Most of us are familiar with the same limited assortment of plants—junipers and spirea, oaks and maples, pines, petunias and geraniums. Take a drive anywhere along the Front Range and notice the landscaping. Maybe a dozen plants are repeated over and over, neighborhood to neighborhood. Especially in winter, when annuals are dead and perennials are dormant, the basic theme seems to be rocks, lawn, and junipers. I call it “zero-scaping.”
We live in an area with limited water supplies. Trying to grow the same plants as places with ample rainfall just doesn’t make sense. And there’s really no reason to do so. There are plenty of beautiful, stalwart species that thrive in our climate. They’re a lot more interesting than junipers and rocks. All we need is some inspiration.
One of my favorite places to learn about new plants is at the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden, owned by Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU). Located at CSU’s Conservation and Environmental Center (2855 Mesa Road), the gardens occupy several acres in a beautiful setting overlooking the Garden of the Gods.
As the name suggests, the purpose of this garden is to provide a tangible example of xeriscape principles put into action. It’s divided into various water zones, each planted with species sharing the same irrigation requirements. What immediately strikes me is that all of the zones are lovely. You have to read the signs to discover which areas receive supplemental water and which survive on just rainfall.
From earliest spring to the end of the growing season, something is always in bloom. In addition, many plants have been selected for winter interest. The garden is worth visiting any time of the year.
As a photographer, I love the fact that the garden never closes (the building lobby is open 9 – 5). I can take advantage of early morning or evening light to warm my pictures. In fact, there’s no gate, and no admission fees. Just come on by—everyone is welcome.
To complement the gardens, CSU offers classes on landscaping and xeriscape practices. Most are taught by volunteers; often by Certified Colorado Gardeners (including those of us who were Master Gardeners when the program ended). The classes are free, and well worth your time.
The gardens are maintained by a crew of volunteers who put in several hours a week pulling weeds, pruning, mulching and watering. They look like they’re having so much fun working together, I’m seriously considering joining them.
For such a valuable resource, the garden receives few visitors. Often I’m the only one wandering around, admiring the hawthorn berries or fernbush foliage, taking pictures of the abundant flowers. Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I hope more people come and spend an hour or two—and then go home and implement some of what they’ve learned. I’m really tired of looking at just rocks, lawn, and junipers.