native drought resistant xeric gardennative drought resistant xeric garden

Q & A with homeowner Mary R. of Ft. Collins, CO

What inspired you to create your garden?

My house was built just four years ago, so the garden was a blank slate when I started--lots of dirt and rock with not a green thing in sight.

When I moved, I sold my lawnmower, so I had committed to not having a lawn. I wanted to do something a little different, water saving and interesting.

I had been a member and active volunteer for many years at The Gardens on Spring Creek, our local botanic garden. The inspiration for my own garden is the lovely rock garden there.

Before: Mary's son used a
Before: Mary's son used a "Dingo" to pile up soil for future garden berms.
A local landscaper placed a flagstone path between the two garden beds.
A local landscaper placed a flagstone path between the two garden beds.

I had the opportunity to take a few classes about how to build a rock garden from the designer of that garden, Kirk Fiesler of Laporte Avenue Nursery. He kept saying that anyone could do it if they just rented a Dingo (a piece of equipment like a mini Bobcat). I thought elevation and berms were just what was needed to make my yard interesting, and I decided to give it a try.

What steps did you take in creating your landscape?

To have it done was going to be more than I wanted to spend, so I really had to do most of it myself. I drew it out on graph paper, asked my college-age son to help. I asked the opinion of a garden designer friend, who made several suggestions.

I wanted to start in the spring and plant before it got really hot, but we didn’t get started until mid-June. We got the Dingo and the topsoil and positioned piles of soil for the berms, then took delivery of the rocks. My son was the Dingo operator and we spent 3-4 days positioning rock and soil.

After the rocks were in place, a landscaper came and placed flagstone between the two major beds. They also put in the basics of the drip system. So I just needed to do the planting and the rest of the drip system myself. At the end of the summer I mulched the whole garden with gravel.

Shop Water Thrifty/Drought Resistant Plants

  1. David's Dependable Desert Plant Collection

    David's Dependable Desert Plant Collection is a combination of woody evergreen shrubs, succulents, and long blooming perennials that have proven their value over time in Chief Hortic...

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    David's Dependable Desert Plant Collection David's Dependable Desert Plant Collection
    $94.39
    Per Collection of 12
    David's Dependable Desert Plant Collection is a combination of woody evergreen shrubs, succulents, and long blooming perennials that have proven their value over time in Chief Horticulturist David Salman's New Mexico garden. Selected for their interesting pollinator-friendly flowers, resilience, and long lifespans, these xeric plants can provide an excellent foundation to a new garden, or beautiful structure to an existing garden. Collection of 12 plants.
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  2. Blue Spruce Stonecrop, Sedum reflexum 'Blue Spruce'

    'Blue Spruce' Creeping Sedum (Sedum reflexum) is a standout among low-maintenance Sedums. This easy-to-grow and eye-catching features succulent blue-green foliage, much like little s...

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    Blue Spruce Sedum Blue Spruce Stonecrop Sedum reflexum Blue Spruce
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    'Blue Spruce' Creeping Sedum (Sedum reflexum) is a standout among low-maintenance Sedums. This easy-to-grow and eye-catching features succulent blue-green foliage, much like little spruce needles! A pollinator favorite, it is covered with small star-shaped yellow flowers in summer for over a month. A great evergreen groundcover where low maintenance, drought-tolerant, deer-and-rabbit-resistant plantings are desired.
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  3. Angelina Stonecrop, Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'

    Fast-growing, and colorful, 'Angelina' Creeping Sedum (Sedum rupestre) adds a dazzling highlight with colors from chartreuse to golden yellow. Easy to grow, it will spread quickly as...

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    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Fast-growing, and colorful, 'Angelina' Creeping Sedum (Sedum rupestre) adds a dazzling highlight with colors from chartreuse to golden yellow. Easy to grow, it will spread quickly as a drought-tolerant groundcover. Bright yellow star-like flowers bloom in summer and foliage turns golden-orange in autumn. A great pick for rock gardens, dry borders, and large expanses of ground that need planting.
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  4. Edelweiss French Hybrid Lavender, Lavandula x intermedia 'Edelweiss'

    Edelweiss French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia) blooms with a profuse summer display of snowy white flowers and sweetly aromatic foliage. This mid-sized French hybrid is a un...

