Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Afternoon Garden Club

Begonia ssp

It’s FAC time in The Art Garden! Grab your favorite beverage and pull up a chair. You didn’t really want to work this afternoon anyway, did you? Leave a comment to join the garden party.

Today’s topic:

Do you focus on indoor gardening during the winter months? What plants are in your home right now? Is important to you that they flower, or is beautiful foliage or edibility your goal?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Behind the Scenes

My Monday morning desk

As a landscape designer in a cold climate region I am often asked, “What do you do in the winter?” I usually respond with a flippant, “Goof off!” And to some extent, I do. This is the time of year when Jim and I usually schedule a road trip or two, and I also spend time indulging in my love of fiber craft (right now I’m on a knitting jag).

However, I’m also seriously busy working on my business. Marketing, preparing Power Point presentations for lectures, presenting those lectures, cataloging hundreds of photographs taken throughout the year, attending educational conferences, networking with fellow landscape professionals, reading up on new plants and trends for the coming season, reading magazines, books and blogs for inspiration----well, you get the point. This is the time of year when I catch up and plan for the busy season to come so that I can devote myself to my clients with confidence.

Oh, yeah, it’s time to do my taxes too!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Afternoon Garden Club

It's FAC time in The Art Garden! Grab your favorite beverage and pull up a chair. You didn’t really want to work this afternoon anyway, did you?Leave a comment to join the garden party.

Today's topic:

Do you watch gardening shows on TV? Do you find them inspirational or frustrating? Does your favorite show reflect the growing conditions and or lifestyle of your region?

Nelumbo nucifera

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Friday Afternoon Garden Club

It's FAC time in The Art Garden! Grab your favorite beverage and pull up a comfy chair. You didn’t really want to work this afternoon anyway, did you? Leave a comment to join the garden party.

Today's topic:

Do you consider yourself a plant collector? What‘s the focus of your collection---lots of different kinds of plants, or an assortment of species or cultivars of a particular favorite? Is your collection based on flower or foliage color?

Datura wrightii

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's all about the Dirt

Soil is the solution. For too many years we have been content to give just a passing thought to the soil in our gardens. Sure, many of us have a basic grasp of the concept of soil texture--- the proportional content of sand, clay and silt in a given soil ---but too often we just assume that because we’re in Colorado we are working with clay. We also assume that a simple, standardized formula for applying organic matter is the miracle cure for every site. Not so fast.

I believe that as we embrace the concept of regional landscaping, soil will prove to be the core focus around which all else revolves. Plant selection, water management and other resource allocations will all be more tightly tuned to work harmoniously with existing site conditions. Therefore, it’s time to ramp up our knowledge and understanding of soil.

Did you know that soil is classified and given very specific, identifying names just like plants? Names like Ascalon-Otero complex, Nunn sandy clay loam and Big Blue clay loam. Did you know that there are more than 20,000 different kinds of soils and that more are being discovered every day? (My brother-in-law, a soil scientist with the NRCS, is currently mapping Humboldt County California, an area notorious for its rugged redwood forests and marijuana plantations. That’s an adventure!) This chart* shows the correlation between plant classification and soil classification:

Plant Classification= Soil Classification

Phylum= Order


Subclass= Great Group

Order= Subgroup

Family= Family

Genus= Series

Species= Phase

*adapted from The Nature and Properties of Soils, 8th edition, Nyle C. Brady

Once you identify the specific soil in your garden you can learn more about its characteristics. Only then can you make meaningful decisions about how to best manage it. Call the CSU Cooperative Extension in your county for information on their soil testing services and dig in!

You may also be interested in this upcoming event:

The third annual Sustainable Landscaping Symposium will take place at Denver Botanic Gardens on Thursday, March 4, 2010, hosted by the Front Range Sustainable Landscaping Coalition, Denver Botanic Gardens, and the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (find them in the Links section of this page). This year’s theme is Down and Dirty: The Scoop on Soil.

The keynote speaker this year is David Montgomery. Mr. Montgomery is a Macarthur Genius Grant awardee, a geomorphologist, and the author of the acclaimed book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear him speak in Denver you will find him both thought-provoking and inspiring.

Other sessions will feature:

  • Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator and Director of Outreach at Denver Botanic Gardens, on how our soils have shaped life along the Front Range ;
  • Kelly Grummons of Timberline Gardens on living soils;
  • a panel discussion including Jim Borland , Mikl Brawner, and other horticulture and urban agriculture experts from our region
  • extended breaks to give you the opportunity to meet and network with each other and visit with our sponsors.

For just 3 weeks, we are offering a special ‘stimulus rate’ – a full day registration for the discounted price of $75 ($10 off this year’s regular rate). This includes a continental breakfast and buffet lunch. The discounted rate is only available now through January 31, 2010.

Please visit and find this event in our online calendar, or call 720-865-3580 to take advantage of this discount. The registration fee will go up to $85 on February 1. Registration after March 1 will be $100.

Note: parts of this post were originally written for/published in Colorado Green magazine and have been reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Garden Designers' BlogLink: Celebrating regional diversity with the plants and gardens of Denver

Today I’m joined by twelve fellow landscape professionals from across the US to discuss the concept of regional landscaping and to celebrate the diversity of plants and design across the nation. Much has been said in the past few years about the homogenization of America; that the proliferation of large, corporate developments have driven out the small retailers, boutique restaurants, and interesting architecture that make neighborhoods, cities, and regions unique. The same can be said about our landscapes of wall-to-wall turf grass lawns and tightly manicured foundation plantings. This is changing, and regional landscaping is alive and well here in the Denver metropolitan area!

