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Photo of the Day: Magnificent Magnolia

As Denver slips into a typical high plains spring weather pattern of sloppy snow storms interspersed with breezy sunshiny days, I wanted to share these recent photos of a magnificent magnolia at the Denver Botanic Gardens. This particular variety of magnolia packs a double punch of gorgeous silky blooms, which also emit an intoxicating scent. I’d describe the scent as a mixture of citrus and rose. Amazing!

This particular magnolia is called a Yulan or Jade Lily magnolia (scientific name: Magnolia denudata). It is native to China, and has been grown in Chinese Buddhist temples for more than a thousand years. The Magnolia is an ancient genus, appearing before bees did. Botanists have theorized that magnolias evolved with beetles as their main pollinators.

I’m enjoying these pictures as the rain is slowly turning to snow outside my window, with the thought that those wonderful magnolia flowers may perish if the snow gets too heavy or if the temperature drops much below freezing. Perhaps their fleeting nature makes these magnolia flowers all the more beautiful.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Project Highlight: The Gardens at Columbine Memory Care

Located in Littleton, Colorado, The Gardens at Columbine is a memory care/assisted living facility on which Outdoor Design Group provided landscape design services. This site was an expansion of an existing assisted living facility onto adjacent property. This new building provides a space for adding memory care services to the facility’s roster of other existing services for senior citizens.

As the new building was being planned for this recently acquired property, we designed the outdoor spaces, walkways and landscaped gardens to surround this new structure. Because the site was not terribly large, and the proposed building sizable in scope, this provided several challenges. From how to fit parking spaces into a small space to designing safe and sound emergency exit pathways, this project was a challenging but satisfying endeavor.

One of the first challenges we had to face was how to provide a working landscape at the east entrance to the building. This entrance is near the other existing building, and is the preferred access point for employees traveling between buildings. The difficulty here was adding an entrance walkway that would transition from a higher elevation parking lot then drop down to a doorway that sits slightly below grade relative to the parking lot. Retaining walls were necessary in this area so we added built in benches at the walls to provide useful amenities along this path. Step lights in the walls provide a soft illumination for this well used pathway.

Prior to construction, the original site was filled with trees, as it had been a large lot with one single family home on it. While some of the existing trees could not be saved due to the scope of the proposed building, we worked with the city and the owner to save as many trees as we could. For example we spent a significant time working and re-working the landscape plan with the civil engineer on the project to reconfigure the entrance drive and parking areas to save several existing trees on the north and east sides of the property.

The namesake gardens are located in the internal courtyard of the project. These outdoor spaces give residents of the facility a charming scene that invites them to go outside and get some fresh air amid the trees, shrubs and raised bed gardens.

Stepping out of the building and into the courtyard, the first of the raised planting beds one encounters is a large circle comprised of  a poured-in-place concrete seat wall that is chock full of colorful perennials, wispy ornamental grasses, low growing shrubs and scraggy boulders.

As you step further into the courtyard, you encounter wooden raised bed gardens where residents of the facility can indulge their gardening bug and get their hands dirty in the soil. These two beds are situated on opposite sides of the courtyard, connected by a concrete walk where the residents can circumnavigate to achieve fresh air and exercise, ensconced in the protective calm of these hidden gardens.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Photos of the Day: Early Spring Blooms at the Denver Botanic Gardens

A visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens has revealed that the first signs of spring are making their presence known. As we have been experiencing a recent warm spell here in the Denver area, I decided to check out the Gardens to see what might be blooming. Sure enough, there were many bulbs and some shrubs that were taking advantage of the balmy weather to burst forth in bloom.

Below are just a small sampling of what’s flowering now at the Gardens:

Clockwise from left: Witchhazel; Snowdrops; Hellebores

Clockwise from left: Dwarf Iris in Partridge Feather; Dwarf Iris with Crocus and Agave; Winter Aconite


This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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Photo of the Day – Firecracker Penstemon


I took this photo of a Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) in my garden back in early June. We here in the Denver area were enjoying spring like weather at the time, and so the vivid red blooms of this beauty were still captivating the pedestrians in my neighborhood who passed it by. Despite its namesake, these blooms do not make it to July 4th, as this plant usually begins flowering in early to mid Spring. Behind the penstemon, you can see a blue salvia providing a lovely blue-purple counter note to the penstemon’s brilliant warm red. This particular plant is looking a little leggy. The bed where it resides gets a bit more moisture than the plant should be receiving. It is my understanding that many (if not most) of the penstemons do better on the drier side. For useful information on how best to care for penstemons, please see the list of penstemon growing tips on the High Country Gardens website. One characteristic I appreciate about Firecracker Penstemon is the foliage can be evergreen throughout our Denver winters. And, if you have hummingbirds visiting your yard, they might be happily feeding on the tubular flowers this gorgeous plant produces.

I started this plant indoors, from seed. Many of the penstemons are very easy to acquire this way. This ease of starting from seed obviously translates to the the plants reseeding themselves in the garden. However, I find they are only mild re-seeders, and not nuisance re-seeders like lamb’s ear or blanket flower.

I highly recommend you add a splash of red to your landscape with Firecracker Penstemon. If red is not the color you are after, there are several other penstemon species and hybrids to choose from that offer diverse flower colors on plants that are perfect for low-water landscapes.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.


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Photo of the Day – Datura with Blanket Flower


This photo of a Datura bloom was taken in the early evening, soon after it had opened. In the background of the Datura are blanket flowers (Gaillardia aristata). Datura wrightii is Datura’s full scientific name, but it may also be known as Jimsonweed, sacred thorn-apple or angel trumpet. The flowers are amazingly fragrant, with one of the best floral scents available in the xeric garden. The striking flowers begin to open at the start of night fall, and close up and wither soon after sunrise the following morning. In its native habitat, night flying moths are its main pollinator. Scientists report that the hawkmoth (Manduca sexta) is Datura’s typcial native pollinator (, and also one of its main consumers as the moth larvae feed on the plants tissues soon after hatching from their egg cases.

In my garden, I mostly observe European honeybees visiting the flowers early in the evening before their day is done. The bees can be seen anxiously and voraciously trying to get into the nearly opened flowers. The plant’s flowers exert a hypnotic draw to the bees who are dwarfed by the Datura bloom’s size. In my photo you can see a honey bee who’s happily made it into the flower.

Datura’s are easy to grow in average soil with full sun. They are easy to start from seed, as evidenced by the many seedlings you might find popping up around your xeriscape beds. Datura is usually classed as an annual in most areas of Colorado. But I’ve got a couple plants that have become perennial in one of my flower beds. Every year I have several plants that come up from seed.

Datura is said to be a source of hallucinogenic compounds, but that seems to be in dispute. What is not in dispute by horticultural experts is that all parts of Datura plants contain “dangerous levels of anticholinergic tropane alkaloids and may be fatal if ingested by humans, livestock or pets.”( Even more shocking is the connection of Datura wrightii’s cousin, Datura stramonium to the creation of slave zombies in Haiti. So don’t ingest the Datura, just observe their beauty and admire their fragrance as you enjoy the late summer evening.

This is the official blog of Outdoor Design Group, Colorado Landscape Architects.  For more information about our business and our services, click here.

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