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Overlooked Perennial Gems | High Country Gardens

by David Salman

Monardella macrantha Marion SampsonMonardella macrantha 'Marion Sampson'

There are a few plants that are garden superstars: Lavender, Agastache, Salvia, Penstemon, and Russian Sage, to name of few. But there are dozens of plants we carry that might not get top billing, but should be considered for award-winning cameo roles. Here are a few of my favorites.

Scarlet Monardella (Monardella macrantha Marian Sampson)

I still can’t get over this incredible wildflower; huge brilliant red tubular flowers seem much too large for its compact carpet of deep green, sweetly aromatic leaves. Perfect for rock gardens, along a gravel or flagstone pathway or in your pots and hanging baskets mixed in with annuals, ‘Marion Sampson’ is fantastic!

An easy-to-grow selection of this California native species, this plant’s cold hardiness has expanded its range for garden use into USDA zone 6 (even 5b when well placed in a sheltered spot). Plus it’s much easier to grow than it’s exotic look might suggest. In my rock garden it likes a morning sun/afternoon spot with its roots under some rocks. If you can get it planted on the edge of a raised bed or in a hanging basket (where it will bloom all summer) the hummingbirds will be thrilled.

Thymus neceiffiiThymus neceiffii

Juniper Leaf Thyme (Thymus neiceffii)

I purchased my first plants of Juniper Leaf Thyme on a visit to Vail, CO almost twenty years ago I was there to see the new Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and shop at a local rock garden nursery. I wanted to learn about rock gardening and was very excited to learn about some new plants.

And I enjoy Thymus neceiffii now as much as I did when I first planted it. This is a special plant that is hard-to-find and worth the search. The evergreen foliage is unique, resembling tiny branches of juniper needles growing to form a tight carpet of foliage. In bloom, the bright pink flowers are large, numerous and dazzling. This is a species native to higher elevations in Europe, so it likes a cooler spot in the garden. East facing or north-east facing beds or rock crevices or on the shaded side of large perennials are its preferred spot, because it is in the afternoon shade where it stays cooler. Plant it with spring blooming Scilla siberica bulbs. Long-lived and awesome!

Erigeron utahensis v utahensis Jordan ValleyErigeron utahensis v utahensis Jordan Valley

Fleabane (Erigeron)

The fleabanes are fabulous family of daisies found all across North America, Europe and Asia. In the garden they are easy-to-grow, resilient in difficult weather and bloom with colorful frilly daisies. Two of my favorites are:

-'Darkest of All' – a great European hybrid that blooms with large daisies that have numerous fine textured clear lavender-blue petals surrounding a bright yellow eye. Vigorous, it makes a nice mound of large dark green leaves that bloom profusely in late spring and early summer with a memorable burst of flowers.

- Utah Fleabane (Erigeron utahensis v. utahensis) – I first saw this super showy native wildflower during a visit to the Jordan Valley Water Authority’s Conservation Gardens in Salt Lake City, UT. A group of them were growing in a hot, sunny corner in front of some ornamental grass in full flower. Unforgettable. This plant loves a tough planting sites with well drained soils and ample sun. Don’t deadhead it after flowers so it can naturalize in your garden.

Western Sundancer Daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis v. ivesiana)

Cheerful and wonderfully variable, the big yellow daisies on Western Sundancer Daisy aren’t uniform in size and shape like its cousin Thrift Leaf Perky Sue. When growing this tough, rabbit proof daisy, you’ll be delighted by the variation among the flowers from plant to plant, and it gives them a wonderful informality and cheerfulness.

The young plants grow an amazing wooly neck, almost like a white mane, between crown and the leaves to help them retain moisture in their arid Western Colorado habitat. This is a very growable little wildflower that thrives in poor soils, hot sun and dry conditions

Festuca idahoensis Siskiyou BlueFestuca idahoensis Siskiyou Blue

‘Siskiyou Blue’ Festuca Grass ( Festuca Siskiyou)

What a superbly bright blue grass. And what a great ornamental grass for dappled and part shade. ‘Siskiyou Blue’ has graceful, soft textured, bright blue blades of foliage that brings attention to it, where ever it’s planted. This is a versatile grass and I recommend it in semi-shady borders as well as full sun. Use it to edge paths or in mass under shade trees or Aspen where it’s color and texture light up the area. It’s quite attractive in bloom too. Thought to be a hybrid between and European and western native species Festuca idahoensis, ‘Siskiyou Blue’ is a garden hero if only it would be more widely planted.

Hesperaloe campanulatus – a very hard-to-find species in this desert genus. Tall spikes of pink flowers attract hummingbirds.

Oenothera speciosa ‘Rosea’- ferociously tough, long blooming wildflower that loves clay. Plant it around Russian Sage.

Sidalcea neomexicana – a western wildflower that looks like a bright pink miniature hollyhock. Likes both damp and average soil moisture; great for rain gardens.

Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Blueboy’ – small, fragrant and great for containers. A very hardy dwarf Rosemary variety that blooms with light blue flowers.

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