Since 1980, when Denver Water first coined the term Xeriscape, to today’s hue and cry of “sustainability,” the selection of commercially available native and adaptable plants for landscaping has exploded. Thanks to the efforts of folks like Panayoti Kelaidis of Denver Botanic Gardens, David Salman of High Country Gardens, and the Plant Select program, we now have plants chosen from regions around the world that specifically reflect our high plains biome. Extreme temperature fluctuations, high winds, low humidity, high UV exposure, and soils lacking in organic matter are all challenges to plant survival here. These new plant introductions enrich, enliven and expand our native plant palette and allow us to be truly creative in designing our outdoor environments while maintaining a conservative approach to water use. Here are a few of my favorites:

Fallugia paradoxa, Apache plume

Dalea purpureum, prairie clover

Helianthus maximiliana, Maximilian's sunflower

Agastache rupestris, Sunset hyssop

Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet, creeping hummingbird trumpet

With the new abundance of appropriate plant choices has come the question of “appropriate design.” Is it important to create and advocate a regionally specific design style for landscapes and gardens? No; I disagree with this concept for several reasons:

1. The idea of an entire city, or even just my own neighborhood, consisting solely of reproduction prairies would be just as aesthetically sterile as a sea of bluegrass lawns and junipers. Diversity of design creates visual complexity, richness, and interest. Just as bio-diversity creates healthier ecosystems, design diversity contributes to a better quality of life.

2. I also believe that good landscape design is site specific. Trying to produce the same kind of garden for a small, shady, tree filled, urban home site that I would create for a large, open, sunny, wind-swept suburban site is ridiculous! Plant selection as well as the way space is organized and used is always fluid, always changing from place to place.

3. Last, but certainly not least: I’m being paid by my clients to create a landscape for them, one that reflects their lifestyle and their preferences. Need to accommodate kids and pets? Check. Want to reflect your home’s mid-century modern architecture? Can do. Prefer to keep it low maintenance? No problem.

Personal, functional, beautiful, and eco-friendly are always my goals as a designer. With regionally appropriate plants as my medium, I can sculpt the gardens of my (clients') dreams.

Here are photos from three local parks that all use regionally appropriate plants yet have very distinctive design styles:

Kendrick Lake Park, in Lakewood, is the premier showcase of xeric plants in a garden like setting.

Commons Park, along the Platte River, replicates a native prairie/riparian environment. The European style entry serves as a transition from the adjacent urban neighborhood.

Centennial Gardens, also in the Platte River Parkway, is an example of very formal garden created with xeric plants and regional hardscape materials. Although not typical for this region, formal design principles can often be used successfully in small spaces or with spare, contemporary architecture.

The following photos are private home sites I designed that incorporate regionally appropriate plants that are site and owner specific:

The new home of an avid gardener on a small urban site. A wide spectrum of plants grouped to reflect similar water needs.

New planting for a low maintenance, live-in landscape.

Lots of shade, drainage issues, and a love of veggies guided the design for this garden.

Thanks for visiting me here at The Art Garden, and I hope you’ll enjoy more of this virtual tour celebrating regional diversity. Click on the links below to continue the journey. Happy gardening!

PS The photo at the top of the post? That’s my backyard!

Susan Cohan/Susan Cohan Gardens (Chatham, NJ) at Miss Rumphius’ Rules

Michelle Derviss/Michelle Derviss landscape Design (Novato, CA) at Garden Porn

Tara Dillard (Stone Mountain, GA) at Landscape Design Decorating Styling

Dan Eskelson/Clearwater Landscapes (Priest River, ID) at Clearwater Landscapes Garden Journal

Scott Hokunson/Blue Heron Landscape Design (Granby, CT) at Blue Heron Landscapes

Susan L. Morrison (San Francisco Bay Area) at Blue Planet Garden Blog

Pam Penick/Penick Landscape Design (Austin, TX) at Digging

Laura Schaub/Schaub Designs Fine Gardens (San Jose, CA) at Interleafings

Susan Schlenger/Susan Schlenger Landscape Design (Charlottesville, VA) at Landscape Design Advice

Genevieve Schmidt (Arcata, CA) at North Coast Gardening

Ivette Soler/(Los Angeles, CA) at The Germinatrix

Rebecca Sweet/Harmony in the Garden (San Francisco, CA) at Gossip in the Garden

Monday, January 04, 2010


I'm busy working on a super secret project! To be revealed on Wednesday, 1:00pm EST. Stay tuned...

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

The new year came in bright and chilly, perfect for a walk around Sloan's Lake for a bit of birding. Binoculars and ID book in hand, we headed out. A walking / biking pathway encircles this popular urban lake in an easy, three mile loop. Most of the water is frozen over, but there were a few open areas where water fowl congregated.

Of course we saw the ubiquitous Canadian goose doing what they do best, chewing up the grass and crapping everywhere.
Jim has great binoculars, so we were able to see and identify a number of different water birds (a telephoto lens for my camera is on my wish list with a capital W!). There wasn't anything too unusual to report, but we did see: mallards, common mergansers, hooded mergansers (stunning!), northern shovelers, and American coots, which are oddly chicken-like.
A piece of sculpture on the SW leg of the lake has an "eye" for viewing the lake (looking to the north-west.) I love looking through to the more focused vista beyond.

A fun and invigorating start to the new year. Now on to the couch and the football games!