Native Plant Demonstration Garden at Ekar Farms: A New Partnership

| Colorado Native Plants, Garden Tours, Native Landscape Planning & Design

By Ayn Schmit

If you happen to find yourself on a summer Sunday along East Alameda Avenue in Denver, you might hear the happy hubbub of people working in the gardens at Ekar Farms. Ekar Farms, located on land belonging to the Denver Academy of Torah, is a non-profit organization that fosters community and connection to the land and grows food for distribution to metro Denver organizations that are feeding people in need. Ekar is a Hebrew word that means the most important things. For those of us committed to gardening with native plants, that act of healing the land IS one of the most important things.

Wild Ones Front Range was delighted when Ekar’s executive director Sue Salinger approached us in spring of 2021 with a proposal: Ekar would provide a plot of land, water, and some donated plants if WOFR would design, install, and help maintain a native plant demonstration garden. The native demonstration garden is a great fit with Ekar’s mission to repair the land and to educate the community about regenerative gardening. Wild Ones is grateful for Sue’s vision to embed a native garden within Ekar’s landscape, and for her generous support of our efforts. As part of regular volunteer programs at Ekar, Sue has been able to provide volunteers who have been invaluable to the progress of the native garden.

native garden transformation begins at Ekar
The start of the garden transformation at Ekar Farms – lots of weeds!

So, what has been accomplished thus far? First, removing as many of the weeds as possible was a herculean effort! The plot had a serious infestation of alfalfa, bindweed, non-native grasses, and a variety of other malefactors. In midsummer, a design was developed for the roughly 900 square-foot triangular plot. The design incorporates a woody shrub border, herbaceous perennial zones, and a swath of prairie/grassland meandering through the space. Existing plants – some desert four-o-clocks, bee balm, chokecherry, blanket flower, etc – were incorporated into the design. We also designed around generous donations of plants from WOFR members and received some funds from Sue that enabled us to purchase plants at Harlequin Gardens in Boulder.

cardboard base layer to hinder future weed growth in new garden
Applying a cardboard base layer to hinder future weed growth

Before planting we applied cardboard to the garden to deter weeds from returning. Then we began planting our donated plants and plants from Harlequin’s! We particularly want to acknowledge the generous plant donation from Wild Ones member Jen Heath. She donated leadplant, butterfly milkweed, prairie smoke, and prairie violets (among many others). We were able to plant most of the woody shrub border including two beautiful Gambel oaks, and a good portion of the herbaceous perennial zones. Once planted, and thanks to Sue’s provision of gravel, we applied gravel mulch to the perennial and woody shrub areas atop the cardboard.

Ekar volunteers did some serious heavy lifting in digging out the path, applying landscape fabric to the path and laying wood mulch on the path. Although the hope is to use crushed fines for the path long-term, we needed an immediate solution and the path is looking great. Volunteers also helped lay a river rock border along the paths and garden edges and helped with the weeding and planting.

The area still needing attention is the prairie/grassland swath. We planted a few grasses and forbs such as prairie violets, prairie smoke, and butterfly milkweed. But more dense planting is needed in this area, and we are still contemplating whether and how best to mulch this area. To provide some additional weed deterrence in the short term, a layer of mulched leaves was placed over the cardboard.

planting gambel oaks to create a border
Gambel oaks are planted to create a woody shrub border between Ekar Farms and their neighbors

This winter we hope to develop a final plan for this area that we can implement next season. Additional winter plans include seeking a grant to help with signage and purchase/installation of a rock basin to provide water for pollinators and other wildlife. The hope is to apply for Audubon Habitat Hero designation in the future when the garden is able to fully meet the criteria. We are amazed with the progress we were able to make with the garden in just a few short months! Much of that progress is due to the following volunteers and donations we’d like to give a shout-out to:
Sue Salinger for her vision and support, plants, gravel, volunteers and so much more
Ayn Schmit and Brian Page for design help and more
– Jen Heath for her generous donation of plants
– Janis Zloto for her donation of river rocks
– Volunteers Deb Lebow Aal, Liz Evans, Robbie Score, Nathan Zorndorf, Janis Zloto, and Ron Aal
– And all Ekar volunteers that completed the path

Curious to learn more about transforming your garden into a habitat with Colorado native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees? Check out our native gardening toolkit, register for an upcoming event, subscribe to our newsletter, and/or become a member – if you’re not one already!