American homeowners have proudly lavished love and attention — and water, chemicals and fossil fuels — on their neatly trimmed green lawns since the late 1700s when European colonists brought the turf-grass aesthetic with them from the great estates of England and France. Today, with an estimated 40 million acres of lawn under cultivation, turf grasses are America’s largest crop, but they’re not very environmentally friendly, accounting for some 60 percent of urban water use across the arid West, and requiring more than 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides and 580 million gallons of gas for maintenance each year.
This summer, the Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch embarks on an effort to “green” the lawn behind the historic ranch house by transforming it to an interpretive garden that will draw on native and heritage plants along with sculptural structures to tell the stories of Western Routt County’s natural and human history. The vision includes a series of gardens, seating areas and gathering spots linked by paths and interpretive signs to inspire, inform and invite visitors to stop and smell the metaphorical roses — or admire the yampah meadow and the heritage rhubarb and raspberries.
This innovative garden-as-outdoor-interpretive-area sprouted from a partnership between the Carpenter Ranch and Colorado Art Ranch, a nonprofit nomadic arts organization that sponsors month-long residencies for artists in Colorado towns, along with Artposiums — gatherings that bring community members, artists, scientists and others together to explore what art has to say about local issues.
Carpenter Ranch and Colorado Art Ranch share a commitment to exploring how seemingly opposing groups can collaborate and find solutions to everyday problems, from agriculture and conservation to the connection between art and land.
As part of their commitment to sparking conversations about our relationships to community and landscape, Carpenter Ranch and Colorado Art Ranch awarded writer and designer of urban natural areas Susan Tweit and native-stone sculptor Richard Cabe a residency to live and work at the ranch for several weeks this summer and fall, and next year, as well, splitting their time between their own art and this public project.
Tweit and Cabe plan to “listen” to the stories of the Carpenter Ranch and surrounding communities and landscapes and work with others to create a garden and interpretive area that will showcase and celebrate the history of the Carpenter and Dawson families and of the Yampa Valley. It also will serve as a living example of a “green” landscape that is inspiring, beautiful and productive. Relying on a startup grant from the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, volunteers, donations and partnerships with other organizations, Cabe and Tweit envision a public space that encourages community interaction and visitation, aligning with the Nature Conservancy’s goals of honoring the historic Carpenter Ranch’s natural history and cultural significance.
Other artists will live and work at the Carpenter Ranch in September, beginning an annual Colorado Art Ranch residency program at the ranch. Their work will culminate in a daylong Artposium. For more information and to take part in the conversation, join us for the inaugural Carpenter Ranch Artposium on Sept. 25.
Betsy Blakeslee is the Carpenter Ranch facilities manager. She can be reached at email@example.com.