Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fern-leaf Peony (Paeonia tenuifolia) by Dusty M

A worker at Denver Botanic Gardens first pointed a Fern-leaf Peony out to me. (“You want to see a cool plant?” “Sure.”) When I noticed it offered in a southeastern U.S. nursery catalog, I had to have one. That was about 15 years ago. I don’t remember the price, but recall it was “pricey!” Like all peonies, it was slow to establish, maybe slower than its larger, elegant cousins. The photo shows this year’s performance in early May.

The Fern-leaf isn’t as tall as standard peonies. It blooms earlier. Its flowers are smaller (and don’t flop over). It comes only in red. My plant is double, and as with other peonies, as the flowers age, they open wider to reveal orange-yellow stamens. I understand there is also a single-flowered version, but I have not seen it. Late spring frosts don’t seem to bother the foliage, but will damage the flowers. As summer progresses, the ferny foliage withers, but faithfully reappears in the spring. I’ve never noticed ants on my plant.

The Fern-leaf allegedly was carried to the West by early settlers. I’ve heard that story from a local nurseryman. I also found it posted on the Internet by a grower in Indiana. I’ve pondered why this plant might have been selected for the long trek west, and why it is one of those few plants to have earned mention in pioneer lore. Perhaps it has been seen as a tough, persistent survivor that embodies the spirit of Western settlement.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The “Curmudgeonly” Gardener by Gardener Dave

(A few homely comments on gardening, offered by someone who has “been there and back”, and who apparently feels the need to sound off about some of the things that can happen while on the trip)

Favorite Quote: “I have a rock garden. Last week three of them died”
Richard Diran – from Curmudgeon Online

• If it’s not blooming NOW, it’s a weed!

• Never buy small, green garden tools. (Guess why).

• Buy a plant, feed it, water it, nurse it… and it will likely die. Next time you go for a walk, you will see a big healthy one growing out of a crack in somebody’s sidewalk.

• Automatic” sprinklers and drip systems become a lifelong “hobby”.

• Bindweed is the true Arnie Schwarzenegger of weeds, you think it’s been terminated, and it says “I’ll be baack!”

• Young yards have too much sun, old yards have too much shade.

• A Colorado potting rule: Small flowerpots WILL dry out in 5 minutes.

• If you want to know what squirrels and skunks love to dig in, go on vacation.

• You can parboil your vegetables (or flowers) with water from a garden hose that has been lying in the sun.

• Dragging your garden hoses is the very best way to knock down and break your plants.

• Grass grows the best in flower beds and vegetable gardens.

• Deadheading your flowers is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge… As soon as you finish, it’s time to start over.

• Colorado has at least 8 seasons… summer, fall, winter, spring, winter, spring, winter, spring...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Discovery Garden Series

Spring has arrived! So get your gardening tools and sun hat out because it’s time for the Discovery Garden Series.

The Discovery Garden Series consists of seven monthly workshops that include demonstrations, lectures, field trips and hands-on activities. Workshops are taught by Butterfly Pavilion staff and local Master Gardeners.

The workshops will explore the fascinating relationships between insects and plants as well as touch on the importance of native plants.

Each workshop is only $10 per person! Sign up for the series or pick and choose the workshops that best fit your interests and/or schedule. Classes meet the third Sunday of the month at 1:30 p.m. unless otherwise indicated.

Pre-registration and pre-payment are required by the Tuesday before the class. Space is limited, so sign up now by calling (720) 974-1868.

