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March 24, 2012 | Matt Cole, Director of Education

I didn't realize until now that I visited four public gardens last week.  Naturally, I saw something different at each, and more remarkably, I had my camera with me.  I hadn't planned to compare the four, but why not?  Four Gardens in different places between central Denver and the Chatfield area really illustrate how different spring appears in different places all across the front range.  The challenge is that spring gardens move really fast.  Plants may hover on the cusp for a long time, then--whoosh--rush through several stages and are hurrying towards the end of bloom.

The first garden, Denver Botanic Gardens on York street, was the reason I popped my camera in to my jacket pocket.  I felt sure I would see something new, and image helps me remember what I've seen later on.  My favorite was the dark purple Iris rising out of the bed of Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'.  If you know these plants, you may get the visual pun--it looks like a stonecrop has developed an iris bloom.  The lilac buds were swelling, the Helleborus held its bloom and the snowdrops (Galanthus) were up.  For those of us without impressive bulb displays at home, its clear that different plants will be coming into bloom for some time.  For those with a real penchant to know what's likely to come up, try the new Gardens Navigator and the What's in bloom function.

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The second one was Hudson Gardens and Event Center.  A smaller, more locally known public garden, it has an enviable position backing up almost to the Platte.  I didn't get to see its garden railroad running,  but that will come with the season.  And the season clearly is different here.  Bulbs were showing their heads, but not blooming like they were in Denver itself. (That was days and days ago--they're likely to be up now.) There were some mammals making the most of the day: I captured (in photography) one rabbit calmly nibbling the grass.  Although it was far more interested in the grass than in me, neither it nor its cousins let me get very close.  I also spotted moss making the most of the spring.  While it may never be a photograph that you would write home about, I was thrilled to see what was in this picture (second row, middle picture).  The dry green of the moss leaves is interrupted by a few brown streaks, the stalks of growing sporophytes.  The sporophytes produce--what else?--the spores that spread moss to the world.  My camera didn't have the power to resolve the tiny capsules well.  But I thought it did okay with the red of the dogwood standing out in front of the much larger trees behind it.  That kind of color, the tint of the twig, has become much more important to me as I have seen more gardens over the years.  It can also vary seasonally, and might be one of your standing excuses to go for a walk, long before the rest of your landscape is willing to admit that spring will come.

Third was Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield.  Spring is definitely different.  The fern bush (Chamaebataria millefolium) had a few green leaves, the cottonwoods did not.  Deer creek was happily gurgling along.  Spring was definitely present, but look at the grey branches of the woods.  Its not bursting out in joy, so colorful and green it hurts, like many of us remember spring on the East coast. This is a restrained Rocky Mountain spring, led by plants whose ancestors weathered early thaws and unseasonably late freezes. Spring is a chance to thrive, a few days of warmth, a dampness in the soil and a gurgle in the creek that promise abundance to come, if not the cornucopia of wetter climates.

The last was Denver Water's Xeriscape Garden, a demonstration garden surrounding the Denver Water administration building.  It is not designed to for a particularly strong spring bloom, so its charms are those of plants waking up, not of bulbs or spring ephemerals.  But there is green here in the leaves of Mahonia and other water-wise evergreens.  It reminds you that a garden is year round, not merely when your favorites come into bloom.  The trees preparing to bloom and leaf are just another stage in a cycle, rather than the riot of color we might consider a spring display.

But just because its more subtle does not mean that spring is not in your garden or your neighborhood. Across denver and the front range its here.  It just looks different. I'll admit too, some enthusiasts (me) get excited about signs (moss sporophytes) that many others will not.  But its a perfect time to check on your own spring.  Don't wait.  Tomorrow will be different.


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