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Lush but Water-Wise in Colorado

Learning to work with the climate

Welcome to Castle Rock, Colorado, where Pam Walters and her husband have been creating a beautiful, water-wise garden and learning to adapt to the vagaries of their local climate.

My husband spent over 35 years in the Fire Service. After starting as a volunteer paramedic, he became a paid paramedic with a different department and then finished his career as assistant fire chief. The stress was unimaginable. I developed and managed ice rinks, running ice-hockey leagues and learn-to-skate and figure-skating programs. Our yard was a quiet place, away from the real stresses of life—fires, accidents, and intense hockey players and parents—but we never had the time required for a fabulous garden.

After we retired a few years ago, my husband and I finally had time to dedicate to our yard and garden. Living where we do, we have a few challenges to achieving the beautiful and lush yard we both want.

In 2016, we moved into a new home, one we could age in comfortably. The location is perfect for us, and the setting is more open than anywhere we have lived previously. When we moved in, however, the lot was totally barren. The sun and heat are extreme. Though we are in Zone 5b, we have a desert microclimate on the south side of our home. It is common for the temperature to be 125ºF by 10:00 in the morning. Our winters can be harsh, with temperatures down to 0ºF accompanied by wind and snow. The learning curve has been vertical to say the least.

Our town encourages water-wise landscaping and gives very informative classes to residents. Taking the class allows the residents the option to water as needed rather than on a certain day of the week. This method (Smart-Controller) of watering has saved our plants, and the classes opened a world of knowledge. We watered when the plants needed it rather than because we had to on “our” day.

The backyard has three levels of retaining wall, which we have chosen to plant on. The top level has ponderosa pines, which have been there for nearly a hundred years. We have lost a few due to construction stress but have added many to replace them. The first level is a combination of woody perennials and grasses. The second is more grasses and hummingbird vine.

The rock garden has evolved as we have learned what does well and can withstand the intense heat. The plants we put in the first summer didn’t survive the heat of July 2016. Midsummer, I added more daylilies. I knew we had missed their blooming time, but I wanted them to establish for a healthy bloom the next summer.

The daylilies are planned to bloom from early season through late. We choose yellow, peach, and orange because of the strong red-earthy tone of the wall behind them. We found that we loved this garden so much that we expanded it for balance.

By the summer of 2018, the center was so full of daylilies and hot pokers that we needed some more open garden at the ends. Our landscaper returned and added “wings” to our garden; we will add “bookends” for 2019. This garden is a work in progress because it is the focal point from our patio and out our living room window.

The south side of the lot was sloped about 40 degrees and was too steep to plant. We added a retaining wall, and the landscaper gave us a free-set Colorado Buff flagstone patio, which was the center of our garden.

We began planting, moving, replanting, and moving again a variety of woody perennials and more tender perennials. The plants that are not both heat and sun tolerant have been given away or just didn’t survive.

This is where we learned about microclimates. The conditions here are so extreme that we have had a challenge finding plants to survive the human-created conditions. The stone and stucco wall faces due south, and though evenings and mornings are cool, even in the winter the temperature is 20°F to 30ºF higher in this garden than the front yard. The winter low temperatures have been 0ºF to 5ºF for days at a time this year, so we have some concern for the survival of our semi-tender perennials.

When the wall was installed, the contractor had to put crushed rock against it for drainage and then topped it off with clay soil excavated from other construction sites. The crushed rock is not conducive to cultivating any growing thing, and the clay actually prohibits drainage. Though the landscaper added good planting soil on top, we have had our challenges. He was kind enough to return two years later, dig out some of the clay, and put in topsoil.

The landscaper had a great idea of using one color of daylily, the variety ‘Fairy Tale Pink’ accented with shasta daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum, Zones 4–8).

‘Fairy Tale Pink’ daylily

We are excited every April to see where the summer will take us. Though we had a plan and a vision, reality is just so much better.


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View Comments


  1. paiya 04/03/2019

    Pam, it seems that you and your husband went from stressful jobs to the stressful challenges of creating gardens in extreme weather, sloping terrain and poor soil but you have succeeded - your flowers look perfect ! The different hues of day lilies complement the lovely stone walls too

  2. mjensen 04/03/2019

    beautiful, i plan to retire soon and move to Colorado where my son and grandkids are,

  3. Doxnmomx2 04/03/2019

    The Fairy Tale Pink daylily is dreamy! Your yard is so lovely; you've taken every challenge and turned it into a success. Here's to hoping your plants survived the winter.

  4. User avater
    meander_michaele 04/03/2019

    Hi, Pam, I love your commitment to having generous amounts of hardscaping so that your plantings have something to interact with. The perennials whose pictures you've shared seemed seem to be maturing beautifully so your trial and error has been successful. 'Fairy Tale Pink' is a wonderful daylily and does look great with your color scheme.

  5. User avater
    treasuresmom 04/03/2019

    Wow, I feel like I have just had lessons in gardening in extreme conditions. Thank you for all the details. I certainly did not know all of that. Love what you are doing. Please come back & share again with us.

  6. User avater
    simplesue 04/03/2019

    I can tell you are at that point in your new garden in which you have built it and experimented with plants and now you know your garden so well you even know it to have microclimates and where they are. Love seeing how the flagstone patio area grew in and matured. That is a beautiful light and airy combination of Daisies and Day Lilies!

  7. cheryl_c 04/03/2019

    Pam, you and your husband are an inspiration for those of us who face tough gardening challenges! I love your landscaper's idea to combine that particular day lily with the daisy - the photo showing them together really demonstrates what a good combination they are. Could you share the name of the daisy? Surely it also deserves some accolades for surviving such a tough climate! And Kudos to you!

  8. btucker9675 04/03/2019

    Just lovely and worth all of the time and effort you've put into it. Fairy Tale Pink daylily looks so pretty in front of the blue spruce, too. I'm waiting to see how the daylilies I put in last year do this season - Stella d'Oro never fails me, but I put in several others and am hoping that they will do well. Your home and garden are so beautiful and I wish you years of happy gardening there!

  9. darylsavage 04/06/2019

    The containers are perfect for where you have them. It sounds like a very challenging environment to plant. Congratulations to you for your tenacity and success.

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