Habitat Hero Awards: Public Gardens

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Gardens for Inspiration in Winter

Monarch Spur Park, adjacent to Monarch Spur Trail, in winter

Monarch Spur Park, adjacent to Monarch Spur Trail, in winter

When an early arctic cold wave puts your garden to sleep, and it’s not yet time for seed and plant catalogs to send you dreaming of spring, what can you do to get inspired?

One way is to visit Habitat-Hero-Award-winning public gardens to look at their winter “architecture.” Study the design of their habitat garden areas, notice the layers and structure, see what natural food is available, and look for lists of what plants they use for ideas for your own habitat gardens.

Tip: Use your smart phone as a garden idea assistant. Snap photos of plants and signs, and also record notes and thoughts as voice memos. If you use a program like Evernote, you can record your voice notes within the program, and store them with your photos in a virtual garden ideas notebook. (Or you can use a real notebook, and make sketches and take notes by hand. Either way works!)

DBG@ Chatfield

The moist meadow in August with the Chatfield cupola. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

The moist meadow in August with the Chatfield cupola. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Even after only two full growing seasons since it was planted in 2012, this naturalistic prairie/foothills/mountain habitat garden is a stunner. Designed by Lauren and Scott Ogden, the Visitor Center gardens at Denver Botanic Garden at Chafield, our Outstanding Public Garden for 2014, incorporate more than 10,000 plants, most native to the intermountain West. One genius of the Ogden’s design is that even though each individual plant was placed by hand, the gardens look like they just grew that way.

A close-up view of that rain garden/ moist meadow two years later in summer.  Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

A close-up view of the rain garden/ moist meadow in summer. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Sure, the gardens are DBG@ Chatfield are likely a lot bigger than your garden, and the designers had DBG’s Mike Bone to grow species not available to the public. Still, there are plenty of ideas here for smaller gardens, and then there’s the sheer beauty of the place to inspire you.

If You Go

DBG@Chatfield is located at 8500 W. Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton, CO, just off route C-470. It is open 9-5 daily except major holidays. If you don’t belong to Denver Botanic Gardens, admission fee is $5 per car.

Highlands Garden Village, Denver

Diagonal Walk at Highlands Garden Village in summer

Diagonal Walk at Highlands Garden Village in summer

The formal Diagonal Walk at the busy urban corner 38th and Tennyson in northeast Denver harks back to the original entrance to Elitch’s Gardens, a historic amusement park that was also Denver’s first botanical garden, opening in 1890. In 1995, the amusement park relocated to nearer downtown Denver, leaving the 27-acre site ripe for infill development.

Entrance to the Diagonal Walk at Highlands Garden Village

Entrance to the Diagonal Walk at Highlands Garden Village

Now a public garden maintained by an organized group of volunteers, the Diagonal Walk and adjacent Plant Select garden are landscaped not with the high-water and high-maintenance exotics of yore; they feature hardy perennial shrubs, grasses and flowers that provide color and inspiration in season and year-round habitat for urban wildlife from native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the foxes and even the occasional coyote.

If You Go

The Diagonal Walk and Plant Select garden are visible from 38th and Tennyson; parking is available off 38th at Utica St, one block west of Tennyson. The gardens are free and open every day. The cupola building once sheltered Elitch’s famed carousel and organ; both are still in use in Burlington, in far eastern Colorado.

If you see the Highlands Garden Village volunteers working in the gardens, stop and say Thank you!

Horticultural Arts Society, Colorado Springs, CO

Heritage Garden in late summer

Heritage Garden in late summer

Tucked into the City-owned Monument Valley Park system just north of downtown Colorado Springs are three demonstration gardens maintained by the 52-year-old Horticultural Art Society, an organization of amateur horticulturists. Over the decades, the gardens have evolved from a more eastern design vision to a reflection of the West, with native and regionally adapted perennial flowers and shrubs flourishing under a graceful canopy of tall Blue Spruces, American Elms, Plains Cottonwoods, and Douglas-fir trees.

If You Go

All three Horticultural Art Society gardens are free and open to the public as part of the Monument Valley Park system. The Heritage Garden is at 1117 Glen Avenue; the Demonstration Gardens is at 222 Mesa Road (a block and a half south of the Heritage Garden, and the Pinetum is across the Monument Creek.

Richardson Wildscape Corridor, Aurora, CO

Richardson Wildscape Corridor, Aurora, CO

Richardson Wildscape Corridor, Aurora, CO

Take one enthusiastic member of Audubon Rockies, add an unused 100 yard long by five- to ten-yard-wide strip of Aurora Water land next to a seasonal urban drainage way, and what do you get? A wildscape corridor Richardson landscaped on his own to provide food and habitat for pollinators, especially native bees and honeybees, right in the midst of suburban Aurora.

If You Go

The Wildscape Corridor is across the street from Apache Mesa Park, at E. 7th Place and Laredo in Aurora, CO. (Look for the wooden bench that says “Ponder Here.” It is open to the public and free.

Monarch Spur Trail, Salida, CO

A former railroad right-of-way becomes popular trail and now, wildlife corridor.

A former railroad right-of-way becomes a popular trail and now, a wildlife corridor.

Faced with invasive weed and fire-control issues along a popular and heavily used 2.5-mile-long city-owned public trail, the City of Salida and its partners turned the challenges into an opportunity to restore the former railroad right-of-way to productive wildlife habitat, while providing education opportunities for local 6th graders and forming a coalition of city, county, non-profit organizations and ordinary citizens to support and maintain the trail system.

Youth Conservation Corps members planting an in-town habitat island along the trail.

