Inspired by Douglas Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home, this spring I decided to create a native pollinator garden in my 1960s suburban Denver yard. It was my first adventure in using all native plants.
Most yards in my neighborhood are primarily turf and evergreens with some popular but non-native blooming shrubs or perennials. As Dr. Tallamy explains, these plants are mostly unpalatable for our native pollinator friends at their various life stages.
As the new neighbor on my block, I wanted to showcase a native pollinator habitat that was beautiful and naturalistic without looking “wild” – a common complaint about native plant gardens. The Habitat Network and National Wildlife Federation websites gave me tips on how habitat gardens can fit into a typical suburban landscape.
For the garden site, I chose the side yard between the house and street — a long, narrow space that resembled a landing strip. It had thirsty turf, an overgrown arborvitae, and a narrow foundation bed with a few struggling shrubs and a dwarf blue spruce. It also had full sun – perfect for many Colorado native plants.
Besides southern exposure, my site analysis showed heavy clay soil, average drainage with no slope from the house to 15’ out, and westerly winds. In addition, it was easy to see that the side yard served no purpose for my family – making it a good site.
From there, I looked at specific examples of garden and plant designs on the websites of Plant Select, Colorado Native Plant Society (CoNPS), and Resource Central. These gave me ideas for shape, dimensions, and plant placement.
I was finally ready to design the garden. CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.228 on xeriscaping and Garden Notes #411 and #413 on water wise landscaping were useful resources even for my smaller project. Native plants and xeriscaping work together well, giving me both the habitat and water-savings I wanted.
Keeping in mind my budget and the available labor (my husband and me), I decided to simply enlarge the existing foundation bed into a half-oval shape twice its original size and fill it with blooming perennials.
By enlarging the existing bed on level ground, I eliminated the need for terracing which would have added expense. I did decide to use sandstone pavers as stepping stones through the new garden giving it some hardscape interest.
Now that planning and design were finished, I was ready to move on to the next phase in my suburban to native adventure.
Join me in July when I share the fun and sometimes challenging experience of researching, selecting, and installing native plants in my pollinator garden.
By Ann Winslow, Denver Master Gardener volunteer since 2019