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A Gardener's Garden

Container-garden expert Sheila Schultz shares how she tackled her home's backyard blues



Povy Kendal Atchison

When Sheila Schultz, co-owner of Denver Dirty Girls, a container-garden design and maintenance firm, bought a home in southeast Denver in 2005, the yard was a gardener’s nightmare. “The backyard was a cement basketball court,” says the Illinois transplant, “and that had to go ASAP.” The front yard wasn’t all that appealing either, but Schultz gave herself two years to transform both spaces, starting in the back. The dream was to create inviting spaces that were Colorado weather-friendly and would stay colorful three seasons a year.

Great goals, but what was the game plan? “Basically, I did my yard design on the fly,” Schultz says. In other words, there was no plan. “I teamed up with landscape designer and friend Lynne Reardon, who dealt with the landscape; I designed containers. It was a grand adventure.”

The adventure started by jackhammering the basketball court in order to build a raised deck for outdoor dining—complete with built-in benches and boxes that would soon overflow with gorgeous plants. A few steps down, they created a flagstone area filled with comfy Jensen Leisure furniture surrounding a fire pit and shaded by mature trees. A soothing nearby water feature completes the relaxing space.


In the beginning, Schultz admits, she didn’t even think about drought-hardy perennials: “In Illinois, rain is never an issue.” In her Colorado yard, however, every plant was an experiment. Over the years, she learned to replace water-needy plants with more drought-tolerant and native ones, favoring flora with narrow leaves that hold up better to hail.

Schultz creates her unique and beautiful containers simply by pairing pots and plants until the combination looks just right. Case in point: an arrangement of pots against the blond brick house wall features tall leafy plants (purple fountain grass, pencil cactus, and yucca) that stand behind smaller pots of colorful coleus and super bells, many in shades of orange, Shultz’s newly discovered favorite color. “Orange flowers really distract the eye away from the bland wall behind,” she observes.


Though the ground cover and many of the flowering plants are low-maintenance perennials, Schultz keeps busy in the fall when she brings all the succulents inside—and again in spring, when she plants potted annuals.

But for Schultz, that’s where the fun begins. “I love trying out new things, figuring out balance and shape and color. It taps into my own sense of design, mood and interest,” she says. And she even loves the dreaded chore of weeding. “Everybody gardens for different reasons,” Schultz says. “Mine is that, ultimately, when I see the fruits of my labor, I am at peace.” And that spirit of joyful experimentation and sense of contentment after a job well done is a valuable lesson she plants into every project. 

Design Details

Landscape Design
Sheila Schultz
Denver Dirty Girls
denverdirtygirls.com

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