Monday, December 9, 2013

Gardening in Snow Pants by Louise Heern

Bearded Iris and Catmint, nice combo!
Since moving from the Midwest to the beautiful mountains of Colorado just four short growing seasons ago, I have experienced many ‘firsts’ in the high altitude gardening world of Clear Creek County; snowfalls in late May, herds of elk and deer grazing/trampling their way through backyards, hurricane-force winds, gardening in snow-pants, and voles consuming a newly planted ornamental grass faster than I could eat a sandwich.
I remember my first summer here, standing in the cold wind (it was July) on an East-facing clearing, 8,700 feet up on the top of Floyd Hill, looking hopelessly at the huge expanse of rocks and dirt that was now my new yard. What on earth was I thinking?! Can you possibly grow anything up here?
Through trial, lots of errors and the Master Gardener Program offered through CSU Extension, I have learned a lot! And I am happy and privileged to share with you some of my successes and failures in the hope that you will get out there and plant something! And then, let us know how you are doing - we value your feedback. 
Okay, where to start if you haven’t already? I started with a small area closest to the house. Starting small made it easier and less expensive to amend the soil, an important and critical first step. And, being close to the house made for easier access to check on and water the newly planted little garden. It also created an instant micro-climate, offering at least some protection from the wind and sun. Plus you can rap on the window to scare off the critters that will inevitably find your new plants! Preferably, it is an area you can possibly protect with a small decorative fence. Before you decide on the plants, take note of the location. Which direction is it facing? How much sun will it get? Will the location take advantage of any water run-off? Match your exposure to your plant choices. Planting the right plant in the right location will tremendously increase a successful gardening experience. 
Need help deciding what to plant? Well, my 8,700 feet will not be the same as yours, as everybody has micro-climates unique to their own location, but here are just a few of my picks. I have grown them all very successfully in full, hot sun and also in part shade without protection from deer, elk or wind. They have come back bigger and stronger each year without supplemental watering. Please note, however, that they were watered on a somewhat regular basis the first season they were planted.
                Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus) - defies our short growing season by quickly covering an arbor, trellis, wall or fence in just one season. Capable of growing up to a foot a day, this hardy climber comes back bigger and stronger year after year and will reward you with chartreuse cone-shaped flowers in mid to late summer. 

                Cat Mint (Nepeta faassenii) - is very easy to grow and does best in a sunny spot. It is one of the first perennials to come to life in my garden, and never disappoints with beautiful purple-blue flowers and gray-green foliage that remains attractive throughout the growing season. 
                Bearded Iris – with close to 300 species of Iris, I honestly cannot tell you which is growing in my garden as I have received each and every one of them from friends gardens ranging from Chicago to Factoryville, PA! I can tell you, however, that since planting them several seasons ago, they have thrived, multiplied and withstood our crazy winds regardless of their exposure. The iris’ come into bloom approximately the same time as the cat mint and look great together! After the flowers have faded, the unique leaves will continue to add interest to your garden.
If you have garden related questions or interest in participating in the Colorado Master Gardener Program offered through Colorado State University, please visit our website at , call 303-679-2424, email, or stop by our new Clear Creek County Extension Office at 1111 Rose Street in Georgetown. You can also visit us at the Idaho Springs Farmer’s Market the last Friday of the summer months.
Happy Gardening!

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