A little green guidance
Garden coaches begin to pop up in Durango

Eve Gilmore, left, discusses possible options for a client’s garden last Friday. Gilmore is one of handful of new “garden coaches”in the Durango area. Unlike landscapers, coaches only guide and help fledgling gardeners toward green nirvana./Photo by David Halterman

by Michelle Duregger

It’s a common scenario, you’ve bought a home with a garden – the epitome of the Durango dream: rustic fencing, gorgeous plants, blues, reds, fuchsias, yellows – every hue on the kindergarten color wheel and then some. “Gardening should be a breeze,” you muse as you slip on the quintessential green gardening gloves and straw hat and grab the claw-like tool that happened to be on sale at the nursery. But what awaits you outside is harrowing: A swath of perennials, biennials and annuals complete with a lifeline of irrigation timed to the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon and the daily horoscope.

Perhaps others face less traumatic gardening experiences: the garden is just not working well or there is too much lawn. Whatever the scenario, the nursery can be overwhelming and the existing flora demanding. The back yard can become a “Little Shop of Horrors” with Audry II calling for blood.

Fortunately for the sanity of overwhelmed gardeners, they don’t have to throw in the trowel. There’s a new helper in town. Garden Coaches, a recent addition to the local consulting landscape, can offer a little guidance to the horticulturally challenged.

“The garden wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. I wanted a change,” said Victoria FittsMilgrim, a local Life Coach. For some coaching of her own, FittsMilgrim turned to Eve Gilmore and Gardens by Eve. “I wanted someone with a real, solid base of knowledge in native plants,” she said. With Gilmore’s roots in organic farming, permaculture and xeriscaping, as well as four years of garden design, they decided to plant a local variety of locust tree mixed with roses. On the west side of the garden, blazing stars and sunflowers now smile from once-troublesome patches.

To find the right arrangement and selection of plants, boulders and water features, Gilmore taps into her client’s personality, the garden’s existing features and the natural surroundings. By strolling the property and discussing preferences and dreams, the gardener and coach then hash out the details.

Fixing a garden can mean anything from learning to take care of the existing plants to major vegetative renovation. For example, there may be a downspout making a washed out, mucky mess around the house. But Gilmore sees challenges as opportunities for greatness. “We could take it and make it into an asset, a beautiful feature instead of a mud pit,” she said. Suddenly a nasty downspout problem is a serene creek bed lined with native plants that enjoy the random and violent downpours.

With Gilmore’s xeric focus, all is aimed at efficiency. Various plants enjoy the different microcosms found in yards as small as 800 square feet. Water plants, transitional plants, arid alpine plants and cacti each fulfill a niche in the landscape. Instead of a driveway lined with a million little perennials, Gilmore would prod the homeowner to select a few large shrubs to maximize the impact from a distance.

Plants stand at the ready at Durango Nursery and Supply on Tuesday as Beth Flory waters in the distance. Garden coaches will often shop with their clients and demystify the nursery experience./Photo by David Halterman

Garden coaching goes beyond simple landscape planning to teaching skills and allowing homeowners to plant and tend a xeriscape. Suzi and Richard Loether recently bought a house in need of landscaping. After two landscaping consultations, they were still at loss for what to do with the property. “The landscapers gave suggestions, but no one seemed to listen well and ask us what we liked,” explained Suzi. The Loethers eventually took matters into their own hands and paid a visit to Durango Nursery and Supply to get educated.

But the nursery was daunting. “We knew nothing,” Suzi said. “We were paralyzed.” Even when the plant scheme is narrowed to more native plants, the possibilities and varieties are endless. According to Lisa Bourey, garden consultant to local landscapers and home-builders, the popular assumption is that arid gardens are only suitable for Yucca, cacti and sunflowers. That assumption is proven shamefully wrong with one glance at Bourey’s yard – a testing ground bursting with a variety of natives. Before the Loethers could despair, they learned about Gardens by Eve. “Eve took a lot of uncertainty out of it. After spending time with her we felt we could make some decisions.”

The beauty of garden coaching is the interaction and confidence an experienced gardener can bring to a project while letting the client own the design as well. From the consultation on, the maintenance is up to the garden owner, but Gilmore is available for panicked emergency calls for help or additional advice. “I can hold their hand through the process of learning how to care for the plants that they have in their garden,” explained Gilmore. “They may say, ‘I understand the perennials but I don’t know what to do with this shrub, can you help?’”

Horticultural gurus like Gilmore have four main roles – visit, shop, place and explain. A visit from Gilmore or another garden coach allows a new homeowner to get a detailed tour of the plants that came with their nest egg, including advice and instruction on pruning, watering and other techniques. No matter how in-tune the client may be with nature, there are several details they may miss. Wind, moisture, soil composition, sun exposure, temperature and other variables drastically affect a plant’s ability to grow. And often, a simple lesson on how to care for the plants is in order for the client to fall in love with their garden again.

The next step, nursery shopping, can be overwhelming. “Often people buy cute little nursery plants and plant them so they look good right away. But then they grow and crowd each other, causing disease,” said Gilmore. To remedy this, she shops with her clients, guiding them through the process and avoiding the common “buy-plant-and-cross-your-fingers” syndrome. To make matters worse, many homeowners in the area move from the coasts and are accustomed to purchasing and planting humid climate plants. To their dismay, the plants shrivel quite quickly in the harsh mountain sun.

Back in the yard, placing the plants is a delicate and often complicated process. It involves knowledge of how far the plant will spread as it grows, which plants will work well together visually, etc. Some plants like sun, some like shade, some like both. Even for landscapers, Bourey’s 19 years of experience in the horticultural industry is an essential tool. “I don’t have to be an expert,” said Doe Youtz of Little Paradise Landscaping. “I can tell Lisa, I want a hard edge here and a softer corner there, and she knows the plants that will do that.”

“Part of the coaching is teaching them why they need to do what they do. Teaching the ‘Whys’ makes it less mysterious and allows them to become self sufficient,” explained Gilmore.

Garden coaching is about taking the fear out of the world of horticulture and empowering clients to uncover their garden’s potential. With Gilmore’s and Bourey’s guidance, some gardeners’ depressing digs become objects of gardening pride. “I did that,” they can say, “with a little coaching.”



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