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In 2019, the house next door to Lisa Negri’s Washington Park home was about to go on the market. Over the past few years, charming, unimposing bungalows and Victorians in the neighborhood, where Negri has lived since 2012, had increasingly been replaced by trilevel modern builds. Negri suspected that whoever bought the house would raze it and follow suit, erecting a monolith that would cast her house in perpetual shade. So she took matters into her own hands: She bought the place and leveled it herself.
“At first, I thought, Well, my dogs will love just having that extra space, and I will have my sunshine,” Negri says. “In the end, I realized that that was a little bit more entitled than I wanted to be. And I started thinking about what I could do for the neighborhood. What makes a difference?” To Negri, a longtime Denver Botanic Gardens volunteer, the answer was a pocket park—one that would serve as a teaching garden for xeric, or water-conscious, landscaping.
After making her purchase, Negri called Kevin Williams, assistant curator at Denver Botanic Gardens. “I did something crazy,” she said—and then asked him if he’d join the venture. Over the course of a year, Williams and Negri worked on the park’s design, settling on an abstract arrangement inspired by graffiti Williams had spotted while traveling in Slovenia. The plants themselves would be regional—either native to Colorado or similarly dry grasslands and shrublands, like those in Central Asia, south-central Africa, and the Patagonia region of Argentina—and, thus, require little care.
In May 2020, Negri, Williams, and a rotating crew of five volunteers placed some 4,000 plants. All told, Negri, who counts herself fortunate to have made “quite a bit of money” from the sale of her environmental engineering firm in 2010, spent more than $800,000 on the lot-size park. She named it Summerhome.
Negri doesn’t regret the investment. Summerhome is open to the public during the warmer months, every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Negri is often there teaching and handing out seeds of agastache and other regional plants to help locals start their own gardens. Summerhome has also become a retreat for many of Negri’s neighbors in Wash Park, who visit to watch hummingbirds, play in the water features, or sit and admire the purple allium, which should start sprouting this month. “The response from the community has been shocking to me,” Negri says. “I just put a garden in. That’s all I did. And what it became for the people, I couldn’t have envisioned it.”
Unlock the mysteries of the Front Range’s premier rock gardens.
If you’re a garden-curious Denverite with a black thumb and a thirst for saving water, there’s nothing more environmentally conscious, and low maintenance, than a rock garden. But creating one is more difficult than tossing a few stones into your yard. “Is there a secret to designing a room in a house?” asks Panayoti Kelaidis, senior curator and director of outreach for Denver Botanic Gardens. “Or do you just get a bunch of furniture and throw it in there?” On May 22, Kelaidis will lead a tour of some of the most inspirational—and instructional—rock gardens in the area for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society. There are three scheduled stops on the circuit, including a Louisville property that boasts 100 tons of stones that have been carefully laid out over the course of 30 years. Free with Rocky Mountain Chapter membership ($15 per year)