Tag Archives: xeriscape

Pretty Tough Plants Book Review

I love the name of the new book by the experts at Plant Select. Pretty Tough Plants describes the family of Plant Select plants perfectly.

If you’ve grown any of these beautiful plants that are so well-suited to our gardens, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t grown any Plant Select recommendations, what’s stopping you? These are the plants that can help you be a more successful gardener.

Plant Select calls itself “a nonprofit collaboration of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists.” I call it one of the best plant testing and introduction programs in the country.

Pretty Tough Plants: 135 Resilient, Water-Smart Choices for a Beautiful Garden (Timber Press, 2017) is a follow-up to Durable Plants for the Garden: A Plant Select Guide published in 2009.

This new edition seems to be more user friendly, both by its manageable size and in the plant presentations. Plants are divided into groups that include tender perennials and annuals, petites, groundcovers, perennials, grasses, vines, shrubs, and trees and conifers.

Each Plant Select description includes its scientific name, common name, mature size, flower type, bloom time, and best features. Understandable icons give details on sun and water requirements, as well as if the plant attracts pollinators or if deer resist browsing it.

The “Landscape Use” information is meant for gardeners who have difficulty matching plants to place or are unsure of how to combine plants for the most striking effect. The descriptions make suggestions for perfect placement and the best Plant Select companions.

Many of the gorgeous, full-color images show both a close-up view of the plant and a shot of how it looks in the landscape when in full bloom. One of my favorites is Redleaf rose (Rosa glauca) shown as a fabulous specimen plant, and closeups of the star-like single pink flowers and brilliant red hips.

An especially nice feature for this volume is the Plant Reference Guide in the back of the book. This guide provides a quick resource for matching the right Plant Select plant to the right spot in the landscape.

Besides the typical categories, there are two additional and interesting categories: Special landscape use and North American roots. Not every plant has a special landscape use, but when a plant is recommended for “dry shade, cold hardy,” like Denver Gold columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), gardeners can trust the endorsement.

Prairie Jewel penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus) is one Pretty Tough Plant in my xeriscape.

I’ve grown many different Plant Select recommendations in my perennial beds, and I can vouch for their resilience – one of the seven qualities a plant has to have to be added to the program.

In addition to being able to stand up to a challenging climate, Plant Select plants have to thrive in a variety of conditions, be water smart, have that “it” factor, resist insect pests and plant diseases, offer long-lasting beauty, and aren’t invasive.

I can tell Pretty Tough Plants was a labor of love by a group of passionate plant people. The photo credits read like a list of area Who’s Who, from well-known horticulturists to CSU Extension Master Gardeners. Pat Hayward and David Winger had the happy task of sorting and selecting images, including many of their own.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener
(Timber Press provided a complimentary copy of Pretty Tough Plants for this review.)

Is Your Xeriscape Ready for the Spotlight?

xeriscapeIf you think your water wise garden is ready for its close up, the Denver Botanic Gardens would like to hear from you. The DBG is looking for showcase gardens to feature on its Bonfils Stanton Water Wise Landscape Tour this spring.

Denver metro area gardeners who’ve taken their landscape water conservation efforts to the next level are encouraged to apply to be a tour garden. Selected gardens demonstrate the key principles of a water-wise landscape design.

To be considered, your xeriscape should feature a yard with either less traditional lawn or lawn alternatives, include native flowers and shrubs, have plantings of other drought-tolerant plants, and use water-conserving irrigation systems. It should also be beautiful, too.

The selected landscapes need to be in peak shape on Saturday, June 17, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

If you have an anxiety attack at the thought of a few hundred people strolling through your backyard, this opportunity might not be for you. But if you’d like to help inspire others with your xeriscaping efforts, you might enjoy chatting with people throughout the day and answering questions about your experience, how the design saves water, how much maintenance is required, and the names of individual plants.

If you’re interested, apply sooner rather than later. “This is a rolling admission process so early submissions may improve the likelihood of selection,” says the DBG. For more information and to receive an application, send an email to Rachael Jaffe (rachael.jaffe@botanicgardens.org) or call 720-865-3613.

Getting Started with Xeriscaping

If your landscape isn’t tour-worthy – or you’ve been thinking about xeriscaping and don’t know where to start – now’s a good time start planning. Start by rethinking the ways you currently use water in your yard.

