Saturday, July 28, 2012

An Anomalous Summer

My gardens stand today as a mere shadow of their former selves.  Heat, draught, the wind that almost always follows draught, and insects which increase in virulence with hot weather have taken their toll. 

The flower featured here is Monkshood – Latin name Aconitum napellus.  The bloom should be larger and a very deep purple.  Its reduced size and faded color are, in my experience, the results of heat stress. 

A word of caution, Monkshood should not be planted in gardens where children or plant eating pets play.  It contains a powerful alkaloid poison that was used in earlier times as a sedative and antispasmodic.  In combination with Belladonna, also identified as Deadly Nightshade, Monkshood was used topically in ointments to treat skin injuries and ailments.  Under no circumstances are either of these substances recommended for use by the untrained. 

To return to the discussion of the garden, I have received a number of emails from gardeners who follow my blog or my Facebook page asking me what they have done wrong.  They have followed my advice or the advice of their local gardening professionals.  They have planted appropriately, watered, fed and protected from insects and disease.  Yet, their gardens look as if they have been neglected and allowed to burn up in triple digit heat for two full seasons. 

I answer them in a word – nothing.  You have done nothing.  The season is anomalous and excessive – excessive heat, excessive dry, no spring and excessive summer.  This is apparently happening all over the world if my correspondence is anything to go by. 

Whether we in our stupendous arrogance believe in Climate Change or not is irrelevant.  It is what it is.  No amount of name calling, proselytizing or pontificating from delusional partisan hacks or contribution whoring politicians will make it into something else.

Most evenings of this brutal summer I stand in my gardens at sunset when the light is less harsh and the damage less visible.  I hear my grandmother’s voice sailing out of the West on the swelling red-gold light filling the Rocky Mountain sky.  “Little one," she reminds me, “A gardener proposes, but Mother Nature disposes.   She is in charge.  If you forget, let Her remind you.”

Friday, July 13, 2012

Casa Blanca

This is Casa Blanca.  She is the last lily to bloom.  Exquisite in form and perfectly symmetrical, she is a stunningly pristine white running to glowing silver-white in the moonlight. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The roses featured here are moderate to large hybrid teas – moving clockwise, “Out of the Blue” moderate, “Neptune” very large, “Hot Cocoa” large and “Remember Me” moderate to large.  In addition to being scorched all of them are less than a third of their normal size.  Lest you are walking through your garden wondering what you have done wrong, like so many people who write to me, you have done nothing.  This is the result of extreme heat stress, brought on by prolonged exposure to high temperatures – in this case unseasonably high temperatures.  On the Planes we have been in the triple digits now for several days. 
You may have noticed that your roses are not pushing much new growth, feed notwithstanding.  You may have also noticed that your lawn isn’t growing particularly well.  My husband usually mows once, even twice a week.  He hasn’t touched the lawn in nearly two weeks.  Again this is the result of inordinate heat that inhibits growth.
I have never seen a season where so many aberrancies conspire to confound the health of the garden, that is to say heat, drought, accelerated time and disease.  To deny the existence of these abnormalities is foolhardy, and yet it doesn’t really matter who believes in Climate Change and who doesn’t in the final analysis.  It is what it is, man.  The Earth existed and evolved thousands of years before we crawled out of the primordial slime, and I believe will long after we bore or blow ourselves out of existence.  She isn’t just a projection of our inflated and insipid egos.  If you doubt Her power to put us in our place or defend Herself, take a walk through your rose garden.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Accelerated Seasons

What I am about to describe may not be happening anywhere except the High Plains of Colorado – but I doubt it.  What I am about to discuss may not be a national or international phenomenon – but consider it anyway. 

Since March the seasons of Spring and Summer have been accelerated.  Spring bloomers – early, mid and late season – were up, bloomed and dying back by late April and early May.  Roses produced their first show a little over three weeks early.  Perennials that bloom in stages throughout the course of Summer are all well budded and preparing to bloom.  Peaches and apricots from the Western Slope of the Rockies are in the stores nearly a month early.  My peach tree is preparing to ripen several weeks early.  Fall mums are blooming, and I have even seen red leaves on Burning Bushes and the Virginia Creeper Ivy.  This is their Fall presentation.

