Category Archives: Whimsy

Spring Creek’s Garden of Lights Emblazons Winter Sky

Oversized watering cans and sparkly trees greet visitors as they enter Garden of Lights at The Gardens on Spring Creek.

In Fort Collins, we have a small jewel of a garden (18 acres) called The Gardens on Spring Creek.  Designed by Lauren Springer Ogden, author of The Undaunted Garden and other books, this garden does an excellent job of demonstrating practical, creative ways to incorporate tough, xeric plants into residential landscapes.

A plethora of simulated blooms light up the sky. Dormant ornamental grasses (front right) get into the act, as well.

Trellised “tomato vines” glitter in front of a cobalt tree as it’s pelted with icicles.

Each winter from early December to early January, the garden dons its holiday finery for Garden of Lights.   This year, the lights will shine at 5 to 9pm from December 1, 2017 through January 7, except for Christmas Eve and day, and New Years Eve and day.  Admission is a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $2 for children, or free for garden members.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in at 2145 Centre Avenue.


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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.


Filed under Landscape Design, Plant Geekiness, Whimsy

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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Pollinators Add Magic to Your Garden

Hello, Readers.

I’ve been so busy, working part-time at a local nursery and landscaping, that I haven’t had time to post blogs on my site lately.

But if you want to read about how to attract pollinators, please check out my piece on pollinators at the Fort Collins Nursery blog.

More later.

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Garden Gizmos that You Can Make

Handles from broken shovels are just one of many options for do-it-yourself hose guides in the garden.

Handles from broken shovels are just one of many options for do-it-yourself hose guides in the garden.

Gardeners, when left to their own devices, can create not only lovely landscapes, but also the tools to maintain them.

Take hose guides, for example. They’re just what they sound like—gadgets that channel your garden hose between plants so you don’t knock the head off of a small Color Guard yucca, like I did the other day. You can buy hose guides, of course, but where’s the fun in that?

So in my garden, I use the handles of broken shovels to guide hoses. Some gardeners use spray-painted curtain rods, vintage door knobs  or even plain old stakes, among other items.

A limb spreader will separate young branches that are too close together. Remove it after the branches have positioned themselves properly.

A limb spreader will separate young branches that are too close together. Remove it after the branches have positioned themselves properly.

Another useful garden apparatus is one that I learned about from a local nurseryman. It’s a tree limb spreader. If you find that branches are too close together on a young tree, you can make a tree limb spreader, using PVC pipe, to train the branches to grow farther apart. Just buy a short piece of PVC pipe with a diameter that is close to the diameter of your tree branches. Cut the pipe to the length you need, and then, using a hacksaw and pliers, carve a notch into each end of the pipe to fit against the two branches in question. Next, pick up a free, used inner tube from your local tire store, and cut two pieces of rubber from the tube. Fold each piece in half and use them to pad the branches so the PVC notches won’t damage them. Once the tree matures and the branches assume a better position, you can remove the spreader.

For marking vegetables, I’ve found forks with corks to be a fun, versatile and inexpensive choice. On sale days at Goodwill, you can generally pick up forks for a nickel apiece. As for corks, you can easily collect them if you’re a wine drinker, but even if you’re not, you can sometimes find a sizeable bag of them for $4 at a thrift store. Because the corks are dense, I recommend placing a cork on a stable surface and positioning the fork tines above it, and then hitting the end of the fork handle with a mallet to gradually push the tines into the cork. After that, just write the name of the vegetable on the cork and stick the fork handle into the ground. If you want to get fancy, you can wrap jute around the fork and tie a bow.

As for organizing your garden tools in your garage or shed, you can use palletsPVC pipe on plywood, or simply nails in a 2×4.

There’s one more tool that I really like—a grading (landscaping) rake. Grading rakes are extremely handy for evening out loose soil in beds, as well as for spreading compost, mulch and other landscaping materials. But it’s easier and probably less expensive, in the long run, to just go out and buy one rather than to make one.

If you have any favorite gardening tools you would like to share, please leave a comment on this post.


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Create an ARRR-guably Playful Wind Chime

Pirate wind chimeFor those of you who can’t get enough of crafting wind chimes from recyclable materials, let me introduce the pirate family chime.

Note the resemblance between Daddy and Baby, who inherited Dad’s skin tone, as well as Mother’s hair. The two teenagers are going through a rebellious phase, what with the chalk line dreadlocks and irreverent facial expressions. Mother looks stressed and disheveled from managing her brood.

To begin this creation, I drilled a hole in the bottom of each can, then painted the can with latex paint. Oops paint (mis-tint) samples from the hardware store may be plentiful and cheap to use if you don’t have paint already sitting around.

Once the latex paint dried thoroughly, I used acrylic paint, fabric scraps, yarn and chalk line to personalize each can. If you don’t want a pirate family, you might use your own family members as models for the chime.

For the hanging supports, I chose purple smokebush stems for their color and character. Any wood will do, however.

Finally, I decided on rustic jute twine to string the cans and attach them to the supports.

Unlike silverware wind chimes, which offer a tinkly sound, the pirate family wind chime produces a clunking sound—which, when you think about it, is probably similar to sounds you might hear on a pirate ship.

Incidentally, I’m scheduled to facilitate a Dirt-Cheap Garden Whimsy workshop on June 24 at Denver Botanic Gardens.  If you plan to be in the Denver area, I’d love to see you there.

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Happy Holidays!

Thank you, readers, for your support over the past 2 1/2 years.

I’m taking a break from my blog for personal reasons. In the meantime, I wish you the best of holidays, and I look forward to rejoining you in 2015.

March 7, 2015 update:  My house in Denver developed a mold infestation due to over-insulation, which prevented the house from breathing properly.  So I sold the property and have moved to the Fort Collins/Loveland area in Colorado.

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