Since returning on Monday, I haven’t been able to shake Colorado from my mind. It’s a landscape that leaves you with a visual hangover, so this post will be hair of the dog, blog style, while the visit is still fresh and even my case of chapped lips lingers from the thin Rocky Mountain air.
Traveling from zone 10 to zone 5, from sea level to mile high in two hours is transformative on so many levels. Plant lovers speak an Esperanto steeped in the natural world, so while some of us on this 12th annual Garden Bloggers Fling had never met, having that common language definitely greases the wheels of the tour bus. The tribal thing is strong.
On Sunday, June 16th, the last day of the GBF in Denver, Colorado, we lunched at the Denver Botanic Gardens and then explored the grounds, or as much of the 23-acre site as we could in the time allotted. I think we saw eight gardens that day alone, including the DBG’s adjunct site for the farewell dinner, Chatfield Farms, about 11 miles from Denver, so the pace was understandably brisk. We also visited the private garden of Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator and Director of Outreach at the DBG. Under his influence, the DBG has gone from a staff of 25 to over 200 and become one of the most visited botanical gardens in the U.S. I’m going to toggle between the luncheon visit to DBG and the lengthier visit to Chatfield Farms at the end of the day (where I disgraced myself by wandering off after dinner and nearly missing the bus heading back to Denver. I assumed we would be picked up where we had been dropped off — wrong!)
I had visited DBG a couple years ago, and just like that visit in May the garden had been recently hit by a significant hailstorm, though I didn’t notice any serious lasting damage this time. Golfballs, baseballs, tennis balls — sporting equipment seems to be a handy, frequently used gauge for measuring the scope of a recent hailstorm. Discussing the size of hail, the damage it can do to emerging spring growth, cars (and hatless heads!) — this is when I truly began to understand the unique vagaries of the Rocky Mountain climate and the demands of its relatively short but intense growing season compared to, say, my zone 10. And after that understanding, then “reading” the landscape and gardens became possible, how they’re filled with plants from the steppe ecosystem, bulbs, alpines, grassy mesas, and of course rocks. The penstemons in particular were a glorious sight, swaying with grasses and arising out of rocky outcroppings.
The foxtail lilies, eremurus species and cultivars, were in bloom everywhere and aroused my anguish-tinged admiration, knowing they’d refuse to grow in Los Angeles’ zone 10. Also known as desert candles, eremurus come from Central Asia, growing in exposed, fast-draining, high-altitude sites that are hot by day and cold by night, making lush growth in wet springs, flowering May/June, with the leaves dying off in summer.
Apart from the peonies and eremurus and all the plants that demand a winter snooze, there were some sights that were very familiar. Agaves, opuntias and yuccas, for instance. But I’ve never been able to grow Allium christophii in Los Angeles, whereas Denver garden owners claimed it to be borderline weedy for them, pulling out handfuls every spring.
I’ll have more stories from the Denver trip soon. Huge thanks to the GBF planning committee, the sponsors, the garden makers and the Denver team (Leigh Pond, April Shelhon, Judy Seaborn, Jennifer Spainhower, Laura O’Connor of Botanical Interests).