This garden pleases not only plants and people,
but pollinators too.
By Lisa Truesdale
Photos by Allison M. Fleetwood Jr., amfphotography.com
Even a longtime, passionate gardener like Deborah Foy is quite comfortable admitting that she always welcomes her yearly autumnal respite from yard work.
“I garden nonstop all spring, then just do a little maintenance in the summer while we’re ‘surveying the kingdom,’ as I like to call it,” she says. “By the time fall arrives, I’m definitely ready to take a break. But then in January, the gardening catalogs start landing in my mailbox, and it whets my appetite to start all over again.”
Such has been Foy’s routine for more than 22 years, since she and her husband, Richard, purchased their central Boulder house with its half-acre, steeply sloped backyard. The home, built in 1942 and originally owned by two English sisters, already had much of its garden’s architectural structure in place—a formal, three-tiered, terrace-style layout with lots of barberry, privet and rose hedges; multiple plantings of spirea bushes, forsythia bushes, red-twig dogwood and French lilacs; and a traditional rose-garden border.
From the beginning, Foy says, the plan was to maintain the integrity of the garden but add touches of her own personality. “We had this beautiful blueprint to work with,” she fondly recalls. “Over time, we started replacing some of the hedges with perennials, like purple dome aster, campanula, California poppies and lavender. Then we added a vegetable garden to the lower yard, which was once just a wild hillside, and then a small orchard with apricot, peach, pear, cherry and plum trees.”
To keep the huge expanse irrigated, Foy initially installed a drip system, although after a few frustrating seasons of clogged lines and limited planting options, she switched to micro-sprays. “It’s a much more flexible and efficient system, because drip lines dictate where plants need to be located,” she explains. “But each micro-spray can be turned on or off individually, and I can adjust the height, and I can also move them to wherever I need them.”
And so, over the years, the space has gradually transformed into the garden it is today—still manicured and well maintained, but with evidence that everyone in the family played a part in its makeover.
“Richard and my dad pick-axed the lower portion of the yard so we could make the vegetable garden. Richard built fences of tree branches in several places and also a handrail, using branches trimmed from our trees lashed together with wire,” Foy says. “Their handcrafted look is very creative, and they add a rustic look to a somewhat formal garden.”
Their two daughters, now in college, grew up in the house, and though they haven’t turned into avid gardeners themselves, they definitely left a bit of a mark on the lower garden.
“The girls loved mapping, laying out and planting the veggie garden, and harvesting,” Foy says. “They had tiny, bright-red watering cans, and they would water all the plants in the garden, and of course it was ‘magic’ to them to see the seedlings pop out of the ground and start to grow.
“I do think it’s a significant reason why they developed such varied and sophisticated tastes for vegetables like sugar snap peas and beans, even from a very young age. When you plant it, you want to try it!”
Watching the Bees’ Backs
Today, as Foy looks out (and down) over her garden, she can see quite clearly how it’s changed and evolved with each stage of their lives. The biggest change recently, she says, is the addition of honeybees, something she decided to do after reading about declining populations due to colony collapse disorder.
“At first, I wanted to add bees simply to support pollinators,” Foy explains. “I just didn’t realize how much I would fall in love with beekeeping.” Now, when Foy is thinking about her garden and what to do next, she always considers her bees. “Would it be good for the bees? If not, I don’t do it.”
Foy’s garden has several hives of honeybees, both the Top Bar type of hive, which is long and skinny, almost like a covered trough, and the more familiar-looking Langstroth kind, which looks sort of like a chest of drawers. She has plenty of the plants that are especially beneficial to pollinators—sea holly, salvia, bee balm and coneflower—and she enjoys donning her beekeeper suit and harvesting the fresh, delicious honey, which she shares with friends and family.
Foy is also currently participating in a citizen-scientist study, called The Bees’ Needs (beesneeds.colorado.edu), through the University of Colorado. he program focuses on native bees, which are quite different from honeybees. According to the Bees’ Needs website, there are more than 900 species of native bees in Colorado, 550 of which can be found on the Front Range.
“Native bees are very solitary, and they don’t build hives,” Foy says. The plain wooden box staked out in Foy’s yard as part of the program features rows of tiny holes of slightly varied sizes, and each hole corresponds to a simple letter-number code. Every two weeks, Foy examines the box, notes which holes are now occupied by a single native bee (as evidenced by a little bit of nesting material peeking out of the hole), and uploads her findings onto the Bees’ Needs website, where researchers analyze it, along with data from other program participants.
Foy spent a significant amount of time doing the necessary research before getting started in beekeeping, and she praises the Boulder County Beekeepers(www.bouldercountybeekeepers.org) and the Colorado Beekeepers (www.coloradobeekeepers.org) for their invaluable help. She later formed a group and a blog with four fellow local beekeepers, called The Bee Chicas. They share their beekeeping skills and knowledge by offering advice at www.beechicas.blogspot.com.
But she also cautions that beekeeping is not for everyone. With all the equipment that’s needed, there’s definitely a financial investment, and the maintenance of the hive requires a significant time commitment. Plus, there’s no guarantee the bees will last, and that can be disheartening. “I lost a hive to CCD once,” she says. “One day they were thriving and the next day they were gone, no dead bodies anywhere, just gone.”
So, since supporting pollinators is the goal, Foy suggests simple steps that gardeners can take to do their part, even if they’re not ready to become beekeepers. The most important things, she says, are to introduce the plants that bees like, and to never use pesticides. “If we use pesticides, we kill the pollinators, and if we kill the pollinators, we damage our ecosystem. Many people don’t realize that one in every three bites of food we eat is directly dependent on bees.”
As for the next big change to come to Foy’s garden, she seems to have a pretty good idea about that: “Well, we’d like to sit outside and enjoy our beautiful garden without being bothered by mosquitoes,” she says. “So maybe I’ll get a bat house.”