Saturday, June 12, 2010

Native Plant Master Course

Through Colorado State University and Larimer County Extension I recently participated in (and passed!) the Native Plant Master class at Lory State Park. The class was led by Dr. Tony Knight of CSU who taught us to identify about 50 native plants using the taxonomic guide Colorado Flora: Eastern Slope, 3rd Edition by William A. Weber and Ronald C. Wittmann. This was quite an experience since Weber (as this botanical bible is known) is not a picture guide but it incorporates taxonomic keys that one uses to work one's way down plant characteristics from the proper family down to the species. No pretty color pictures! Just science. We learned on the Lory State Park trails with Dr. Knight who, thankfully, would give us a common name first to visually hang onto but would then delve into the botanical characteristics and identification using a botanical key and scientific names. We reviewed ecological relationships including non-native species, noxious weeds and relationships with wildlife, pollinators.

Species such as Golden Banner, Thermopsis divaricarpa, at left, were compared to Dalmatian Toadflax, Linaria dalmatica, below. Both are in the pea family, Fabaceae, have similar growth habits and have beautiful yellow blossoms. I've seen Golden Banner used in city gardens to good effect and of course it looks fabulous growing up hillsides in the wild. The Dalmatian Toadflax also looks beautiful in its natural setting yet Linaria dalmatica is a noxious weed in Colorado and Thermopsis divaricarpa, a wonderful native plant.

We got a bit of botany, lots of information, lovely green views of the park, Horsetooth Reservior and Fort Collins, and foothills hikes looking at plants with experts. For more information regarding the Native Plant program check out More of the courses are being held at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and up the Poudre Canyon at Young Gulch. Another bookmarkable site is where the photos at right, taken by Ernie Marx, can be found. This site is an unbelieveable resource for those of us who need photos of plants to get us started on identification.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dogs and Gardens: The Reality

Questions I get from dog owners usually start with the words "How can I get my dog to not . . . " While I leave the dog training to professionals, I can share some ideas I've found that allow me to have some peace with my dogs in my yard. The best tip I have for being able to enjoy both your dog and your garden together is to observe your dog's natural behavior and then incorporate it (not fight it!) into your plans for your yard.

For instance, dogs are natural trail makers; that is, they follow the same paths around your yard as they go about patrolling their territory. One place most dog owners fret about dog trails is along fences, especially if there are other dogs beyond the boundary. Any plant along the fence gets trampled and the traffic will leave a muddy rut that won't go away. If your yard is big enough, you can plant a hedge that shields the fence trail from view. Or, you can use large flagstone pieces or pre-cast concrete steppers for the trail along the fence. Clear the area (if your dog has not already) and lay the stones on top on the ground, or dig them in for a more finished appearance, along the entire fence line that your dog uses. The idea is to use pieces heavy enough so that your dog can't dislodge them when running over them. Smaller rocks will spew into the lawn and disappear; smaller, sharp gravel will hurt dog paws. Other things not to use: landscape fabric; pea gravel; 3/4 inch gravel; grass; or ground covers.

Also on the most-asked list is about dogs digging in the garden. My experience with this includes two dogs digging up, over time, about an acre looking for who knows what, leaving a landscape looking like it had been mined. And, one dog digging up six raised beds in a vegetable garden one July evening while I was in town (see culprit at left). I can't say that I met these actions with a peaceful, accepting demeanor but I did learn what to do the next time. In my present yard, I fence the vegetable garden with lightweight, movable fencing from the time I start to clean up the patch for planting. Because, what dog can resist the soft, moist dirt of a new garden? Ever? For the rest of the yard, I think my dogs were mainly looking for a place to cool off, so I gave them one. Mo Gilmer calls these summer flop spots which I think is the perfect description. I chose a place along the shady east side of my house under the eaves; wait, my dog Patsy Cline chose it, really, I just followed her lead. I dug out a shallow pit and filled the bottom with sand, Gilmer's tip so the spot doesn't become muddy. Then I keep the area moist with a daily mist from the hose or edge spray from the sprinkler. Patsy hangs out there most of the day now, digging around in it to get at the cooler soil deep down.

