Gardening In Alaska

Shirley Lindsey
Adams County Master Gardener

Given the temperature outside, Its hard not to think of Alaska. Like most gardeners, when I travel, I am always looking for the local flowers, shrubs and trees. To me it is one of the most exciting aspects of travel.

While we often see similar plants to those we have a t home, many times there are unusual treats. I am still amazed in tropical areas to see the houseplants we nurse along at home, such as the philodendron growing enormous leaves outdoors!

But perhaps my most amazing surprise came when I first went to Alaska. We traveled up the Alaska Highway in late June. The lush growth of flowers and foliage along the roadside was a real delight. I find that it works best when I do the driving because I can stop for a closer look whenever I see something especially interesting. The trip to Alaska did not, as my husband claims, take an extra day because of all the flowers I insisted on examining close-up.

A few of the wildflowers we enjoyed were the gigantic cow parsnip - these grow up to nine feet tall with flowers 8 inches in diameter. We saw the beautiful fireweed as well as cotton grass, wild roses, lupines, and the dainty forget-me-not, Alaska's state flower. I never realized that they grew wild in pink and white as well as blue.

Anchorage is a city of over 200,000 people, located in south central Alaska. It has relatively mild weather - well, mild for Alaska. But it is truly a joy to see the flowers in this city. Because it never gets much above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the colors stay very deep and rich and because of the long hours of daylight, the blossoms get extremely large.

Each summer in Anchorage, a theme or color scheme is chosen. Not only are the plantings around public buildings colorful, but many residents also carry out the theme.

For summer 2000, the theme is "Big and Bright." Some of the suggestions for this year are: fabulous fuchsias, outrageous oranges, powerful purples & ya-ya yellows. The recommendation for those following the theme, is to limit the number of types of plants, and group one type in clumps of three, five, or more.

Then vary the texture, by placing the largest flowers in the center, then medium blossoms, and small flowers around the outside of a bed. Also suggested is to vary height and shape, such as planting round geraniums in front of taller, pointed snapdragons.

Prizes are given in various categories such as "Best Use of City of Flowers Theme," "Containers," "Garden Walls," and others. If your plans include a trip to the Anchorage area this summer, be sure to check out the flowers! The season is short, but packs a colorful wallop. As Lesse Atkins of Nikiski said in Alaska Magazine, "Real Alaskans...know the ideal time to till your garden, plant the seeds, and harvest the vegetables falls on the same day."

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