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Durango Botanic Gardens

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  • 01 Apr 2021 2:40 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    Our Bulb guru, Mike Smedley, always has interesting things going on in his yard. In his part of town the other night the temperature got down to 23F at night but that means nothing to determined daffodils and tulips. Here's his account of an early bloomer that demonstrates the incredible geographic range history of many of our favorite bulbs. Here's Mike's account...

    "This tulip has a great story. It’s Tulipa dubia ‘Beldersai,’ which I picked up on a whim at Denver Botanic’s bulb sale a couple years ago. Being a Steppe region native, this tulip been a colorful and dependable addition, with red and yellow petals and purple-stained foliage, in the dry crevice rock garden. Then, in 2019, Amy and I went to Uzbekistan to tour the Silk Road. Part of that trip was to the eastern mountains and a place called Beldersay, a Soviet-occupation-era ski resort. There, we went on botanizing hikes and saw wild tulips growing naturally just below melting snowfields in the Chimgan Valley. When we got back home, I finally put it together. THIS tulip was grown from seed collected right there in that valley of Uzbekistan. It’s a small world.

    But even before the Beldersai tulip bloomed, one of the earliest wee daffodils sprang up. This is Narcissus 'Little Gem,' a specialty selection from the Durango Botanic Garden's bulb sale last year. Not only does Little Gem bloom in late March, it’s as small as a Dutch  crocus, shown paired with purple-striped Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick,’ which also was a purchase from the sale. Grown together, they are a smashing combo. Little Gem is lucky to reach 5 inches tall, but the flower offers that “traditional” daffodil look, with an outsize trumpet and bright yellow hue. Yellow Gem is also more drought tolerant than most daffodils, an added bonus."

    Durango Botanic Gardens will conduct it's annual bulb sale online from August 6-17.

  • 28 Feb 2021 8:55 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    The season has begun! The first crocus is up and blooming, despite lows of 14 degrees at night and blustery days of late winter. Meet the species Crocus korolkowii 'Brown Tiger,' putting on a show in Mike Smedley's crevice rock garden on Feb. 27. Mike says the outsides of these large, golden flowers are heavily striated and mottled in dark maroon. The bulb (actually, it's a corm but no one really cares about that detail) hails from the steppes of Central Asia -- notably the "stans": Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and north to the Kara Tau Mountains of Kazakhstan. So that tells you just how tough-as-nails this spring ephemeral is. At night, the petals collapse around the stamen and stigma to protect until the next morning. The next earliest blooming crocus will be C. ancyrensis 'Golden Bunch'.  These should make a showing in a week or two, followed by the various Snow Crocus, C. chrysanthus, along with Iris reticulata (snow iris), Galanthus (snowflakes), Eranthus (winter aconite) and the usual suspects who brave the cold.

  • 25 Nov 2020 11:50 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    Mike Smedley, our resident bulb authority, took these gorgeous photos of one of the bulb world's most notable late bloomers, Crocus specious.  We typically see this fall blooming crocus around Halloween but Mike thinks that our October frigid snap pushed back the bloom time. He shot this photo, for example, this Thanksgiving week.

    Fall-blooming crocuses are a distinct breed, Mike says. Typically the very last bulb to bloom, this unusual crocus offers gorgeous violet-blue petals with pumpkin-orange anthers, a combination that goes incredibly well with the tawny hues of late autumn.  They send up their white-striped grasslike foliage in spring, just like “regular” crocus.  But they don’t bloom.  Instead, the foliage ripens and fades. In late fall, the flowers emerge by themselves.  Thus, they need a groundcover foil for best display.  Here, they thrive in a xeric buffalo grass. C. speciosus is native to the mountains of central and northern Turkey, the Caucasus Mountains, northern Iran and the Crimea, hardy to zone 3.  So far, Mike adds, he has not seen any last-minute pollinators.  It might be too late in the year for bees.  But just in case, there’s a Thanksgiving feast waiting in the front lawn.

  • 18 Oct 2020 12:42 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    The following is a letter to members from BIll LeMaire, newly elected president of the Durango Botanic Gardens.

    Since 2010, our lovely public gardens at the library and along the Animas River Trail, have been identified as the Durango Botanical Society.  In August of this year, the board of directors took the decision to change our name to the Durango Botanic Gardens—with the accompanying new logo, seen here on this letterhead.  After considerable discussion about our future, and as we embark on a new decade, it was decided that our communications and branding will be better served by focusing on our actual product—gardens.  The gardens are the same, the people are the same, the mission to build gardens that inspire, demonstrate, and educate, remains the same--only the official name of our endeavor has changed.  

    We have come so far since 2010.  Our founding members looked upon a weed-infested wasteland behind the library and did something remarkable with that space.  And, we have continued to add to that vision, with additional gardens and themes.  However, the next decade for our gardens will be equally exciting.  We intend to develop additional space at the library, add outdoor art, and make our gardens the envy of Colorado and an even more remarkable destination.

    So thank you members, thank you partners and supporters.  We could not have built the Durango Botanic Gardens without all of you and we cannot build this future without you.    