And the most asked question about dogs and yards? How to stop/deal with/prevent/protect from urine spots in the grass? Quick answer: you can't. There're lots of urban legends out there but it's the nitrogen concentration in the urine that causes the problem. The spots are most noticeable in highly fertilized lawns so back off or eliminate the lawn fertilizer. That would benefit your dog's health, too.

Those dogs in the photos? My teachers, Pecos Bill, top; and Patsy Cline, below. Photos by Gina Burkhardt.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Pet-Friendly Garden airs on KRFC 88.9

Join Jill Reynolds of Canine Massage of the Rockies, hosting me on KRFC's Critter Patter Thursday, April 29, 6:30pm, as we discuss the Pet-Friendly Garden. I'll offer some tips on sharing your yard and garden with your dog while keeping your sanity and your beautiful garden intact. My emphasis will be incorporating observations of natural dog behavior with strategies that embrace that behavior rather than fighting it. If you can't catch the show, you can still find the information here next week when I post the tips. You'll miss Jill's expert advice and generous sharing of her extensive experience with dogs and their behavior, though. So tune in for the whole she-bang!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Free Cookie Giveaway April 24-25

Well, OK, there'll be homemade cookies at the Ask a Designer event at the Fort Collins Nursery Open House this weekend, April 24-25. And I'll be there with free garden design advice, enthusiasm, and ideas. The goodies, my famous sage shortbread cookies, will, however, steal the show and the garden advice will just be an adjunct. It'll be fun, though, so join me and others at the open house this weekend. Lots of things are blooming at the nursery already and I can guarantee that you'll be stricken with the gardening muse and will want to start planting.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tuning the Pruning

Early spring is the time to prune shrubs that don't flower in the spring, or ones with insignificant blooms that you don't mind pruning off. Spring blooming shrubs such as forsythia and lilac should be pruned after they bloom. Diseased, damaged or dead branches are the first to go no matter what time of year. Plants such as dogwoods here in Colorado thrive on the rejuvenation pruning gives them because it stimulates new branch growth and the new red, or yellow depending on the variety, branches are what gives the shrub its interest and beauty. Pruning is also used in thinning and shaping a shrub or containing it in size. There are right and wrong ways to prune so if you're in doubt, get advice from an expert.

Recently I got to hear from an expert plantsman, Tom Throgmorton of Throgmorton Plant Management about these and other pruning tips. His excellent talk at Fort Collins Nursery was very informative and accessible. You can catch him again April 10 at the Shrub Pruning Workshop at the Gardens on Spring Creek, Fort Collins, Colorado Go and learn!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blue Dawn

Spring snow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Winter into Spring

Perhaps it is the knowledge that Spring will be here shortly that enables me to savor the colors of the late winter landscape in Colorado. Sometimes the view can be a broad one, looking out over a frozen pond at sunset—the grays and browns of leafless cottonwoods, the straw color of dormant native grasses and dark, deep greens and blues of the conifers contrast with a very soft pink, peach, apricot sky streaked with silky yellow and cream clouds. I marvel at the range of subtle colors. Or the view can be up close, small, focused, like the photo above. 
The winter garden is full of things to discover. And I find that the winter garden invites a quiet serenity, a peacefulness, an invitation to slow down and contemplate small aspects of the whole vista. The abundance of summer and fall has died back so details of the landscape can be seen, such as combinations of textures in the rocks and boulders, dried grasses (Mexican Feather Grass is shown here), dormant basel crowns and, even mulch. The eye can rest on one spot that is part of the symphony of the whole. Small, seemingly random design details such as this vignette will give a garden winter interest and keep your visual interest up until the landscape moves into another range of color palettes in Spring. And yes, it’s coming…I can smell it!

Blog Title-itis
The sublimely clever, winning blog title "Words of Weedsdom" was submitted by Joy Harper of Colorado Springs, Colorado. For her wittiness, Joy wins a custom inspiration consultation for her uniquely designed back yard.