Editor's Letter: May 2017
Spring came early this year. And even though the last average spring frost date is in early to mid May for most of the Front Range, it’s looking as though we may be in the clear. That would mean a very good year for fruit trees, even though they bloomed early, as long as the bees are around to pollinate.
It’s been a great spring for flowering bulbs at my place and dry conditions have prevented weeds from taking off. The asparagus bed is suddenly in full swing – also earlier than usual, with spears shooting up every day. I’ll put out Nolo bait soon to keep the grasshoppers in check in case the lack of rain continues. It may be a hot summer on the plains, so don’t forget the mulch.
Last summer I went to the North American Rock Garden Society’s Annual Meeting in Steamboat for three days along with many others from all over Colorado, from around the U.S., and from several other countries: Canada, Sweden, Argentina, and the Netherlands come to mind. With a lot of help from a number of volunteers, it was a tremendous feat of organization that included housing and feeding everyone, transporting many small groups of us to different day hikes and a garden tour in the Steamboat area over several days, plus several speakers each evening.
As a volunteer I became a little better acquainted with Mike Kintgen, who is the Curator of Alpine Collections at Denver Botanic Gardens, and who was the major organizing force behind the conference. His garden at his family’s house outside Steamboat was on the tour.
Not only was I “wowed” by Mike’s garden (as well as his Denver garden that I’d seen previously) and impressed by the breadth and depth of his plant knowledge, (he held trainings and put together detailed print-outs for hike volunteers noting all the plants and wildflowers we might see on each hike), but also by how unflappable he remained in the face of potentially stressful scenarios that inevitably arise in the course of hosting such a complex event. Wanting to know more about this unflappable young plantsman with the big cowboy hat, I interviewed him for this issue.
You’ll also find articles on: the Benefits of Native Plants (Pt 2) by Inene Shonle; a young Japanese man with a techno fix he thinks might help failing pollinators, by Gary Raham; landscaping tips for increasing the bird species in your yard by wildlife biologist and birder, Christy Payne; and the many diverse critters that dwell in the sunflower ecosystem, by entomologist Eric R Eaton.
Last month David Salman of High Country Gardens wrote about wildflower Columbines; here he discusses the brilliant, nectar-rich Salvias, many of which are natives. Marcia Tatroe tells you what night bloomers to plant for moths in a moon garden; and Mikl Brawner tells the story of a tough, beautiful, but difficult to propagate Cotoneaster shrub from the Cheyenne Station, rescued from probable obscurity by Scott Skogerboe. It became a Plant Select Introduction this year.
In the edibles realm, Penn Parmenter, an expert on sowing and growing greens, covers all you need to know about creating, growing, and harvesting mesclun mixes. Herb gourmet, Deb Whittaker, looks at some aromatic herbs in the umbelliferae family that are Good for You, Good for the Garden.
Kelly Grummons answers questions about tried and true old-fashioned flowers that are low water and hardy, plus how to keep hanging baskets of flowers alive and looking good in our climate.
There are lots of plant sales this month, plus upcoming garden tours so check out the Calendar and Marketplace pages for details. The Colorado Native Plant Society Tour featuring gardens with native plants is especially ambitious this year. There’s one in Denver on June 10 and another July 1st in Boulder. And remember that Native Plant Appreciation Week is June 10-16.
Excerpts from issue:
The Benefits of Gardening with native plants (Pt 2) by Irene Shonle
Native plants have evolved in Colorado soils and weather for millennia. We live in a semi-arid climate with pedocal soils, which are characteristic of areas with less rainfall. Pedocal soils have less organic matter and are somewhat less fertile than the humus-rich, dark brown pedalfer soils to the east of the Mississippi. This is one of the reasons we often see such different plants as we head to the East Coast. Plants that thrive there often do not perform well in our climate (and vice versa).
Alpine Plantsman Mike Kintgen by Jane Shellenberger
It was Alice McVee, a neighbor with a rock garden at the end of their cul-de-sac in Littleton, who played a major role in nurturing Mike’s youthful plant passion - once he found the courage to knock on her door. “Alice was a member of the local chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society. She took me to meetings and to volunteer at Denver Botanic Gardens when I was 11.”
Fabulous Salvias - Bring Pollinators to Your Garden with Brilliantly Colored, Nectar-Rich Flowers by David Salman
The genus Salvia (commonly referred to as ‘Sage’) represents a huge group of flowering plants that are found on all the temperate continents of our planet.. I count myself among this group of Salvia devotees who enjoy their diversity, their bold, brilliantly colored flowers and the wide array of pollinators that are attracted to their nectar-rich flowers.
Mix it up with Mesclun for fresh greens all season long by Penn Parmenter
Looking for diversity, nutrition, and gleeful satisfaction in the garden? Grow Mesclun. The word simply means mixture. When I plant Mesclun, I custom–create it with my favorite greens, lettuces, and herbs to make perfect cut-and-come-again salads. Sow cut-and-come-again mixes by broadcasting (scattering) the seed on the garden bed.
The lure of techno fixes for failing pollinators by Gary Raham
… Over 40% of invertebrates, like bees, beetles, and butterflies, suffer the same threats—mostly from changes in land use, intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, alien invasive species, diseases & pests, and climate change. Miyako felt compelled to do something—an admirable human impulse—and his solution was sexy enough to gain considerable media attention - create robot drones to help out bees and other dwindling pollinators. But how viable is his techno fix?
Gardening for Night Owls & Moths by Marcia Tatroe
Because most moths are active at dawn and dusk or in the night, the flowers they rely on are night-bloomers. This is a handy trait for the gardener, who works 9 to 5, or who, like me, isn’t excited about going outside to admire the garden when daytime temperatures approach or exceed three digits… Fortunately there is a garden tradition that takes advantage of the night and night owls. The Victorians were enthusiastic fans of the moon garden—not to provide flowers for moths but to extend the pleasures of the garden into the evening hours.
The Sunflower Ecosystem by Eric R. Eaton
Few plants compare to Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus, in their attractiveness to insects. While the blossoms beckon bees, secretions from the buds and leaves are irresistible to other insects. Meanwhile, herbivorous insects exploit all parts of the plant.
Good for you, Good for the Garden by Deb Whittaker
…But you don't need to rely on the dreaded dandelion to attract beneficials to your garden. Many herbs, especially members of the umbelliferae family like cilantro, parsley, and fennel, will attract pollinators and predators of garden pests, and repel others with their strong odors and flavors. Added to foods you eat everyday, herbs will also bolster the nutrient density of your meals. Not bad for a little garnish.
SUNGARI REDBEAD COTONEASTER by Mikl Brawner
The 2017 Plant Select shrub introduction is a woody plant with a tongue-twister of a name and a long history of survival at the old Cheyenne Horticultural Station. Here is the heart-warming story of two great local plantsmen who brought it out of obscurity into Colorado gardens.
Out on a Limb - Landscaping to boost bird diversity by Christy Payne
As a biologist and birder I sometimes dream of owning a grand estate in a location that boasts high-altitude views of the surrounding country and wildlife. However, my reality is a petite, albeit charming, bungalow on 0.25 acre in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. This thoroughly urban location boasts coyote, red fox, and well over 50 visiting species of bird so my expectations for this little property have been more than exceeded. These visitors have lit a passion in me for sharing not only the possibility of creating a wildlife haven in the inner-city properties, but also for communicating the simplicity of successful strategies for achieving wildlife results that exceed your expectations.