Urban Garden Denver Blog

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Tips and Tricks category.

Keep Conserving Water

The good news in Colorado gardening today is that the Denver Water board decided to lift the mandatory restrictions on watering – which included a set schedule of twice per week watering. Before you rush out and water more, take a look at your garden and see how it is faring. My flowers are looking great, my tiny bit of front lawn is looking ok, and my back lawn looks a bit brown (facing the afternoon sun). So for my yard, I will probably water in a similar pattern, even without the restrictions. The great thing about the lack of restriction is that now if I miss a watering day because I am gone, I can make it up without feeling guilty or sneaking in some hand watering. I recently received my water bill for the period from the end of May through the 3rd week of June. I used exactly the same amount of water as I did last year. So basically, twice a week watering is my norm anyway.

Coreopsis and Day Lilies get by with little extra water.

Coreopsis and Day Lilies get by with little extra water.

Whether or not we have watering restrictions, we are a semi-arid climate where gardens do better with hardy groundcovers, like ice plant, and low-water perennials, such as salvia, penstemons, coreopsis, coneflowers and day lilies. Blue grass lawns are definitely not native and are a luxury here. So it is more responsible to garden and water carefully, and enjoy creating a colorful, flower-filled Colorado garden. I let the city maintain lovely lawns in my nearby park, so I can enjoy my flowers and low water bills.

Roses and Clematis have thrived this spring and summer.

Roses and Clematis have thrived this spring and summer.

Coneflowers enjoy the Colorado sun.

Coneflowers enjoy the Colorado sun.

Entry Impact

In urban gardens, first impressions are important. Since our spaces are small, the impact of a few strategically places flowers or shrubs by the entryway can make a great welcome. Last weekend, I enjoyed walking around the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington DC, seeing what urban gardeners there did with the few feet of space they have between the sidewalk and their front door or gate.

Strategically placed pots are an important part of the entry impact. Also, repetition and simplicity are striking, as seen in the square pots with metal flashing and purple ribbon.gt_mar_2013_4

The difficulty of a small space is that it is hard to plant a progression of color, as you can do in a larger perennial garden. However, a few strategically placed grouping of annuals that are updated for the spring, summer and fall seasons, can add interest to a small space.gt_mar_2013_2gt_mar_2013

Learning how to have impact in a small space will also be helpful for those of us in Colorado who are facing watering restrictions this year. A large pot with a few bright flowers may be a better investment of water, than spreading annuals throughout your landscape.gt_mar_2013_3


Bright green suckers at the base of my Siberian Elm

Since it was less than 80 degrees when I got home from work last night, I finally got out into the garden to do a few chores. First on my list was taking care of the suckers that grow out of the roots of our Siberian Elm tree. Not only are they invasive in the garden and unkempt-looking, they are actually detrimental to the health of the tree. Suckers divert energy from the growth of the main tree. So periodically throughout the growing season, I cut back suckers from my trees. The Siberian Elm and Hawthorne seem particularly inclined toward suckers. My Ash tree doesn’t seem to exhibit this bad habit.

When a tree has all its energy focused on growing the main trunk, it will grow strong. When energy is dissipated through multiple suckers popping up all over the yard, the tree is weakened. As I pay attention to my own soul, and prune out distractions, extraneous activity and areas that are okay but not the best, I am strengthening my core.

The trimming of suckers is not a one-and-done garden activity. Throughout the growing season, I have to trim suckers about once a month. And every year, I have to repeat the trimming, over and over again. Suckers are aggressive and don’t get discouraged by my repeated pruning. Next month, I will be out pruning them again. And again. And again.

Soul distractions are also ubiquitous in our hyper-active culture. There is always some interesting possibility to distract me from my main purpose, competing for energy. Sometimes I am timid with the clippers, not wanting to trim the bright green fresh growth, until everything looks weedy and jumbled.

