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Gifts & Gratitude

The fountain garden features hybridized iris with huge 6-inch blossoms.

Connecting with nature is a gift this gardener gladly shares with others

For this Longmont gardener, connecting with nature is a gift he shares and gives thanks for.

By Lisa Truesdale

Jerry Vaughn and his wife, Carolyn, are both artists. But while she works with the kind of canvas that hangs on the wall, Jerry’s canvas is his landscape. And while her art supplies are mainly paints and brushes, his are rakes, trowels, wheelbarrows, soil, rocks and trees—and a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off his face.

“Gardening is my art,” says Jerry, who retired from teaching social studies more than 20 years ago and became a Master Gardener in 1993. “Each one of us has a gift, and we should find that gift and share it.”

And share he does. When he’s not tending his garden, he harnesses his teaching skills to help others learn how to create alpine rock gardens through presentations at Denver Botanic Gardens and the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, just to name a few. He’s also active in Xeriscape Colorado, the North American Rock Garden Society, and the Colorado Federation of Garden Clubs, and has given several garden tours of his property in order to share his knowledge.

The fountain garden features hybridized iris with huge 6-inch blossoms.
The fountain garden features hybridized iris with huge 6-inch blossoms. 
Filling the Canvas

When Jerry and Carolyn moved to their northeast Longmont home in 2000, the 7,000-square-foot yard was as empty as a canvas fresh from the art-supply store. But Jerry was excited, rather than daunted, by the huge task at hand, and promptly sketched out a detailed garden map on a large poster board he still uses today. Part of his urgency was the fact that his homeowners’ association required that a front yard be in place within 60 days. But mostly, Jerry was just anxious to get started.

Being a Master Gardener, he already knew the types of plants he would employ in his landscape. “I naturally went with xeric and drought-tolerant, because that’s what we are taught to have in this area,” he says. “Rock gardening is intriguingly attractive. It places the mountains right in your backyard, with compact alpines, succulents, small ornamental grasses, dwarf conifers and wildflowers.”

A former student of Jerry’s helped him install walkways throughout the property. Jerry then hauled in 200 wheelbarrows full of rocks and his own special soil mixture that he says is “ideal for rock gardens”—3 parts compost, 2 to 3 parts “squeegee” (fine gravel), 1 part topsoil, 1 part peat and 1 part rough sand.

According to Jerry’s trusty map, his garden is divided into several distinct sections, each with its own theme, complementary plants and hardscaping. For instance, there’s the scree garden along the south side of the house. “The scree, or alpine area,” Jerry explains, “is that place on the mountainside that’s right before the top, where you’ll find lots of rocks and a few plants.”

Then there’s the Japanese garden with flowers like clematis and delphiniums; the fountain garden featuring sanddune wallflowers and artemisia; the cacti and succulents garden with agave, echinocerus and yucca; and, bordering the fence on the west side, the 75-foot-long rock garden, so expansive that Jerry divided it into sections “A” through “H” on his map in order to keep track of all the plants, including sedum, dianthus, salvia and veronica.

Along the north side, you’ll find the pond garden, with many varieties of penstemon and more veronica; the rose garden, with dozens of colorful varieties like ‘Hope for Humanity’ and ‘Gourmet Popcorn’; and the perennial beds, showcasing everything from phlox and rudbeckia to coreopsis and evergreen candytuft. Enchanting details peppered throughout make the yard seem even more inviting—meandering pathways, shady trees, a footbridge over a trickling stream, benches, trellises, and garden art that Carolyn crafted.

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Reeling In Rocks & Plants

Keeping the garden looking good year after year has meant many hours in the yard during the height of the season (although, as a scratch golfer, Jerry always makes time to get out on the course), and plenty of trial and error. “I keep extensive lists of what I’ve added each year and what does well, and I add or replace about 10 percent each year,” Jerry says. “ The list of what doesn’t make it is just as important to me as what does, so I don’t make the same mistakes again.”

Over the past 12 years, this avid fly-fisher, who used to reel in nearly 500 fish a year, has now “caught” hundreds and hundreds of plants and rocks for his garden—and he knows the name of each plant and remembers where every rock came from. He also has plenty of stories to tell to visitors who come through on garden tours, like the one he gave for Xeriscape Colorado that drew a whopping 200 people.

“Take this boulder, for instance,” he says, pointing proudly to a rock topped with a ponderosa pine. “I remember the day I brought it home, about 15 years ago; it was just a plain rock with a crack running along the top. Within three months, there was a tiny little tree sprouting from the crack and now look at it—amazing!”

In the Present
Jerry still refers to the garden map he created to keep track of all the plants and other elements in his landscape.
Jerry still refers to the garden map he created to keep track of all the plants and other elements in his landscape.

When he’s not gardening, teaching, golfing, fishing, or relaxing in his beautiful oasis, Jerry pursues a spiritual path centered on staying in the present and projecting 100-percent positive energy. He’s also written a book called Spiritually Speaking to Find Our Way Home.

“You have to remain in the present,” Jerry says. “If you’re in the past or the future, the ‘present (energy) field’ can’t help you. Also, some feelings have higher levels of positive energy, and gratitude is the highest.” When Jerry speaks of his garden on a spiritual level, it’s clear he’s truly grateful for it.

“When you actually take the time to study a plant’s life challenge, it’s like being part of a divine creative drama that unfolds in an amazing process that never ends,” he says. “Without plants, no life would exist on this planet, so inclusion of them portrays our respect and honor for their presence—one life form honoring another.”

Those who are fortunate enough to visit Jerry’s garden will surely feel that respect and honor for its plants, and for his awe-inspiring gift.

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