How to Create a Welcoming Landscape

Even if you don't have yard space to devote to a Little Free Library, you can plant one in a container.

Even if you don’t have yard space to devote to a Little Free Library, you can plant one in a container.

Little Free Libraries have been popping up all over Denver. You may have spotted a few. Each is essentially a box of books where passersby can either borrow a book or drop off a book. They’re such a delightful way to add warmth to a landscape while promoting literacy. You can either build your own little library or buy one online at littlefreelibrary.org.

People often love curling up with books in the winter, so now is an ideal time to install a little library.

There are other ways to warm up your landscape, as well. For example, you can strategically place small lights along a sidewalk or pathway to lead the eye to your home or a focal point.

Then, of course, there’s signage. Who doesn’t love a rustic sign, often sprouting a tongue-in-cheek phrase, inviting guests into the garden?

Other enticing elements you might consider include:

  • Informal stepping-stone paths recessed into the ground.
  • Bold, bright flowers and foliage. This time of year, purple smoketree and tiger eye sumac provide knock-your-socks-off fall color.
  • Vine-covered arbors. Try wisteria, climbing roses or honeysuckle on an arch. Watch out for English ivy and Virginia creeper, though, because they can become invasive.
  • Whimsical gates. Canadian plantsman Doug Green offers an amazing display of garden gates, trellises and other architectural elements on his pinterest page.

As winter approaches and you spend less time tending your plants, explore creative ways to add affection and whimsy to your landscape.

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Who Knew Tin Can Lids Could be Such Fun?

Tin can lids and glass beads reflect sunlight in this easy-to-make wind chime.

Tin can lids and glass beads reflect sunlight in this easy-to-make wind chime.

The great thing about creating crafts from repurposed items is that you can experiment like crazy at virtually no cost. I mean, if you mess up a few tin can lids and discarded stove drip pans, who cares?

For my garden whimsy workshops, I had collected a plethora of can lids, as well as a few drip pans. So I decided to design a wind chime with them. As I sorted through my treasures, I discovered that the insides of the lids come in different colors. Some are silver; others, gold; and still others, copper.

To begin, I drilled five equidistant holes in the top of a drip pan. Then I strung tin can lids in alternating colors and sizes, interspersed with glass beads and spacers, as shown in the photograph.

The lids reflect light so well in my kitchen that I’ve decided to keep the chime inside. But I’m also curious to see how the chime would look if I left it outside and let it rust. It might look hideous. Then again, it might take on an interesting patina. So I’m going to make a second chime for outdoors just to see how it responds to Mother Nature.

Try making one yourself. It’s easy, and it won’t cost you more than the price of a few beads which, come to think of it, you may already have stashed away.

For more wind chime ideas, check out woohome.com.

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Everyday Plants Explode with Color in Well-designed Border

Hardy hibiscus, Annabelle hydrangea, black-eyed Susan, roses and Russian sage provide a backdrop for low-growing petunias, marigolds and Missouri evening primrose.

Hardy hibiscus, Annabelle hydrangea, black-eyed Susan, roses and Russian sage provide a backdrop for low-growing petunias, marigolds and Missouri evening primrose.

Gardeners sometimes think they need the latest and greatest cultivars to create dramatic borders when, in fact, everyday plants can serve just as well and often perform more predictably.

A case in point is a front border in my neighborhood. As you’ll see from the photos, the plants are simple, but the results are striking.

First, notice the color combinations. Startling shades of red (scarlet, purple and fuchsia), yellow (lemon and gold) and orange mingle with subtle hues of green.

Next, look at the way the low-growing fuchsia petunias punctuate the front of the border by alternating with Missouri evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa), marigolds, and red Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber).

In the middle of the border, you’ll find taller plants, such as purple Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), red roses, hardy hibiscus, and yellow yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’ or ‘Coronation Gold.’)

In another section of the border, iris and red garden phlox meld with yarrow and Russian sage behind  the brighter, low-growing plants.

In another section of the border, iris and red garden phlox meld with yarrow and Russian sage behind the brighter, low-growing plants.

Toward the back, observe the red and white tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), spruce, iris, and Annabelle hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’).  There’s even a tomato in a cage in the back of the bed by the front porch, but you can’t see it in pictures.

Although this border sits in shade during the morning, it tolerates blasts of intense sunlight throughout the afternoon.