Biking to view flowers

Biking is a great way to see a variety of gardens and flowers around town. Today I decided to bike a big loop that included some wealthier neighborhoods, to see how their flowers were looking this summer. The nice thing about biking is I can see flowers outside the range of my walks, and it’s probably safer than slowing down and looking while I’m driving. I also wanted to bike as a celebration of the freedom of this day, the first Wednesday that I am officially not working! I have started a part-time schedule (voluntarily, not downsized) and I am looking forward to being able to focus my best skills on work, and have more margin in my life. Of course, in the nice weather, I’ll try to spend some of that time outside in the garden. Otherwise, I’m trying to be very intentional about what I add into my schedule, as I don’t want the stress of a more than full-time job to be replaced with the frenzy of too many activities. So I am focusing on soul space this summer, holding open time to think, let my mind wander, wonder at the beauty of the world and pray for the brokenness in the world. I did some writing on the topic of Soul Space in a recent digital magazine for FullFill (Friend O’Mine issue). www.FullFill.org. It’s a free digizine, you just have to register to read.

Here are some pictures of my own garden this week, since I didn’t take my camera on my bike ride.

Pots of lilies by my back steps

One suggestion I have for planning a front yard landscape based on my observations around town – think curves, not rigid lines. We all love to have some flowers by our front walkways, to greet people as they come to the front door. But some yards have a narrow, rigid line of flowers against the walkway, so it feels more like soldiers standing guard than a welcome. A simple improvement, unless you like the regimented look, is to widen the flower bed along your front walk and have it curve wider toward the house, or wider toward the sidewalk, depending on the rest of your front yard plan.


I plan to post twice a week now, since it is high season on the garden, and I’ll be out there more! See if you can find some space in your life, even just a few minutes early in the morning or as the sun is setting, so sit outside and reflect.


Urban homes and gardens are generally small, so neighbors are a part of our life, whether we are indoors or outdoors. Our bedroom window looks into my neighbor’s dining room. Our kitchen window looks into the other neighbor’s dining room. Our patio is inches from my neighbor’s patio. While I am not fond of big fences, we did put a fence next to our patio. We can look around it and visit with our neighbor at the low spot on the fence, but it provides the illusion of a little privacy when I am sitting in my patio chair reading or planning my next garden project.

I was cleaning pictures off my phone this morning and found a pic that I intended to blog about sooner, but had forgotten. It’s a privacy screen a friend of mine made that is ingenious because it preserves light and privacy! It is a piece of frosted glass hanging in a sturdy wooden frame. It provides nice definition and privacy for a raised section of patio that is very close to the neighbor’s house. I love the simplicity of this and the year-round addition to the patio. Often people try to screen with vines or other plantings which is very attractive, but since we can use our patios in Denver many months of the year, the vine approach is limited in its usefulness. I love the creativity in solving a common urban garden problem.

Weeding this weekend

One of my readers asked me what I am doing in my garden this weekend, so I thought it might be a good idea to post on Friday to help people with planning, rather than later in the weekend, after I’ve done my projects.

Weeding is my main emphasis this weekend. I have a section of my flower bed that has a weed problem. I’m including a picture for “truth in gardening” – so you won’t think I just take pics of the perfect sections.

Time to clean out weeds for new perennial bed

In the past I’ve had annuals in that section, mostly cosmos, and the cosmos have grown taller than the weeds most of the time. But I want to plant perennials in this section, and I actually have some plants ordered (lavender, penstemon and agastache) which are all good for bees and butterflies. But before I plant new perennials, I want to dig deep down and get the roots of all these weeds. This is especially important for a perennial bed, because once the plants are established, I can’t turn over all the soil and go deep for the roots of the weeds. But even with an annual flower garden or vegetable garden, some attention to weeds early in the season (NOW) will help later. I know I’ll still have weeding to do later, but I want to give my plants the best chance for success. Also, I get less excited about weeding as the temperature rises.

Since I’ve had cosmos in this section for several years, I will probably get some cosmos volunteers from the seeds, which I will leave to grow around the perennials, unless they sprout in the very front of the bed (cosmos are tall, but a great cutting flower — it’s too early to plant them).

I’m also enjoying the blooms right now – more varieties of daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, pansies, alyssum (basket of gold) and my flowering plum tree. I’m not enjoying dandelions blooming in my lawn, I’ll be out with my dandelion digger. I don’t spray them, although I am tempted; I just don’t want to put poison on my lawn. Enjoy the fresh air! It’s good for your soul.

Minimizing Turf

Minimize lawn to conserve water while enjoying beautiful groundcovers and a variety of flowers.

Lavender: A Multi-tasking Plant

We still have a few months of just thinking about gardening, rather than actually gardening. This time of year is a chance to plan and think about plants that deserve a spot in your garden. I have 3 large healthy lavender plants in my back yard and I planted a couple more last year in a different section of the garden. I was reminded of my lavender a few weeks ago as I packed away Christmas decorations and pulled out a large vase of dried lavender to put on the dining room table.