May 30 Bringing Nature Home -Dr. Douglas Tallamy

June 14 Adapted Plants for Colorado -Harriett McMillan

July 19 Native Plants - Lenore Mitchell

Aug. 16 Landscaping with Natives -Lenore Mitchell

Sept. 20 Bees and the Harvest - Char Gottlieb

Oct. 4 Diseases and Insects -Cathy Jo Clawson

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day Late, Dollar Short by Late Bloomer

That's me; story of my life. Yesterday (late as usual) I began the repotting of seedlings for the veggie gardens, fed and watered them well before using up all the milk cartons I could find. Now what? Large plastic cups is what; too many plants as usual. And because I haven't built that cold frame I promised myself, the little plants have spent too long in their tiny starter pots. There was no indoor room to expand. A few words about my ON THE CHEAP philosophy, AKA very GREEN: Plant everything possible from seed, including last year's left-over seeds, and even seed from organic market veggies. If you grow heirlooms, their seeds should be viable, too. Everything is worth a try. Start 6 weeks early. Don't forget to feed them (I forgot). Near the end of April, have an outdoor place to keep your re-potted baby plants safe from weather and frosty nights. Plant in the garden around June 1. Make use of window sills: Save cuttings from begonias, sweet potato vines, coleuses, and geraniums. Take second cuttings in mid-winter when they get leggy. Pot up your culinary herbs for winter use. There: not only fresh herbs, but a green view all winter long. Now that you've saved a bundle on all those nice healthy plants, enjoy!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Soil Interface by Gardener Cumax

Years ago someone thought it would be a great idea to put down plastic mulch and then cover it with river rocks and dirt. Eventually this soil interface was 8" below the ground level. I'm not sure what the goal of this was because if it was for weed blocking, that failed. They all do because weeds have a powerful urge to reach the sunshine. I've seen bindweed roots go straight up 24". They were an easy pull though. This deeper plastic mulch was in a different category of futility and aggravation. First I had to shovel out heavy river rocks in order to get down to the plastic. Then I had to carefully and forcefully pull that up. There was no way to get all the rocks off of it beforehand. Is it any surprise that the plastic was littered with root holes? And that those roots were only from weeds? Never underestimate the power of weed roots. the first photo is the soil/plastic interface from the plastic side. This is the very bottom of the plastic. See how those rots are spreading all over? These are mostly bindweed and crab grass roots. In the second photo, look down and right of the shovel blade. There's a smooth area where the plastic used to be. There are some roots there. They're probably pretty weak but I'll bet you anything that right now, a day after, that they are growing like nuts. Free from plastic at last. Speaking of growing like nuts, dandelions do. I mowed the lawn and 24 hours later I had dandelion flower stalks ranging from 2-5" with most of them in the 4-5" range.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Double Digging With a Bout of Stomach Flu by Gardener Cumax

I got back into double digging. I needed two spots of yard dug out because I need sunny places. A huge silver maple blocks my garden for the first half of the day and where I dug is where the maple doesn't block it. I had a small area last year for squash. The dead grass was killed with leaves. I left those leaves on there from November to the first of May. I left it uncovered for 2 weeks to see if the grass would rejuvenate. It didn't, so on with the dig. I was dreading this dig for some reason but it went super smooth. It took me 30 minutes max to grid the grass cuts, dig them and make a small retaining wall with the grass chunks. I got this idea from visiting another gardener who tore out 1,000 sq ft of grass and made walls raised bed gardens from them. That seemed like an excellent idea to me. It takes less labor to move the grass chunks and since it's clay, it's pretty heavy and will eventually compact into its own little retaining wall. Then I got into the double-dig itself. I don't have pictures of this because if I stop, I'm going to take a rest and not really get back into the flow of it. It took an hour to dig it. Those white bags are top soil and composted manure from Ace Hardware. Since I've double dug this out, I need to amend the soil. This is a one time thing for both the digging and amendment. I did it last year to my main garden plot. One time amendment is only possible if you compost. Remember this: feed the soil if you want to feed your plants. Unless one has a compost in place throughout the year, your garden might not do so well in its second and subsequent years because most plants take nutrients out of the soil. These nutrients need to be replaced. You can learn more about gardening from the JeffCo Master Gardener's program. It's a great course with great people.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Welcome the Wind by Donna Duffy

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” - W.A. Ward

Regardless of your attitude toward the wind, it will find its way into your yard. Sure, it can cause a mess, but it can also add a touch of beauty and mystery. Lots of us have wind chimes that hint at a gentle breeze passing through, or warn us loudly of impending storms. My favorites are these two: one sounds like musical raindrops, the other an ancient-sounding gong that grabs my attention then fades to a whisper.

