High Rise Horticulture
Denver Dirty Girls may sound like a rough-and-tumble roller-derby team, but it’s actually the name of a mild-mannered (yet wildly creative) mother-daughter garden design duo
Povy Kendal Atchison
When Sheila Schultz relocated from Illinois to Colorado, she was already an expert on the subject of potted plants. But she had little experience working with succulents and cacti, both of which she quickly discovered were ideally suited to growing in containers in the dry Colorado climate.
Now she specializes in such containers. Joined by her daughter Laurel Startzel, an interior designer with gardening roots, Schultz’s company, Denver Dirty Girls, has flourished with this self-proclaimed motto: “Is it art? Is it gardening? It’s both!”
That hybrid outlook allows the pair to approach every project with a well-stocked toolbox: an understanding of how scale, proportion, texture, color and movement function as fundamentally intertwined design elements in a successful landscape.
A big, bare wall could have been a design nightmare, but Schultz and Startzel placed a bold row of potted yuccas (water-saving succulents that can tolerate full sun) against the backdrop. Their strong lines create striking silhouettes. Low-maintenance plants, like succulents and cacti, are good choices for water-conscious homeowners or those who travel frequently.
The homeowner originally wanted a water feature as a focal point, but he and the designers couldn’t locate one that was just right. Instead, they chose a gorgeous, nearly five-foot-tall Vietnamese pot planted with a large, spiky cactus as a statement piece.
Front Range winds can often shred wider-leafed foliage, whereas slender grasses are more durable. Several of the pots needed to be weighted so that they wouldn’t blow away.
The homeowner of this Denver condo asked Denver Dirty Girls to recreate the feeling of being surrounded by gardens and trees without the plantings feeling fussy or obscuring his view. The designers softened the hard lines of the 500-square-foot balcony while creating a “masculine” mood with plants that are rich in texture and color, emphasizing shades of burgundy, green and silver for quiet drama. This green and gorgeous balcony is now a luxurious space for entertaining or kicking back at the end of the day, high above the hustle and bustle of the city.
Tips from the Denver Dirty Girls: Choosing and Arranging Containers
Quality: Take plenty of time to choose the right container. The pots themselves are pieces of art! Spend money on a good pot from the start, because it will last you many years. We really like Vietnamese pots because they can withstand the freeze/thaw issues we face in Colorado.
Materials: There are so many different kinds of planting pots and containers, and they get more interesting all the time. We like ceramic of course, and fiberglass containers are wonderful if you need to move them around, but they should not be used in high-wind environments. There are also some amazing metal and concrete containers.
Size and Scale: Proportion is extremely important when it comes to container design. Large containers make a visual impact; tiny pots tend to get lost. And sometimes just one container
isn’t enough of a ‘wow’ factor; make it a trio. Don’t be afraid to step back and really look at the surroundings to make sure the container is the appropriate shape, size and color for the space.
Placement: Laying out containers for a space is very similar to a furniture arrangement. Placing the containers where they can be seen from several viewpoints is great, but make sure to keep walkways free and clear from trip hazards. And when designing the container garden, make sure also to keep in mind how large each plant will get. Ask yourself this when layering plants. Place the tallest toward the back so you get a nice waterfall effect.
Denver Dirty Girls