Log in

Durango Botanic Gardens

Log in

Envisioning a Changing DurangoScape

25 Mar 2023 5:28 PM | Annette LeMaire (Administrator)

Our online conference presentations are accessible to registrants through April 7.

It is true that our climate has and is always changing.  What our measurements, data, and observations are revealing, however, is that climatic change is now happening faster and in often unexpected ways, giving rise in fact to the term “global weirding.”  What is clear is that the planet, as well our Four Corners, is warming and that has a clear, observable impact on us, our landscapes, forests, and mountains.    

Reflecting on this phenomenon and its impact on our horticultural world, the Durango Botanic Gardens, in league with the Colorado Native Plant Society, the Mountain Studies Institute, the city of Durango, and the Colorado Master Gardeners program, produced a hybrid conference entitled Envisioning a Changing DurangoScape.  ‘Hybrid’ because the event consisted of eight recorded presentations that registrants could view between March 1 and April 7 and an in-person event on March 16 featuring a keynote presentation by the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Director of Outreach and Senior Curator, Panayoti Kelaidis.

Panayoti Kelaidis from the Denver Botanic Gardens urged attendees to honor their setting in SW Colorado by adapting the flora that works best in our region while also using less water and less labor.

One of our conference presentations, by Jake Kurzweil and Scott Roberts of the Mountains Studies Institute (MSI), revealed that mountain regions around the world, including the San Juans, are increasingly reflecting the impacts of warming and climate change. Mean annual air temperatures in Southwestern Colorado have risen almost 20F in only three decades. Even more concerning is that temperatures are likely to increase by an additional 1.5 to 3.50F by 2025 and 2.5 to 5.50F by 2050. Warming temperatures have deleterious impacts that can be seen in the increasing rise of wildfire, falling averages of flow in our rivers, an emerging shift from a cold-water fishery to a warm water fishery, and more, far more. Not to mention, of course, the impact on gardens and landscaping.

While the MSI presenters produced the background for how changes in the climate are impacting our growing zones, the remaining presenters focused on practical approaches to adapting our yards and landscapes to new climate realities, especially landscaping and plant selection that results in less water usage.  Mike Smedley, for example, issued a plea for reducing conventional Kentucky Bluegrass (KB) lawns, offering a variety of alternatives and groundcovers that could permit, if not the elimination of KB turf, at least reducing its use—while, very importantly, maintaining a great looking yard.  Rock gardens and native plants were among other ideas presented by speakers, all illustrating their messages with examples of great looking yards, landscapes, and parks.

One takeaway from the presentations is that we seem to be unleashing at chemical warfare on nature rather than working with it.  Some presenters showed home center aisles with shelves groaning under the weight of pesticides and chemicals. Rather than fight nature, speakers encouraged landscape designs that work with nature, that complement or accentuate nature’s strengths.  The result is not only a more resilient landscape but one not only in harmony with nature but also beautiful.

 Mike Smedley’s yard offers an explosion of color and textural interest while simultaneously keeping turf to a minimum, all with potentially less maintenance.  Click on image to enlarge for a better look.

One term that is gaining traction in our pursuit of a new way of adapting to a warmer climate is regenerative landscaping, a term used by Brooke Safford of Blooming Landscape & Design.  “A well designed, regenerative landscape,” she says, “not only encourages sustainability and biodiversity but can also reduce your water and maintenance costs while creating visually pleasing spaces in harmony with nature.” 

A “food forest” is a type of biodynamic, edible garden that is designed to mimic systems found in nature.  Much like a forest, the garden is comprised of a hierarchy of different plants that all support each other.  The outcome is a garden that is more resilient and requires less water and maintenance over time.  A food forest will have a better chance of acclimating and adapting to climate change than a series of mono crops. Image from Brooke Safford's presentation.

The theme of the conference was well articulated by our keynote speaker on March 16, Panayoti Kelaidis.  He urged attendees to rethink the DurangoScape in a way that truly “honors your setting.”  As he explained, “I don’t think we in Colorado take as much advantage of our natural Southwest flora, which are beautiful and almost inherently resilient to climate changes, as well as often needing less. We just need to be shown what is possible and work with what we have, which is very beautiful.”

Kelaidis added further that, “Most of us don’t bat an eyelash spending five figures to remodel a room, but boy! we get stingy when it comes to our gardens! Why do we settle for less when a cityscape is the stage setting of much of our (and our children’s) lives? Let’s conjure towns and settings worthy of Durango and the Four Corners!,” he concluded.

Latest News & Events


NOTE: Our physical location is 1900 E. Third Avenue, at the Durango Public Library. The gardens are located to the north and east of the library, along the Animas River Trail.

Mailing Address:

Durango Botanic Gardens

10 Town Plaza, #460

Durango, CO  81301

Phone: 970-880-4841

Stay Connected

Durango Botanic Gardens

Our Location:

The Durango Botanic Gardens are physically located at the Durango Public Library, to the north and east of the library.  The library is located at 1900 E. 3rd Ave., Durango.

There is no admission charge.  Stroll the gardens yourself (there is ample signage in most gardens) or call us at 970-880-4841 to arrange a group tour. See the About Us Tab for more.

Contact Us:

10 Town Plaza, #460
Durango, CO  81301    

Phone:  970-880-4841

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software