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  • 20 Jun 2023 2:04 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    Three members and docents of the Durango Botanic Gardens (DBG), Melanie Palmer, Curator and Docent Director of the Durango Botanic Gardens and DBG Docents, Veronica Zanon and Tish Varney, attended the Plant Select® 2023 Annual Conference on June 15 at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  They each prepared a report on their observations and principal takeaways from the event.

    Native Plant Dreaming

    Submitted by Veronica, ‘Ronnie,’ Zanon

    Jennifer Ackerfield, Head Curator of the Natural History Collections and Associate of Biodiversity Research at the Denver Botanic Gardens, has my ‘dream’ job—traveling throughout Colorado searching for native plants to be considered for inclusion in the Plant Select® program.

                Among the advantages of using Colorado native plants is that they are pre-adapted to the Colorado climate, as well as their hardiness, low water requirements, attractiveness to pollinators and visual appeal.  She approached the topic by considering the various growing zones in Colorado, beginning with the Plains (3500 – 5600 ft.) of eastern Colorado.  About 35% of Colorado is shortgrass prairie land. One of the outstanding plants of the plains is the Nebraska Lupine (Lupinis plattensis...see photo), a perennial with striking bi-colored flowers.

                By contrast, the Foothills Zone (6000 – 8000 ft.) contains mainly gambel oak, ponderosa pine, pinyon, and juniper.  Here various species of the Asclepias genus(milkweed) thrive.  Milkweed species are especially beneficial to the Monarch butterfly.

                In the Montane (8000 – 10,000 ft.) one sees Douglas fir, blue spruce, aspen, columbine and the Erigeron genus. Some notable performers of the Montane are Mules Ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis) and Bee Balm (Monardella odoratissimus).

                The Alpine Zone (11,000 ft. and above) contains low growing perennials adapted to cold and wind – think purple fringe (Phacelia sericea) and Penstemmon harbourii – found in rocky scree.

                Moving west are the shrublands of the Western slope, a semi-desert, sagebrush covered habitat.  A couple stars of this area are the Easter Daisy (Townsendia incana) and the Woody-aster (Xylorhiza venusta), with its basal leaves and large daisy flower.

    Some considerations for adapting native plants to common cultivation  are: aggressiveness, rabbit/deer resistance, pest and disease susceptibility, ability to propagate, performance in gardens. 

    So, who knows, in a few years, you may find some or all of these wonderful Colorado natives at a nursery near you!

    Melanie Joins Trial Plant Evaluations

    Submitted by Melanie Palmer, curator, Durango Botanic Gardens

    Chatfield Farms, located in southwest Denver, is a 700+ acre nature preserve, working farm, and historic site that has been an important part of the Denver Botanic Gardens for many years. It includes nature trails, numerous themed gardens, including CSA fields, an herb garden, iris garden, and a Plant Select® Demonstration Garden designed by Lauren Springer.

    It is also a trial site for many plants that are considered for the Plant Select®program.  The Durango Botanic Gardens received an invitation from Plant Select Director Ross Shrigley to participate in trial plant evaluations the day before the annual Plant Select meeting, along with garden center and other nursery professionals. Melanie Palmer participated in the evaluations. Plants including groundcovers, other flowering perennials, shrubs, and grasses were scored on several parameters, and ultimately received YES/NO votes on possible inclusion in the program in future years.

    Fire Mitigation By Zones

    Submitted by Tish Varney, DBG Docent

    It’s Elemental: Water, Fire, Natives was the theme of the Plant Select® Conference that included talks addressing issues that gardeners are facing today.  “Creating Fire-Resilient Landscapes” was the title of a presentation by Andrea Dorman, Horticulturist and Southwest Idaho Program Coordinator of Idaho Firewise.

    Western gardeners require forethought in choosing the plants and placement when designing landscapes. Because of increased fire danger and a warming climate, the risk of fire impacting homes also increases. Idaho Firewise and Plant Select® collaborate in offering a demonstration garden that highlights the principles of creating fire-wise and water-wise space.

