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. Blue and Purple Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage, Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage, Desert Purple Sage

    Desert Purple Sage is a showy late spring blooming native shrublet with silver foliage and blue flowers pushing out from mid-purple bracts. Impervious to browsing deer and rabbits, ...

    Learn More
    Desert Purple Salvia Desert Purple Sage Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage
    As low as $10.99 Sale $9.34
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Desert Purple Sage is a showy late spring blooming native shrublet with silver foliage and blue flowers pushing out from mid-purple bracts. Impervious to browsing deer and rabbits, it is a pollinator's delight attracting all types of bees. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  2. White Paronychia kepela ssp. serpyllifolia, Paronychia kepela ssp. serpyllifolia, Silver Nailwort

    1" tall x 18" wide. Silver Nailwort is a tough-as-nails groundcover with tiny green thyme-like leaves and silver seed heads that look like white flowers. Recommended as an improved ...

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    Paronychia (Silver Nailwort) Silver Nailwort Paronychia kapela ssp. serpyllifolia
    As low as $7.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    1" tall x 18" wide. Silver Nailwort is a tough-as-nails groundcover with tiny green thyme-like leaves and silver seed heads that look like white flowers. Recommended as an improved substitute for white thyme because it's more durable and drought tolerant. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  3. Hesperaloe parviflora Straight Up Red PPAF

    Straight Up Red Texas Yucca PPAF is an everblooming yucca that produces a summer-long display of red-pink flowers held on strongly upright growing flower spikes. 2017 Plant of The Ye...

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    Straight Up Red Texas Yucca (Hesperaloe) Straight Up Red Texas Yucca Hesperaloe parviflora Straight Up Red
    As low as $12.99 Sale $10.39
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Straight Up Red Texas Yucca PPAF is an everblooming yucca that produces a summer-long display of red-pink flowers held on strongly upright growing flower spikes. 2017 Plant of The Year.
    Learn More
  4. Pristine™ Pink Penstemon, Photo Courtesy of Plant Select

    An improved form of Penstemon, Pristine™ Pink (Penstemon barbatus) blooms for a long time in mid-summer, with glossy foliage that offers lasting texture. Medium-tall spikes of brig...

    Learn More
    Pristine™ Pink Penstemon Pristine™ Pink Beardtongue Penstemon barbatus Pristine™ Pink
    You save: 10%
    Regular Price $10.99 Sale $9.89
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    An improved form of Penstemon, Pristine™ Pink (Penstemon barbatus) blooms for a long time in mid-summer, with glossy foliage that offers lasting texture. Medium-tall spikes of bright pink tubular flowers attract hummingbirds and bees. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  5. Ben Fhada Rock Rose, Helianthemum nummularium

    Ben Fhada Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium) is a small scale, low-water groundcover with evergreen foliage. A profuse display of long-blooming flowers with broad yellow petals and...

    Learn More
    Ben Fhada Rock Rose (Helianthemum) Ben Fhada Rock Rose Helianthemum Ben Fhada
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Ben Fhada Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium) is a small scale, low-water groundcover with evergreen foliage. A profuse display of long-blooming flowers with broad yellow petals and orange eyes add bright, cheery color to your garden starting in early spring. Trailing evergreen foliage is a beautiful addition to rock gardens or dry slopes. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  6. Kahori Pink® Dianthus, Close up of Pink Blooms

    Kahori Pink® Dianthus is a small-growing variety that blooms for months with fragrant, deep pink flowers held over a mound of tidy grass-like foliage. A low-maintenance perennial wi...

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    Kahori Pink® Dianthus Kahori® Pink Garden Pinks Dianthus Kahori® Pink
    You save: 15%
    Regular Price $9.99 Sale $8.49
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Kahori Pink® Dianthus is a small-growing variety that blooms for months with fragrant, deep pink flowers held over a mound of tidy grass-like foliage. A low-maintenance perennial with a neat and tidy habit will add saturated color to your garden, attracting butterflies and bees.
    Learn More
  7. Annabelle Dianthus

    Annabelle Dianthus is a small-growing variety with fragrant single white flowers that bloom for months, attracting bees and butterflies. Tidy mounding grass-like foliage make this a ...

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    Annabelle Dianthus Kahori® Annabelle Garden Pinks Dianthus Kahori® Annabelle
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Annabelle Dianthus is a small-growing variety with fragrant single white flowers that bloom for months, attracting bees and butterflies. Tidy mounding grass-like foliage make this a low-maintenance perennial to add bright color to your garden, attracting butterflies and bees.
    Learn More
  8. Alpine Rock Thyme, Acinos alpinus

    Alpine Rock Thyme (Acinos alpinus), a wildflower from the southern mountains of Europe, is small growing perennial that’s perfect for rock gardens and xeriscapes. Short spikes of l...

