Habitat Heroes

Blog #4 – Habitat Hero Public Gardens

Thanksgiving is the time of year for indulging in too much food, connecting with old friends and laughing with family.  It is also a time to reflect and think about all the things you are grateful for.  Here at Audubon Rockies we are thankful to not only our feathered friends for gracing us with their beauty but also to all the wonderful members and partners who helped us make positive local impacts this year through our Habitat Hero program!

Together we’ve converted more than 200 acres of habitat to native plants that support birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators while reaching 3,300 adults and children across 14 cities in 12 counties (WY and CO) as part of our Habitat Hero Program!  Together we really are making a difference!  Here’s a sampling of some of the inspiring projects sites in Colorado, where volunteers pitched in this year:

SUMMIT COUNTY GARDEN CLUB – BRECKENRIDGE, CO

The Summit County Garden Club, with the help of the town of Breckenridge, has created a local natural treasure right there in town!  The garden club feels it’s very important to nurture plant life and wildlife within a town environment, all of which is maintained by dedicated volunteers.  Gardening is a challenge at 9,000 feet so it has taken some years and trials and tribulations to see what plants do well here – sedums, poppies, columbines, pine trees and aspens are among their top favorites.

This space borders the Blue River and is a haven for wildlife.

DURANGO BOTANICAL SOCIETY LIBRARY DEMONSTRATION GARDEN – DURANGO, CO

Durango Botanical Society mission is to create public gardens that reflect the nature of SW Colorado’s many diverse microclimates.  They do this through the demonstration garden’s evolving design and development, as well as plant selection, demonstration, testing and education. This is a Plant Select test facility and showcase garden that reflects a diverse plant representation. Most recently they were honored as one of “The 11 Rock Gardens of Colorado” by the North American Rock Society in their newest publication.  Next time you visit Durango, this is a must-see as this ranks as the #1 attraction according to their tourist center!  And they aren’t done really maximizing their designs - in 2016, they will be part of a study on butterflies so stay tuned for more.

The back- breaking rock work and infrastructure was done in a very short period of time. In one day the rubble was transformed into terraces of boulders and planting areas. Then the real work started! Much of this work was done by hand by our volunteers.
The panoramic view is along the Animas River Trail and it shows the plant diversity on the lower half of the garden. The garden is planted every year with test plants. The ones that do well are introduced to the community the following year.

EAGLE COUNTY EXTENSION OFFICE – EAGLE, CO

The Eagle County Extension office wanted to do something that allowed members of the local community a chance to see creative but attainable ways they can live outside the standard landscaping box.  This redefinition of our landscape allowed them to create many different types of attractive planting areas that showcased the wide range of wildscape possibilities for home and office gardens. Since its creation, the Eagle County Extension’s gardens have been a beacon of beauty, and have shown local residents the stunning variety that is possible with wildscapes in a mountain environment, all while creating habitat for pollinators and a small sanctuary for wildlife.

In 2009, the Eagle County Extension set out to make a lovely cottage garden that displayed Plant Select and native plants, while also creating a border garden, 9 raised beds for vegetables, and a culinary garden. They scraped away every remaining bit of turf grass to make sure the gardens were as water- wise as possible.

WESTERN COLORADO BOTANICAL GARDEN – GRAND JUNCTION, CO

The Western Colorado Botanical Garden has an official “Monarch Waystation.” With all the threats monarchs face, these waystations contribute to monarch conservation by, providing resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.

Western Colorado Botanical Garden is another one of Plant Select’s demonstration gardens that is 12.3 acres in size, of which approximately 8 acres are developed gardens.  These various gardens include the Monarch Waystation (see photo), pollinator gardens and meadow gardens. All the garden provide diversity in textures, bloom times, plant heights, color, fragrances, food sources and attract a wide range of wildlife, including butterflies, turtles, frogs and red-winged blackbirds nesting in the cattails.

