If you’re a gardener who’s suffered the misfortune of spring freezes, destructive hailstorms or droughts visited upon your plants, multiply that anguish by 225. That’s how many flower beds Julie Lehman oversees for the city of Denver’s gardens in public parks.
“We have about 42 horticulturists,” said Lehman, who is the city’s greenhouse/horticulture manager. “We grow about 250,000 plants to go out into the parks. We’re about three weeks behind because everything was frozen and then hailed on.”
In the city’s parks, post-storm cleanup and replanting were under way, part and parcel of gardening in a steppe climate with extreme weather events. Fortunately, the city operates a greenhouse near the Denver Zoo. City horticulturists design park garden plantings a year in advance. Once designs are reviewed and approved, the horticulturists grow the plants in the greenhouse.
Increasingly, city horticulturists propagate fewer annuals and more perennials, native plants, xeric plants and ornamental grasses for gardens in the city’s parks.
“We’re starting to put perennials in all of our gardens. It’s happening everywhere. We’re cutting costs of growing annuals every year and the labor of re-planting annuals and then pulling them out at the end of the season,” Lehman said. “But we’re also providing plants for pollinators and more year-round interest and wildlife habitat and using less water.”
Lehman emphasized that the city’s parks cultivate much more than natural beauty.
“We work with aesthetics, obviously, but there are so many reasons to have gardens in our parks,” she said. “So many studies show that green spaces are so good for the mind and spirit and overall well-being, so keeping people healthy in the city is a big part of it.”
Toward that end, the city of Denver participates in the National Recreation and Park Association’s 10- Minute Walk Campaign.
“We started at the beginning of the campaign. We’re working so hard to make sure everyone has the ability to enjoy a beautiful space within a 10-minute walk of home,” Lehman said. “We’re plotting out spaces, and this is one of the big things we have in our two-year plan. We all feel it’s important for everyone to be able to enjoy a green space nearby.”
For Lehman and her crew, gardening chores never end.
“There’s a lot going on. I don’t know if people realize how much work is done in our parks,” she said. “Our horticulturists don’t just grow plants, waiting to put them out in spring. There are many other tasks. And we don’t just take care of the gardens, we’re also working with shrubs and turf in all the spaces.”
Even after a branch-breaking May blizzard followed by a violent hailstorm, Lehman’s gardening hope sprang eternal.
“The fun part is to see designs come to fruition,” she said. “We keep our public areas beautiful, and it’s amazing how many people really, really love their parks. Denver is a very supportive horticultural community.”
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