Crevice gardens to crave at the garden of Carol Shinn: Denver Garden Bloggers Fling

June 28, 2019

Colorado gardeners are crazy for crevice gardens, and no wonder. When the Rocky Mountains peek over your back fence, creating a miniature mountain range in your yard makes perfect sense. Alpine plants that thrive at high altitude and require excellent drainage love these rocky niches.

Crevice gardens appeared in seemingly every garden we visited on the Garden Bloggers Fling tour (June 2019). Nowhere did they look more beautiful than in the Fort Collins garden of Carol and Randy Shinn. Carol is an artist who creates remarkably realistic landscapes via machine-stitched embroidery. (I was fascinated by this tidbit because I’m following a talented Texas artist, Rebecca Shewmaker, who also creates embroidered landscapes.) Carol’s artistry is evident in her garden as well.

Let’s start at the front door, where colorful peonies and irises were blooming their heads off, drawing the eye with color and lushness.

The street view gives a sense of scale. More than half of the front yard is given over to garden beds, with a small lawn retained near the house. Runoff is managed via a dry stream that cuts through the lower part of the garden, invitingly traversed by a stone bridge.

It amazed me to see poppies and irises in bloom in mid-June, but that’s what a cooler, higher elevation provides. The growing season is short along the Front Range.

The owners relocated to Fort Collins from Arizona in 2006 and chose the city partly because water “seemed more plentiful than in any other city along the Front Range.” Carol initially dreamed of making a lush perennial garden like those featured in magazines and garden catalogs. (Sound familiar, fellow Texans?)

Having lived 28 years in the Arizona desert, Carol vowed “never to grow anything with thorns again, except perhaps roses.” (Nope, can’t relate.) This soft aesthetic is on full display with flowers galore and accents of miniature conifers.

Carol soon learned about rock and crevice gardening, and her passion for it has changed the way she thinks about water use. She’s begun reducing her collection of daylilies and other thirsty plants in favor of xeric plants that thrive in rocky, dry soil.

Rock gardens crop up in both her front and back gardens. And they are striking! Red sandstone boulders are stacked like the prow of a ship, with plants creeping between them.

My favorite was this crevice garden, whose vertical slabs swell like an onrushing wave about to crest over the lawn.

Carol mentioned that her latest crevice garden was designed by Kenton Seth, who has gained national prominence for his crevice work. I think this may be the one since it looks like it’s still filling in.

A miniature — and natural — crevice garden: a boulder with a divot large enough to support a tiny plant. And wow, this combo of bronze smoke tree and prince’s plume (Stanleya pinnata)! Prince’s plume is native to the arid Western U.S.

Bronze irises glow like embers against a dark green conifer.

So very Colorado: columbine and blue spruce

At the gated entrance to the back garden, a crimson clematis clambers up the fence.

The garden segues from full sun to tree-dappled shade as you follow a curving brick path toward an arched arbor. Not only the path’s narrowness but a beautiful arrangement of pots and plants makes you slow down to take it all in.

Several of these troughs, which look to be granite, line the path, nestled in a soft bed of sedge.

Laura Flanders of Colorado Backyard Gardener provides scale. Taller gray pots filled with a strappy plant offer separation between the path and a patio on the other side.

As you approach the arbor, which leads to a small, shaded sitting area under the trees, you see a sunny lawn and another rock garden along the back fence.

Lots more rocks and plants that love them.

And plenty of color too.

Heading back out front, take a gander at this amazing side garden, a throwaway space for many people. Not here. A colorful assortment of perennials and shrubs fills the rock-accented bed, adding a more xeric flavor than the lushness of the peonies and irises just across the driveway.

A low, silvery green groundcover matches the house color.

More prince’s plume stands tall over truly large boulders near the gate. I love the scale of these rocks. Go big or go home!

Prince’s plume seems to dwarf two figures near the street: homeowner Randy Shinn and Laura Wills of Wills Family Acres.

I enjoyed all the variations of this garden, both soft and rocky, lush and xeric.

It was the perfect ending to the first day of the Fling tours.

Up next: A tour of Botanical Interests seed company. For a look back at the pine-fringed garden of Jan Devore, click here.

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