The Garden Club of Denver took horticulture and elevated it a mile high for the 2019 Shirley Meneice Horticulture Conference (SMHC). Partnering with Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG), we hosted a world-class conference for 250 Garden Club of America members. Perhaps the most esteemed GCA member, Shirley Meneice, traveled from California to Colorado and attended all three days. No flat, cardboard Shirley for us! We had the real thing, and with rockstar status, everyone wanted their photo taken with Shirley.

We started the conference with dinner at the Denver Country Club, the oldest club west of the Mississippi and one of the oldest in the U.S., founded in 1887. We had cocktails on the patio overlooking the scenic golf course and pool, then headed inside to hear from Brian Vogt, CEO of DBG and 2019 recipient of the GCA Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal, as he talked about how gardens can change the world, and how gardening influenced his life.

The first full day of the conference started at Denver Botanic Gardens with Debbie Edwards, GCA President, who outlined GCA initiatives for the 2019-2020 year. We then broke out into Zone meetings, and I attended the Zone XII meeting directed by Jenny Budge, Zone XII Horticulture Chair. A memorable project that stood out from the obligatory GCA info is the “Underwear Project,” which challenges you to test your dirt quality by burying one pair of white cotton underwear 6-8” underground for three months. If you have good soil, the underwear will be mostly disintegrated. Click here for more info on the GCA Website.

After our morning at DBG, we traveled to the Chatfield Farms campus for tours and dinner. I had the esteemed privilege of touring with Shirley Meneice and her daughter Peggy on the electric golf cart due to my recently sprained ankle. We enjoyed learning about the history of the Hildebrand Ranch, founded in 1860, and how the property today is contributing to DBG’s Community Supporting Agriculture. The CSA sells 350 food shares and 50 flower shares to the surrounding community. We learned about the lavender project, which features about 15 varieties of French and English lavender growing in long fragrant rows as you first arrive. DBG Chatfield is growing these varieties to see how they fare in our high altitude climate and shares its findings with the Lavender Association of Colorado.

Thursday morning started with a wonderful lecture by Lauren Springer, author of The Undaunted Garden and many other books that we find so informational and inspiring. Lauren spoke about designing naturalistic plantings for beauty, adaptability and creatures. She outlined great garden attributes, then profiled woodland-inspired plantings; prairie, meadow and steppe plantings; desert as inspiration; and chaparral-inspired plantings, thus giving participants from zones all over the U.S. something to think about in our own gardens.

After Lauren’s presentation, delegates split up and attended the various lectures and workshops held throughout the day. My schedule started with the venerable Panayoti Keleidis as he talked about traveling the world to find seeds and plants that grow well in our steppe environment. Not exactly the “native to Colorado” plants that we are encouraged to use, but most of these plants are hardy, beautiful and pollinator friendly. They hail from the steppes of Mongolia, Patagonia and South Africa, and you can see many of them growing at DBG.

Next was an energetic presentation about cacti and succulents given by DBG’s Nick Daniel. We learned that “every cactus is a succulent, but not every succulent is a cactus.” But all cacti and succulents excel at color, texture and unique forms, as well as being really easy to care for. My afternoon concluded with DBG’s Curator of Alpine Collections, Mike Kintgen, who gave us a tour of the Alpine Garden and all its treasures.

Our evening speaker was Dr. Cary Fowler, an American agriculturalist and global advocate of crop diversity and conservation. Dr. Fowler is the author of Seeds on Ice and was instrumental in establishing the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault contains the largest collection of biodiversity in the world, with about 1 million crop varieties and seeds from every country in the world. Svalbard Seed Vault provides food security around the world inside a safe location at the farthest northern location in the world that you can fly a commercial plane into.

Friday morning featured the SMHC Post Trip to northern Colorado starting with the High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC) in Loveland. This is a model for “preserving native diversity in the midst of development” and is nestled in the heart of Centerra, a 3,000-acre mixed-use community. HPEC is focused on open space management, wetland restoration, native plant propagation and environmental education and outreach. Next on the list is The Gardens on Spring Creek near the CSU campus in Fort Collins. This 18-acre garden is still under construction with one of the newest gardens being planted right now by Lauren Springer. Her Undaunted Garden is a dome-shaped xeriscape garden with tumbling boulders and drought-resistant plants that should need irrigation only once a month when established. We were lucky to have Lauren as our personal guide through the garden. The third stop was the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery where we learned the various methods used to propagate low-cost native trees, shrubs and flowers that can help revegetate areas devastated by fires, pests or overuse.

Overall the Shirley Meniece Horticulture Conference was a huge success with participants raving about the beauty of the two Denver Botanic Gardens campuses, the expertise of the DBG staff, and the inspirational keynote speakers. Kudos go to Nancy Schotters, SMHC Chairman, and to the many dedicated GCD members who volunteered their time and talents to pull this conference together. Thank you!

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