Youth Conservation Corps members planting an in-town habitat island along the trail.

If You Go

Monarch Spur Trail runs from the Coors Boat Ramp in downtown Salida, CO, to near US Highway 50. Access is free, and it is open every day of the year. Monarch Spur Park, a public Plant Select® garden, is located where the trail crosses Third Street.

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Habitat Hero Awards for 2014!

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Congratulations to the 2014 Habitat Hero Awardees!

Our judges have finished evaluating this year’s crop of applications, which span the Rocky Mountain region from northern Wyoming to southern Colorado, and from western South Dakota to Utah. Applicants included public gardens, schools, parks and trails, apartment/townhouse/condo complexes, professional landscapes (designed by landscapers, horticulturists and garden writers), and residential yards and gardens. Out of those, the judges picked 28 as Habitat Heroes. All represent creative habitat restoration; judges also recognized exceptional examples as “Outstanding” in their categories.

Here are the 2014 Habitat Hero Awardees!

Public Gardens

DBG@ Chatfield–Outstanding Public Garden

The historic Chatfield Schoolhouse surrounded by the mesic prairie garden.  Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

The historic Chatfield Schoolhouse surrounded by the mesic prairie garden. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Highlands Garden Village, 38th & Tennyson, Denver—Outstanding Volunteer-Maintained Public Garden

Entrance to the Diagonal Walk at Highlands Garden Village

Volunteers maintain this inviting habitat garden at  Highlands Garden Village on the site of the original Elitch’s Gardens, Denver’s first botanic garden.

Horticultural Arts Society, Glen Ave, Colorado Springs, CO

Painted Lady butterflies on Gallairdia in the Heritage Garden, one of three gardens maintained by the Horticultural Arts Society.

Painted Lady butterflies on Gaillardia in the Heritage Garden, one of three gardens maintained by the Horticultural Arts Society.

Richardson Wildscape Corridor, E. 7th Place & Laredo, Aurora, CO

A strip of unused public land planted with diverse flowers and shrubs to increase pollinator habitat by a neighbor.

A strip of unused public land adopted and planted by a neighbor with diverse flowers and shrubs to increase pollinator habitat.

School Gardens

Pinedale Elementary, Rapid City, SD–Outstanding School Garden

The new Black Hills Garden, one of three habitat gardens in the school's central courtyard.

The new Black Hills Garden, one of three habitat gardens in the school’s central courtyard.

Parks and Trails

Monarch Spur Trail, Salida, CO—Outstanding Park/Trail Project

An old railroad right-of-way provides a corridor for a town trail system and inspiration to restore habitat for wildlife as well.

An old railroad right-of-way repurposed for a town trail system and a habitat corridor for wildlife.

Apartment/Townhome/Condo Complexes

Cherry Creek 3 Homeowners Association—Outstanding Multi-Family Development 

Colorful, water-thrifty habitat gardens replace overgrown junipers for townhouse dooryard gardens.

Colorful, water-thrifty habitat gardens replace overgrown junipers for townhouse dooryard gardens.

Professional Landscapes

Hayward Yard, Masonville, CO—Outstanding Landscape

A naturalistic and stunningly beautiful "tinaja" (waterhole) garden seems to flow right out of this foothills landscape.

This beautiful “tinaja” (waterhole) wildlife garden seems to flow right out of the foothills landscape.

Peacock Yard, Lakewood, CO

Waterwise front yard of pollinator and songbird food plants replaced scruffy lawn and aging pfizer junipers; backyard is a watered wildlife oasis.

Waterwise front yard of pollinator and songbird food plants replaced scruffy lawn and aging pfizer junipers; backyard is a watered wildlife oasis.

Tatroe Yard, Centennial, CO—Outstanding Habitat Garden

Cottage garden meets wildscape in this yard deliberately designed to increase plant diversity and provide a haven for wildlife of all sorts in a "bluegrass desert" suburban community.

Cottage garden meets wildscape in this yard deliberately designed to increase plant diversity and provide a haven for wildlife of all sorts in a “bluegrass desert” suburban community.

Residential Yards and Gardens

(These are simply listed in alphabetical order, no ranking implied!)

Alberty/Buschmann Yard, Salt Lake City, UT–Outstanding Residential Garden

This couple turned a carpet of invasive Myrtle Spurge into a thriving and beautiful native habitat that is home to owls, hummingbirds, snakes, and pollinators of all sorts.

A steep back slope once carpeted with noxious Myrtle Spurge has been transformed into a beautiful native habitat that is home to owls, hummingbirds, snakes, and pollinators of all sorts.

Aslakson Yard, Littleton, CO

A water-thrifty butterfly garden replaces "haggard" lawn and also attracts songbirds and other pollinators.

A water-thrifty butterfly garden replaces “haggard” lawn and also attracts songbirds and other pollinators.

Bidgood Garden, Denver, CO—Special Recognition for Citizen Science

A front-yard pollinator garden replaces 300 square feet of sod and allows the family to observe bumblebees and ladybugs for citizen science projects!

A front-yard pollinator garden replaces 300 square feet of sod and provides an outdoor “lab” for observing bumblebees and ladybugs for citizen science projects.

 Blum Meadow, Silverthorne, CO

A mountain meadow disturbed by house construction was restored with native grasses and wildflowers.

A mountain meadow disturbed by house construction was restored with native grasses and wildflowers to provide habitat.

Bohanan Yard, Cheyenne, WY

A pollinator garden replaces a "tired, water-hungry" lawn in a historic Cheyenne neighborhood.

A pollinator garden replaces a “tired, water-hungry” lawn in a historic Cheyenne neighborhood.

