Raymond Evans weeds in the Durango Botanical Society’s new demonstration garden, which is taking shape behind the Durango Public?Library. The project’s goals are to beautify and educate the Durango community./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

Getting into the ground

Botanical Society’s demonstration garden takes root
by Katie Clancy

If you’ve passed by the library on the bike path lately, you’ve surely noticed a change to the former weedy, scraggly slope outside. Once an eyesore that drew the ire of local residents, the 60,000-square-foot swath is now the Durango Botanical Society’s (DBS) premiere project.
The Botanical Society’s goal is to design gardens that beautify public spaces and educate the communities. With the library’s new outdoor demonstration garden, learning has never felt so fresh.
 “We use horticulture and design to push the definition of public space,” says Darrin Parmenter, a botanical society board member and the horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. “By exploring alternative uses for our trails, parks or empty lots, we provide a window for the community into their untapped potential.”

Just the Facts

After searching actively for a piece of land to design a demonstration garden, the library stepped in and offered up the neglected patch. “The library aligns perfectly with our intention to educate; we couldn’t have found a better match,” says Lisa Bourey, a Botanical Society board member and the designer/manager of the project.
The garden, which broke ground last May, is being designed to represent the diversity of the Southwest, adds Bourey. The goal of the demo garden is not a grand landscaping project, but instead a place where people can learn about unique plants that thrive in challenging terrain (the garden is sectioned into areas named “Montaje Forest,” “Alpines of the World,” “Dryland Mesa” and “Prairie Plants.”)
Even the masonry reflects the rich history of the area. Donated by Eric Lewis, of Canyon Landscaping, slabs of Twin Butte limestone lines the flowerbeds.
And while the garden combines various landscapes, it also represents the mosaic of the community. Since its inception, the garden team has been mainly volunteers, recruited by word-of-mouth and from DBS’s stand at the Durango Farmers Market.
Cathy Sugnet, a long-time Durango native and graduate of the Master Gardner Program, has volunteered since the beginning. “I’m amazed at the ideal location. The library, the bike path, and the river all contain communities of their own, so the garden will become a hub for these people to gather, enjoy and learn about relevant ways to improve their own gardens,” Sugnet says.
In addition to the major volunteer workforce, local nurseries like Native Roots and Durango Nursery donated mulch and soil, while Genesis Water & Landscaping and Scapegoat Landscaping took care of the irrigation.
“A lot of landscapers’ work is kept ‘behind the fence,’ meaning they work in gated communities,” Bourey says. “We are so proud to show off their work here and help them gain some public visibility.”
It will be a local garden with a global flair, supported by programs like Plant Select.  Administered by Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University, Plant Select seeks out and identifies unique plants from all over the world and then distributes them throughout the Rocky Mountain region.
“Plant Select helps us learn what to plant in our area versus what not to plant,” Parmenter says. “The demo garden will be a true educational experiment.”
Like the library that caters to everyone from kindergartners to senior citizens, the garden is being developed with a broad scope. All the plants will be labeled, and there will be an experimental “no water zone” across the river path, to gauge how plants survive without irrigation.  
Local growers can visit the demo garden if they have questions about plants, how to reduce water use or just inspire new ideas. “Our intention is to create these public gardens to help people realize the potential of their own home gardens,” says Parmenter.
As the garden grows, DBS dreams of including live music, art installations and seminars into the mix. That outgrowth will begin in coming weeks.
On Oct. 10, DBS and local nurseries will host a fund-raiser event with Panayoti Kelaidis. The native of Steamboat Springs has helped revolutionize Rocky Mountain horticulture. Kelaidis has collected plants from Asia, South Africa, South America, Europe and North America in search of species that could be durable and reliable introductions to our gardens, says Bourey. “He is an extremely able and entertaining lecturer and will leave you spell­bound and inspired beyond continental boundaries.”

Kelaidis will give a lecture at the Durango Public Library, lead a plant hike and be available for horticulture consults. All proceeds will go to support the DBS and the premiere demo garden. For more information on joining the Botanical Society, volunteering or meeting Kelaidis, email DBS81301@gmail.com, call 749-5642, or visit www.DurangoBotanicalSociety.com



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