Monday, May 31, 2010

What we planted – Year Two

As I have noted before, we specifically bought a house with a lot of yard so we could be more self-sustaining. I think a big part of sustainability is providing food for wild pollinators, so we've bought many native flowers. Our basic plan is to get rid of all the noxious weeds and replace them with site-appropriate flowers and food gardens. We’ve eliminated weeds as best we can in the actual flower/produce beds and around the roses. I plan to expand the beds out every week and covering the cleared area with mulch. Some of the weeds we don’t mind so much – like the Persian carpet, which is pretty and shallowly rooted. Others, like little mallow and bindweed are more destructive and competitive with beneficial plants. Getting rid of those is our first priority and we try to remove them everywhere, not just in the beds. We are also attacking the dandelions, which are beneficial plants but Shane is very allergic to them. I think of weed replacement as a kind of war – choosing battlegrounds, establishing and maintaining a perimeter, that sort of thing. One day we hope to vanquish the “enemy” but given that it likely took 10 years of neglect to “ruin” our yard, it will probably take 10 years of effort to “fix” it.

We don't plan to put down any sod – with Liberty Park and the kids' school within easy walking distance we don't see the need for a grassy spot of our own. Shane is pretty much in charge of the food bearing plants and I’m in charge of the flowers. I love veg gardens, but don’t have the time to care for them. Shane isn’t working as many hours as I am this summer so he has more time for the more intensive care food gardens need. Anyway, we have planted many native flowers, because they require little extra water and support wild bees, plus they just look awesome! The non-native perennials we’ve bought mostly need very little additional watering. Some of the perennials we planted last year have really taken off and others didn’t survive the winter. I need to ensure I cut back the perennials before the snow gets heavy next year. We bought the native perennials from Wasatch Gardens and Millcreek Gardens. They were mostly grown by Perennial Favorites (perennialfavoritesnursery), Plant Select® For the Rocky Mountain and Plains States, and Intermountain Native Plant Growers Association (

I hope to fill the front yard on the sides of the walk with bushes and perennials, with a winding, stepping-stone path for enjoying the scents and sights. The front yard came with some amazing, well-established roses in the center-front of both sides of the walk, and some not-so-well-established roses along the fence and front of the house. There is also a baby's breath bush that I suspect is quite old as it grew out about 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall last summer, even though it was pruned to the stump. The front yard also has a Tree of Heaven, which Shane has pruned vigorously. We actually hope to get rid of this tree and replace it with a nut tree some day. Tea roses, grape hyacinth, and irises surround the tree. There is another huge tea rose on the southwest corner of the house. We have to prune the one by the house so we can walk by it. The tea roses smell divine. The larger roses also smell nice.

The side yard also came with huge roses – we suspect one particular bush is over 50 years old – plus a few new, smaller rose bushes. We established a small strawberry patch last year by the faucet (it gets all the water run off, which minimizes watering time for us) and replaced a patch of goat’s heads with berry bushes. This year we've put in some low-water-need perennials along the house.

Huge box elder trees dominate the middle back yard. We tried a vegetable garden there last year, but the shade made the corn sad. The tomatoes did all right, as did some herbs and the Brussels sprouts, so we are trying a different mix of veggies this year in that area. When I think of how this part of the yard was completely infested with goat’s heads when we moved in, I am amazed at our progress.

The "very back" yard (behind the garage) also has some huge box elder trees. We planted two apples and a plum out there last year. We eventually hope to have a mini-orchard out there, but for now we are filling out the space with vegetables. Shane has planted a variety of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cauliflower, and onions. He intends to put in corn and beans later on. The cold weather has probably stunted our tomatoes and peppers, but we’re hoping they’ll still be reasonably productive.

Okay, so here’s the perennial plant list. Newest plants are in bold. Descriptions from the plant tags are in quotes, unless otherwise noted.