Cappel Yard, Brighton, CO—Outstanding Residential Garden

A vibrant habitat garden developed by "trial and error" brightens a rural subdivision with lawn and watering regulations.

A vibrant habitat garden developed by “trial and error” brightens a rural subdivision with lawn and watering regulations.

Engelstad Yard, Rapid City, SD—Outstanding Residential Yard

Developing this pollinator and songbird habitat garden in a "green lawn" subdivision required permission of the HOA>

Developing this pollinator and songbird habitat garden in a “green lawn” subdivision required permission of the HOA, and lowered the indoor temperature of the house by 10 degrees in summer!

Freudenburg Yard, Colorado Springs, CO—Outstanding Habitat Garden

A winter visitor drinks at the cascade in this urban-rural edge yard.

A winter visitor drinks at the cascade in this urban-rural edge yard.

Gaudet Prairie Restoration, Berthoud, CO

Once a denuded and weedy horse pasture, now a thriving blue grama prairie with woodland edges.

Once a denuded and weedy horse pasture, now a thriving Blue Grama prairie with woodland edges.

Hemenway Wildscape Yard, Fort Collins, CO

Bluegrass sod on its way out; foothills prairie plants appearing in this front-yard wildscape-in-progress.

Bluegrass sod on its way out; foothills prairie plants appearing in this whole-yard wildscape-in-progress.

James Garden, Denver, CO

Black-Headed Grosbeak eyes a nest box in an apple tree.

Black-Headed Grosbeak eyes a nest box in an apple tree.

King Wildscape Garden, Lakewood, CO

Front-yard cottage-garden-style wildscape replaces lawn with thriving and beautiful habitat for pollinators and songbirds.

Front-yard cottage-garden-style wildscape replaces lawn with thriving and beautiful habitat for pollinators and songbirds.

Morland Yard, Denver, CO

Vibrant wildscape borders have become an attraction in a "manicured" city neighborhood.

Vibrant wildscape borders have become an attraction in a “manicured” city neighborhood.

Piombino Garden, Boulder County, CO

Once a bindweed-infested pasture, now a sheltered garden-in-progress that already invites pollinators and songbirds.

Once a bindweed-infested pasture, now a sheltered garden-in-progress that already invites pollinators and songbirds.

Rose Wildscape, Powell, WY—Outstanding Zone 4 Garden

A northern Wyoming wildscape that provides cover, food, and beauty--an oasis for wildlife and humans!

A northern Wyoming wildscape that provides cover, food, and beauty–an oasis for wildlife and humans!

Segrest and Beard Yard, Grand Junction, CO

A profusion of annual flowers provides food for pollinators; sunflowers attract seed-eating birds.

A profusion of flowers provides food for pollinators; sunflowers attract seed-eating birds.

Stalls & Purner Yard, Denver, CO—Special Recognition for Creativity

A sunny stressed corner becomes a habitat-garden-in-progress and a neighborhood gathering spot complete with lending library!

A sunny stressed corner becomes a habitat-garden-in-progress and a neighborhood gathering spot complete with lending library!

Wasko Garden, Englewood, CO

A driveway "hellstrip" becomes pollinator garden with herbs and other perennial plants.

A driveway “hellstrip” becomes pollinator garden with herbs and other perennial plants.

Congratulations to the 2014 Habitat Heroes! Thank you for helping grow a network of habitat for wildlife in the Rocky Mountain region.

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Habitat Hero Awards Sneak Peek: Outstanding Public Garden

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

DBG@Chatfield: Outstanding Public Garden

The historic Chatfield Schoolhouse surrounded by the mesic prairie garden.  Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

The historic Chatfield Schoolhouse surrounded by the mesic prairie garden in fall. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

While we finish evaluating the applications for the 2014 Habitat Hero Awards, we wanted to share a look at this year’s outstanding public garden: Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield.

The Vision

The Visitor Center before the rain garden was planted, solving a drainage challenge. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

The Visitor Center before the rain garden was planted, solving a drainage challenge. Photo: Larry Vickerman

Lauren Springer Ogden, co-designer with her husband Scott Ogden of the acre-plus native plant gardens at Chatfield explained the project. In 2011, after the new Chatfield Visitor’s Center was constructed by the main entry and visitor parking lot, plantsman Panayoti Kelaidis, DBG’s Director of Outreach, persuaded the DBG’s CEO, Brian Vogt, to hire the Ogdens to design entry gardens that would showcase plants of the Great Plains and Mountain West.

Lauren writes,

As designers, we were excited by the public nature of the project and the extraordinarily beautiful site. … It is immensely rich, where foothills meet prairie in gently folding hills that offer many compass aspects and microclimates for diverse plants and animals to thrive. Also a natural creek runs through the property, providing year-round water…. There is some disturbed grassland, and many riparian trees and shrubs.

Challenges

A close-up view of that rain garden/ moist meadow two years later in summer.  Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

A close-up view of that rain garden/ moist meadow just two years later. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Of course, there were challenges: money, finding plants not usually available in the trade, and then the actual effort of planting the hundreds of plants, plus ongoing weeding and maintenance. As Lauren puts it,

The process was a collaboration of people taking lemons and making lemonade. Chatfield’s director Larry Vickerman, who is a plantsman and expert on the Great Plains flora, whole-heartedly supported the entire project and got quite dirty himself. I spent a couple of months in 2011 creating lists of plants… and sent my list of several hundred desired taxa to Mike Bone, propagator at Denver Botanic Gardens. He took the project on with great energy and care and hunted down rare seed and found and grew more than three-quarters of the species we requested….

