Round Robin: Colorado Gardening

DENVER, Colorado–I don’t know what leisure is. There are times when I say to myself, “You’re going to sit down for an hour and do absolutely nothing.” I bought a rocking chair for exactly that purpose. I pictured how pleasant it would be this summer, rocking the time away on the patio without a care in the world.

It wasn’t meant to be. I can sit still for about ten minutes. Then I notice that the pots of scented geraniums by the back door look dry. I’ll get to them in a little while, maybe when I feed the goldfish. Well, I suppose I could just amble over and relax while I sprinkle a pinch of food on the water’s gleaming surface and watch the feeding frenzy. The fountain head in the pond looks as though it’s running too slowly; it’ll take just a few minutes to clean it. Then I will return to my rocker, but maybe first I should repot that aloe vera that I’ve been meaning to get around to, but before that I should check a new plant I set in over the weekend called Allium przewalskianum (said to look like an elegant version of common chives with violet flowers). And so it goes.

A gardener juggles dozens of chores and hundreds of things to remember. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like the variety; I love the challenge. There are little projects, such as transplanting or repotting, and then there are big projects, like deciding one morning that the garden needs an area to showcase some of the sages native to Turkey that I’ve recently discovered. Colorado is a great place to grow many of them because of our brilliant sunshine and low humidity. Salvia cyanescens forms a rosette of silky gray leaves topped by 3-foot stems of electric blue flowers. S. pachystachya has pale yellow blossoms on a shrubby frame a foot tall and twice as wide. I’m also eager to see the chartreuse, foot-tall flower spikes of S. cryptantha; that color–like the flowers of lady’s-mantle–seems to bring out the best in neighboring plants.

Before I can plant the new sages, I’ll just need to dig up one of three crowded old spireas–that’s a good morning’s work–then sift some compost, spade it into the soil and rake the area smooth.

The world is full of people with wonderful gardening skills. What they lack is an ability to destroy. My friend Ed Shepard likes to tear things up. It’s part of his job as a landscaper. The personalized license plate on his truck reads “SHOVEL” but that’s really too modest. My suggestion is “HORTICULTURAL HITMAN” but that’s perhaps too long for a license plate. Whenever a job is too big for me–like tree removal–I call Ed. We recently lost an old elm to Dutch elm disease. Ed and his crew took it out limb by limb to avoid damage to the plants below. Then he removed the stump and shredded it so I could spread the chips on the paths in the vegetable garden (they’re much easier on the knees).

Destruction and renewal are part of the cycle of gardening and life. I miss the old elm, but in its place grows a young black walnut. I like working with a pro like Ed, who’s as adept at maneuvering a young tree into position as he is at cutting down an old one. I also like it when he stops by every so often “just to see how the garden’s doing”. We sit down on the patio, open a beer and–son of a gun!–we do absolutely nothing.

Rob Proctor is a delightful blend of artist, photographer, writer, and gardener who lives and plies his trades in Denver, Colorado.

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