(Last Updated On: September 24, 2014)

garden terracedHigh-elevation gardening can be tricky, but it’s certainly not impossible. Here are some tips on gardening in Breckenridge, as well as information about an inspirational annual tour: the 2014 Garden Tour, held in and around Breckenridge, July 26.

The Tour

The Summit County Garden Club Annual Garden Tour beings with a homemade breakfast at the Community and Senior Center in Frisco, where you can purchase tickets that morning, beginning at 9 a.m., if you haven’t already purchased them online for $10, plus a $1.54 fee.

This is the 24th tour the club has offered, and it includes both private and public gardens — and some of them are quite spectacular, filled with bold colors, textures and plenty of ideas.

Public Gardens

Poppies add a lot of color to high-elevation gardens.

Poppies add a lot of color to high-elevation gardens.

In case you miss the tour, you can always check out Breckenridge’s public garden.

The Town owns Breckenridge Alpine Gardens, on Adams Street, across from the Riverwalk Center, and members of the Summit County Garden Club maintain it. They partner with the Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado State University and nurseries to grow a demonstration garden, and then they turn in reports about how test plants thrive at 9,600 feet.

Breckenridge’s alpine garden is gorgeous, with the river running nearby and the mountain peaks acting as a backdrop for the foliage.

And, as it turns out, the project has added to the diversity of blooms worldwide; South African yellow and purple hardy ice plants and Asian salvias and snow daisies have gained popularity worldwide as a result of Breckenridge’s, and other Rocky Mountain gardens’, work.

It's often important to be able to protect young plants from frost and animals as they establish themselves.

It’s often important to be able to protect young plants from frost and animals as they establish themselves.

Gardening Tips

The first rule in greening your thumb involves patience. High-elevation gardening requires experimentation and practice. Usually, perennials started from seed won’t bloom in their first year; they take two years to mature.

Before you plant anything, prepare your soil; bad soil equals bad blooms. Buy the best topsoil you can find, then add compost that contains a mixture of cotton fur, a small amount of manure, and nutrients, such as peat.

When planning your garden, think about varying textures, sizes and colors. Clump flowers together rather than planting them in scattered “spots,” so that they look more natural. Begin with shorter ground covering in the forefront, then gradually plant taller foliage, accenting it with shrubs and even tall trees. A great way to bring in texture is through grasses, like blue fescue and blue avena.

Just have fun with your garden!

Just have fun with your garden!

Position less hardy plants in protected areas, near rocks, to help shield the wind. Strong-stemmed plants that deer don’t like (yes, animals eating your plants are another consideration) include salvia, echinacea, moonshine yarrow, catmint, lambs ear, sedum and creeping phlox.

For vegetables, avoid trying tomatoes in high elevation. You’ll do better with lettuce (since the area once was known for lettuce farming), spinach, onions, beans, peas and the sort. You may want to cover everything with chicken wire arches to prevent deer from eating the young leaves.

Herbs like basil, oregano, chives, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme do well up here, especially when they’re sheltered from wind, located in sun and planted in well-drained soil.

Xeriscaping is also a great way to go in our dry climate, but you will need to irrigate plants when you first plant them. Once they’re established, you can begin decreasing water output. Mulching around plants also helps prevent water evaporation.

Beyond low water use and hardiness, the benefit of xeriscaping includes the added “color” and texture it brings, in the forms of greens and browns, to an otherwise white winter.


When creating a high-elevation garden, find your artistic and nature-loving enthusiasm, do a little research, buy local plants that have already adjusted to this climate, and start digging — you may very well become a site on the Garden Club’s next tour. And, if not, at least you’ll enjoy a few blooms, and perhaps even a couple herbs and veggies.


About The Author

Kimberly Nicoletti always knew she was meant to escape gray Chicago winters and spend her days skiing the Colorado Rockies. So, two months after she turned 18, she moved to Breckenridge to be a ski bum "for a season," assuring her parent's she'd return to Illinois to finish college. But, the ski bum life stuck. After three years of full-time skiing in Summit County, she decided to finish her degree at CU-Boulder in Creative Writing (granted, she took a semester off to ski). Once free of classes, she took yet another year off to ski in Summit (do you see a pattern here?). Then, she moved back to Boulder to earn her master's degree in Somatic Psychology/Dance Therapy. Upon graduation, she spent a winter teaching skiing at Mammoth Mountain. (Surely you see the pattern now.) In 2002, she moved back to Summit full time, to work at the Summit Daily as the arts and entertainment editor. She stayed with the company for 10 years, enjoying Summit's great events and later working as the managing editor of magazines covering the High Country. She still revolves her life around adventure and creativity, taking time to travel, ski, paddleboard, dance, ice skate, play with her dogs, learn new things and generally enjoy life. She's highly addicted to powder skiing and keeps her winter mornings commitment-free so she can indulge in "deep play" when Mother Nature cooperates. Off the mountain, she's a freelance writer and editor and teaches fitness and mind/body classes throughout Summit County.

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