Urban Garden Denver Blog

Winter: Watching and Waiting

When I left the house early this morning I wasn’t in a contemplative mood. I was task-oriented, on this the first day of winter, with a list to be accomplished. Since I hate traffic and crowds, I ventured out early, even though I wanted to linger in my bathrobe with another cup of tea. I had to scrape ice off the car because I hadn’t parked it in the carport.

As I drove along the creek and greenway, the frozen fog cast the trees and bushes in a magical glow, even here in the midst of the city. I was intent on getting to the store; but I slowed and looked at the wonder of nature. I thought about stopping for a picture, but didn’t want to get off task.frost on evergreen2

Fortunately the crystallized branches still beckoned on my way home, and I pulled over, parked my car, got out and walked around a small park, looking at the beauty of the moment. I wished that I was a better photographer, as I snapped some pictures on my phone/camera. But I knew that the beauty and magic of the frozen moment was more significant than any picture might convey. The significance of the moment wasn’t something I could capture in a picture. Rather it was the act of stopping and looking, of pausing, of seeing. Of putting aside the list and the tasks for long enough to observe and breathe.

We have to look harder in the winter, the moments of light are shorter, but the wonder is there if we have eyes to see.winter shrub w frost


Saying Goodbye to the Season

I intentionally wandered through the flower gardens in the park near my home this week. Enjoying the colors, light, sun and culmination of the blooms that have been putting on a magnificent show all summer. I called this my “goodbye flowers” walk. While I was strolling through the flowers, I bumped into a friend of mine who was also enjoying the flowers and saying goodbye. Another woman overheard us and pressed us for more information, “Will the blossoms really die so quickly?”  She obviously had not spent many seasons in Colorado. She wanted to stop the clock and deny the change.

Butterfly enjoying the last sips of nectar.

Butterfly enjoying the last sips of nectar.

There are two ways we can live with the seasons and passage of time. Regret is one choice. I can regret the coming of cold weather, regret last night’s 28 degree low temperature, regret the dying off of summer annuals.

Or I can embrace the season. Celebrating the beauty that was, and looking for the wonder in the now – in the rich colors of autumn, in the low angle of the sun that highlights these colors, in the need for a blanket at night and grasping of the hot tea cup in the morning. Knowing that the dying of the summer plants adds nourishment to the soil as it rests in the off-season.fall flowers WP

Fall Planting

My garden blog was silent for too long, because I didn’t do much in my garden in August, other than enjoying the blooms. So after a lovely 2 week vacation in the NW, and one week of record rain in Colorado, it is definitely time for fall cleanup and fall planting.

My first step was exerting discipline on my front yard where the salvia, penstemon and coneflowers had reseeded and gone crazy. I still have plenty of these varieties left, but I also cleaned out a bunch of plants to share with friends. And I have added a few moonbeam coreopsis on the border, because I needed more yellow and less purple in the front yard. Also, the coreopsis have a long bloom time, through the late summer and beyond.

Fall is a great time for perennial planting, as they get nicely rooted in before winter and then next spring they will bloom and grow. And many nurseries have perennials on sale this time of year.036

But my favorite fall activity is planting pansies. I love their happy faces throughout the fall, then often they bloom a bit after a light snow melts off. They then bloom again in the spring. This year I dedicated more space to pansies and planted 2 flats. I chose yellow and burgundy for my color palette. And just looking at them brings a smile to my face. While I was planting, a neighbor came by to chat. He mentioned that the word “pansy” should really mean “tough” because that’s what these little flowers are, by blooming on when other flowers die. Nothing wimpy about these flowers. So today, I am celebrating pansies and their happy flower faces.037

Scents of the Season

As I walked up the dark steps from the driveway to the patio, I knew that the star-gazer lily had opened even though I couldn’t see it in the dark –  the scent filled the summer evening. Although I had forgotten to leave the back light on, the smell of the lily welcomed me home. I had been watching the four buds for several days, wondering when I would be treated to the exotic smell.

The fragrant lilies come on the heels of my lavender harvest. This year I decided to share the harvest with several preschool and early elementary children on our block. As I saw neighbors out playing, I invited them to come cut some lavender. With sturdy stalks, the flowers are great for the grip of a small hand, since they don’t break easily.  The flower heads can even survive a little squeeze to release their scent.