    Dorman and other experts discuss plant selection and landscaping in terms of three zones radiating away from a house: Zone 1 = 0- 5’, Zone 2 = 5-30-‘ and Zone 3 = 30-100’ or more. The types of plants and mulch in these different zones are “lean, clean and green”. 

    Zone 1 includes only fire-wise plants and rock mulch. Examples of these include high moisture content cacti, latex and pectin (fruit trees) with compact or low growth form.  iceplant, sedum, veronica are to name a few available from Plant Select.

    Zone 2 uses less dense plantings and manageable turf areas with hardscape such as 6’ pathways. It is best to avoid planting conifers and other high pitch plants while including shrubs containing soap such as mock orange, soapwort, yucca and berries (pectin).

    Finally, in Zone 3, trees are limbed up 6-10 feet high. This will discourage fire from reaching and spreading though the branches. Thin and prune overlapping branches. Irrigation such as drip saves water and at the same time keeps plants from drying out.

    For more information, go to for tips on creating your own defensible space. 

  • 25 Mar 2023 5:28 PM | Annette LeMaire (Administrator)

    Our online conference presentations are accessible to registrants through April 7.

    It is true that our climate has and is always changing.  What our measurements, data, and observations are revealing, however, is that climatic change is now happening faster and in often unexpected ways, giving rise in fact to the term “global weirding.”  What is clear is that the planet, as well our Four Corners, is warming and that has a clear, observable impact on us, our landscapes, forests, and mountains.    

    Reflecting on this phenomenon and its impact on our horticultural world, the Durango Botanic Gardens, in league with the Colorado Native Plant Society, the Mountain Studies Institute, the city of Durango, and the Colorado Master Gardeners program, produced a hybrid conference entitled Envisioning a Changing DurangoScape.  ‘Hybrid’ because the event consisted of eight recorded presentations that registrants could view between March 1 and April 7 and an in-person event on March 16 featuring a keynote presentation by the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Director of Outreach and Senior Curator, Panayoti Kelaidis.

    Panayoti Kelaidis from the Denver Botanic Gardens urged attendees to honor their setting in SW Colorado by adapting the flora that works best in our region while also using less water and less labor.

    One of our conference presentations, by Jake Kurzweil and Scott Roberts of the Mountains Studies Institute (MSI), revealed that mountain regions around the world, including the San Juans, are increasingly reflecting the impacts of warming and climate change. Mean annual air temperatures in Southwestern Colorado have risen almost 20F in only three decades. Even more concerning is that temperatures are likely to increase by an additional 1.5 to 3.50F by 2025 and 2.5 to 5.50F by 2050. Warming temperatures have deleterious impacts that can be seen in the increasing rise of wildfire, falling averages of flow in our rivers, an emerging shift from a cold-water fishery to a warm water fishery, and more, far more. Not to mention, of course, the impact on gardens and landscaping.

    While the MSI presenters produced the background for how changes in the climate are impacting our growing zones, the remaining presenters focused on practical approaches to adapting our yards and landscapes to new climate realities, especially landscaping and plant selection that results in less water usage.  Mike Smedley, for example, issued a plea for reducing conventional Kentucky Bluegrass (KB) lawns, offering a variety of alternatives and groundcovers that could permit, if not the elimination of KB turf, at least reducing its use—while, very importantly, maintaining a great looking yard.  Rock gardens and native plants were among other ideas presented by speakers, all illustrating their messages with examples of great looking yards, landscapes, and parks.

    One takeaway from the presentations is that we seem to be unleashing at chemical warfare on nature rather than working with it.  Some presenters showed home center aisles with shelves groaning under the weight of pesticides and chemicals. Rather than fight nature, speakers encouraged landscape designs that work with nature, that complement or accentuate nature’s strengths.  The result is not only a more resilient landscape but one not only in harmony with nature but also beautiful.

     Mike Smedley’s yard offers an explosion of color and textural interest while simultaneously keeping turf to a minimum, all with potentially less maintenance.  Click on image to enlarge for a better look.

