First stop on the first full day of the 2019 Fling was in Loveland, about 50 miles north of Denver on the I-25 corridor along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Here we visited the High Plains Environmental Center, which works to integrate conservation principles into regional development.
This is the HPEC’s new Visitor Center. Education is central to the HPEC’s mission. There are programs aimed at students, developers, and landowners focusing on native plants, wildlife conservation, and land and water management.
HPEC maintains a native plant demonstration garden, featuring about 80 plants native to the region. The Rocky Mountains are visible in the distance.
Many of the species are smaller, tougher versions of native Midwestern plants. For example, the Mountain Ninebark (Physocarpus monogynus) above grows from 2-6′ tall, while the Midwestern Common Ninebark (P. opulifolius) grows up to 10′ tall. Understandable, considering the drier, more challenging conditions of the high plains.
There are so many gorgeous Penstemons native to this area. I think this is Large Beardstongue (Penstemon grandiflorus).
This is another Penstemon, but I didn’t catch the name. It’s a cutie, though, with those purple flowers and a dense habit less than 2′ tall. CORRECTION: This is actually Mountain Four O’Clock (Mirabilis multiflora).
This is a Milkweed that’s new to me – Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed. It’s pretty adaptable, though I was surprised to learn it likes moist soil. Tends to grow 3′ tall or less. Showy Milkweed grows as far east as Illinois and Michigan. One thing it cannot tolerate, though, is shade – it needs the wide open spaces.
Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) was for me one of the defining plants of the Denver Fling, and there was plenty in bloom at the HPEC demonstration garden.
HPEC also runs a native plant nursery where many local ecotypes are grown from seed. Their offerings include a dozen species of Penstemon, including Dusky Penstemon, which has the unfortunate botanical name of P. whippleanus. (Sorry for that bit of juvenilia, I couldn’t help myself.)
There’s also a beautifully maintained community garden for residents of nearby housing.
Most of HPEC is close to two small lakes, and we had a chance to walk through the one-acre Wetland Ecology Demonstration Garden.
Here’s another view of the Rockies from the shore of one of the lakes.
HPEC reminds me a bit of a conservation-minded development here in the Chicago area known as Prairie Crossing. I’d like to think that this is a trend that will continue to grow.