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Transforming landscapes across the city

Denver Water customers share how Garden In A Box helped cut their outdoor water use.

Editor's note: Fall is the new "spring planting time" across the metro area, and Resource Central's fall Garden In A Box plant sale is just a click away. Sign up now to be notified when their fall sale starts. 

Ask any homeowner and they’ve probably got a tale to tell about their yard. 

For many Denver Water customers across the Denver metro area, the tale is about making big and small changes to their landscapes with help from a popular program called Garden In A Box.

Hear advice from Elie Zwiebel and his partner, Laura, about how they transformed the yard of their Denver home using Resource Central’s Garden In A Box kit. 

Resource Central, a Boulder-based nonprofit, started its Garden In A Box program in 2003 to help make it easier and more affordable for homeowners to plant beautiful plants that thrive in Colorado’s semi-arid climate.

Since then, Resource Central has sold over 40,000 Garden In A Box kits as of last spring — and demand continues to grow each year. Each garden kit includes plants that require little to no water once established, a plant-by-number guide, information on caring for the plants and watering instructions. 

Resource Central has sold more than 40,000 water-wise Garden In A Box kits since 2003. Image credit: Resource Central website.

Resource Central advocates for removing portions of lawn that are impractical or difficult to maintain, or go unused as lawn. The organization also offers a variety of services for efficient irrigation and provides tips on how to maintain a healthy yard that includes grass or to transform your lawn into a water-wise garden.

The plants in the Garden In A Box kits need less water compared to the Kentucky bluegrass that makes up a typical Denver-area lawn, reducing the amount of water a yard might need. And they have additional benefits, such as adding colorful flowers, attracting beneficial pollinators and being low maintenance. 

Using Garden In A Box, Denver-area customers planted more than 100,000 square feet of water-wise gardens in 2021. Read more about Denver Water’s partnership with this Boulder-based nonprofit. 

Here are some stories from Denver Water customers who planted Garden In A Box kits over the past three years.

Bring in the birds and the bees

When Elie Zwiebel and his partner, Laura, moved into their home in south-central Denver’s Athmar Park neighborhood in 2019, they knew they had their work cut out for them. 

Their backyard was filled with unwanted structures, concrete, old fences and struggling patches of grass. So they decided to tear everything out and start from scratch. 

The construction left behind a large area of dirt and weeds, but the yard also presented plenty of landscaping opportunities. Photo credit: Elie Zwiebel.

The couple opted against planting grass to fill the space. Instead, they decided to build patio spaces, plant a vegetable garden and buy several Garden In A Box kits because they love to watch birds, bees and butterflies.

“We are very environmentally conscious and wanted to have a yard that didn’t require a lot of water,” Zwiebel said. “The Garden In A Box kits had plenty of Colorado native, drought-resistant, pollinator-attracting plants, so it was just what we were looking for.”

Zwiebel points to his Denver Water Outdoor Water Use Report to highlight how little water his landscape uses. In July 2021, he used around 8,000 gallons of water on his yard, that’s 19,000 gallons under what Denver Water considers efficient water use for his lot. 

After renovation, Zwiebel’s backyard features the results of Garden In A Box kits as well as patio space and a vegetable garden seen in the back. Photo credit: Denver Water.
Brightly colored flowers from a Garden In A Box kit in the front of Zwiebel’s house. The garden was planted in 2020 and only needs to be watered about once a month. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The Denver “knoll”

Drive around many Denver neighborhoods and you’ll see homes perched atop small hills above the street. These small knolls make the house stand out but keeping the grass green on the small hills is a constant challenge, as water often runs down the slope.

Thinking about remodeling your yard? Denver Water’s Remodel Your Yard webpage offers good information about water-wise plants, garden design and more. 

That was a challenge faced by Jimmy Lewis, who lives near City Park. 

He had an additional challenge in that his front yard faces west, so the sun baked the grass. 

Jimmy Lewis’ front yard before he replaced the grass in the front yard with water-wise plants from Garden In A Box. Photo credit: Jimmy Lewis.

In 2019, Lewis decided to take out the grass on the slope and terraced the yard with a Rocky Mountain Retreat garden kit from the Garden In A Box program. 

“Twenty-five percent of my yard was using 60% of the water — I felt like I was just wasting it,” Lewis said.

