Urban Garden Denver Blog

Go Flat to Conserve Water

Even though we received some much-needed moisture this week, the reality is that Denver is a semi-arid climate, leaning more toward arid this year. So periodically in my blog I am going to deal directly with water issues. I’ve added a new category – “Water Responsibly”– and put links to related articles on a new page, but since almost all the plants in my garden are low-water, most of the garden information throughout my blog will help you water wisely and have flowers to enjoy.

Many of the bungalows in the older neighborhoods in Denver sit a few feet above the street, and the front lawns include a sloping section that is hard to mow and impossible to water responsibly. The water just runs off the slope and the grass is not lush. The ancients had this figured out and terraced their landscapes for efficient farming and gardens. All across the globe, terraced fields are a way to manage water use and farming. Of course, some may argue that sloping land should never have been de-forested and farmed, but terraces are evident in many cultures. Even landscapes for enjoyment rather than agriculture used terraces. Julius Caesar’s father-in-law had terraced gardens on the slopes of Vesuvius (Villa of the Papyri).

If you have a slope of several feet or more,  you probably need to hire professional landscapers to build retaining walls that include drainage features to ensure that they won’t bulge or slide. A slope of a foot or less can probably be handled by an amateur with interlocking bricks available at the big-box home stores. My favorite retaining walls in the neighborhood have planting pockets on several levels which add interest and soften the features of the wall.

Terrace wall with planting space

When we first moved into our house, we had a slope of less than a foot and a narrow strip of grass outside our fence. Our first landscaping project was to take out the grass and install a wooden box for a flat planting area. We used 2×16 boards so we could bury half the width for support. The planting area has stayed solid for over 10 years. It has also enabled us to do something more interesting than grass outside the fence (climbing roses, honeysuckle and ground covers).

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