• Jane Shellenberger

Editor's Letter: Harvest 2021


I’m not sure why people assume that it’s difficult to find content for a magazine like this. If anything I have the opposite problem. There’s never enough room for all that I’d like to include. Like the fat cat on the birthday card I just sent my niece who drawls, “Yeah, I’m into Fit Bit…. Fitting every bit of this cake into my mouth,” I pack in as many stories and photos as possible.


I just returned to the hotter, smokier Front Range after four days in Durango for the Annual Conference of the North American Rock Garden Society. Since a partial monsoon arrived this year it wasn’t nearly as hot and dry as I expected. Picture hiking and botanizing with plant lovers from all over the country (and world) among the tall peaks, rocky mesas, and high desert of southwestern Colorado (occasionally pulling off trail to let bounding mountain bikers through), with meadows of wildflowers and an astonishing array of mushrooms bursting through conifer forest floors. Those who signed up early (not I, alas) snagged a spot on an ethnobotany tour of Mesa Verde with author Craig Childs.


The town’s local botanical society, 100 members strong, has installed an impressive botanical garden along the river walk behind the library. It’s free to the public, ungated, and lovingly maintained by volunteers. I didn’t arrive in time to visit every open private garden (it’s a very long drive) but I did get to Mike Smedley’s. Check out the story on p.6.


You’ll also find an in-depth piece by Kenton Seth on defining garden zones by the type of mulch best suited for the plants. (One of Kenton’s crevice gardens is a centerpice of the Durango Botanic Gardens.)

Penn Parmenter writes about the importance of garden mentors. She found several over the years who taught and inspired her, and became trusted friends. Penn has in turn become a mentor to many younger gardeners. “They usually leave me with more gifts and knowledge than they acquire,” she says.

It’s been an unusual gardening season with so much early moisture and heat, certainly one that called for tons of weeding. On the Front Range we’ve been more fortunate this year than other parts of the baking, burning west, but it’s difficult to just chirp about pretty flowers in light of what’s going on elsewhere. Some in the Colorado horticulture community have been nudging us toward more sustainable, ecological choices and practices for many years. It’s beyond time to take it seriously.


Mikl Brawner has been a pioneer at Harlequins Gardens, the Boulder nursery he owns with his wife Eve. He’s also been researching and writing on these topics for decades to help educate the rest of us. In this issue he describes five late summer/fall blooming plants that can take the heat and forego the water. All are usually available at Harlequins. One, Salvia Pachyphylla or Mojave Sage, appears on our cover. High Country Gardens carries a nice David Salman selection called Mulberry Flambé. Plants like these make it easier to own up to the reality of our water situation.


We also have an excerpt from a new book about Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Eminent biologist David Inouye, who has studied the ecology and interaction of wildflowers and pollinators for over 50 years, discusses the fragility of alpine ecosystems. The photos in this coffee-table book are stunning.

Since it’s harvest time we have a piece by Deb Whitaker on best practices for storing vegetables for winter eating. And Marilyn Raff serves up garlic, with some interesting history and tips for cooking.


I can always count on Gary Raham to read the science behind the topics he writes about. This time he focuses on genetic sequencing advances that are allowing researchers to determine exactly which pesticides are stressing bees. This could be helpful in efforts to eliminate the poisons that are wiping out our pollinators.


Speaking of which, I’ve been contacted by several readers who are looking into the pesticide practices of local garden centers, nurseries, big box stores, and their suppliers. Fueled by a desire to avoid purchasing plants treated with neonics, which have been implicated in bee die-offs for decades but are still the most widely used in the US, they have been making calls and compiling information. The idea is to share the results so gardeners can make informed choices. Initial results show increasing awareness and at least a stated desire to eliminate these chemicals or “keep bees safe”, yet some still carry neonic products on their shelves, or use them “here and there”, and some say they don’t know about their suppliers. We’ll keep you updated about the project soon on our website and in our Spring edition.


We hope you enjoy this issue which, BTW, doesn’t contain a calendar. There were few entries so we’re posting it on our website instead; it’s more easily updated there and you can also check out lots of back issue articles – www.coloradogardener.com.


Jane Shellenberger