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Eagle Co. opts for greener gardening

Kathy Heicher
Eagle Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/EnterpriseNeils Lunceford landscapers Red Waldron, left, and Corey Brown work on the Eagle County Xeriscape project Tuesday at the county building in Eagle.
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EAGLE ” Horticulturist Laurel Potts has a message about Eagle County’s new landscape project at the county administration building in Eagle.

“It’s xeriscape, not zero-scape. Zero-scape would be rocks and silk plants,” says Potts, who works with Colorado State University’s local extension office.

Rather, she says, the $240,000 project is an opportunity to create a horticulture laboratory. Where there was only thirsty bluebgrass lawn before, the county is reworking its irrigation system, adjusting the soil and installing plants that thrive on little water in a mountain climate.



Potts is part of a team of county employees, horticulturists and citizens who advised the county on the landscaping project.

“My main interest is that this is a demonstration garden,” Potts says. “It is about saving water and will show a more diverse plant palette that can be utilized for a mountain landscape environment,”



Nicola Ripley, director of horticulture and resources for the Betty Ford Alpine Garden in Vail, is helping, too. She says xeriscaping the county buildings is a good move, for a couple of reasons.

“From an ecological standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. It saves water,” Ripley says, “From a horticultural standpoint, xeriscape is more the image of the west … it doesn’t make sense to bring England to the Rocky Mountains, which is mostly what people are trying to do (with their grass and flower gardens).”

Yuri Kostick, Eagle County’s environmental sustainability planner, says several factors spurred the landscaping project.



The existing landscaping around the county building is a sea of bluegrass lawn and a lone flower bed. There have been drainage problems since the structure was completed in 1990. The nearly 20-year-old sprinkler system needs upgrades.

Additionally, the county recently adopted “green” ECO-build regulations aimed at promoting energy efficiency and conservation. Kostick says county leaders wanted to live by their own rules.

“There is absolutely a demand for this kind of landscaping … if we’re requiring the public to do this, we need to demonstrate how,” says Pedro Campos, lead designer for VAg, Inc., the landscape architects and planers for the project.

The project will feature perennial plants (that come back every year), grasses, shrubs, mulch and some trees.

“A demonstration garden is an investment in the community,” Kostick says. “People will be able to see what the right plants, low water and mulches can be used.”

The county was also looking for a landscape that would better meld with the town of Eagle’s recent Broadway streetscape project and park improvements.

Water conservation is a primary goal. Last year, Kostick says the county used 860,000 gallons of water on the administration building’s grass. That would be enough to fill the Eagle swimming pool eight times.

Landscaping crews have stripped about 10 percent to 15 percent of the grass turf from the county campus, which will be replaced by the demonstration gardens.

“We will meet our goal of reducing water use by 50 percent,” Kostick says.

The landscaping project is part of a master plan that involves three phases and an estimated total budget of $1 million. Campos said that the county examined several options, and chose to pursue the least expensive.

At this point, the county commissioners have only approved the first phase of the project. The bid for that first phase came in at $240,000 “about 20 percent under what had been budgeted, Kostick says.

That price includes about $50,000 to upgrade a portion of the irrigation system ” including drip irrigation for flower beds, concrete edging to create a barrier between grass turf and flower beds, soil improvements, plants, mulch and labor.

Many local horticulturists believe benefits of xeriscape should be measured in terms greater than just water cost savings.

Bill Stephens Jr., who’s family operates Stephens Nursery in Dotsero, says xeriscaping is initially “very costly.” But he notes it is the correct approach for landscapes in this valley.

“Down the road they will save in water and maintenance costs,” Stephens says. “It won’t require nearly the gas, mowing, fertilizing, aeration. There’s a lot of hidden costs to maintaining a good turf yard.”

He notes that people don’t like the up-front costs, and adds that the timing of the project might raise questions for citizens concerned about the county budget.

Susan Narduzzi, of Eagle, is a master gardener, and admits that she doesn’t always agree with the county’s spending decisions. But from a gardener’s viewpoint, she says pursuing a xeriscape is “absolutely worthwhile.”

Mike Stevens, of Stevens Home Care, says he has a problem with how local governments spend their money. He suggests the county might have been able to win over the critics by landscaping a small parcel first, such as the entryway, and getting some citizen support before proceeding with a more expensive project.

Still, he says there are benefits to xeriscape, and he predicts the project will turn out well.

“It’s not all about the water. It’s about long-term effects. The county is trying to show people there are other things that grow in the valley, and better ways to use water,” he says, “I’d like to see how it turns out.”


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