Couple create a paradise of wildflowers in their Palmer Divide garden

By Carol McGraw Published: August 20, 2013 | 1:40 pm 0

Tom Baumgardner knows what's coming when his wife, Nancy, muses, "You know what would work there?"

He says she utters those words a lot, and she, not at all sheepishly, agrees.

Nancy, of course, is talking about their garden space. Actually, the word garden is pitifully inadequate to describe this beautiful spot.

The garden is set down near the Palmer Divide, where landscaping often means scrub oak and dropped pine needles.

That is what their one acre used to look like.

Now it is a series of vignettes told in flowers.

They have been working on this bit of floral heaven for 26 years. It seems fortuitous that their last name means tree gardener in German.

The two have known each other since fourth grade. She retired as chair of the interior design department at Pikes Peak Community Colllege. He was an Air Force and commercial pilot. They have two children and four grandchildren.

What is growing in the garden? You name it, it's probably there. For starters: delphiniums, cone flowers, lupine, lavender, larkspur, lilies, iris, hosta, columbines, roses, golden rod, prairie mallow, false holly hock, sweet peas, geranium, Jupiter's beard, basil, chives, thyme, sage, rosemary and tarragon.

Her plantings are coordinated so there are three blooming seasons: soft pinks and blues in spring, bright color in summer and intense pinks and dark blues in fall.

Knowing this, it is hard to imagine, as Nancy explains, "I am still learning as I go."

She reveals that her favorite flowers are peonies. She has tried them again and again. "I can't grow them to save my life."

She's even resorted to talking to them and other stragglers: "Come on guys you can do it."

Vegetables don't work, either, with the nibbling rabbits and squirrels, and not much sun. She does have two tomatoes in pots. One is doing well.

She tried roses 25 years ago and didn't have any luck. But this year, after research, she planted two bare-root David Austin antique English roses.

"I'm not sure why I garden. I guess it's in my genes."

Her mother was a garden club maven back in Ohio and home canned the bounty. Tom's mother was born on a farm, and his grandfather worked 88 acres until he was in his 90s.

Nancy started gardening as therapy of sorts. "I'd plant stuff while Tom was away in the Air Force."

Tom says that Nancy does 98 percent of the work, and she doesn't contradict him.

"I'm the brawn. I cut down the trees and turn the soil," Tom explains.

He built the potting shed, patterned after a 2-inch by 2-inch photo she saw in a magazine. He also put a roof on the porch, so they could enjoy coffee and the view anytime, rain or shine.

He and their two sons, one Mother's Day, dug out a plot and erected a split rail fence to create what is now the herb garden.

It has as its center piece an antique armillary style sundial. Nancy would have snuck it in past Tom, but it weighed too much. She strategically has placed several such objects d'art around the property. "Everyone needs a French grape picking basket don't they?"

Tom laughs. "Another sore subject."

She teases back, "I have to hide all my new flowers. I plant them in the middle of the night when he's asleep"

He rolls his eyes. "The blue plastic pots in the garbage are the giveaway."

Actually, she could plant at night. Battery-run lanterns on timers have been positioned throughout the grounds for an ethereal look.

Nancy often spends up to two hours a day in the garden in the summer, weeding, watering and coddling.

In their area, they can water three days a week or hand water anytime. The garden is on a drip system to save water. They also conserve with an energy-efficient front load washing machine and stuff it full. They also have low-flow toilets and showers.

"Anything to conserve water. We don't want to use more than our share," Nancy says.

The local climate seems to be changing, she believes. Getting warmer. "It's too hot for some plants I used to grow and I can grow plants that I didn't before."

They don't have many garden pests. One year, deer ate the blooms off tulips that Tom brought back from a work flight to Amsterdam. A bear bent metal poles to get to their bird feeding stations. Their rescue dog Barney dug a hiding place in the sweet woodruff. She replanted with hostas, and Barney and their other Cavalier King Charles spaniel now ignore the space.

The Baumgardners live with fire danger. The recent Black Forest fire evacuation zone reached to the county line. They were not directly in that zone, but they worry. They first mitigated their property in the 1980s, getting rid of jungle-like underbrush and low tree limbs. Tom is now clearing out additional scrub oak. The damp garden is hopefully a fire retardant, but they are just about resigned that they will have to cut down a couple of Ponderosa close to the house.

"That's going to hurt," Tom says

Off limits are several small fruit trees.

Recently, they had their home repainted. Nancy overheard one of the workers telling the others to put drop cloths over any plants that might get spattered.

"One guy said, something like, 'That's for sure, they give names to everything.'"

Nancy laughs. "Not everything. Just the Montmorency cherry trees near the house. He had seen the tags I made for them."

Each tree was planted after the birth of a grandchild, and bear name tags: Althea, Cecilia, Hannah, Ethan.

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Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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