Front Yard

Front strip:
Last year we tried two Atriplex Canescens (Four-Winged Saltbush) but neither survived the winter – we think they got stepped on under the snow. Many people we don't know park in front of our house, then step on the front strip to get to the sidewalk. We are trying to direct traffic a bit and encourage them to walk on the pathway we laid down instead of our plants, which they did in the summer but apparently the snow obscured the path. Anyway, we replaced one saltbush with:
Fallugia Paradoxa (Apache Plume)
“This showy bush produces white flowers that are followed by silky pink seedpod plumes. Dark green leaves have a silver underside. When the shrub is covered with feathery plumes, it is said to resemble an Apache headdress.” From Perennials Favorites website: “Beautiful native shrub with excellent drought tolerance. Does well in rocky, gravelly soils. Seed clusters with feathery tails give it a plume type appearance. White, solitary flowers bloom June through August.” We are hoping this reaches at least half its full height of 72" this summer so no one will step on it when the snow comes. This adapts to dry conditions, which is good because we hate having to drag the hose out to the front strip.
Artemisia X Absinthium (Powis Castle Wormwood)
“A vigorous English hybrid which forms a handsome mound of finely divided silvery leaves. Invaluable for breaking the monotony of green foliage in the garden. Provides beautiful contrast in rock gardens, borders, or containers.” We planted two last year. One has come back just fine but the other isn’t doing so well. I failed to prune them last year, which caused some of the problem. Note to self: pruning wormwood in the spring is not an option!
On the other end of the strip, Shane planted some Lemon Balm and Pineapple Mint that have really thrived. The following were part of a mix we planted last year that worked out well:
Linum perenne 'Lewisii' (Blue Flax)
“Airy . . . with blue flowers borne in loose clusters above grey-green foliage.”
Eschscholzia californica (Papaveraceae) (California Poppy)
“An upright, compact annual or tender perennial native to California and the southwestern United States. Extremely drought tolerant, ideal for arid environments. The brilliant orange, cup-shaped flowers, are 2-4 inches in diameter, borne individually on long stalks. Prefers full sun in light to sandy soils. Remarkably uniform and neat in appearance. A popular variety to press. Not hardy below 20F. An excellent color accent to any wildflower planting. The state flower of California. Blooms close each night at sunset or on dull days. The finely divided foliage is bluish-green in color making identification easy prior to flowering.” (text copyright WILDSEED FARMS.)
Queen Anne’s Lace
North of Walk (between rosebush & baby’s breath and the fence):
Artemisia vulgaris
(‘Oriental Limelight’ Variegated Wormwood)
“A beautiful foliage plant for a sunny location. The uniquely marked foliage is green with irregular lemon-yellow variegation and nice self-branching habit. An aggressive grower that is widely adaptable to any well drained soil type.” From Proven Winners website.
Hedysarum boreale (Utah Sweetvetch)
“Spikes of very fragrant, bright pink pea-like flowers bloom above spreading foliage. A favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds. . . . Strings of seed pods add winter interest.” But from the Perennial Favorites website we learn: “Legume with large, striking red/purple/pink flowers. Blooms spring to summer. Provides valuable forage for wildlife. Tolerant of clay soils.”
Salvia Pachyphylla (Mojave Sage)
“Vibrant flower spikes attract butterflies to the garden and are great cut. Complements many perennials including yarrow, coreposis and ornamental grasses. Extend flowering and promote rebloom by removing faded flowers.” From Perennial Favorites website: “Intensely aromatic evergreen foliage. Silver-green leaves set off persistent mauve bracts that surround the flower. Summer through fall.”
Artemisia tridentate vaseyana (Mountain Big Sagebrush)
“Fast-growing, evergreen shrub with soft gray-green foliage and a wonderful scent, especially after rain. Good in informal plantings with native grasses and perennials. Great for winter structure and interest.” From Perennial Favorites website: “Higher elevation species of big sage. Silver, blue-green foliage is aromatic and three lobed at the tips. Evergreen and drought tolerant. Flowers are inconspicuous.” Ours is growing slowly, likely due to the clay soil. It’s supposed to grow 3’by 3’, but ours is barely a foot tall and 6” wide. We hope it will eventually reach its potential as we continue to amend the soil throughout the yard.
