When you come out to the Mesa County fair this week, be sure to take a little time to stroll the amazing gardens on the fairgrounds. There are about four acres, and they are well worth the time to visit.
The Mesa County Arboretum runs along the south side of the parking lot. Curving pathways invite you to wander and explore. The Arboretum is intended to try out a variety of different trees and shrubs, to identify species that will do well here. A few of the plants are stressed this year due to the water restrictions we've been experiencing, but on the whole they are hanging in there and looking wonderful in spite of it. We want the residents of the Tri River Area to see that there are many wonderful choices for plants here in western Colorado. It should be noted that the soils here on the fairgrounds are quite high in salts, so the Arboretum is a testament to what aggressive soil amending can accomplish.
Closer to the Extension office, you will see a number of raised beds. Raised beds are another way of dealing with a high soil salt situation. These gardens have a salt barrier underneath them, with a layer of landscape fabric, a six-inch layer of three-quarter inch washed gravel, and another layer of landscape cloth. The fabric keeps the soil out of the gravel, so the salts are unable to climb up into the good garden soil on top. It also allows the beds to drain properly, and a French drain underneath it all conducts any excess water down to the drainage ditch. The foot or so of good soil above this barrier is deep enough to grow small trees and shrubs as well as a great variety of perennials.
The blooming century plants stole the show this season in our cactus and succulent garden, but this unique and wonderful area has a lot more going for it. Sedums, ice plants and other ground covers complement the many varieties of cacti and succulents that come together in this many-textured garden that is a delight in all seasons. The stalks of the century plants are still standing and still impressive in case you missed them, though the blooms have faded. A variety of yuccas complete this garden, including some fine examples of the Joshua tree, which isn't supposed to be able to grow here.
Other beds that surround our building include an ornamental grasses garden, a hummingbird and butterfly garden, several rose gardens and a variety of perennial beds. On the north patio, a huge wisteria vine covers most of the shade structure that was built to support it. Our south patio is an adaptive garden, featuring raised beds and containers that are accessible to gardeners of all abilities; stretching to the south beyond this garden is our lavender research bed with 13 different varieties of this wonderfully hardy and well-adapted plant.
Behind the office building is the two-and-a-half acre Ute Learning Garden, laid out in berms representing different life zones in Colorado and featuring native plants that were used by the Utes during their annual migration around the state. If you enter from the adaptive garden, you will see the Three Sisters garden on your left. The Three Sisters - corn, beans and squash - represent a wonderful example of sustainable growing with each plant contributing to the well-being of the others. While the Utes didn't need to farm as they lived in the abundance of western Colorado, other Indian tribes in the arid West developed this highly successful method of gardening.
Entering on into the garden will lead you to the desert zones, with many surprisingly useful plants. To the right, you'll discover several berms representing the pinyon- juniper eco-zone, and farther to west are the berms representing the aspen-ponderosa zone. Several structures complement the berms, including a tipi, a pair of wickiups, a sweat lodge frame, and a shade ramada. Several replica hearths may be found near the wickiups, placed there by the Dominguez Archaeological Research Group. This garden is the cooperative effort of CSU Extension, the BLM, and the Utes of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. Information brochures discuss the plants and their uses, and tours may be arranged by calling 970-244-1841.
Please take your time to explore the many wonders to be found here on the fairgrounds. These gardens are open all the time for your enjoyment, and we invite you to return and appreciate them during the different seasons. Questions can be directed to the Tri River Area Master Gardeners at 970-244-1836. Our office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.