• Jane Shellenberger

The NOCO Garden Tour Inspires & Delights

By Jane Shellenberger:


I like garden tours. They can be a challenge for organizers who need to find gardens in close enough proximity to each other so that participants can walk or at least won’t need to drive all over the place. To make a garden “presentable” can be a lot of work, especially for non-tidy types, and not everyone with an interesting garden can be persuaded to have visitors tromping through. And then there’s the weather. Weeks of 90°+ temps with no rain, big wind and/or hail days before a tour are always a possibility. Yet every year a number of groups pull it off and raise some money for their cause, and those generous enough to open their gardens usually have a very pleasant time of it too.


I made it to five Colorado tours this summer. I especially enjoyed a trip to the sweet little town of Saguache for their Hollyhock Festival at the end of July. Closer to home, my favorite this year was the July NOCO Urban Homestead Tour in Fort Collins and Loveland, organized by the Gardens on Spring Creek and Loveland Urban Gardens. The diversity of gardens and gardeners, their spirit and creativity made it so. Here’s a brief look at these Colorado gardeners and their gardens.

(Left) Overflowing raised beds and a small solar-powered Growing Dome in a sunny corner.
Overflowing raised beds and a small solar-powered Growing Dome in a sunny corner.

Colleen Conway

Colleen Conway describes herself as "an old hippie dippy" who grew up with conservative older parents on a farm. Her father told her how being a dairy farmer during the Depression meant the family could trade for things they needed. Her backyard is packed with vegetables, fruit trees, berries, a chicken coop, a tiny shed for tools and supplies with a tiny porch, and a Growing Dome greenhouse, full of tropicals right now (she’s a plant lover). The once grassy front yard is all edibles, herbs, and flowers for pollinators. Colleen was especially inspired by the book, Paradise Lot.


Colleen Conway on the porch of her tiny shed.
Colleen Conway on the porch of her tiny shed.

Her inclusive style of organic gardening and compost building is accepted, even desirable today, but in earlier years she was sometimes asked, “Are you a witch?”


Gate to the "tree room" under a huge blue spruce
Gate to the "tree room" under a huge blue spruce

Kathryn Harrison & Tim Smith

The note tacked to the cider press begins: “In 2010, faced with the prospect of getting rid of a terrifying amount of apples for the 3rd year in a row, we decided to purchase the “Whizbang Apple Cider Press Kit…” The homestead of Kathryn Harrison & Tim Smith is extremely productive. The backyard is devoted to fruit and vegetables. Every raised bed – and there are many - has its own hardware cloth hail guard on top. The front yard is packed with plants – perennials, grasses, shrubs, dwarf evergreens, and a huge, fruit-laden Newport Plum. Kathryn is an interior designer - evident in the layout of the place.


Tim is a high school teacher and amateur chef who grew up working with his professional landscaper father – evident in the huge variety of thriving plants. He created a nifty tree house inside a towering blue spruce that no one on the tour could resist.

(Above) View of the backyard (note vegetable beds with hail guards on top) from the well-designed, covered back porch. (Right) Gate to the "tree room" under a huge blue spruce
View of the backyard (note vegetable beds with hail guards on top) from the well-designed, covered back porch.
The front yard is packed with interesting trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and grasses.
The front yard is packed with interesting trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and grasses.


Plenty Heirloom Farms

I didn’t know their story when I visited Plenty Heirloom Farms in Loveland, but everyone I met on the tour told me not to miss it. The stop was actually six gardens in an Old Town Loveland neighborhood. These neighbors have joined forces to create a CSA that feeds 15 families and gives extra to the Plant a Row for the Hungry program.

One of the of 6 neighborhood gardens in the Plenty CSA in Loveland.
One of the of 6 neighborhood gardens in the Plenty CSA in Loveland.

When food sensitivities caused health problems for their family several years ago, Sarah and Jeremiah Sailer decided to rip out their lawn and try growing vegetables on their 1/5 acre lot. Their success and improved health inspired neighbor Lynn Peterson so their families joined forces to grow food together. A year later they formed a CSA and expanded the gardens to six.

The Sailer's outdoor cooking areas, with wood fired oven on left where Sarah bakes old world sourdough bread.
The Sailer's outdoor cooking areas, with wood fired oven on left where Sarah bakes old world sourdough bread.

Meanwhile, through food growing and experimenting, Sarah became more connected to her Italian grandparents. She also wrote a book, A Thrifty Good Life, about her homesteading journey. Sarah bakes old world sourdough bread in an outdoor wood-fired oven and sells it locally once a month. Jeremiah built a beautiful barn in back where chickens live, and they have ducks too. Discover much more at plentyfarms.org.

Two of the of 6 neighborhood gardens in the Plenty CSA in Loveland.
Another one of the of 6 neighborhood gardens in the Plenty CSA in Loveland.

Doug and Faye Kirk

Doug and Faye Kirk have been homesteading, feeding themselves and others, from their current Fort Collins city lot for five years. Both have agriculture-related degrees from CSU, (they met in a genetics class), though neither comes from a farming or gardening family. The Kirks have a large variety of fruit trees in front and thriving, vigorous vegetables (edible landscapes are his specialty) in back, with lots of flowers (her specialty) interspersed throughout. Doug sees a waste of good Front Range farmland as housing developments take over. The Kirks concentrate on building healthy soil with amendments including their own compost and they’re set up to collect water in a rainbarrel. They try new varieties every year and make lots of vinegars, jams, and pickles from their homegrown bounty.


Doug & Faye Kirk in their bountiful and beautiful Fort Collins oasis.
Doug & Faye Kirk in their bountiful and beautiful Fort Collins oasis.
PHOTOS: Jane Shellenberger
PHOTOS: Jane Shellenberger