hungry eyes, busy hands; Colorado garden of Dan Johnson & Tony Miles

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdomYou never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” — William Blake

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What I really enjoyed about one of the gardens I visited recently in Colorado was that it was a small garden that wanted it all and refused to say no to any of it. After a long winter, spring in this garden emerges unbowed, with a pronounced strut and swagger. Saturated colors, silky petals swooning against rusted metal, gnarled driftwood sinuously threading itself alongside narrow footpaths pressed on all sides by a profusion of flowers and emphatic spikes, with no opportunity to plant treasures among the rocks and stones left unturned. The owners are clearly having a blast and their enthusiasm is entirely infectious. Exuberant, maximalist, raucous, it was difficult to point a camera without interrupting a sight line or industrial salvage vignette.

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This garden flamboyantly courts excess like poppies shamelessly court honeybees. And it’s obvious this is not mere cheerful naivete at play. There’s a knowingness to the extravagance, the profligate gestures. For one thing, the command of the planting was first rate — irises, oriental poppies, Shirley poppies, California poppies, alliums, larkspur, columbines, all the sexpots of spring were here, all doing precisely what they had been asked to do. One of the owners, Dan Johnson, has spent his lifetime in gardens, the last 22 years with the Denver Botanic Gardens. Home is clearly where he lets his hair down.

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Curator of Native Plants and Associate Director of Horticulture, [Dan] has been at the Gardens since 1996. Though much of his focus is on xeric and native plants and naturalistic design, his work has included all corners of the Gardens. He has been involved with Plant Select since its debut in 1997. His horticultural exploration has included all four of the world’s Steppe regions and beyond, including the western US, South Africa, Argentina, Spain and Pakistan. Publications include the revised and expanded “Meet the Natives” wildflower guide, “Steppes” and many articles in gardening periodicals.” DBG Horticulturalist’s Bios

Sounds like a sober, all-business, scholarly type of fellow, right? If so, the garden completely blows that cover.

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purple wall and Homecrest chairs to match in a patio at the bottom of the back garden
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the narrow front garden is bounded by a low wall. The rose reminds me a little of ‘Zephirine Drouhin’
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view from the tour bus window — I started taking photos as soon as we pulled up
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glimpse of front garden patio in the background
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front and back gardens were entered through elaborate archways
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I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely feeling a southwest influence too, in the paint colors, stucco walls, the sotols and agaves…

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the stream at the bottom of the back garden, photo by Dan Johnson via Fine Gardening
(paywall protected)

I found a reference in a Fine Gardening article that there is (or was) a garden in Tucson, Arizona too. A single reference. And now I can’t stop imagining what a Tucson garden by these two must look like…

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( garden visit made possible by one of the best garden tours around, the Garden Bloggers Fling)

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8 Responses to hungry eyes, busy hands; Colorado garden of Dan Johnson & Tony Miles

  1. Alison says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and photos of this garden, which I also enjoyed. It was so hard to get good shots in this small garden packed with stuff and people. I love the Blake quote that you started your post with.

  2. Kris P says:

    Much as I love your photos, I’m not sure I’ve told you how much I appreciate your prose. You don’t simply describe what you see, you let us know how you experience a garden in a way that invokes excitement and wonder, which is special indeed. Thanks for the post, Denise!

  3. Kris quite eloquently said something I’ve often thought, but doubt I’ve ever managed to say. So thank you! Also…where are all the people? You’re a camera magician.

  4. Pam/Digging says:

    Yes to what Kris said. You’re one of the best garden writers around, Denise. I really enjoyed your post about one of my favorite gardens on the tour.

  5. Denise says:

    @Hi Alison, this was a difficult garden to photograph well, and I was afraid of not doing it justice. But then I haven’t really mastered a quick, 30-minute run through a garden mid-day and getting a comprehensive photoessay of it!
    @Kris, such kind words! As I noted to Alison, sometimes words have to fill for the photos that couldn’t be obtained…
    @Thanks, Loree — so many photos with legs that couldn’t be used…
    @Pam, what a nice thing to say — I don’t know how you get such comprehensive tours out of short, crowded, mid-day visits — there’s some skills!

  6. hb says:

    Well done, both post and garden.

  7. ks says:

    I took a ton of photos here but they sure weren’t framed up and considered-I was focusing too much on getting out of other photographers way and waiting til they got out of mine ! I’m going to have to do a lot of cropping . As you wisely point out, these short season gardens have lots of action going on all at once . You made the most of the photos you were able to use !

  8. Very beautifully written and I love your captures! Yes, tricky that day in a small garden and clouds about to burst, but you express our visit so well.

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