Rob Proctor is well-known and much loved for being Colorado’s Garden Expert since 1988. You watch him in Proctor's Garden segments that air twice a week on KUSA-TV, which can also be watched online.
What you may not know, is that Rob is also an accomplished author writing 17 books on gardening, and a gifted artist who draws and paints. Rob says, “My garden is my resume,” and man, is it an impressive one. David Macke, childhood friend, co-author and partner, is a retired Geologist originally from Illinois. Rob and David were kind enough to give me a tour of their breathtaking garden in North Denver, tell me its history, and generously give me a chance to be a part of the 2019 Proctor’s Garden Tour to benefit the Denver Dumb Friends League, held July 29 and 30. Read on for details.
3030 West 46th
I fell in love with the home upon sight. As a person who finds meaning everywhere (and constantly), I was charmed to find the doorbell didn't work. Why should it?! This is not so much a house as it is a living, breathing palette of life, beauty, light, vision, acceptance, and constant and deliberate care. Rob and David are as much a part of it, as it is of them. Together, they are its lungs. The Garden is the heart of this home, this Colorado Treasure, and it is entered through the alley.
I found Rob and David hard at work watering plants that were fainting in the heat of July. I became overwhelmed with too much beauty, texture, and life to absorb at one time. Several cats live outside in the garden, but Mouse, a thin yet dominating 12 year old Tabby, rules inside and out and was there to greet me with a yawn.
This paradise? It's Mouse's normal.
David and Rob bought their home in 1993. Denver North was not what it is today. When they first set eyes on 3030 West 46th, the backyard was a massive lawn with 5 towering Siberian Elm trees. Rob says, "Nobody wanted it at the time. The half-acre lot had too much lawn to mow."
Doubters, step aside. Rob and David knew they found something special and snapped it up. Together, Rob and David mapped what would become Proctor's Garden onto a napkin, and it came to be as it thrives today. A lover of historic mementos, I asked if the napkin was still around? Alas, it is not. (One quickly learns that Rob and David are persons unattached to things. Both very much seem to prefer life.)
Rob explains Proctor's Garden is “all about borders." Everything is planted on north/south, east/west axes. There are distinctly different areas in this formal garden that evolve and tell caretakers what each wants to do. There is the Wilderness, the Oval, and the Twin Borders. There was once a White Border, but it is no more. The gardeners tired of their white and silver experiment, and added touches of color to break up the monotony. The area is fondly referred to as “The Border Formerly Known as the White Border,” and spelled thusly.
Rob and David use plants as mulch and place them consciously. Instead of a sprinkler system, the garden is watered with an assortment of hoses. Dragonflies and bats are enthusiastic visitors and keep the mosquito population in check. Organic harmony is in full bloom here.
Alive with History
The home was built in 1905 and appears to be a true Denver Square, according to Jill Mustoffa, lover of architectural history and Denver local artist. Jill noted, “Denver Square is very typical for that era. They were kinda like a kit home ... you could go to a catalog to pick your woodwork. Many have back stairs for servants and pocket doors. They have a porch, and two windows above that look like eyes!”
During Proctor's Garden's build-phase, a cement foundation was struck. It is believed to have been part of a carriage house. The discovery of its foundation led to the placement of the “The Folly,” a shady seating structure now home to moisture-loving plants and a multitude of hastas and petunias.
Also unearthed during the garden’s excavation, a bricked area thought to have once been part of a sunken kitchen. It is now a "parterre," and home to many herbs. Its design is a marriage of French formal gardens and "waffle" gardens of the Native Peoples of the Southwest. The beds are edged with thyme, and dug below grade. The beds catch and hold moisture, the same way indentations in waffles hold syrup!
In the late 1800s, long before 3030 West 46th was built or Proctor’s Garden planted (in mind, soil, or hearts), a cavalierly station stood. Sometime in the 1920s after automobiles took over the world, what was a stable for horses evolved into a parking alley. The alley eventually crumbled, and in the 1960s became an urban graveyard for abandoned bikes, marbles, hubcaps — and a thriving home to weeds.
When the City demanded Rob and David continually mow the alley (or be slapped with $500 fines), they came up with a better idea. They planted instead! What was Denver blight is now a thriving vegetable, herb, and succulent garden that stores 3030 West 46th's cupboards, complete with a cozy seating station.
Excess harvest (and there is plenty) gets donated to food banks, harvest programs, neighbors and friends. What's leftover gets canned and stored inside for winter — along with hundreds of tropical plants and annuals. After Denver's first frost, the inside of 3030 W. 46th can, um, get a little crowded. Even excavated marbles lost long ago live on, honored, inside.
The Denver Dumb Friends League (DDFL) is the largest independent, nonprofit community-based animal shelter and humane society in the Rocky Mountain region. It cares for 24,000 lost and relinquished pets, as well as hundreds of equines, annually.
Rob and David approached DDFL in 2010 because they wanted to raise money for a cause important to them, animal welfare. Both thought a Garden Tour was a good way to do just that. Tagawa Gardens was an immediate and enthusiastic sponsor. Working together they have raised over $75,000 in just six years. All proceeds help DDFL reduce pet homelessness and animal suffering all across Colorado. That alone, is big. But apparently, not enough.
Rob and Proctor's Garden want to give more. And will. This year, Rob is selling his original watercolor paintings to benefit DDFL. And that is where I come in.
I am thrilled to be a part of the 2019 tour, and could not be more honored to manage the sale of such amazing works of art and soul. I will be at Proctor's Garden on August 24 and 25 from 7am to 1pm volunteering. You will find me wearing a red apron in the salon with the paintings and an accounting sheet, mostly likely trying to woo attention from an uninterested cat named Mouse.
Want to preview Rob's art in advance and reserve your original watercolor, before the crowds?
Last Call: Advice for Artists, Gardeners ... and People
Since I had a smart man's attention, I asked Rob what he would tell himself, a young artist. He shared this, "I'm not very good at words of wisdom, not having attained much myself. I would say this: Learn to draw. If you can't draw accurately to show dimension, depth and detail, anything else is pointless. And paint what you know. That will make your work honest."
Wow. Great stuff! I continued ... What about "go-to" advice for Colorado Gardeners? "Don’t use mulch. It’s awful. Plant more compatible plants close together instead." What about tomatoes? Everybody loves tomatoes! Rob suggested, "Avoid Heirloom varieties, they are insufficiently disease-resistant for Colorado." Anything else? "Rotate crops regularly. Doing so prevents pathogens. Soil health is key."
Huh? That’s funny. Rob Proctor is a man who seems really, really good at words of wisdom ... to me.
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Michelle Schwinghammer is a REALTOR®, Notary Public, and Certified Negotiation Expert® who provides real estate expertise and reliability to people in Denver and Jefferson Counties. Learn more here. Referrals appreciated.
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