    In further news, the DBG board recently elected new officers.  Bill LeMaire is our new president, replacing John Anderson, who accomplished so much in the past three years.  Drew Currie was elected vice president which fills a position that had remained vacant.  Theresa Anderson was elected secretary, replacing Drew Currie in that position.  Connie Markert remains our treasurer.  Annette LeMaire was elected to the board.

    We will begin work this fall on the new Elevated Grass Collection, between the Crevice Garden and the Rosie-the-Riveter Garden, and this work will be completed in the spring. 

    We intend that 2021 will be a very active year with a number of events planned, as pandemic restrictions permit.  

    Thank you for your membership, exciting times and benefits lie ahead which will add further value to your membership.

    Thanks for your support and stay well,

    Bill LeMaire

    President, Durango Botanic Gardens

  • 26 Sep 2020 11:20 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    The Following are the dedication remarks offered by Melanie Palmer on September 22 in recognition of the service to our gardens by long-time board member, Nancy Wallace.

                From the very beginning of the Durango Botanic Gardens (DBG), Nancy has been a tireless worker, advocate and financial supporter. In 2012, Nancy became a member of the Board of Directors. She quickly assumed the mantle of Garden Maintenance Director and worked tirelessly with Lisa Bourey and others to improve the infrastructure of the Gardens and mold into its present form with different mulches to delineate specific gardens. She was always instrumental in managing the garden irrigation, working with Library staff and irrigation companies to make sure that the irrigation was adequate and in good repair and overseeing the transition from drip to overhead sprinklers. 

                Nancy procured, had delivered, and then hauled by wheelbarrow untold tons of rock, gravel, and wood mulches through the years—the cobble in the Dine, the rock mulch in the South African, the gravel along the garden path, the pea gravel in the Alpine and the wood mulch in the other areas. Many of these were in-kind donations from Nancy and her husband Jim.  


    Above left, Nancy and Jim Wallace stand next to the planting area dedicated to Nancy and her service to the Durango Botanic Gardens.         Above right, Melanie Palmer reads dedicatory remarks.

    As Garden Maintenance Director, she was present in the garden EVERY SATURDAY for many years, directing volunteers, always being the last person to leave. She always provided homemade cookies and treat for the volunteers every Saturday. She was assisted by her husband on many of these Saturdays. She was instrumental in getting the weeds in the Dine and other areas under control, trying a host of organic methods. 

           Nancy was kind enough to be a guinea pig for the first Docent training and for another year after that and was always very appreciative and supportive of the Docents in every way possible.  

    She opened her home for volunteer appreciation parties and hosted world-renowned visiting horticultural experts at elegant dinner parties on several occasions—where we were all green with envy at her own amazing garden.  

                The Gardens and DBG simply would NOT be what they are without her over these many years of hard service.  

                Instead of a single tree, we dedicate this planting bed with its shrubs and flowers to Nancy, with the hope that it will be expanded with more plantings to show several seasons of interest throughout this year and for many years to come. 

                The Board and docents give Nancy their heartfelt thanks and appreciation.

  • 19 Sep 2020 5:54 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    By Carol Chicci

    Hello to all of you in Durango from Flagstaff, AZ.  I usualy write about roses, but I want to share with you what has been going on with general gardening in Flagstaff during this time of social distancing, economic challenges, and travel restrictions.

    When we are under restrictions, we can feel that our lives are not as full as we would like. However, I am privileged to know gardeners who live every day to the fullest and who do not wait for “better times.” Our two excellent family-owned nurseries led the way last spring with websites allowing you to order online and then pick up at their curb side or have your plants and amendments delivered to your door.

    Many people planted vegetable gardens for the first time, adding needed food to their tables while showing their children the joy in observing new life sprouting and then ripening into edible produce.

    More leisure time since we were not commuting allowed many of us to finally finish landscaping the front and back yard. This was another worthwhile activity for our children to help us with, broadening their knowledge of the outdoors and helping them experience the satisfaction of a job well done.

    Bartering with neighbors for gardening equipment and supplies has increased. These same people will probably look throughout their yards and neighborhoods this fall for leaves and pine needles to use for mulch. 

              Meilland's 'Eden' at left, David Austin's 'James Galway' at right

    In the Hospice garden where I have volunteered all summer long for the past seven summers since I became a master gardener, we have replaced three of our climbing roses which were either diseased or had not bloomed for several years. Attached are pictures of these roses, two of Meilland’s ‘Eden’ and David Austin’s ‘James Galway.’

    Hopefully we in Flagstaff, as well as you in Durango, will carry over all that we have learned in our gardens during this unusual summer and add it to each of our future gardens, ensuring that a very difficult time was also one of our most productive times.

    Carol Chicci, a certified Master Gardener of the Coconino Master Gardener Association, has grown roses in Phoenix for 15 years and for 16 years in Flagstaff. She is a member of the Denver Rose Society, the American Rose Society, and the Durango Botanic Gardens.  If you'd like to reach Carol, do so at

  • 27 Aug 2020 11:19 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    Tish Varney does a new, aesthetic take on the increasingly popular use of sheep tanks for vegetable gardening.  She files this report...

