Category Archives: Shameless Plugs

Kick-Ass Plants for Badass Territory

Kick-ass plants can provide color and interest even when they’re not in bloom. In this fall landscape, you’ll see (clockwise from lower left) Genista lydia, fiery Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, Sonoran sunset hyssop, sunset hyssop, blue avena grass, and orange carpet hummingbird.

Unless you’re one of those rare Colorado gardeners with a shady yard, you probably have spots that get blasted by the sun—in other words, badass areas.  And you likely have heavy clay soil, too.

The southwest corner of my front yard is badass.  Besides getting hammered by western and southern sun, the area sits next to a sidewalk, which radiates heat.

So when I designed this space, I selected kick-ass, drought-tolerant plants with fall color and winter interest in mind.  I also wanted most, if not all, of the plants to attract pollinators.  Here are the plants that made the cut.

Around July, these kick-ass plants burst with color, particularly the fuchsia-colored Sonoran sunset hyssop, salmon-and-lavender sunset hyssop, and neon orange carpet hummingbird. The Genista lydia in front erupts in electric yellow flowers in the spring. Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, behind the genista, produces white flowers in the spring. Because of their successional bloom, the plants (other than the blue avena grass) provide nectar to pollinators throughout the growing season.

Lydia broom (Genista lydia). This evergreen, groundcover shrub explodes with electric yellow flowers in the spring.  Its branches are somewhat scruffy, which is probably why you can’t find it in nurseries these days.  However, there’s a new smaller cultivar with more attractive branching:  Lydia bangle broom (Genista lydia ‘Select’).  Bangle grows 12-24 inches high and 18-24 inches wide, and produces the same showy yellow flowers that Genista lydia   I haven’t seen this plant in Fort Collins nurseries yet, but The Tree Farm in Longmont sells it.  So I’m guessing this cultivar will migrate north to local nurseries before long.

Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi). In April, this low-growing shrub pumps out fragrant white flowers, followed by black berries in the summer.  In the fall, this plant’s foliage is pure magic, when sunlight catches its fiery red leaves.  Then in winter, Pawnee Buttes’ perky little branches stand at attention.  This shrubby ground cover will reach 15-18 inches high and 4-6 feet wide.  Don’t let its width scare you, though.  Pawnee Buttes responds very well to pruning if you want to keep its width at four feet or so.

Sonoran Sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’). This herbaceous, woody-based perennial blooms prolifically with fuchsia flowers from early June through October.  Then in late fall, its blooms turn tan, providing winter interest.  Pollinators, especially hummingbirds, love it.  Sonoran Sunset grows 15-18 inches high and 12-15 inches wide.  If you have heavy clay soil, be sure to amend it with compost to improve drainage.  Once this plant is established, don’t overwater it.  I’ve killed a couple that way in a moister part of my yard.

Sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris). Sunset hyssop features salmon-and-lavender blooms.  It’s taller than Sonoran, reaching 2-4 feet high by 20-30 inches wide.  So I plant it as a backdrop to Sonoran.  Agastache has a reputation for being a short-loved perennial, but all of my sunset hyssops are going into their fourth season.

Orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii). As the common name suggests, this plant is beloved by hummingbirds for its tubular, neon-orange blooms from June to October.  Zauschneria spreads quickly and grows 3-4 inches high by 15-20 wide.  It’s one of those plants you’ll be able to share with neighbors.

Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). It’s not easy to find blue plants for a garden’s color scheme.  That’s one reason I like blue oat (avena) grass so much.  Unlike many ornamental grasses, blue oat grass, doesn’t reseed and take over your yard.  This well-behaved plant delivers arching stalks of airy plumes in early summer, and grows about 2-3 feet high and wide.  This is the only plant in my badass area that doesn’t provide nectar for pollinators.

Cut the hyssops and blue oat grass to the ground in March or April as new growth emerges.

All of these plants offer nearly year-round interest except for orange carpet hummingbird, which dies back in winter.  They also bloom at different times so that pollinators have food sources throughout the growing season.

On April 14, I’ll be offering two short programs on kick-ass plants at the Sustainable Lifestyle Expo at the FirstBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado.  Colorado State University Extension agents, specialists and volunteers will provide research-based demonstrations and talks on more than 30 topics. Expo tickets are $10 for adults.  Admission is free for ages 17 and under.

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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,

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,

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,

    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,

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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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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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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Get a Jump on Gardening with Free Library Programs

Crocodiles enliven this shady "pond" in one whimsical Denver-area garden.

Crocodiles enliven this shady “pond” in one whimsical Denver-area garden.

If you’re eager to get a jump on the gardening season, you’re welcome to attend one of my talks at the Denver Public Library in March and April.  The programs, which are free and open to the public, include:

  • Add Whimsy to Your Garden for Next to NothingTimes and places: Wednesday, March 6, at 6pm at the Smiley branch; Saturday, April 13, at 1pm at the Ross-Cherry Creek branch; and Saturday, April 27, at 2pm at the Bear Valley branch.
  • How to Grow a Low-Sneeze, Breathe-Easy GardenTime and place: Saturday, March 30, at 2pm at the Ross-University Hills branch.
  • 12 Gorgeous Groundcovers for Preventing Weeds. Times and places: Wednesday, April 6, at 6pm at the Ross-Cherry Creek branch; and Sunday, April 14, at 2pm at the Schlessman Family branch.

For details and branch locations, pick up a Fresh City Life brochure at your Denver Public Library branch or visit  The programs run from 45 minutes to an hour.

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How to Save a Mint in the Garden

If you’re interested in money-saving ideas for your garden, check out my Denver Post article, 8 ways to cut waste, save money in the garden, at

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