    One term that is gaining traction in our pursuit of a new way of adapting to a warmer climate is regenerative landscaping, a term used by Brooke Safford of Blooming Landscape & Design.  “A well designed, regenerative landscape,” she says, “not only encourages sustainability and biodiversity but can also reduce your water and maintenance costs while creating visually pleasing spaces in harmony with nature.” 

    A “food forest” is a type of biodynamic, edible garden that is designed to mimic systems found in nature.  Much like a forest, the garden is comprised of a hierarchy of different plants that all support each other.  The outcome is a garden that is more resilient and requires less water and maintenance over time.  A food forest will have a better chance of acclimating and adapting to climate change than a series of mono crops. Image from Brooke Safford's presentation.

    The theme of the conference was well articulated by our keynote speaker on March 16, Panayoti Kelaidis.  He urged attendees to rethink the DurangoScape in a way that truly “honors your setting.”  As he explained, “I don’t think we in Colorado take as much advantage of our natural Southwest flora, which are beautiful and almost inherently resilient to climate changes, as well as often needing less. We just need to be shown what is possible and work with what we have, which is very beautiful.”

    Kelaidis added further that, “Most of us don’t bat an eyelash spending five figures to remodel a room, but boy! we get stingy when it comes to our gardens! Why do we settle for less when a cityscape is the stage setting of much of our (and our children’s) lives? Let’s conjure towns and settings worthy of Durango and the Four Corners!,” he concluded.

  • 13 Dec 2022 10:02 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    Following submitted by our knower-of-all-things-related-to-bulbs, Mike Smedley.

    It's December 11, late afternoon, and the sun skims low in the southwestern skyline. Winter Solstice comes in 10 long nights. A storm is coming, the weather prognosticators say, with harsh blowing snow and bone-crushing single-digit temperatures as the coup de grace to the tawny, supposedly dormant garden.

    But in the front yard, there is one remaining and defiant hold-out. It's a blooming crocus, the very last flower of the year.

    I didn't know whether to celebrate its resolute audacity or mourn that it is, without a doubt, the very final flower of 2022. Maybe celebrate and mourn simultaneously. 

    A brave lilac-blue Crocus speciosus (autumn-blooming crocus from the Caucasus Mountains) in December is a source of wonder. But I can only pause to appreciate and anticipate that in 10 weeks, this corm's golden cousin Crocus ancyrensis (so called Golden Bunch Crocus from Turkey) will brighten the late-winter world, maybe even poking up through lingering snow with the same insubordination.

  • 05 Dec 2022 1:47 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    The Durango Botanic Gardens (DBG) joined the city and business community in celebrating Noel Night Friday, December 2 at the library.  With many parts of the new Literary Garden adorned with lights and the pathways alit with luminaria, it was a festive evening attended by a large number of people from the community—especially children anticipating meeting with Santa and Mrs. Claus.  

    In photo above Santa and Mrs. Claus (Kevin and Patsy Ford) flank the Grinch (Lynn Hughes).  Below, Lynn Hughes reads from How the Grinch Stole Christmas to an enraptured audience. Santa read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.'

    We had incredible help from a number of people but a special shout-out to the principal organizers: Barbara Johnson, Melanie Palmer, and Camilla Potter.  "This was a group effort by our Docents and Board members,” said Melanie Palmer, the Gardens’ Curator.  “We were surprised and pleased with the turnout by people of all ages, but especially young children and their families. We are already collecting ideas for next year!"

    Some of the cold but cheerful board members, volunteers, docents, and elves that helped make our first Noel Night a fun, successful event. Front row (L-R) Gail Lauter, Betsy Iwanicki, Cathy Metz (kneeling), Kandye Dille (kneeling). Back row (L-R), Sharon Matheson, Barbara Johnson, Theresa Anderson (white woolen cap), Melanie Palmer, Hollis Hassenstein, and John Anderson.

