My, how their gardens grow |

My, how their gardens grow

April E. Clark
Post Independent Staff
Post Independent Photo/Kara K. Pearson

When Rita Itao first moved to Glenwood Springs, the first flower she planted was a columbine. Thirty years later, the Colorado state flower is still her favorite.

“The columbine was the first plant I planted when I moved here from Oklahoma,” said Itao, in her signature German accent. “I thought the flowers were very special.”

Itao, a longtime member of the Glenwood Springs Garden Club ” one of the town’s oldest clubs, established in 1931 ” joined the organization for help learning about gardening in a mountain climate.

“Gardening in Oklahoma is so much different because it rains a lot,” she said.

Starting out with cherry trees, Itao branched out to fruits such as peaches, plums, apples and pears. She also harvests peas, corn, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, Japanese radishes, onions, potatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and rhubarb.

“I pass the rhubarb on to the ladies in the Garden Club, so they can make pies out of it with strawberries,” said Itao, a native of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. “I can the fruits and freeze the vegetables.”

Itao said she and her husband of 43 years, Rick, prefer homegrown produce to store-bought fruits and vegetables.

“With all the sprays, I would rather have my own garden,” she said. “It’s a little more work in the spring, but it’s worth it in the summer.”

During her time as a member of the club, Itao has helped with numerous gardening projects around Glenwood Springs. She helped plant flowers in front of the Frontier Historical Society, and hopes to participate in the maintenance of the club’s garden at WestStar Bank on Grand Avenue.

“We’re all mad gardeners,” said Susan Barrena, the club’s vice-president, who works at the WestStar Bank branch in Gypsum. “There are a lot of passionate gardeners in the club.”

Barrena said the WestStar Bank project is both decorative and educational, featuring rock, herb, shade, perennial, wildflower and xeriscape (water-efficient) gardens, with copper markers indicating plant names.

“We had a man come from Washington state who said how impressed he was over what we had done in such a challenging climate,” said Barrena, whose roses on her Polo Road property are the envy of many garden club members. “We focus on drought-tolerant plants that will grow in our climate. With our xeric garden, we tried to keep it very water efficient and very educational so people can learn about gardening.”

Michele Diamond, vice-president of the Glenwood WestStar branch, said she joined the club this year to learn about Colorado climate-friendly gardening and how to prune rose and lilac bushes.

“I also learned to be careful not to pull what I think are weeds,” Diamond said. “I got in trouble for that. Unfortunately it was out here.”

She joked that there are perks to working where such a bountiful herb garden grows.

“When the employees want a salad, they can just come out here,” she said. “I have a huge vegetable garden. Rather than green money, we could give out lettuce at the bank.”

Jokes aside, Diamond said the Glenwood Garden Club plays an important civic role in keeping the city beautiful.

“It’s amazing that they do this,” Diamond said. “What will the world do when there are no more people who would do this arbitrary service, walking out of the house and tending to others gardens?”

Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. 518

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