Colorado Day 9 - Breckenridge


Note: This series of blogs are now written well after the Colorado trip. It is amazing to find oneself in areas that do not have reliable internet access or where there are better things to do. So I hiked and photographed and explored and put aside my laptop. I will now continue to recount the tale, but at a pace a full time day job and evenings with many projects will permit...

A Visit with Jane Hendrix

When my friend Anne heard I as visiting the Colorado Mountains, she said "You must visit Jane Hendrix and see her garden. She grows great alpines. We hear from her on the NARGS forum quite a bit. She is very knowledgeable. And her pictures are outstanding." So we made arrangements. Jane graciously not only opened her garden to us, but offered to guide us up the mountain from her back yard.

Let me diverge here to offer yet another reason to join NARGS (North American Rock Garden Society): like minded gardeners. When you join NARGS you have access to a list of members who open their gardens in locations around the world. These gardens are all unique as well as being some of the finest gardens worldwide. They range from small private sanctuaries to large botanic parks, with quite a few estate gardens in between. The common theme throughout is great gardeners with a keen interest in plants.

Our first day in Breckenridge started with some sun, but not enough to help us jump start out of bed. I spotted a doe in the back yard as we breakfasted. Ugh, forest rats are here too! But it was hard not to soften at the scene. After all this was the deer's forest. We headed off to Jane's after a quick trip to the market in town. Turned out, Jane's place was a little more difficult to find than usual. There has been so much rain that roads and bridges washed out. And our GPS failed! We arrived a little late, but found her patiently waiting.
Mountain View Experimental Gardens
Clouds were beginning to crowd the sky so we decided not to stop at her garden first. Rather we would take a good look on the way back. Just out her back door was a lush wet meadow. As we trod through
grass, I thought of times long ago in the California mountain meadows. But this was a little different - more moisture. Perhaps the beavers are just more active here. At any rate, the mertensia was very lusty, and even of an all-pink variety.
Mertensia ciliata
We continued along the path. Oh look, it's my favorite Trollius- laxus albiflorus. Do you grow it? I am still trying in my northeast garden. If I lived in the mountains of Colorado, this would be a first choice plant.
Trollius laxus albiflorus
Down and around we curved as we walked, checking out the meadow. The dodecatheons were knee high and prime.
Dodecatheon pulchellum
At last we saw the beaver dam, which kept that beautiful meadow moist. Yes, and we saw there was a little tree damage from the beetles. It looks sad. But I guess beetles get a natural cycle of life too. "Wood from the beetle-killed is scheduled to be used for either board lumber or wood pellets for home heating.  The Forest Service lands that are accessible by road will be cut by commercial loggers.  The rest of the dead trees will stand until they fall in the normal course of nature's cycling.  While they are standing, they will reduce the hazard of a disastrous crown fire by keeping the forest canopy open with their large, spreading, fire-resistant branches...dead trees are not more fire-prone than living trees.  The opposite is actually the truth." Jane noted.
Beaver Pond
We followed our intrepid leader up an old miner's road through the hillside. Imagine the life of miner, working to clear a path through the forest a hundred years ago. Think of the tools with which you had to work. Ok, granted, most of them are a little more substantial than what we have today. But at the very least you had to lug them from where they were sold to your remote forest hill. And be able to repair them. Then as you cleared, you built stone walls through the woods, and moved your wagon and supplies up the hill to the mine. That was all just to get to the source of your dig. Then you spent your time panning icy streams, or digging caverns in the earth. What a life! But these men helped settle the West. My gratitude goes to them.
Miner's road
Last winter's snow level was pretty easy to spot once we saw this tree. A porcupine ate the nutritious bark for a midwinter snack. Jane taught us to id spruce (square) and fir (flat) along the way.
Porcupine munchies
We made it to the hut in record time. What a great place to find on a remote mountain hillside. It was moved here and rebuilt for the winter ski season. How romantic - a hideaway for some winter holiday rendezvous! Lunch was well deserved and very tasty. It was clouding over a bit so we decided to head back instead of continuing to more alpine regions.
Hallelujah Hut
On the way, Jane showed us a little patch of calypso. This is an orchid we also find on the east coast, but not often. It prefers higher elevations and is circumpolar. She showed us a stand of over 30 stalks, but they were all past bloom. Luckily there was a loner at a darker edge of the forest. It saluted us we as strode by.
Calypso bulbosa
Rumblings began in the mountains to the west. Down the mountain we moved quickly and found new miner's trails.
Miner's Road
At last we were back at Jane's back yard. Can you see yourself looking at this in the morning when you get out of bed? What a treat. Even on a gray day like this one, there is an intensity of joy from seeing the castillejas. And for good measure, and a little balance, throw in some purple lupines.
Castilleja miniata
By the time we reached her house, the sky began to drip. I managed to get a couple of shots of the garden- more of that wonderful dodecatheon, mixed with a great collection of primula. Everything in the garden was growing with gusto. Even Chionophila jamesii was blooming, though it was too dark by the time I saw it to get a good photo. What a great grower she is.
Dodecatheon in the garden with primula
Penstemons were blooming very well - especially this hybrid. I have seen it in a few gardens, but none more well grown.