Chrystohamnus nauseosus (Rubber Rabbitbrush)
“Shrub with rounded head, yellow flowers in late summer, gray foliage.” This is supposedly able to reach as far as 6’ tall but ours is barely a foot tall again, likely due to the clay soil.
Front Walk (From sidewalk to steps)
Last year I planted the same plants on either sides of the walk. It looked really cute, but not everything survived. We had a bunch of Alyssum in the front, which looked great but did not reseed. My goal is to line the walk with native perennials. I’ve noticed that the bees love everything we’ve planted, particularly native bumblebees – like the all black kind and the kind with a red stripe on the thorax. We tried Wild Thing sage and Heather Queen mosquito plant last year, but neither survived. We may try the same plants again somewhere else in the yard.
North side of Walk:
Diascia integerrima (Coral Canyon ® Twinspur, introduced by Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University)
“A cloud of soft pink, oval flowers . . . This heat tolerant introduction from the East Cape Dtakensberg Range of South Africa has a wide tolerance of soil and exposure. By far the toughest performer in this novel genus of everblooming wildflowers.” Bees love this stuff. We planted some last year but it didn’t survive on either side of the walk. We like it so much we decided to try again. We’re going to baby it a bit more and make sure to prune in the fall, to prevent snow damage.
Penstemon hybrida (Firebird Beard-Tongue)
“Bright flower spikes are striking in the garden or bouquet. Attracts hummingbirds. Outstanding in rock gardens.” I have seen no hummingbirds, but I’m guessing they are scared off by the traffic and the starlings and house finches that have built nests under the porch eaves.
Penstemon x (Midnight Beard Tongue)
“Showy purple bell-flowers are produced on this spikes . . . Penstemon is a native wildflower which is deservedly gaining popularity of is garden friendliness and dependable bloom. . . .Attracts beautiful hummingbirds to the garden.” See above re: hummingbirds.
Penstemon eatonii (Firecracker Penstemon)
“Handsome perennial with tall stalks of brilliant red blossoms that rise above glossy, dark green foliage. One of the best plants for hummingbirds in early summer. . . .” From Perennial Favorites website: “Drought tolerant species adapting to a wide range of soils and elevations. Important forage plant for birds and insects.” Again with the non-existent hummingbirds! (E swears he's seen hummers around the flowers, but I haven't) Bees love this plant, too, and I personally like bees better than hummingbirds. This is supposed to like well-drained soil but it actually did brilliantly in our clay soil – it didn’t flower last year when we planted it but it took off this year. I double dug the bed and amended the soil with compost – that probably helped. Our's also isn’t the predicted height of 3’ and width of 2’, but it’s darn close.
Sedum album (Coral carpet stonecrop)
This is growing very fast, just as the plant tag said it would. We are thinking of bordering the walk with stonecrop and moving the perennials back a foot in the fall, if that’s possible.
Geranium Viscosissimum (Sticky Cranebill or Mountain Geranium)
“Saucer-shaped pink or purple flowers provide a beautiful display. The green, delicately dissected foliage turn red in fall. One of the best hardy geraniums.” “Beautiful foliage turns burgundy in fall.” I love these plants. Unfortunately, one of the ones we planted last year didn't survive the winter. We saw hundreds of these growing wild on a mountain hike in Nevada. The tag says this will grown to 3’ tall and 3’ wide. Ours have not grown this big, possibly due to clay soil and possibly because we’ve chosen to water less. The growers recommend some supplemental water. I personally don’t think this native plant needs much water – we only watered about once a week during the summer last year and it’s quite healthy. However, we’ve learned not to let it get totally buried in salty snow – or let ants build a colony under it.
Scrophularia Macrantha (Figwort or Red Birds in a Tree)
“Like its relative the Penstemon, this plant has wands of red flowers that attract hummingbirds like crazy. Interesting, oddly shaped flowers do not require deadheading. Its winding habit causes it to lean attractively on nearby plants for support.” I’m excited to see how this one grows. We planted it farther back from the walk and gave it a cute bamboo arch for support.
