Barbara Hyde Boardman leaves a growing legacy across Colorado's landscape
Barbara Hyde Boardman, a two-time CSU graduate who served as a CSU Extension horticulture agent in Boulder County for 17 years, passed away in mid-January, just a month shy of her 99th birthday.
A pioneer in her industry, Boardman was the first woman to enroll in CSU’s horticulture program. She earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the University and ultimately went on to become the country’s second ever female Extension horticulturalist.
“I was always a gardener interested in flowers.”
– Barbara Hyde Boardman
In an interview with Denver Master Gardener Jodi Torpey from 2017, she shared that whenever there was enough money in her county’s long-distance phone budget she would call the nation’s other lone female horticulture agent to share stories and laugh off the way their male agents would put them down.
In her role, Boardman helped launch the Master Gardener program in Colorado, which began in 1975 with the goal of building a volunteer network of community horticulturalists who could share resources and support aspiring gardeners.
She trained over 500 volunteers for the program in Boulder County alone. Through her efforts, countless community members were able to pursue their dreams of becoming successful gardeners and create thriving natural environments that would go on to grace backyards, blossom into community gardens and adorn patios across Colorado.
Since the 1970s, Colorado Master Gardeners has seen a dramatic increase in volunteers. In 2022, nearly 1,500 volunteers across the state spent more than 45,000 hours of their time to share advice and conduct outreach with over 178,000 Coloradans.
“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Master Gardener program in the US this year, we remember Barbara as a leader and champion for the program in Colorado,” said Katie Dunker, CSU Extension programs director and current chair of the Extension Master Gardener National Committee.
“Barbara was one of the most dedicated and knowledgeable professionals I have ever known. She was passionate about making sure that everyone from first-time gardeners to professionals knew the best way to garden. It was an honor to not only work along side her, but to also consider her such a wonderful friend.”
– Bonnie Glass, Extension Home Economist, Boulder County - 1971-1990
Boardman also wrote four books later in her career, Gardening the Mountain West (Volumes I and II) , Now Is the Time and Gardening for Children and their Grandparents.
In her interview with Torpey, Boardman said that when she was trying to get her first book out into the world, a publisher she shared the only copy of her manuscript with took issue with the book because it included “too much Latin” and refused to publish it or return her original.
She relentlessly pestered him to return the manuscript. Finally, one evening he drove to her house and threw it on the front steps where it landed with a thud.
“I didn’t care,” she says. “I got my book back.”
Undeterred, she ended up self-publishing Gardening in the Mountain West.
The opening paragraph of Gardening in the Mountain West highlights one of the reasons Boardman felt so compelled to help people understand the value of the natural world and the impact they could have through the simple act of gardening.
[When considering how to renovate your home landscape] a feeling of hopelessness may ensue, but optimism usually returns when you begin to picture tall trees, lawn, shrubs and flowers, and perhaps, a vegetable garden or a swimming pool. Why do we risk a deflated bank account, blisters and sprains to achieve this picture? Psychiatrists have a name for it. They call it “the primal association.” It means that even if you have been born and reared surrounded by asphalt, concrete, glass and steel, there is a pre-history, primitive part of you that associates with a green scene. You need plants around you to be totally comfortable.
– Barbara Hyde Boardman, Gardening in the Mountain West
Born out of Boardman’s deep care for the Colorado Master Gardener program, she created an endowed fund to help develop new programs statewide. Recently, the endowment supplied four mini-grants, including two school gardening outreach projects, a native plant audio tour project and the creation of youth pollinator kits.
“Her legacy lives on through her fund, which allows us to amplify her gift across the state through multiple projects and empower local communities through horticulture,” Dunker said.
Building a successful future from the ground up
Boardman was born in Palisade, Colo., and grew up in the fruit industry.
“I earned money for books and clothes by packing all of the fruits as they came into season,” Boardman said. “I was always a gardener interested in flowers, such as perennials and roses. I was even interested in turf grass.”
After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the University of Colorado with a scholarship leading to medical school, but after World War II, she said that her choices were limited.
“I was given the choice of either nursing or medical technology,” Boardman said. “But, I really wanted to be a doctor.”
So, she elected to end her college studies to follow her soon-to-be husband and Army pilot, Bill Hyde, as he trekked across the country teaching men how to fly and fight in the sky.
When the war ended, Boulder became their home as Hyde enrolled in law school. His law career also took them to Grand Junction, where Hyde practiced with James K. Groves until Hyde was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
His diagnosis led the couple to Fort Collins, where Boardman enrolled in CSU’s horticulture program.
“I remember my classmates being the same age as our son,” she laughed. She also remembered how funny her fellow classmates were and how well they treated her.
“They would yank me over fences on field trips and ask me embarrassing questions about how to ask a girl for a date,” she said. “They were really great to be with.”
At her commencement, which she says were “very solemn affairs in those days,” she stood in line with others graduating with honors. When her turn came, President Morgan held out her diploma as her classmates directed the audience to cheer.
“I think I startled President Morgan because he dropped the diploma,” Boardman said. “As we both reached down for it, he said, ‘shall we start over?’ The audience roared.”
The start of a career in horticulture
Boardman’s first job, which she landed before graduation, was assistant to the chief horticulturist at the St. Louis Missouri Botanic Garden, the oldest garden in the country.
But at the same time, the nationwide enthusiasm for “all things gardening” was booming and began to overwhelm agriculture extension agents across the country, who at the time, knew very little about horticulture.
In Colorado, this boom resulted in the Colorado Legislature voting to create a new extension position. Homesick for Colorado, Boardman interviewed for the position, which was in the Boulder County Extension, and she and her husband made their way back to Colorado.
Because of the deluge of horticulture questions coming in from the public, Boardman helped create the Master Gardener program, which included seven Colorado counties.
“We asked volunteers who were good gardeners and needed minimal training from us agents to contribute a few hours per week,” she said. They became our best friends and colleagues in new garden clubs.”
After 17 years with Boulder County Extension, Boardman retired but continued to write her weekly newspaper column on gardening, “Now Is the Time,” for many years.
“I was said to have interrupted many Saturday morning golf games because of that article,” she chuckled.
In 2009, Boardman was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Extension Award for her impact and awareness of CSU Extension as a source of information. She extended CSU in the fullest sense.