How I Made a Tropical Backyard Oasis in Denver on a Cheap-Ass Budget

The air is cooling, (I actually had to put on a sweater last night). Fall is upon us, and all too soon I’ll be putting the garden to bed and hauling out the snow shovel. With that in mind, I thought I’d share my yard with you before the first frost hits and I’m crying over shriveled leaves.

The backyard is ever a work-in-progress. A constant battle to create something that feels tropical in dry-as-a-rattlesnake-fart Denver. (OK, MOST of the time it is dry here, the recent crazy rains not withstanding) I think this year is the best yet for my little tropical oasis. Ready for the tour? Here we go…

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This is the view coming out our backdoor. That “L” shaped thing is the pond. It was a planting bed until 3 years ago when we had a wee stinky sewer line leak. I bribed the diggers to dig out the pond, too. (It’s amazing what men will do for homemade chocolate chip cookies.) The lotus mural on the garage wall I painted to cover up a bad repair job, and I wanted some color back there in the Winter when all is plain and dark. The vines running across the garden are Virginia Creeper that has been growing on the far North side of the yard for years, trained on strings of white lights that run from the gazebo to the big tree. They just keep getting thicker every year. I tucked a little hanging Spanish Moss on them to enhance the tropical look.

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To the left of the pond is this oddly leaning tree that I dolled up with bromelaids this year. (You can see the how-to on that one by clicking “Bromelaids”) And of course the coolest cheap garden lighting ever is at the base of the tree.

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Our poor Ganesha fountain here has seen better days. He is the victim of an unfortunate freezing incident in which he lost 3 of his four arms and most of his legs, though his face remains intact. I think it makes him look like an ancient relic. I especially like the ball of moss growing on the tip of his trunk. We’ve found the glass flowers at various yard sales for a couple bucks a piece. I love my little pond. The water iris with it’s leaves overflowing the pond started as divisions given to us by a neighbor are now completely taking over (anyone want some Water Iris? Seriously…) We have a hardy water lily that has somehow survived 3 Colorado winters and seems quite happy. There are 2 big koi, “Ghost” and “Spot”, a big fat fancy goldfish (named “Fatty”, I don’t have much imagination for names), and what was once a mere feeder goldfish, “Tiny”, who is now quite pretty and not so tiny anymore. They are rather camera-shy, but I did manage to snap a picture of Spot, who is now over 10″ long. (He was under 4″ when we got him) All our fish came from Petsmart.

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The area along the fence is dark and dank and it’s nearly impossible to grow anything there, so all the plants are in pots. That monster tree philodendron was purchased at a yard sale for $10 when he had only 5 leaves. The thing has gone crazy this summer. I have no idea how I’ll get it back in the house for Winter. Almost all the ceramic pots were alley finds, a few from the thrift store. I bring all the houseplants out into the yard in the Spring. The plants are happy and really help to fill in the yard. I scored 5 more houseplants from a nice guy on Craigslist for free this Summer as well. The dwarf bananas in the big pots I bought last year, and they were super-easy to overwinter. You just pull them out of the pot, hack off the leaves and stick them in a box or bag, leave them in the basement and forget about them till the next Spring. I did buy a few sweet potato vines and coleus this year, but everything else I over-wintered from last year. The metal pedestals were surprisingly cheap. I bought them about 4 years ago, all three were about $60. (OK I admit I got them wholesale) And you’ll note two more of those awesome cheap garden lights on the ground.

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The iron and wood seats were here when I moved in, I just painted them white. The table was another fab alley find, as were the ceramic pieces on top. One of my neighbors is a potter. She sometimes puts “off” pieces in the alley. Love that! She came to a party here and loved what I did with these. The big wood candlesticks were found dumpster diving as well. I’ve had the white candles forever, purchased years ago at Big Lots.

What makes these plants look so good? Levels! The secret to a great display. Nothing fancy here, the pots in the back are up on top of other pots turned upside down.

Here’s a view looking back at the house, and Emma, my little pug-ham, getting in on the action.

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The North side of the garden is our ever-popular Gazebo (click for more details). It was easier than it looks, and everything in it came from yard sales and thrift stores.

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Looking out of the gazebo into the yard…

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And lastly, the Golden Duck, sitting on the edge of the pond, hidden in the Water Iris. Another great alley find.

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This concludes our little Backyard Oasis Tour. I hope you enjoyed it!

Part 3! Big Crazy Bohemian Garden…it’s Not Mine, it’s Tiffany’s. (Lots of Fun Ideas Here!)

Like all good things, this series must come to an end…

Part 3 of the Big Crazy Bohemian Garden.

(Part 2 HERE)

(Part 1 HERE)

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The greenhouse. It’s pretty killer. It has an ingenious self-watering system, and a deep koi pond on the North side that functions as a heat sink in the Winter. The Koi are crazy huge, sorry it was too dark to get any pictures of them. You know I wanted to snatch that Japanese eggplant right off the vine…

What garden is complete without a couple Pink Flamingos?

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Another great recycling idea, old plastic Halloween “Witch’s cauldrons” painted blue and used as planters…

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And of course, there are chickens. 5 feathery friends, providing breakfast for all. I especially like the art and fancy glass hanging light in the chicken coop.

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And now, on to the Front Yard. No lawns here at the Smyth Abode. Hardy strawberries take the place of grass beautifully, and provide delicious berries!

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I love the mannequin on the front porch, no doubt reclaimed from the ArtSmyth Mask Shop.

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There’s an amazing Wisteria on the front gate. (We’ll have to get a shot of it in bloom next year) Great Idea Alert: She has strung wire from the fence to the second story balcony on which the vines are growing. Natural shade!

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The fence on the North side of the house is covered in blackberries and roses, a beautiful combination.