Sedum spurium (Tricolor Sedum)
“Starry pink flowers bloom above succulent green leaves with cream and pink edges. Remove any all green shoots immediately.”
Phlox subulata (Emerald Pink Phlox)
“Bright pink flowers cover low, evergreen plants in April and May.
Artemesia frigida (Fringed Sage)
“Hardy, easy to grow subshrub with attractive soft silver foliage. Can be planted in rock gardens as a ground cover or as an accent plant. Very cold and drought tolerant. ” This may be my favorite species of local sagebrush. It has done really well by our front steps – maybe too well. We might need to move it. I love the soft leaves, that capture the rain ingeniously and manage to look both elegant and cute while doing so.
South Side of Walk:
Linum perenne 'Lewisii' (Blue Flax)
Geranium Viscosissimum (Sticky Cranebill/Geranium or Mountain Geranium)
Thymus Serpyllum (Pink Chintz Thyme)
“Wonderfully fragrant foliage provides a treat for the senses. A charming display of salmon-pink dainty blooms.” Thyme doesn’t like clay soil, but I thought I’d see how this does as a ground cover between the larger perennials.
Penstemon Pseudospectalis (Desert Beard Tongue)
“Spikes of rose-purple blooms, often with yellow tinged throats, contrasted by slender, blue-green leaves. This American Southwest native will attract hummingbirds to your garden.” Yes, hummingbirds again. Although the tag says that it requires well-drained soil, this one thrived on this side of the walk, even with our heavy clay soil. We did not cut back after flowering, which, combined with piles of snow, led to the other one dying this winter, I think. The one on this side of the walk came back with a vengeance and currently looks great.
Penstemon eatonii (Firecracker Penstemon)
Penstemon x Mexicali (Pikes Peak Purple® introduced by Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University)
“Durable hybrid penstemon selected from crosses made by Bruce Meyers between Mexican and American wild penstemons. Narrow, dark green leaves form and attractive mound. Pikes Peak Purple ® sports a constant succession of violet-purple flowers all summer. It thrives in a range of sites and soils.”
Nepeta 'Psfike (Little Trudy® Catnip introduced by Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University)
“This hybrid catnip was selected at Little Valley Wholesale Nursery for its distinctive serrated, silvery foliage and long season of lavender bloom. . . . It is the most compact catnip cultivar.”
Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob's Ladder, Apricot Delight)
“Profuse flowers and striking foliage. Attractive in the rock garden, perennial or woodland garden, or massed beneath shrubs or flowering trees. Beautiful with spring bulbs and hosta. Good cut flower for early season bouquets.”
Saxifraga x agrendsii (Peter Pan or Red Cap)
This is a cute little stone-crop/phlox-like succulent ground cover.
By the House Between the small white roses (north side):
Galium ordoratum (Sweet woodruff)
“Plants form a low mat with bright green leaves. Clusters of starlike white flowers . . . Dried stems and leaves used in sachets and potpourris. ”
Between the silver rose and wild tea rose (south side):
Polemonium reptans (Stairway to Heaven or Jacob's Ladder)
“Grayish green variegated creamy white. Rosy new growth. Bell-like, light blue flowers. Clumping. Woodland areas, specimen, large pots.”
South of Walk (by the Tree of Heaven and various roses):
Cercocarpus Montanus (True Mountain Mahogany)
“Deciduous lower-growing variety with attractive foliage and a dense, symmetrical growth habit. Small pinkish flowers are followed by feathery silver-white fruits. Very drought tolerant. A favorite browse shrub for deer. ” From Perennial Favorites website: “Deciduous, lower-growing variety with dense, symmetrical growth habit. Small pink flowers blooming late spring through early summer. Very drought tolerant.” Deer don't quite make it to 300 East, but if they come, we'll have some food.
Chamaebatiaria millefolium (Fernbush)
“Semi-evergreen shrub with fragrant, fernlike foliage and spires of white flowers in midsummer. Golden-brown seedheads add interest in winter. An easy, fast-maturing plant tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions.” From Perennials Favorites website: “Intensely aromatic lacy foliage adorned with snowy white flowers. Makes a formal mound with light pruning. Attractive winter seed heads and habit. A tough Western shrub. Blooms summer.

