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An island of beauty

Barbara Hiatt gets her hands dirty making sure neighborhood has a welcoming entrance
by: Jonathan House, Barbara Hiatt has spent two years keeping the Burnsridge subdivision entrance a colorful place.

Barbara Hiatt is a woman of vision.

She's also a woman of action.

For two years the Cooper Mountain resident has worked tirelessly to transform what was an island of weeds into a welcome entry into her Burnsridge neighborhood.

The 400-foot-long, 8-foot-wide strip for years had become an eyesore for neighbors as they turned onto Southwest Monte Verdi Boulevard from 185th Avenue.

Hiatt, who has lived in the neighborhood for 29 years, decided to make tending the island a pet project.

'I took it on a little over two years ago after I retired,' Hiatt said as she swept up leaves from the roadway surrounding the island. 'It was nothing but a big weed patch, and it was embarrassing actually.'

After talking with neighbors and enlisting some initial help, she set out to tackle the ambitious process of weeding, planting, tending and maintaining the long strip of land.

'I want it to be absolutely full of self-sustaining plants,' she said of her vision for the island. 'I'd like this to be a zero-scape eventually, where the plants can maintain themselves without any added water.

'But until then, I have to carry water down here to water the plants until they're established and have a strong root system.'

Because the strip is not hooked up to a water line, Hiatt must fill six, five-gallon jugs with water from her home a block away, load it into her minivan, drive down to the entryway and begin the nearly two-hour process of watering by hand the grasses, shrubs, flowers and trees that she planted throughout the island.

Taking winter off

During the summer months she tends the large planter about 20 hours a week.

'I try to keep the plants watered enough so that they survive during the summer,' she explained.

In addition to watering, she collects trash, pulls weeds, deadheads flowers and rakes up leaves she encounters.

Her workload tapers off in the fall when she dedicates three full days to working the soil and planting.

As fall nears, she frequents every bargain area within local nurseries on her hunt for $1 plants that she thinks might survive the fall and winter.

'I look for plants I've seen in other island situations,' she said. 'If they grow in a commercial lot and are doing ok, I'll try them.

'But before I do, I check to make sure there's no hidden sprinkler heads. I try to copy what works in other islands like this one, and buy plants they have.'

Hiatt takes the winter off from her gardening duties before launching into her busy spring weeding season.

It's not uncommon for neighbors driving by to stop and praise her hard work.

'I've had people stop and hand me $20 bills to spend on supplies and plants,' Hiatt said. 'Only a few people have come down and actually helped.

'I get a lot of smiles and waves. I have people that stop every day and tell me, 'Oh, it looks so beautiful!' I don't think it does quite yet, but eventually it will.'

A lot of work

Although she's proud of the progress she's made in the past couple years, Hiatt admits she can't help wishing it was further along.

'I just see the work,' Hiatt said. 'I'd love for a garden club to take this project under their wing. I'd love design help and advice.

'One day I want it to be so lush that it looks like a natural fence of year-round color with the shrubs as filler and flowers as accents.'

With the vision of what the island can be in her head, she gladly continues her work.

'These plants are my babies now,' Hiatt said. 'I have three yards to care for - one at my house, another at our beach house and this one. It's a good thing I enjoy gardening.'

Those who know Hiatt are amazed by her willingness to go out of her way to maintain the neighborhood island and entryway.

'My friends tell me it's not my job to make the world beautiful one yard at a time, but I like it and in a few years it will look really nice,' Hiatt said. 'It's a lot of work, but when you take on something like this you've got to see it through.'