Starting Castilleja seeds


Greenhorn Mountain November 16, 2014

After this snowy, cold week, it’s nice to think about starting seeds for next spring! This is the time of year we begin to sow seeds, especially seeds like Indian paintbrush that need a cold treatment. Catilleja chromosa, angustifolia, and scabrida are three species of Indian paintbrush that germinate best with four to six weeks of cold stratification.

In nature they would spend the winter outside, germinating when temperatures and moisture are right in the spring. Here in the nursery we like to speed that process along. The easiest way to do that is put the seeds in a ziplock bag, moisten them, and place them in the refrigerator.

Castilleja, Gilia, and Penstemon seeds.

Castilleja, Gilia, and Penstemon seeds.

Seeds in the ziplock bags with name and date.

Seeds in the ziplock bags with name and date.

Seeds after a few drops of water added.

Seeds after a few drops of water added.

Many people, or most people, or maybe even all people but me, add vermiculite or peat moss to the seed in the baggie. My method, without anything except seed and a minuscule amount of water, works for me.

Many of our native seeds benefit from cold stratification, including penstemons and columbine. If you try this yourself, don’t forget to add the moisture. Without moisture the seed will stay dormant in that cold environment almost indefinitely. Don’t overdo it, you don’t want the seeds floating in a puddle of water, that could cause them to rot. I add water to the seeds a few drops at a time. If I get too much in the baggie, I carefully strain it off.

As the weeks go by I check the seed to make sure it is still moist and to look for the first sign of germination. When the first root pokes out of the seed, it’s time to transfer the entire group to a flat of potting soil and put them where they can get light. We use our little solar greenhouse for most of the seed starting. In January it starts getting crowded in there!




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A Storm is Brewing

It’s windy and warm at the moment, but rain and snow are heading our way. White clouds and mountain shadows gave way to darker clouds in just minutes.

Clouds over Greenhorn Mountain.


Despite the wind, some plants are clinging to their flowers.  I don’t deadhead these flowers because the birds love the seeds.

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It’s not easy to fly in 30 or 40 mph winds. Hopping on the ground is a much better idea.

Stellar Jay.

Stellar Jay.





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Cuttings from a Rose Garden

Autumn lingers, warm and wonderful, and we’ve had time to take cuttings of plants that we often miss in the flurry of getting ready for winter. Two weeks ago I took cuttings of more of the roses in our garden, including a very low growing miniature rose we call ‘Connie’s Creeping Rose.’ This little rock garden gem blooms all summer with double white flowers.

Here it is, already rooting!004

One of our neighbors gave us a cutting of Rosa ‘The Fairy’ in August.  It rooted, too, and is now in a 4″ pot.  (Thanks, Ann!)


When I was little, my grandma would notice someone who looked tired and worn and say “You look like the last rose of summer.”  She didn’t mean it as a compliment….but she’d obviously never seen this rose, still blooming in late October and looking as fresh as a daisy. (I know, I know, mixing metaphors is wrong! But fun.)

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The rose above was started from a cutting a couple of years ago. Not all roses are easy to propagate from cuttings, but many are. If you have a cold frame or a greenhouse it’s not too late to take a tip cutting of your favorite rose. Strip off the lower leaves, and stick it a a good quality potting soil. Keep it moist. Bottom heat helps them root, especially this time of year. If you have a heat mat, this is a good use for it.

Even if you don’t have a cold frame, or a heat mat, you can try to root your cutting outside in the garden. To do this you probably would want to start in late August, but trying now doesn’t cost you anything but a little time. Put the cutting into good garden soil, the type that would grow a nice carrot or tomato, and cover it with a glass jar. You don’t want the jar to overheat, so pick a spot that is shady, even in winter. If luck is with you, by next spring the cutting will have rooted and you can move it to a sunny spot in the garden. Roses need at least six hours of sun a day to bloom well.

Roses aren’t the only woody plants that can be rooted from cuttings. Here is a daphne and a creeping willow, also rooting in the flat.

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Flora and Fauna

I’m surprised, no, shocked, that we still have so many flowers blooming here in the garden. It did get to 32 F. one night last week, and the tomato and squash plants are gone, but the flowers continue to amaze.  ‘Bill’s Big Blue’ aster is blooming and so are the red salvias and my new favorite, Agastache ‘Joyful.’  Campanula incurva started blooming in late July and it still has quite a few flowers. Many of the yarrow are reblooming and so are the catmints. Rudbeckias are, too. I don’t think we’ve ever had so much survive to flower this late in October.

