As a gardener, I’ve often dreamed of living someplace where plants actually want to grow. Colorado is definitely not that place. The weather is wacky, we’re short on water, and the soil dirt runs to extremes—we can either make pottery or fill a golf course bunker.
You might wonder how anyone could grow anything in such an inhospitable location, but there are definite advantages. As we look forward to another growing season, and I am looking forward to it, I want to focus on the positives. Here’s how an optimist views gardening in Colorado.
We have sunshine—lots of sunshine. We have as many sunny days as Seattle has cloudy ones. Our intense sunlight grows vibrant, sturdy perennials, and we have plenty of opportunity to get out and enjoy them. I can even grow “full sun” plants in part shade, and they thrive.
While most area gardeners struggle with clay, I have sand and decomposed granite. But sand and gravel aren’t all that bad. In fact, my soil is so well-drained, I rarely have to deal with puddles. I won’t make bricks if I dig while it’s wet. And I never have to worry about plants drowning during mud season.
Our fluffy snow contains little moisture, and we rarely get more than a few inches at a time. What does fall usually melts or evaporates quickly. As a result, we don’t have a mud season.
Plants that are invasive in other parts of the country are perfectly behaved here. I can plant mint, and it won’t overrun my garden; it only grows where I water. I can enjoy the sunny yellow flowers of various brooms—noxious weeds on the west coast. I delight in sky-blue morning glories, while gardeners in other parts of the country shudder. Japanese honeysuckle is a desirable landscape plant. Perhaps best of all, Kudzu doesn’t grow here.
Since plants grow slowly in our short growing season, I rarely have to prune. Oh, I’ll lop off a branch that’s sprouting in the wrong direction, or one that broke in the last wind storm, but I never feel as though I need to grab my machete and go hack at the jungle.
The dry air, wind, and bright sunshine also discourage molds, mildews, and other plant diseases. We don’t have to spray our roses. What’s black spot? And our harsh climate is fatal to many insects that are pests in other parts of the country. Sure, there are a few mosquitoes, but I have never been bothered by black flies, no-see-ums, ticks, chiggers, or fleas. It’s actually pleasant to be outside in the summer.
Unfortunately, Japanese beetles have finally arrived in our state (probably as unnoticed hitch-hikers), but they’re unlikely to become a problem at my elevation. We have grasshoppers and flea beetles, but most of the plant-destroying insects in my garden books are strangers. I don’t even know what a potato beetle looks like.
While I’m sad at the end of the growing season, I’m often relieved as well—the season has an end. I can relax my vigilance and stop worrying about hail, unseasonable frosts, and insects. The weeds stop growing. So does the lawn; we can put the mower away until spring. Our clear, crisp fall days motivate me to finish up the season’s last chores. Then I can put my feet up and dream about spring.
Maybe I don’t want to live someplace else after all. Gardening in Colorado isn’t like gardening in any other part of the country. To me, that makes it all the more interesting. We don’t grow the same plants as everyone else, and we don’t grow them in the same way. I enjoy being a Colorado gardener creating a Colorado landscape.