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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Let Vegetables Spice up Garden with Bright Colors and Flavor

NuMex Easter ornamental pepper brightens a border or patio. (Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

NuMex Easter ornamental pepper brightens a border or patio. (Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

This morning as I walked to the library, I noticed that a neighbor had covered her shrubs with white sheets to protect them from last night’s below-freezing temperatures.  Her front yard resembled a collection of spooky trick-or-treaters.

Now that temperatures are forecasted to warm up, the plant covers can come off, and we can install warm season vegetables in our garden beds.

This year, why not make your garden more enticing with vegetables that are ornamental, as well as flavorful?

NuMex Easter pepper, a 2014 All-America Selections winner, is a compact plant with small clusters of cute, hot ornamental peppers in Easter-egg shades of lavender, yellow and light orange.  Although this beauty won’t tolerate frost, it will tolerate normal to dry soil conditions and deliver solid performance as a container plant or low-growing edger.

Lemon cucumbers, with their fresh, mild taste, are a delight in the garden.  These round fruits with their lemony-yellow color reach about three inches in diameter and can be eaten like an apple.  I grew these last year and dubbed them a favorite for both appearance and flavor.

Calliope eggplant is a small, oval Asian-style eggplant so attractive that you'll want to display it before eating it. (Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

Calliope eggplant is a small, oval Asian-style eggplant so attractive that you’ll want to display it before eating it. (Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

Calliope eggplant provides a stunning display with its white-striped purple skin complemented by soft green foliage.  At maturity, the fruits are three to four inches long with a diameter of about 2.5 inches.

Lizzano F1 semi-determinate cherry tomato offers a continuous crop of fruit to perk up  containers or hanging baskets.  As the one-inch fruits mature from green to bright red, they display color rivaling that of many flowers.  Lizzano is a 2011 All-America Selections winner.

To see more delicious and attractive vegetables, visit the National Garden Bureau website at ngb.org.

 

 

 

 

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Splashy Groundcovers, Bulbs Announce Spring

Veronica pectinata's blue blossoms complement spring-blooming bulbs.

Veronica pectinata’s blue blossoms complement spring-blooming bulbs.

In spite of recent snowfalls in Denver, spring has finally arrived.

It all started with the crocuses.  Soon other harbingers arrived, including Corydalis ophiocarpa, which is outdoing itself this year with its cheery, long-lasting blooms.

Some literature tells you that Corydalis ophiocarpa's blooms aren't very showy. Don't believe everything you read.

Some literature tells you that Corydalis ophiocarpa’s blooms aren’t very showy. Don’t believe everything you read.

Now tiny ones, such as reticulated iris, Siberian squill. glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) and 4-inch dwarf daffodils, have begun poking their heads through the soil.  In the meantime, woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata) has transformed its evergreen carpet into a mass of blue blossoms.

It’s encouraging to get a preview of the season’s upcoming surprises.

Siberian squill's nodding blooms add a woodland feel to the garden.

Siberian squill’s nodding blooms add a woodland feel to the garden.

 

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Native Shrubs Feed Wildlife, Add Excitement to Garden

I wouldn’t plant rabbitbrush in my yard on a bet.

Yes, I know it’s a Colorado native that attracts wildlife and contributes to biodiversity.  But it’s also uglier than aphids on a rose stem.  And that smell!  There’s a reason rabbitbrush’s botanic name is Chrysothamnus nauseosus.

As far as I’m concerned, rabbitbrush should be relegated to revegetating eroded areas where no one will see or smell it.

Drought-tolerant Pawnee Buttes sand cherry brightens the garden with its white spring flowers and red fall foliage. (Photo courtesy of PlantSelect)

Drought-tolerant Pawnee Buttes sand cherry brightens the garden with its white spring flowers and red fall foliage. (Photo courtesy of PlantSelect)

However, there are beautiful, yet tough native plants that work well in residential landscapes.  Western sand cherry (Prunus besseyi) is one.  Western sand cherry’s cousin, Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’), is even better for those of you who want an 18-inch-high carefree groundcover with multi-season interest. Each April in Denver, small white flowers accent Pawnee Buttes’ lustrous green leaves.  This groundcover’s prolific crop of black cherries then feeds birds in the summer.  When fall rolls around, the plant’s foliage turns bright red.  I’ve planted four Pawnee Buttes in my yard, and am planning to add a fifth.

Other attractive native shrubs that can enhance your landscape while feeding birds include:

Regent serviceberry, a cultivar of Saskatoon serviceberry, displays stunning golden coral foliage each autumn.

Regent serviceberry, a cultivar of Saskatoon serviceberry, displays stunning golden coral foliage each autumn.

  • Saskatoon serviceberry (Amerlanchier alnifolia).  One of my all-time favorites, Saskatoon serviceberry is an airy shrub whose blue berries in June attract birds like crazy.  Those berries taste a lot like regular blueberries and are safe for humans.  In April, serviceberry announces spring with showy white flowers along its stems.  Then the plant leafs out and produces berries.  But fall is my favorite time for this plant because the leaves on my serviceberries (Amerlanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’) turn a remarkable golden coral.  Regent typically grows about six feet tall.
  • Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) features colorful maple-like foliage, flowers, fruit and exfoliating bark.  The plant’s leaves come in a variety of colors, including gold, maroon, wine-red and bronze.  It’s another spring bloomer with spirea-like clusters of white or pink flowers, followed by small clumps of reddish fruit. Ninebark typically grows four to eight feet tall, depending on the variety you select.
  • Red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea).  You may already have several of these growing in your yard.  If you don’t, consider adding them.  Although many sources indicate that these shrubs need medium to wet soil conditions, I’ve found that they tolerate a fair amount of dryness once established.  Their distinguishing feature, of course, is their bright red stems in the winter.  But they also produce tiny white flowers in clusters each spring, followed by white drupes in summer.  Depending on variety, dogwoods may grow from two to eight feet tall.

Except for Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, I planted all of these shrubs in my garden even before I knew they were natives simply because they’re so interesting and low-maintenance.

To learn more about Colorado native plants, visit:

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