Sowing a sea of color at 8,360 feet was quite a feat, given Nederland’s short growing season
By Carol Brock
The fact that her home sat at 8,360 feet never daunted Kristen-lee Baillie. That just added to the challenge: Coaxing a stupendous garden from the rocky earth surrounding her home near Nederland.
After all, she figured, it wasn’t much different than what she does for a living—splashing canvases with vibrant colors of different mediums and textures. As a former ceramic artist whose work appeared in galleries in her native Australia, and now a mixed-media artist in Colorado, Baillie approached her mountaintop garden in much the same way. “My idea was to create a sea of color,” she says.
Baillie had no prior gardening experience, and didn’t plan on having a garden when she and her husband, Ross Kaminsky, purchased the property in 2006. “It all started when I pulled out a large, ugly shrub and noticed some really enormous rocks buried beneath it,” Baillie recalls. “I excavated around and decided to create a small garden bed. This was the start of something big. Every year I excavated and uncovered more rocks and created more beds.”
Kaminsky helped her move rocks, mow, plant a few trees “and pay bills at the many garden centers where Kristen came to know everyone on a first-name basis,” he jokes. Their children, Jasper, 9, and Lili, 10, planted and collected rocks from the property to build garden walls and borders. But mostly they played with the dog, scrambled on the rocks, and helped pick vegetables from the garden.
The mountain growing season doesn’t start until June, so Kristen scored good deals at local nurseries that had already sold much of their inventory to Front Range gardeners a couple of months beforehand.
“For me creating [art] is like cooking,” Baillie’s artist statement says. “I try to utilize every available ingredient, both exotic and local, combined with a vast array of materials and tools to create a unique visual feast, be it spicy or sumptuous, rich or nourishingly simple.”
Her gardens follow suit, with several beds boasting different colors and textures. She painstakingly designed each one, framing them in moss rock, “which was a little like framing a canvas,” she says. Indeed, part of the reason she decided to garden was for an artistic outlet, Kaminsky says. “Kristen constructed the garden the way she might put together a painting: with specific intent regarding the relationship of the colors to each other.”
Garden + Work = Life Lessons
Waves of catmint, monarda, sedums, dahlias, coreopsis, lilies, daisies and more weave their way across the 40-acre property, strewn with boulders and trees, and graced with ample views and open skies. “I was surprised by her ability to grow things experts said couldn’t grow successfully in our zone,” Kaminsky says.
The mountainous beds overflow with zone 3 perennials and annuals, and peak bloom is in early August, with most flowers vanishing by September. “It often felt to me as if it was Kristen’s full-time job,” Kaminsky says, “though I realized she got tremendous satisfaction from it even when she was worn out at the end of the day or week or month.” The enormous workload taught Baillie some “tough life lessons,” she says.
“It humbled me all the time by teaching me to be patient, not get overly attached and to be flexible. There are so many variables you cannot possibly control at that altitude, especially the weather and the wildlife.” Once a huge herd of elk trampled the garden and pulled up the perennials by the roots. Surprisingly, voles and chipmunks caused more damage than deer, Kaminsky says. “I tolerated the chipmunks and the voles for the sake of my sanity,” says Baillie, who created three edible gardens on the property in addition to the ornamental beds. “You can easily get obsessed with pest control.”
In the end, the garden evolved without her, she claims. “I did what I could to manipulate and help it thrive, but it had a mind of its own. Toward the end of my time with it I became less rigid about imposing my plans. Even with pest control, I became more laid back, allowing nature to take its course and just replacing what was lost or using that as a reason to abandon some areas.”
Kaminsky took a new job in Denver last summer, and after wrestling with the mountainside for 10 years, the couple sold the property just before the Cold Springs fire broke out in July 2016. “One of the best days of my life was when I got rid of the chain saw,” Kaminsky says with a laugh. The new owner, Marci Ridgley, keeps goats and promised to take good care of their masterpiece.
But the garden’s calm and beauty is something they both miss. “It was like watching a symphony of color, with new blooms every week in the summer,” says Baillie, who plans to grow a small English-style garden at their new home.
For Kaminsky, “It was like having a beautiful acres-wide painting in view every day—and knowing it was created by my favorite artist.”
More photos of a Nederland-area garden
1Three edible gardens
The family grew three edible gardens and used found twigs and branches for critter fencing.
A succession of pollinator-friendly blooms throughout the growing season ensured daily visits from hummingbirds. “You can’t hang feeders at this altitude, or you’re just asking for visits from bears,” Kristen-lee says.
Kristen-lee wanted a sea of color in her garden, so she planted things that would bloom in each of the seasons.
4A sea of color
Kristen-lee planted Asiatic lilies that bloom in June; Jupiter’s beard and ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum that bloom in fall; and Russian sage, salvia, yarrow, echinacea and monarda that bloom in summer.
Views and gardens abound on Kristen-lee Baillie and Ross Kaminsky’s former property near Nederland.
Every year Kristen-lee excavated and uncovered more rocks and created more beds.
A garden of calm and beauty
Kristen-lee painstakingly designed each garden bed, framing them in moss rock.