In the U.S. we have an entire army of pandering, vote whoring legislators who refuse to admit to any form of climate change.  However, these humps also claim to believe that Christ was a conservative, a capitalist and a free marketer.  Go figure.  They are not scientists – hell they are barely literate.  On the other hand, people like me who have tended the Earth and her plant children all or most of our lives, watching the climate and the sun, measuring the rainfall and judging the amount of moisture in the snowfall, recognize that something is defiantly afoot.  Therefore, I will offer the following suggestions in the event that Summer accelerates into Fall, and Fall into Winter.   
1)      All feeding of perennials, roses and other shrubs should be finished by early August rather than mid August.
2)      Perennials may need to be cut back mid September rather than late September. 
3)      Special, slow acting feeds like phosphorous for roses may need to be applied mid October rather than late October, provided they are not under heavy snow. 
4)      Colorado is experiencing draught and high temperatures.  We were in the high single digits in May and have had triple digit temps for the last several days.  We are also experiencing high winds.  Wind follows draught – this was the cause of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl in part.  If this trend continues through the cold months – anywhere it continues – Winter watering will be critical. 

One gardener to another, good luck.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Red Victorian Climber

This is the Red Victorian Climber, sister to the Pink that I previously posted.  These roses are very old, dating back to the Victorian period from which they take their name.  The red’s scent is soft and sweet, and her color is a deep crimson.  She will open flat in the tradition of some other English roses.
As I said before, climbing roses don't climb - they have no way to climb without tendrils - instead they have incredibly strong growth habits and simply grow into and through things.  This lady will be bloomed and deadheaded by the end of June and will not bloom again until next year.
Both the pink and the red must be trimmed and sculpted throughout the season in order for them to live with other roses.  They are perfectly capable of taking over an entire garden.  Once their blooming is finished I will trim them back and watch them throughout the summer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

First Rose of the Season -2012

First rose of the season. Notice her petal structure. She has a number of layers of petals, although not what we are used to seeing in the modern rose. She opens flat. She is sweetly scented with a delicate and genuine rose fragrance. She is a true English rose, Victorian in fact. Blooming once a season, by the end of June she will be finished and deadheaded. Her sister the red Victorian is about to bloom She has fewer layers of petals and again will open flat as is the nature of the old English rose. I will post a picture of her soon.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


This is  Allium, a flowering plant that has more than 500 species.  The most common flower variety in this part of the country is the deep purple globe.  Her globes range from two to 4”inches in diameter, and she can stand as high as 4’.  I also have a small white Allium which has not yet bloomed.  Since this is the white’s first season, I don’t expect her to get more than a 1’ tall with globes no more than 1 -2” in diameter.
Many of her species have been harvested for eating.  Today the most common are French Shallots, Leeks, Scallions, Garlic and Chives.  I would not advise eating the ornamental Allium. 
Some Allium can be found in Africa and South America; however they are primarily indigenous to the Asian Northern Hemisphere.  Their habitats range from mineral soils that are dry and well drained to moist organic soils.  Some even grow in swamps and forests.  Mine like heat, dry mineral soil, sun and a lot of drainage. 
They are usually grown from bulbs and fill in nicely for a back border or garden divider.  Butterflies like them and as you can see, so do bees.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Bearded Iris

This is the tall, bearded Iris.  She takes her name from her graceful falls.  Her standards are upright and elegant.  This is a rhizome as opposed to a bulb, that is to say that her roots are large and tuberous spreading out in all directions.  She is generally divided every three to five years to contain her growth.  It is not a good idea to plant the Iris near roses or any other plant whose water and food supply she might interfere with.  
From mid-spring to early summer she blooms prolifically – each year producing more and more blooms.  There is also a variety of Iris that re-blooms in fall.  They will be marked accordingly.  Her fragrance is warm and sensual.  She comes in myriad colors and variations. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Care and Types of Roses

Many people have asked me about pruning roses.  I am happy to share my knowledge with regard to gardening, and anything else for that matter, with one caveat.  I live on the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  Thus, my experience is geared toward the High Plains.  Gardening is not just a seasonal occupation for many of us, but a regional occupation.  By that I mean, what grows here may not grow where you live at all, or very well or for any length of time.

Speaking as an experienced gardener I believe that it is critical for anyone growing roses to know the following: soil type – acid or alkaline and concentration of organic matter; soil composition – sand, clay, rock and loam content.  If your soil contains clay; what kind of clay?  What is the drainage in your area?  Roses do not like what is called, “Wet feet.” They require good drainage.

