Category Archives: Landscape Design

Four Bloomin’ Magical Australian Gardens Offer Horticultural Delights

Lush, green vistas abound in Mayfield Garden, formerly the site of a sheep farm.

During a trip to Australia in October and November, I visited about 20 gardens, public and private.  In my November post, I described three of them.  Here are four more:  Mayfield Garden, Hunter Valley Gardens, Burrendong Botanic Garden & Arboretum, and the Western Australian Botanic Garden.

Mayfield in Oberon, NSW.  Mayfield was established as a sheep farm in 1984.  The Hawkins family later dedicated 36 acres in the heart of the property to a European-inspired public garden.  Among the garden’s notable features are a grotto with a cascading waterfall that you can walk behind; a water garden; an obelisk in a reflecting pond; dry-stacked stone walls and borders; and magnificent combinations of trees with varied foliage colors.  The family also owns a larger, private garden on the property.  That garden is open to visitors for a limited number of days in spring and autumn.

At Hunter Valley Garden, playful topiary and other compositions reflect a child-like wonder that makes this place special.  A purple jacaranda tree blooms in the background.

Hunter Valley Gardens in Pokolbin, NSW.  Hunter Valley, another family-owned public garden, is the most whimsical site that I visited.  Ten internationally themed gardens comprise this cheerful venue.  The storybook garden, with the mad hatter’s tea party and other nursery rhyme displays, is one of my favorites.  The Oriental garden, formal garden, Chinese garden and Italian grotto are impressive, as well.  It’s a child-oriented garden, but there’s plenty for adults to enjoy, as well.  In early November, the gardens were decorated for Christmas.  Because Australians don’t celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving, retailers and service providers begin obsessing over Christmas even earlier than we do in the States.

Overhead shade covers protect plants from harsh sun in the fern gully at the Burrendong Botanic Garden & Arboretum.

Burrendong Botanic Garden & Arboretum in Mumbil, NSW.  Unlike other gardens I visited, Burrendong is not only a display garden; it’s also a research and conservation facility, dedicated to preserving rare native plants.  The garden’s small, but enthusiastic cadre of volunteers served our tour group a refreshing lunch at picnic tables beneath native trees.  Our hosts had placed a large sprig of eucalyptus or hakea, complete with blossoms or seed pods, on each table so we could examine it during our meal.  Then the volunteer guides led us through the fern gully, mallees and other areas of the garden.  The warm welcome, combined with the fascinating plants, made this visit unforgettable.

Estimated at 750 years old, this giant boab tree stands about 45 feet tall in the Western Australian Botanic Garden. This 36-ton tree earned worldwide attention when it journeyed approximately 2,000 miles from Warmun in Western Australia to Perth in 2008.

Western Australian Botanic Gardens in Perth, WA.  These picturesque, 42-acre gardens sit high on a bluff overlooking Perth’s skyline, and the Swan and Canning Rivers.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the giant boab tree, distinctive banksias, and many interesting ground covers.  Like Colorado, Perth has low-nutrient soils and hot summers.  But Perth receives more rainfall—a long-term average of 33 inches per year, compared to 16 inches for Fort Collins.  That’s why you’ll still see sweeping areas of turf in Perth and other areas of Australia that you might not see in a Colorado botanic garden.   In recent years, however, Australia’s rainfall has declined noticeably.  If the trend continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if sweeping turf becomes less predominant in this country’s botanic gardens.

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Australia’s Gardens: A Feast of Exotic Plants & Stunning Views

The ubiquitous kangaroo paw graces a walkway at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney.

Earlier this fall, I spent three weeks in Australia, where I visited gardens in New South Wales and Western Australia.  It was early spring in Australia, so the gardens weren’t in full flower.  But I saw plenty of rhododendrons, azaleas and other low-pH soil-loving plants.

I would like to share a few of these treasures with you, this month and next, in case you’re ever in the neighborhood and want to visit one or more of them.

Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, NSW.  In addition to offering gorgeous, skillfully arranged plants, this 74-acre garden offers magnificent views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.  I saw the rare Wollemi pine, as well as more common Australian plants, including palm trees, kangaroo paw, bottlebrush trees and waratah.  A kookaburra even showed up and provided entertainment.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney offers views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Winterwood in Mount Tomah, NSW.  Owner Don Schofield bought this property about 40 years ago after it had been devastated by a bush fire.  Since then, he has singlehandedly transformed the area into a private garden that rivals several of the public gardens I visited.  The landscape’s sloping contours, along with Schofield’s intuitive sense of color and layering, create a magical environment.  I couldn’t  help but be impressed with Schofield’s quiet stewardship of the land.  He noted that his favorite plant is enkianthus, because of its long-lasting fall color.  Unfortunately, this plant prefers moist, peaty soils with a pH below 6, which pretty much rules it out for Colorado gardeners, but not, perhaps, for gardeners in other areas of the U.S.  Because Winterwood is a private garden, you would likely have to arrange a small group tour with Schofield if you wanted to visit.  This lovingly tended garden, however, is well worth your time.

