Growing your food is its own reward, but it’s fun to win stuff, too.

Colorado Springs gardening enthusiast Larry Stebbins is launching a contest to get more backyard gardens started in 2019. At least 100 more.

Stebbins, who kick-started the community garden craze in the Pikes Peak region, now proposes a 100 Garden Challenge.

“It’s a push to get 100 more gardens started in the area,” said Stebbins, who jokes that he’s retired “for a second time” — from his first career as an educator and then as director of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens.

Colorado Springs area home and garden events starting Feb. 16

He taught chemistry at Aurora Central High School for 18 years before becoming assistant principal at Russell Middle School, principal at Carver Elementary and assistant principal at Air Academy High School. After 35 years in education, he retired and turned to community gardens. Stebbins founded the nonprofit Pikes Peak Urban Gardens 12 years ago and helped build 12 community gardens in the region. Although he retired from Pikes Peak Urban Gardens last year, he still teaches an occasional gardening class.

“Now I can do what I love — help people to build gardens,” Stebbins said.

His challenge is free. Anyone who commits to starting a vegetable or herb garden will get coupons to local garden centers, the chance to winner bigger prizes and the opportunity to solicit Stebbins’ advice.

“I will work with the gardeners online to answer questions. This is free. They just need to send me an email with their questions to larry@thegardenfather.com,” he said. “I like to share what I’ve learned in 40 years of gardening in this wonderful state.”

Participants also can follow the plentiful advice Stebbins posts on his gardening blog, thegardenfather.com. He’ll post photos each time a garden is started under “100 Garden Challenge” on the website.

To enter, the new gardener must send a “before” photo of the planned garden site and an “after” photo once the garden is started, either by text to Stebbins at 719-651-3416 or by email to larry@thegardenfather.com. Those who enter will receive three coupons for 50 percent off one item — one from Phelan Gardens, 4955 Austin Bluffs Parkway, one from the Good Earth Garden Center, 1330 N. Walnut St., and a third from Harding Nursery, 721 N. Powers Blvd.

“The garden can be any size, but they have to do it themselves. It could be a container garden or a backyard garden,” he said. “Set up your garden to fit your needs. Most people bite off more than they can chew.”

Established gardeners can be part of the project, too.

“If you’re an existing gardener, then you can assist, persuade or mentor a neighbor, friend or relative to start a vegetable or herb garden. That new gardener must send an email to me telling me how the existing gardener helped, and the helper will also get coupons to the garden centers,” Stebbins said. “If your neighbor or friend helps you get started, they get three 30 percent off one item coupons — from Phelan’s, Good Earth and Harding Nursery.”

The “best garden of the year,” judged by Stebbins on “aesthetics and production” at the end of the gardening season in the fall, will receive Stebbins’ latest gardening book, a $125 gift certificate to Harding Nursery, a $100 gift certificate to Don’s Garden Shop, 6001 E. Platte Ave., and a $50 King Soopers gift card donated by The Gazette. The second-place winner will receive a $75 gift certificate to Harding Nursery and a $50 gift certificate to Don’s Garden Shop. The third-place winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to Harding Nursery and a $25 gift certificate to Don’s Garden Shop.

The top gardens and garden stories also will be featured in a fall article on The Gazette’s Home & Garden page.

“If all this doesn’t get those new gardeners going, then I’m not sure what will,” Stebbins joked.

Stebbins said he probably could have made it a “1,000 Garden Challenge,” but he thought 100 was more manageable for the coupons and prizes.

“For a city this size, there should be more backyard gardens,” he said. “We have a lot of room to grow.”

Contact the writer, 476-1602.

Features Reporter/Special Sections Editor

Michelle is a features reporter and editor of The Gazette's annual Best of the Springs and FYI magazines. A Penn State journalism graduate, she joined the Gazette in 2015.

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