Renowned bulb expert Kit Strange has explored the rugged terrain of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. She has scouted the canyons of Armenia and steppes of Central Asia.
Half a world away, Strange has traipsed the wind-swept, remote Falkland Islands and propagated its rare native plants.
But Durango and the Four Corners are a new frontier for the botanical horticulturalist from the famed Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in England.
That will change next weekend, when Strange visits Southwest Colorado as part of a monthlong speaking tour throughout the Pacific Coast and Intermountain West, a tour sponsored nationally by the North American Rock Garden Society and locally by a group of dedicated horticulturalists.
A world-class presenter, Strange will offer area gardeners an insight on growing alpine bulbs at Kew, home to the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world and a United Nations World Heritage Site.
Rest assured, this isn’t an advanced lecture for obsessive bulb enthusiasts.
Strange promises a zippy romp through the greenhouse, inspiring and amusing everyone from the beginning gardener to the geophyte junkie.
For Durango’s audience, Strange said she’ll explain how she can grow bulbous treasures from Earth’s lofty locales, where the climate is cool, sunny and dry and utterly unlike natural conditions at Kew, south of London.
“My talk will be mainly focused on growing bulbs in pots and what kind of growing regime we give them throughout the year,” she said via email.
“This will be for various collections, so there should be plenty of scope for interesting questions.”
And what a collection is grown at Kew.
More than 5,000 alpine species are under cultivation, most of them bulbs, including the world’s most extensive assemblage of Scorpiris – the exquisite “Juno” iris of the Mediterranean and of Western and Central Asia.
Kew’s celebrated Davies Alpine House features ever-changing panorama of plants at their blooming prime.
Thus, plants are grown in pots, not only to meet their persnickety needs but also to allow alpine displays to be swapped out throughout the seasons.
Strange oversees and nurtures bulbs, repotting the collections annually to maintain Kew’s highest standards for presentation.
She’s constantly resupplying the collection, sowing seeds, developing exhibits and demonstrating propagation techniques.
But horticulture isn’t Strange’s only passion. She loves to ride motorcycles and enjoys fishing.
An avid outdoorswoman, Strange looks forward to visiting the Durango area and its diverse mountains-meet-desert environment.
As one who deals with challenging plants from challenging places, Strange offers some advice for gardeners vexed by Durango’s climate of drought cycles, unpredictable monsoons, searing heat and savage cold.
“Be patient, observe your garden, see what grows in the area already, and look at plants closely to see where they grow, and what they like,” she advises.
“Then throw the book away and start learning.”
Obsessive gardener Mike Smedley is the Herald’s longtime Action Line columnist who grows thousands of bulbs at his and Mrs. Action Line’s home in the quirky Animas City neighborhood of Durango. Email him at email@example.com.