    Among the ill effects of our Covid-19 pandemic, some families in our region are also experiencing food insecurity and thus there is an even greater premium this summer for producing fruits and vegetables. My personal effort to address this need includes the assembly of a vegetable-producing sheep tank. Our landscaping doesn’t really accommodate a conventional vegetable garden space so I had to be especially resourceful and mindful of space.  My solution was to convert a tiny patch of irrigated grass in the back yard into a raised-bed garden within a sheep tank.  In order to maximize this small space I followed the Square Foot Gardening technique made famous by Mel Bartholomew which limits each growing space to a square foot parameter. 

    So, I bought a galvanized sheep watering tank for $160 with dimensions of 8’ long by 19” wide by 2’ deep. I opened up the tank for drainage by drilling 10 holes and then placed the tank in the grass plot on 8” x 16” cement blocks. This raised the tank to a convenient height of 2’8”.

    Since veggies don’t require deep soil, I first added conifer mulch to 1/3 then filled with a mixture of top soil, organic potting mix and cotton burr compost. Before planting, I first created a schematic on paper of the tank with one foot by 9” for 12 sections and two curved end caps and then physically laid out string to define the sections in the tank. On May 18, I set out some seedlings (kale, bush beans) and planted the rest with seeds. The garden exceeded my expectations! And my neighbors became the recipients of kale, spinach, and lettuce as well.

    The art of gardening wouldn’t be complete without art in the garden. A galvanized tank isn’t all that attractive, so I commissioned my college neighbor studying graphic arts to create stencils to add a flower design using green spray paint. The result is delightful! Maybe animal water tanks will come into their own as raised veggie beds and not be sheepish any longer! 

  • 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.

  • 23 Jul 2020 1:04 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

         Bulb Basics was prepared for customers of the Durango Botanic Gardens' 2020 Bulb Sale by Mike Smedley...Read below and/or print out a pdf file here.                         Click the page below to expand for easier reading...                   

  • 16 Jul 2020 10:44 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)
    •  Creative use of bulbs at Chanticleer Gardens, Wayne, PA. Photo by Lisa Roper and from the New York Times, July 16, 2020.

      Caution: When you plant a bulb, you’re handling highly concentrated flower power. There may be no other investment in your garden that will yield as great a return—in color, vibrancy, and pure joy—as bulbs.  And while it’s not essential to your enjoyment of bulbs, many of them have a fascinating history and geographical pedigree. A friend recently discovered that one of his bulbs has its origin in Uzbekistan. We may use the “bulb” liberally but the term typically refers not only to true bulbs, but also plants with tuberous roots, tubers, corms, and rhizomes. The information below can be applied to all or most of these.

      Here’s maybe the most important reason to buy bulbs—with just a little basic knowledge, anyone can grow beautiful bulbs. Why now? Savvy bulb gardeners know that right now is when the selection of bulbs is greatest; otherwise gardeners who wait for fall may find their favorites sold out and unavailable. Here are some other reasons you should consider bulbs—or more bulbs for your garden:

      1. Bulbs are a great way to add color to the garden at a time when little else is in bloom. The spring surprises offered by their emerging foliage and blooms are very rewarding. They can last for years when properly selected and planted at the correct depth. They are by far the most cost-effective perennial there is!  Some types of bulbs naturally multiply, increasing in blooms year after year. 
      2. Since most bulbs need a period of chilling before they can flower, Mother Nature takes care of that here, so our area is ideal. Mid-October to early November is the ideal time to plant because the ground has not frozen and there is sufficient time to allow root development. 
      3. Bulbs have a long and fascinating place in gardening history, art, literature and even speculative economic bubbles. Daffodils, grown by Egyptians and Greeks and brought into English gardens by the 1200’s, are deer proof, enduring, and now unbelievably diverse.
      4. Properly chosen, bulbs can give continuous color for three months, in the drab time between when the snow recedes and other perennials start to flower.
      5. One need not have a garden to try some of these beauties. Many varieties of bulbs are “good forcers”, which means they may be grown indoors in pots. A little patience and some refrigerator or garage space to provide the necessary dark pre-chilling period (8-14 weeks, 38-45ºF) that Mother Nature provides outdoors will brighten February days. 
      6. There is a strong case for planting spring-blooming bulbs as a source of food for bees. As homeowners remove dandelions from lawns, bulbs offer alternatives to bees. 
      7. Bulbs are easily grown in amended garden soil, and many are deer and rodent resistant.  

    Consider visiting our Sale Preview page to see what bulbs are being offered during our online sale period of August 5-16.

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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.

Mailing Address:

Durango Botanic Gardens

10 Town Plaza, #460

Durango, CO  81301

Phone: 970-880-4841

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Durango Botanic Gardens

Our Location:

The Durango Botanic Gardens are physically located at the Durango Public Library, to the north and east of the library.  The library is located at 1900 E. 3rd Ave., Durango.

There is no admission charge.  Stroll the gardens yourself (there is ample signage in most gardens) or call us at 970-880-4841 to arrange a group tour. See the About Us Tab for more.

Contact Us:

10 Town Plaza, #460
Durango, CO  81301    

Phone:  970-880-4841

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