October 1, 2008 | Dominique Bayne, Former Senior Horticulturist

The Plains Garden

The benefits of growing native plants are many - they are easy to grow, they increase native biodiversity, they reduce the risk of introducing invasives, and they use little water to name a few. In fall though, probably more than any other time of year, the overriding reason is their beauty.

It is easy to be jealous of Panayoti experiencing the South African spring right now however a walk around the gardens makes me see how much he is missing right here. The view of the plains garden from the top of Dryland Mesa makes me wonder why I ever want to grow non-natives. The Plains Garden was burned this spring and it was amazing to watch the lush soft greens come back from the black ground. When other gardens needed more supplemental water than usual this June and July (we got less than an inch of precipitation in those two months combined this year) this, and other un-watered native gardens,  continued to flourish. Right now the greens are fading to rich shades of red and brown with masses of yellow and purple flowers and the seed-heads are glowing in the sunlight.

There is something about our native plants that, unsurprisingly, works better aesthetically than exotics with the Colorado light and seasons. The dahlias are beautiful but after spending a few minutes enjoying the complexity and subtlety of the colors and textures in the native plant gardens they seem sort of jarring and out of place. I think I love fall for its overabundance; the plant world gives everything it has in one last push before winter dormancy. Native plants are naturally more in tune with this than any others.

If you want to include a few natives in your garden here is a list of my current favorites:

Little bluestem - Schizachyrium scoparium - This grass has a soft blue-green color in summer and in fall through winter turns red with white seeds that glow when back lit.

Rabbitbrush - Ericameria nauseosa - This shrub has yellow flowers in fall and persistent seed-heads through winter. It is extremely drought tolerant and loves unamended native soils. Cut back every spring to keep a good shape.

Bigelow's tansy aster - Machaeranthera bigelovii - I hesitate to put this on the list as it can be aggressive in a garden. I love it at this time of year though with its purple daisy flowers.

Blue gramma grass -Bouteloua gracilis - This is a really soft looking grass with a very fine texture and seed-heads that look like eyelashes. It makes a great lawn that , if you do not mind it being a little taller than traditional lawns, only requires raking once a year in spring, no watering, fertilizing or mowing - check out the mass planting on the east side of Dryland Mesa.

Butterfly weed - Asclepias tuberosa - The orange flowers are stunning but the seeds are the best part, as the seedpods split open the downy seeds spill out and glow in the sunlight.

Soapweed yucca - Yucca glauca - Yuccas add structure and a more rigid texture to the garden and the fibers on this one are another thing that glow when back lit.


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