POUDRE LEARNING CENTER – GREELEY, CO

The Poudre Learning Center is a premier facility for interdisciplinary learning. Staff and volunteers focus on the importance of history, science, economics, stewardship and aesthetics of the Cache la Poudre River and Northeastern Colorado.  This 65 acre site is situated along the Poudre River and the Poudre River Trails in NW Greeley and is easily accessible from the surrounding towns of Windsor, Loveland and Fort Collins.  The PLC was hit hard in the 2013 flood, resulting in not only flood damage but also the aggressive encroachment of invasive weeds.  Slowly the grounds are reverting back to the short-grass prairie with lots of sweat equity put in by volunteers from various planting events, trash and debris clean-up and weeding!

Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado celebrated Father’s Day by hosting this restoration project at Poudre Learning Center.  Thirty-three volunteers came out to spend time with their families and give back to Colorado’s public lands. Despite the scorching heat, volunteers of all ages worked together to remove two acres of invasive weeds, plant 270 native plants including milkweed and other crucial pollinator plants as part of the pollinator pathway, and remove 400 feet of an old weed barrier tarp!

ELBERT COUNTY MASTER GARDENERS – KIOWA, CO

In 2005, The Elbert County Master Gardeners were looking for a way to add beauty and a create a refuge for birds and pollinators to the Extension Office.  Elbert County is an interesting mix of Ponderosa pine trees and native prairie with ranching and homesteading as the historical base of the community.  This is a Plant Select demonstration garden for the community, managed and cared for by the local Master Gardeners.  They utilize this area as a place to teach and provide examples of plants that can thrive in the unpredictable Palmer Divide region.  One such plant that thrives is the Kintzley’s Ghosts, which offers vertical space and has attracted nesting thrushes, nuthatches, western blue birds and robins.  This habitat adds beauty and value to the Extension Office and is loved by the community and the wildlife that inhabits it.

The Salvia and Russian Sage are great hummingbird magnets!

WESTMINSTER GRAND STAIRCASE, CITY PARK – WESTMINSTER, CO

In this large, 205-acre Westminster City Park, turf grass dominates the space for the various sports fields and hardscapes in the form of Recreation and Fitness Centers.  The City wanted to create an aesthetically pleasing garden cascading down the stairs that also offered habitat for pollinators and wildlife.  This park now brightens all your senses with plants like rabbitbrush, little bluestem, penstemons, sand cherry, butterfly weed and serviceberries while offering great structural diversity and food sources.   The Westminster Grand Staircase is frequently used for weddings as the backdrop of plants in bloom and stunning views overlooking Longs Peak make this location ideal for photographs!

Before - View of the Grand Staircase in Westminster City Park.
After – Stunning transformation and the symmetry showcases how even a wildscape can look formal.

EAGLE VAIL COMMUNITY GARDEN – AVON, CO

The Eagle Vail Community Garden is an organic garden that was created in 2011 to help connect the local community to the environment, while promoting a more organic and sustainable lifestyle.  They also wanted to encourage the public to educate each other and our children about where our food comes from and what it takes to grow, tend, harvest, and cook a fresh meal from start to finish.  Since 2011, it has turned into a thriving environment for humans, plants, animals, birds and all types of pollinators.  Thet have many perennial beds, including raised Hugelkultur bed, which have a wide variety of pollinator friendly plants such as Lupine, Bee Balm, Lavender, Fennel, Yarrow, Sunflowers, Coneflowers, Salvia, Colorado Native Columbine, and many more.  There are five different communal beds where herbs, strawberries, squash and much more abound for the plot owners and community members to enjoy.  This entire ecosystem helps to make the Eagle Vail Community Garden one of the most spectacular places in Eagle County.

We offer 60 (4 by 8ft) individual plots and 12 (4x16) Corporate plots to community members, thus helping to bring people together in building a healthier and more informed future.
We wanted to provide a natural gathering place for people of all ages to come and enjoy, whether it be gardening, education, yoga, volunteer work, lunch meetings, or grilling a family dinner. One of our local teachers developed an Inquiry-based program for kids ages 4 -7yrs, that focuses on garden/ environmental science where the kids are learning through reading books, gardening, and crafts all while indulging in a healthy organic snack.

Audubon Rockies wishes you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!  On Friday, while recovering from your over-indulgence of delicious food, we invite you to enjoy our next round of Habitat Heroes and the special stories from their gardens.

How you can help, right now