A few old-fashioned favorites and romantic names
I was away from my garden over the lovely, wet, gray Memorial Day weekend. In Denver, the peonies are starting their opulent display and there are pretty roses in the unlikeliest places. My delighted 2-year-old granddaughter discovered “baby snowballs” falling from the sky. Of course, Monday morning dawned clear and bright. I am fortunate; I can afford the luxury of enjoying rainy weather instead of mourning a spoiled long weekend.I love to see the progression of the seasons as I travel from the Western slope through the high mountains and down through the foothills to the city. First you go backward toward winter, and then speed ahead into summer. On the slopes around Vail Pass, a white haze of blooming serviceberries, a local amelanchier species, softens the rugged outlines of the scrub oak. My serviceberry in Basalt is already loaded with red-blushed green berries, while near Vail they are still a gleam in the eye of a blossom.There is another wonderful white blooming shrub that is no more native to the Roaring Fork Valley than I am, called Spiraea vanhouttei, the Bridal Wreath Spirea.I fell in love with this rather old-fashioned plant with the romantic name when I first saw it in Aspen in the 1970s. I planted two of them in a high raised bed with our original rocky clay soil. They get full afternoon sun, the occasional shovelful of compost and weekly water. Their raised bed is about 6 feet wide by 17 feet long. If they grow as big as the ones I remember in Aspen, they will eventually fill the bed and trail over the walls.Until they do, I have filled the bare ground around them with flowers like bluets, soapwort, lambs ears and yarrow that spread easily and look pretty. The Bridal Wreath Spireas look a bit wispy, twiggy, and unshapely in early spring, and it takes them awhile to decide that it’s safe to put out leaves, but when they bloom, it is such a complete transformation! The mass of innumerable clusters of very small flowers clotted all along the thin stems weighs them down in the most graceful fountain shape imaginable. I can look down on them from my attic office window, and that works almost as well as coffee.After floating giddily about with the flowering fruit trees and lilacs, my attention is coming back down to earth, where it started with the crocuses. The most beautiful flowers now are the tall bearded irises at the back of the vegetable garden. They are almost worth growing for their names alone – “After the Storm,” “Cinderella’s Coach” and “Fort Apache.” My favorite is a “passalong plant” reputed to have come from the old country with the early immigrants. I don’t know its name but the lovely pale yellow is a perfect foil for the stronger colors.Climbing the steps to the vegetable garden, the irises come into view like a rainbow. Monet’s famous paintings come to mind. The iris is an ancient symbol for rainbow and the origin of the word iridescent. It’s easy to see why. The iris border runs the full length of the vegetable garden in a raised bed. While they are in bloom, the eye skips right over the vegetable patch, which is in any case more soil than vegetable at this point, and settles on the flowers. When the vegetables have grown into a jungle, the cool, rigid blade-like Iris foliage will make a restful backdrop, a tidy low fence.Like lilacs, irises are pretty tough and quite tolerant of drought and neglect. Keep the sprinklers away from the blossoms though (and poppies, too). The rhizomes resemble pale, lumpy sausages with little, stringy roots sticking out of them. Plant them just barely under the ground. Point the fan of foliage in the direction you’d like it to grow. When the rhizomes crowd into gnarly tangles they get stingy with flowers. Time to dig them up, divide them and replant. Or just wedge a weeding knife in there and yank. Give them room to breathe.I can hardly wait to get out into my garden tomorrow. I have a new pair of clippers I want to wield and my lost weeding knife turned up on the bottom of the compost pile. Life is good.Oh, and if for some inexplicable reason you managed to miss the lilac show downvalley, you can still catch it in Aspen.Anna gardens in Basalt and would love to hear about your garden at email@example.com. Please put “Anna’s Garden” in the e-mail subject line.
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