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.
Blanca Peak™ White Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) is an award-winning white-flowered selection of our native Rocky Mountain Penstemon. Large, tubular flowers are a favorite nectar source for bumblebees. Plant this easy-to-grow beardtongue for a sturdy, long-lived late-spring bloomer in your xeriscape. This beauty thrives in most well-drained soil with full sun exposure. A 2021 Plant Select® Winner. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
A soft orange-flowered selection of pineleaf beardtongue, SteppeSuns® Sunset Glow Penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius) is a native cultivar that starts flowering in late spring and attracts numerous pollinators and hummingbirds. Reminiscent of Colorado summer sunsets, its long-lasting blooms add a warm glow to dry area gardens. Finely textured evergreen foliage forms a compact mound for year-round interest.
An easy-to-grow groundcover, 'Purple Beauty' Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) carpets the mid-to-late spring garden with starry lavender-purple flowers. Whether you are looking for a water-thrifty addition to flow through a rock garden, or a beautiful way to highlight a spring-blooming bulb collection, 'Purple Beauty' will add pollinator-friendly, drought-tolerant spring beauty to your garden.
Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) is a lovely Sulphur Buckwheat with large, showy clusters of creamy white or light yellow flowers and low-growing rosette of large heart-shaped leaves. Beautiful late spring blooms add playful texture to the garden. Native to the dry areas of the Pacific Northwest, this buckwheat is an essential habitat plant for butterflies, beneficial insects, and wildlife.