Penstemon 'Breitenbush Blue'
The final pièce de résistance was this outstanding example of senecio. I never knew I could love another yellow daisy quite so much.
Senecio amplectans holmii
Then the weather became overpowering, yielding a full scale downpour. We retreated inside to wait out the worst of it. Jane and her husband Klaus were most hospitable. They regaled us with tea and winter tales of bears checking out the snow to see if it was high enough...looking to jump to the second story bird feeder.

We were lucky enough to purchase some booklets Klaus and Jane had published. It turned out these were my best field guides. Easy to pack and weighing much less than my reference books, they were tucked into the backpacks for day trips.

To see the entire adventure with many more photos of the plants, follow this link A Visit with Jane

Colorado Day 8 - Betty Ford Rock Garden

Ipomopsis aggregata
Ipomopsis aggregata
Note - click on the photos to enlarge
After our pleasant family visit with son Tim and his fiancee Kate, we were off to the high mountains and the winter ski resort town of Breckenridge. This was the first time I was to visit the alpines of Colorado above treeline. As our car meandered the climb out of Steamboat, my ears started popping. They kept it up for a good hour. Our path led us on the road less traveled, to the south and west, on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide, so as to stop at Vail on the way. Surprisingly everything was green and lush to at least 10,000 feet. Finally we crested and followed various creeks down to the river valley. On the roadside, blue penstemons, yellow eriogonums and red ipomopsis were putting on a spectacular display. We took a few plant-spot-breaks, which yielded a wealth of found treasures. One favorite was the hillside covered in delphiniums, shimmering purple to pink in the breeze. Another had a gulch filled with salmon colored ipomopsis. Slowly we descended down rolling forested hills to see the mythic Colorado River itself. How impressive it looked after all the little creeks we traveled beside. Even the Yampa River was not as stately.

Soon after we crossed, we came upon I 70, and back into the 21st century traffic. As we were running a little late, we did no make any more stops until Vail and the Betty Ford Garden.
Betty Ford Garden welcome
The walk down to the garden was a little deceptive. We had to pass the Ford amphitheater and the meadow that tapered to the creek. Where were the alpines? Not to fear. The alpine garden was at the end, and more than I had imagined. Yet another mountain garden unique unto itself. I had been enraptured with Jardin botanique alpin du Lautaret in the French Alps, setting it as my favorite. But this garden was very special in its own way.
Entrance to the rock garden
Particularly enchanting were the troughs at the entrance, with paving looking almost choreographed, and rustic settings. With a tag to reference each region, troughs were filled with alpines from some of my favorite places. I had been looking for a reference for this area in particular.
Colorado Rocky Mountain trough
Here, finally I found Aquilegia caerulea. To my surprise Papaver kluanense is a native! From memory, I had thought of it as only Alaskan, but turns out its range extends down into New Mexico.

Alps trough

The trough dedicated to the Alps pointed out to me what a difference growing conditions make. The edelweiss grew tight and was truly nanum. This is as opposed to what grows quite lanky in my home garden.
Andean Cordillera trough
It was hard not to drool at the Andean trough. I did not see any rosulate violas, but was sure they could grow should some arrive.
Eschscholzia caespitosa
And look, someone was growing my favorite eschscholtzia, which shone in the bright mountain sun.

Rock Garden
One of the first things I noticed was my shortness of breath at this altitude - 8250 feet. The claim is, this is the highest botanical garden. The plants did not seem to mind the lack of O2 at all. It was not the snails pace at which my legs would carry me that was the bother. It took a while for my mind to focus to properly appreciate the plants!
Eriogonum ovalifolium
But I had no problem spotting old favorites. This eriogonum does grow in similar habit to ones in my garden in Goshen. Do you grow it? It's another good do-er with a long period of bloom.
Eriogonums and Penstemons
No matter what the altitude, this penstemon sparkles. And when set off by a pale flowered buckwheat, my heart rejoiced.
Androsace sarmentosa 'Chumbyi'
This androsace is another of my favorite plants grown at home. However, again I see the difference altitude can make in its form.
Clematis fremontii

the Rock Garden bun walk

along down the alpine walk
I don't know the age of most of these huge buns. But surely they are all happy doers.
Asperula bordered with Campanla
When I saw this asperula bloom in so many of the Czech gardens, I thought no one here in the US could compete. This has changed my mind.
Acantholimon trojanum
Everything seemed to grow well here. Do I keep repeating that? Just look at the size of this bun of an acantholimon. Wow.
western US Opuntia with Penstemon pinifolius backdrop