But my favorite way to welcome the wind is silently. With wind sculptures, the breeze takes shape and visibly moves through the yard. These two dancers
come to life with the slightest breeze, often before I’m aware that it’s arrived. It doesn’t take much to unceremoniously send them crashing to the lawn – not unlike being voted off Dancing with the Stars.

This metal maple leaf hangs from the maple tree, spinning and swaying like a carefree child – at one with forces invisible to others.

Several years ago, we installed three large wind sculptures in the backyard. They arrived from the artist all shiny and coppery, and have now weathered into an earthy patina. The smaller ones pick up the breeze easily, and change their tempo in perfect harmony with the wind.
The largest one stubbornly stands there, unwilling to budge until the wind sends limbs and debris hurling through the yard. Even then, it’s a slightly arrogant spin, slow and reluctant. In the winter, this sculpture is a silent snowy masterpiece.

So – love it or curse it – you might as well welcome the wind…it’s here to stay.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weedy Things by Late Bloomer

One week in May:
Don't get me wrong. Last month I even loved seeing the weeds because I had been green-starved for too long. But that time is past and I have declared war on the unwanteds. My weedy things are another story. Weedy things are those self-seeding, spreading, creeping, and multiplying wonders that sometimes get carried away. I confess, I often let them take over in places where I need that kind of help.

Grape hyacinths make baby bulbs that magically sprout everywhere. They are not my favorite thing and are harder to remove than bindweed. But the unusual blue floweres are very welcome in early spring.

Lily of the Valley is beautiful with its little white bells lighting up all the shady places. They spread like the dreaded broadleaf grass in my yard.

Mint is very guilty of this too, but easy to control in a whiskey barrel.

Raspberries have woody spreading roots, but are easy to dig up and move or pot up and gift—unlike the horrifying thicket-ing habits of my grandmother's lovely yellow prairie rose nearby.

Dragon's blood sedum is my favorite ground cover. Started twenty years ago from one plant, I have it everywhere and it keeps out weeds as every good ground cover should, and spreads only where welcomed.

The silver dollar plants have heart shaped leaves and bloom profusely right along with the tulips. They are very weedy, but are not competitive, so they don't mind being surrounded with rampant garlic, mint, dandelions and grass. Later in the season they produce lunar-like seed pods for dry bouquets. Sweet Woodruff is delicate of leaf and flower, and spreads where invited.

The loveliest accident in the yard is a pale pink rose that grew and spread from the root ball of an aspen planted years ago. When it jumps the grass stop and invades the lawn it gets treated very badly.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lakewood Greenhouse Tour by Late Bloomer

Tuesday May 12

A dozen Master Gardeners gathered at the Lakewood city greenhouse on a warm spring morning made warmer by being in the greenhouse. The fans were turned off so that we could hear manager Mollie Fendley introduce us to our surroundings, which quickly became hot and humid. The greenhouse is very spacious and filled with vigorous plants, like an acre of spring green.

Mollie does not spray for insects indoors, and the only chemical concession make is the addition of a 21-18-18 fertilizer, mechanically mixed with water, for the hand watering of the annual plants. Annuals and perennials are grown from seed here. Starting in July, Mollie starts mums for autumn plantings, and poinsettias for the holidays. The latter are used in city offices and taken home during holiday break.

At the potting bench we are shown the artificial soil (a commercial potting mix) used in the greenhouse. Mollie has discovered that there are fewer problems with rot and damp-off if she mixed it 50/50 with squeegee,
a kind of pea gravel/ sand mix. The formulation is useful for the perennials, especially the more dry-tolerant xeric types. Annuals, perennials, and some shrubs are grown here for use in numerous Lakewood parks.

Mollie keeps a scrapbook of beautiful plantings throughout the city, and discussed changes being made, such as incorporating more water-wise and xeric plantings in the gardens. Lakewood's gem of xeric gardens is at Kendrick Lake park where low hills of plantings are grouped in different growing systems, and all plants labeled for viewer education.

