For more than 30 years, City Gardner and Landscape Designer Maria Barndt has created lush beauty in Park City’s public spaces including the iconic Miners Hospital.

Maria Barndt, landscape designer and gardener for Park City Municipal since 1981 and a founding member of the Park City Garden Club, is all too familiar with the ups and downs of gardening at altitude.

“Gardening up here has always been a challenge,” Barndt says. “But I’ve never been one to be afraid of a challenge.” She oversees several planting areas around Park City proper, including the Miners Hospital, the Park City Library grounds, Old Town Transit Center and the Quinn Recreation Complex to name a few. The key, she says, to giving plants the best possible chance in surviving and thriving in Park City’s harsh climate is the soil. “Much of the soil in and around Old Town is really good, but many of the beds surrounding new homes are made up of dirt the builder simply moved out of the way during the construction process. If you plant anything and want it to live, good quality, nutrient rich soil is essential,” she says.

Over the years, Barndt has tried and had success with several soil amendments. A couple of her favorites include Nutramulch or sterilized steer manure, both of which need to be worked into the soil to a depth of at least five inches to minimize their sometimes offensive odor. 

Another tip from Barndt: Take the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs in the fall. Varieties that fare well in the mountains include crocus, grape hyacinths, snowdrops, Dutch iris and narcissus. Barndt also plants hundreds of daffodil bulbs every fall for their sunny yellow springtime appearance and because they don’t attract voles the way tulips do. “I really think bulbs are the key to a beautiful garden,” she says. “As soon as the snow melts, you’ll have some color in your yard while everything else is still brown.” Plant bulbs in late September to a depth of only two-and-a-half times the width of the bulb, never deeper. Park City’s heavy snows tend to compact the soil making it tough for bulbs planted deeper to make their way to the surface in the spring.

In addition to challenges posed by Park City’s short growing season (generally from June 15 to the end of September), deer can be a problem for anyone living in the mountains, whether down in Old Town on Daly Avenue or up above 8,000 feet in the Aerie. Keeping these attractive, but potentially destructive members of the animal kingdom away from your plants—particularly the tender, delicious and attractive annual flowers—is an ongoing struggle.

Park City Nursery Co-owner and author of High Altitude Planting: A Practical Guide to Landscaping, Gardening and Planting Above 6,000 feet Ann Barrett recommends lathering foliage with Lifeboy soap, misting plants once a week following a rain with a blender-mixed concoction of one quart water/one egg/one tsp. Szechuan hot oil and fencing off tender new shoots and young plants or using a commercial repellent like Ro-Pel, This-1-Works or Deer Away.

Want to learn more? The Park City Garden Club meets weekly March through December. Membership is limited to 45 and there is a waiting list. For details, contact Shauna Kerr at shauna.kerr@yahoo.com.

Utah-based freelance writer Melissa Fields writes regularly for Salt Lake Magazine, Utah Style & Design and Park City Magazine. Her blog is utahvagabond.com.