Monday, October 26, 2009

Where the plains meet the mountains

An end to some extensive travelling in the US in Colorado, visiting Lauren Springer and Scott Ogden, consummate plantspeople both, with an immensely richly planted and very naturalistic style garden in the burbs of Fort Collins. Its odd looking at the planting here, as it is such a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar - basically the kind of grass/deciduous/conifer type planting you might see anywhere in northern Europe or much of the US, but with added cacti and agaves.

Its dry here, and although it can jolly cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the reduced moisture level means that it is possible to grow a whole range of plants which would rot in a damper area. Not just possible, but essential, as it is so dry that very little would survive without some irrigation during the growing season.

The Great Plains begin, here - utterly desolate (on a cold day with snow threatening), almost frightening in their emptiness and vastness. No-one seems to want to live here anymore, hardly surprising, and their are deserted houses, whole little townships virtually derelict (including Hereford!), and occasional little cemetries with no sign of any habitation in sight. The short-grass prairie is not much to look at at this time, but instructive to see the visual importance of yuccas, indeed you never feel far from a yucca over vast swathes of the American west.

Short grass prairie at Pawnee Buttes is not that inspiring at this time of year, but there are plenty of flowers May to June.

This is actually quite a nice climate to live in, especially as summer nights are always cool, which Scott thinks is very beneficial to plant growth. Light intensity is incredibly high here (at 1500m in very dry air) so bulbs can perform spectacularly from late winter onwards. The skiing in Boulder where the Rockies begin so dramatically is a pull too, so there are a lot of people living here now - and its seems to be becoming one of those points of good gardening you find in the States; Lauren probably has a lot to do with this, but fundamentally it probably comes down to Panayoti Kelaides, at the Denver Botanic Gardens, a name I have known for years. So nice to meet him at last, for his reputation is truly formidable; an expert on alpine flora, and on natives of the region, and on getting them into cultivation.

So is this just vicarious enjoyment of an exotic garden style? Or can I take something home from here. Probably not me personally, from soggy Herefordshire, but the drought-tolerant look and lessons are a great inspiration for drier parts of the country. It is also useful to see an extreme version of a situation you are familiar with - it somehow emphasises new possibilities and ways of thinking.

Lauren and Scott's book Plant Driven Design, was published by Timber Press earlier this year, and was one of 2009's best garden books.

1 comment:

Kathy Green said...

It is too bad that you could not have come here in July or August, to see the truly magnificent colors of our waterwise gardens. Against the crystal blue skies of Colorado, the blues, pinks, oranges, yellows and purples of the flowers are amazing to look at. Throw in lots of ornamental grasses for texture and flow, and you would find many gardens that would make you want to visit Colorado again and again.