Dirt therapy

Locals show off their beautiful gardens on tour

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— Lynne Masters aspires to have her garden included in the High Country Garden Tour in 2010.

She had been attending the tour every year for personal inspiration. Masters remembers one property in particular she saw 10 years ago, that had a pond and waterfall in its garden.

¤ High Country Garden Tour ¤ 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Garden Tour, 9 a.m. speaker Saturday ¤ Speaker and coffee and pastries at Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park, 900 Strings Road ¤ $22 advance purchase tickets, $25 day of tour and $42 for VIP tour ¤ 879-5056

"I said, 'I want one of those' and now I have it," Masters said. "It inspired me and it gave me ideas of what can be done."

The 11th annual High Country Garden Tour will include six private homes whose owners have a real passion for creating and maintaining their magnificent gardens.

"We really make an effort to find properties that have loving care and owner interest," said Pat Anthony, chairperson of the Garden Tour. "Our goal is to select more realistic gardens for the average gardeners."

People attend the tour to admire the beautiful properties and learn about which plants will grow successfully in our valley's short growing season.

"People are intimidated by the short growing season and it's amazing what people do here and what you can do," said Audrey Kruser, garden tour volunteer. "The people are so creative with their gardens."

Other local obstacles gardeners face are animals that can invade residents' properties.

"We have to select plants that animals are not so interested in," Anthony said. "It's motivation for some of us that have animals that salivate on our salad bars."

There is a large learning component to the tour and there will be volunteers from the community, The Guild of Strings in the Mountains and master gardeners who will be stationed at each property to answer questions and identify plants.

Local musicians also will be present at each garden, playing the piano, violin, keyboard and the flute. The VIP Tour includes bus transportation between the gardens, goodie bags, beverages, door prizes and a master gardener on board. All of the proceeds from the tour benefit the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival.

There was a little trepidation in the planning process for this year's tour because of the extreme winter and dry summer following it.

"We never thought the snow would melt as fast as it did," Anthony said. "Then without rain, we were afraid it was too dry."

Thanks to recent precipitation, the gardens all are flourishing.

"These gardens are not manicured perfection, but are labors of love," master gardener Evlyn Berge said.

Steve Kelton and Pam Duckworth's garden has evolved greatly over the years.

"It's a constant experiment," Kelton said. "We used to have more plants but they fight one another and crowd each other out. When you are going to have an all season garden, you've got to take into account when things blossom, and the height, sun and shade and color and texture of the plants."

Kelton used to ride his bike to the Yampa Valley Botanic Park every day to identify the plants in his garden.

"You can never learn them all -- ever," Berge said.

Howard and Danna McDonough created a natural garden bed.

"We spend a lot of time in the mountains, so we didn't want a city garden," Danna said. "We wanted to feel like we are in the mountains."

Jean and Jeffrey Wolf converted their property from a hayfield into a beautiful garden with a waterfall and pond with water lilies.

"They put in a water feature and elk have found it as a watering hole,' Anthony said.

Kris and William Bensler struggle with a deer population that frequents their property. They have incorporated sprinklers with motion detectors into their garden to scare the deer away.

Fritz and Ani Jacob welcome one specific type of wildlife in their garden. They have many unique, handmade and painted birdhouses and mosaic birdbaths that functionally decorate their property and attract many local bird species.

Karen Vail's challenge is having a small plot of land on Harms Court. She has used her botany background to figure out how to sustain a wide variety of plants, flowers and vegetables.

"The vegetable garden is really outstanding because she has a number of different plants," said Kathy Olsen, landscape designer and master gardener. "And she hand waters all of it, which is quite a feat. It's a neat little space on a such a busy road."

All of the property owners design their gardens, select the plants and flowers and set the placements. They provide other gardeners on the tour with inspiration, and show them the kind of gardens they can achieve on their own.

Master gardener Barb Sanders also understands the value of what she calls "dirt therapy."

"There is something about playing in the dirt," she said. "And only gardeners feel that."

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