Friday, February 23, 2007

Did DeBoer Invent "Xeriscaping"

S. R. DeBoer liked to experiment, not with test tubes and chemicals, but with plants and trees. He understood that horticulture in the Front Range communities of Denver, Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs was different from the "moister climates of the other states." But, DeBoer did not choose to regard this as a handicap, but as a potential asset.

"As a horticulturist he saw many challenges here -- intense and unveiled sunlight, a semi-arid climate, vast open spaces spread to a wide horizon or rising to the great barrier of high mountains. What plants or trees might frow here other than the familiar cottonwood or alder at the streamside? Could the beauty of the native flora be brought into city gardens? " (from Anna R. Garrey, "The Idea Precedes the Accomplishment.")

As DeBoer himself stated in his autobiography, he joined the Colorado State Forestry Association in an effort to make his quest for a botanic gardens in Denver a reality. As Mr. DeBoer expressed it, he was "so full of the need for a botanic garden he shared his enthusiasm with whomever would listen." The president of the Association for many years, Wm. E. Byers, editor and owner of the Rocky Mountain News, conducted his own experiments with trees, introducting 35 varieties on his home grounds, now Byers Junion High School. Also members of the Association were Walter Cheesman and Henry M. Porter. Their determined daughters, Mrs John Evans and Mrs. James Waring, were critically important in bringing DeBoer's vision of a botanic garden into being.

In 1941, the Association introduced a resolution that a botanic garden be established in Denver to test various tree, shrub and herb species from various climatic zones from the eastern prairie zone to Alpine timberlands. In the "Green Thumb," the Association's publication, Mr. DeBoer wrote in an article entitled "The Colorado Landscape" the following:

"It does seem,however, that in this Rocky Mountain land a type of plant life has found a home which is sturdy enought to withstand the chills and winter and the wither of drouth. . .."

In 1957, the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association (the precursor to the Denver Botanic Gardens Foundation) presented Mr. DeBoer with their "Award of Merit" stating, in part:

"You have complemented and enlarged the use of our magnificent native plant material by the addition of hundreds of new species from far afield, but suited to our unusual climate."

The term "xeriscaping" was not actually coined until 1980's when the concept was introduced and trademarked by the Denver Water Board, an organization dedicated to water conservation. But DeBoer acted on the same principles of conservation of water and natural resources when he helped plant the Denver we take pride in today.

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