Locate your resources such as the best nurseries and/or University Agricultural Extension in your area.  By the time you have been gardening as long as I have you have probably managed to build a library.  My library is large and covers many species.  If I can help answer questions, don’t hesitate to call upon my resources. 

I can’t stress this enough; I buy roses from reputable nurseries and growers.  Here in Colorado roses are stressed in their first season by a soil that is clayey and alkaline, climate of hot, dry summers, very cold and often dry winters, not to mention a good chance of transplant shock.  In the second season their roots hit what is called the clay wall.  Amending the soil helps to a point – to a point I say – however the rose is likely to struggle.  If the rose has not been propagated and nurtured properly in my experience it won’t survive.

Having said all of this and turning to the care of the rose, it is my belief that roses should be pruned in spring; other people will tell you fall.  It is a matter of philosophy.  To begin with any leaves left from the previous season on the ground or on the rose canes should be totally removed before pruning begins; this is to prevent the spread of disease agents that have overwintered.  Dead canes should be removed all together.  The cane is generally never pruned – cut – anymore than one third of the way down.  In recent years here in Colorado may roses have had canes that died back very close to the ground – those canes need removing.  The pruning cut is made on a diagonal with a very sharp rose shear.  In some parts of the country the end of the cane should be sealed with a rose stick or water soluble Elmer’s Glue. There is a tiny carpenter bee that likes to burrow into the cane; if enough of them go deep enough the rose will die.  Again, your local nursery or Agricultural Exchange can tell you about your area insect population.

In addition to the carpenter bee there are a number of insects and diseases that plague these lovely plants.  Infestations of thrips, spider mites and aphids are common on the Plains.  Rose diseases in their most virulent form are often caused by fungi.  These fungal agents vary from area to area depending upon temperature and moisture.  Three of the most common diseases are Rust, Black Spot and Powdery Mildew.  They appear on leaves and canes.  Although they may not kill the rose they can disfigure and act as serious stressors on a plant trying to survive a blazing summer, an insect infestation or going into a hard winter.

Conventional wisdom holds that watering roses overhead is the prime causes of fungus, along with excessive rain and humidity. While it is recommended that roses be watered at their base, people with large or mature landscapes and many roses might not be able to do this.  Rule of thumb has always been that overhead watering should be done in the morning – not the evening.  Allowing the leaves to dry in the sun will cut down the incidents of fungal diseases.  Infected leaves should be cut from the plant immediately.   

However, new thinking is that good pruning; plenty of airflow within the garden, conscious selection of resistant rose varieties, vigilant monitoring and prompt action when problems are seen will decrease the incidents and severity of infection, watering practices notwithstanding.  Watering in the morning is still recommended if overhead watering is necessary.  Again, infected leaves should be removed.

In addition to newer and ever more resistant rose varieties, gardeners – whether organic or inorganic – have any number of ways to deal with the pests and fungal diseases of roses.  If you are an organic gardener you might want to speak to the University Agricultural Extension or gardening center professionals in your area for ideas on how best to deal with insect infestation and fungi.  If you are an inorganic gardener you can chose a foliar (applied to the leaves) spray insecticide or fungicide or use a systemic (travels through the entire plant and often administer to the root via the soil).  The gardening professionals in your local nursery will be of great help in deciding which is best for you.  Be conscious of the needs of pollinators like bees. 

Feeding roses in Colorado means compensating for a number of things; we have an alkaline soil, little organic matter, cold often dry winters and hot dry summers.  All of these things are stressors.  Amending the soil helps over the long haul, however most of the nutrients in Colorado’s soil are not in a form the rose can take up readily.  Again, your nursery or University Extension can help you decide on what is the best option for your gardens as there are many kinds of feed available.  Once again, you have the choice of foliar or systemic.

There is hygiene to gardening, most definitely when dealing with diseased plants.  Keep hands, tools, gloves and clothes clean.  After working with an infected rose wash your hands and tools with antibacterial soap and rinse with warm water and rubbing alcohol.  Empty clippings from a diseased rose out of your gardening basket or can before approaching any other rose in the garden.

Rose beds should be laid out in such a way as to give roses plenty of space and airflow.  Not only does this reduce the incidence of fungal diseases but it lessens contamination from one rose to another.


It is generally held that roses first appeared in prehistoric times, exclusively above the equator in the northern hemisphere.  We are not talking about the complex beauty with many petals growing in your yard today.   Instead, the early rose was much like the wild rose – flat in design with a single layer of petals resting above the sepals or the slender, green pointed leaves that contain the bud and open out as the rose blooms. 

