Back in February, Colorado Springs’ own “garden father,” Larry Stebbins, came up with an idea to spur more backyard gardening.

A gardening enthusiast, retired educator and former director of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, Stebbins regularly offers tips and advice for free to gardeners new and old on his blog, thegardenfather.com. He was inspired to share his knowledge to a wider audience after attending a PPUG sustainability-themed meeting at the Ivywild School last winter, where the question was posed: “How do we get more food grown locally?”

“I just raised my hand and said ‘Everybody, we can do this!’” Stebbins recalled. His idea was to “just lean over your fence if you’re a gardener and offer to help your neighbor start a garden.”

Stebbins decided to do that on a grander, more public scale by kicking off what he called the 100 Garden Challenge. In these pages in mid-February, Stebbins launched his 100 Garden Challenge, putting a call out to the Gazette’s readership to start new gardens.

“I wanted to show everybody out there that you can do it, too,” Stebbins said. He asked some local garden centers to donate coupons to the cause, then asked anyone who wasn’t a gardener already to commit to starting a vegetable or herb garden to enter his contest. Everyone who entered got the coupons, a chance to win bigger donated prizes and the opportunity to solicit Stebbins’ advice.

“All the stores already had coupons available. I just put the contest out on my email list, Facebook and blog. Also, I wanted to get mentors involved and offered them coupons to reward them for helping a new gardener get started,” he said.

To enter, the prospective gardener needed to send Stebbins a photo of the “bare earth” where the garden was planned. He received 42 entries.

The “best garden of the year,” judged by Stebbins on “aesthetics and production” at the end of the gardening season (which was determined to be mid-August), would win Stebbins’ latest gardening book, a $125 gift certificate to Harding Nursery, a $100 gift certificate to Don’s Garden Shop and a $50 King Soopers gift card donated by The Gazette. The second-place winner would receive a $75 gift certificate to Harding Nursery and a $50 gift certificate to Don’s Garden Shop. The third-place winner would receive a $50 gift certificate to Harding Nursery and a $25 gift certificate to Don’s Garden Shop. Donations were also procured from Sunset Greenhouse, Rick’s Garden Center and Good Earth Garden Center. The top three finishers would also be named in a Gazette article.

Fast forward six months and only 11 of those entrants had followed through by sending “after” photos of their completed gardens.

“I sent email reminders to everyone asking for photos by mid-August, but some people just never responded,” Stebbins said. “That’s to be expected with vacations. People get busy.”

Out of those 11 finishers, the winners were selected. Stebbins enlisted the help of two fellow gardening enthusiasts to judge the gardens. Here are the winners:

Karma Duggin

Rob Rodine

Ronnie Bincer

Duggin’s garden was hands-down the winner because “she had raised beds that were really tastefully done. Both judges agreed it was the nicest one,” Stebbins said.

“Her beautiful raised beds complemented her backyard. The white hoops held up hail netting to protect her plants from harsh weather,” he said.

Rodine, who took second place, “transformed his backyard,” Stebbins said. The contest was “just the push he needed” to install a terraced garden on a hill complete with a chicken coop with an automatic door opener for the chickens. “The door closes in the evening after all the chickens are safely inside,” Stebbins said.

Third-place winner Bincer “loves to ask questions. There are people who garden for 30 years but garden the same way every year. Then there are people like Ronnie Bincer who try new things and try to improve their mistakes,” Stebbins said. “As a result, his garden was really extremely productive.”

Excess garden produce from contestants was donated to Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado.

Although the final number of gardens started for the contest fell short of 100, Stebbins is pleased with the results.

“It was well worth it and it was fun for me to do. Each morning I’d wake up and find new questions in my email. That was a joy. It was worth it to show the experiment works,” he said.

“I’m going to try again next year. I think we can do it!” Stebbins said. “And in a decade we’ll have all the people in Colorado Springs growing their own food.”

Contact the writer: 476-1618

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