2020-09 Gardens on Spring Creek--Barb Gorges

New gardens planted last summer at the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins are already filling in Aug. 17. They feature flowering plants that do well in our climate, and are undaunted by hail, drought and other difficulties. Barb Gorges/courtesy

Lauren Springer wrote a book in 1994 based on her Colorado gardening experience a few years after moving from the East Coast called “The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-resilient Beauty.” The popular and revised second edition came out in 2010 under the name she used for a few years: Lauren Springer Ogden.

After our experiences this summer in Cheyenne, damaging hail in July and no rain to speak of in August, local flower gardeners may want to look for this book. (Vegetable gardeners, just put up your hail guards and put down drip irrigation.)

Luscious photography illustrates nearly every page, including the lists of plants recommended for various circumstances, including hail, drought, deer, sun, shade. There’s even a chapter titled “Roses for Realists.” The last 45 pages are “Portraits of One Hundred Indispensably Undaunted Plants.”

Lauren designs gardens and gives talks frequently about her favorite plants. I’ve attended two. She takes her own photos, and her garden shots are lush with multiple colors. Was her photography telling the truth about her favorite, death-defying perennials, some native, some exotic?

I decided it was time for a field trip mid-August to see her Undaunted Garden at the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins, Colorado. I saw the potted nursery plants laid out a year ago June and wondered what 14 months’ growth might look like.

A wildland-fire-smoke-shrouded-90-degree-plus Monday morning meant the gardens were nearly empty. Mark and I were allowed to take our masks off outside and saw few volunteers or other visitors.

The last few years, this botanic garden has been in expansion mode, and the largest part of the additional gardens feature the kinds, and their plants, that do well here (and in Wyoming): Rock Garden, Prairie Garden, Foothills Garden, Cactus Garden and Plant Select Garden (Plant Select varieties are chosen for their western hardiness and are available through nurseries).

The gardens all swirl around each other and the Undaunted Garden. Was it colorful? Yes. Was it as colorful as the Color Garden, the one bed devoted to floriferous annuals as thick as sugar frosting, a la Butchart Gardens? No.

But if you are tired of high water bills and leaves turning to mush in hailstorms, give the organic oatmeal raisin cookies of flowering plants another look. The flowers are just as bright and sweet, and if sometimes smaller, can be more profuse and much more likely to avoid hail damage due to their thinner leaves. They don’t need mollycoddling – mostly no fertilizer.

If one of these undaunted plants won’t grow in a certain kind of location for you, reread Lauren’s recommendation and try it in a different kind of spot and put something else in its place.

This morning, as I looked over the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden, I was reminded of this. The irrigation system and intervening plants have created dry “rain shadows,” where plants have died, but other plants have prospered. Recognizing one of the major dry spots, last fall we put a native rubber rabbitbrush in front of the sign. It is doing quite well without irrigation all summer or rain this last month.

There are a couple drawbacks to reducing your irrigation. One is the health of your trees and shrubs. Even the natives are usually found near the creeks, where they can find more water.

And for some reason, weeds grow extremely well and green, even in a drought, so you’ll want to consider covering the soil with drought-resistant, prettier plants.

It used to be we could count the number of days in Cheyenne with temperatures 90 degrees or more on one hand, maybe two. I’ve lost count this summer.

The trend here isn’t getting cooler. The Washington Post featured a map showing areas in the U.S. that have already exceeded two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in average annual temperature between 1895 and 2018, and Laramie County is one of them at 2.1 degrees (3.8 degrees F). Albany and Carbon counties, providing Cheyenne’s water via snowmelt, are 2 (3.6) and 1.8 (3.2), respectively.

You’ve heard that if the global average increase reaches 2 degrees Celsius, sea levels rise. In the West, we get more algae blooms, forest fires, hail and less snow to melt for our water supply, plus nasty insects and plant diseases that survive a warm winter.

Growing an Undaunted Garden is one way to cope – along with solar-powered air conditioning.

Barb Gorges writes a monthly column about the joys and challenges of gardening on the High Plains. Find her past columns at http://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com. Readers are always welcome to contact her with questions and story ideas at bgorges4@msn.com.

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