Rocky Hillside Transformed Into Wildlife Oasis

Heern-Rock-Garden-After--9-2012

Plants include: Cosmos started from seed, Stachys, Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi), Russian Sage (Perovskia) as well as several different varieties of Sedum and Thyme.

Using Drought Resistant and Native Plants To Attract Birds and Butterflies: A Habitat Hero Success Story In Evergreen, CO

Heern-Rock-Garden-After-8-2012-(1)

Plants featured are Ice Plant (Delosperma), Yellow Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida), Russian Sage (Perovskia) and Bee Balm (Monarda).

By Louise H. - 2015 Outstanding Habitat Hero Residential Garden

What motivated you to create a wildscape garden?

My yard in Chicago backed up to a forest preserve and was registered as a National Wildlife Habitat. I loved all the birds and pollinators there, and had a beautiful butterfly garden. But when we first moved to Evergreen in July of 2009, with the exception of a small failing Aspen grove and a beautiful Douglas fir on the north side, our new home sat in the middle of a 4-acre dry, barren clearing; nothing but weeds, rocks and dust--without even a bird in sight, only voles--which we still have!

My husband had a fence installed around a manageable area in the back, and we started planting. Since we had no trees, my first attempt to attract birds was by putting out multiple water features and feeders on our deck. (We can only offer the bird feeders in the winter when the bears are hibernating.) One of the few things I like about living in a clearing are the blue birds. We put up several blue bird houses shortly after we moved in. They have since been occupied every spring. Usually, one blue bird family and one swallow family. This summer, we had a Mountain Bluebird family and an Eastern Bluebird family. They love the bird baths. The hummingbirds saved me! They arrive by the dozens and we all enjoy their entertaining antics.

Over the course of five very short, very challenging high altitude (8,700 feet) growing seasons, and the completion of Colorado State University’s Master Gardener program, the once barren back yard is now like an oasis with quite a wide variety of birds.

Heern-Problem-Hill-After-8-2014-(2)

Plants include a low growing variety of Solidago, Creeping Phlox, Bearded Iris, Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida), Catmint (Nepeta), a dwarf weeping Norway Spruce, Red Birds in a Tree, Penstemon, Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus).

There is also a garden now, full of pollinators, a snake, a lizard and even a mud puddle for the butterflies. The garden is left untouched over the winter to feed the birds, and there are heat coils in the bird baths. The arid Colorado climate and the completion of CSU’s Master Gardener program helped me to understand the importance of planting natives and xeric selections whenever possible. Outside the fence has been left to its natural, chaotic state, sustaining the wildlife that the fence keeps out!

What makes your wildscape special? For example, the story of creating it? The plants you use? Birds and other pollinators it attracts?

This garden is special to me because it is a fighter! It has survived and thrived what I call "combat gardening"--short growing seasons, frosts in early September, snow in May and late frosts again in June. It has survived cold summer nights, drying winds, little precipitation and every rodent imaginable under the hot sun!

It’s special because of the story of creating it, yes, but mostly because of all the birds and pollinators it has since attracted. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine having butterflies again--not with the strong winds we get up here at 8,700 feet! Starting out as nothing but a barren clearing, with many mistakes and much learned, its evolved over the last five growing seasons into a yard full of birds of every feather, bees, hawk moths and butterflies has been and will continue to be a labor of love.

Heern-Rock-Garden-After-7-2014

Plants include a Knock-out Rose (front left); the brighter pink is Geranium sanguineum 'John Elsley'; the pale pink is Karmina Geranium; directly behind the pale pink is Catmint (Nepeta); and in the far back peaking over the left top are several Bearded Iris..
Heern-Problem-Hill-After-6-2014

After: The rocky slope has evolved into a yard full of birds of every feather, bees, hawk moths and butterflies. Bordering the rock garden and the hill are wild Roses, Coneflower (Echinacea), Black-Eyed Susan, Daisy and Viburnum.
Heern-Rock-Garden-Before-5-2010-(1)

Before: The rocky hillside in Evergreen, CO presented a huge gardening challenge

© This article is shared with High Country Gardens courtesy of Habitat Hero Program of the Audubon Rockies. Republishing an entire High Country Gardens blog post or article is prohibited without written permission. Please feel free to share a short excerpt with a link back to the article on social media websites, such as Facebook and Pinterest.

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6 thoughts on “Rocky Hillside Transformed Into Wildlife Oasis”

  • Cathy Ezell

    I live down the highway from you in Monument, CO, around 7300 ft. so I understand every word of your challenge! Congratulations on your gorgeous garden!

    Reply
  • Celia Fournier
    Celia Fournier 03/02/16 at 3:27 pm

    Thank you so much for the inspiration in your 'combat gardening' story! Makes me want to dash outside and start taking "before" photos! We have clay and some big gravel in layers over shale. Yay! Hope to do the Master Gardener course also here in Grand Junction next year. Keep up the good work and keep sharing your story!

    Reply
  • Melanie Lema
    Melanie Lema 03/03/16 at 3:03 am

    I absolutely love this article!!!

    Reply
  • Pat Geyer

    That was a wonderful garden to see. I am in Conifer, just below Evergreen, and at the same altitude and conditions. I have mostly rock hillsides and spent 7 years putting the gardens together. I originally came from Pennsylvania where there is beautiful topsoil so this was a real shock. I had 5 big dump truck loads of dirt brought in to fill in around the rocks. I have a lot of native and alpine plants and shrubs and it is looking really good and has been the most challenging project of my life but so rewarding. The butterflys and birds are wonderful. I enjoy seeing other gardens with similar conditions of my own. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  • Carol Smith
    Carol Smith 03/09/16 at 7:58 am

    What a wonderful inspiration for me - I live at 8000 feet in Colorado!!

    Reply
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