Winterwood’s broad, grassy pathways invite visitors to stroll from one colorful vista to another.

Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre in Cowra, NSW.  In 1944, Japanese prisoners staged an escape from the Cowra prisoner of war and interment camp.  Three hundred prisoners escaped, and 250 were killed.  In 1960, the Japanese government arranged for all of their war-dead in Australia to be re-buried in Cowra.  This gesture sparked a friendship between the people of Japan and the people of Cowra Shire.  The Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre, established in 1979, recognizes and develops that relationship.  This 12-acre garden is the largest Japanese garden I’ve seen.   Unlike many Japanese gardens, the Cowra garden enables you to see long, medium and close-up views of the landscape.  Large expanses of green lawn contribute to the garden’s serenity.

The Cowra Japanese Garden commemorates the healing of relations between the people of Cowra and the people of Japan after World War II.

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Want to Attract Pollinators? Easy Fix for Sunny Yards

Pollinator plants surround a small grassy area in my front yard. In the forefront (back row, r to l), you’ll see little Trudy catmint, orange carpet hummingbird trumpet and Mojave sage. In the front row, going counter-clockwise, you’ll see dwarf broom (scruffy blue shrublet), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, Sonoran sunset hyssop, sunset hyssop, autumn brilliance serviceberry, Rozanne cranesbill, tiger eyes sumac, more Sonoran sunset hyssop and Karalee petite pink dwarf whirling butterfly (a new Proven Winners annual).

When I headed out my front door this afternoon to pick up my mail, about 20 painted lady butterflies fluttered up from my flowers and began flitting around me.  I felt like Snow White in a Disney film!

Granted, there has been an unusually high number of painted ladies along Colorado’s Front Range this year.  I’m just delighted a small flock of them decided to visit my garden.

Don’t forget annuals when planting for pollinators. This Salvia farinacea is a huge hit with bees and butterflies. Notice the painted lady butterfly at the top of the tall spike on the right.

Nearly every plant in my front yard is a nectar source.  And some of the plants, such as butterfly weed, serve as butterfly hosts (egg-laying sites and larval food sources), as well.  Which only goes to show that your garden doesn’t have to look like a weed patch to attract pollinators.

Since installing all these plants, I’ve noticed that my yard has turned into a virtual pollinator factory, with buzzing and flitting going on throughout the day.

What are some of these critters’ favorite meals?  Well, bees go gaga over little Trudy catmint (Nepeta ‘Psfike’ Little Trudy). Hummingbirds and butterflies, meanwhile, feast on sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris), Sonoran sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’) and orange carpet hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii).

It’s important to ensure you have flowers blooming throughout the growing season to provide a continuous food source.

So in the spring, my serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’), Cheyenne mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), dwarf broom (Genista lydia), ornamental onion (Allium ‘Globemaster’) and soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides) provide sustenance.  Little Trudy begins blooming in early May and keeps going till frost.  Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne) blooms in May, as well, and will keep blooming into fall if you cut it back when it starts fading in late summer.

Small but mighty, this Miss Molly butterfly bush from Proven Winners adds a glorious touch of fuchsia to the garden while feeding butterflies and other insects. This shrub will eventually grow four to five feet high and wide.

Then in summer, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa ‘Hello Yellow’), orange carpet hummingbird trumpet, hyssop, Stella d’Oro daylilies, butterfly bush (Buddleia x USPP 23423 ‘Miss Molly’), Pollypetite rose of Sharon (Hibiscus sp. ‘Rosina’ USPPAF) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus in my side-yard rock meadow) generate blossoms.  Except for lavender and butterfly weed, all of these summer bloomers keep generating flowers well into fall.

And, of course, I have annuals blooming in pots and in the ground to provide yet another food source.

Long-blooming orange carpet hummingbird is one of the top two plants in my garden for attracting hummingbirds. The other top hummingbird plant is agastache.

Granted, I have a few plants that pollinators don’t visit for food.  There’s my Kentucky bluegrass, for example.  It doesn’t produce nectar, but it does provide a runway, which butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate for zooming around.  My tiger eyes sumac isn’t a food source either, but its dense foliage can provide shade and storm shelter for pollinators.  As for my groundcover roses, they don’t produce nectar for pollinators, but bees will visit them to collect pollen.

