Congress Park residents teach about water-wise gardening

The group is working with plants that require less water

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On a dreary Saturday in May, five women stand in the front yard of Anne Miller’s house in Congress Park. The group is consulting a small diagram Miller has drawn, a plan for the so-called hard-to-grow “hell strip” that borders Milwaukee Street.

As the women begin to lay out the potted plants in their future homes, Liz Goehring jokes that in the short time they’ve known each other, they have already started to read each other’s minds.

The group is part of the newly founded Water-Wise Garden Club with Congress Park Neighbors. The hope is to get enough residents together to learn about gardening methods that use less water.

Now that her kids are grown and don’t need a large lawn to play on, Julie Meyers said she and her husband have happily retired their lawn mower. And they are looking forward to planting a more water-conscious garden at their home on Elizabeth Street.

“It’s just such common sense,” Meyers said. “There’s no reason to have a lawn in Denver.”

Hell strips have earned the nickname because of their difficulty to maintain and need for more water. The idea for the water-wise club started to form after Congress Park residents completed a walking tour of the area last summer to look at neighbors’ yards that already had those type of gardens put in place, Goehring said. The walking tour turned into a workshop series in which Congress Park residents Anne-Charlotte Hoppman and Susan Bardwell helped teach their neighbors about different plants that required less water.

Bardwell is a former landscaper. Hoppman grew up planting vegetables and other plants in her native France. She ran a small farm in Le Mans. She and Bardwell showed residents how to get rid of the grass on their hell strips without pulling it and disturbing the nutrients in the soil.

By placing layers of newspaper on top of the grass and then adding mulch, the soil can also gain the nutrients of the decomposing grass. Hoppman’s philosophy is that to get something to grow, you have to give back.

“When you ask the land to give you stuff, you have to give it stuff, too,” she said.

Goehring said the group worked with Denver Water and the Denver Botanic Gardens to learn more about the different kinds of plants that grow well with less water. A landscape that requires little to no irrigation is called a xeriscape garden. Denver Water has resources on its website about xeriscaping. Go to https://bit.ly/2ExbA0O for more information.

Miller, who volunteered her house for the planting phase of the workshop, wanted to participate to help teach people more about water conservation. She works with the state of Colorado in the Department of Local Affairs doing work with the Colorado Resiliency Office. The purpose of the office is taking action and preparing for different water issues and climate impacts. People can put plants in their yards that are more appropriate for Colorado’s dry climate, she said.

Having a group to plant with has also been helpful when looking at the vast variety of plants, Miller added.

“As we gain in population throughout the state, especially in the Front Range, to conserve water we grow differently,” Miller said. “It’s this nice kind of peer support, neighbor-to-neighbor support, folks who had a little more experience to help out the folks like me who may be a little overwhelmed.”

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