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Plant Select: Towards a viable landscape future

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Xeriscape sometimes summons images of oceans of gravel and harsh, stickly, pointy plants that stab, slash and terrorize homeowner associations. A primrose? Really? Well, there are even primroses that can do with much less water than many people pour on their gardens, and the oxlip (famous in English Literature--even Shakespeare writes about it!) has proved itself for decades in a number of local gardens. Thanks to the Plant Select program, this and a host of other unique plants will debut across the country this spring. Oxlips do best in at least a half day's shade, but given a rich soil, mulching and occasional good watering, they will even grow in full sun in Colorado. They combine especially well with graceful, brilliant blue flowers like the Siberian squill pictured above.

Although quite widely distributed in the foothills of the Southern Rockies, I have only stumbled on Scott's clematis a few times, so I suspect it is not exactly abundant. It has been produced abundantly by Plant Select propagators this past year and you should be able to find it in local garden centers this spring. The nodding, lavender bells vary from almost gray to a dark, almost black blue in some forms. As you can see, it makes a compact mound with those irresistible blue bubbles visitors at Denver Botanic Gardens simply have to squeeze...speaking for the plant, please don't!

This clematis belongs to the "Sugarbowl" section of the genus (sometimes classed as its own genus: Viorna) which includes a dozen or more of the rarest and most beautiful herbaceous clematis. This is likely to be the most drought tolerant of the lot--and the flowers last for much of the spring and early summer: we have had flowers into the autumn on larger plants--and the seedheads are a bright gold and almost as decorative. This plant is a must have for anyone interested in growing xeric plants.

The "alumroots" (a dreadful name), or coralbells (whew!) are entirely restricted to North America, mostly concentrated in the Western States and Appalachians. They have been intensively bred for foliage color by Terra Nova nursery in recent decades. I love the wonderful lacy flowers that brighten up dark cliffs all over the west. This is one of the most restricted in nature, but most accommodating in the garden.

These three plants are the first sampling of Plant Select Petites, an expansion of Plant Select which seeks to provide more compact plants for the more intimate setting many of our more modern urban and suburban patio gardens, permanent outdoor containers and ever popular rock gardens which have become a hallmark of regional horticulture. There are another five outstanding introductions that continue to expand our regional palette of adapted and gorgeous plants that provide year around interest with less fuss, water and grief. I will write more on these later this spring...

But I believe a trumpet blast is merited at the start of the new year for a new facet of this extraordinary program that has put tens of millions of wonderful plants into gardens across America and beyond. One of my favorite maps shows precipitation in North America where 20" or less is shown in red shades and 20" or more annual precipitation is progressively bluer. The east half and far left coast of America are bluish to be sure, but much of the middle and all the West except the mountain tips is painted in bright pink shades--nay! much of it quite red or deep vermilion. Drought is the norm. Each snowfall lulls us into complacency--but do remember, we live in a semi-arid region in which prolonged, deep drought is not an unusual event. Stop watering for a week or two in summer and you'll figure it out if you haven't yet. If our gardens are to survive into the future, it behooves us to develop a palette of plants that will be viable in our progressively more water restricted landscapes of the future. Thank you, Plant Select for leading the way! And keep up the good work.

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