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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