Creating a Waterwise Garden in Denver’s Urban Corridor

September 14th, 2022

How Nurse Heidi Harris has turned her “postage size” Denver yard into a peaceful retreat

By Ann Kendall

Nurse Heidi Harris (@denverdrygarden) first caught our attention on Instagram during the pandemic. She was working on the front lines of Covid, serving as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse in a local Denver hospital.

But when Heidi wasn’t in the ICU, you’d find her outside in her garden. She’d recently purchased a house in the heart of Denver. Day by day, she was busy transforming a rundown vegetable patch and a turf-diseased yard into a peaceful retreat of waterwise plants, filling her Instagram feed with colorful, low-water perennials.

“The garden was a really welcome retreat from the hospital and all that was going on,” Heidi shares.

Heidi enjoyed the camaraderie of the online community of gardeners, and she took advantage of the creativity of local garden centers.

“Echter’s [Garden Center] had a thing where you could order online and go pick up your plants. I remember feeling so excited to pick up three Partridge Feather,” she laughs.

Discovering waterwise plants

Heidi grew up in Michigan—a state with lush Midwestern gardens filled with water-happy hydrangeas, arborvitaes and astilbes.

And while many people try to recreate the gardens they know from their past, there were two things that helped spark Heidi’s interest in waterwise gardening in Colorado:

Hail and travel.

Heidi went through several “devastating” hailstorms in Colorado. She also discovered what can happen to a needy garden when you go away for two weeks without watering support. (There’s nothing like coming back from a trip and discovering your plants are dead!)

She turned her attention to finding beautiful, low-water plants that could withstand our unpredictable western weather and thrive during drought, so she could travel without worry.

Heidi’s first waterwise plant was Sunset Hyssop.

“I went to went to Peru for a month, and I realized, ‘Hey, this thing doesn’t even care!’”

Soon, she started experimenting with other hyssops and plants like penstemons and blanket flower. Some plants worked well in hail and drought. Others got vetted through trial and error.

“A fun work in progress”

Heidi describes her garden as “a fun work in progress.” She has an eye for plants with colorful foliage, interesting textures and multi-season interest. You’ll find sedums tucked in a variety of spaces, from small nooks along fences, to hanging flowerpots. She’s also experimenting with cacti, unusual rock garden plants and a crevice garden.

To add color and texture, Heidi has included a variety of Plant Select plants in her urban landscape.

“Plant Select has so many beautiful plants that handle our western garden challenges with ease. I’m thankful for that.”

Her favorites include Leprechaun Southernwood artemisia for its pretty foliage and easy maintenance, UNDAUNTED® ruby muhly grass (she says people are always asking about that one), and KANNAH CREEK® buckwheat for its all-season color.

“Kannah Creek is a party,” Heidi muses. “And everybody goes to that party when it’s forming: little bees, big bees, bumblebees, butterflies.

“It’s so nice to see wildlife in your yard,” Heidi adds, “even if it’s just a butterfly, or a moth, or a little ground nest of bees. For me, that’s one of the most rewarding things to see when I walk outside on a day off.”

Bringing beauty to a small space

Heidi says that while she just does gardening as a hobby, she’s proof that we can transform our yards—even small ones! You don’t need a huge landscape to create something special.

Our thanks to Heidi for sharing her urban garden with us! We’re excited to follow her gardening journey in the years to come.

If you’d like to see what Heidi is growing in her waterwise garden, please check out her Instagram feed: @denverdrygarden.

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