By Vicki Spencer, Master Gardener
I can’t think of any gardener who doesn’t long for an easy-to-grow garden. What a pleasure it is to have flowers flourish year after year without much maintenance. I learned this from my mother who worked full time, raised three daughters and helped my father care for two households — all before today’s modern conveniences. No matter how busy she was, her garden was always beautiful. Her secret was to grow plants that were not too particular about sun, water and soil conditions; were not prone to disease or pests; and spread abundantly.
To begin cultivating an easy-to-grow garden, try incorporating flowering shrubs into your beds. They can serve as borders, focal points or fillers. Titan boxwood is a hardy dwarf shrub reaching 3 to 6 feet at maturity, with dense branches and small leaves that often stay green year-round. Boxwood can be shaped to any form. Some people enjoy its natural rounded shape in borders, others creatively sculpt whimsical shapes into interesting focal points.
Flowering quince is another beautiful shrub. It is wide spreading and tolerant of wind and dry soil. Its red, pink or orange flowers begin to bloom in early spring and the colors seem to brighten with age. Snowball Bush is a fun shrub with pompom-shaped flowers that emerge lime green in spring and turn to snowy white in May. Some popular filler shrubs include spiraea with its cascading white blossoms and clethra with its fragrant pink flowers. The Mini Man dwarf viburnum recently became popular with its compact white flowers that provide a wonderful contrast in any Colorado garden.
In addition to shrubs, there are many easy-to-grow flowers, such as larkspur, cosmos, black-eyed Susan, day lilies and snapdragons. They all add splashes of color throughout your garden.
Larkspur is a lovely spring flower that comes in blues, pinks and whites. It loves cool weather, which means it is a great choice for our consumer-members who live in the mountains. It also grows well on the Front Range as long as you start seeds indoors and then transplant them in April or May.
Cosmos is a hardy plant that grows well under differing conditions. If you remove dead flowers, you will enjoy blossoms all summer long. My sister gave me transplants decades ago and they grew well on the south side of my house where heat was intensified by the adjacent asphalt driveway.
Last summer when my garden seemed to be losing its colorful palette, another sister suggested filling it in with zinnias. I didn’t follow up at first because it was so hot and I thought it might be too late in the season, but wandering through my garden store I found a closeout sale on dwarf zinnias filled with buds and couldn’t resist. Not only did the plants spread out to fill empty spaces, the bright yellow zinnias were also the perfect accent to a predominately pink and purple garden. Regular deadheading kept the plants blooming all the way through October when everything else had faded away.
These are just a handful of suggestions to beautify your garden that require minimal maintenance, so you can just sit back and enjoy their magnificence.
Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.