Visit to Denver Botanic Gardens: Grasses & cholla for Foliage Follow-Up

Yesterday’s post about my recent visit to Denver Botanic Gardens was flower-powerful in honor of Bloom Day. Today, for Foliage Follow-Up, I’m focusing on a hillside swath of two grasses and a prickly southwestern native, both of which thrilled me—meaning I took lots of pictures. Fab foliage, both of them.

I don’t know the identity of the blue grass. Update: Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator and Director of Outreach at Denver Botanic Gardens, has kindly provided the missing plant IDs in his comment below. The blue grass is Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’. The tawny one I first thought was Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), but now I wonder if it isn’t Peruvian feather grass (Stipa ichu), which I saw labeled elsewhere in the gardens and I was right. At any rate, together, mass planted in blocks of color, they illustrate the simple beauty of massing a single species next to another.

I need to remember to do more of this in my own garden (on a smaller scale), rather than trying to plant everything I like. It’s so hard to resist plants, but a swath of one kind really is effective and much more serene.

On the other side of the gardens, I came across this fantastic pairing of cholla and pine. Both prickly with needles, the pine’s absorb light and the cholla’s catch and reflect it.

And yet the green stems of the cholla, underneath all those spines, are the same color as the pine behind it. Fantastic!

Would that I could emulate this combo in Austin, but pines never seem very happy here. Update: Panayoti, in his helpful comment below, IDs this cholla as Cylindropuntia echinocarpa, but he recommends the cultivar ‘Snow Leopard’ for most gardeners. The pine is Pinus edulis, pinyon pine.

Join me in posting about your lovely leaves of July for Foliage Follow-Up, a way to remind ourselves of the importance of foliage in the garden. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

And for those who want to continue my virtual tour, tomorrow I’ll have a pictures of Denver Botanic Gardens’ beautiful Romantic Garden. For a look back at DBG’s sun-drenched perennial borders, click here.

All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

29 Responses

  1. Who would think to pair pine and Cholla? That is what is so great about Denver Botanic. Haven’t been there for years but it was a memorable visit and it sounds like it is the same with great plants and tons of inspiration. We feel like we’re in Texas up here with no rain and days and days of heat in the 90s and 100s. Found some soothing green foliage on a garden visit over the weekend.

    I wonder if John Fairey of Peckerwood Garden has paired pine and cholla? It seems like something he would do, having recently seen his pairings of agave and yucca with pines. But in any event Denver Botanic certainly has a flair with intriguing plant combos. I’m so sorry to hear about your Texas-style heat and drought. Meanwhile, this summer, we’re having Wisconsin-style rain (if that includes deluging thunderstorms!). —Pam

  2. Nice minimalistic plant study, not to mention some plants I’ve never seen; I’ll ask for you. Is that Whipple Cholla? I agree with you on the need for massing; it helps to mass one plant as a background or to weave it through an area, with a diversity of other smaller plants to accent. But hard to do… Now, I must visit the Denver Botanic Gdns!

    My thoughts on the topic –

    I didn’t catch an ID on that cholla, David, and am not very familiar with them myself. Sure was pretty though. —Pam

  3. Rebecca says:

    Perhaps the shorter blue grass was a native grass–Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)? Great post :) I’m sharing the foliage of my kitchen garden (basil)!

    Thanks for the suggested ID for the blue grass, Rebecca—perhaps so! —Pam

  4. Louis says:

    Wow! The grasses are so graceful and elegant there. But best of all, that cholla!!! Absolutely breathtaking.

    I bet I’ll see a cholla in your Vancouver garden eventually, Louis! —Pam

  5. Great comparison/combination with the Cholla and Pine, one that never would have occurred to me. Having grown up in Pine/Conifer country they are common and boring, whereas the Cholla is exotic and cool (to me). They seem like such an unlikely pair, but yet it works doesn’t it? Thanks for giving me a needle lesson this morning!

    I finally got around to focusing the camera on the variegation in my garden:

    And pines are fairly exotic in alkaline Austin, though very familiar to me from my youth in South Carolina. Now I miss them. —Pam

  6. That cholla is a new plant for me – those spines look treacherous but a great contrast to the pine in colour.

    My post is here:

    Those cholla spines ARE treacherous, Rosie. I’m a little afraid of them. —Pam

  7. katina says:

    Yeah – pine doesn’t seem to be popular down here (I’m guessing because it doesn’t do well). But Cedar and Arizona Cypress both look like pine trees), so maybe you could still do it, just do it with a Texas Twist. :)

    Most pines prefer acidic soils, Katina, which is why we don’t see many of them here. I do love Arizona cypress, but it’s a little blue to achieve the same effect as the dark-green pine. Cedar (our native juniper) might work though! Now if I only had another acre… —Pam

  8. Alison says:

    That grass planting en masse is wonderful, even though it goes against the conventional wisdom of using different textures. It’s giving me wonderful ideas! The cholla is an interesting plant too, really scary-looking!