  • 18 Nov 2022 9:44 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    Thanks to funding from the City of Durango’s Lodgers’ Tax devoted to Arts & Culture projects the Durango Botanic Gardens (DBG) has acquired and will soon install a new metal sculpture along the heavily traveled Animas River Trail (ART).  The project application was reviewed and approved by the city’s Creative Economy Commission. 

    The metal artwork, entitled the Infiniti II Wind Harp, is the creation of Pagosa Springs artist, Ross Barrable (in photo at left).  This stunning work in metal features 18 nylon strings and stainless-steel tuning pins that will capture wind movements in the Animas River corridor and transform them into a variety of natural, pleasing musical tones.  The strings generate different tones and moods depending on the direction and power of the wind; in other words, the wind harp becomes nature’s improvisational musician.  We believe this handcrafted, locally produced piece, will instantly capture the attention and hearts of Durangoans while also becoming one of the city’s signature artworks.

    Ross Barrable is the only acoustical wind harp artist in the United States with installations across the county in a variety of public spaces.  More locally, Mercy Hospital has a similar wind harp by Barrable.  Following is the artist’s web site:

    In consultation with the artist, Ross Barrable, we have determined that the best location for the wind harp is between our crevice garden and our grass garden.  The location and the amazing nature of this work will powerfully reflect Durango’s commitment to public art.  We hope it generates favorable dialogue in the community about the confluence of art and nature, the synchronicity of nature (wind) and the art it inspires in humankind.

    Thanks to the City of Durango and the Creative Economy Commission for support the arts and our Botanic Gardens.

  • 13 Nov 2022 11:42 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    Thanks to our nearly 400 members, docents, volunteers, and donors for making 2022 a memorably, transformative year for the Durango's admission-free, award-winning public gardens.  Click on the image to the left for a downloadable copy of the annual report.

  • 01 Nov 2022 9:08 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    Melanie Palmer, curator of the Durango Botanic Gardens conducted a survey of our docents to choose the plant of the year for 2021 and 2022. Here is her report on our Docents' Plant of the Year.  Click on images below to enlarge.

          For 2021, Docents chose a perennial grass, Undaunted Ruby Muhly, Muhlenbergia reverchonii ‘PUND01S’, which has been a star in the Dryland Mesa section of the Demonstration Garden for years and is now lighting up the Elevation Grass Collection. This grass is a drought tolerant and cold hardy (to Zone 5) bunch grass that requires little maintenance except cutting back in early spring and periodic division every 5 years or so. The soft green foliage in the spring and early summer is followed by the stunning pink halo of bloom, breathtaking when backlit by autumn sunlight. One of North America’s most beautiful native grasses, it was brought into the Plant Select program in 2014. (Photo by Melanie Palmer)

         The Docents’ Choice for 2022 is the ‘Midnight Marvel’ Rose Mallow, a hardy hibiscus that is in its third season.  Slow to leaf out in the spring, it makes up for lost time in late summer when it is covered with deep red blooms. Although each flower lasts only a day or two, the plant puts out an abundance of flowers, which stand out against the purple-black foliage. Best flower production is in full sun, but the plant will tolerate some shade.  It is best to enrich the soil with some organic matter.  It will do well with average moisture but will even tolerate wet soils. Our experience with deer resistance has been mixed.  (Photo by Springhill Nurseries)


    2020:  Hummingbird Trumpet Mint, Monardella macrantha ‘Marian Sampson’

    2019:  Kintzley’s Ghost, Lonicera reticulata

    2018:  Hopflower Oregano, Origanum libanoticum

    2017:  Coral Canyon Twinspur, Diascia integerrima

    2016:  Mojave Sage, Salvia pachyphylla

    2015:  Hot Wings Maple, Acer tataricum, ‘GarAnn’

    2014:  Horned Poppy, Glaucium acutidentatum

  • 17 Aug 2022 8:26 AM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    The following is an interview with Kim Adams, a Durango ceramicist who produced those botanically themed ceramic pots in the Cindy Smart Miniature Tree Garden.  Kim explains how Tibetan prayer wheels inspired her to create these Botanic Inspiration Wheels.

