Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Garden Designers' BlogLink: Celebrating regional diversity with the plants and gardens of Denver

Today I’m joined by twelve fellow landscape professionals from across the US to discuss the concept of regional landscaping and to celebrate the diversity of plants and design across the nation. Much has been said in the past few years about the homogenization of America; that the proliferation of large, corporate developments have driven out the small retailers, boutique restaurants, and interesting architecture that make neighborhoods, cities, and regions unique. The same can be said about our landscapes of wall-to-wall turf grass lawns and tightly manicured foundation plantings. This is changing, and regional landscaping is alive and well here in the Denver metropolitan area!

Since 1980, when Denver Water first coined the term Xeriscape, to today’s hue and cry of “sustainability,” the selection of commercially available native and adaptable plants for landscaping has exploded. Thanks to the efforts of folks like Panayoti Kelaidis of Denver Botanic Gardens, David Salman of High Country Gardens, and the Plant Select program, we now have plants chosen from regions around the world that specifically reflect our high plains biome. Extreme temperature fluctuations, high winds, low humidity, high UV exposure, and soils lacking in organic matter are all challenges to plant survival here. These new plant introductions enrich, enliven and expand our native plant palette and allow us to be truly creative in designing our outdoor environments while maintaining a conservative approach to water use. Here are a few of my favorites:

Fallugia paradoxa, Apache plume

Dalea purpureum, prairie clover

Helianthus maximiliana, Maximilian's sunflower

Agastache rupestris, Sunset hyssop

Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet, creeping hummingbird trumpet

With the new abundance of appropriate plant choices has come the question of “appropriate design.” Is it important to create and advocate a regionally specific design style for landscapes and gardens? No; I disagree with this concept for several reasons:

1. The idea of an entire city, or even just my own neighborhood, consisting solely of reproduction prairies would be just as aesthetically sterile as a sea of bluegrass lawns and junipers. Diversity of design creates visual complexity, richness, and interest. Just as bio-diversity creates healthier ecosystems, design diversity contributes to a better quality of life.

2. I also believe that good landscape design is site specific. Trying to produce the same kind of garden for a small, shady, tree filled, urban home site that I would create for a large, open, sunny, wind-swept suburban site is ridiculous! Plant selection as well as the way space is organized and used is always fluid, always changing from place to place.

3. Last, but certainly not least: I’m being paid by my clients to create a landscape for them, one that reflects their lifestyle and their preferences. Need to accommodate kids and pets? Check. Want to reflect your home’s mid-century modern architecture? Can do. Prefer to keep it low maintenance? No problem.

Personal, functional, beautiful, and eco-friendly are always my goals as a designer. With regionally appropriate plants as my medium, I can sculpt the gardens of my (clients') dreams.

Here are photos from three local parks that all use regionally appropriate plants yet have very distinctive design styles:

Kendrick Lake Park, in Lakewood, is the premier showcase of xeric plants in a garden like setting.

Commons Park, along the Platte River, replicates a native prairie/riparian environment. The European style entry serves as a transition from the adjacent urban neighborhood.

Centennial Gardens, also in the Platte River Parkway, is an example of very formal garden created with xeric plants and regional hardscape materials. Although not typical for this region, formal design principles can often be used successfully in small spaces or with spare, contemporary architecture.

The following photos are private home sites I designed that incorporate regionally appropriate plants that are site and owner specific:

The new home of an avid gardener on a small urban site. A wide spectrum of plants grouped to reflect similar water needs.

New planting for a low maintenance, live-in landscape.

Lots of shade, drainage issues, and a love of veggies guided the design for this garden.

Thanks for visiting me here at The Art Garden, and I hope you’ll enjoy more of this virtual tour celebrating regional diversity. Click on the links below to continue the journey. Happy gardening!

PS The photo at the top of the post? That’s my backyard!

Susan Cohan/Susan Cohan Gardens (Chatham, NJ) at Miss Rumphius’ Rules

Michelle Derviss/Michelle Derviss landscape Design (Novato, CA) at Garden Porn

Tara Dillard (Stone Mountain, GA) at Landscape Design Decorating Styling

Dan Eskelson/Clearwater Landscapes (Priest River, ID) at Clearwater Landscapes Garden Journal

Scott Hokunson/Blue Heron Landscape Design (Granby, CT) at Blue Heron Landscapes

Susan L. Morrison (San Francisco Bay Area) at Blue Planet Garden Blog

Pam Penick/Penick Landscape Design (Austin, TX) at Digging

Laura Schaub/Schaub Designs Fine Gardens (San Jose, CA) at Interleafings

Susan Schlenger/Susan Schlenger Landscape Design (Charlottesville, VA) at Landscape Design Advice

Genevieve Schmidt (Arcata, CA) at North Coast Gardening

Ivette Soler/(Los Angeles, CA) at The Germinatrix

Rebecca Sweet/Harmony in the Garden (San Francisco, CA) at Gossip in the Garden


Germi said...