Plant Placement and Planting

A close-up of the dry prairie, showing the naturalistic design. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

A close-up of the dry prairie, showing the naturalistic design. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

After the seedlings were grown, Scott and Lauren spent two months in late spring and early summer of 2012 placing every single plant on the site in a naturalistic design:

Our designs are informed by how plants spread and intermingle over time in natural plant communities. We wanted that stable, eternal look fast, so we created repeated matrices and clumps of the same species that fan out and disperse over space. People think it looks so random that it is undesigned, … but [naturalistic planting] is actually the hardest
type of garden design to accomplish with visual and cultural success.
Then came planting, planting, planting by the small team of Chatfield staff led by lead horticulturist Emilee Vanderneut. After the more than 10,000 plug-sized plants plus a few large trees and shrubs went into the ground, they were top-dressed with alfalfa meal, a natural and inexpensive fertilizer, and irrigated. That fall, 14,000 non-native bulbs were added for the early months of the year when the native floral display is, as Lauren puts it, “paltry.”

“Plant it and they will come”

As Habitat Hero project founder Connie Holsinger likes to say, “Plant it and they will come.” And that’s what’s happened at DBG@Chatfield. Even though the gardens are only two years old, the insect pollinators (butterflies, native bees and European honeybees, beetles and others) and birds are flocking in. In fact, says Lauren,Chatfield already uses the gardens for classes to observe the wildlife drawn to the gardens.

Mesic prairie garden at Chatfield, humming with native bees on a summer morning. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Mesic prairie garden at Chatfield, humming with native bees on a summer morning. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

It is amazing how full the gardens are after only two years, and how lively they are with birds and insect noise and motion. And the colors and textures change dramatically every few weeks. … [The gardens at Chatfield] are living proof that native plants and plant diversity bring creatures. We hope they motivate a lot of emulation so that more such lively and life-affirming prairie and meadow gardens pop up along the Front Range. It has been one of the most gratifying design projects of my career.
Congratulations to Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield and to Lauren and Scott Ogden for these outstanding public gardens! We are proud to announce them as our first 2014 Habitat Hero Award gardens.

If You Go

The moist meadow in August with the Chatfield cupola. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

The moist meadow in August with the Chatfield cupola. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

DBG@Chatfield is located at 8500 W. Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton, CO, just off route C-470. It is open 9-5 daily except major holidays. If you don’t belong to Denver Botanic Gardens, admission fee is $5 per car.

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

2014 Habitat Hero Applications are in!

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Inspiration from the Applications

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Habitat Hero Garden sign

We’re still evaluating Habitat Hero applications, but we thought we’d share a few photos from some of the applications to inspire you about how creative wildscapes and habitat-gardening can be.

Who needs a Suburban lawn?

Beautiful and great habitat--you can't go wrong with that combination.

Beautiful plant combinations that provide great habitat–you can’t go wrong with that combination!

Lawn? Not when you could have this diverse and flourishing landscape with many different kinds of flowers blooming throughout the year, plus water for birds, a charming array of bird boxes, brush piles, shrubs, and trees. It’s a cottage garden on steroids (except it uses no chemicals whatsoever).

Edibles and Pollinators in a City Yard

No wonder they owners of this city garden have seen more than 30 different kinds of bees already!

No wonder they owners of this city garden have seen more than 30 different kinds of bees already!

Look at this first-year backyard edible garden with a flourishing border for pollinators along side. The front yard features a wide new wildscape border that replaced lawn with habitat that has the neighbors buzzing (in a good way).

Cold-Desert Sheltered Garden

Look what you can do in zone 4 with 8 inches of annual precipitation (and wind--note the wind generator in the background)!

Look what you can do in zone 4 with 8 inches of annual precipitation (and wind–note the wind generator in the background)!

On the windy and very cold shrub-steppe of northern Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin, this couple enclosed their yard with a low stucco wall for shelter and created a hummingbird paradise that also attracts songbirds, butterflies and smaller pollinators.

Habitat beautifies a Busy City Corner

Who could pass this garden by without stopping to admire it--or feed from the flowers and seeds it provides?

Who could pass this garden by without stopping to admire it–or feed from the flowers and seeds it provides?

Instead of high-water, high-fertilizer annuals, this landscape designer and infill developer chose to honor the site of Denver’s first botanic gardens with perennial beds that feed and shelter pollinators and hummingbirds. And foster a sense of community through the volunteer garden group that maintains them and educates neighborhood residents about the gardens.

From Pfitzer Junipers and Lawn to Front-Yard Wildscape

Much more appealing than the overgrown junipers and raggedy lawn that were there in 2010.

Much more curb appeal than the overgrown junipers and ragged lawn that grew here in 2010.

… In only four years! We guess the butterflies and hummingbirds are much happier with this front yard than the old one. Another suburban habitat standout, and it’s also xeric and chemical free.

A Schoolyard Garden Recreates Natural Habitats

The prairie garden, visible from every hallway in the school.

The prairie garden, visible from every hallway in the school.

Three gardens in the center of this grade school replaced grass and gravel with a prairie, woodland, and a conifer forest. The habitat gardens are younger than the grade-schoolers who planted them, but already provide inspiration and education to the kids and their teachers.

A Small-Town Trail (once a Railroad Grade) Restored to Habitat Corridor

Conservation Corps members built and installed bluebird boxes along a stretch of the trail being restored to native mountain prairie.

Conservation Corps members built and installed bluebird boxes along a stretch of the trail being restored to native mountain prairie.

Inspired by the urban creek restoration project of one of the original Habitat Heroes featured in Colorado Wildscapes, a small-town trail system faced with growing invasive weed and fire-prevention issues decided to see the problems as an opportunity to restore 2.5 miles of trail as a linear habitat, a corridor for people and wildlife.