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And last but not least, a large mirror in the front side yard reflects a pair of plant-covered deer. Charming!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this delightful garden tour as much as I have. Until next time, Happy Planting!

Part 2! Big Crazy Bohemian Garden…it’s Not Mine, it’s Tiffany’s. (Lots of Fun Ideas Here!)

Part 2 of our 3-Part series on the amazing bohemian garden of mask-maker extraordinaire Tiffany Smyth

See Part 1 Here: Big Crazy Bohemian Garden

Let’s just dig right in shall we?

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The first thing you’ll notice is the blue heads. I love the blue heads. What a creative edging! The heads were leftover from a failed project. They were intended to be display pieces for Tiffany’s masks, but they turned out a bit too heavy and a tad too small. No matter, they are marvelous garden accessories!

Next, note the shelves on the fence. I love this idea, and I will be stealing it…a great way to add vertical gardening to the yard and add visual interest to an otherwise boring wood fence.

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What a fun spot for hanging plants. I like the found object embellishments…check out the old Victorian shoe 😉 Spray paint the fence? Sure, why not. And the blue color accents the heads nicely. More old windows on the fence. It’s a good thing.

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Old metal bed frames. (Where is she finding all these?? I’ll have to ask…) Great for delineating space and providing climbing surfaces for vines. More fun found objects decorate the fence. Nice bunny. Elevating him on the pedestal makes him look ultra-special, which of course he is.

And finally, one of my favorite areas it the garden. Skulls may not be your cup of tea, but I love them. Great use of old Halloween decorations…skulls as planters! Love it. I like how she pulled together unusual elements and made them work as one by painting them the same way. Note the continual use of the blue. There is a ton going on in this garden, but the consistent blue ties it all together.

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Part 3, with chickens! Coming Friday. Stay tuned!

Big Crazy Bohemian Garden…it’s Not Mine, it’s Tiffany’s. (Lots of Fun Ideas Here!)

This week we’ll be wandering around someone else’s garden. This wacky & wonderful garden is chock full of fun and unusual ideas using found objects, leftovers, chickens and more. This creative space belongs to mask-maker Tiffany Smyth of Denver. If you don’t know Tiffany’s masks, you need to http://www.artsmyths.com Once you see the masks, you’ll understand the garden. I’ll be covering this garden in 3 blog posts this week.

Without further ado, here is post #1:

Fairy Garden & Porch

The yard is gently divided into different zones with creative fencing and edging. The Fairy Garden is on the North side of the house, with the entry marked by a curved arbor.

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The Fairy Garden is a charming little space. I love “Secret Garden” areas like this. Some ideas to steal here are the metal headboard as a trellis, the old windows hung on the fence, and the old metal chair, painted blue and used as a plant stand.

The Back Porch

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The big Idea to Steal on the porch is the seating made from an old headboard. The feet were cut off and became the front legs, a thick piece of wood was added for the seat, as was foam. The seat is covered in leopard print vinyl and attached with a staple gun. Decorative wall shelves have been added to the headboard. Love this one.

And last but not least, the Deadly Nightshade Garden, marked appropriately with a shiny-eyed skull…

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Wednesday we’ll explore the backyard further, stay tuned!

Great Garden Inspiration & Ideas from a Visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens (on Free Day, of course!)

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Your local Botanic Gardens (in my case the Denver Botanic Gardens) are a great place to gather doable ideas and inspiration for your garden. This past Tuesday was Free Day, which I fully enjoyed, and took the opportunity to gather ideas for my own garden at home. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

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A lovey all-green shade pot at the base of a tree. Who needs flowers? A nice combination of shades and textures works great, as this pretty pot proves. A good way to add interest to the otherwise kinda boring tree base. Love the large flat rocks around the tree as well.

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L.O.V.E. this black rock path! I can’t imagine how many hours it took to create, but the undulating flowing pattern of the black river rocks turned up sideways is mesmerizing and gorgeous. I really want to try something like that in the backyard…

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What a fun display! I dig the artful use of dried, cut-up things from the garden. Makes me think of all kinds of ways to make use of garden “trash” I would otherwise throw out. Love those big green lotus pots as well.

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The bark of this Lacebark Pine is beautiful! Looks like a watercolor painting. I’d love to replace the plain old pine in the backyard with this.

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I am absolutely going to steal this idea. Bromeliads attached to the limbs of a large tree with Spanish moss added. This is perfect for my wanna-be tropical backyard. The bromeliads can be wired onto the limbs easily, the wires can be covered by the moss, and the plants can be detached and overwintered inside. Perfect! I WILL have a DIY post for this in the near future…

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Ceramic roofing tiles as dividers. Love this idea! Buried in the ground upright they form a nice pattern. Whoever came up with this idea is a genius.

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A great easy-care and beautiful planting idea for a full-sun Denver garden, herbs and easy perennials. Notice the heights of each plant getting taller towards the back. I really like the look of the purple sage in the foreground. This garden smells incredible, too. (and of course, you can cook with it as well)

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Sigh. My dream plant, the stunning (and very poisonous) Tree Datura (Angel’s Trumpet). Of course they are very difficult to grow in zone 5 Denver, loving a zone 9 and above, but they have the most spectacular blooms. If I ever get a greenhouse, this plant is mine mine mine!

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This is just about the most perfect pond. The rocks are beautifully laid out. I like how the they go all the way down into the pond instead of just to the edge. Someday when funds allow, I’d love to upgrade my little pond to something like this. I do want to know how they keep it so crystal clear…

There are scores more ideas at the Botanic Gardens, so go visit yours and get inspired!

I want to know what garden projects you are doing! Tell me in the Leave a Reply section below.

(Note: All photos taken by Marie Vlasic)