In the greenhouse is a long table of alpine specimens being grown for a new display there. In addition to the usual annuals, and some very unusual and newly discovered perennials, the greenhouse is producing vegetable plants
which are for the employees and for a garden on premises for adding something special to the usual lunch fare of the workers.

As we headed outdoors, we were introduced to Greg Foreman
who is Mollie's new boss, and the Horticulture supervisor for Lakewood. He showed us a stash of conifers which has been given to the city by a homeowner who had changed his mind about a landscaping project. The workers will be keeping the potted trees alive and well before deciding what to do with them.

There is a fairly large structure next to the greenhouse that is used as a cold frame. It is like a small greenhouse, but has only ventilation (no heating or cooling) and is used primarily for cacti.
Also outside are several raised beds
where the viability of new plants is studied before their use in public beds. A discussion about the annual plant sale ensued, probably because this area of the yard bore no resemblance to the mob scene on May 2nd when they sold out in the first two hours to record crowds. Next year's sale will be planned differently to allow for the increased interest, and for efficient payment for purchases. Mollie is open to suggestions.

Thanks to our hosts for an informative tour, and to Heather for arranging the opportunity. Mollie and Greg both commented that we were virtually the first group of adults to tour the facility, and she was pleased with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the Master Gardeners. As for your reporter, I wish there were a way for the city to get around its hiring policies that make volunteering here impossible.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Haiku-Inspired Poems from My Garden by Gardener Dave


Old rotting trellis on my garden wall
Last year’s rose canes holding it up
Why mend, when nature does so well?

Tall, waving, bending, dancing ornamental grass
Sculptured, moving, graceful in the wind
Never exactly the same twice, much like our lives

Lady Bug on flower stem, looking for a meal
Five aphids nearby, drinking flower’s sap
Lady thinks “My four-course dinner and dessert!”

Last night there was a storm
The garden, littered with small branches and leaves
Mother Nature tells us “I am Boss, who are you?”

New spring shoots in my garden
Miracle of life appearing once again
And I fool myself by thinking “Look, I did it!”

Rain today, no gardening for me
So I wait for sun and gentle breeze
To make my world again accept my efforts

Still lake surface mirrors sky, clouds, and trees
Mother Nature knows that all her efforts
Deserve to have a backup copy made

When I am old, but not too old to garden
I will make the best of leisure time
Digging, planting, caring for things growing
And letting nature have her way – sometimes!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Bumper Crop of Lilacs!

This year I was so excited to find my lilacs producing a bumper crop of beautiful blooms! When we moved into our home in July,2002, the entire lawn and yard were in bad shape. The builder had never installed a sprinkler system and the former homeowners just didn’t care about the condition of their lawn or gardens. They put tons of chunk granite rock into any flower or vegetable space and our backyard was infested with all sorts of persistent weeds.
You know how they say you should have the 3 B’s in your yard (birds, bees and butterflies), well because so much had been neglected for several years, all three had apparently been used to nothing going on in the yards and gardens and just flew by on their way to greener pastures! I wanted to be sure we changed that so that it was a welcome spot for all three.
We attempted to try to do the cleanup and fix up on our own and quickly found that it was a job for professionals. We contracted a professional landscape company to re-do all of the turf, plant trees and perennials, and do the other large duties like hauling away tons and tons of rock. They began their work in mid-Jan of 2003 and finished their work in Feb. About a week after they completed their work, we got the famous “100 year snowstorm” of 2003! We actually felt this was a real blessing because it gave our new turf, trees and plants a very large drink of water to help them get established.
Today, our yard and lawn is a much more hospitable place and we welcome birds, honey bees and butterflies all season long. While I was able to get some lilacs from our bushes over the past couple of years, this year the bushes seem to have come into their own and rewarded us with their beauty. I stepped into the backyard this afternoon when the air was warm to take these pictures and the scent of lilacs filled the air – certainly one of the most enjoyable and memorable fragrances of spring!

