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).
Thanks for sharing your photos of Denver Botanical Garden, Denise. Missing that garden was my #1 regret associated with missing the Colorado Fling. The area offers a fabulous range of plants, although I have to wonder if I could accept such a short growing season and such unpredictable spring weather. I look forward to your other Fling posts.
Beautiful photos! DBG was fabulous…
8 gardens in 1 day? That pace is fast indeed. I like to savor. Must have been another fun fling, though.
DBG very beautiful to judge by your great photos. It does have a higher altitude look to it.
I used to dream of Eremus, but we have Urginea/Drimia. Reasonable substitute.
I was besotted with both DBG proper and Chatfield. I plan to return in Sept 2020-you got some great photos.
Very evocative photos, Denise. Have also enjoyed the variety of images on Instagram, which underscore the number of different gardens visited. Daunting!
You captured some wonderful images of Chatfield, worth almost missing the bus. I am glad you didn’t get left behind. Saturday and Sunday were grueling. I came home exhausted and just wanted to curl up in a corner and decompress for days and days.
So often I hear people from your Zone as well as Zone 9 and even some Zone 8’ers say they have no interest in Flinging in a cooler climate. What is there of interest for them to see where it gets so cold? I don’t understand this mindset. All plants are wonderful (yes, even the much maligned hosta) we learn so much by visiting gardens different than ours. I appreciate your enthusiasm for these Zone 5 gardens and I am so glad you didn’t get left behind at Chatfield Farms, although I’m sure you would have made the best of it.
Chatfield farm looks just as beautiful as DBG. I appreciate Loree’s comment about colder climate gardens. Plants from every zone are just plain cool and can be appreciated for their uniqueness and adaptations. Sounds like the pace was grueling but am looking forward to all of your upcoming posts. For now just take time to recoup.
One of the things I most appreciate about Flings is the strong regional flavor to gardens, giving a chance to see how climate and terrain affect styles and planting. Denise’s post about some of Colorado’s signature plants and why they flourish, based on their native habitats, goes to the heart of what fascinates me. I’m especially grateful to be able to “tour” vicariously, and through the eyes of so many skilled photographers.
It looks like it was a very nice trip. Lots of cool plants. I wish I could grow all of those penstemons.
Based on your lovely photos from Chatfield, I venture it was worth almost missing the bus to get those shots. You saw much more than I did, as I staggered from the dropoff to the barn, where dinner revived me enough to try line dancing for one song. Like you, I found the CO climate very different from my own in central Texas, but that’s the joy of a Fling: seeing different plants and learning about different growing conditions and enjoying the beauty of what local gardeners create. It was great to see you again in Denver, Denise. Hope we meet again in Madison next year!