Extreme (garden) makeover | AspenTimes.com
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Extreme (garden) makeover

Ivy Vogel

When Buzz and Valerie Cooper bought their house in West Glenwood in 1996, their back yard was an ugly brown.

A long dog chain – a gift from the previous owners – ran across the length of the massive yard, which was full dirt instead of grass, and twigs instead of bushes and trees.

Since 1996, the Coopers’ back yard underwent an extreme makeover.

The Cooper’s back yard is now a montage of purples, pinks, yellows and oranges. It’s four stories high, with 151 species of flowers. They have a vegetable garden, a pottery shed, a fountain and a bench that looks onto the back of the house.

The Coopers’ garden is large enough to employ several yard-service companies, but Buzz and Valerie didn’t want any outside help. They wanted to make something beautiful on their own.

Buzz, who studied architecture, designed the layout of the garden. He also designed and built the fountain, sculpted the fountain statue, put in the stone walkway and painted the artwork on the patio.

Valerie, who used to decorate cakes, researched the kinds of flowers that do well in Colorado, tends to the garden, and dries and paints gourds that grow in the garden.

“The key to having a good garden is to be obsessed,” said Buzz. “I’ve seen her (Valerie) out here at 6 a.m., and she’s still out here after dark.”

Obsession isn’t all it takes. Valerie pays close attention to the kind of soil her flowers grow in. She mixes a concoction called “manure tea” outside the pottery shed.

Valerie puts manure in a bucket, soaks it in water to dilute it, strains the manure and then puts the tea on her plants. The strong chemicals in manure are often too powerful for plants, so if the manure’s not diluted, it may kill the plants, said Valerie.

Valerie also plants perennials such as irises. Perennials return year after year, whereas annuals – such as petunias – must be planted every spring. In a tough climate like Colorado’s, perennials are ideal because they withstand dramatic changes in climate, Valerie said.

“It’s very, very difficult to grow a nice garden here because there is such a large difference between high and low temperatures,” said Valerie. “It might be really hot during the day and only 30 degrees at night.”

To understand what plants thrive in Colorado and which ones don’t, Valerie and Buzz spend time researching plants on the Internet. They also have visited gardens in Costa Rica, England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Singapore and South America.

Valerie has three large books full of flowers on her coffee table. She doesn’t know them all, but she knows enough that she can’t count the number of flowers she’s familiar with.

“What can I say?” Buzz asked. “When she (Valerie) goes into things, she goes into them in a big way.”


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