We didn’t have deer damage in the gardens this summer, but lately they’ve been wandering through, nibbling on this and that. They ate the hollyhocks in the garden, down to almost nothing. I see new leaves appearing at the base of the plant, so hopefully they’ll have enough strength to survive the winter.

We saw our last hummingbird for this season on October 8.  Luckily we have lots of other birds here to entertain us.



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We don't usually see redwing blackbirds this time of year, but one joined the blue jay.

We don’t usually see redwing blackbirds this time of year, but one joined the blue jay.

Female redwing blackbirds.

Female redwing blackbirds.



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October Snow on Greenhorn Mountain

This morning after sunrise.

This morning after sunrise.

Can you see the gold of the aspen below the snow line?

Can you see the gold of the aspen below the snow line?

Zoomed in to see the aspen a little better.

Zoomed in to see the aspen a little better.

Ribes aureum, our native currant. Why don't you have this in your landscape? Flowers in spring and a month of fall color! And drought tolerant to the max.

Ribes aureum, our native currant. Why don’t you have this in your landscape? Flowers in spring and a month of fall color! And drought tolerant to the max.

Xander by the currant. He's in his fall color, too.

Xander by the currant. He’s in his fall color, too.

We still haven’t had a hard freeze here yet, although our neighbors just a couple miles away have. We did get rain this week, and, more importantly, we have snow on the mountain.  After a decade of drought, I don’t take that for granted.

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Birds, Flowers, and Snow

We’ve just missed, by a degree or two, a killing frost, so we still have flowers blooming in the garden.  And yesterday, after not seeing a hummingbird for days, one appeared. The feeder is still out but it’s covered with bees, so the hummingbird drank from the agastache.  This time of year they’re a lot more nervous and I had trouble getting close enough to get a good picture.

Hummingbird drinking from Salvia darcyi.

Hummingbird drinking from Salvia darcyi.

Hummer at Agastache rupestris in silhouette.

Hummer at Agastache rupestris in silhouette.

One morning this week we had a magpie visit us. They’re funny birds, sort of bossy and loud, but shy at the same time.


We’ve had snow on Greenhorn Mountain a couple of times already this fall, once at the end of September, and again on October 1.  I hope that is a good sign for a snowy winter.

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First Fall Frost

What a long, slow, delicious fall we’ve been having. The autumn colors have been beautiful, too.  Last week I took some pictures of shrubs changing color in the nursery.  This is Rhus aromatica.  (Gro-low sumac)Gro-low Sumac

We haven’t seen a hummingbird for four days. They started flying south around Labor Day, and for a while we’d see just two or three a day at the feeder. On September 10, we had only one hummer here (picture below) and we thought it was almost over, but then more stopped in and we were still seeing two or three a day until Sept 24.


Now the hummingbirds really seem to have deserted us, and the feeders are covered with honeybees. I’m sort of surprised, because that hasn’t happened here before. We’ve had ants, of course, and even hornets attracted to the feeders, but never honeybees.  I was puzzled, but then read that the bees are collecting the sugar water to convert to honey to survive the winter. I had no idea that honeybees could convert sugar water to honey, but it turns out they can. Not only that, beekeepers will feed them sugar water on warm days in the winter to help them make it through until spring. I wonder if the bees swarming the feeders means anything about the harshness of the coming winter.

Our apple tree (30 years old and counting) has quite a few apples on it.  They are always late to ripen, and seem to taste better after a few cold nights. If we get the frost midweek, that they’re predicting, Thursday might be the day to pick them all.  I’m tempted to do it today before some critter finds them, but unlike our grapes, the apples have been ignored by the raccoons and bears.  I know many of our neighbors have a problem with bears in their apple trees, but so far we’ve lucked out. Maybe Xander, the dog, is more of a deterrent than he seems.

Xander with Halloween toy.

Xander with Halloween toy.

I always tell people to bring their tender plants inside by mid-September (or earlier, depending on elevation) but I’m better at giving advice than following it. I still have a couple of pelargoniums outside, and some tender succulents that need to be protected from frost. That’s on my list of things to do today. No more procrastinating!