Clearly, it is beyond the scope of this discussion to elucidate the history of the rose.  Suffice it to say that they have been admired for their delicate beauty and sweet scent, coveted, fought over, immortalized, researched, grown, groomed and hybridized for as long as there have been rose lovers.  Today there is a bewildering array of types.  It behooves anyone interested in acquiring a rose or starting a rose garden to know something about the various types of roses. What follows is a list and brief description of some of the most common. 

Miniature Roses many of which are very small, seldom above thirty inches tall and are excellent for containers, lining a walkway or garden.  The true miniature rose is perfect for the patio garden.  Other roses of this type are miniature only with regard to their leaves and flowers.  They can become quite tall.  A word of caution here – make sure you know which one you are buying.

 Species Rose, Wild Roses and their Hybrids are extremely hardy.  They are old roses – some call them the original roses – and are often of the climber or large landscape variety.  The flat petal structure is generally the rule.

Hybrid Tea Roses are the most fashionable garden roses and range from about three to five feet tall depending upon sun exposure.  This rose is greatly admired for its pallet of stunning colors, wonderful fragrances and gracefully symmetrical flowers.  The hybrid tea frequently produces one lovely rose on each stem.

Grandifloras are more robust than a hybrid tea.  They can stand well over six feet tall.  Their blooms can show as clusters of large to medium size roses on one stem. This rose is produced by crossing a floribunda with a hybrid tea.

Floribundas are exceptionally hardy roses with the ability to adapt too many soil types and temperature variables.  This rose produces a great number of flowers, in thick clusters.  They re-bloom much of the season.  They are not as fragrant as the Grandiflora or the Hybrid Tea.  They reach about 2-4’ in height – although some can get taller. They are dense in structure.

Mini-Floras fall between Miniatures and Floribundas with regard to blooms and foliage of intermediate size.  Since 1999 when the American Rose Society identified this species many lovely varieties of this rose have been developed.  This is a great rose for people who don’t have a lot of space, but want a rose garden.

Landscapes are large – up to five feet tall – disease resistant and extremely hardy in most climates.  They are prolific, all season bloomers.  This is the best rose for a beginning rose gardener. 

Climbing Roses do not climb – they have no way to climb.  They lack tendrils and can’t twine.  Climbing roses simply have incredibly healthy growth habits.  They just grow into things with their stiff - even woody - canes, grabbing on with their thorns.  They show blooms singularly and in clusters.  Most of them bloom all season, however, know what you are buying.  Some climbers often called Antique or Victorian only bloom once a season.

 Plan your rose space before purchasing the rose.  For instance, how large will the space be, and what companion plants will share the space if any.  Talk to the gardening professionals in your area about soil type, water requirements, best over winter performance and disease resistance of the roses available to you.  Not all roses are hardy in all areas.  As with any gardening project; plant the rose where it belongs.  Roses require at least six hours of sun per day.  The optimal exposure is eastern and southern sun here in Colorado.  Western sun burns the delicate tissue of the rose bloom.

There is no trick or great difficulty to growing roses.  Respect them – give them the sun, the space and the care they need.  They will repay you a hundred fold.

All roses have names – given to them by their growers.  The rose featured here is Cary Grant, as elegant and beautiful as its namesake.  This rose’s vital statistics follow:

Type:  Very Large Hybrid Tea

Color:  Bright orange blended with copper & gold

Height/Habit:  Medium-tall/Slightly spreading
Bloom/Size:  Large, very full

Flower habits: Long period from bud to bloom, long lasting.

Leaves: Deep green and glossy 
Petal Count:  35 to 40
Fragrance:  Medium strong spicy
Hybridizer:  Meilland-1987 (Grower and year created)
Parentage:  (Pharaoh x Konigin der Rosen x seedling)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sweet Columbine

This is the Columbine – in her true blue presentation she is Colorado’s state flower. She is high born, gracefully cascading down the slopes of the Mighty Rocky Mountains in a radiant stream of sunlit elegance. This little lady stands in tribute to endurance and charm. Grown in some of the coldest regions of the our mountain range, she can tolerate a late freeze or snow. If you plant a bed with different shades of Columbine they will cross pollinate, and the next season you will discover that they appear varied in subtle and lovely ways.