More to Come…

The photos and brief descriptions above are only a sampling of the many applications we received. We’re evaluating them now, and will announce the 2014 Habitat Hero Awards in November. Stay tuned for more inspiring stories and landscapes.

Thanks to all who applied!

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Habitat Hero Transformation

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Preview of Coming Habitat Hero Attractions

Since Habitat Hero Award applications are due today, October 15th (yes, you procrastinators, now’s the time to apply!), we thought we’d give you a bit of a preview of the magic that can happen when you transform an otherwise boring yard into a Habitat Hero wildscape.

Bindweed Manor Then…

The front yard at Bindweed Manor before….

The very unappealing front yard at Bindweed Manor before….

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that we featured a habitat-garden-in-progress outside Boulder, Colorado, almost exactly a year ago. When we last saw Bindweed Manor, as Pam and Joe Piombino only partly jokingly labeled their property east of the Front Range foothills, the front yard was mainly bindweed, a terrible weed in the clayey soils of the Colorado Front Range, with tufts of smooth brome (a European pasture-grass) left over from when a plains grassland was plowed and seeded for hay pasture.

A curving wall adds some definition to the yard without obscuring views.

A wall adds some definition to the yard.

Passionate birders and members of Boulder County Audubon Society, Pam and Joe could see the possibilities for wildlife habitat. First they built an undulating wall to give themselves some shelter and privacy without obscuring their expansive views.

…And Now

And then they planted. With the help of a creative designer and a lot of their own sweat and persistence, Pam and Joe transformed that wasteland into a garden that sips water and welcomes songbirds and pollinators.

Inside the wall, looking southwest to the Foothills. Courtesy photo

Inside the wall, looking southwest to the Foothills. Courtesy photo

Just look at those Agastache! You know they had the hummingbirds zipping around and sipping nectar. And the golden yarrow, which draws butterflies of all sorts. In the background by the wall is Blonde Ambition blue grama, with its beautiful seed heads that delight goldfinches and siskins in late fall and early winter.

Low succulents along the base of the house wall, and Agastaches, evening primrose and a glorious variety of other wildscape plant between the path and the wall. Courtesy photo

Low succulents along the base of the house wall, and Agastaches, evening primrose and a glorious variety of other wildscape plant between the path and the wall. Courtesy photo

There’s Missouri evening primrose, its huge yellow flowers still in bloom in early October and a delight to hovering, evening-flying sphinx moths; Russian sage, beloved of bees of all sorts; Smoky Hills skullcap, its deep purple-blue flowers favored by bumblebees; and many other plants that will provide food, shelter and cover for hummingbirds, songbirds and all manner of pollinators. Plus a long season of bloom to delight the human inhabitants.

Congratulations, Pam and Joe Piombino, on transforming your weedy former pasture into beautiful and abundant habitat! We think it’s time to rename the place though: Bindweed Manor no longer applies….

This section was planted last, after the driveway was relocated--now that's a transformation!

This section was planted last, after the driveway it had been was relocated–now that’s a transformation!  Courtesy photo

Apply Now!

Does your garden, park, landscape, schoolyard, farm or other working landscape provide significant habitat for wildlife, especially songbirds and pollinators? Apply now for the Habitat Hero Awards. As Susan Clotfelter wrote in the Denver Post, among other benefits, you get “a heap of bragging rights”! Applications are due October 15th.

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Plant Select® Loves Habitat Heroes!

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Join us--be a Habitat Hero!

Join us–be a Habitat Hero!

Habitat Heroes Speak at Plant Smarter Conference

Thanks to our partner, Plant Select®, four Habitat Heroes inspired their peers and received some love for their work at Plant Select®’s fall “Plant Smarter” conference at Denver Botanic Gardens yesterday.

Lauren Springer Ogden's habitat-for-nothing before restoration. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Lauren Springer Ogden’s habitat-for-nothing before restoration. Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Passionate plantswoman and author Lauren Springer Ogden talked about transforming her suburban Fort Collins yard from “habitat for nothing” into layers and ecotones that mimic the larger landscape from desert and plains, to foothills woodland and mountain forest.

Lauren's prairie with woodland edges after (same view). Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Lauren’s prairie with woodland edges after (same view). Photo: Lauren Springer Ogden

Her wildscape yard not only hides the view of the neighboring houses, it provides habitat to wildlife from nesting mallard ducks to Cooper’s hawks and sulphur butterflies.

The perennial borders at Legacy Ridge Golf Course, Westminster, Colorado, a Habitat Hero landscape. Photo: Shalene Hiller

The perennial borders at Legacy Ridge Golf Course, Westminster, Colorado, a Habitat Hero landscape. Photo: Shalene Hiller

City of Westminster Horticulturist Shalene Hiller gave a visual tour of the habitat she has created at Legacy Ridge Golf Course, where coyotes help keep the cottontail population under control and hummingbirds flock to the perennial borders around the clubhouse, providing a show for golfers and guests.

Fall colors in the Wyoscape garden.

Fall colors in the Wyoscape garden.

Donna Hoffman of Natrona County (Wyo.) Extension showed off the mountain-to-plains-to-river habitat garden she and her predecessor created on the linear “hellstrip” mound dividing the parking lot of the extension building from the main street into the Natrona County Fairgrounds.

When snow covers your wildscape, open water is more important than ever. (Photo: Natrona County Agricultural Resource & Learning Center Wyoscape Garden, a Habitat Hero garden in Casper, Wyoming.)

