May 13, 2014 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

Allium karataviense var. henrikii  Allium karataviense var. henrikii

All that snow! and the temps have not seemed to drop too much below freezing. My pond at home hasn't had even a skim of ice, and the tender green leaves around town look pretty good. I think we dodged the bullet. The snow paints some lovely pictures around our gardens--like this rare onion from Central Asia in my home garden (you can see the same at Denver Botanic Gardens in the Rock Alpine Garden--shown blooming below in a drift of veronica).

henrikii at DBG  Allium karataviense var. henrikii in the Rock Alpine Garden

This is at the foot of the entrance crevice garden at the Rock Alpine Garden, which is truly amazing right now. I am dazzled at how well plants like to grow in this sort of garden. This one was created by Mike Kintgen, who oversees this and many other gardens at the Gardens, and Adam Burch, who was a seasonal employee at the Gardens. There are now four such crevice gardens at the Gardens--each more amazing than the next.

crevice garden Crevice garden at entrance of the Rock Alpine Garden

Here is the first of these remarkable gardens--filled with literally dozens of treasures. You could spend a long time examining and studying the plants contained herein. Come back in a week--there will be a whole new suite of sweeties!

Lamium garganicumLamium garganicum

Here is one such typical gem--crowning the second large crevice garden in the center of the Rock Alpine Garden. It's hard to believe this beautiful cushion plant is related to the henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) which is such a pestiferous weed in local gardens! This treasure, alas, doesn't even seem to set seed...probably because there is only a single clone.

Lower meadow  Lower meadow

Now that the snow has melted, there will be fabulous displays of color throughout the  Gardens, but the lower meadow of the Rock Alpine Garden full of bright blue camas (Camassia leichtlinii) is one of my favorite spectacles. It should be blazing the rest of the month. If you squint, you can catch a glimpse of the second crevice garden in the middle distance.

Clematis albicoma  Clematis albicoma

Not all the treasures are growing in crevices. This amazing bush clematis is in that lower meadow (albeit at the east end, where it rises into the rock outcropping). Although the ghostly flowers are not terribly colorful, the elegance of form and the siting of this couldn't be more stunning. This rare clematis comes from a very few shale barrens in Appalachia--and yet look how it's taken to cultivation! I am amazed each year to see what intriguing and interesting new plants are added to our collections--most find their debut somewhere in this corner of the Gardens. Rock Gardens are famous for being testing grounds of plants since their many intricate corners and microclimates allow for greater experimentation.

Conservation garden Conservation Ggarden

I am amused to see how rock gardens have managed to crop up all over the Gardens over the decades. This is surely one of the most stunning: the Conservation Garden occupies the north end of the berm that includes the Dwarf Conifer Collection, and consists of an authentic crevice garden designed by Herb Schaal (once Master Planner of the Gardens and the designer of the Rock Alpine Garden. Herb emplyed Niobrara shale to create the naturalistic look of this garden, many of the rare plants contained herein grow naturally on that shale in nature, such as the bright yellow masses of Physaria bellii that grows wild on this same shale only in the outer foothills from Denver to Wyoming. It paints a picture right now!

Children's garden Mordecai Children's Garden

If I had to pick the most spectacular spot at Denver Botanic Gardens in the next month it might have to be the Childrens' Garden, where many visitors never visit (thinking there's a height limit, perhaps?). If you have not visited this masterpiece of garden art (it's adjacent to the parking structure for heaven's sake) you've missed some of the best displays at the Gardens! Do not pass Go, do not collect $200 or even THINK about playing Monopoly until you've scampered on down to our wonderful Childrens' Garden. The masses of wildflowers blooming here in the next two months must be seen to be believed.

I have been amazed to see how well our native plants, especially alpines, thrive in the Green Roof medium. Dozens of rare plants grow lustily here, and self sow, where we have had a hard time growing them elsewhere in the past. The staff and volunteers who tend this garden have done an inspiring job: there's nary a weed to be seen. I never dreamed when the Children's Garden was first planned that it would become such a fantastic venue for growing challenging plants. These are the sort of surprises that have made working at Denver Botanic Gardens a great adventure and a perennial delight.

I hope to see you down here frequently in the coming months--our high season! They call our late winter snows "white fertilizer"--you will see why the next time you visit!


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