If that sounds overwhelming, start by transforming a small portion of your landscape. Small xeriscapes will still help conserve water. Look around your landscape and find the places where water use is the highest. Then find ways to reduce or limit irrigation, like seldom-used areas or parts of the yard that are highly maintained.

One of the best ways to save water in the landscape is by cutting back on turfgrass. How much irrigated lawn do you need and how much can be replaced with a lawn alternative? Just because you’ve always had a large lawn doesn’t mean you use it. Low-water grasses, ground covers, perennial flowers, and drought-tolerant shrubs can fill the space.

Another way to save is by rethinking ways to irrigate lawn areas separately from planting areas. Traditional systems can be replaced by low-pressure, low-angle sprinklers. In flower beds, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses under mulch.

Fill your xeriscape with colorful, climate-adapted plants that are known to grow well in our area, like the plants introduced through the Plant Select program. Group plants by their water needs, clustering together those that use less water in drier areas and those that need slightly more water in moister areas.

Mulch is also an important part of a xeriscape because it helps maintain soil moisture and reduce soil temperature. Depending on the plants you select, you may need rock, gravel, bark, wood chips or straw. Some xeric plants do better with inorganic mulches that let fast-falling rains percolate down to plant roots while reducing runoff.

CSU Extension has many excellent (and free) resources for getting started with xeriscaping. This fact sheet on transforming a conventional landscape to a xeriscape may lead to having your yard be part of a water wise garden tour in the future.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Five Favorite Bulletproof Plants for Denver Gardening

Just about every gardener I know lost a favorite plant or two over the winter. Most of my hardy roses died to the ground, but eventually returned.  Sadly, the tall and lovely redleaf rose (Rosa rubifolia) is gone for good. Whether a rose, shrub or fruit tree, losing a prized plant is like losing an old garden pal.

The only way to get over the loss is to replant with something that will survive the challenges of living in our climate. Here are five bulletproof plants that seem to thrive in spite of the vagaries of weather:

Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle smallKintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle (Lonicera reticulata ‘Kintzley’s Ghost’)

If you’re looking for a dependable woody plant, Kintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle is it. I planted this Plant Select recommendation years ago and it continues to surprise me every year. The vine does well with only the precipitation it receives. When there’s wet weather through the winter and spring, it grows a bit taller with more foliage. During drier years it still shows up and looks good. In addition to its low-water, low-maintenance needs, I appreciate the eucalyptus-like foliage on vines that crawl up and over the picket fence.

Gold flame spirea smallGoldflame spirea (Spirea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’)

In 2001 I planted three of these tidy shrubs and they’re still going strong. Even after the shock of the sudden freeze last November, all three returned with only a few dead branches. A quick trim was all they needed. This spirea is a compact deciduous shrub that grows to about 3 feet tall and just as wide. Drought-tolerant once established, it can brighten any spot with crimson-red leaves in spring that turn to vibrant green by summer. Reddish-bronze fall color is an added bonus. Small pink flowers can bloom twice over the season if dead-headed.

Silver Fountain butterfly bush smallSilver Fountain butterfly bush (Buddleia alternifolia)

This Plant Select winner is a beautiful shrub with graceful arching branches. In spring there are tons of light-purple flower clusters that attract butterflies like crazy. If you plant one, be sure to give it plenty of room because it can grow to more than 10 feet tall and wide. I’ve found the only downside is the long branches are surprisingly brittle during winter and some may break under heavy loads of snow — nature’s way of pruning so you don’t have to. This butterfly bush prefers well-drained soil and is adaptable to low-water conditions.

yarrow smallMoonshine yarrow (Achillea ‘Moonshine’)

Some gardeners think yarrow is the least sophisticated of the xeric plants, but I appreciate it because it loves my landscape. Its tall, shrub-like habit makes a nice backdrop in a xeriscape garden and the silvery-gray foliage and bright yellow flowers really shine in summer. I started with two plants but yarrow needs to be divided every few years, so I’ve transplanted more around the yard. I leave some flowers on the plant through winter, but I also clip some to use in dry table arrangements and crafts projects.

Brown-eyed Susans smallBrown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)

Brown-eyed Susan is smaller than its black-eyed cousin, and that’s fine with me. This biennial coneflower behaves more like a perennial because of its generous seed-sowing nature. My large collection started as two small starts and have spread throughout the garden on their own. The sunny yellow, daisy-like flowers have beautiful brown “eyes” and stand tall from mid-summer through fall. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the long-lasting blooms, but they make nice cutting flowers, too.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener