from the back garden. The elevation change is significant. Both side of the steps are beautifully planted, again using the stone to create planting pockets. Another twisty blue spruce is perfectly placed to grow as a backdrop for the patio’s grill.

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No spot is too insignificant to have a bit of cool color–notice the steel waves used to mitigate the steep slope and provide small flat openings for planting
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This striking green goddess makes her home on the shady side of the steep stairwell in full view of the basement’s windows–Scott calls her Athena of the Marina
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Looking back toward the dining patio and the Rocky Mountain fireplace
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Up a stone or two from the fire pit-wonderful grouping of specimen conifers create their own skyline
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Raised beds for veggies–the espaliered apple will eventually screen the mechanicals 
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Fruit trees, veggies and herbs are somewhat obscured from the entertaining parts of the garden
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This planting of weeping conifers (spruce?) marks the far side of the lot–I think they look like a group of ladies with heads bent together sharing a juicy bit of gossip about whatever is going on in the field beyond

As if the show-stopping fireplace, gorgeous fire pit area and off the beaten path veggie garden is not enough–we’re going to do a deep dive into one of the most well suited for its site pools I’ve ever seen.

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Pool view from the garden’s midpoint

The pool was designed to appear as if it is a natural swimming hole occurring in the mountains at the base of a small waterfall. The uphill side rock formations have continued across the width of the garden as does the naturalized meadow wildlife runway. The pool is not treated with chemicals but instead employs a biofiltration system utilizing beneficial micro-organisms to remove impurities.

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Backdrop plantings are kept low behind the pool to be able to see passing wildlife 
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Great spot to dip your toes after long day of garden gazing
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One of many outdoor art pieces tucked in amongst the plantings
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The far end of the pool with screening plantings in place should the neighboring lot be built on in the future
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Little burgundy iris surrounding by variegated reeds
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A shady secluded spot
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Looking back from the pool’s far end
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A weeping copper beech tucked up against the home

The photos taken from the master bedroom balcony (visible in the next to last photo) offer a wider view of all of the garden’s elements. They emphasize many of the features of this garden that I find most appealing including the variety of foliage color on both coniferous and deciduous trees, the proximity of all the different entertaining spaces to the kitchen and the ability to have more utilitarian areas (like the veggies) a little bit out of sight but not too far away to work in easily. The most central parts like the fireplace and dining patio aren’t visible due to tree cover up against the balcony. Oh…and the view of the surrounding countryside is fabulous. No commentary needed on these–just take it all in.

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As the homeowner is a designer-builder of rock rich custom landscapes it would have not been a surprise if the tons of massive stonework totally dominated this garden, leaving precious little attention given to the plantings. This was not the case and it is clear that much thought was given to careful selection of trees, shrubs and perennials and their placement in relation to the hardscape. A rich and diverse plant palette glows against the stone, softening the hard edges and enveloping visitors as if they have entered a forest. Probably not a garden for a young family with little ones needing running room and lawn for throwing a ball around but certainly a garden meeting the Deemer’s goal of a sanctuary where they can live in harmony with nature and art. For Scott, the landscape is “sculpture on a grand scale.”

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Scott Deemer greets us with his garden clippers in his back pocket just in case…

Like what you’ve seen in the Deemer’s garden? Go to http://www.outdoorcraftsmen.com to see a gallery of other Colorado landscapes Scott and his team have designed and built.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a daze in Denver…I’ll take a seat at this table

THE GARDEN OF KIRSTEN AND SCOTT HAMLING IN DENVER

A large and shady corner lot in the historic Montclair neighborhood of east Denver embraces a 1902 family home. First glimpses reveal broad green lawn with the home tucked quite far back on both sides of the lot.

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Time worn front walk flanked by perennials
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Fuchsia hanging baskets on the deep and protected front porch
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We are greeted by mimosas and bite-sized breakfast treats by the playhouse near the opening to the back garden
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Looking from the front/side lawns into the back garden

Landscape architect Wendy Booth of Ivy Street Design worked with the homeowners to transform their shallow back garden into distinct garden rooms with the goal of creating welcoming spaces for family and friends to gather. There is no back garden gate–significant shade is really that offers privacy from the lawns. It feels as if it is all one garden with structures and furnishing defining individual spaces.

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‘Fourth of July’ rose climbs the side of the home

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The addition of a substantial two sided brick fireplace creates living and dining spaces close to the home’s raised back porch. Multiple umbrellas add to the already shaded space and the rooms are decorated as if indoors. This is one of a very few gardens on this trip where I saw annuals used in any large numbers. The electric blue container of lobelia was one of a pair and drew my attention from the bus window.

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Great driftwood horse sculpture

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The star of this garden dining room is this one of a kind concrete topped table for 12–with a slightly more narrow chair it could probably seat 16 or 18. Homeowner Scott designed the table and had it poured in place. There is a shallow trough with a zinc liner down the center in which to float candles or arrange flowers (chill wine?). Underneath the table a tube allows for the trough to be drained. The Hamling’s table is set for today’s Fathers Day brunch. Scott joked with us that underneath the table is also their designated tornado shelter.

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An internet find–personalized water bottles
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The narrow nature of the area is evident from the view from the raised back porch
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Looking out from the brick patio into the parterre garden–formal in style but filled with casual billows of blooms
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Colorful moveable art
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French styled fountain anchors the parterre and echoes the wagon bloom palette
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Looking back toward the fireplace
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I came down from the porch on the wrong side right into the dog run/raised veg bed area and found these charming peonies amidst the tomato plants

There is a whole lot of living packed into this back garden and all within a comfortable distance from the house making it so much more likely to be used often. Its relatively easy accessibility from the home’s lawn areas makes it a great place to draw in your neighbors from their evening walk. Wrapped in blankets in front of the fire on a night with a bit of a chill or gathered at the huge table playing board games accompanied by wine and cheese–it all sounds great to me!

 

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…tough plants, easy smiles

THE GARDEN OF JEAN MORGAN IN LOUISVILLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

In a daze in Denver…Confluence Park and REI

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

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

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

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

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Shoemaker Plaza with REI in the background

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

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Public art on the Plaza

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

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

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

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

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Camping anyone?

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

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

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

Maybe a kayak is more my style…

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Or one of these colorful sleeping bags…

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

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

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

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