You can easily find all of these high-performing plants at a local Colorado garden center.

I would add a word of caution, however–Jupiter’s beard and Russian sage can re-seed aggressively. So if you don’t want to play referee with your plants, you might consider substituting long-blooming Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’) for Jupiter’s beard, and petite plum dwarf butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii nanhoensis ‘Monum’) for Russian sage.

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Two Northwest Denver Gardens Will Make you Smile

The Denver Puppet Theater courtyard provides a playful environment for children and adults alike.

The Denver Puppet Theater courtyard provides a playful environment for children and adults alike.

Each June, I visit two of my favorite whimsical gardens in Denver—The Denver Puppet Theater garden and the Picaso family’s garden. Both attractions are regular stops on The Conflict Center’s annual Enchanted Gardens of Northwest Denver tour.

The colorful sign at the entrance to The Denver Puppet Theater garden immediately draws you into the area’s gleeful atmosphere. Playful plants, fanciful flags, children’s patio furniture and whimsical handmade crafts greet visitors to the puppet theater’s courtyard. This attraction features clever pathways lined with up-ended wine bottles and filled with shoe-shaped stepping stones. There’s also a bunny hutch nestled among shrubs and vines. And you’ll even find a bird house crafted from expired license plates.

Cheeky chickens lie in wait for visitors to Donna and Ron Picaso's garden.

Cheeky chickens lie in wait for visitors to Donna and Ron Picaso’s garden.

At the home of Donna and Ron Picaso, you’ll delight in their collections of comical roosters and mischievous sculptures. You’ll also spot unusual objects and crafts hanging on the outside walls of their home. Donna and her relatives regularly haunt thrift shops and craft stores to collect new treasures for the garden.

If you crave inspiration for adding whimsy to your own garden, The Denver Puppet Theater garden and the Picaso family garden are two oases you won’t want to miss on The Conflict Center’s garden tour.

Donna Picaso and her mischievous pals relax in the back yard of the Picaso home.

Donna Picaso and her mischievous pals relax in the back yard of the Picaso home.

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Chihuly’s Glass Menagerie Illuminates Denver Botanic Gardens

Chihuly's Summer Sun brightens the walkway in front of Denver Botanic Garden's water-wise garden.

Chihuly’s Summer Sun brightens the walkway in front of Denver Botanic Garden’s water-wise garden.

I’m not a person who gasps easily. But that’s just what I did throughout my visit to the Dale Chihuly glass exhibit last week at Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG). Chihuly’s sculptures are simply gorgeous, especially against the backdrop of DBG’s stunning flora.

Chihuly is the foremost glass artist in the country, and the DBG show marks the first time he has mounted a major outdoor exhibition in the Rocky Mountain Region. The show runs until November 30, 2014, and if you’re in Denver during that time, don’t miss it.

Neon purple reeds mirror the vegetation in the Monet Pond.

Neon purple reeds mirror the vegetation in the Monet Pond.

Inspired by nature, Chihuly’s pieces range from a vivid red, orange and yellow summer sun to a boat filled with purple and blue sculptures simulating elkhorn coral. The show includes 14 sites displaying the artist’s work.

In case you’re wondering, the glass sculptures are surprisingly durable, according to Chihuly’s staff. So if we get a hailstorm in Denver, the art is likely to suffer much less than the plants.

Blue and Purple Boat sparkles in the sunlight as it floats in the pond at the Japanese garden.

Blue and Purple Boat sparkles in the sunlight as it floats in the pond at the Japanese garden.

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Annual Enchanted Gardens Tour Delights Visitors Once Again

Enchanted Gardens Tour volunteer Stephanie Renn awaits the next round of visitors at the home of Tanya and Bert McMurtry.

Enchanted Gardens Tour volunteer Stephanie Renn awaits the next round of visitors at the home of Tanya and Bert McMurtry.

There’s one garden tour I’ve attended every year for the past three years—the Enchanted Gardens Tour of Northwest Denver. It’s sponsored by the Conflict Center, a worthy organization that promotes practical skills for peacemaking. Many of the gardens are designed by the homeowners themselves or with small amounts of professional guidance, and all the gardens reflect the love and care that have gone into them.