In my rock meadow in the side yard, pollinators can feast on snapdragons, daylilies and columbine, as well as soapwort and prairie winecups. The potentilla in the upper right will be removed soon as part of my efforts to install a large pollinator garden near the back yard patio.

Besides food, host plants, shelter and runways, pollinators require water.  A shallow saucer filled with sand and water will enable butterflies, for example, to rehydrate themselves and ingest important minerals.

If you don’t have many pollinator plants in your garden, consider planting more next year.  You’ll be surprised at the difference they make.

For more information on enticing pollinators, check out Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies to Your Backyard by Sally Roth.  Or download the Colorado State University Extension fact sheet 5.504 on butterflies.

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PWs’ Lantana & Double Calibrachoa Rank Among Favorites for 2017/2018

The blooms of Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana emerge in pink, yellow and coral before turning into a gorgeous magenta set off against deep green leaves.

I’ve always considered lantana to be a gaudy, cartoonish flower that has no place in my yard or pots. This plant often exhibits unappealing color combinations, such as white/yellow, orange/yellow, or weird, faded shades of legitimate colors. If you do a lantana image search on Google, you’ll see what I mean. So in spite of the fact that lantana is supposed to be a stellar performer, I’ve never given it a try—until this year.

In May, Proven Winners sent me some new plants to try out, including Luscious Royale Cosmo lantana. This variety has been a game changer for me. I discovered that the blooms, which start out as yellow, coral and pink, mature into a rich magenta set against deep green leaves. And talk about performance—on my south-facing front walk, this plant blooms consistently with no sunburn. This outstanding variety will be available in garden centers in 2018.

I’m thinking that perhaps growers photograph lantana blooms in their early stages to show all of their colors, rather than showing them at a later stage, when one or two dominant colors may be richer and more appealing.  So unfortunately, the early photos may not do the plants justice.  And of course, when we visit garden centers, we usually see plants that haven’t yet matured.

Superbells Double Ruby calibrachoa hybrid’s luxurious double blooms brighten any outdoor flower arrangement. This darling will be available in 2018.

Other standouts in Proven Winners’ lineup of annuals include:

  • Superbells Double Ruby calibrachoa hybrid. This calibrachoa boasts double blooms that resemble tiny carnations. Mine has grown 4 inches high and 2 feet wide since early June. It’s delightful.
  • Superbells Blue Moon Punch calibrachoa. Another solid performer, this cheerful charmer pumps out purple and white blooms with a brilliant yellow throat. Mine cascades down the pot about 16 inches.
  • Prince Tut dwarf Egyptian papyrus. This fast-growing, no-maintenance stunner has reached two feet since I planted it in a pot in early June. It reportedly will reach 30 to 48 inches at maturity.

Proven Winners’ Pollypetite dwarf rose of Sharon produces ethereal pink blooms.  It reportedly grows 3-4 feet high and wide.

In Spring 2018, Proven Winners will introduce a new rose of Sharon, Pollypetite, in garden centers. An endearing shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet high and wide, Pollypetite features delicate pink, iridescent blooms.  Because of its smaller size, this plant will fit nicely in gardens that don’t have room for typical roses of Sharon, some of which can grow 10 feet high and wide.

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Eye-Popping Blooms Abound at High Country Roses Near Denver

You can easily drive right by High Country Gardens’ entrance, if you’re not looking for it.

High Country Roses’ humble little road sign can be deceiving. But make no mistake; it marks the entrance to one of the finest rose nurseries in the country.

Six years ago, this family-owned company relocated from Jensen, Utah to Arvada, Colorado. So now it’s within spitting distance of Denver, Longmont, Fort Collins and other communities along Colorado’s Front Range.

High Country Roses’ customers include the Denver Rose Society and Denver Botanic Gardens. That should tell you something about the quality of HCR’s plants.

During a tour of High Country Gardens’ growing facilities, employee Dare Trotter stopped to show me a Livin’ Easy rose.

As for the prices—they’re surprisingly reasonable. Most roses currently cost about $15 to $18 apiece, not including shipping. If you make an appointment to pick the roses up, you can skip shipping costs altogether. Compare that to $40 per rose (usually grafted) at other nurseries.

Granted, HCR roses come in one-quart pots, which are smaller than your typical $40 rose pots. But these babies are extremely healthy, and they grow quickly.

Better yet, HCR’s offerings are own root roses, not grafted roses. With own root roses, the flowering top of the plant is the same as the root. But with grafted roses, the flowering top of the plant is a different variety from the root stock, which is typically a hardier, but less desirable variety.

