Monday, July 7, 2014

A best in class rock garden comes of age at the Gardens at Spring Creek

Mass of Diascia integerrima 'Coral Canyon' at entrance to Spring Creek (notice the giant watering cans behind in the entrance to the Children's garden)
One of the most surprising developments in the West during my lengthy career in public horticulture has been the appearance of dozens of public gardens throughout the Great Plains and Mountain states--often in smaller towns I never dreamed would support gardens of this nature. Vail with only 6000, and Steamboat Springs with only 12,000 permanent residents are the most astonishing.  Fort Collins at 143,000 people is still much smaller than many cities that have no botanic garden: The Fort's Gardens on Spring Creek would be the envy of a city many times its size. Although modest in size, the horticulture is ambitious and accomplished. I was pleased to see Plant Select so prominently shown off!

Much of Spring Creek features simple but wonderfully maintained drifts of shrubs and perennials

A rather unconventional but very pleasing herb garden.
Transitional area with natives
Even the "in between" areas transitioning from garden to garden are trim and neat and full of interest.

Mats and mounds in the rock garden
Needless to say, my favorite part of Spring Creek is their relatively new rock garden. These pictures were taken the last week of June--I was astonished how much color there still was, and how trim and clean the garden looked. It is a "perfect storm" of a garden: blessed with visionary design and a great site, it has been lovingly maintained and filled with the best plants imaginable. I am not sure what this garden cost--I know the bulk of materials and construction and plants were donated--but I know that it would cost millions to create such a garden from scratch in much of the country.

The same mound, from a different angle

Getting closer and looking beyond--you can see just how massive this garden really is: an amazing undertaking.

More treasures...
I was delighted to see one of my favorite genera well represented: the lavender cushion at center left is a miniature Ziziphora (species unknown) and the larger one behind is Z. clinopodioides--two wonderfully aromatic counsins of Thymus that we have been growing in recent years in Denver...and obviously further north!
Hedeoma todsenii
A fabulous display of one of our loveliest and least known native mints.

Kirk Fieseler
One of the chief masterminds of this garden, and an extraordinary plantsman, Kirk is standing proudly in front of his masterpiece. Kirk retired a few years ago as coordinator of Horticultural programming at Front Range Community College in Larimer County--and is now concentrating on his personal garden and propagation of rare natives and conifers. I suspect that  Laporte Avenue Nursery, which Kirk co-owns, provided most of the treasures that fill this garden.

The plants are not only well grown, they are well labeled!

Another view of the same plant from another angle: can you tell I like it?

A blend of "Mexicali" penstemons
I was enchanted by the wonderful drift of varicolored hybrid penstemons of the "Mexicali" group: Dillon assured me that most of these are self-sown seedlings that came up among their parents--a delightful serendipity if that's the case.

A showy Fleabane (E. peregrinus?)
I was amazed how much was blooming at the height of summer. Fleabanes are usually done by now.

Here a mixed color forms of Penstemon barbatus
It's been years since I've had this spreading like this at my home: time to try again!

Lilium concolor
There must have been a dozen species of lilies growing in drifts here and there--mostly still in bud. This is not the showiest, but the color is piercing.

Lilium concolor

Dillon Hancock
This is the youthful horticulturist who has done a masterful job of planting and maintaining this remarkably weed-free garden. He hastens to credit his volunteers--a sign of humility and wisdom!

More views...

And MORE penstemons...Just love the way these are tucked among the cushions and rocks.

Graceful combo

Same combo from another view
I am always amazed how a few feet in this direction or that--and the look of a rock garden is altogether different. Perennial borders don't come close to this multidimensionality...although I admit I like them too.

A bevy of ruddy semps
Rather good color coordination between the succulents and the rock.

Campanula rotundifolia
THIS is the way to grow Harebell: between a rock and a path (or a hard place)--otherwise it could swamp the garden.

Teucrium polium
A really lovely race of this ubiquitous Mediterranean herb. We must get a cutting!

Acantholimon in seed
They seem to grow everything--from xeric Acantholimons to lilies.
More mats and gems

Teucrium aroanium
A rare Teucrium from Greece that is often misidentified in commerce.

Dazzling Penstemon x 'Mexicali' selection
A superior hybrid penstemon.
More Mexicalis
As you have probably figured out by now, I'm smitten by Mexicali penstemons...
Penstemons galore
Actually, I'm smitten by the whole genus!
Lilium pumilum
And more lilies on the crown of the hill--these are found further to the East than L.concolor.
Scutellaria prostrata and Phlox nana
One of the harder Scutellarias I've grown mine never looked THIS good).

We are so fortunate to have a half dozen extraordinary collections of alpine and steppe rock plants throughout our region--Spring Creek has quickly joined the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, Yampa River Botanic Park, the Colorado Springs Xeriscape Demonstration Garden as a superb showcase of rock gardening. Oops: I believe I almost forgot to mention Denver Botanic Gardens' Rock Alpine and Children's bad.

There are not many areas I know of that can boast such ambitious rock gardens in close proximity--all curated by energetic youthful talent.

Phlox nana beginning to take over...
I could easily have taken a hundred or more distinct vignettes of plants like this one: and of course a month ago they would have all been different, and they will all be distinct again in another month. The answer, friends, is to just schedule a visit to this gem of a garden. You won't regret it!

A last parting show of the rock garden at Spring Creek
As I walk away, I'm already planning another visit up here to watch the amazing transformation of a world class rock garden!


  1. This is a fabulous rock garden. It is nice to see what you can accomplish in a larger space.


  2. Very nice! I like the parting view- very interesting to see something of the context.


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