Natrona County Agricultural Resource & Learning Center’s Wyoscape Garden in Casper, Wyoming in a spring blizzard.

The linear “Wyoscape” garden is an example of how resilient habitat gardens can be: the garden has thrived through spring blizzards and summer hail, and continues to inspire despite losing 15 feet along one edge to road and utility construction.

Native penstemons attract hummingbirds and butterflies to a formal garden.

Native penstemons attract hummingbirds and butterflies to the SE Colorado Water Conservancy District’s xeriscape garden.

Liz Catt of SE Colorado Water Conservancy District pictured the changing view from her office window of their xeriscape/native garden through the seasons. The Water Conservancy’s garden, located in an industrial park by the Pueblo Airport, not only hosts tours for water wise gardening and Master Gardener Workshops; Liz noted it has become a refuge for all sorts of Southern Plains wildlife, from the hummingbirds that are so easy to love to the lizards and snakes some don’t appreciate.

The sign of real habitat!

The sign of authentic habitat!

Plant It and They Will Come

All four Habitat Hero panelists illustrated our motto: Plant it and they will come.

Wildlife habitat can be restored anywhere, whether in the midst of the habitat-deserts or suburban lawns, on a golf course, between a road and parking lot, or in an industrial park. The right plants in the right place not only form resilient, beautiful gardens, they weave the habitat that wildlife large and small recognize as home.

Apply for the Habitat Hero Awards

Skunkbrush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) brightens a Habitat Hero sign along a restored urban creek. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Skunkbrush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) brightens a Habitat Hero sign along a restored urban creek. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Does your garden, park, landscape, schoolyard, farm or other working landscape provide significant habitat for wildlife, especially songbirds and pollinators? Apply now for the Habitat Hero Awards. Applications are due October 15th.

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Fall: It’s that time!

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Fall in the Rockies opens with aspens turning, a great way to announce the season!

Aspen leaves turning announce fall in the Rockies. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Time to Tidy Up the Garden & Apply for the Habitat Hero Award

But don’t be too tidy. As we’ve said in this space before, it’s important to leave mulch on the soil as winter cover, and seed heads on the flowers and grasses as winter food for all the birds that will hang out in your wildscape because you’re providing such great habitat.

Seedheads of Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), our state grass.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Seedheads of Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), our state grass. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Leave the Leaf Litter!

As the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s YardMap newsletter points out, there are other important reasons to avoid being too tidy. Take leaf litter: it’s home to all sorts of insect eggs, larvae, adults and pupa waiting out the cold weather.

Isn’t that a reason to rake? Nope. Those “hidden” insects provide important protein sources for wintering birds, who will scuffle about through the leaves looking for them. (If you’ve ever watched a thrasher in action, kicking up leaves with its feet and raking with its beak, you know what we mean.)

Aspen leaf mulch accumulates under the trees.

Take your cue from nature: aspen leaf mulch accumulates under the trees.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

If you must rake the leaves, layer them under shrubs, trees and perennials as thermal cover for the soil. Many species of birds probe the soil for insect larvae in winter–if it’s not frozen. (Don’t pile the leaves too deep though, or birds’ beaks won’t be able to reach through.)

What About Pruning?

Fall is a great time to prune trees and shrubs, as long as you’re not pruning away clusters of the berries birds depend on in winter, or pruning away thermal cover they need on the coldest or snowiest nights.

Western mountain ash berries are high in antioxidants and beloved of many species of birds.

Western mountain ash berries are high in antioxidants and beloved of many species of birds.

So ease up on the rake and pruners. Let your garden do what it does best: be great habitat for songbirds and pollinators.

Time to Apply for the Habitat Hero Awards

In the time you save, why not apply for the Habitat Hero Awards? Applications are due by October 15th.

It’s not hard to apply:

  1. Read the guidelines.
  2. Answer the two questions.
  3. Pick three to five photos that give a sense of why your garden, park, golf course, or working landscape qualifies.
  4. Give us your contact info; tell us if you belong to National Audubon, and if so, what chapter; and give us permission to use your photos for educational and promotional purposes.
  5. Attach your text file (in Word format please) and your photos (medium rather than high-resolution is best) to an email and send it to habheroes@gmail.com

Why Apply?

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Habitat Hero Garden sign

  • To have your work recognized. Awardees get our cool yard sign to let the world know that they’re Habitat Heroes. Habitat Hero gardens are also featured on this blog and on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.
  • To help educate others. The yard sign gets noticed, and it’s a great talking point about gardens as a way to restore habitat for pollinators and songbirds, save species, save water and energy, and counter global climate change.
  • To get your own copy of our Colorado Wildscapes book, a wonderful reference for inspiration and ideas about habitat gardening.
  • And for the satisfaction of knowing what you’re doing is making a difference!

    Colorado Wildscapes Guide

    Colorado Wildscapes Guide

So join us. Apply to be recognized as a Habitat Hero!

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Blonde Ambition “Steals the Show” in Fall Gardens

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Our monthly Plant Profiles from Plant Select® feature plants that thrive in the Rocky Mountain region and also provide critical needs for wildlife. (Thanks to Diana Reavis for this post.)

Low-Growing, Low-Maintenance But a Stand-Out Nonetheless

Blue Grama lawn in spring  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Blue Grama lawn in spring Photo: Susan J. Tweit

There’s a lot to be said for the grass called Blue Grama (Boutelous gracilis). It’s an iconic native plant of short grass prairies of the Great Plains and the official state grass of Colorado, but it’s also native to much of the U.S and Canada. It’s a warm season bunch grass long known for its forage quality and as a low water-requiring, fine textured lawn for homeowners.

