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. Lavandula angustifolia Thumbelina Leigh

    Thumbelina Leigh is a robust dwarf growing English variety with plump, deep lavender-blue flower spikes, and a strong, sweet fragrance. Maturing to a height of about 15 inches, it is...

    Learn More
    Thumbelina Leigh Dwarf English Lavender Thumbelina Leigh Dwarf English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia Thumbelina Leigh
    As low as $12.49
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Thumbelina Leigh is a robust dwarf growing English variety with plump, deep lavender-blue flower spikes, and a strong, sweet fragrance. Maturing to a height of about 15 inches, it is one of the most compact cultivars in cultivation.
    Learn More
  2. Achillea Moonshine Yarrow Photo Courtesy of Walter's Gardens Inc.

    Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea Moonshine) is an outstanding perennial plant with silver-gray foliage and lemon-yellow flat-topped flowers that cover the plant all summer. This is a well-...

    Learn More
    Moonshine Yarrow Moonshine Yarrow Achillea Moonshine
    As low as $9.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea Moonshine) is an outstanding perennial plant with silver-gray foliage and lemon-yellow flat-topped flowers that cover the plant all summer. This is a well-behaved variety, meaning it won't reseed and spread.
    Learn More
  3. Phlox nana Perfect Pink, Perfect Pink Santa Fe Phlox

    Exclusive. Perfect Pink Phlox (Santa Fe Phlox) is a one of the very best Western wildflowers. Blooming in late spring with hundreds of large deep pink, white eyed flowers, it continu...

    Learn More
    Perfect Pink Santa Fe Phlox Perfect Pink Santa Fe Phlox Phlox nana Perfect Pink
    As low as $9.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Exclusive. Perfect Pink Phlox (Santa Fe Phlox) is a one of the very best Western wildflowers. Blooming in late spring with hundreds of large deep pink, white eyed flowers, it continues to bloom off and on throughout the summer. Grows in any soil including heavy clay. Drought resistant/drought tolerant perennial plant (xeric). 2013 Plant of the Year.
    Learn More
  4. Phenomenal Lavender Plant,  Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal field

    Phenomenal French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Phenomenal' PP24193) is a French hybrid lavender notable for its outstanding cold hardiness and tolerance to heat and high hu...

    Learn More
    Phenomenal Lavender Phenomenal Lavender Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal PP#24,193
    As low as $12.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Phenomenal French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Phenomenal' PP24193) is a French hybrid lavender notable for its outstanding cold hardiness and tolerance to heat and high humidity. The plants grow into a beautiful mounded shape, with purple flowers on tall stems in mid-summer.
    Learn More
  5. Veronica Blue Reflection®, Blue Reflection® Speedwell

    Blue Reflection® Veronica (Speedwell) is a vigorous groundcover that covers its garden space with handsome evergreen foliage and a profuse late spring display of small blue flowe...

    Learn More
    Blue Reflection® Veronica Blue Reflection® Creeping Speedwell Veronica x Blue Reflection®
    As low as $7.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Blue Reflection® Veronica (Speedwell) is a vigorous groundcover that covers its garden space with handsome evergreen foliage and a profuse late spring display of small blue flowers; very durable and xeric.
    Learn More
  6. Solidago sphacelata Golden Fleece

    Golden Fleece is a small growing goldenrod with sprays of arching golden-yellow flower spikes in late summer. A strong but compact plant, it is a great companion planted in front of ...

    Learn More
    Golden Fleece Goldenrod (Solidago) Golden Fleece Dwarf Goldenrod Solidago sphacelata Golden Fleece
    $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Golden Fleece is a small growing goldenrod with sprays of arching golden-yellow flower spikes in late summer. A strong but compact plant, it is a great companion planted in front of taller, late blooming perennials. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  7. Mellow Yellows Coneflower, Echinacea 'Mellow Yellows'

    Mellow Yellows Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a study in harmony with beautiful blossoms ranging from cream to gold. Blooming from early summer to first frost, Mellow Yellows has...

    Learn More
    Mellow Yellows Echinacea Mellow Yellows Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Mellow Yellows
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Mellow Yellows Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a study in harmony with beautiful blossoms ranging from cream to gold. Blooming from early summer to first frost, Mellow Yellows has a long-lasting steady supply of blooms, making it an essential garden workhorse. Butterflies, bees, and birds are frequent visitors to Echinacea, and you can leave tall, sturdy flowers up over the winter for visual interest and food supplies. Beautiful for cut flowers on long, sturdy stems.
    Learn More
  8. All Star Penstemon Collection

    Our ‘All Star Penstemon Collection’ is a showcase of colors and forms that delivers more flowers every year. Enjoy warm red, pale pink, magenta, and inky purple flowers blooming ...

    Learn More
    All Star Penstemon Collection All Star Penstemon Collection Penstemon Collection
    $128.35
    Per Collection of 15
    Our ‘All Star Penstemon Collection’ is a showcase of colors and forms that delivers more flowers every year. Enjoy warm red, pale pink, magenta, and inky purple flowers blooming early spring to early summer, followed by a lovely tapestry of evergreen foliage textures to complement later-blooming perennials. Penstemon, or Beardtongue, are easy-to-grow native perennials that will spread steadily, attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, but resisting hungry deer. Plant 10” tall Penstemon pinifolius with vivid scarlet flowers in front, and willowy 48-60” tall Penstemon palmeri with pale pink fragrant flowers in back. A must-have collection for waterwise gardens! Collection of 15 plants.
    Learn More

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. Red Achillea millefolium Red Velvet, Red Velvet Yarrow

    Red Velvet is one of the best with it deep rose-red, flat-topped flower heads that hold their color. Deep green, fine textured foliage, this yarrow is sure to attract butterflies whe...

