Posts Tagged ‘Denver Botanic Gardens’

Class: Getting the Most Out of Your Home Garden

I spent this afternoon at a class up at the Denver Botanic Gardens. This was the first of what I expect will be many classes up there.

The class was taught by Sundari Kraft. I haven’t had a chance to review her Web site or her book, but after the class, I’m quite sure both will prove to be fascinating. I can tell you that in person, she’s very interesting and engaging, and she’s very willing to answer questions. It’s clear that she wants to spread this information. There was a lot of information that she shared, and anyone who happens to be in the Denver area should consider signing up for one of the classes that is being offered later. The information wasn’t at all season-specific, so I can’t imagine it will change much, if at all, between this class and the ones later in the year.

Obviously, I can only share some of what she taught us, but there were a lot of interesting pieces of information that will be helpful in steering my own learning. Like, we have the same hardiness or growing zone as south-eastern Maine. Despite the differences in weather patterns, it looks like Denver and Colorado Springs share zone 5a. Our growing season, fortunately, is longer than Maine’s, with the last frosts being around the beginning of May and the first to be expected around the beginning of October, giving us about 150-160 days. It’s not a long season, but it could be shorter.

When she was discussing where to plant, obviously there are a lot of factors to consider, but two jumped out at me. You should start small and you should plant the garden where it’s both visible and convenient to you. Starting small might be hard for the ambitious beginning gardener. I know I’ve bitten off more than I could chew more than once. But she made a very good point. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not that hard to add more space later, but starting too big might overwhelm you. The other point is that it needs to be visible and convenient. At one point in time, kitchen gardens were all but actually in the kitchen of the house in question. The mother or cook had to take all of three or four steps to get to it. That makes it easy to monitor and easy to pop into to pull this weed or hill up that potato plant that you happen to see needs care. We’re busy, so making it something that we see on a regular basis will, hopefully, keep us from forgetting about it.

Sundari works in an urban setting, so small spaces are what she knows best. The class started, however, when she realized how many people had really limited space, but didn’t know how to utilize it for the most effective yields. What she finds to work is a variety of techniques. She prefers a version of companion planting rather than monocropping, beds rather than the standard rows. She also uses biointensive planting techniques to both make the most of the space and make the most of the water and natural weed control along with succession planting. One of her other gardening techniques is that instead of bare, dirt paths, she grows clover. She stressed several times that it needs to be seeded lightly, but the clover both crowds out the weeds that would grow in the path and it fixes nitrogen into the soil. The following year, the beds will be dug so that each path is now part of a bed, giving that bed nitrogen-rich soil without having to add anything.

She gave us the example of a 256 square-foot garden. That is 16X16 feet. Not small, but not outlandish by any means. Excluding the necessary paths, she had 192 square feet of growing space. That space could potentially yield: 10 tomato plants, 25 pepper plants,12 eggplants, 10 summer squash, 6 winter squash, 172 peaplants, 108 kale, 208 lettuce, 263 arugula, 526 spinach, 172 beets, 86 turnips, 490 turnip sprouts/greens, 150 carrots, 383 radishes, 483 radish sprouts, 416 scallions, and 38 perennial herbs. That is a lot of food. I know it’s going to make me re-think my little 4X8 foot bed to see how much more I can fit in.

The rest of the class discussed preparing the space, starting seeds, composting, and so on. All of which I will cover in more detail as I learn more about them. One of the last things we went over, however, were resources. She provided Web sites, books, and local resources. I was very happy to see that a book I picked up today at a book sale for all of $2 was on the list. Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. So far my reading has been eclectic as I have a lot of just the basics to really understand, so I have been picking up books almost randomly at thrift stores and book sales. However, this list will help me narrow down my selections to the more pertinent ones. I expect to be doing reviews of the ones I find the most useful in the future.

Denver Botanic Gardens

I spent Saturday at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Since I had to go up to Denver to pick up a kit for soil testing,and it’s not exactly around the corner from the Springs, I decided to make a day of it. Next time, I’ll have a   camera, enough layers, and won’t schedule it on a day where snow is expected so that I can spend the time it deserves. That place is awesome. As in awe-inspiring and so very cool. Cool, of course, being a relative term, since the outside gardens were verging on chilly and the inside ones tended toward hot and humid.

The Rainforest in Denver

I will be going back to study each bit in more detail and to take some of the many classes they offer. At the moment, I just want to gush over the general amazingness of it. The first place I went was the Tropical Conservatory. One of my friends had worked there and recommended it highly. She was right. It’s an indoor rainforest where the paths and stairs were as organic as the tropical plants. There were even a couple of ducks and some poison-dart frogs to bring a little fauna to the flora. Just on the other side of the windows from the lush rainforest was a desert garden. They are testing different local, desert fauna to see what species can be used to bring “green roofs” to the harsh environment of Denver.

After that, I started wandering the outside gardens. I only managed to see about a third of them before I got cold. I’m not sure what I was thinking, not dressing for spending the day outside considering it was about gardens. However, I did see enough to know that I’d be back to study each section in more detail. Even with snow on the ground and the sky becoming overcast, it was beautiful. There were so many different ways to look at gardening, from the Victorian garden, to the Asian gardens, to the rock gardens. There was even one overlook that could have been in Maine, if one ignored the slight differences in rocks and trees. I recommend walking shoes. There is a lot of ground to cover, and not all of it is paved.

It's hard to see, but being winter, the evergreens all got Christmas-lighted.

The special event that day was a look behind the scenes of the Herbaria. They have two Herbarium, one for plants and one for fungi. The plant one is apparently unique in its focus on the prairie part of Colorado. The real focus is grass and sedges. Just in case anyone was wondering what the difference is, apparently “sedges have edges.” We got to see some specimens from each Herbaria. The fungi used to be pressed, but after a while they decided that the shape is changed too much by that preservation method, so now they are dried. The plants, however, are pressed and mounted as they have been for hundreds of years. The oldest specimen that they have is actually from India and taken in the 1830’s. It looked no different than the modern ones except for the type-face and the slightly yellow paper. People have been collecting and categorizing plants in Colorado for over a hundred years, but they still come up with about one unknown species per year. This has nothing on the as-yet-unknown fungi in Colorado.

Overall, I had a great time. I expect to go back often to see the changes with the seasons and to take their classes. After all, no reason not to learn from the best, since I have the opportunity.