Sustainability Club 'gives life to school'

Highlands Ranch High students building xeriscape garden

Posted 10/2/18

Xeriscaping doesn't have the best reputation. The landscape design uses tough, drought-tolerant plants that require little water. For some, that equates to boring or unattractive. “They …

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Sustainability Club 'gives life to school'

Highlands Ranch High students building xeriscape garden

Posted

Xeriscaping doesn't have the best reputation. The landscape design uses tough, drought-tolerant plants that require little water. For some, that equates to boring or unattractive.

“They automatically think that means zero scape — no plants at all,” said Thomas Riggle, water conservation and efficiency coordinator at Centennial Water and Sanitation District. “It's really just the opposite.”

The Sustainability Club at Highlands Ranch High School, in partnership with Riggle and Denver Botanic Gardens, wants to change popular belief about the gardening technique. In front of the school, 9375 Cresthill Lane, students are building a large xeriscape garden to educate and inspire the community.

Instead of sprinklers, their creation will use drip irrigation. Bluegrass that once occupied the site will be replaced with a pollinator garden, Rocky Mountain garden, annual lookalike garden and rock garden. Some flowers are hues of pink and purple. The shrubs and grass vary in shape and size.

“We want to create an example for parents when they drop their kids at school,” said Linsday Engelbert, a junior and co-president of the Sustainability Club. She and about 10 other students spent their day off — Sept. 21 was a teacher planning day —pulling weeds and moving dirt.

In one year, the club grew from 23 students to 67 students, according to Heather Barry, who teaches AP environmental science and leads the club.

Members meet twice a month on Monday after school. Throughout the year, they work on small projects — recycling, picking up trash. They've created an outdoor classroom and built an outdoor solar-powered cell phone charger.

Once a year, the club focuses on a large project with a wider impact. Students are required to partner with an outside organization.

Last year, students installed a “living wall” with rows of leafy plants in a popular hallway. They wanted to bring inside an element of the outdoors, Barry said.

This year, students chose the xeriscape garden.

“They bring to me their ideas and I tell them the answer is yes unless they find that the valid answer is no,” Barry said. “It's up to them to decide how they make the school and community more sustainable.”

Local governing organizations Centennial Water, Highlands Ranch Metro District and Highlands Ranch Community Association promote xeriscaping to reduce water usage and help residents save money.

But the response hasn't been great, Riggle said.

“This is an area we can point people to if they have questions about what low-water landscape looks like,” he said of the high school's garden.

The metro district's turf replacement program reimburses residents $1 per square foot when they replace high water-use plants with xeric or drought-tolerant vegetation. The limit is $1,000. More information is available at centennialwater.org/water-conservation/incentive-programs.

The HRCA lists a variety of xeric plants on its webpage, at hrcaonline.org/property-owners/residents/going-green/xeriscaping. The HRCA's Architectural Committee must approve xeriscaping plans.

Members of the Sustainability Club at Highlands Ranch High School hope that community members take advantage of their garden. At completion next spring, each section will have a plaque with information on how to create a similar landscape.

“Having a garden,” club member Sam Mate said, “gives so much life to the school.”

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