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Posts Tagged ‘High Country Gardens’

In a time when water is low and worries are high, anguished gardeners watch helplessly as cherished plants succumb to drought: trees that shaded generations of family, heirloom flowers from ancestral lands, and perennial beds are withered and brown.  We need help, we need heroes; we need Superman.  Just in time, he’s back. 

Though things looked dire, our Superman didn’t withdraw to the Fortress of Solitude; western gardeners are made of tougher stuff.  What David Salman did was forge new partnerships, bringing High Country Gardens back from the ravages of its own kryptonite:  forest fires, drought, and the economy.  Teaming with American Meadows, the beloved source for tough, xeric plants is back in business, right here in Denver at Center Greenhouse.

“I’m excited about the future; in a sense, this is embarking on a new career.  I can spend more time and effort on plants, speaking, and writing,” said Salman, who is eager to work with the Vermont-based company.  “American Meadows is letting me continue my role as Chief Horticulturist; I’m responsible for the choice of plants in the catalog.  They have the marketing expertise; I’m still able to educate people, make the selections, and keep our eco-friendly focus.  Our catalog is a little smaller, but still maintains a good breadth of selection, still focused on unusual, unique, garden-worthy plants.”

American Meadows, with its emphasis on wildflowers, was a perfect fit for purchasing High Country Gardens.  “We’re excited to have High Country Gardens as a brand, because it’s something I’ve looked up to for a while,” said Ethan Platt, President.  “We have no desire to change it; it’s too good a brand to mess with.  And David is really a unique resource – we’re eager to work with him.”

Maintaining a small research facility in Santa Fe, Salman and two of his long-time growers continue to develop new plants for the western landscape, sending cuttings and stock plants here to Center Greenhouse where the plants are grown.  With its roots in Denver firmly established, the 64-year old company is a leader in propagating and growing plants for wholesale to garden centers.  “We’ve increased staff by 10 employees just for this partnership,” says Brian Yantorno, Vice-President of Center. 

Center Greenhouses’ expertise is what Salman was searching for to take over care of plants as close to his heart as family.  “These plants need specific conditions to propagate them; you can’t do it in many places, not southern California, not the east coast.  I wanted to choose the very best wholesale growers to grow the best,” said Salman, who moved his production over the past month and a half.  “It was a huge move – imagine packing up a 2-acre house with thousands of plants, then getting them re-established in the new location.”

Celebrating their 20 years, High Country is offering 20 exciting plants, featuring their 2013 Plant of the Year, Phlox ‘Perfect Pink’ (Phlox nana).  The west Texas/New Mexico native is a showcase of the glory xeric plants possess: long blooming flowers of deep pink with a white eye on a tough, long-lived plant. 

Or snap up the new hybrid Skullcap ‘Dark Violet,’ (Scutellaria) with its masses of blooms in rich, seductive tones of reddish-blue.  “Thank goodness I’m not a dog, because if I only saw in black and white, I’d be poorer for it.  That’s what caught me about this plant – the color,” said Salman, who spent 5 years developing it for the catalog.

Hummingbird lovers will flip over Agastache ‘Desert Solstice’, a flower-packed powerhouse hybrid of blooms for our feathered friends.  The orange and pink, spikes sport 50-percent more flowers than its hybrid cousin, ‘Desert Sunrise,’ and tolerates the richer soils of amended perennial beds.

Check out highcountrygardens.com for more xeric plants, or contact them at 800-925-9387 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. mountain time.

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A friend leaned close to whisper awful words in my ear, words that make many gardeners in the west sad.  “High Country Gardens has closed down,” she said, speaking of the Santa Fe, New Mexico business that has been a class act in our region and leaders in developing and promoting water-responsible plants for over 19 years.

According to an article in The Santa Fe New Mexican, High Country Gardens and its parent company, Santa Fe Greenhouses, could not overcome setbacks caused by the effects of slow consumer spending, drought, fire, and competition from big-box stores.  Attempts to downsize failed to save the nursery.

“I think what David and Ava Salman did was to bring the message of the beauty of water wise garden plants to the country,” said Pat Hayward, Executive Director of Plant Select .  “People fell in love with them; all over the country people wanted that look.  David combined beauty and water wise gardening in ways no one else has done, creating excitement.”

Salman worked closely with the Plant Select, a program dedicated to finding, promoting, and distributing plants that thrive in our harsh, dry Rocky Mountain gardens.  “We’ve been working closely with David since I first came on as Executive Director.  Blonde Ambition blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’) was one of his introductions, and we plan to have more of his work.  The void is huge, but he’ll continue breeding plants and discovering new, beautiful introductions.  He has an amazing eye.” 

The current economy doesn’t seem to favor any business right now, but plant industry is dear to the hearts of gardeners.  When one of our own closes down we feel the loss, especially gardeners in far flung locations that have difficulty finding water thrifty plants in their communities.  Panayoti  Kelaidis, Senior Curator and Director of Outreach for the Denver Botanic Gardens, commented on his December 6 blog, Prairie Break , that High Country Gardens’ 19 years “is a hell of a run for any nursery.”

With many plant introductions of his own, Kelaidis said he was deeply saddened by the closing of the cutting edge business.  “No question, it was the highest caliber of production, the perfect combination of quality plants for the widest market.  Theirs was a magical gift to our industry.”

