Remembering water conservation

Gardening guide

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Steamboat Springs benefits every spring and early summer from an abundance of snowmelt flowing off the Continental Divide in the form of rivers, streams and seasonal creeks. But there are limits on how much treated water the community can afford to devote to the irrigation of gardens. Rural gardens in Routt County often depend on wells for irrigation. So, water conservation adds up to a good ethic.

Yet, planting a xeric garden is about more than conserving water. Cultivating native plants that are already well adapted to the semi-arid West will result in more successful gardens that require less energy to maintain, Gayle Noonan said. She is the supervisor of the Yampa River Botanic Park. She invites people to visit and engage her in conservation about establishing a "water-wise" garden. The park's own water-wise garden is a living classroom, and Noonan says it's worth visiting in different stages of the growing season to observe the changes.

Penstemon, which comes in many sizes and colors, may be the ultimate xeric plant for Steamboat. Audrey Enever planted the penstemon garden at the botanic park.

The perennials were planted in a load of road base, and despite the marginal soils, the garden is thriving - and they aren't even watered. There are 20 varieties of penstemon in the bed.

Deb Babcock has an area of natural grasses in her own yard where she has established a pair of plants that add variety in four seasons. The sage-colored Artemisia silver mound and feather reed grasses make attractive xeric plantings, she said.

"They get watered once a year and require no care whatsoever," she said.

In winter, the 4-foot-tall stalks of the feather reed grasses and their dramatic seed heads protrude above the snow and rustle in the wind.

- Tom Ross

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