Lewis felt the change in landscape was a win on all fronts. He created more interest in his landscape, doesn’t have to mow as much and reduced his overall water consumption. Lewis is considered a very efficient water user and in July 2021, he was 6,000 gallons under Denver Water’s monthly efficiency target for his property. 

Lewis said he takes pride in how his front yard looks now and often notices people stopping on their walks to check it out. 

“Doing the landscape change did take some work, but it was absolutely worth it,” he said.

Jimmy Lewis added terracing to his front yard and added plants from Garden In A Box. After two years, the plants are doing great and require very little watering, even in the hot summer months. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Colorful corner garden

Larry Reeder moved to southeast Denver in 2005 and always wanted to add some interest to one corner of his front yard that was filled with juniper bushes. 

In 2019, he took the plunge and ordered a Garden In A Box kit to add some curb appeal.

Two years later and the garden looks like it’s been around for years.

The northwest corner of Larry Reeder’s front yard before landscape change featured juniper bushes and grasses. Photo credit: Larry Reeder.

“When we took out the juniper bushes, we felt that plants were more interesting than grass,” Reeder said. “Adding the Garden In A Box plants was the right thing to do because they look good and use less water.”

Reeder encourages others to do what he did and advises doing a little research ahead of time to understand soil amendment and best practices for watering. 

Larry Reeder’s yard after he removed the juniper bushes and added a fence and water-wise plants from Garden In A Box to add curb appeal. Photo credit: Denver Water.

From New England to Colorado

Alice Sheehan and her family moved to southeast Denver in 2018 and are using Garden In A Box as part of their overall landscape renovation on the front, side and back of the house.

“The yard had lots of overgrown bushes and unkept grass, so it needed a lot of work,” Sheehan said. 

“I’ve always had an interest in plants and believe strongly in water conservation, so we wanted to find some plants that do well in Denver’s climate.”

Plant Select helps gardeners find water-wise plants that thrive in Colorado and the retailers that sell them. See their Top 10 plants from 2020.

Sheehan had been living in Boston, which sees about three times as much water as Denver, so she knew plants that thrive out east wouldn’t do well in Colorado’s climate.

As a Denver Water customer, she feels that being water conscious is very important and encourages others to consider using water-wise plants in their own yards.

Alice Sheehan planted a Garden In A Box kit in 2018 and added a walkway. The landscape change reduces the amount of water needed in the space compared to the grass that used to be there. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Front yard makeover

There are many reasons for doing landscape change. 

For John Erhardt in the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood of northwest Denver, his main reasons included adding interest, reducing water use and making his yard easier to maintain. 

So, he purchased three Mountain Shadows Garden In A Box kits in 2019 to replace the grass on the southeast section of his yard. 

John Erhardt’s landscape in the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood features grass on one side of his walkway and Garden In A Box plants on the other. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“The grass took a lot of upkeep and I always dread mowing the lawn,” Erhardt said. “The new plants are much easier to maintain, and I enjoy watching the flowers bloom.”

Erhardt encourages people to have a plan before jumping into landscape renovations, which can include grass removal, soil amendment and watering. 

He did the work himself but said some neighbors have hired crews to do the work.

“It was absolutely worth doing and now I’m looking at expanding the garden in the future.”

The Mountain Shadows Garden In A Box kit features plants with a variety of flowers with various colors including these Alpine Asters. Photo credit: John Erhardt.

Ready to change your landscape? 

There are many good resources available for information about creating and maintaining a water-wise landscape. 

Here are just a few of them. 

Resource Central sells its Garden In A Box kits in the spring and fall. The kits sell out quickly, so anyone interested in buying a kit should sign up for their newsletters to get a heads-up on when they can order. Resource Central also hosts a DIY inspiration hub for transforming yards or lawns into water-wise gardens.

Plant Select is another option for water-wise plants and garden designs throughout the year. Plant Select has dozens of Demonstration and Showcase Gardens across the state to see what types of plants are available and its website has a wealth of information to help you select plants that thrive in our climate and your landscape. 

Denver Water also has information about plants, gardens, and additional resources on its website at

And, Denver Water encourages customers to sign up for its Outdoor Water Use Reports to see if they are watering efficiently. Click here to learn more about the reports and how to sign up.

The Highlands Garden Village Showcase Garden is located at 38th and Tennyson Street in northwest Denver. It is one of dozens of gardens across Colorado that feature Plant Select plants. Photo credit: Denver Water.