Lilies in a pot on my back patio. Notice I didn't clean up the picture my moving the dead leaves - this is a real garden.

Lilies in a pot on my back patio. Notice I didn’t clean up the picture by moving the dead leaves – this is a real garden.

The scent of lilies is unique and short-lived, while the lavender has a longer season and also dries well for more enjoyment. I put cut lavender into a dry vase to enjoy for months. I even put a few sprigs into a pair of shoes that needed freshening up.

Of course, roses are another favorite scent – I always bend down to smell a rose when I walk by – but some are definitely more fragrant than others. I only have a few roses blooming now, and the honeysuckle and peonies are but memories in my scent bank. Sweet memories that will come back next year and the next …

The sense of smell is an amazing gift – and one that I enjoy using in my garden – to delight in the wonder of fragrance. I have many flowers in my garden that are not heavily scented, but having a few focal points for my sense of smell is wonderful.

Keep Conserving Water

The good news in Colorado gardening today is that the Denver Water board decided to lift the mandatory restrictions on watering – which included a set schedule of twice per week watering. Before you rush out and water more, take a look at your garden and see how it is faring. My flowers are looking great, my tiny bit of front lawn is looking ok, and my back lawn looks a bit brown (facing the afternoon sun). So for my yard, I will probably water in a similar pattern, even without the restrictions. The great thing about the lack of restriction is that now if I miss a watering day because I am gone, I can make it up without feeling guilty or sneaking in some hand watering. I recently received my water bill for the period from the end of May through the 3rd week of June. I used exactly the same amount of water as I did last year. So basically, twice a week watering is my norm anyway.

Coreopsis and Day Lilies get by with little extra water.

Coreopsis and Day Lilies get by with little extra water.

Whether or not we have watering restrictions, we are a semi-arid climate where gardens do better with hardy groundcovers, like ice plant, and low-water perennials, such as salvia, penstemons, coreopsis, coneflowers and day lilies. Blue grass lawns are definitely not native and are a luxury here. So it is more responsible to garden and water carefully, and enjoy creating a colorful, flower-filled Colorado garden. I let the city maintain lovely lawns in my nearby park, so I can enjoy my flowers and low water bills.

Roses and Clematis have thrived this spring and summer.

Roses and Clematis have thrived this spring and summer.

Coneflowers enjoy the Colorado sun.

Coneflowers enjoy the Colorado sun.

Undisciplined Growth

My front yard is full of blooms right now. Salvia and several varieties of penstemons create tall spikes of purples, blues and pinks. Coneflowers are getting ready to bloom in the next week or two. In front of the display (theoretically) are verbena and candytuft. Except that over the years, the salvia, penstemon and coneflowers have spread via volunteers, and now there are tall spikes in front of the verbena, and crowding up to the edge of the walkway. If I were a more disciplined gardener, I would pull up the offending plants and exert discipline in my garden, to keep the tall plants in back and the border plants in front. I know this in theory, but I have trouble digging up healthy plants, so I wait.undisciplined blooms

Right now, I have said that I will wait until the plants are done flowering, then I will reshape some of the perennial bed. This is a great idea, but I think I said the same thing last year, and then I never followed through with tough love on the offending plants. Maybe if I had a good place to move the flowers, it would help, but I am definitely running out of space in my garden.

Does anyone want some salvia and penstemon? They are great low-water perennials, free to a good home. They have been loved by their previous gardener, but might need a bit more discipline.


When I look at my little field of poppies in my back garden, I have to smile. Their exuberance symbolizes everything that I love about flower gardens. The wow of a bright splash of color, the buds that seem tight one day and then pop open in the warmth of the spring sun. I was away for 9 days and I came back to a rainbow of colors in my garden. My perennials had fared better than I thought they would with our crazy spring cold snaps. These wonderful days of spring and early summer fuel my flower addiction and I greedily want more of each treasured flower.image

Last week I was in DC for my daughter’s graduation, then we took some days of rest and relaxation on the Eastern shore of Maryland. The warm humidity there meant all the greens were very green, and the flowers were in full bloom – peonies, roses, iris and more. But what surprised me about the gardens in the area we were staying was their restraint. Perhaps it is the east coast personality, but if I had the expanse of yard that they had, I would not stop with 2 rose bushes and a batch of iris, I would have large sweeps of flowers breaking up the expanse of lawn. While the yards were lovely, many of them lacked an exuberant celebration of color.