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    Alpine Rock Thyme (Acinos) Alpine Rock Thyme Acinos alpinus
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Alpine Rock Thyme (Acinos alpinus), a wildflower from the southern mountains of Europe, is small growing perennial that’s perfect for rock gardens and xeriscapes. Short spikes of large purple flower in the summer top glossy green foliage, attracting bees.
    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. Blue and Purple Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage, Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage, Desert Purple Sage

    Desert Purple Sage is a showy late spring blooming native shrublet with silver foliage and blue flowers pushing out from mid-purple bracts. Impervious to browsing deer and rabbits, ...

    Learn More
    Desert Purple Salvia Desert Purple Sage Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage
    As low as $10.99 Sale $9.34
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Desert Purple Sage is a showy late spring blooming native shrublet with silver foliage and blue flowers pushing out from mid-purple bracts. Impervious to browsing deer and rabbits, it is a pollinator's delight attracting all types of bees. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  2. Blue Caryopteris clandonensis Dark Knight, Caryopteris clandonensis Dark Knight, Blue Mist Spirea Dark Knight

    Dark Knight Blue Mist spirea (Caryopteris clandonensis) blooms with a profusion of dark blue flowers in late summer when few other shrubs are flowering. Its modest size makes it very...

    Learn More
    Dark Knight Caryopteris Dark Knight Blue Mist Spirea, Bluebeard Caryopteris clandonensis Dark Knight
    You save: 15%
    Regular Price $11.99 Sale $10.19
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Dark Knight Blue Mist spirea (Caryopteris clandonensis) blooms with a profusion of dark blue flowers in late summer when few other shrubs are flowering. Its modest size makes it very useful in smaller yards. A fantastic nectar source for bees and butterflies. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  3. Pristine™ Pink Penstemon, Photo Courtesy of Plant Select

    An improved form of Penstemon, Pristine™ Pink (Penstemon barbatus) blooms for a long time in mid-summer, with glossy foliage that offers lasting texture. Medium-tall spikes of brig...

    Learn More
    Pristine™ Pink Penstemon Pristine™ Pink Beardtongue Penstemon barbatus Pristine™ Pink
    You save: 10%
    Regular Price $10.99 Sale $9.89
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    An improved form of Penstemon, Pristine™ Pink (Penstemon barbatus) blooms for a long time in mid-summer, with glossy foliage that offers lasting texture. Medium-tall spikes of bright pink tubular flowers attract hummingbirds and bees. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  4. Ben Fhada Rock Rose, Helianthemum nummularium

    Ben Fhada Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium) is a small scale, low-water groundcover with evergreen foliage. A profuse display of long-blooming flowers with broad yellow petals and...

    Learn More
    Ben Fhada Rock Rose (Helianthemum) Ben Fhada Rock Rose Helianthemum Ben Fhada
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Ben Fhada Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium) is a small scale, low-water groundcover with evergreen foliage. A profuse display of long-blooming flowers with broad yellow petals and orange eyes add bright, cheery color to your garden starting in early spring. Trailing evergreen foliage is a beautiful addition to rock gardens or dry slopes. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    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. Blue and Purple Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage, Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage, Desert Purple Sage

    Desert Purple Sage is a showy late spring blooming native shrublet with silver foliage and blue flowers pushing out from mid-purple bracts. Impervious to browsing deer and rabbits, ...

    Learn More
    Desert Purple Salvia Desert Purple Sage Salvia dorrii Desert Purple Sage
    As low as $10.99 Sale $9.34
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Desert Purple Sage is a showy late spring blooming native shrublet with silver foliage and blue flowers pushing out from mid-purple bracts. Impervious to browsing deer and rabbits, it is a pollinator's delight attracting all types of bees. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  2. Purple Liatris, Liatris aspera, Gayfeather

    Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star, Button Blazing Star, Gayfeather) is a large growing, showy drought tolerant species from the Mid-West. The large pink flowers are highly attractiv...

    Learn More
    Rough Blazing Star (Liatris) Rough Blazing Star Liatris aspera
    You save: 10%
    Regular Price $7.99 Sale $7.19
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star, Button Blazing Star, Gayfeather) is a large growing, showy drought tolerant species from the Mid-West. The large pink flowers are highly attractive to bees and butterflies. Drought resistant/drought tolerant perennial plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  3. 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
    You save: 5%
    Regular Price $11.99 Sale $11.39
    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
  4. Cardinal Penstemon Close Up of Red Tubular Blooms

    Cardinal Penstemon (Penstemon cardinalis) is a rare, cold hardy wildflower from the southern mountains of New Mexico. Tall, impressive spikes of dark red flowers bloom in mid-summer,...

    Learn More
    Cardinal Penstemon Cardinal Beardtongue Penstemon cardinalis
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Cardinal Penstemon (Penstemon cardinalis) is a rare, cold hardy wildflower from the southern mountains of New Mexico. Tall, impressive spikes of dark red flowers bloom in mid-summer, making this favorite source of natural nectar for hummingbirds. A must-have for your pollinator garden. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More

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