Not until recently however has Blue Grama been noted for its stand-alone appearance. That came to a head (no pun intended!) in 2007 with the discovery of an outstanding specimen growing within a stand of robust Hachita Blue Grama near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A Blue Grama A Head Above the Others

Blonde Ambition in fall with cotoneaster and yucca. Photo: David Salman

Blonde Ambition in fall with cotoneaster and yucca. Photo: David Salman

The discovery was made by David Salman of High Country Gardens. He noticed this particular individual was taller than the standard, its leaves were a bright bluish-green and its distinctive flag-like flowers were chartreuse rather than the usual black or brown, and they were held appealingly at a 90 degree angle to the leaves. It was apparent this was a plant that could stand on its own as an ornamental.

Blonde Ambition flower head close-up  Photo: Steve Castorini

Blonde Ambition flower head close-up Photo: Steve Castorini

As this particular plant went through trials, researchers discovered that the chartreuse flowers turned blonde as the season progressed. The rigid flower stems popped back up after being weighed down by snow rather than remaining prostrate, another benefit for gardeners in cold climates.

As a result its season of attractiveness lasted well into the winter. It seemed as though this tall blonde had “ambition,” hence its name, ‘Blonde Ambition’ Blue Grama.

Blonde Ambition in a border at Denver Botanic Garden  Photo: David Winger

Blonde Ambition in a border at Denver Botanic Garden Photo: David Winger

Since its introduction in 2011 through Plant Select®, Blonde Ambition is now being used extensively in wildflower plantings, city medians and commercial projects across the country. It especially shines here in the Rocky Mountain region, including the high plains and high desert, where the grass is most at home.

Wildlife benefits:  Blue Grama grass offers shelter, nesting materials and edible seeds to many songbirds. (Siskins and goldfinches in particular will often perch on the ground and pull the flower stalks down toward them with their beaks so they can pick out the seeds.) The foliage is also the host plant eaten by caterpillars of several species of skipper butterflies, named for their rapid, skipping flight, and important pollinators.

Growing tips: Adapts well to a very wide range of conditions, even to moderately high elevations. Needs at least 4 hours of sun, and can take it quite dry once established.

How to Use:  Unique ornamental grass for wildflower mosaics, natural-style landscapes, and for weaving among other late summer perennials. It combines will with other grasses including Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem and Blue Avena grass. It blends beautifully with most late-season perennials including Cherry Sage (Salvia greggi), fall asters, Black-Eyed Susan, and most wildflowers. Also adds interest to mixed borders including dwarf conifers, shrub roses and many other smaller-shrubs.

Early foliage of Bouteloua Gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' Photo: David Salman

Early foliage of Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo: David Salman

Blonde Ambition Blue Grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ PP 22,048)
At a glance:

  • Size: 30-36″ tall x  30-36″ wide
  • Blooms: July to October
  • Cultural tips: Moderate to dry soil in full sun to partial shade, USDA zones 4-9 in most soil types
  • Growth habit: Upright clumping ornamental

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Late-Summer Composites: Natural Bird Feeders

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Tough Plants that Flower Into Fall — And Provide Bird Seed Too

Painted lady butterflies feeding on a rabbitbrush in the butterfly garden at the City of Aurora Xeriscape Demonstration Garden. Photo: City of Aurora

Painted lady butterflies feeding on a rabbitbrush in the butterfly garden at the City of Aurora Xeriscape Demonstration Garden. Photo: City of Aurora

By the time late summer arrives, many gardens and landscapes look a little tired, with few plants flowering. But there’s one group of plants native to the Rocky Mountain region that holds forth with blooms up to and beyond the first snows: Composites, wildflowers and shrubs in the Aster or Daisy family.

(What appears to be one flower in these plants is actually a “composite,” a head composed of many flowers. Each petal on a daisy, for instance, is single flowers. The central disk is itself packed full of tiny flowers lacking petals entirely.)

Rubber Rabbitbrush flower heads close up, feeding a late-flying painted lady butterfly. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Rubber Rabbitbrush flower heads close up, feeding a late-flying painted lady butterfly. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

The hundreds species of flowers in this group bloom all season long, but many, like the Rubber Rabbitbrush in the photos above, are the last flowers to bloom at the end of the season, providing not only beauty in the late-season garden, but also food for pollinators when nothing else is available.

After they’re done blooming, the seeds from those composite heads remain on the plant for weeks or months, providing crucial natural food for seed-eating songbirds including goldfinches, House and Purple finches, sparrows, juncos, redpolls and siskins.

American Goldfinch feeding on seeds from a sunflower head. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Male American Goldfinch feeding on seeds from a sunflower head. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

A Few Favorite Composites 

In addition to Rubber Rabbitbrush, a tough and drought-hardy native shrub that can be as tall as five or more feet, or stay small and tidy in form like Plant Select®’s Baby Blue variety, what other composites bloom late and provide a reliable food source? Here are a few favorites of the many, many species:

Tansyleaf Aster or Tahoka Daisy (Machaeranthera tanicetifolia)

Tansyleaf aster in a wild setting.

Tansyleaf aster in a wild setting.

A small drift-forming annual or short-lived perennial with purple flowers that bloom from mid-summer until the first snows. Tansyleaf aster attracts butterflies, small native bees and pollinating beetles, and its billowy seed heads feed smaller birds including juncos, siskins and sparrows.