    Here’s a link to my Foliage Follow-up post.

    I think the use of different colors of grasses makes that combo work, even though the textures are the same. And yeah, the cholla is scary-looking to me too. —Pam

  9. ricki says:

    I am finally beginning to recover from Tony Avent referring to “iris ghettos” just when I had achieved what I thought of as an iris drift. Massing is good. Massing is good. Now I am ready to get out there and mass. Thanks for the nudge. In the meantime:

    Oh, you cracked me up, Ricki! Iris ghettos! I’ve not heard that term, but I see how it could make you look differently at your well-planned drifts—oh dear. Speaking of which, I really need more drifts in my own garden. Easy to do for clients. Hard to do for oneself. —Pam

  10. Those grasses are beautiful combinations and the cholla is impressive. Just planted one here this year. Must be some way to copy that combo, carefully of course.

    Yes, carefully is the key, Shirley. I will be watching your blog to see how it is to garden around a cholla. I’m fascinated by them but also a little chicken of bringing one home. —Pam

  11. Greggo says:

    I am really interested in the more upright Stipa,even with the abundance of seed heads it’s holding more vertical than the Nassela tennuisima. My post:

    Me too, Greggo. At first I thought Mexican feathergrass just grew taller and more erect than in Austin. But when I saw some labeled as Peruvian feather grass, I was intrigued as well. I’m still not sure which variety is in the photos I’ve included here. —Pam

  12. Gail says:

    It’s a fantastic garden…I loved visiting it when we vacationed in the Rockies a few years ago. The first time I saw cholla was in Tucson~it sure looks wicked spiny!

    Gail, did you know there’s a cholla variety called “teddy bear” that’s fuzzy with spines? A darling name for a beautiful but ferocious plant. —Pam

  13. Gillian says:

    Wow – what different foliage – I really enjoyed the tour. Here is my link for the month

    Thanks, Gillian. I couldn’t leave a comment on your post without an account, so here ’tis: I am a big fan of silvery leaves, so your Rex earns a thumbs up from me. And how nice that it has pretty flowers to boot. —Pam

  14. Hoov says:

    Blue Gramma grass, Bouteloua gracilis, maybe? Grasses look great, and Cholla sparking in the light is always gorgeous, but oh, so very scary! Thanks for hosting foliage follow-up.

    Hm, I wonder if it could be blue grama? Thanks for the suggestion. And I agree that the cholla is wicked-scary. I couldn’t comment on your post without an account, but I just wanted to say I love those intimate photos. —Pam

  15. jennifer says:

    I have the same problem of being unable to resist plants that I like. But l understand the appeal of massing plants; easier to enjoy the beauty of one plant, less visual over stimulation.

    Thanks for joining in this month, Jennifer. It’s always great to hear from another local garden blogger! I was unable to leave my comment on your blog without an account of some sort (if you care to enable the Name/URL option in your comment field, non-account holders like me can comment too), so here it is: That is such a fun owl planter, and I love seeing the progress of your new garden! —Pam

  16. I am starting to appreciate grasses now that I’ve been planting more and more native plants. Those other plants you showed were cool, too.

    I did my foliage post with my GBBD one. Here’s a link:

    There’s an ornamental grass for every garden! That’s my philosophy, and I’m glad you’re coming around, Sue. ;-) —Pam

  17. peter schaar says:

    Great and perceptive photography, Pam. Have you tried any of the pinyons, such as Pinus remota, or any of the Mediterraneans? Pinus brutia, from Corsica and other Mediterranean islands, does great in the alkaline soils of Dallas. Stone pine, P. cembroides I think, should also work well for you as it does up here. I also think, like Katina, that you could do the same sort of thing using Arizona cypress.

    I used to see Italian stone pines for sale at Gardens, when it was still around. I admired them, but I don’t see them used enough here to spring for one for my own garden. All my money goes to agaves I suppose. Plus I’m a bit scared of the cholla. ;-) —Pam

  18. That Cholla is fascinating. I sort of remember it from visits out to Colorado. And your photo of the two grasses together is striking. My Foliage Follow-Up is with my GBBD post, too. Thanks again for hosting! I wish I would have been more involved in this meme early on with my blog. I’m really enjoying the focus on foliage! Here’s my link:

    Foliage is where it’s really at! Thanks for joining in this time, PP. —Pam

  19. David says:

    Great posts of the Denver Botanic Garden!
    I’ve been to the gardens but I don’t remember seeing so many grasses! Wow. It would be fun to roll around in the stuff…grasses, I mean. I’ll pass on the Cholla. I’ve had one close encounter with Mr. ‘Green wall of thorns’ and that’s one too many for me. It makes growing Opuntia seem tame! LOL
    I’m joining in with some very green foliage here in Houston. After about 7 inches of rain this week and daily rains, I’m almost ready for some dry weather….almost.

