Planning My Colorado Garden
What brings you the most joy?
I was asked this question by my health coach the other day as I continue to learn how to bring balance into my own life. Funny enough, it’s not a question we often think about, but here it was. So I listed the things that brought me the most joy–doing art, creating, baking, sitting in the sun, going for walks, being in nature, and flowers. Oh, how flowers fill my soul.
It’s no wonder that I’m planning a flower garden this year. A combination of flowers I can cut and admire and ones I can dry and use in teas and “potions” as I like to call them (often infusions, syrups, and flavors for my baking goods.)
Here’s something you should know about me. For the longest time I thought I had a black thumb. I didn’t think I was good a gardening, at keeping things alive. I didn’t have house plants because they all eventually died. My parents are known for killing their plants so I assumed, I inherited the gene. But we are all gardeners. We were created to create, to tend to our crops, to admire the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Nature, gardening, flowers, they are a part of us, we just have relearn how to love them.
So I started researching plants. One at a time (otherwise it gets overwhelming) I started adding new plants to our home. I water them weekly, I notice them and how they change. We develop a sort of relationship so that I can spot out when something is off and find out what they need. The internet is an amazing thing for that very reason. Over time, I’ve collected a lot more house plants (with more to come I’m sure). I’ve discovered what plants thrive in darker homes, as our house doesn’t get a ton of direct sunlight. I’ve experimented with feeding them (I add water that has had a banana peel soaking in it for 24-hours to the plants to increase nitrogen in their soil which they seem to really like) and I’ve grown to appreciate their beauty in every stage of their life.
It felt time to expand this love of plants to the outdoors. Something that’s a little trickier in this harsh desert climate of Colorado’s. But with a little research I found the plants native to the region who love the dry soil and intense sun. I’ve also found a handful of herbs that I’ll be able to grow to use for our kitchen making these plants go even further.
So without further ado, here are my Colorado Garden plans.
Backyard Flower Garden
In our quarter acre lot we have only a few places that will allow for garden beds. This is mostly because of the large trees that surround us blocking most of the sun when the leaves bloom. Right along our house, under the living room window is 10 foot by 3 foot plot that used to have Juniper bushes in it. I removed those last year and now we’re ready to build a raised bed for my plants.
The raised bed has a few purposes. One it keeps the plants higher off the ground so that rabbits and our dog have a hard time making their way in. It also allows us to provide a deep bed of rich soil so that I can control the PH balance of what these plants need. I happen to be getting all native species for my garden so we could make do with the soil in our yard, but more soil testing would have to be done to ensure it has enough nutrients.
I’m also doing some flowers along the side of the backyard without a raised bed as well as along the side of the driveway in the front yard. We’ll see how the raised bed makes a different between these two areas.
Growing from Seed
I’m a glutton for punishment so I’ve chosen to use seeds to grow our plants. Almost all of them are perennial which means, if this works, next year I won’t have to do anything but prune and add some compost to the soil. I’ve been told how hard it is to grow plants from seeds but it’s a small investment to try and fail. If we find that this doesn’t succeed, we’ll head straight over to our favorite nursery and buy the pre-grown flowers and plant them.
When to Plant
Over the last few weeks I’ve been hearing friends share stories of their garden from all over the country. They get to start planting in early spring. However, in Denver, we don’t get that luxury with the chance to snow hitting us through May. While many use Mother’s day as our last frost date, I’ve been told to wait until Memorial day. Because we’ll be starting out plants from seeds, it’s important that they have the best chance to grow which, for most of them, means warm soil. Therefore, most of our plants won’t actually hit the raised garden beds until Memorial day weekend. This means it could be July that we really see the fruits of our labor, but next year, with everything already planted, we won’t have to wait as long.
Here’s what you’ve all been waiting for…The flowers. This is the selection of flowers I’ve been prioritizing for my garden. I ended up finding a few different mixed seed bundles at the nursery that provide mostly perennials and a few annuals (1-season) that seemed like a good way to get all the different kinds of flowers I wanted and make it feel like a field of flowers. I like things a little wild. But here are some of the flowers that are included:
Within by raised bed, I’ll be mixing in some pollinators. These are flowers that hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees all like. It will add a little more life to the backyard, and they’re always gorgeous to look at. This includes:
Sunflowers, Cosmos (a favorite of mine), Coneflower (Echinacea), Aster, Lemon Balm, Milk Week, Zinneas and Red Clover. The majority of the pollinators are annuals but a few are perennials including the Coneflower, Milkweed and Aster.
Then I have the mix of seeds that are all perennials. These are the most important to me because I want a garden that comes back every season without the need to have to buy more plants. These flowers include:
White + purple Coneflower (purple coneflower is usually used medicinally), Carnations, Daisy, Blanketflower, Gayfeather, Black-Eyed Susan, Forget-Me-Nots, Mexican Hat, Columbine, Dianthus, and Alyssum.
Made for Shade Flowers
Finally, along the side of the yard is all in shade under our crab apple trees. We’ve had the hardest time planting here. So I’m trying a mix of shade seeds to sprinkle around the edges and see if we can get more flowers to form there. These are again a mixture of annuals and perennials so we’ll see what makes it this season and what returns the following. These flowers inlcude:
Baby Blue Eyes, English Wallflower, Baby’s Breath, Shirley Poppy, Dwarf Columbine (perennial), Johnny-jump-up (Perennial), Bellflower (perennial), and Snapdragons (perennial).
Garden in a Box
If you’re a planner, then the Garden in a Box option recommended by Denver Water, is a great option. We were too late to the party this year to grab one but plan to take the recommended flowers (all flowers that don’t need a ton of water) and make our own version in the front yard. The flowers in their pollinator box include:
Autumn Joy Stonecrop, Blue Salvia, Kannah Creek Sulpher flower, Maiden Grass, Mesa Red Blanket Flower, Pineleaf Penstemon, Powis Castle Sage, Purple Cone Flower (again), Rocky Mountain Columbine (again), Smooth Aster, and White Valerian.
Starting Your Own Garden
It doesn’t have to be a lot. It could be a single potted plant, a bed of flowers, or an entire yard filled with plants that bring you joy. There is something so primal about connecting with nature and tending to our gardens. It does take time and thought so if you don’t have the time and space to tend to your plants, start with one or two to build a relationship and get the hang of things. If you travel often, you might want to consider potted plants that you can leave with friends so they don’t go unwatered for long amounts of time. We even invested in an Oto watering system this year so that things could be automated to make gardening a little easier for us.
If you’re looking to slow down, reconnect, and find joy, starting a garden is the perfect way to put all these things into motion.