Fantastic info and beautiful pics! Yay for regional diversity - boo for the ubiquitous cookie cutter landscape!
Great being part of the BlogLink w/ you!

ScottHokunson said...


Great post! Good points as to differentiating between sites, and for addressing your clients wishes.
Excellent pictures also.


Pam/Digging said...

I adore your garden, Jocelyn. It really looks like Colorado to me, and I just want to step into that picture to explore around the bend.

I agree that we wouldn't want to advocate a structured design style for gardens in a particular city. I don't care for that with architecture, and to me gardens are even more personal expressions than homes. Helping clients use regionally appropriate plants (whether native or well-adapted) and hardscaping is part of the creativity that makes designing such fun.

rebecca Sweet said...

I love that you and I echo the same sentiments: we're here to design for our clients - not ourselves! And I love the many gorgeous photos you've shown...I've never been to Denver and judging from your photographs, it's definitely a place I need to visit!

Tara Dillard said...

Glad you voiced your opinion about garden design style and not creating the same landscape over/over.

Great idea to have the residential garden pics AND the public park garden pics.

Moving from Galveston Bay, Atlanta is a high elevation for me!

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Deviant Deziner, aka Michelle said...

Thank you for taking me back to Colorado, a place that I love but found completely challenging to garden in. ( I lived in Telluride for a year )

Obliviously you have mastered your terroir and it was a joy to see how beautiful a high altitude garden can be.


Dan Eskelson said...

Excellent post, Jocelyn...and thanks for your comment on my blog.

I agree, the intermountain west gets very little attention in the hort press...perhaps because population is so widespread and composed of largely self-reliant individuals.

Your emphasis on site-specific characteristics is right on! I am pleasantly surprised that the GDBL designers/writers are so in tune!

Thanks again for your good thoughts. BTW I have added a permanent link to your blog on my Blogroll.


Susan aka Miss R said...

One of the first 'serious' garden books I read was 'The Undaunted Gardener' and it made me glad that I didn't have the challenges of the Colorado Rockies. You have once again shown me how beautiful that landscape can be when it is regionally appropriate--no matter what the style! Thanks for the inspiration. I also am thrilled to discover your blog in such a cool interconnected way!

Susan Morrison said...

Jocelyn, you did a masterful job showing how design can be regionally appropriate, but personal and unique as well. Colorado has a reputation as being tough to garden in, but your photos say otherwise.

Susan said...

Jocelyn, I like your ideas of not keeping a "regional" garden static. A little bit of eclectic is always fun.

Love you photos and use of color!

Shirley Bovshow "EdenMaker" said...

What a great introduction to your design work.

Shirley Bovshow
Garden World Report

Kathy Green said...


I really like your examples of the diversity of design here along the Front Range of Colorado. This is the first time I have visited your blog - your designs for your clients are very nice indeed. I love the Plant Select program - it gives us so many well adapted plant choices and stunning waterwise colors.


Genevieve said...

Jocelyn, what gorgeous photos and great examples of what makes gardening Colorado so unique. I'm forwarding this to a friend who gardens in Colorado - she'll be keen for the inspiration!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great look at the Colorado garden environment. Really like your perspective on responsible individuality. Thanks for participating in this cool garden diversity project.

Laura Livengood said...

Jocelyn, so nice to discover your blog! I appreciated your wise advice and the combination of public and private spaces that your shared. My sister lives in Santa Fe and designing a landscape for her was a fun experience that gave me a really good excuse to shop at Santa Fe Greenhouses (home of High Country Gardens) what a treat! Thanks for sharing!

Les said...

Thank you for your enjoyable post. My family spent our summer vacation in Co., half the time in Denver and the other half near Grand Lake. I had such a good time looking at both the created and natural landscape. Our friends house is near Grant Park and I loved how so many of the bungalows had stoop to street plantings, many of them having plants and design ideas you spoke of. To humor me, we all spent a day at the Denver Botanic Garden where I enjoyed things far different from what I'm familiar with.

Rob said...
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