In early August I decided to plant some vegetables for fall and winter harvest. I had such good luck with my container peas that I decided to do them again this fall. And I was really disgusted with the price of potatoes in the summer so I planted an old wooden box  with potatoes. I only put in two potatoes, so I doubt I will  be able to harvest much.  It didn’t cost me anything to do it, except some time. I used a couple of potatoes that were sprouting in my cupboard, and compost for soil. I’ve been mulching them with straw.

Potato plant breaking the soil surface on August 8

Potato plant breaking the soil surface on August 8

And this is what it looks like today, less than two months later.


The sunrise this morning was gorgeous. I caught it just after its peak, but I think it’s still pretty. Two minutes before I grabbed my camera, it was red! I grew up hearing my grandparents say “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning,” so I always expect some sort of exciting weather event when the sunrise is this showy.  My grandpa was born in Bangor, Maine, and I guess he had some experience with the sea, although by the time I knew him he was landlocked in the Midwest.

001Oh, and two more pictures.  Yesterday we had help from friends with our prairie restoration project. This is an area that had been nothing but weeds, and we’re replanting it to native grasses.  Now all we need are a couple of bison.

planting grasses with D&B





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Reflecting on 2014

I know, I know, most people write about the end of the year nearer the end of the year. But for us to have plants ready next spring, we have to start planning now! Ordering is in full swing, and my desk is piled high with seed catalogs, nursery catalogs, and nursery supply catalogs.  I’m reviewing the year as I plan for 2015.  I took a quick walk around the garden this morning to see what’s blooming in mid September.  Quite a bit!

Chrysanthemum 'Mary Stoker' with a big fuzzy bee.

Chrysanthemum ‘Mary Stoker’ with a big fuzzy bee.

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Achillea 'Pomegranate' has been blooming in the garden since late May.

Achillea ‘Pomegranate’ has been blooming in the garden since late May.

Teucrium ackermanii is a super drought tolerant perennial. Blooms in August and September.

Teucrium ackermanii is a super drought tolerant perennial. Blooms in August and September.

We cut back Phlox 'Purple Beauty' in June, and it's blooming again right now, next to the teucrium.

We cut back Phlox ‘Purple Beauty’ in June, and it’s blooming again right now, next to the teucrium.

Agastache 'Joyful' with a blurry sphinxmoth.

Agastache ‘Joyful’ with a blurry sphinxmoth.

The first native shrub to show fall color: Ribes aureum, the lovely golden currant.

The first native shrub to show fall color: Ribes aureum, the lovely golden currant.

Origanum 'Kent Beauty' starts blooming in early July and it still looks great. Drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ starts blooming in early July and it still looks great. Drought tolerant and deer resistant.

I find it helpful to take pictures of the garden every week or two. Then when I’m planning for the next season, I remember what I liked and didn’t like.  Here’s a few things that are on my mind as I work on orders:

Native plants is a category that continues to outsell almost all others.  This year we sold out of certain desirable penstemons, Indian paintbrush (of course) and milkweed.  Columbines were also very popular and we’re out of them, now, too.  On the other hand, eriogonums (the wild buckwheat) didn’t sell….what’s up with that?

Sometimes I go off on a tangent and think that something should be way more popular than you do, dear reader.  I think we had a few too many salvias this year. I love salvias, not only because of their beauty, but because of their absolute deer resistance, but there might be a limit to how many we need in the nursery.  For 2015, we’ll grow the best salvias, but we won’t try to have EVERY salvia on the planet.

In the edibles category….eggplant! I missed eggplant this year.  Must grow them next year.

Fruit trees sell out here, every year, and we’re trying to figure out which fruit trees to grow. Apple trees are certainly the most dependable for our climate, but what tree is next in popularity? Are there certain fruit trees that you dream about? Tell us, we’ll try to grow them.

Are you gardening for birds and butterflies and bees? This is another category that continues to sell out, the “plants for pollinators” category.  We’ve been lucky enough to have a few Monarch butterflies in the garden this year.

Monarch on native currant.

Monarch on native currant.

If you’re evaluating your garden now, I hope you’ll share some of your thoughts with us.

Feel free to make suggestions and tell us what you would like to find in our nursery next spring. You can email us—, or comment on Facebook—










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Never Enough Time

We tried to cram a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens, a visit to Bob Nold’s garden, and a stop at the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the national rock garden society’s annual plant sale and fund raiser into little more than 24 hours.  It wasn’t enough time! Add on to that a bit of food poisoning to make the trip even more challenging….

