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There's a new kid in town with seven acres of prime land and a sweeping peak view that'll knock your socks off. Businessman and expert junk collector Larry Ash has turned an old abandoned dairy in the Hillside neighborhood (just south and east of downtown) into a gardener's paradise, complete with gift shop, koi ponds, a waterfall, hundreds of bird-houses and bird feeders, and plans for a geodesic dome greenhouse, a coffee shop, classroom space and an amphitheater. Ash purchased the land two years ago and spent most of that time clearing it of industrial waste and hardware, keeping only the mature trees and three existing buildings on the site. The result, still a work in progress, is Hillside Gardens and Nursery, Ash's answer to the eternal question: How can I figure out a way to work outdoors?

The grounds are partially planted, with a xeriscape garden next to the parking lot, a large cutting garden that will be available for customers to raid come July, shade gardens, a round perennial bed and a rose garden. Inside the tin-roofed shed are tools, seeds, soil amendments and a whimsical collection of birdhouses, all for sale.

Ash, who doesn't even claim to be a gardener, but who is passionately interested, invites all green thumbs to converge on his space and help him pursue the dream of a green gathering place with an educational focus -- a place to grow plants as well as minds. Watching his eclectic vision come to life is well worth a visit. Just take Fountain Boulevard from downtown, east to Institute and turn right. You'll know you're there when you see the tall fence and the unusual columns made of gigantic spent rocket casings from World War II, treasures picked up by Ash in a junk collecting trip to White Sands, New Mexico. Bring a book and linger on a bench in the rose garden, a little rusted-out potbelly stove at your feet, the sound of tumbling water in the distance, and the view to die for. Hillside Gardens and Nursery, 1006 S. Institute St., 520-9463.

Plant a Row for the Hungry is a national program which, in years past, has enjoyed strong participation from Springs gardeners. The brainchild of the Garden Writers Association of America (GWA), Plant a Row was conceived as a way to assist in feeding the homeless and hungry of local communities. Launched in 1995, the purpose was to encourage gardeners to grow a little extra and, presumably, waste a little less. Tell the truth. How many times have you thrown your surplus squash or zucchini back in the compost pile? And what about that mountain of green beans you picked but didn't have time to can? Ken Hall of Good Earth Garden Center, 1330 N. Walnut will start you off with a bag of goodies including a plant row marker; a brochure about the program; a coupon for a free tomato or pepper plant (4-inch pot); a coupon for a free 2 1/2-inch vegetable plant; a coupon for 10 percent off any single item purchase, excluding sale items (expires June 15); and he'll throw in a package of free seeds to get you started. Also participating in the program is Los Robles Nursery , 922 W. Costilla Street. For more info, call Good Earth at 473-3399; Los Robles at 636-3258; or Care and Share at 528-6767.

Speaking of Los Robles, a friend called me last weekend to gush over her pansies in shades that brought to mind memories of pastel gelatos on the streets of Italy. "I got one the color of orange sherbet," she said. "And one the color of lemon chiffon pie." Good thing she went plant shopping instead of grocery shopping, I observed when she began rhapsodizing over the difference between the bright lemon shade and the more diffuse banana shade.

Got a question about absolutely anything imaginable related to gardening? Dial Planttalk Colorado, a free service of the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver Botanic Gardens and Green Industries of Colorado. A free phone call will get you all you need to know about growing everything from Italian kitchen garden plants to miniature pumpkins at high altitude. Dial 888/666-3063 and listen to the voice mail instructions, or go to their website -- www.coop.ext.colostate.edu/Planttalk -- for a complete list of topics and number codes. `

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