Side Yard

Side of House:
Gaillardia Pinnatifolia (Hopi Blanketflower)
“Easy-to-grow native plant reseeds itself very readily. Deadhead to control spread. Its long-blooming yellow flowers perk up your garden when most flowers are going dormant.” From Perennial Favorites website: “Easy to grow and a prolific bloomer all summer long. Large flowers with bright red centers surrounded by small, ray-type yellow petals.”
Agastache Aurantiaca (Orange Hyssop)
“Beautiful spikes of tubular flowers attract hummingbirds. Long stems hold highly aromatic mint-scented foliage. Excellent choice for mixed borders, and does well in containers also.”
Leptinella Squalida (Platt's Black Brass Buttons)
“Wonderfully textured, purple-gray leaves look great all season long. Adapts to most soil types. Perfect for filling in between paving stones as it can withstand light foot traffic. Reliable ground cover for any location Prefers fertile, sharply drained soil. Tolerates drought, but looks best with regular watering.”
Sphaeralcea Munroana (Munroe Globemallow)
“These shrubs form an unusual and attractive vase-like shape, bearing spectacular orange flower spikes. Its heat and drought tolerance are legendary. Deer-resistant plants are not picky about soil. These garden workhorses shine in severe heat.” From Native Perennials website: “Extremely tough, drought tolerant native perennial. Great choice for low water use areas of the landscape. Salmon-orange flowers bloom in June.”
Sphaeralcea Coccinea (Scarlet Globemallow)
“Small native plants produce orange flowers above wedge-shaped leaves. The Navajo made a tea of the whole plant and used it as a healing herb. Useful in native or wildflower gardens.” From Native Perennials website: “Large, delicate flowers are scarlet-orange around the edges and cream colored in the center. Blooms May through July. Excellent drought tolerance.”
By Fence:
Lavender really does not like our soil and neither specimen liked being shaded lots of the day by the Tree of Heaven but one put out a single lovely stalk of flowers. The Tree of Heaven took care of mulching for us. We intend to work more sand into the soil in our lavender patch. We also planted a lavender plant in the front yard, hoping that it might like the sun there. But the soil just works against us.
Lavandula angustifolia (Lady Lavender)
Lavandula angustifolia (Hidcote Lavender)
“Silver-gray foliage. Flowers are deep purple and aromatic.”
The berry patch is really taking off this year. The golden currants are putting out lots of flowers/fruit, as are the black raspberries. We are looking forward to a full-on bramble in a couple of years.

Middle Back
Under Patio Trees:
Tiarella (Spring Symphony Foam Flower)
“Compact foliage is cut and ‘painted’ with black along the mid-rib. Leaves are palmate, clumping and neat” with pink foamy flowers. Another person at the garden store indicated that they spread well, which is what we want. We are hoping to continue to build a shade loving flowerbed under the trees. We bought two Tiarellas and will see how they do.
Heuchera sanguinea (Snow Angel Coral Bells)
“Low-growing mounds of light green, broadly-lobed leaves are marbles with a light cream variegation that brightens shady gardens. Spikes of pinkish-red bells add a complimentary note from late spring into summer. An excellent plant for shade.”
Trifoliumrepens 'Atropurpureum' (Dark Dancertm White clover)
"Vigorous grower with dark clover-shaped leaves; white summer flowers; can be aggressive." From Proven Winners website. This area is filled with weeds, so we are kind of hoping the plant will be aggressive with those, but we'll have to keep an eye that it doesn't try to kill the flowers.
Surrounding Veggie Gardens:
We were pleasantly surprised when one of our marigolds from last year came back this year, though it took a few minutes to figure out what it was! The leaves of that particular specimen are particularly fragrant. Marigolds are such a wonderful plant - the children love them and they keep away bugs. The kids actually asked us to buy marigolds the last time we were at the garden center. We chose the most “marigoldy” smelling varieties. We will need to mark each place we’ve planted so as not to till these under in the fall – I would love to have them come back again.


  1. Wow! I'm impressed. We have far fewer native plants available to us, and have therefore gone with a very basic, traditional yard. The front yard has some sort of grass that is extremely hardy and required very little water to survive. It was here when we moved in, although we didn't know it because the former tenants had 2 dobermans and never watered, so the yard all looked like just dirt. The spring after we moved in, the grass just came up out of the dirt, thick and grayish green. We were impressed. The backyard has a square of regular lawn grass (some fescue/bluegrass mix, I think) and an equal size plot of wood chips under the playground. There are about 10 varied pine trees around the perimeter, and nothing grows underneath them. That's it. My mother in law and brother in law each have enormous gardens, so we don't vegetable garden here. I wish I liked to do flower beds, because I love the look of them so, but I'm not consistent in my attention, so they die. I'm better off not even trying. Maybe one of these trips up to see my parents I will stop by and see your yard. It sounds lovely.

  2. Wow, some day your yard is going to be so awesome.

  3. There are some really lovely areas of our yard and some really ugly ones - I seriously think it will take ten years to get it looking truly awesome, but we've made a good start.

    We would love to have you stop by! If you come up in the next month you'll see our amazing roses. We spent several hours today tilling the soil around the side roses and fertilizing them. There are 7 small bushes and eight large ones all together . The larger ones have the most blooms, except the small yellow one which put out dozens of blossoms last week.

    A lot of the flowers I've planted seriously need very little care - you can almost ignore them completely and they'll still grow, even in our climate/soil. A lot of the companies growing native plants are based in Southern Utah. I bet there are more available in your area than you know! (okay, stepping off soapbox . . .)