Category Archives: Plant Geekiness

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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And Here I Thought Pawnee Buttes Sand Cherries were Indestructible

Last month while performing a daily patrol of my garden, I noticed that one of my normally beautiful Pawnee Buttes

Here, you can see the leaf curling and discoloration that I found on one of my Pawnee Buttes sand cherries.

sand cherries exhibited a severe case of curly leaves and discolored foliage.

Pawnee Buttes are renowned for being drought-tolerant, disease-free, and low-maintenance—just about as bullet-proof as you can get.

So I hopped online to research the problem. Couldn’t find anything on Google about diseases for Pawnee Buttes. Seems that no one is having problems with these shrubby ground covers.

Although not typically life-threatening, curl leaf aphids can certainly disfigure a Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, not to mention other susceptible plants.

The next day, I noticed the same problem on a small part of another Pawnee Buttes sand cherry nearby. So I pruned the damage from both plants in an effort to prevent further spreading.

A short time later, I visited a local nursery, where I spoke with Bobby, my friend and former co-worker. He knows everything about woody plants. I barely got the symptoms out of my mouth, when he proclaimed, “Curl leaf aphids. They love to attack members of the prunus family.” Being a Prunus besseyi, Pawnee Buttes certainly qualifies as aphid bait.

When my sand cherries aren’t infested with aphids, they look happy and healthy like this one. The foliage will turn red in the fall.

So following Bobby’s advice, I drenched all four of my Pawnee Buttes with Fertilome Triple Action Plus insecticide and fungicide. Fortunately, the solution helped dramatically. Other possible treatments include insecticidal soaps, neem oil and canola oil. Given the severity of my aphid infestation, I didn’t mess around with the most basic treatment, blasting the plants with water. But now that the infestation is under control, I may do some occasional blasting.

Although aphids seldom kill plants, they make the plants unsightly and leave behind honeydew, which attracts ants.

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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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Springtime in the Rockies Turns into Snow Time

It’s April 29 in Fort Collins, and things aren’t looking very springlike in my front yard. To the left, you’ll see stems of three ornamental alliums, scheduled to bloom in early June. Fortunately, my autumn brilliance serviceberry in the upper right has already bloomed and is getting ready to set its delicious blue berries for June harvest.

After moving to Colorado from St. Louis 23 years ago, I popped over to a local nursery in late March, all eager to buy plants for my new garden. Surprisingly, there were almost no outdoor plants on display.

When I asked why, the nursery employee patiently explained that the growing season starts later in Colorado than it does in Missouri, because Colorado can still get frosts well into May.

This year is living proof of a late-season frost. Today is April 29. Last night, the temperature dropped to 31 degrees Fahrenheit in Fort Collins, and tonight it’s supposed to drop to 29. And there’s snow on the ground That’s why it’s advisable to wait until after mid-May to plant annuals along Colorado’s Front Range. Hardy perennials, trees and shrubs–fine. But wait on the annuals, unless you want to plant cold-season vegetables, such as lettuce. You can plant those in March or April.

So if you’re new to Colorado and are eager to start growing annuals and other tender plants, hold off a little. If you’ve already planted tender plants, they may be goners this year unless you covered them with a bucket or some such last night.  Then again, the snow may have insulated them sufficiently to keep them alive.  At any rate, cover them tonight.

May 19, 2017 update:  Yesterday Fort Collins received eight, count ’em, eight inches of snow.  Today, we may get a smattering before temperatures rise into the 50’s tomorrow.

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