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    Edelweiss French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia) blooms with a profuse summer display of snowy white flowers and sweetly aromatic foliage. This mid-sized French hybrid is a unique specimen for any gardener who loves Lavender. Plant in a soothing monochromatic color scheme, or plant with blue flowered cultivars to create a delightful color combination.
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  5. Manzano Mountains Strain Hedgehog Cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus Manzano Mts., growing in rock garden with red flowers

    Our Manzano Mountains Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) has stout stems with fewer spines than are typical for the species, for an unusual appearance that cold hardy cac...

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    Manzano Mountains Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus) Manzano Mountains Strain Hedgehog Cactus Echinocereus triglochidiatus Manzano Mts.
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    Our Manzano Mountains Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) has stout stems with fewer spines than are typical for the species, for an unusual appearance that cold hardy cacti growers will appreciate. Deep red mid-spring flowers are a hummingbird favorite. Tough and very cold hardy, this native cactus is a great rock garden specimen or addition to the xeric landscape. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
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  6. FlowerKisser Weeping Pink Texas Yucca, Hesperaloe x 'WWG07', bright pink flowers

    FlowerKisser™ Weeping Pink Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe parviflora) is a beautiful, eye-catching form of Hesperaloe, or Texas Yucca, with bright pink flowers held on tall, graceful, weep...

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    FlowerKisser™ Weeping Pink Hesperaloe (Hesperaloe parviflora) is a beautiful, eye-catching form of Hesperaloe, or Texas Yucca, with bright pink flowers held on tall, graceful, weeping bloom spikes. Nearly seedless, the mature plant blooms all summer, drawing hummingbirds. The non-spiny evergreen foliage is particularly fine-textured, giving the plant a wonderful year-round look. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
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  7. Li'l Bang Starstruck Tickseed, Coreopsis Li'l Bang Starstruck

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  8. Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Beard Tongue, Penstemon strictus ‘WWG06’

    Blanca Peak™ White Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) is an award-winning white-flowered selection of our native Rocky Mountain Penstemon. Large, tubular flowers are a favorite nectar ...

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    Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Penstemon Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Beardtongue Penstemon strictus 'WWG06'
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    Blanca Peak™ White Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) is an award-winning white-flowered selection of our native Rocky Mountain Penstemon. Large, tubular flowers are a favorite nectar source for bumblebees. Plant this easy-to-grow beardtongue for a sturdy, long-lived late-spring bloomer in your xeriscape. This beauty thrives in most well-drained soil with full sun exposure. A 2021 Plant Select® Winner. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
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How did you choose the plants?

I didn’t really have a good system. I knew I wanted them to be xeric (drought resistant), like the Gardens on Spring Creek. I would go to a plant sale, a local nursery, check out the Plant Select website, or read the High Country Gardens catalog and note what would be good. Lauren Springer Ogden’s book, The Undaunted Garden, is also a favorite resource. I knew I wanted a shade tree, a serviceberry, and dwarf conifers for winter interest. I ended up just adding plants around them. Despite planting in the heat, I didn’t lose a lot of plants over the summer. (See Mary’s summer planting tip below.)

I have an “inferno strip” that is 43x12, and is not irrigated at all. I chose the plants using the water symbols in the HCG catalog, selecting waterwise plants that I only water by hand a few times a year.

What are some of your favorite plants?

I have about a dozen different varieties of Penstemon (dwarf Penstemon virens, Scarlet Bugler which is huge and hummingbirds love it). I love the Grand Mesa, which blooms earlier in the season and the Prairie Jewels, which has varying colors.

I’ve got lots of different types of Salvia, including May Night and CaradonnaSalvia daghestanica is one of my favorites. It requires almost no water. It is in a spot between the patio and the flagstone walkway. I have two patches, one that gets water and one that doesn’t, and they look virtually the same.

Walker’s Low Catmint, it’s beautiful all year. And I have lots of Sedum for texture and lots of Ice Plant and groundcover Veronicas, which provide tons of color.

I have one big Iris and several dwarf Iris (6-10 inches tall) that friends have given me that are sentimental favorites.

One example of the
One example of the "happy accidents" in the garden, where plants have naturally grown together. Shown here are Hens and Chicks with Ice Plant.
The
The "inferno strip" is filled with xeric (drought resistant) plants that only need supplemental water a couple times a year. Plants include Penstemons, Mirabilis, Woolly Speedwell, Prairie Clover, Globe Mallow, Salvia azurea, Liatris, and lots of Californ

One of my favorite plants is Creeping Grey Germander (Teucrium aroanium). The leaves are beautiful soft gray with orchid purple flowers. It has the demeanor of a spring plant, but blooms from mid summer to winter. It’s maybe my favorite plant in the whole garden, and it gets asked about the most. It has that same structure as candytuft and is a nice combination with every thing else that blooms in the summer.

