Denver Cabin Wildscape: A 2017 Habitat Hero Gold Award Winner
Five years ago, the Baker-Breningstalls purchased two log cabins in the Observatory Park neighborhood in Southeast Denver. They spent an entire summer season completely re-landscaping the half acre property. When they purchased the property the only plant life was turf grass, over grown Juniper bushes, Aspen trees, a pin oak, some Lilacs and a few Cottonwood trees.
They removed all the grass, Junipers and Aspen trees. They left a section of the property in a corner to stay "wild" which had over grown low trees, bushes and lots of leaf litter.
They seeded the property with a western pollinator mix, including wildflowers both native and non-native. "My idea was to encourage more pollinators to the area," said Donna Baker-Breningstall.
The meadow was also planted with several different semi dwarf fruit trees. The area is watered from a French drain that attaches to the downspouts from the cabins.
They built 14 vegetable beds in the area adjacent to the meadow that are watered by a drip system. Almost all of the vegetables grown are donated to local food pantries.
"I am involved with a local initiative called Produce for Pantries," said Donna. "I am also a volunteer with Grow Local and Denver Urban Gardens. I have been a volunteer over the years with Slow Food Denver and a delegate to Slow Food Nation and on the board of Sprout City Farms."
Donna created a number of perennial flower beds which have a very wide range of both native and non-native plants, including shrubs, ornamental grasses and a variety of trees such as Red Bud, Hawthorn Crimson Cloud, Mock Orange, Dwarf Cedar and semi dwarf Blue Spruces.
Each year Donna plants different annuals throughout the property. "The last several years I've had close to 200 sunflowers of varying types. I've planted quinoa, sorghum which was a trial for a professor at CSU, and pumpkin on a stick, among others," said Donna.
Donna used three of the Aspen tree trunks that were taken down on the property to build native bee homes. Donna explained, "On top of the trunks that are placed in the ground, I built roofs to keep the bee eggs dry. On top of the roofs, I planted succulents...green roofs!"
The plant material attracts a variety of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and lots of different bees. The birds that have visited include: robins, chickadees, wrens, hummingbirds, gold finches, sparrows, starlings, doves, crows, flickers, woodpeckers, falcon and owls.
"As a master composter and master gardener, I strive to not only garden in a respectful and organic fashion I also encourage others to approach their gardening in a similar fashion," said Donna. Our property was visited by the Denver Master Gardener Association for a diagnostic class, it was on the Denver Botanic Gardens Urban Homestead tour last year and this year was on the Waterwise Garden tour along with the Colorado Native Plant Society tour.
Rudbeckia Goldsturm blooms in mid-to-late summer with an eye-catching display of golden flowers. Black Eyed Susan is very attractive to butterflies and the seed heads provide winter food for seed-eating songbirds as well. Reliable and tough, Rudbeckia tolerates both drought and clay plus easy to maintain.
Magnus is a distinctive, vigorous and large growing cone flower cultivar. The bright reddish-pink petals of its huge flowers are held flat as they radiate out from the cone, instead of curving backwards as is typical of most coneflowers.
Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) is a gorgeous plant that produces purple/pink flower clusters that wildflower gardeners love and spreads quickly. This native perennial is a primary food source for the Monarch butterfly providing large leaves for caterpillars and big pink globe-like flowers that provide nectar for the adult butterflies. Planting it will help to support Monarch populations. Perennial.
Red Birds in a Tree is a rare perennial from the southern mountains of New Mexico and Arizona. It blooms all summer with spires of small red, white-lipped flowers that resemble a flock of red birds perched on a tree branch.