Words and Photos by Mundi Ross
It was a blistering 95 degrees when I found Julie McIntyre hiding under the shade watering her plants at Summerland Gardens. Her garden center will be the location of our second dinner in a series of farm to table in which we want to highlight regional farm/garden locations(www.cocofarmtotable.splashthat.com). Her gardens sit on what once was part the Starsmore Estate. It’s a beautiful space thriving with plants that are rich to Colorado soil and her wealth of knowledge amplifies the experience of being there.
Why Summerland Gardens?
The gardens have been in existence for about 10 years now. I got my masters in horticulture from Colorado State University and I began my career in the botanic world. I started at the Denver Botanic Gardens; I have also worked in Philadelphia, and Atlanta. I am from Colorado Springs and found myself with the desire to head back west so I came back 10 years ago and started a little nursery out of my house in Cheyenne Canyon. That grew to the point that the city was getting nervous of my home based business and I had been eyeing this beautiful property that was once part of the Starsmore Estate and when it came available, I jumped at the chance. I started the nursery for the obvious reason of loving plants. When I bought my first house I saw that everyone was selling the same stuff and I knew there was a much larger selection of plants to choose from that could grow here. I specialize in plants that thrive in our soil rather than plants you have to battle to keep alive.
What is a challenge to owning a garden center?
I want to make sure that my customers feel that they have been helped in the since that they are educated and walk away with the knowledge of what will grow and the maintenance required. For me, I am plant geek so I get really excited to share my knowledge. Stores like Home Depot drives me crazy because half the plants they sell are not going to overwinter so you get a tree or a bush home and it dies on you because it was grown in Florida and meant for that sort of climate or it’s a plant that requires way more water than we are able to provide. Less complication, more success is my philosophy in gardening and customer service. When you shop with us you are more ahead of the game because the plants are well taken care of and you know you are purchasing Colorado friendly.
Do you have any tips or advice for beginners?
I think the biggest thing we need to adjust is what an atheistically pleasing garden is or looks like. We are still trying in many ways to replicate an English garden look in an environment in which it’s just not going to happen. There are a lot of plants available so start with the ones that are regionally adapted and pay attention to the watering. Water is our biggest issue so think of it is a committed relationship. Commit to watering.
Tell me about your relationship to Pikes Peak Urban Gardens as it Larry Stebbins who recommended I reach out to you for our dinner series.
Firstly, if I had to grow my own food in a month I would be dead, I just can’t seem to do it. Larry is a vegetable guy who knows his stuff. It all seems so simple to him, or at least he makes you feel that way. I have known him peripherally for a couple years now but when the flooding happened last summer at Harlan Wolfe Ranch he moved the Garlic Festival to this location. I really like how he thinks. He is great at connecting all these random people together who are all doing the same thing or working towards some common goal.
Does Summerland offer any classes?
As I said before I am a plant geek so we do offer potting and plant related classes. However, we do have those who ask what to do with their tarragon or herbs and I had no idea and it got to the point where I felt the need to have a better understanding so I could tell my customers so we worked with chefs out of the Broadmoor and other local restaurants on how to incorporate fresh herbs into your regular cooking. The food-based class takes place outside; it’s more of a low-key evening, a party of sorts with delicious food. I am looking for a chef to help me with this class this year? Whose in?!
Do you have events coming up in the near future?
We do have the Garlic Festival coming up in September along with a roasting of our own hatch chilis and having a chili cook-off that we will host. We plan on having a competition with incorporating hatch chili’s and garlic with the hopes of having chefs from all over come and participate. Stay tuned to the website.