Posts Tagged ‘Denver Botanic Gardens’

Class: Growing a Business

I recently finished the class Growing a Business with Marie Peacock. She is a landscaper of about 12 years and she has been teaching this class to help others get the information she would have loved to have when she started. It was a very interactive class made up of everything from current landscapers/business owners that are looking to learn more to people like me that are trying to figure out whether or not to dive into this industry on our own. She encouraged questions and discussion so that we could learn from each other as much as from her. She also didn’t sugar-coat her information, which made us really take a good look at what we were doing or what we wanted to do from a business perspective rather than a personal one.

After we went around the room and introduced ourselves, since we would be working together for four classes, she had us define the word “entrepreneur.” The literal translation from French is “risk-taker.” Everyone was there to take risks, some had already made the leap, others were considering it seriously enough to pay for a class on it. The next thing she told us was that she wanted us all to succeed. There was work enough for all of us. I think it helped that as we introduced ourselves, we each discussed what we were hoping to achieve. Except for the two students that were there to start a business together, none of us had identical goals. One other person was focused on food production, as I am. Some were interested in natives, some in xeri-scaping. Some of us wanted to get our hands dirty, some were more interested in purely design. There would be some overlap in the edges of some of the proposed or actual businesses, but not as much direct competition as you might see in other industries.

Of course, the variety of possibilities means that unless you are a basic lawn-mowing-type service, there isn’t a going rate. Much of the class was helping us understand the expenses that go with owning and running a business, there are a lot, and how to price our services fairly but still allowing us to make money. After all, for most of us the hope is for the business to partially or totally support us. Even as the child of business owners, I didn’t know much about owning and running your own business except that it’s hard. As difficult as it is, and as much as you need to know, I am now feeling like I could actually handle it. Prior to this class the whole idea was overwhelming.

I very much enjoyed the fact that it was taught by a non-business-major business owner. She learned this information the hard way, as many of us had or expected to. She was also focused on what we really needed to know rather than what a more official business teacher might have considered necessary. As a gardener herself, she was able to point out the things that we would need to learn, like payroll and taxes, even though it probably wasn’t at the top of the list of things that interested us.

I have enjoyed all of my classes at the Denver Botanic Gardens, but this one had the most camaraderie by far. Marie told us on the first night that she wanted questions and observations, and her willingness to not just answer them, but engage in discussions about them really encouraged us to share our own stories and ask each other questions. There was one major drawback to this class, though. Marie was so willing to share information and answer questions that I didn’t want to leave the room for the break in the middle of class for fear I would miss something.

Class: New Gardener Boot Camp

This was a full day of classes designed to get us set up for the upcoming growing season. There was a huge number of gardeners there, so it was set up like school, where you had a schedule and the instructors were each teaching their class several times that day. Apparently the instructors had been told they would have more time than they did, so the classes were all kind of rushed. However, as usual, they did their best to give us the information we needed to be successful.

Being the clever girl I am, not only did I arrive a little bit late, I then proceeded to lock my keys, and membership card, in my car. I missed most of my first class, Beginning Vegetable Gardening taught by Betty Cahill. What I caught at the tail end was interesting, and I did get some good handouts to study, including lots of reference material. She also pointed out that the lettuce we harvest will hold up better in the refrigerator if we don’t wash it until we are ready to eat it.

The second class, Annuals and Perennials for Color in the Garden with Marcia Tatroe wasn’t at the top of my list of things I was looking for that day, since I’m mostly interested in food, but I got some very good concepts. Things like, the only things that you can read off the label and be sure of are the dimensions of the plant and the color. Everything else should be taken with a grain of salt, especially if the plant wasn’t raised locally. Most green-house plants are raised on the West Coast due to their mild climate. Unfortunately, this doesn’t prepare them for our harsh sun and less-than-mild weather. Just because a plant is a perennial somewhere else does not mean that it can be a perennial here. Even more to the point, the instructor’s gardens are at an elevation just 800′ above Denver Botanic Gardens and she has to grow as annuals some of the things the Botanic Gardens grow as perennials. One point that applies equally well to vegetable and flower gardeners is to not be afraid to be harsh with and even kill your plants. They aren’t puppies! In other words, pulling out mis-placed volunteers and thinning young plants to the mature spacing isn’t just necessary, it’s actually good for the garden as a whole. If you are working with xeric plants, you also want to be sure to treat them in a way that they have evolved to handle. That means that amending your whole bed into rich, black, highly organic soil might actually kill the local flora. On the other hand, if your yard has a sandy patch and a clayey patch and a low, wet patch, you can grow a wide variety of plants.

