DENVER, Colo. - The Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent, England, has its monochromatic borders in pastel colors.

The Denver Botanic Gardens offers its own take on the one-color doctrine: the Drop Dead Red Border.

It is here that mass plantings of red tulips, poppies, roses and zinnias meet with red foliage plants, such as a russet grain amaranth. Red ornamental grasses, such as red switch grass or Panicum virgatum "Rotsrahlbusch" anchor the rosy border, while a row of maples contribute in fall when their leaves turn vivid red.

Viewed on a sunny August day, the Drop Dead Red Border popped as if a fireworks show. Embracing red, a garden color often wrongly relegated to tropical plants or hybrid tea roses, felt good during my recent visit to Colorado's premier public garden. It's fun to look at lots of red plants, just as it's fun to wear red shoes or a red hat.

The red border is one of 45 designed landscapes at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Overall, the 23 acres feature 32,000 plants. The gardens showcase plants and gardening styles from around the world, including Africa, Asia, France, Spain and the tropics. Other landscapes instruct the gardener on topics such as saving water, growing cutting flowers and preserving endangered plant species. The Helen Fowler botanical and garden libraries are onsite, and hundreds of classes and garden events take place here each year. Our visit coincided with an African stone sculpture exhibit called "Chapungu: Custom and Legend - A Culture in Stone." On display through Oct. 31, the exhibit consists of more than 80 contemporary sculptures created by the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The international exhibit expresses the themes of family, love, nature and spirit and its mystical and moving sculptures are placed throughout the gardens.

If you were to spend five minutes in each of the Denver Botanic Gardens landscapes, you would need three hours or more. Five minutes apiece isn't enough time, so you might consider a mini-tour featuring the following landscapes:

• The Roads Water-Smart Garden includes drought-tolerant plants from Colorado and similar climates around the world. Watered only twice per month in the summer, and then only if conditions are extremely dry, the plantings thrive and can inform on plant choices for Pacific Northwest gardeners as well.

• In case you haven't had a chance to visit the real thing, the Monet Garden and Water Garden are a close tribute to artist Claude Monet's gardens in Giverny. While the differing Denver and Giverny climates prevent complete replication of the landscape artist's garden, the Colorado garden features an impressive collection of waterlilies, including the unusual Victoria amazonica.

• The Japanese Garden features more than 100 ancient Colorado pines and a nice collection of small bamboos.

• To get a good idea of the local landscape, see the Laura Smith Porter Plains garden, a historical representation of the native vegetation of the Denver Metro area, and the Gates Montane Garden, a landscape depicting the mountain flora from elevations of 6,000 to 10,000 feet.

• The Yuccarama garden features members of the family Agavaceae. These woody lily relatives conserve water in their roots and stems, good characteristics for water-smart landscaping.

• The Scripture Garden exhibits some of the plants mentioned in the literature of Judaic and Christian religious traditions. Some religious scholars believe that Adam and Eve's Tree of Knowledge was an apricot, not an apple, and the Scripture Garden employs the former to highlight the debate.

• The Tropical Conservatory and Cloud Forest Tree features many tropical food plants, such as bananas, coffee and chocolate. The Cloud Forest Tree displays orchids that are added and removed during the growing season.

• Finally, that Drop Dead Red Border has a practical intent, as well as being a celebration of the color red. It's a test garden for red annuals to grow in the Rocky Mountain states and beyond. Beyond the fireworks show, you can learn something here.

The Denver Botanic Gardens, 1005 York St., are open year-round. You can learn more about the gardens by calling (720) 865-3500. If you can't make it to the garden, but want to explore it from your armchair, go to for a viewing. Also on the Web site, you can find a helpful source, "Ask an Expert," for your garden questions.

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online to


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