Native Plants for Evergreen Gardens
Natives are “in” in the garden. At the March meeting of the Evergreen Garden Club, our program “Go Native!” was enthusiastically received by the largest audience of the year. Likewise, Evergreen’s other garden club, the Moonlight Garden Club, has designated this year as the year to “Plant Native.” What has brought about the growing trend toward using natives in our mountain area gardens?
It may be that the recent years of drought and watering restrictions have fostered an interest in native plants, most of which require little supplemental water once established. Perhaps, the extraordinary wildflower displays put on by Mother Nature in 2005 has enticed gardeners to attempt to replicate such magnificence (albeit on a smaller scale) in their own backyards. Maybe our increasingly hectic lifestyles have created an appreciation for plants that are naturally carefree. Or perhaps it is our desire to restore, to some extent, the natural environment that our ever- expanding community has displaced. Whatever the reasons, using native plants benefits both the gardener and the surrounding environment.
The local foothills area has such a wealth of natives …wildflowers, grasses, groundcovers, shrubs and trees… with an array of exquisite foliage, texture, blossoms and berries.
They have coexisted with the native fauna and have adapted to the variable microclimates, soils, temperatures and elevations that exist throughout the Evergreen area. They have evolved to withstand anything the natural environment can throw at them…hail, drought, early frost, intense sun, even browsing and trampling by wildlife. In fact, unlike many fussy ornamentals, they like living here! They make gardening easier and less frustrating. At the same time, they help support the diverse community of animals, insects and microorganisms native to our local area.
Natives are becoming more available both as propagated plants at our local nurseries or as seeds through reputable seed companies. Purchasing seeds or plants are the best ways to obtain natives for your garden. Seed collecting and plant gathering is forbidden on certain public lands and a special use permit is required for others. Refer to the Colorado Native Plant Society website for detailed information on the ethics and legality of native plant collection. This website will also provide a comprehensive list entitled “Suggested Native Plants for Horticultural Use on the Front Range of Colorado.” (www.CoNPS.org)
Direct seeding provides a natural look and gives tremendous bang for the buck.
Sowing seeds is an excellent way to go if you have a large area to revegetate, such as in the case of new construction. I restored approximately two acres surrounding my newly constructed home in 2001. All grasses and herbaceous plants were sown from seed purchased from Western Native Seed out of Coaldale, Colorado. The Western Native Seed website provides photos and growing requirements for seeds, which can be purchased by individual species or in premixed collections, which have been prepared for the various life zones of Colorado. (www.westernnativeseed.com) Natives seeds are also available from Beauty Beyond Belief.
Based out of Fort Collins, these seeds are available in our local nurseries. Beware, however, of inexpensive “wildflower meadow in a can” products. You may obtain rather “pretty” results the first year because of the high concentration of annuals found in these products. In the following years, the annuals will be gone and the perennials rarely emerge to take their place. Even if they do come up, you will find few, if any, natives. Many of these products also contain plants such as dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and others classified either as invasive or as noxious weeds in Colorado. (Go to the Colorado Native Plant Society website for a listing of plant species to avoid.)
If you want immediate results or to increase your assured rate of gardening success, purchase plants from reputable nurseries rather than plant from seed. As the demand for natives has increased, so has the availability of native plants in Colorado nurseries. If you want to be sure you are purchasing the true natives, purchase plants by their full botanical name rather than their common name.
You don’t need acres of land to get stunning results from seeding, nor do you need to replace your entire nonnative garden with new native plants. Sow or plant natives among existing perennials in a garden bed or border. Allow them to fill in spaces between such native shrubs as serviceberry (Amelanchier ailnfolia) or shrubby cinquefoil (potentilla fruticosa) Or you may want to confine your ornamentals close to your house in your more “civilized” garden beds and sow or plant your natives in the outer sections of your gardens in a more “designed by nature” manner.
The knowledgeable staff at our local nurseries can provide suggestions on how to establish a native plant garden and how to combine natives with ornamentals. Browsing through garden catalogs and websites that offer native plants along with nonnative suited for our high elevation gardens such as High Country Gardens (www.highcountrygardens.com) will give you information on what plants will do well in the various microclimates of your garden and which plants look good in combination. My favorite publication on native gardening is Native Plants for the High Elevation Western Garden by Janice Busco and Nancy Morin. It provides much information on natives and recommendations for combining plants with similar growing conditions.
A stroll through the native plant areas of the Denver Botanic Gardens or Vail’s Betty Ford Alpine Gardens will also provide ideas for your own garden design. Or simply observe the surrounding environment where you will find native bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) occupying an aspen meadow along with black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) or Rocky Mountain columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) growing with Rocky Mountain wild iris (Iris missouriensis) beside a shaded mountain stream. Recreating such natural montages in your own garden will reward you with a garden style, which is uniquely Colorado.
The Native Plants/Flowers pictured on this page have been offered at the Annual Evergreen Garden Club Plant Sale.