October 14, 2009 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

Yucca harrimanniae and Salvia daghestanica

There was a time when Denver Botanic Gardens was the only public garden in our region where you were apt to see unusual native plants grown artistically. I'd like to think we've inspired some other amazing gardens to rise to the challenge. Possibly the most ambitious, polished and diverse Water Conservation garden in the state is located in the pastoral hamlet of Berthoud, half way to Fort Collins from Denver. The Northern Water districts' gardens comprise many acres of diverse display and test gardens, all impeccably groomed and full of inspiration to homeowners and keen gardeners who would like to create a beautiful garden without constant recourse to a spigot. The vignette pictured above is typical of the fantastic plant choice and combination throughout this gem: the miniature yuccas just glow with vigor, and the mats of groundcovers throughout the display were all clean and beautifully combined with annuals and taller perennials and especially grasses to create a dazzling effect. There are several focal points in this garden, including a dramatic recreation of the Rocky Mountain hydrology with massive sandstone boulders, pools standing in for reservoirs, demonstrating the Northern Water storage and transfer methods in horticultural splendor: you can see samples if you follow hyperlink highlighted above. My favorite spot, however, is the large central square divided into eight raised beds, each demonstrating a different flavor (as it were) of xeriscape, including a bed highlighting the diversity of yuccas and other xerophytes, another bed with just native plants etc.

Path between octagonal beds with view of distant hills

But there is much much more to savor: another large quadrangle featuring most of the Plant Select palette combined with many other perennials, grasses and annuals. The annuals had  been largely crisped by recent frosts when I visited: I was intrigued that the Octagonal xeriscape beds, however, showed hardly any frost damage: they were resplendent by contrast, showing that the watersmart style promoted by Denver Botanic Gardens is a great way to forestall the winter blahs! Did I mention this garden has extensive turf trials and demonstration? And perhaps my second favorite part was a strip many hundreds of feet along the west end featuring a dozen or more species of native grasses grown in sequential blocks: half of each block was mown to show how native grass could be adapted as potential turf. But the blowsy seedheads of Love Grasses, of the various bluestems, grammas and wheat grasses were so colorful and graceful this time of year, it confirmed me in my belief that nothing belongs in our gardens more than our own native prairie! Ron Boyd, pictured below, the the mastermind of much of the magic that transpires in this Berthoud gem: thank you, Ron, for your zeal and dedication to Water Conservation gardening!

Ron Boyd, horticulturist at Berthoud Water Conservation gardens

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