Lunch was burritos from Chipolte and Gorgeous and Easy Container Gardens with Susan Evans. I think my favorite part of her lecture was the idea that you should build your gardens to your preferences, not to your neighbors or for the cars on the street. Your neighbor might look out their window at your front lawn every day, but that doesn’t mean they get to dictate what is in it. There was a lot of discussing how to put things together and classic design concepts. However, in the end, it is yours. Make something you like. She discussed fragrance gardens. She has one at nose-level beside her favorite chair and she suggests having one on the way to the car. That way you can pluck off a piece to lay on your dash as a non-toxic air-freshener. When you are picking your pots, plastic is probably the best bet. Clay is pretty, but it wicks water out of your plants. Given our dry climate, that’s a problem. You should also consider larger rather than smaller pots, as they also hold water better. She is an herbalist, so she gave us some tips on them. Basil and cilantro don’t dry well, so both of those can be pureed with a little olive oil then frozen in ice cube trays. The rest of the herbs can be cut, bunched, and hung to dry. However, she reminded us several times to remember to take the bunches down for storage. No one likes peppermint and cobweb tea. The herbs should be stored in glass and as whole as possible, as you lose the essential oils when you chop or crush them too early.

My next class was Soils and Composting 101 with Carl Wilson. This was the only class that didn’t feel rushed, but I got the impression that not much could rush him. I finally got definitions of silt and loam in this class. Silt is mineral particles that are mid-way between sand (large) and clay (very small). Loam is unlikely to be found around here, but it is about 20% clay, 40% sand, and 40% silt. Clay is so dominant that at only 20% of the amount, it has a significant impact on the texture. Given a choice between sand and clay, clay is actually preferred. It has a charged surface, unlike sand, so it holds the nutrients that you add far more easily, keeping them within reach of plants. However, if you go significantly in either direction, the mineral content can give you challenges to work through. I thought it was very interesting that managed Western soil is only 5% organic matter at the most. More than that and you can have trouble with the nutrients actually getting to the plants and not being stuck in the soil. A big part of that is having enough organisms in the soil to break down what you add to things that the plants can use. He also discussed the fact that residential soil, what most of us are working with, is not the same as agricultural or native soils. The top soil has often been removed during the building process, removing those microorganisms and hundreds or thousands of years worth of their work. That means that before anything else happens, that somehow needs to be replaced. For compost, he mentioned that most residential piles don’t get hot enough to kill seeds and disease. If you have diseased plants or weeds that have gone to seed before you got to them, it may pain you, but they need to go in the trash. Animal products in general aren’t added, but a lot of gardeners add eggshells. Given the naturally high lime- calcium carbonate- content of our soils out here, you may want to think twice before you add them. It does, of course, also depend on the makeup of your particular soil.

Starting Seeds was taught by Patti O’Neal that I had taken a class from earlier. Apparently the 10 easiest plants to start from seed are beans, cucumbers, radishes, pumpkins, cosmos, peas, lettuce, squash, sunflowers, and zinneas. There were a lot of definitions in this class, but one of the comparisons that stood out was hybrid versus heirloom. Heirlooms have been around for a long time. The minimum time for a plant to have been reproducing reliably to qualify is about 50 years. Hybrids, on the other hand, are a first-generation cross that won’t reproduce true to the plant you saved the seeds from. My main interest is heirlooms, but apparently hybrids are often easier for beginning gardeners as they have had disease resistance and other perks bred into them. I may have to rethink my stance on them. She also strongly suggested that, as in most crafts, you plan twice and plant once. This includes reading all the information provided on the seed packets to know when, where, and how to plant the seeds. When you are saving your seeds, as they can last from year to year, you need to make sure they are cool and dry. She uses a coffee filter with kitty litter as the desiccant in her glass seed-jar. You will have better success if you store them in a cool basement rather than a garage that will heat up in the summer. After all, it is warmth and water that cause germination. To start your seeds, what you need is a tray to catch the water, something to hold the seeds, and a cover. This could be like the spiffy, professional seed tray we were given, or it could be reclaimed materials. She likes strawberry boxes and toiletpaper rolls for kid’s projects. Bear in mind that the “biodegradable pots” that are popular right now will not biodegrade in our soil. She noted that if you are “gardening in Iowa in devil’s food cake” they work fine. However, as noted above, we have a low level of organic material which means fewer of the organisms needed to break them down. The seeds will need warmth of some sort and the seedlings will need light. If you have good windows, that can work, but they tend to grow better if you actually have a light installation. It can be affordable fluorescents as long as you get one warm and one cool to capture the full spectrum. The goal is to get short, stocky, bushy plants in varieties that you can’t find at most nurseries.

