There has been great joy in my dog walking duties this summer, watching the progression of flowering plants on the side of the roads and trails while determining whether they are the usual weed suspects or a surprise wildflower about to emerge from winter’s grasp. All of this the reward for surviving our ample late spring rains. The dog has even learned to stop and actually wait while I pull out my phone to snap a picture. (A new priority given, over the tracking of daily steps and mileage for fitness purposes!) While it’s easy to overlook these flowering gems while driving by a roadside ditch or listening to tunes while walking, the benefits of looking for these sometimes small treasures can be quite worthwhile. It truly is a gift to live at altitude in our special state.
My season started off with the discovery of several patches of white short-stem Evening Primrose, all growing by a small drainage pipe on a southwest facing hillside. These were true to their family with red stems and bud bases, and white petals in the full bloom.
Shortly thereafter in May, the Penstemon wildflowers started to surface along our walks. I noticed small patches of a the pink/lavender Mat Penstemon that grows close to the ground, (maybe 2” heigh) with small tubular flowers making a bright display for about 10 days, but one must look carefully through the silver-green foliage. By late June and early July, there were vertical, show stoppers appearing – the Side-bells Penstemon with blooms on one side of a firm, upright stalk, about 12-18” high. This floral display is unique for the spotted lower portions of the flower and the reason why it’s frequently called the Orchid Penstemon. I was interested to hear from Lauren Springer in a Chatfield tour of Denver Botanical Gardens that the many Penstemon we crave may not always have the prolonged life we expect and love in perennials. They are fussy in the garden and in the wild.
A good neighbor has a wonderful south facing hillside filled with everything from pale sweat pea to asters. I even called out one evening that I’d spied a lone Indian Paintbrush blooming near their fence line. Close by their hillside, one can find the deep purple of Horsemint- always fun to discover hiding in patches of grasses in a semi-sunny tree filled space by the roadside.
Did I mention finally learning about Spiderwort? It first caught my eye as a three petaled, deeply colored flower, reminding me of slightly smaller white trilliums, (with pointed leaves rather than rounded ones) my grandmother introduced me to as a teen in Oregon. Actually, she read me out for picking a trillium bouquet of them for her! But that was a long time ago when I was a true city-slicker and didn’t know better. So much for good intentions. Besides, trilliums don’t have the deep lavender & purple of our Spiderwort’s display.
There were a few surprise volunteers that also showed up around the house in the past few months. Two especially caught my eye. The first blooms were several actual native Rocky Mountain Columbines. They were in a quiet, undisturbed, shady spot that had seen the wild flower before, but it’s been years since I’ve spotted any blooming. The second is a common Gillardia, or Blanket flower, distinguished by the native variety of pure yellow, 3 prong petal form and the deep orange showy head. I extend thanks to the birds and/or wildlife that deposited the seeds so close by!
We of course are now seeing the asters, goldenrod and tale ends of woodrose and yarrows as our warm days wind down. Soon I’ll have all winter to figure out the best way of balancing the cell phone, dog, dog’s leash and Pesman’s, Meet The Natives for spring’s wonders. In the meantime, I’m also asking for the moisture gods to bring these amazing sights out of hiding for year’s viewing. Bright seasonal memories to all if you watched your own favorites blossom these past few months!