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Go native in the garden

Looking to be more “green” in the garden? In the last few weeks, I’ve written about water use, yard waste, and lawn removal. Now, it’s time to turn some attention to plants that help us “green” up our environment. Going with native plants appropriate to our altitude, climate, moisture, and soil is the easiest way to save water, reduce yard waste, and keep use of pesticides and herbicides to a minimum. Native plantings, along with less lawn and a well maintained micro-irrigation (drip) system, save time, money, and labor now–but the greatest saving will be the preservation of our unique and beautiful mountain environment for the many generations to come.

The use of native plants dovetails beautifully with “xeriscaping””derived from the Greek words “xeros” (dry) and “scape” (view/scene). Don’t let the name fool you. Xeriscapes are anything but dry. In fact, they are “green” in every sense of the word. Xeriscape involves water-wise plants that grow slowly in their natural environment. Contrast native plants with a lawn of Kentucky Blue grass, and the saving potential becomes obvious.

You’ve probably already heard that lawns take up about 50% of our water budget. Add to that the clippings that we throw every year into landfills, the pesticides and fertilizers that pollute our underground water systems, and you can see how each of us reducing lawn, even just a little, and going “native” with our plants will result in huge savings for the future.



Native and adaptable plants come in an array of beautiful colors and foliage. White Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa marginata) is one of the most water-wise plants for our environment. It grows 6-12 inches in height and has lovely, papery white blossoms that open every afternoon and close every morning. This charming plant has thick, long, grayish to dark green leaves, and has very low water requirements easily met by micro-irrigation. The blooms also come in yellow-white and pink varieties.

Penstemon comes in so many varieties of color and foliage that it is a joy to grow. You can choose from clear pink, rose-purple, creamy-white, and even deep blue, among many other colors. Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus)is hardy to 8,000 feet, grows 18-24 inches, and has glossy-green foliage. Its midnight blue flowers form open spikes and bloom in early to midsummer. Yellow Pineleaf Penstemon (Penstemon pinofolius ‘Mersea Yellow’) has unusual shrubby foliage that forms a great backdrop for its delicate, tube-like yellow blossoms.



Partridge Feather (Tanacetum densum amani) has amazing silvery-white foliage that resembles delicately curled feathers, hence its name. It grows 6-8 inches, and its yellow “button” flowers bloom in early summer.

Many shrubs are also water-wise and help “green” up your landscape. While Juniper is a popular choice in our landscapes, there are other shrubs that are more drought tolerant. Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is one of my favorites because of its fragrant foliage. It grows in an open, round form to a height and spread of 3-4 feet. Its delicate gray-green leaves are topped with small, rich blue flowers that are a delight in mid-to-late summer.

Red Lake Currant (Ribes silvestre ‘Red Lake’) grows in a rounded form, but its branches are irregular. In mid-spring, its has white flowers that grow in “strings,” and are followed by bright red, edible berries toward summer. Be aware that critters will be as attracted to currants as we are.

Of course, native, drought tolerant plants need extra watering in the first few seasons to become established, just like any other plant. After a few years, they’ll need less water and will beautify your landscape year after year with much less effort than a lawn or non-native plants require.

Consider some of these wonderful, native plants as you reduce lawn, add a micro-irrigation system, and re-plant with water-wise varieties that require less water, produce less waste, need less pesticides and fertilizers, all while cutting water use, yard waste, and beautifying our already outstanding environment. Again, less equals more. Going native and being “green” will ensure our “mountain majesty” for us, our children, and our future.


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