    I’ll pass on rolling around in the grasses too. I bet most of them are sharp-edged. But nothing compares to the cholla, does it? —Pam

  20. Renee says:

    Those are some gorgeous pictures. This post and yesterday’s really make me want to go visit and soak up all that inspiration. Here is my link for the month: Foliage July

    Thanks for joining in, Renee. —Pam

  21. Karla says:

    Oh fabulous photos! I’ve not been to the Denver Botanic Garden but it’s definitely on my “to see” list. Of course all that xeriscape stuff would rot in my heavy clay back east–but it doesn’t mean I still can’t enjoy looking. Here’s my Foliage Follow-up link:

    Yes, it’s always fun to look, even if we can’t grow it, and even more fun to visit. Hope you get to DBG one day, Karla. —Pam

  22. Pam I am enjoying your journey through the Denver Botanic Gardens…cholla is amazing and I loved seeing it grow when I lived in AZ. I will have to make sure I visit this garden the next time I am in Denver.

    I am happy to have a chance to participate in Foliage Follow Up. Here is my link:

    I am happy you were able to participate too, Donna! —Pam

  23. Dear Pam,
    David Cristiani alerted me to your very kind post about Denver Botanic Gardens: thank yuou so much for posting about the Gardens!
    I believe I can answer your questions in this post: the very blue grass paired with the Nasella tenuissima is none other than Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’: it is even more striking in winter when the blustem turns deep pink and the Hair grass is contrasting gold.
    There is a stunning white cholla found in gardens around Denver (Cylindropuntia whipplei ‘Snow Leopard’) I recommend this highly for gardens everywhere despite its vicious spines. The white chollas at DBG, however, are selections of Cylindropuntia echinocarpa from southwesternmost Utah and vicinity. They get larger than ‘Snow Leopard’ and are a bit more tender. The pine is Pinus edulis, our common Pinyon Pine: you often see pines and chollas in the upland Chihuahuan dryland regions.
    I realize pines are challenging in many areas: here we can probably grow 100 species, but you would be hard put to find more than a few dozen kinds in Denver. PInes are the aristocrats of the Conifer world, just as Oak reigns supreme among deciduous trees (at least in my humble opinion). We also grow upwards of a dozen chollas: the more the merrier, I say! But do keep pliers nearby just in case…

    Dear Panayoti, thanks so much for dropping by and for all the “insider” info and plant IDs! I really enjoyed my first visit to DBG and hope to see it again sometime soon. —Pam

  24. ann says:

    These pictures make me want to be with all the other Texans enjoying Colorado right now. We are linking to your blog and have provided the link to our new blog for Dallas Gardeners.
    Thank you, Pam, I feel like I took a little vacation.

    Thank you, Ann! Congrats on the new master gardeners blog for Dallas gardeners. For others who are interested, it’s Dallas Garden Buzz. —Pam

  25. A few days late, I have a bulb with both sparkling red flowers, and deeply lush spotted green leaves.

    Thanks for posting, Diana! —Pam

  26. Scott Weber says:

    Sorry I’m always late, Pam!!!!

    No apology necessary, Scott. There’s no deadline! Thanks for joining in. —Pam

  27. Have been reading through your last few posts. We have a nephew who just moved to Colorado Springs…..after your photos I really really want to go out there!!
    I like Mexican Feather Grass….had lots of it in VA and starting a few here now. Grasses are great.

    Sounds like you have the perfect excuse to visit, Janet. It’s beautiful there. —Pam

  28. Peter/Outlaw Garden says:

    Hi Pam,

    Your Yucca and Agaves are beautiful. I’ll trade you some cool breezes and a little rain from the Northwest for a few degrees of heat!
    I’m extremely late with my first foliage follow up. Sorry!

    Thanks for joining in this month, Peter, and welcome to blogging! I was unable to leave a comment on your blog without an account (if you care to enable the Name/URL setting in your comment field, others like me will be able to comment), so here it is: What a fantastic assortment of ferns you have, with such diverse foliage. The ultimate Foliage Follow-Up plant? Maybe! —Pam

  29. I finally finished a little foliage post for July:

    I am enamored of the Nassella tenuissima is the first photo, especially after reading about it Neil Lucas’ book.
    Julie in PA

    Thanks for joining in this time, Julie! —Pam