I have planted several Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) right outside my living room window, so I can watch the hummingbirds from in my house. My favorite thing about Agastache is the fragrance.

One other plant I really like is the Western Sundancer Daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis v. ivesiana). I love that it seeds around a little bit, but is never a nuisance, and has those pretty little daisies. This year I’m trying the Thrift-leaf Perky Sue (Hymenoxys scaposa).

In the "inferno strip” I have Fernbush, dwarf Rabbit BrushApache PlumePenstemonsMirabilisSulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum), Woolly Speedwell (Veronica)Prairie Clover (Dalea)Globe MallowSalvia azureaLiatris, and a ton of California poppies. My last act before tucking the garden in for the winter that first year was to throw poppy seeds in the gravel mulch of the inferno strip. They are so prolific that I need to clean out the poppies from around smaller plants like Scuttelaria every year.

This year in addition to Perky Sue, I’m adding Black Foot Daisy and Salvia Ultra Violet to the “inferno strip”.

Shop Pollinator Plants

  1. Bee Bonanza Ornamental Oregano Collection

    Our Bee Bonanza Bonanza Ornamental Oregano Collection will fill your garden with easy-care, fragrant, pollinator-favorite flowers. Our bee-friendly collection features three of our f...

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    $79.41
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    Our Bee Bonanza Bonanza Ornamental Oregano Collection will fill your garden with easy-care, fragrant, pollinator-favorite flowers. Our bee-friendly collection features three of our favorite varieties, ranging from draping to upright, with flower clusters large and small in rose, pink, and magenta. Blooms in gardens or containers all summer and well into fall. Collection of 9 plants.
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  2. Angelina Stonecrop, Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'

    Fast-growing, and colorful, 'Angelina' Creeping Sedum (Sedum rupestre) adds a dazzling highlight with colors from chartreuse to golden yellow. Easy to grow, it will spread quickly as...

    Learn More
    Angelina Sedum Angelina Stonecrop Sedum rupestre Angelina
    As low as $7.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Fast-growing, and colorful, 'Angelina' Creeping Sedum (Sedum rupestre) adds a dazzling highlight with colors from chartreuse to golden yellow. Easy to grow, it will spread quickly as a drought-tolerant groundcover. Bright yellow star-like flowers bloom in summer and foliage turns golden-orange in autumn. A great pick for rock gardens, dry borders, and large expanses of ground that need planting.
    Learn More
  3. Manzano Mountains Strain Hedgehog Cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus Manzano Mts., growing in rock garden with red flowers

    Our Manzano Mountains Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) has stout stems with fewer spines than are typical for the species, for an unusual appearance that cold hardy cac...

    Learn More
    Manzano Mountains Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus) Manzano Mountains Strain Hedgehog Cactus Echinocereus triglochidiatus Manzano Mts.
    $12.99
    Per Plant - 2" Pot
    Our Manzano Mountains Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) has stout stems with fewer spines than are typical for the species, for an unusual appearance that cold hardy cacti growers will appreciate. Deep red mid-spring flowers are a hummingbird favorite. Tough and very cold hardy, this native cactus is a great rock garden specimen or addition to the xeric landscape. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
    Learn More
  4. Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Beard Tongue, Penstemon strictus ‘WWG06’

    Blanca Peak™ White Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) is an award-winning white-flowered selection of our native Rocky Mountain Penstemon. Large, tubular flowers are a favorite nectar ...

    Learn More
    Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Penstemon Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Beardtongue Penstemon strictus 'WWG06'
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Blanca Peak™ White Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) is an award-winning white-flowered selection of our native Rocky Mountain Penstemon. Large, tubular flowers are a favorite nectar source for bumblebees. Plant this easy-to-grow beardtongue for a sturdy, long-lived late-spring bloomer in your xeriscape. This beauty thrives in most well-drained soil with full sun exposure. A 2021 Plant Select® Winner. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
    Learn More

Do you have any advice for other gardeners?

The one thing that really made the difference, because I was planting in the heat of the summer, was to use a root stimulant to help get the plants established. I really think that made a huge difference in planting during the heat.

