A couple of weeks ago, I traveled across the Western Slope of Colorado, giving talks to multiple Master Gardener classes about backyard vegetable production.
Same talk with 270 PowerPoint slides, six hours each, five different locations. I almost developed a disdain for veggies. But each class had an ear for something different: the importance of trying to grow one’s own food (the romance); specifics about each crop (nuts and bolts); how to design a garden space (artist’s eye); and the “how to protect your crops from frosts in June, July and August in places such as Steamboat Springs, Frisco and Gunnison” portion (calloused, praying hands).
All these places where I spoke – plus Norwood, Telluride and Salida – have their own, personal beauty. I was frequently awestruck as I drove over mountain passes, through wide-open valleys and around rolling rivers, some for the first time. I realized that they all have their serious challenges with producing food (Frisco has a 25-day growing season).
As I crawled back into Durango and walked the yard of the house that Beth and I just bought, I started to shuffle through the challenges we have: a resident deer population that I share my front (and only) yard with; a 3-foot-tall fence that will not keep out said herd of deer; two full-sized spruce trees that are way too big for the lot but way too beautiful to cut down; a growing season that will start with drought-stressed plants; and if the drought continues, I have to come to terms with paying to irrigate a big space.
To top it all off, Asher and Grey are wanting to build: a scaled-down BMX track, half-pipe (winter) and some sort of snowboard park that consists of “drops, rails, boxes and jumps.” And Beth and Bella want chickens.
With all these parameters and “asks,” I should figure where, and if, the vegetable garden would sit. That led me back to what I tell my students in the 15 slides about garden layout and placement.
And after review, I still don’t have an answer. But that’s OK. Because I want to take this first year to understand the property. Understand where the sunlight tracks, how the soil drains, how I will have to alter the existing irrigation system and where all of us like to hang out. I will have to address the large trees, the deer and the path the basketball will take when it’s thrown over the backboard to potentially land in the bed of tomatoes (grounds for rolling the basketball down Montview Parkway).
Landscapes aren’t like a room in the house. I’m betting the layout of the living room will change multiple times before we figure out the best flow. But once I put in an ornamental bed, the vegetable garden or 1,000-pound boulder, I don’t see them moving locations every year. My lower back, and my tendency to have organization in the garden, will not like that.
So I will sit in a comfy chair, Mexican Logger in hand, and I will see how this landscape moves and how we move within it. And I will be fine with that.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at email@example.com or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter