If visitors to the Durango Public Library look northwest of the front door, they can see a large patch of dirt, boulders and flagstones. Give it some time, though, and that lot will sprout into Durango Botanic Gardens’ new Literary Garden.
“We’re doing a lot here,” said Bill LeMaire, president of DBG. “We’re doing a garden, we’re doing a literature connection, and we’re doing rest and relaxation.”
The garden, which was initially designed in 2015, will be divided into six smaller gardens – each with its own theme – and will feature patios and places where people can gather and rest, he said.
John Anderson, a Literary Garden Committee member, said it will be “a place for repose, reflection and thinking about going into the library and checking out books, talking to the librarians, looking at our website, things like that.”
The themes of the six gardens are Indigenous Peoples, Latinx, Youth, Southwest, Contemporary and the Classics. In addition to plants, art and signage representing each theme, the gardens will feature QR codes that allow visitors to learn more about authors representing each group – which will hopefully promote diversity in what Durangoans read, LeMaire said.
He said the committee hopes the gardens will be used to have small events, such as ceremonies, lectures and book readings.
Theresa Anderson, chairwoman of the Literary Garden Committee, said she is particularly excited about the Indigenous garden coming together. She said the committee is working with Susan Cimburek and the staff members of the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio to choose plants that are culturally important to Indigenous people of the area.
Tanaya Winder, a poet and writer from Ignacio, is an example of an author who will likely be represented in the Indigenous garden, as well as authors from around the nation, such as Tommy Orange, John Anderson said.
“Those will be authors whose works are connected to an Indigenous perspective, and then we can refer through them to the collections that are at the library, encouraging people to see this, get a taste of it, and say, ‘Well, I think I’ll go in and talk to a librarian and find out more,’” he said.
“It would be wonderful in the future, especially with the Indigenous, if when someone goes to the website, they could hear an actual recording of an oral story,” Theresa Anderson said.
The infrastructure supporting the gardens, as well as some signs showing where each garden will go, should be up by the end of September, she said. Some plants will be planted by this fall, with the final form of the garden taking shape by 2023.
“I think people will start to get a really good look at it by fall,” LeMaire said. “Next June, people should really begin to see this thing take shape.”
The Indigenous and Youth gardens will be two of the first ones to be planted, he said.
“Indigenous and Southwest are pretty easy to do, I think, because those areas are native to our area,” he said. “Things like the Classics we had to think about. We want to make sure that what we’re planting here is something that will be successful. We don’t want to put crazy stuff in here that only does well on the East Coast or Florida, so we do have to be careful about what we plant.”
“We would love to plant an old English-style garden in the Classics section, or even going back to Roman times or something – columns – but it’s not going to work here,” Theresa Anderson said. “The other part of it that we are very much in tune to is to demonstrate that these plants will grow here and the community can look at them and say, ‘Oh, I can grow that.’”
For example, the Classics section will likely include roses because there are plenty of varieties of them that will grow in Southwest Colorado, she said.
She said the Contemporary garden will look at issues society is delving into in the present and future, such as those LGBTQ and BIPOC people are currently facing. The Contemporary garden will also present the work Durango Botanic Gardens is putting into making the Literary Garden environmentally sustainable.
LeMaire said that when the area that is now the garden had turf, it required a tremendous amount of water. The new garden should cut down on that substantially, as it will feature a drip irrigation system and has been designed to retain water and move water where it is needed.
“At the end of the day, this ... an homage to the library,” he said. “Since 2010, when we built the demonstration garden behind the library, we’ve effectively had a partnership with the library, and this is kind of a final tribute or reflection of that partnership.”
DBG is all volunteer and exists on donations and membership costs, he said. The group has raised just under $100,000 for the Literary Garden from about 150 donors so far.
“The community is the reason why we’ve got this garden going in right now,” Theresa Anderson said.
LeMaire said he hopes the new garden will allow more people to see the work DBG does. In a non-pandemic year, the library gets 400,000 visits a year, but few of those visitors actually see the existing gardens around the library on the journey from the parking lot to the front door.
The new garden will put the work of the DBG “a lot more front and center” he said.