Edraianthus pumilio ?
Lilium columbianum
Shady areas held some goodies too. This lily glade was a great place to get out of the sun. Yes, at this altitude, it did not help to overheat. Forewarned, I made sure to drink plenty of water. But it seemed to me I was spending more time drinking than looking.
Lewisia tagged "Sierra"
To my surprise, lewisia were growing next to the shady path. I might note they were growing very well!
Lewisia edithae

mossy sax in the shade by the waterfall
Several water features were merging areas from one garden to another.This little waterfall was particularly suited to shade the mossy sax and primulas.
Telesonix jamesii

Dicentra peregrina ?
As if I was not already stupefied, the sight of the dicentra growing so lushly, glazed my eyeballs backward. Perhaps it is a hardier hybrid? At any rate, the visit was a brilliant success. It certainly gave me another perspective on mountain botanical gardening. So when I retire, perhaps they will accept me as a volunteer to come and weed!

Colorado Day 7 - Yampa River Botanic Park

Steamboat Springs is a pretty sleepy little burg during a summer week in July. Sure they have mountain bike events that raise the populace after work. But weekdays no great mobs of people pour out onto the streets. On the weekends though, there is always something happening for the tourist. Yes, I mean those less adventurous tourists who don't go out bike riding or rafting, like me.
Rod is ready in mountain bike gear
For this particular traveler, the right scene was a botanic garden  - the Yampa River Botanic Park, to be precise. The location is a bit out of the way. Main street had mobs of people coming into town, but luckily I was already there. The trick was not missing the turn to the side street. After following it down and around one parks at the end of a very-residential street and walk past the playing fields. On this Saturday morning, the boy's soccer teams were fully absorbed in the ball. What fun they were having!

After paralleling the river a bit  I came to a little gate where I entered the garden. One would have no idea about the marvelous treat inside. So I slipped open the gate and inside like some errant Peter Rabbit. Someone in the area planted a magnificent garden, ripe for the looking. There were trees by the gate which revealed a shaded woodland garden.
Aquilegia formosa
I presume this to be the western version of our May blooming Aquilegia canadensis. The differences are not particularly apparent. But definitely, it was not the Colorado state flower Aquilegia caerulea.

The rock garden was next on the walk. Astounded that I would find such a flowing rock garden in the midst of this very winter resort town in the mountains of Colorado, I was stopped in my tracks. Bloom was peak!
Yampa River Botanic Park Rock Garden
 It was great to see so many of the plants I watched flower at home in May and June, in full glory here in July. It left me with the same taste as a second helping of dessert.
July in the YRBP rock garden
Catnip Walk
There were paths where one might explore the finer points of the plantings.
At home in Goshen, Cerastium is all but un-growable. No it's not the climate. Rather, a nasty little pest makes a messy dinner out of every plant. What a treat to see it flourishing.
Cytisus purgans
This broom, though, should be worth trying at home. A Plant Select winner, it seems quite vigorous in this alpine climate. How lucky those Colorado gardeners are to have their Plant Select recommendations, which introduce some very fine plants to the area.
Dracocephalum ruyschiana
Now this little cutie I recognized immediately. As I departed home in Goshen, I noticed it in full bloom in my garden. Dracocephalum ruyschiana is an easy and reliable do-er. Just when the rock garden is winding down, it puts on a cool display.
Eriogonum umbellatum
Somehow eriogonums never quite flourish with this much bloom in our eastern gardens. Sigh. Instead we see much more of the leaf, which is architectural enough for any garden. But seeing it interwoven as a thread in this garden with dianthus was inspiring.
Eriogonum umbellatum pale yellow
While travelling along the highways we saw variations in color for this eriogonum. I thought they might be different sub species, but not so named in this botanic garden. No matter what the name, this color is very appealing to the sensibilities.
Another native seen blooming all along the highways, castilleja, was also present in numbers here at the garden. I have tried this plant so many times to no avail. It takes one breath of our East Coast fungus filled air and asphyxiates. I can only appreciate it as a tourist, but that is fine..
Moving on down the proverbial garden path, there is more classical structure - bedding plants and a water feature. Just look at the color!
Cactus Garden

Behind the lane lined with tall evergreens, lies the cactus garden. I must admit my surprise that it would be shaded for so much for the day. But the plants seem none the less for it.
Penstemon cyananthus
 On the opposite side of the park was a variety of little gardens. My favorite was the Penstemon Garden. It is always so difficult for me to sort out the species. Here they are labeled for my script.
Penstemon aridus  blue
But color does not seem to be part of the naming equation. Help - P. aridus is labeled for blue and red.
Penstemon aridus -  red
Maybe it's a hybrid? Anyway, the net result is a name, which is more than I knew before. And there were more name tags to be seen. Great little garden! What is it about knowing the name? Why, ordering seed or the plant of course. It is one thing to drool, but better yet to go home and know what to grow.
Penstemon linariodes
Penstemon pinifolius
Penstemon serrulatus
Penstemon strictus
Penstemon whippleanus
I will admit I do grow a few of these species at home. Now I know how they can look, given fresh mountain air at 7,000 feet.