Mile High City sunlight helps vegetables and culinary herbs flourish. Denver gardeners increasingly grow a portion of their own food. Even in Colorado’s short growing season, gardeners harvest plenty of fresh produce, and that’s not all. Individuals, couples and families also gain from the garden an increased sense of connection to the earth, a deeper appreciation for our food cycle and the immeasurable joys of getting grounded with one’s hands in the dirt.

“Your garden depends on you to nurture it, and it will nurture you back,” said Ron Katz, an avid vegetable gardener and a Denver Urban Gardens board member. “Grow whatever fills your stomach and whatever fills your soul.”

As edible gardening grows as a trend, more and more Coloradoans try their hands at cultivating cuisine. But not all new hands have green thumbs. To make your inaugural garden something to crow about, try these five fairly foolproof plants.

1. Grape Tomatos
Biting into a luscious tomato ripened on one’s own tenderly-loved vines ranks right up there with the greatest joys of gardening. Grape tomatoes grow easily and yield lots of small, sweet fruits. Your grape tomato plant will want maximum sun, daily water, rich soil—try adding compost—and a support: a fence or a trellis of some sort to grow up.

2. Swiss Chard
As gorgeous as nutritious, Swiss chard gets planted early and flourishes through the growing season. Plant chard in full sun and water regularly. Try ‘City Lights’ for greens with eye-popping color: red, orange and magenta stalks. A good source of vitamins A and C as well as iron, Swiss chard belongs to the beet family. When washed and wrapped loosely in paper towels, and then bagged, chard will keep well in the refrigerator for a few days.

3. Kitchen Herbs
Most herbs thrive in Denver’s heat, sun and clay soils. Herbs tend to be tough, and even if you don’t have a garden, you can grow kitchen herbs in a container with drainage holes. Just add potting soil, then pop in a few culinary herbs. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and, yes, thyme all grow readily in hot sun. Chives are a good choice, too. Don’t forget basil; you could be making your own pesto if all grows well.

4. Lettuce
Growing food from seed feeds the soul, along with the body. Not all seeds grow readily, but lettuce does. You’ll relish cutting fresh leaves for salads or sandwiches, and cutting back lettuce keeps plants producing until the heat of summer wilts them. You’ll find lots of lettuce varieties available in bedding plants or seeds. The mesclun mixes provide a gourmet touch.

(Photo by Colleen Smith)

5. Pansies
Pretty pansies are, in fact, edible. You’ll find these sweet flowers in the most chic blends of salad greens. Or use pansies as a lovely garnish and let your guests decide whether they want to ingest the blossoms. Pansies thrive in containers, too, and will perk up your porch, patio, beds or borders. Available in a rainbow of cheerful colors, pansies are some of the first plants to kick off springtime in the Rockies. Though their name became a synonym for weakness, pansies are tough. They’ll tolerate Denver’s unpredictable weather, including late spring blizzards. Keep your pansies watered and out of hot sun, and they’ll flower past the 4th of July.

Local Businesses To Help You Get Started

You can find vegetable seeds and bedding plants at big box stores such as Home Depot, but greenhouses offer a broader selection. For everything you need to get growing, try these five metro Denver garden stores.

City Floral
1440 Kearney St.
Denver, CO 80220
(303) 399-1177

Echter’s Nursery and Garden Center
5150 Garrison St.
Arvada, CO, 80002
(303) 424-7979

Nick’s Garden Center & Farm Market
2001 South Chambers Road
Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 696-6657

6300 North Broadway
Denver, CO 80216
(303) 429-8062

Tagawa Gardens
7711 S. Parker Road
Centennial, CO 80016
(720) 837-2985

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