If you’re going to use xeric plants, remember, they’re desert plants. They don’t want to have a lot of rich material. Just plant in topsoil, not topsoil with compost. I don’t feed anything in my garden except for a couple roses that I have close to the house. So skip the compost, and don’t use organic mulch. Use gravel and don’t use weed fabric.

People ask me about the garden all the time. Because my house is in a very public area, and my garden is in the front yard, I feel pressure to keep it looking good. But you can have a beautiful xeriscape with a lot less work than I put into it. But to me it isn’t work. I love every minute I spend out there, even the weeding!

This summer will be my 4th season. There’s a saying about perennials: First they sleep, and then creep and then leap. It was really true. This is year four and everything is just so healthy.

What are some of the things you appreciate most about your garden?

I’ve never had a garden with fewer problems and it turned out better than I ever thought it would.

It’s full of bees. I have a neighbor that was a retired environmental scientist, just comes to watch the bees. He told be one day that the diversity of the insects in my garden is just amazing, and it’s always buzzing with butterflies, sphinx moths, and hummingbirds.

After: Creeping Grey Germander (Teucrium aroanium) with multiple varieties of Penstemon, Salvia and Ice Plant.After: Creeping Grey Germander (Teucrium aroanium) with multiple varieties of Penstemon, Salvia and Ice Plant.
After: Creeping Grey Germander (Teucrium aroanium) with multiple varieties of Penstemon, Salvia and Ice Plant.

The prettiest parts of the garden are parts that I didn’t do. It’s taken on a life of its own. Plants are popping up between flagstones and boulders, and it looks very natural. I can’t take credit for all of it. You have to let it just happen and not be concerned with everything being perfect.

Shop Native Plants

  1. Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Beard Tongue, Penstemon strictus ‘WWG06’

    Blanca Peak™ White Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) is an award-winning white-flowered selection of our native Rocky Mountain Penstemon. Large, tubular flowers are a favorite nectar ...

    Learn More
    Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Penstemon Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Beardtongue Penstemon strictus 'WWG06'
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Blanca Peak™ White Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) is an award-winning white-flowered selection of our native Rocky Mountain Penstemon. Large, tubular flowers are a favorite nectar source for bumblebees. Plant this easy-to-grow beardtongue for a sturdy, long-lived late-spring bloomer in your xeriscape. This beauty thrives in most well-drained soil with full sun exposure. A 2021 Plant Select® Winner. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
    Learn More
  2. SteppeSuns® Sunset Glow Beard Tongue, Penstemon pinifolius ‘P019S', orange flowers

    A soft orange-flowered selection of pineleaf beardtongue, SteppeSuns® Sunset Glow Penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius) is a native cultivar that starts flowering in late spring and attr...

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    $8.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    A soft orange-flowered selection of pineleaf beardtongue, SteppeSuns® Sunset Glow Penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius) is a native cultivar that starts flowering in late spring and attracts numerous pollinators and hummingbirds. Reminiscent of Colorado summer sunsets, its long-lasting blooms add a warm glow to dry area gardens. Finely textured evergreen foliage forms a compact mound for year-round interest.
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  3. Purple Beauty Creeping Phlox, Phlox subulata Purple Beauty growing in rock garden as groundcover

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    Purple Beauty Creeping Phlox Purple Beauty Creeping Phlox Phlox subulata Purple Beauty
    $10.49
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    An easy-to-grow groundcover, 'Purple Beauty' Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) carpets the mid-to-late spring garden with starry lavender-purple flowers. Whether you are looking for a water-thrifty addition to flow through a rock garden, or a beautiful way to highlight a spring-blooming bulb collection, 'Purple Beauty' will add pollinator-friendly, drought-tolerant spring beauty to your garden.
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  4. Arrowleaf Buckwheat, Eriogonum compositum, clusters of creamy white flowers

    Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) is a lovely Sulphur Buckwheat with large, showy clusters of creamy white or light yellow flowers and low-growing rosette of large heart-sha...

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    Arrowleaf Buckwheat Arrowleaf Buckwheat Eriogonum compositum
    $12.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Arrowleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) is a lovely Sulphur Buckwheat with large, showy clusters of creamy white or light yellow flowers and low-growing rosette of large heart-shaped leaves. Beautiful late spring blooms add playful texture to the garden. Native to the dry areas of the Pacific Northwest, this buckwheat is an essential habitat plant for butterflies, beneficial insects, and wildlife.
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