This post turned into something of an epic. I apologize for that, but I only scratched the surface of what we were given. Between those classes and some others that I will be writing about when they finish, my head might just explode from the information being stuffed in. However, it is all so very pertinent that I couldn’t be happier with finding the Botanic Gardens for classes. I knew I needed a sharp learning curve to get up to speed with local conditions and helping others learn the basics, and this is giving me that flood of information.

Class: Creating a Pet-Friendly Landscape

I have a couple of possible showcase gardens that would both involve dealing with dogs. My last experience of gardening with dogs was with the one I grew up with. “Get out of the garden!” was the only command that she obeyed without hesitation, so I wasn’t sure how to address dogs that hadn’t had the same training. Lucky for me, the Denver Botanic Gardens just happened to have an applicable class.

Elizabeth Bublitz of Pawfriendly Landscapes has been doing dog-centric landscaping since 1998. She had been in the landscaping business already, and as a dog-lover and owner she noticed how many other owners were frustrated with their pets. When we went around the room to introduce ourselves, we heard about what causes that frustration. “My yard is mud, but I used to have grass,” was the overarching theme. Elizabeth’s solution was to figure out how to work with the dog’s nature instead of against it so that there could be a beautiful garden and a happy dog, making for a happy owner.

I keep running into the idea that it’s easier to give in to whatever the natural inclinations are, whether it’s xeriscaping in dry landscapes or working with natural runoff directions. She made it very clear. “If it isn’t going to do them any harm and they aren’t going to escape, let them have it.” This included things like pulling your plantings away from the fenceline so that the dog could run their sentry-routes right beside the fence instead of wearing paths in the turf in front of the plantings. Some dogs dig. If it’s not against the fence or at the house foundation, just work the fact that they dig there into your design. She did discuss dog runs at the very end of the class, but it was mostly focused on the assumption that the dog was going to be residing in the garden/yard itself, as that tended to be the kind of person that called her for help.

I learned a lot about dogs along with the expected knowledge about landscaping. Apparently they like to have perches from which to survey their domain. I always thought that was a cat thing. When you are considering an ornamental boulder, consider one they could get on and stay on for this purpose. They also like to see what’s happening on the other side of the fence. If you give them windows (asking your neighbor’s permission, for the sake of good manners), they will be less inclined to jump over to check things out. They also tend to be very habitual. If there is an established path worn into your turf or through your garden bed, you can usually turn it into a deliberate path and they will stick with it. You may also be able to use different techniques to subtly reroute them. With the exception of terriers, most dogs will go around instead of through thick plantings.

The theory behind her designs is that the dogs will tell you what they want. If you listen to them, they will actually make your yard lower maintenance and more attractive. She likes less formal or “cottage gardens.” The organic shapes that the dogs encourage along with her preference for berms to vary the level of the garden provide a lot of interest in what could be a pretty bland yard. You will be putting three to five feet of stone along the fenceline to give them space for their sentry rounds. This keeps the wet grass away from the fence that is probably wooden, meaning that you won’t need to water over that far, keeping the fence drier than it might be otherwise, which helps its longevity. You will probably be using rock instead of wood for mulch, since dogs like to eat wood, and assuming that your dog doesn’t eat rocks. Once they are installed, if it is done correctly, you shouldn’t need to refresh them like you do with wood mulch.

I think my favorite part about the class, though, was how very practical it was. She discussed xeriscaping because those are the plants that do the best out here with the least amount of babying. She showed us pictures of these absolutely gorgeous gardens, then discussed that they can be done in stages. After all, it is better to slowly add things than to have to go back in and take things out. To manage the mud in the meantime, she suggested erosion blankets or landscape cloth. Just make sure that you pin the seams really well. Apparently dogs like to pick at seams to rip them up. Erosion blankets are something that landscapers have access to. Anyone can get their hands on landscape cloth. The plants are chosen for various reasons, but ornamental grasses aren’t used in dog areas since they get eaten. Thorny bushes can be used to discourage dogs that eat plants.

I am amazed, and pleased, that every one of my instructors so far has been very willing to share and encourage us. I also have contact information for each of them if more questions come up later. Elizabeth even recommended the cat version of herself, Cat-Man-Do, for feline questions and landscaping. I’m sure that there are plenty of people in this field that wouldn’t necessarily encourage the competition, but I am loving the people in the field that I have met so far.

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.