Still, we had a good time and got to see cool plants everywhere! We were lucky to spend some time with Mike Kintgen and see some of his favorite plants at DBG.  I didn’t take enough pictures, but I would like to share a few with you.

Chihuly exhibit at DBG

Chihuly exhibit at DBG

You need to go the botanic gardens this year for all sorts of reasons. You can see plants there that you will not see anywhere else in Colorado. The garden designs are inspiring. The plants are fascinating. And the Chihuly exhibit just adds to the experience.  The exhibit lasts until November, so you still have time.  Go!

A really red Agastache aurantiaca hybrid in Bob Nold's garden.

A really red Agastache aurantiaca hybrid in Bob Nold’s garden.

I’ve been obsessed with agastaches for over 20 years. This one is really different! The color is a red without orange….not like anything I’ve ever seen.  Bob’s garden was beautiful and filled with amazing plants, but the only picture I took was this one.  My excuse, if I can offer one, is that I was sick.  I didn’t get any pictures of the cyclamen that are so pretty this time of year, or the huge Cercocarpus ledifolius in his front yard that is the most spectacular specimen of this species I’ve ever seen.

The next three pictures are of the crowd at the chapter fund raiser. It was held at Marcia and Randy Tatroe’s garden. If you like native plants or alpine plants, or cactus and succulents, you need to get to know this group.  If I lived closer to Denver I’d go to all their events. Panayoti, in his charming and humorous way , helped sell the plants, pointing out the stars in each category. There were eriogonums in bloom that I couldn’t resist.  I came home with a flat full of new and different stuff to try here.  It’s so much fun to hang around with plant geeks.  Here’s the link to the chapter website:

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After the sale we got a chance to walk around Marcia’s garden.  It’s good to see a garden in mid-September–you start to notice all the things you missed when it was at its blooming height in spring or early summer.  Foliage and structure are revealed.


I don’t usually like these star patterned petunias, but there was something about this one that caught me.


Little bulbs popped up here and there. Delightful.



I came away from Denver with lots of great plants, and now it’s back to work.  I’ve been reminded that even a short trip can give you new energy and inspiration.




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Dividing Perennials

Even though our nursery is closed to the public until next spring, we still have lots to do. One of the first things on my September to-do list is dividing perennials. A lot of people are afraid to divide plants, or they don’t know when to do it. The general rule is that you divide plants opposite their season of bloom. So, for example, if a plant blooms in spring, dividing in the autumn is best.

Following that logic, it doesn’t take much thought to figure out that now is the time to divide or move peonies.  Peonies are incredibly long lived, and somewhat slow to spread, so unless you have one that is very old, or that is in the wrong place in the garden, there’s really no need to divide or move them.  Still, “when should I move peonies?” is one question we get a lot.

Here’s a quick list of plants that do benefit from fall division: Phlox paniculata (tall garden phlox); Monarda (bee balm); Salvia nemerosa (meadow sage); Stachys lanata (lambs-ear); some penstemons including Penstemon glaber, Penstemon pinifolius, and Penstemon barbatus; and, Leucanthemum superbum (shasta daisy).

Any plant that starts to die out in the center, and flop over onto its neighbor, is hinting that it would appreciate division.  When you divide your plants, make sure you get both a leafy stem and a root with each section. Every plant is a little different, but when you start to pull them apart, you’ll see how they grow and what goes with what.

It’s impotant to note that there are  some plants that don’t like division at all and will most likely die if you attempt it: Aquilegia caerulea (columbine); Gypsophila paniculata (baby’s breath); Linum lewisii (blue flax); Alyssum saxatile (basket of gold); and Lupinus sp. (lupine).

You’ll start to see a pattern in how the plants that can be divided grow compared to the ones that can’t.  If a plant grows from a single growing point and has a taproot, it’s not a candidate for division.  Once you start, you’ll get addicted to this process of making free plants.

In the picture below you can see a single division of Penstemon glaber. There are some new leaves starting on the stem.  This one small piece, when replanted in your garden,  will make a new plant that can grow to 12″ wide by the end of next summer. I love this penstemon, it’s a tough native, it blooms a long time, and it has lived in my garden for 20 years!





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