Native to the rocky earth of Colorado’s High Country they aren’t particular about soil. I do amend my soil every season with organic compost to steel them against the one thing they won’t experience in a cool and often rainy Rocky Mountain spring – heat. Sunday at the beginning of April it was 84 degrees here on the Eastern Slope. Today it is snowing and 32 degrees, yet my little Columbines stand like sentinels armored in lace and looking skyward for a break in the clouds. Nonetheless, transitioning between a very cold winter and an early summer will stress plants, particularly the wild flower.

Columbine likes her water. I water her as often as I water the Rose. In the two to three weeks of triple digit heat in a Colorado summer I see to her watering more often.

Even though they can be bought bear root, they are usually grown from seeds or starter plants, and spread through broadcasting. Columbine’s roots are neither invasive nor destructively tuberous so she can be grown near other plants and will not disturb their food and water supply.

It has been my experience that her preferred companion plants are the Agastache, some species also indigenous to Colorado, and the Lily. Because of the many, many colors of Agastache it can be chosen to compliment Columbine’s hues and multiplicity of hues.

It is generally believed that the Columbine is a spring bloomer – sun to partial shade – this information is found on bags of dry root, seed packets and with containers of starter plants. These instructions do generally refer to life in the wild as opposed to closer and more meticulous care in a garden. My Columbines live in the sun, with only evening shade, and with proper deadheading, watering and feed they bloom well into mid-summer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Variegation is an alteration of color zones from the original leaf, stem or flower color. In my experience it usually appears in the form of the striping of a flower. We see a good deal of it out here in Colorado. It is the result of a virus – systemic and non threatening to the plant.

I planted the deep purple tulip above next to a pale lavender Wild Geranium. When she immerged two seasons later stripped as you see her below, I was disappointed. Then I realized that lavender is simply a mixture of purple and white. Who am I to argue with Nature’s impeccable sense of design?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Just Joey - My Pride and Joy

Of all the roses I own this is my favorite. She is apricot and gold. A giant fancy bloom on a hybrid tea. She was hybridized in England in 1972. Parentage: Fragrant Cloud x Dr. A.J. Verhage.

She has won the following awards: Royal National Rose Society James Mason Gold Medal 1986, Royal Horticultural Society Award Of Garden Merit 1993, Worlds Favorite Rose 1994. Awards won in England are far more prestigious than awards won in the United States.

The British have been growing roses longer and better than anyone in the world. Enjoy.

Three Rules of Basic Gardening Out West

Particularly in Colorado, these three rules are relevant. I learned them the hard way.

I. Become as knowledgeable as possible about your soil type.

a. Is it acid or alkaline
b. Is it organic or mineral
c. Does it contain sand or clay, if clay what kind of clay
d. Is it well drained

For instance: in Colorado my soil is alkaline, mineral and contains both sand and red clay. Because of the low acidity, many nutrients aren’t available to my plants. Iron, for example, exists in abundance, but not in a form my plants can use. I have to administer iron. An indication of iron deficiency in plants is chlorosis – a yellowing of leaves. This can also be caused by too much water. When my Hollyhocks begin to exhibit this, I give them iron in the form of chelates since I know my soil is well drained.

II. Know the insect population, fungus and mold type indigenous to your area.

a. One excellent way of controlling insects is the use of soap and garlic on a weekly basis.
b. Baking soda is very good at retarding certain fungus and molds.
c. There are times when you may have to use a chemical. There are garden pests that are so insidious and so prolific that only a chemical insecticide or fungicide will eliminate the threat. I recommend Bayer’s, All in One, feed and systemic insecticide and fungicide.

III. When you elect to purchase a plant, learn all you can about the plant and where it is best suited to live. Plant it there.

a. Give plants the proper light, whether they are sun or shade lovers.
b. Plant them with similar species, that is to say plant a rose with other flowering plants that like water. The rose is not a xeric plant.
c. When you are planning for a garden or even one plant, try to imagine the amount of space the plant(s) will need when fully grown. Over crowded gardens are often fungi factories, and plants are stressed when forced to compete for water over prolonged periods.

There is nothing worse than a gardening season in which one problem leads to another. Stressed plants are vulnerable. Thus, thirsty plants become victims to other problems. Planning is a gardeners best friend, out West especially.

Early Spring Show

First little Iris of the season. She is silver-blue and gold. Not more then two inches tall and two inches across her flower head, this little lady will bloom in the snow if need be. She is a bulb and makes a wonderful tiny boarder plant for first season show.