    Learn More
    Red Velvet Yarrow Red Velvet Yarrow Achillea millefolium Red Velvet
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Red Velvet is one of the best with it deep rose-red, flat-topped flower heads that hold their color. Deep green, fine textured foliage, this yarrow is sure to attract butterflies wherever it's planted. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  2. Pollinator Paradise Pre-Planned Garden

    You'll enjoy this colorful perennial garden as much as your pollinators. These beautiful, summer-blooming perennials are full of nectar for our bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. T...

    Learn More
    Pollinator Paradise Pre-Planned Garden Pollinator Paradise Pre-Planned Garden
    Regular Price $69.92 Sale $62.93
    Per Garden of 8 Plants
    You save: 10%
    You'll enjoy this colorful perennial garden as much as your pollinators. These beautiful, summer-blooming perennials are full of nectar for our bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. The garden design of 8 plants will fit a 5' x 5' space; comes with planting diagram and maintenance instructions. The Pollinator Paradise is suitable for use across most of the country, but not in the Desert Southwest (Phoenix/Palm Desert/Las Vegas), Gulf Coast or the Deep South. Save $8.00 off the single plant price of $83.92.
    Learn More
  3. White Phlox paniculata David, Phlox paniculata David, Tall White Garden Phlox

    Phlox David blooms in mid-summer with round heads of large, pure white, delightfully fragrant flowers. The foliage is mildew resistant and this perennial grows easily in compost-enri...

    Learn More
    David Garden Phlox David Garden Phlox Phlox paniculata David
    As low as $10.49
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Phlox David blooms in mid-summer with round heads of large, pure white, delightfully fragrant flowers. The foliage is mildew resistant and this perennial grows easily in compost-enriched garden soil. The 2002 Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year.
    Learn More
  4. Phenomenal Lavender Plant,  Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal field

    Phenomenal French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Phenomenal' PP24193) is a French hybrid lavender notable for its outstanding cold hardiness and tolerance to heat and high hu...

    Learn More
    Phenomenal Lavender Phenomenal Lavender Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal PP#24,193
    As low as $12.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Phenomenal French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Phenomenal' PP24193) is a French hybrid lavender notable for its outstanding cold hardiness and tolerance to heat and high humidity. The plants grow into a beautiful mounded shape, with purple flowers on tall stems in mid-summer.
    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. Asclepias syriaca

    Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) is a gorgeous plant that produces purple/pink flower clusters that wildflower gardeners love and spreads quickly. This native perennial is a prima...

    Learn More
    Common Milkweed Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
    $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) is a gorgeous plant that produces purple/pink flower clusters that wildflower gardeners love and spreads quickly. This native perennial is a primary food source for the Monarch butterfly providing large leaves for caterpillars and big pink globe-like flowers that provide nectar for the adult butterflies. Planting it will help to support Monarch populations. Perennial.
    Learn More
  2. Coreopsis Moonbeam, Yellow Moonbeam Tickseed

    12-18" w. x 12-18" tall. Coreopsis verticillata Moonbeam (Tickseed) has beautiful lemon-yellow flowers, with delicate lacy foliage. This compact plant blooms all summer long....

    Learn More
    Moonbeam Coreopsis Moonbeam Tickseed Coreopsis verticillata Moonbeam
    As low as $10.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    12-18" w. x 12-18" tall. Coreopsis verticillata Moonbeam (Tickseed) has beautiful lemon-yellow flowers, with delicate lacy foliage. This compact plant blooms all summer long.
    Learn More
  3. All Star Penstemon Collection

    Our ‘All Star Penstemon Collection’ is a showcase of colors and forms that delivers more flowers every year. Enjoy warm red, pale pink, magenta, and inky purple flowers blooming ...

    Learn More
    All Star Penstemon Collection All Star Penstemon Collection Penstemon Collection
    $128.35
    Per Collection of 15
    Our ‘All Star Penstemon Collection’ is a showcase of colors and forms that delivers more flowers every year. Enjoy warm red, pale pink, magenta, and inky purple flowers blooming early spring to early summer, followed by a lovely tapestry of evergreen foliage textures to complement later-blooming perennials. Penstemon, or Beardtongue, are easy-to-grow native perennials that will spread steadily, attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, but resisting hungry deer. Plant 10” tall Penstemon pinifolius with vivid scarlet flowers in front, and willowy 48-60” tall Penstemon palmeri with pale pink fragrant flowers in back. A must-have collection for waterwise gardens! Collection of 15 plants.
    Learn More
  4. FlowerKisser™ Royal Rose Salvia with rose pink flowers, FlowerKisser™ Royal Rose Sage

    A new native hybrid sage, FlowerKisser™ ‘Royal Rose’ is enjoyed for its sumptuous deep rose pink flowers. This Salvia is an exceptionally long bloomer, attracting pollinating h...

    Learn More
    FlowerKisser™ Royal Rose Salvia FlowerKisser™ Royal Rose Sage Salvia Royal Rose (WW04 FlowerKisser™)
    $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    A new native hybrid sage, FlowerKisser™ ‘Royal Rose’ is enjoyed for its sumptuous deep rose pink flowers. This Salvia is an exceptionally long bloomer, attracting pollinating hummingbirds and bumblebees from late spring through early fall. The foliage is delightfully aromatic, releasing a pleasing sweet herbal scent when brushed or touched. Discovered by HCG Chief Horticulturist David Salman, and available exclusively from High Country Gardens.
    Learn More

© All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republishing an entire High Country Gardens blog post or article is prohibited without permission. Please feel free to share a short excerpt with a link back to the article on social media websites, such as Facebook and Pinterest.