Deb Lynch keeps roses healthy by making sure they’re watered appropriately.

Why is this important in Colorado and other cold winter climates? A very hard freeze may cause the plant to die down to its roots. But if the plant is an own root rose and it regrows, it will return in its original form. For example, an own root Mr. Lincoln rose will grow back as a Mr. Lincoln.

With grafted roses, on the other hand, a very hard freeze may cause the plant to regrow from the less-desirable root stock rather than from the desired top stock. So, for example, if Mr. Lincoln is grafted onto Dr. Huey, you may end up with a Dr. Huey rose after the freeze.  To reduce the chances of this happening, it’s advisable to plant grafted roses so that the bud union is one to three inches below ground in cold winter climates.

High Country Roses took root in the basement of Dr. Bill Campbell’s urology practice at 17th and Downing Street in Denver. A rosarian and surgeon, Dr. Bill founded the High Country Rosarium in 1970, after spending a decade collecting and testing varieties of old garden roses to see which ones would perform best in Colorado’s harsh climate.

In 1995, the company moved to Jensen, Utah, before returning to the Denver area in 2011.

Although HCR is primarily a mail-order nursery, Dare Trotter and Matt Douglas have been assembling a few orders for local pickup.

Dr. Bill has since passed away, and other family members have helped keep the business going. Now Dr. Bill’s stepson, Matt Douglas, manages the business. Matt and employees Deb Lynch and Dare Trotter comprise HCR’s production crew, which handles the propagation and maintenance of 350 varieties of roses.

What are some of these folks’ favorite roses? Matt likes Golden Wings. Deb prefers Ebb Tide, Angel Face and Livin’ Easy. As for Dare, he likes Distant Drums and Cecile Brunner.

Me? I’m a huge fan of Linda Campbell, a gorgeous red repeat-blooming rugosa rose.

So if you’re in the market for roses, you might consider ordering some HCR roses and making an appointment to pick them up, if you live close by. Otherwise, you can have them shipped to you.

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Asclepias: Mother’s Milk to Monarchs & 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year

Perennial butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, serves has a host plant for the monarch butterfly by creating a site for the mother to lay eggs and for the larvae to feed. (Photo courtesy of Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service - retired, Bugwood.org.)

Perennial butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, serves has a host plant for the monarch butterfly by creating a site for the mother to lay eggs and for the larvae to feed. (Photo courtesy of Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service – retired, Bugwood.org)

If I wanted to attract butterflies and had room for only one nectar plant, I would choose butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Butterfly weed is not only a terrific nectar plant for many butterfly species, but is also the sole host plant for the monarch butterfly, whose numbers have been decreasing so steadily that they’ve reached “Near Threatened” status with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In cold weather, monarchs migrate between more than 1,000 miles between the U.S. and Canada to forests in central Mexico, where they hibernate until it’s warm enough to head back north. Earlier this week, Omar Vidal, CEO of WWF in Mexico, issued a statement urging the eradication of illegal logging in Mexico’s forest cover and asking that habitat loss be tackled in the U.S. and Canada, as well.

In the meantime, the Perennial Plant Organization has selected Asclepias tuberosa as its Plant of the Year for 2017. Shoot, they’re even selling tee shirts to promote this North American native!

With its striking, deep-green foliage and vibrant orange blooms, butterfly weed is a real showpiece in the garden. It grows 12 to 30 inches tall. There’s a newer, yellow variety called ‘Hello Yellow.’ I planted one in my garden last summer, and it lasted till frost, when it went dormant. I’ll see if it emerges this spring.

Several Colorado gardeners have told me they’ve been unsuccessful in growing butterfly weed in our heavy clay soils. Anticipating problems but being curious, I bought a #1-sized plant from a local nursery about five years ago. I amended the soil with organic matter before installing this beauty, and, surprisingly enough, the plant seemed very happy. It popped up reliably the following season.

For those of you who haven’t had luck with butterfly weed, I have a few suggestions:

  • Install a healthy, #1-sized plant from a reputable nursery. Smaller plants don’t seem to establish as well, according to some of my fellow gardeners.
  • Be aware that butterfly weed has a tap root, and if you damage it in any way, the plant will die.
  • Amend the soil if you have heavy clay. I used compost. Another experienced Colorado gardener suggested using sand or gravel for amending. Good drainage is critical.
  • Wait until drier weather to plant it. In other words, don’t plant it in the spring, when there’s more rain. Wait until a summer month.
  • Plant your butterfly weed in full sun.
  • Keep a close eye out for yellowing leaves. If you see a lot of yellowing, you may be over- or under-watering the plant. Over is more likely. Asclepias tuberosa doesn’t like too much moisture. If you can nurse your butterfly weed through its first growing season, you may be home free. Fortunately, the plant spreads nicely, once established.

    Annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata, offers stunning pink, mauve or white blooms. Be careful where you plant it, though, because it reseeds prolifically. (Photo courtesy of Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org)

    Annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata, offers stunning pink, mauve or white blooms. Be careful where you plant it, though, because it reseeds prolifically. (Photo courtesy of Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org)

There’s an annual butterfly weed, Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed, which also serves as a host for the monarch. Swamp milkweed grows four to five feet tall and produces white, pink or mauve blooms.

If you would like to learn more about butterfly gardening, you’re invited to attend my free program, Butterfly Garden Basics, at the Loveland, CO public library, 300 North Adams, on March 29. The program begins at 1pm. Arrive early, though, because I’ve been told that 50 or more people often attend the gardening presentations at this library.

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Transform your Shady Rock Meadow into an Ocean of Color

Plumbago's gentian blue flowers, copper seed heads, deep green leaves and red fall foliage add up to a winner in a shady garden area.

Plumbago’s gentian blue flowers, copper seed heads, deep green leaves and red fall foliage add up to a winner in a shady garden area.

Last month, I wrote about ground covers you could use for covering sunny areas in a rock meadow. This month, I’m focusing on ground covers for shady, rocky areas. Growing ground covers among rocks will not only add color, but will help suppress weeds.

Here are several shade-tolerant ground covers that will grow tall enough to cover river rock:

  • Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides). The first time I saw a photo of this plant, I thought that the brilliant, gentian blue flowers couldn’t possibly be as gorgeous in real life as they appeared in the picture. But when I later spotted this ground cover in bloom, I realized its flowers really are that spectacular. When you add deep green leaves and copper-colored seed heads to the mix, the plant is downright startling. And if that’s not enough, the plant’s leaves turn bright red in the fall. Because it spreads readily when regularly supplied with medium water, it’s a good choice for covering a shady rock meadow. In Colorado, plumbago will grow eight to 12 inches high and two feet wide or more. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that plumbago is very slow to green up. So don’t assume that you’ve killed it if it doesn’t start popping up with your other plants in the spring.
  • Spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum). Years ago, a neighbor gave me some spotted dead nettle, which I planted in a moist, shady spot. Within days, slugs had decimated that plant. I haven’t grown it since. However, slugs are less likely to be a problem in a rock meadow, so I believe this plant would be worth a shot in these conditions. Dead nettle boasts lovely green leaves frosted with gray, and it grows 6 to 9 inches high by 2 to 3 feet wide. This groundcover likes medium moisture in well-drained areas. Although its flowers are relatively inconspicuous, dead nettle will produce clusters of tiny two-lipped white, pink or purple blooms in late spring or early summer. Popular varieties include Nancy, Wootton pink and orchid frost.
  • Creeping Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia repens). Talk about a plant you can just throw in the ground and forget—creeping Oregon grape holly will just take off on its own and envelop an area with its evergreen foliage. Once it’s established, it’s extremely drought-tolerant. I like this plant because, in addition to being outrageously tough, it’s always doing something. In the spring, Oregon grape sends up intensely yellow flowers, followed by clusters of deep blue berries, which mature in late summer. Although the berries are quite sour, they can be used in jellies. Then in the fall, the foliage turns reddish and provides a show throughout the winter. An individual plant will grow 12 to 18” high and about 24” wide, but it spreads quickly because of underground runners. If you want to control erosion, this plant is a great bet. The only down side is that Oregon grape’s leathery, spiny-toothed leaves tend to catch and hold onto litter.
  • Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum). This plant has the most adorable whorled leaves and fluffy, fragrant, white spring flowers. It grows about 6 to 12 inches high, and it spreads like crazy if it likes its environment. Although sweet woodruff prefers part to full shade and medium to wet conditions, I’ve grown it successfully in some dry, sunny spots. Pair this little darling with periwinkle (Vinca minor and Vinca major), which also grows 6 to 12 inches high and blooms at the same time as sweet woodruff. Seeing vinca’s purple blooms surrounded by woodruff’s fluffy white blossoms is a springtime delight.
  • Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne). I mentioned Rozanne in last month’s post about ground covers for sunny areas. But this versatile plant will grow successfully in part shade, as well. Rozanne’s cousin, bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguinium) will thrive in both part shade and full sun, too. Whereas Rozanne generates large purple blooms all summer long, bloody cranesbill produces fuchsia blooms in the spring.

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