The Denver environment features adverse conditions that can hinder homeowners from being able to maintain landscapes or cultivate gardens. The high altitude can cause grass to wither in the strong sun, the semi-arid climate can prevent plants from getting adequate rain, and the water restrictions limit the use of sprinkler systems to just three days a week. Since these conditions can impair the quality of Denver landscapes, many homeowners are turning to xeriscaping as an effective solution.
“I started xeriscaping seven years ago,” says Central Park resident Anne Hazelton. “I have no grass, and I haven’t even turned my sprinklers on this year. The xeriscape is drought-resistant and the plants don’t need much water, so I just water it by hand for about five minutes twice a week.”
The word “xeriscaping” was coined by Denver Water in 1981. The “xeri” prefix derives from the Greek word for “dry,” and xeriscaping refers to maintaining landscapes with reduced irrigation by using low-water plants and efficient soiling. However, many Colorado cities or Homeowner Associations (HOAs) have traditionally prohibited xeriscaping because the process involves ripping out the grass from yards and replacing it with drought-resistant plants. But with drought conditions intensifying and water resources dwindling, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill in 2021 to prevent HOAs from restricting the use of xeriscaping. This has led to a surge of residents removing their grass to cultivate xeriscapes, and this trend is also visible in Northeast Denver.
“I think it’s gaining momentum,” exclaims Hazelton. “I was the first on my block to grow a xeriscape, but now I just see more and more people switching out their grass with xeriscapes around the neighborhood.”
Certain drought-resistant plants have been highly conducive for Hazelton’s xeriscape. “The Angelina Sedum provides a little pop of spiky yellow and dark green, and I also planted Creeping Jenny to add a different brighter green color,” says Hazelton, who is especially proud of one particular plant. “The Creeping Thyme is my ground cover because people can walk on it, and it’s got nice purple, pink, and lilac colors. I’m thrilled that the Creeping Thyme propagated in a flowing river, and the crescent shape is really stunning.”
Homeowners can also cultivate xeriscape gardens by using drought-resistant flowers. Chris Ibsen, the gardening specialist for Plum Creek Garden Market, explains the importance of selecting plants that are optimal for Denver’s climate. “You want local plants for gardens because they’re from seedlings that grew in Colorado soil,” says Ibsen. “Plants that are grown locally are used to the arid Denver environment, they’re already acclimated to this climate, and they’re ready to succeed in the ground.”
Plum Creek Garden Market originated in 2013 as a seasonal “pop-up” gardening center. Plum Creek now has six locations, including a market in the parking lot of the Shops at Northfield. “There are very few Colorado native plants available,” says Ibsen. “But we have a lot of varieties that are genetically connected to those native plants, such as Coreopsis plants, blanket flowers, and Larkspur annuals.”
A primary mission of Plum Creek is to promote the mental health benefits of gardening and to help Denver residents excel at the craft. “It’s good to get outside, unplug from our mobile devices, and see our flowers or eat our vegetables,” says Ibsen. “The planning process of deciding where to place the plants helps our minds grow, and seeing our plants thrive gives us a real glimmer of hope.”
Hazelton also appreciates the positive impact of a healthy xeriscape. “When I open the blinds in the morning, it fills me with joy,” says Hazelton. “It’s just so calming and blissful to look out at what’s a beautiful xeriscape, and rather than just grass it’s like I have an English garden in my yard.”
Front Porch photos by Christie Gosch