This weekend I am savoring the beauty of my garden, sipping iced tea and gazing at my poppies.

Spring Wins!

Two weeks ago, when it was snowing on May 1st, I drafted a blog post but didn’t publish it because I was just too discouraged. Now, it looks like spring is winning! The moisture of April and early May along with the sunshine of the last week has caused many spring perennials to burst into bloom. Right now I am enjoying blue flax, verbena, candytuft, basket of gold, creeping veronica, mat daisy and more. And I am encouraged that some of the plants exhibiting frost damage might bloom. My iris patch has several buds visible, even though the foliage was severely nipped by the April freezes. And I am holding out hope for my lilacs. This morning I sniffed a neighbor’s lilac which has just started blooming, and my lilacs have buds that look alive.mat daisy and basket gold parking strip

The change of seasons is inevitable. We don’t control the timing, but eventually winter ends. This is great news for my garden, where all the possibilities have been stored up and are now bursting forth. It is also good news for my soul, because even in a winter season, there is an inevitability of spring coming, just not always on our time schedule.

I did a huge amount of garden cleanup last weekend, projects that I would normally space out over several weeks or even a month, but since the weather had always been bad on my days off, and I was away a few Saturdays, there were lots of “must do” chores. But the cleanup was a joy because I could see the buds coming out, under the weeds and dead foliage from last year.

I am looking forward to my little field of poppies blooming in the next few weeks – the buds are heavy with possibility.

Creeping Veronica along sidewalk

Creeping Veronica along sidewalk

Get outside today and enjoy the fact that spring won!

Winter into Spring

It’s been a rough few weeks in the garden, with wild temperature fluctuations, wet heavy snow and bud-nipping cold. And today is warmer (above freezing) and the snow is melting into the greening grass. During weeks like this, sometimes it feels like spring won’t actually follow winter.

That same feeling has been present in my circle of relationships over the last few weeks, as I have shared tears with those struggling with circumstances outside of their control. Will spring actually come?

And the global news has also caused us to question – with mind-boggling events that cause worry and weeping. Will spring actually come?

As I felt the sun warm my skin today on my walk, and saw the buds of daffodils and tulips struggling to stand upright, I knew. Spring will come, it most certainly will. But we can’t control exactly when. Winter into spring. Then spring into summer, and summer into fall. Each follows the other, even if storms seem to interrupt the cycle.

Spring will come. The flowers will turn their faces toward the sun and gain strength from the moist soil, and spring will come.

The Dandelions Survived

I’m not sure which of my flowering shrubs, trees or perennials will bloom this season – since they have all been nipped by our unseasonably cold temperatures. Snow in April is not unusual in Denver, but several nights of low temperatures in the teens the last few weeks are unusual and potentially damaging for spring blooms. But as the snow has melted off my grass, the dandelions have definitely survived the cold. The fate of the rest of my spring blossoms will need to unfold, literally, over the next few weeks. I guess my garden chore today is digging dandelions, since I don’t like to use poison.

Healthy dandelions!

Healthy dandelions!

However, in addition to my dandelions (which I would not have mourned had they died), I was pleasantly surprised to find two creeping veronica plants blooming. I had planted six new plants last summer, but our dry fall and winter took their toll (and I didn’t water enough). I know this isn’t a great success rate, but they are in my parking strip area where plants need to be tough to survive and where I do very little supplemental watering. So finding them alive and blooming this morning was a great encouragement.

The rest of my survey of the garden left me uncertain. There are buds on the lilacs, but I can’t tell if they are frozen or alive. The iris and daylily foliage is showing definite signs of frost damage, but hopefully the blossoms will emerge. The candytuft looks healthy and ready to bloom. And of course, my pansies also survived the snow and are looking perky and moist along my front walkway. And I am hopeful that my tulips which were broken down by the weight of the snow will straighten toward the sun and bloom.

Creeping Veronica

Creeping Veronica

This spring is going to be a mixed bag in the garden, but I am going to celebrate each blossom, knowing how precious it is. And I’m going to try to take the long view and know that there will be future springs as well. I am working on content for a retreat on “seasons of the soul” and I have been exploring the soul dimensions of winter-spring-summer-fall. One of my fundamental assumptions is that we experience all the seasons of the soul, but we can’t control the progression or timing, only our reaction. So I will choose to celebrate each blossom.