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Melanie Reports from the 2020 Plant Select Annual Meeting

26 Aug 2020 3:29 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

Melanie Palmer, curator of the Durango Botanic Gardens files (DBG) this report from the recent online Plant Select Annual Meeting.  She represented DBG on a panel discussing the relationship of gardens and their communities.

The 2020 Plant Select meeting, which was conducted as a Zoom webinar began with a preview of some of the 2021 Plant Select plants:

  • 1.      Blanca Peak Rocky Mountain Beardtongue—this plant is a WHITE version of the common PURPLE Penstemon strictus and was developed by David Salman
  • 2.     SteppeSun Hokubetsi—Helichrysum trileatum, a very xeric South African native similar in appearance to the Partridge Feather, but with more prominent flowers
  • 3.     Drew’s Folly Hardy Snapdragon—Antirrhinum sempervirens, a pink, cold-hardy dwarf snapdragon from the mountains of Spain

The first keynote speaker was Larry Vickerman, a curator of the Denver Botanic Garden’s Chatfield location.  His prior experience was as a plantsman on the great plains of Kansas, Oklahoma and eastern Colorado.  He highlighted some of the beautiful plants that originate in these areas, particularly the Flint Hills area between Salina and Wichita, KS.  He has planted some of these at the Chatfield location, but they are likely not available in our state as yet, with a couple of exceptions such as the Sorghastrum nutans, an ornamental grass in the Plant select program (and in our own Demonstration Garden) and the Liatris ligulistylis, not a plant Select Plant, but present in our Demonstration Garden. Fires on prairies are essential every 3 years or so for rejuvenation.  In contrast, forest fires in overgrown Ponderosa Forests burn too hot, destroying soils and allowing little rejuvenation. 

The second Keynote speaker was Kenton Seth, a Crevice Garden expert, and designer of our own Crevice Garden.  The latest recommendation in crevice gardening in our area is that crusher fines work better than masonry sand as the soil replacement for a crevice garden.  He also recommends using larger “tried and true” plants in the Plant Select program as “backbones” of these gardens rather than trying to focus on rare or hard-to-grow plants.  My takeaway was that we are doing a lot of things right especially with respect to continuing to use bareroot planting and overhead sprayer irrigation.  We should probably be bare-root planting all of the new plants in other areas of the Gardens. 

The last keynote speaker was Mike Kintgen, Curator of Alpine Collections.  The takeaway from his presentation was that we need to take a second look at some of the older “tried and true”, and now overlooked plants in the Plant Select program, and possibly bring some others into the program, e.g.:

  • Clematis scotia (Scott's Sugarbowls)
  • Erigonum umbellatum (Kannah Creek Buckwheat)
  • Penstemon mensarum  (Grand Mesa Beardtongue)
  • Heuchera pulchella (Sandia Coral Bells)
  • Cercocarpus intricatus (Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany)
  • Lonicera korolkowii Floribunda  (Blue Velvet Honeysuckle)
  • Jamesii americana (Waxflower)

My takeaway is that we still have a very big problem here with availability of Plant Select Plants, especially some of the older varieties like the Waxflower.  We likely need to start requesting/ordering them OR try and get AJ’s to propagate more of them. I don’t believe I have seen any of the 2020 Plant Select plants at local nurseries.  

Other similar plants that Mike Kintgen would like to see brought into the Plant Select program. He mentioned Chelsea Nursery in Clifton (east of Grand Junction) as a good source of native plants.

  • Porter’s Sulphur Flower
  • Subalpine Buckwheat
  • Crispleaf Buckwheat
  • Golden Eye
  • Scarlet Gilia
  • Barnbeyi Columbine 

Panel Discussion

After the keynote speakers there was a panel discussion moderated by Diana Reavis.  The panelists included Bill Pratt of the Treasure Island Garden in Windsor, Colorado; Catherine Moravec of the Colorado Springs Utilities Demonstration Garden, Sonya Anderson of the Denver Botanic Garden, and Melanie Palmer of the Durango Botanic Gardens.  The panelists were asked to describe how their gardens were started, and the impact they have on the community.  In our case, the Durango Botanic Garden was the only one invited from the Western slope, and we have a unique impact as the only public garden in the City with an educational mission.  Our high visibility along the River Trail and Library, our plant signage and our unique Docent program position us perfectly to spread the Plant Select message to the average homeowner and to people relocating to this area. Our strong partnerships with the Library the City are part of the impetus for our expansion plans, and our stewardship has made us the go-to organization for advice on the development of other public demonstration gardens such as the one being planned for the new Water Treatment Plant. 

The second part of the panel focused on volunteer management. Again, we are unique in having no paid staff, but all gardens use volunteers and have effective ways of scheduling them.  Our Docents and Board are a highly trained corps who can train newcomers and exert leadership in all areas of the organization such as fundraising, marketing, electronic media and educational outreach in addition to weeding the garden. 

Other takeaways:  Based on the results of the Plant Select survey from last year, nearly 2/3 of gardens water 2-3 times per week, so we are in line with those.


  • 04 Sep 2020 9:34 AM | Mike Smedley
    I share the frustration of not having a huge variety of Plant Select plants locally. Botanical Concepts (top of 32nd Street) just joined the program and I found some nice material there. Durango Nursery has some great stuff, too. In regard to waxflower (Jamesii Americana), I picked up five small specimens at the Denver Botanic fall sale last year. Two in the new "garage hill" rock garden failed. One planted in nearly full shade with a Sandia coralbells also went to the Great Mulch Pile in the Sky. Under the cherry tree, I planted two next to each other in mostly shade. One is doing quite well; the other is gone. I was super excited to get Jamesii. It's a slow grower, like most natives. I have a hunch this will be the three-year native plant cycle: sleep, creep then leap. If anyone wants to see what Jamesii looks like one year after planting, give me a buzz. It was a tough year to be experimenting with plants!
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NOTE: Our physical location is 1900 E. Third Avenue, at the Durango Public Library. The gardens are located to the north and east of the library, along the Animas River Trail.

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Durango, CO  81301

Phone: 970-880-4841

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Phone:  970-880-4841

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