Tansyleaf Aster seed heads, with one purple flower still blooming. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Tansyleaf Aster seed heads, with one purple flower still blooming. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera)

Mexican Hat flower heads in two color morphs. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Mexican Hat flower heads in two color morphs. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

The curious extended “cone” of Mexican Hat flower heads with their fringe of yellow or mahogany ray flowers is charming in the garden and attracts butterflies in summer. When the flowers dry out, seed-eating birds—especially siskins—pry out the papery seeds. Best for meadow or prairie plantings, these Southern Plains natives are self-seeders.

Showy Goldeneye (Viguera or Heliomeris multiflora)

Showy Goldeneye flower heads form a prairie-style drift.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Showy Goldeneye flower heads form a prairie-style drift. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Looking like miniature sunflowers on thread-like stems, Showy Goldeneye’s lemon yellow flower heads stand out in prairie or meadow plantings. Small butterflies, especially checkerspots and blues, often nectar on these smaller-statured composites. Like their much larger sunflower cousins, Showy Goldeneye seeds are in demand by siskins, goldfinches and other narrow-beaked seed eating birds.

Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Sunflower head packed with seeds, still green.  Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Sunflower head packed with seeds, still green. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

And of course, the common sunflower, an annual that is the easiest to grow of any of our native composites. Its flowers attract native bees and honeybees by the score (the appropriately named sunflower bee is a native bee that specializes in sunflowers) and whose densely packed heads of nutritious seeds act as natural bird-feeders.

Add some late-season composites to your garden and reap the harvest in fall blooms, butterflies and other pollinators, and natural bird-feeders!

IT’S TIME TO APPLY FOR THIS YEAR’S HABITAT HERO AWARDS….

Does your garden provide habitat for songbirds and pollinators? Apply today!

Fall composites--asters and gum weed--in a Habitat Hero landscape. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Fall composites–Tansyleaf Asters and gumweed–in a Habitat Hero landscape. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens in promoting wildscaping. Be a Habitat Hero.

Climate Change and Habitat Heroes

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

Climate Change Is Here

Mountain bluebird perches on a garden bench after a snowstorm. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Mountain bluebird perches on a garden bench after a late spring snowstorm. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

This week, the World Meteorological Organization reported that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at an all-time high. Carbon dioxide increased last year at the fastest rate in 30 years.

Global climate change is here. There’s no denying it.

Wildflower Blooming Season Changes

Colorado Blue Columbine finishing blooming in a mountain meadow. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Colorado Blue Columbine finishing blooming in a mountain meadow. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

A story in this week’s High Country News reports that the flowering season in the blossom-filled mountain meadows the Rockies are famous for has lengthened by 35 days.

That may sound like a good thing, but as researcher David Inouye points out, a longer flowering season doesn’t necessarily mean more flowers. It means the blooms are spread out over a longer time, which could mean that when the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds migrate north from southern Mexico, cued by lengthening days, the wildflowers the hummers depend for fuel on might not be blooming.

Birds on the Brink

Juvenile male rufous hummingbird fluffed up to stay warm. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Juvenile male rufous hummingbird fluffed up to stay warm. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

National Audubon Society this week released a sobering report showing that nearly half of North America’s bird species, fully 314 species, will be imperiled by climate change by 2080. The species most affected aren’t necessarily rare, either. They include our nation’s symbol, the bald eagle, which could see its range decline by 75 percent, and the tiny and feisty rufous hummingbird, along with the Common Loon and white-throated sparrow.

Habitat Heroes Can Help

We may not individually have the power to halt climate change. But collectively, our actions matter.

A sunken stock tank attracts wildlife, surrounding gardens provide food and shelter.

A sunken stock tank attracts wildlife, surrounding gardens provide food and shelter.

How can you help? By restoring habitat in your yard, neighborhood park, commercial landscaping, golf course, or farm or other working landscape.

Small patches can weave a larger whole

Hummingbird visits native ‘Mexican Bluffs’ Vermillion sage at the City of Westminster’s Legacy Ridge Golf Course. Photo: Shalene Hiller

Hummingbird visits native ‘Mexican Bluffs’ Vermillion sage at the City of Westminster’s Legacy Ridge Golf Course. Photo: Shalene Hiller

Your patch of habitat may not save a bald eagle. But your wildscape or habitat garden can form part of a network of habitat that does sustain a species.

Equally important, if you’re following the habitat hero guidelines, you’re reducing the carbon footprint of your garden or landscape.

Prairie yard dotted with trees for cover and shelter.

A prairie yard of native grasses dotted with trees for cover and shelter.

Less fuel: Every bit of lawn you convert to habitat means less mowing, edging, blowing, and weed whacking. Power tools, whether they’re gas or electric, use fossil fuels and contribute carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. (Most small engines are inefficient and thus add more CO2 than you’d image for their size.)

Fewer chemicals: Forgoing chemical fertilizers and instead relying on locally sourced compost, aged manure or other natural fertilizers also reduces your landscape’s carbon footprint. Chemical fertilizers are made from fossil fuels and require more energy still in manufacture, packaging and transport.

Water running into a home sink

Water running into a home sink

Less water: Every time you turn on the tap or the faucet, you’re using fossil fuels. How? It takes energy to pump water out of the ground or from a lake or river. On the way, it’s filtered (more energy required), treated with chlorine and other chemicals (which take energy to produce and dispense), and the lines are pressurized (requiring more energy).

Thus, the less water you use on your landscape, the less carbon dioxide you contribute to the atmosphere. And the more water you save for healthy streams and rivers, which contribute directly to habitat.

Habitat Hero Garden sign

Habitat Hero Garden sign

So make a positive change. Restore habitat where you live, work and play, and help keep this remarkable blue planet healthy for birds, bees and every one of us.  Join Audubon RockiesPlant Select® and High Country Gardens: Be a Habitat Hero.