Try Brunnera in Dry Shade by Dusty M

Last year I attended a garden center class focusing on perennials for shady areas. I’m always looking for something that tolerates dry shade. I care for a family member’s yard filled with trees that cut off most sunlight except early and late in the day. The soil seems always dry, despite a thick layer of wood chip mulch plus the pine needles and leaves that collect there naturally. Tree roots suck up all the moisture in the soil. Grass stopped growing there some years ago. A little ivy has crept into the area, and there are a couple of other plants I’ll mention below. I place pots of shade annuals there in the summer. Fibrous begonias, impatiens, coleus, caladiums, and elephant ears do fine with daily watering.

At the end of the class I decided to try two possibilities. One was Paxistima canbyi (mountain lover), a low-growing spreading evergreen shrub that could provide some winter color, and Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian forget-me-not), with blue spring flowers and silvery-patterned leaves for spring, summer, and fall. I planted the Brunnera at the edge of the grouping of annuals in their pots, which surround the trunk of a large old apple tree. It was watered daily along with the annuals through the summer but was neglected after frost and the annuals died away.

I was a little surprised a couple weeks ago when I noticed a hazy blue splotch near the apple tree trunk. I remembered the Brunnera and felt guilty forgetting it for half a year. I promised to do better next winter.

The Paxistima did not survive. Neither has bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), which I’ve tried in the past. In sunlight and more favorable conditions, it’s considered a pest that’s hard to control.

Others that do grow in this dry shade: Mahonia repens (creeping Oregon grapeholly) volunteers have moved in from a nearby foundation planting. An Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop) plant has survived five or six years, after putting roots into the ground from one of the pots. (That’s a survivor!) This is not the popular xeric agastache that hummingbirds like. It’s a more compact anise-scented perennial with dark green leaves and blue/purple flowers, generally considered a plant for full sun and ample moisture.

(For more details about the Mahonia, see “Evergreen Shrubs for Home Grounds” at and “Native Shrubs for Colo Landscapes” at Paximista is among perennials and shrubs cited in “Ground Cover Plants” at

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mason Bees by Tallgrass Toni

After hearing a lecture last winter given by Joe, a Denver beekeeper, I ordered 35 to 48 blue orchard or mason bees from a beekeeper in Ogden, Utah. Fifty six dollars changed hands. The advantages of having mason bees around versus European honey bees are: you do not need to maintain a hive, mason bees do not sting unless provoked, they pollinate crops readily, they are not territorial, and they are hardy. Supposedly, they are the first bees out pollinating in the Spring. Honey bees only fly to one species of plant during an outing, whereas mason bees collect pollen from many species during a run.

On Earth Day, the bees in their little cardboard condo arrived by U.S. Mail. I was instructed by Bill, the Utah bee man, to put them in the refrigerator because it was still too cold outside and nothing substantial was in bloom for them to feed on. Outdoor weather needs to by at least 55 degrees during the day.

May 7, 2009 was a warm, sunny day. I looked around my yard for blossoms that the bees could feed on and found a wild plum tree and a currant bush in bloom plus a ton of dandelions in flower.

Next, I filled a shallow birdbath with water and placed mud in a terra cotta saucer for the bees' building needs. Evidently, after laying her eggs in the cells of the condo, the female packs it with mud to keep predators from harming the eggs.

I got the bees out of the fridge. One promptly flew out of the condo and kicked the bucket on my kitchen table. Let's see $56 divided by 48, that's about $1.16 down the drain. I pushed him/her back into the condo hoping that s/he would revive later. I took the condo outside and nailed it to the southeast side of my tool shed.

Every day I checked the bee condo. I saw nothing. On May 9th, the weather changed. Cool and rainy. May 11th was a warm, sunny day. I checked the condo and saw the bees flying around a rose bush. They are smaller than honey bees and wasps. Today, May 13th, I found one trapped in my garage so they must be flying all over the yard.

The bees are a welcome addition to my yard and will help pollinate my flowers and vegetables. They seem to get along well with paper wasps. My one fear is that they will be in peril when my neighbor gets her trees sprayed as she does about six times a year since bees are very sensitive to herbicides.

If you are interested in ordering mason bees, just google in osmia lignaria and you will find several sources for obtaining them.