Have you noticed how many garden magazine articles seem to assume that everyone is gardening on the coast? The glossy pictures of hydrangea, rhododendron, azalea and perfect conifer may induce envy, but they have little relevance for Delbert in Dietrich trying desperately to keep an apple tree alive.
Well, it’s time to stand up and be counted, dry land gardeners! Raise your moisture-deprived fist into that hot, dry wind and demand equal time.
Beauty can be found in arid climates as well as in drizzly locations. To paraphrase Wallace Stegner: To appreciate the beauty of the interior West, you have to get over the color green. I am not suggesting that we give up on the idea of lawns and trees, only that there is more to love than bright green.
Fortunately, there are many perennials that work at least as well in southern Idaho as they do in more hospitable climates. Some even improve in our leaner, dryer soils. Plants native to Idaho or a similar climate are always worth considering. Also, Plant Select is a joint venture between Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Gardens to evaluate and recommend plants particularly adaptable to the Intermountain West. Among other criteria, they are chosen for durability, uniqueness, beauty and low water needs.
Not all these varieties are readily available in garden centers and may take some patience to find.
Many of the perennials repeatedly seen in local landscapes are there because they are generally trouble-free. Don’t let their frequent use discourage you from using them in your landscape. Sometimes the only thing that stands between boring and beautiful is design. Daylilies mixed with eight or 10 other perennials in a cottage garden look markedly different from daylilies spaced 10 feet apart in a sea of gravel.
These perennials are readily available, usually untroubled by diseases or pests, and at least somewhat water-thrifty:
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) blooms a purple lavender in July and stays in color almost until frost.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Goldsturm) is a steady performer in the garden, but I don’t care for its common name. It sounds like an accusation, as if I had been involved in a domestic dispute.
Sedum Autumn Joy or other upright sedums are late-blooming and drought-tolerant.
Coreopsis Moonbeam or Zagreb. Moonbeam is a softer yellow and with more open habit; Zagreb is a golden yellow, more upright and more floriferous.
Coneflower (Echinacea) has many varieties, mostly in shades of pink, yellow and orange.
If you are new to gardening or new to gardening in Idaho, these plants may give you some ideas to get started. But if this is a “no duh” list to you, I would love to hear about your favorites.
After working for years in commercial greenhouses in Idaho and Utah, Susan Harris of Shoshone is a garden designer and garden coach. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.