Kelaidis points to Plant Select for those looking to fill the void in searching for additions to water responsible gardens.  The plants Salman helped that program introduce will continue to thrill gardeners, keeping nurseries in Colorado doing well, by and large, said the esteemed Denver Botanic Gardens’ plantsman.  “Salman helped Plant Select create a pallet of plants ideal for western gardens, plants that are low water.  It’s like our own drought insurance for our industry.  These plants are adapted, tailored to our state and growing conditions.”

Rumors abound as to whether the catalog business of the company will find new ownership, but in the meantime, gardeners, take a moment to ponder where you purchase gifts this season and next year.  Check out local garden centers and nurseries for their stock, and talk to the staff.  Over repeat visits, you’ll find they become like family, and our patronage helps them stay afloat while we all ride out the economy.

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Stumped by gift ideas for gardeners this season?  Don’t let desperation for inspiration have you considering wrapping up a truck of manure.  Though nothing says “I love you” quite like a big ol’ pile of poo, this classic, simple gift won’t make the grade when handing out holiday treasures.   

Treat your gardener to a thoughtful gift, one sure to please without odiferous side effects.  Vegetable gardening is hot this year, and gifts to fit every budget are easy to find.  Try one of these for those with an edible garden:

The best gift doesn’t involve big purchases, just time and a willing hand.  A day spent in the garden with them might mean more than any bauble you could buy.  For a gift that they’ll cherish, build a cold frame for their tender spring seedlings using plans from Garden Gate magazine

Treat them to a shopping spree at local garden centers.  For those who assesses stem and leaf like the lines of a thoroughbred, a gift certificate is akin to a launching a kid into a candy shop.

Give good taste with herbs to flavor their food.  Delightful on a winter windowsill or long lasting in the garden, herbs for a kitchen garden can be given individually or in kits. 

If you want a prepackaged collection, check out the five-herb collection from High Country Gardens ($15.95). Their Herb Kit for Wine Lovers is designed for growing seasonings for creating the right dish to serve with wine.  If your gardener prefers tea, go with the Herbal Tea Pocket Garden instead. 

  Any gardener who’s turned up a shirttail to carry vegetables into the house will adore English style garden trugs, wooden baskets attractive enough to double as décor.  Sturdy, able to lift produce by the pound, myrtle wood trugs are handmade by Barber’s Baskets in Oregon ($49 small, $79 large). 

How-to books are indispensable; they distract us in winter months.  For vegetable growers, several tomes are go-to resources for big harvests or small space techniques. 

Small spaces don’t mean tiny gardens.  Grow big with Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work ($19.99 Rodale).  Taking readers through his method of using every square-inch of your raised bed, gardeners learn techniques for making the most the vegetable patch.

Gardeners ready for huge harvests will love Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses ($29.95, Chelsea Green publishing).  Coleman gives simple, clear steps for producing food in all four seasons.

Today’s post can be found in the Longmont Ledger.

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Being on vacation is a chance to get away, see new sights, and act like an idiot without being recognized.  I love going to new places and so, slapping our adventurer’s hats on, my spouse and I took off for Santa Fe.  Blue door

 For those who haven’t been, this is a lovely city.  For me, the adobe buildings and brightly colored doors and windows were a treat made more exotic by the bloom of familiar plants in the gardens below the houses.  We share many plants with the southwest since we’re a high dry place too, and it was nice to see familiar faces amongst the stucco city.  Silver lace vine

 See new sights:  This is the home of High Country Gardens, a source for xeric and native plants perfect for the Rocky Mountain region.  In their demonstration gardens early bloomers were booming; sage, poppies, roses and columbines wound through each others’ leaves, the textures and colors heart-stopping in their simple beauty.  Poppy sage rose

Visitors spoke to each other in grunts, “ooo!  oo!” the most frequently heard comment.  Get down there if you haven’t visited.  You’ll find the garden center filled with benches of low water plants, nurseries packed with vines, shrubs and trees for the high desert, and… Big honkin' bumblebee

 …the biggest bumblebee I have ever seen.  It flew through the groundcover greenhouse like a C130, the drone of its passing a low hum that shook nearby petals.  We gave chase, although carefully:  she may be mellow, but only an idiot bum rushes a bug with a stinger.

Act like an idiot:  Throughout the city, trucks parked, advertising pinõn seeds for a mere $12 per bag.  Remembering the pecan harvests of Texas, we stopped, intent on picking up some for pestos, salads, and other culinary dishes.  Seeing the sandwich-sized baggies of brown, bean-like nuts, we wondered:  this is all you get for twelve bucks?  Where’re the blonde, oily, savory nutlings you get at the grocers?

 This is pinõn in their natural form, we were assured, albeit roasted.  You crack and open them like a sunflower seed, with a nip from your front teeth.  “Cool,” I thought and bought a bag, my mind filled with visions of how many dishes I could make from the baggie.

 But the vendor didn’t lie.  These seeds are individually encased in a hull that must be broken by biting, and the task of getting enough for a spoonful, much less a recipe worth, takes all day.  Squirrels find the pinõn a delicacy to be savored, mostly because it takes them a good while to open the thing.  Pinon seeds

 To shell enough for a meal, I’ll need to start early in the day, say when I arrive for work, nipping and opening nuts all day in order to have the quarter-cup my pesto calls for.  Staff meetings can be a community effort to husk my seeds for supper.

 Still, heading home, north from the city bathed in sun and draped in blooms, the car smelling of hyssop and mums from High Country Gardens, those pinons were fun to nibble.  Keep cracking those hulls, and we’ll be feasting next week.

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