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Colorado country gardens.

THE DURANGO AREA IS A GARDENER'S land of opportunity. It's blessed with a climate that's relatively mild for the Rockies (including sunshine almost any time of the year), snow-fed rivers, and abundant open space. At its heart is the town of Durango, nestled in a high valley (6,512 feet) in south-western Colorado between the San Juan Mountains to the north and the stark, wind-swept canyonlands to the south, with neighboring communities 1,000 feet higher.

"We're surrounded by so much natural beauty, all we can do is embellish it," says one gardener. But gardening here--as elsewhere in Sunset climate zone 1--has its challenges: unpredictable weather and just a three- to four-month growing season. The time between planting and harvest is compressed, as is the season of flowers. What blooms in quiet succession elsewhere unfurls here in frantic profusion.

Pictured on these pages are gardens shaped by the land and climate, and by the artistry of the people who tend them. Study the photographs for plant combinations you can try.

Blue Lake Ranch: 5 acres of blooms

GARDENERS AT THIS bed-and-breakfast inn in Hesperus (11 miles west of Durango) harvest golden and orange calendulas, which grow together in rows (pictured below), along with bachelor's buttons to dry for edible garnishes to sell. But "it's the gardens that we hope draw people to us," says owner David Alford. The Alfords grow everything from sunflowers--pictured on the previous pages--to irises (more than 4,000 plants). They save and sell seeds of some of their favorites--old-fashioned hollyhocks, petunias, Shirley poppies, and dianthus. For information on lodging and garden products, write to Blue Lake Ranch, 16919 Highway 140, Hesperus 81326.

Perrenial meadow at the back door

MARY J. VANDEWIELE, NOW IN HER 80'S, CAN'T SAY exactly when she planted the pink painted daisies, golden Iceland poppies, and towering bearded irises that form her meadow. She's been gardening this spot for more than 50 years, and the perennials now ebb and flow naturally through the seasons, encouraged by summer watering, occasional fertilizing, shearing back in fall, and leaving clippings in place as a winter mulch. The Iceland poppies reseed themselves, and the painted daisies come back each year. The irises get divided every few years. "Perennials are always there--you just have to let them do their thing," she advises.

Colorful annuals at Clear Water Farm

GARDENING IS MY FAVORlTE THING TO DO, AND IT'S A WAY to stay home and make money," says Suzy McCleary of the 2 acres of flowers and vegetables that blanket her Hesperus farm. She spends long summer days tending plants for the wreaths, soaps, and seasonings she sells by mail and in local stores. She grows mostly annuals. Scarlet cosmos, pink snapdragons, and orange zinnias brighten the entry border pictured at left; petunias and nasturtiums (along with geraniums) tumble from pots. Yellow statice edges the cabbage row. "I can cut annuals several times in one season. They give me more flowers than perennials that bloom only once each summer," she says. McCleary starts most plants--more than 2,000--indoors in March to plant out in late May or early June, depending on the weather. For a free Clear Water Farm catalog, write to 21055 Highway 140, Hesperus 81326.
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Author:Ocone, Lynn
Article Type:Illustration
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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