Living treasure troves
Their very appearance makes bumblebees seem like the Winnie the Poohs of the garden, all plump and charming and delightfully ridiculous, always seeking the sweetest spots.
On an evening not long ago, they found one inside a bubblegum-pink poppy in Sarah Catlin’s backyard garden. About five of them crowded into the vibrant bloom and just rolled around in all that luscious pollen.
And because she was in her garden, and because it’s easy to be still there, Catlin got to see those joyous ecstasies before the bees flew off to the next sweet spot.
“It’s my secret garden,” she said of her backyard Eden, where each day brings a new wonder.
Hers will be one of the stops on the 21st annual Grand Valley Garden Tour set for June 2–3, with proceeds from ticket sales benefitting the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens.
This year’s theme is “Palisade’s Garden Treasures” and will feature home gardens as well as the Palisade Insectary, Red Fox Vineyards and Sage Creations on East Orchard Mesa.
The goal, said Sandra Alexander, a tour organizer, is to represent a wide spectrum of gardening, from front yard nooks to multi-acre, commercial layouts. More importantly, she added, the tour represents the idea that in gardening, passion and enthusiasm can be enough; special training isn’t necessarily required.
So, onward to Bonnie and Dennis Stenger’s yard on G Road. When they bought their home more than five years ago, the yard was somewhat xeriscaped but also had large swaths of scrubby dirt and gravel.
Since they were coming from Pinedale, Wyo., where “gardening” can be code for “begging plants to grow,” Bonnie Stenger was thrilled by the opportunity to plant in good Palisade soil and watch her garden grow in the Grand Valley’s long, hot summers.
“I have always tried to garden,” Bonnie Stenger explained. “My family’s from Nebraska and my mother always gardened, so I learned to love it from her.”
Through progressive seasons, she and Dennis moved berms and shifted soil, created walkways, planted grass, built a deck and a pergola, transplanted, watered, dug and weeded, then stepped back to see what else was possible.
“As you know with gardeners, who knows how this will all look in a few years,” Bonnie Stenger said, laughing. She stood near an arbor her family gave her for her 65th birthday, with a plaque proclaiming, “Welcome to Bonnie’s garden.”
The wavy-edged beds were bursting with vivid blooms — “I love color, I’m a quilter,” she said — that didn’t seem to have much rhyme or reason other than beauty.
“I see things I like, so I plant it,” Bonnie said. “I think the secret with gardening is not everything’s going to make it, so you just have to accept that and be willing to try.”
She’s a longtime plant rescuer, her heart going out to the wilted, pathetic things languishing at 90 percent off outside a store. She snatches them up and takes them home and nurtures them, and sometimes the result is a glorious weeping redbud now thriving in her backyard.
She also hates to abandon plants, and has been known to take along entire trees as she and Dennis moved for his pre-retirement job with the Bureau of Land Management.
It’s that love of growing things that runs through the heart of every gardener, one that Catlin shares.
Like the Stengers’ yard, her yard was somewhat wild when she bought her home on Castle Drive in 2010. There were plants scattered willy-nilly, which has a certain appeal, but the garden needed a gently guiding hand.
Over two seasons of intensive work, her front yard is lovely, tidy and colorful, but it’s her back yard that’s the wonder. Cinnamon basil grows alongside peonies, sunflowers sprout where their wild hearts inspire them, wisteria and clematis twist up pergolas and poles.
The garden, she said, represents her: eclectic and free-spirited, and unafraid to try new things.
“I hope (the garden tour) will show people that you can have fruit trees among your garden,” Catlin said. “You can have herbs growing among the flowers.
“I don’t belabor things, I don’t do a lot of research. At a certain point, I just plant it in the dirt and see if it will grow.”