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

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