Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A heavenly Hell Strip

Probably taken early May: Aethionema grandiflorum in bloom at top, and gorgeous foliage on Salvia cyanescens below.

I believe Lauren Springer Ogden coined the term "hell strip" (it goes by many gentler synonyms like "parking strip", and she created a firestorm of controversy if I recall by writing about them in Horticulture several decades ago. Meanwhile, my life partner, Jan Fahs, purchased a home with the most hellish of hellstrips--nearly 200' of black plastic hell which she was modestly peeling back and gently planting until I came along. Then one day (which she continues to rue) I tore out the rest of the black plastic, and we began planting and sowing seed in earnest. These pictures don't really do it justice. There are two or three things to keep in mind: out of a million or more houses and buildings in Denver, this is one of the few that is deliberately unwatered. That is to say, only two or three that are GARDENS that are unwatered (lots of derelict lots with weeds of course). Item two: it is always changing through the year, from year to year. These are just two glimpses.

I am perpetually amazed at how well bearded iris do here--unwatered!

Here they are blooming with Penstemon eatonii...late May.

I have forgotten what the pale blue penstemon is: P. cyananthus perhaps? And yes, bachelor's buttons are almost weedy.

A better look at the penstemon. Lychnis coronaria budding up to bloom at left.

I rather like the mix of colors on the Centaurea cyanus.

Another view in May...

And yet another...

Probably just a form of Iris pallida...awfully delicate, however. This was THE year for iris.

This picture is more likely to be June, Verbascum have joined the irises (which seemed to go on forever this year...)

Another angle...

Mulleins look great with Penstemon eatonii--and I have to admit that the Dianthus deltoides is in part shade--it doesn't take the drought in full sun. Please ignore the bindweed (I did spray it later).

My favorite Turkish salvias are kicking in (the lavender in back--will detail them next)--but notice how happy the Onosma echioides is in the front (Lady's eardrops). Of course in Greece it has six months of drought!

Salvia cyanescens coming into bloom in front, Salvia recognita behind--two Anatolian salvias introduced by Jim and Jenny Archibald. I love these so much! Gorgeous foliage, wonderful aroma and good all year long. And boy! do they love this garden!

Slightly different angle--this one showing the Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' better...I should plant more of that! It looks good with the blues.

Salvia cyanescens with bachelor's buttons..

Salvia recognita (left) with a medley of meadow flowers...aaaaah!

Lallemantia canescens--another wonderful Anatolian mint introduced by Jim and Jenny Archibald. This is perennial when stressed, biennial or even annual on rich soils. Blooms on and off all summer depending on rains--one of the great plants (Plant Select ought to have noticed--oh well! They can't have all the good stuff!)...

Almost looks like a lupine!

A better view of Salvia recognita--a work horse if there ever was one--I have almost 70' of this planted on an unwatered strip in my Quince garden--and could use more!

Three wonderful Salvias: recognita on upper left, S. cyanescens front center, and S. x superba on the right.

One of a handful of Achillea in the garden--a taygetea type...and of course the Linum perenne--of which there are a million--has shed its petals for the day.

Somewhere I have a lot of pictures of the garden in late June when Dianthus giganteus takes over (here just starting to bloom), but you've had a taste!...I end with a shot I found on Google Maps--Jan's garden was photographed at peak bloom for salvias--I've never caught it in quite the right light at peak bloom: thank you Google! And thank you for reading to the bottom!


  1. Very nice! Wish I had enough rain, right soil or whatever to go unwatered. I only watered my cholla,sphaeralcea, etc strip once this year and things are barely surviving. C'est la vie.

  2. Just beautiful! I will be on the lookout for some of the plants mentioned.

  3. Your express "Hell Strip" is what we call a "Swale" in SE FLA Clever & pollinator flowers. We live in the subtropics so plants requiring less water or zero-scaping is popular since the price of water is expensive.

  4. One of the most fabulous hellstrips ever. Of course, lots of them are planted without the assistance of a world-class botanizer...


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