Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd is the Director of Marketing and PR at the Denver Botanic Gardens. With sustainability as a core value of the Gardens, Jennifer drives strategic programming, partnerships and communications initiatives aimed at furthering water-wise landscape practices. Prior to joining the Denver Botanic Gardens, Jennifer was a Brand Manager with Rain Bird, where she spearheaded the company’s Intelligent Use of Water initiatives.
Denver has a lot of pull as a city. Whether it’s the 300-plus days of sunshine a year, the easy access to the mountains or the wealth of cultural offerings, the city’s unique combination of attributes seems to have a magnetic effect.
Just last year, nearly 16,000 people moved to Denver, most of them coming from California, Texas, Arizona and Florida. As Denverites are pretty accepting people, we don’t really ask transplants to change much upon arrival — except, perhaps, the way they garden.
Denver’s semi-arid climate certainly won’t accommodate the tropical plants Floridians are accustomed to. But we’re not necessarily succulents-only, as many parts of Arizona are. So perhaps the steepest learning curve for new arrivals is figuring out what to plant and how to care for it.
This is where Denver Botanic Gardens can be of service. As an accredited museum, we have more than 32,000 plants in our living collections. While not all of these are suitable for a typical Denver back yard, our focus is on educating visitors on those plants that are. The Gardens specializes in showcasing the plants that thrive in our climate, especially those requiring relatively low amounts of water. Some examples: the Roads Water-Smart Garden and the Western Panoramas Garden at our York Street location. Several gardens — the Laura Smith Porter Plains Garden, Anna’s Overlook and Dryland Mesa — are not irrigated at all.
Our commitment to educating Denver — newcomers and natives alike — is stronger than ever, especially in light of Denver Water’s declaration of a Stage 2 drought. Just like other commercial and residential customers, we will reduce our water consumption this summer to comply with Denver Water’s restrictions. We are currently developing a plan to reduce our water use by 20 percent from previous years. This will entail reducing the frequency and run times for our automatic irrigation system, watering during cooler times (evening and overnight) and turning off our purely decorative water features, including the misters on the West Terrace and fountains in the Monet Pond.
Many of the water-savings strategies we employ here at Denver Botanic Gardens translate to a home garden. We use a weather-based central control system to ensure that our automatic irrigation system shuts off when it’s raining or windy, or that it doesn’t go on at all if the soil doesn’t need additional water. A variety of manufacturers sell affordable residential controllers that provide the same features for your home. In fact, Denver Water even offers rebates to their customers who purchase and install a so-called “smart” controller with a rain sensor.
Denver Botanic Gardens has completely overhauled our water management system since the last significant drought in 2002, which will go a long way toward helping us exceed our water-use-reduction goals. During this time, we’ve also witnessed the public embrace water-efficient gardening. At our annual Plant Sale (this year’s took place last Friday and Saturday), our Plant Select offerings have become our most popular category. These are plants that are especially well suited to thrive in our semi-arid climate.
We encourage you to visit the Gardens this summer for water-wise gardening inspiration. Between visits, you can learn more about our programs and partnerships to promote water conservation by visiting www.denverbotanicgardens.org.