    Why did you chose this project? I’ve always wanted to get involved with a public art project after taking a course on it at the Corcoran in DC many years ago. When I saw an article in the Herald about the Art Brigade’s call for artists, I thought it was time. I’ve been involved with ceramics as a student, business owner, and a lover of clay for years, so opening my mind to a new way for people to interact with my art was exciting. The grant I applied for suggested the Durango Botanic Gardens as a potential site. I love being and working in the garden, so from there ideas about an interactive installation started coming to me, then Jim Philpott signed on for the metalwork offering to donate his time, then the meeting with Bill LeMaire was encouraging. Before I knew it, I was in the studio throwing pots destined for the Durango Botanic Gardens and its visitors.

    How does the installation work? If you’re exploring the gardens on the north side of the library, you’ll see four pots mounted on rods sprinkled throughout the Cindy Smart Arboretum. On two of the rods are boxes with paper and pencils—means to render ideas, poems, wishes, drawings that come to you while meandering through the grounds. Rather than putting your rendering in your pocket, I invite you to put it in one of the pots and to spin the pot. (There are carved slots near the top of each pot’s copper lid.) This concept came to me from the time I spent with my children at the Tara Redwood Preschool in Soquel, CA, where prayer wheels were throughout the campus. A turn of a prayer wheel was the same as a recitation of the mantras carved on the surfaces and inside the cores of the wheels. With the Botanic Inspiration Wheels, a turn is a recitation of the messages inside the pots.

    What has been the response from the garden visitors been so far? I collect the messages deposited inside the pots every couple of weeks or so. Each time I have gone, I’ve eagerly anticipated what I’ll find. Thus far all the messages express good-spirited intentions for the world, the environment, and individuals. There are hopes for dinosaurs to return, wishes for people to heal and make smooth lifestyle transitions, beautiful pictures, expressions of love, feedback for the garden, and offerings of words to live by. Most messages are anonymous, but gauging by the handwriting and content, I believe the authors are of all ages.

    Any projects in the future? There is one more Botanic Inspiration Wheel going in at the new children’s garden at the library. It’ll be around 3 1/2 feet tall, perfectly sized for its visitors. I have an idea for another community-interactive installation with Durango Creates!. I really hope it comes through, as I have loved every minute spent on these botanic wheels.

  • 19 Jul 2022 9:16 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.

      Visit our Sale Preview page, beginning July 22, for get an advance peek at what will be available when our online bulb sales begins August 5.

      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.  


  • 28 Feb 2022 5:46 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

    While the Ides of March referred to the middle day of the month in the ancient Roman calendar, it is most often associated with the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Accordingly, as that date approaches, beware aggrieved Roman Senators. Our March is arriving with lamb-like temperatures in the 50s, which reminded our good friend, Mike Smedley, of some observations about bulbs and warmer temperatures...   

    “The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.  The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.” American author Henry Van Dyke wrote that, and it is so true, Mike says, particularly for Durango.

    "The first day of spring, by the way, is March 20. But March 1 felt like a spring day.  And just on schedule, the spring-blooming bulbs are coming up, starting with snowdrops (Galanthus) and early crocus (Crocus ancyrensis and C. chrysanthus). The earliest of tulips are just poking up in sunbaked spots and warmer microclimates. So yes, it’s a spring-ish for the first week of March, after which temps will cool to 40s daytime and teens at night… typical.

    Remember, 55 is the magic number for bulbs. When the soil hit this temp in spring, bulb top-growth emerges. (Likewise in fall, 55 is the soil temperature to begin planting bulbs, generally after Halloween.) Pro tip: If you have crocus, tulips, snow iris or other bulbs that deer eat, spray the emerging foliage with repellant now. Deer are creatures of habit. They are very hungry this year and have been eating “deer-proof” plants such as rabbitbrush, juniper, lilac, et. al. Spraying now will, as they say, nip this at the bud."

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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 our Information Tab for more.

Contact Us:

10 Town Plaza, #460
Durango, CO  81301    

Phone:  970-880-4841

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