Last Saturday marked the 14th annual Enchanted Gardens Tour, showcasing 23 gardens. The yards featured everything from art and whimsy to xeriscaping and urban homesteading. Naturally, I can’t cover all the wonderful gardens in this particular post, but I would like to share photos from two gardens that excelled in xeriscaping. Xeriscaping means grouping plants with similar moisture requirements together to conserve water.

As most Denverites know, landscaping a tree lawn (between the curb and sidewalk) is a dicey proposition because the area is often such a hot, dry microclimate. But Tanya and Bert McMurtry have taken on the challenge and produced stunning displays of perennials and groundcovers along the tree lawns of their corner lot.

Prairie winecups, bachelor buttons, penstemons and other drought-tolerant plants thrive in this once-desolate corner of the McMurtrys' lot.

Prairie winecups, bachelor buttons, penstemons and other drought-tolerant plants thrive in this once-desolate corner of the McMurtrys’ lot.

At the intersection of their two tree lawns sits a diabolically sun-scorched corner with a manhole cover smack-dab in the center of the front edge. What have the McMurtrys done? They’ve transformed that triangle into a showpiece with drought-tolerant prairie winecups (Callirhoe involucrata), woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata), soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides), penstemons and annual bachelor buttons.

Stella d'oro daylilies, coral bells, Angelina sedum and other groundcovers lend a tropical ambiance to the front yard of Lotte and Rick Dula.

Stella d’oro daylilies, coral bells, Angelina sedum and other groundcovers lend a tropical ambiance to the front yard of Lotte and Rick Dula.

One block away, neighbors Lotte and Rick Dula have skillfully combined groundcovers to create a tropical feel in their front yard while using plants that require just modest amounts of water. Angelina and other sedums mingle with Stella d’oro daylilies, coral bells, plumbago and other low-growing beauties.

The Enchanted Gardens Tour takes place around June 7 every year. I encourage you to attend this well-organized event and meet the friendly gardeners who live in northwest Denver.

To read about the Troy Chavez Memorial Peace Garden, a regular stop on the Enchanted Gardens Tour, visit The Denver Post website.

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Yes, You can Grow a Lush Border—Even in Sun-scorched Areas

 

Tough, yet beautiful performers in this border include Turkish veronica (r. front), catmint (l. front), dart's dash (behind veronica), sun daisy (between dart's dashes), redleaf rose (r. rear) and Lydia Woadwaxen (l. rear).  The agastaches are hidden behind the redleaf rose.

Tough, yet beautiful performers in this border include Turkish veronica (r. front), catmint (l. front), dart’s dash (behind veronica), sun daisy (between dart’s dashes), redleaf rose (r. rear) and Lydia Woadwaxen (l. rear). The agastaches are hidden behind the redleaf rose.

Do you have a spot in your yard that gets so hammered by sun and wind that nothing will grow there?

For me, it’s the south side of my front yard. Every summer, the lawn in that area turned to straw because of intense sun from the south and west. So three years ago, I converted that wasteland into a shrub and perennials border.

Some of my initial plants didn’t survive that tough microclimate even though I amended the clay soil. So I had to get serious and plant some of the most bullet-proof plants I could find. Once I did that, I was able to grow a lush-looking, low-maintenance border.

The backbone of the border is shrubs—three evergreen Lydia Woadwaxens (Genista lydia), one redleaf rose (Rosa glauca) and two dart’s dash crimson roses. I lost a third dart’s dash rose, so I’m still keeping a close eye on the dart’s dashes to make sure they can take the heat.

The woadwaxens bloom in late spring, the redleaf rose blooms in early summer, and the dart’s dashes bloom throughout the summer, providing successional bloom.

Although this area gets shade in the morning, by early afternoon, the sun starts blasting.

Although this area gets shade in the morning, by early afternoon, the sun starts blasting.

As for the perennials, they include Turkish veronica (V. liwanensis) and Little Gem dwarf candytuft (Iberis sempervirens ‘Little Gem’), which are both mid/late spring bloomers; Purple Mountain® sun daisy (Osteospermum barbariae var. compactum), a late spring to mid-summer bloomer; Little Trudy® catmint (Nepeta x ‘Psfike’ P.P. 18904), a spring to fall bloomer; and apricot sunrise hummingbird mint (Agastache aurantiaca ‘Apricot Sunrise’), a mid-summer to fall bloomer.

Since planting these hardy specimens, I get along with Mother Nature much better, and she rewards me with vibrant color throughout the growing season.

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