Dry Lavender in a vase

Lavender is lovely along a walkway, where you can brush up against the plant and flowers and release the scent. It is also great for sharing with neighbors freshly cut or dried. While there are lots of different ways to dry flowers, I simply cut bouquets and put them in dry vases. The dried flowers usually last a year or two. The flower heads can be put in sachets or bath salts. My niece gave me some bath salts with lavender which made for lovely, soothing and fragrant soaks.

It does take some patience to grow lavender. While the plant does well in Colorado’s dry sunny climate, the plants take a couple of years to get established. Look around your garden for a sunny spot where you can plant several clumps of lavender. Before you know it spring planting will be here and you will want to have a good list of new plants to try.

Think of winter in the garden as a fertile time for your gardening dreams and imagination, rather than just a dead time. And now that January is slipping away, I am anticipating the first crocuses and snowdrops emerging in just a few weeks! Let me know when you see your first bulb!

Color beyond flowers: fruit in the garden

This time of year the flowers are a bit faded, especially after our long dry spell. The buds are starting to open on the mums and some perennials and annuals are still keeping up appearances, but everything is looking peaked. So I walked around the garden tonight to see what color I could see and I realized that the berries and fruit in the garden are truly spectacular.

Hawthorn Tree

The hawthorn tree has a great covering of fruit now, and once the leaves fall, the fruit will provide winter interest. The oregon grape is covered with fruit this year — I was having trouble getting a good picture of one section because it was too windy out — but I captured the bush by the front walk. As the roses finish blooming, the rosehips provide subtle color and interest. Fruit from shrubs and trees are also a great attraction for birds in your yard.

Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs, so they can get rooted in during the cooler weather (hope it gets cooler soon). Just be sure to provide some water periodically throughout the fall and winter to protect your planting investment. To purchase trees and shrubs this time of year, I would avoid the big-box stores. Their nursery stock is pretty stressed and generally not as well-cared for as a specialty shop. Sadly, Arapahoe Acres nursery is going out of business, so you might find some bargains there.

Choosing to focus today on what is beautiful in the garden, not what is tired!

Oregon Grape

Peaches vs. Squirrels

We are eagerly anticipating our peach harvest in another week or so, but we are battling the squirrels with the hopes that there will be some peaches left to harvest. The harvest isn’t enormous off our dwarf tree, but there is something very gratifying about harvesting fruit. And nothing compares with the flavor of a peach that is ripe and sweet, rather than one shipped green and allowed to ripen. Last year a late freeze in the spring killed off the peach buds, so we are all-the-more hungry for peaches this year.

Peaches ripening

When we were visiting a friend in Seattle this summer, we strolled through the community garden on the end of his block. We noticed that the apple tree had all the apples cloaked in little socklets. We stood and stared at the sight and finally decided that it must be to keep the squirrels from biting into the apples. So when I bought some new shoes last weekend, I asked for some extra “try-on” socks to put over my peaches. They look really goofy, but if it keeps out the squirrels, I’m all for it. I used the socks strategically on the larger branches that the squirrels seem to favor. If this seems to work, next year I’ll buy a whole box of little socks (or keep old panty hose all winter) to use as peach-guards.

We also have a metal squirrel guard on our large street tree. It has worked over the years because the tree canopy was not touching any other trees. We have noticed that as the trees continue to grow, there is a path for the squirrels to jump to the tree now. In the spring, the squirrels chew the new growth on the branches and are very damaging to the tree, so at least for this tree, we have been able to keep some of the rodents at bay. Our backyard tree is too connected to the neighborhood canopy to benefit from a guard. If you build a guard (from metal flashing), be sure to have springs so it can stretch as the tree continues to grow, otherwise it will harm the tree by cutting into the bark.

I know some people consider squirrels a cute animal, but with the large population of squirrels in our neighborhood, I have come to regard them as rodents with large tails. And pigeons are rodents with wings. We put rows of spikes on our rafters so they don’t build nests and soil our yard.

When I think about battling unwanted yard visitors, I smile when I remember the image of my mother-in-law who would stick a pellet gun out her dining room window because she didn’t like the crows gathering in her trees. She did this even into her 80’s. Not something I’m going to try in my urban neighborhood.