Rocky Hillside Transformed Into Wildlife Oasis

Heern-Rock-Garden-After--9-2012
Plants include: Cosmos started from seed, Stachys, Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi), Russian Sage (Perovskia) as well as several different varieties of Sedum and Thyme.

Using Drought Resistant and Native Plants To Attract Birds and Butterflies: A Habitat Hero Success Story In Evergreen, CO

With Louise H. - 2015 Outstanding Habitat Hero Residential Garden

What motivated you to create a wildscape garden?

My yard in Chicago backed up to a forest preserve and was registered as a National Wildlife Habitat. I loved all the birds and pollinators there and had a beautiful butterfly garden. But when we first moved to Evergreen in July of 2009, with the exception of a small failing Aspen grove and a beautiful Douglas fir on the north side, our new home sat in the middle of a 4-acre dry, barren clearing; nothing but weeds, rocks and dust--without even a bird in sight, only voles--which we still have!

Heern-Rock-Garden-After-8-2012-(1)
Plants featured are Ice Plant (Delosperma), Yellow Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida), Russian Sage (Perovskia) and Bee Balm (Monarda).

My husband had a fence installed around a manageable area in the back, and we started planting. Since we had no trees, my first attempt to attract birds was by putting out multiple water features and feeders on our deck. (We can only offer the bird feeders in the winter when the bears are hibernating.) One of the few things I like about living in a clearing are the bluebirds. We put up several bluebird houses shortly after we moved in. They have since been occupied every spring. Usually, one bluebird family and one swallow family. This summer, we had a Mountain Bluebird family and an Eastern Bluebird family. They love bird baths. The hummingbirds saved me! They arrive by the dozens and we all enjoy their entertaining antics.

Over the course of five very short, very challenging high altitude (8,700 feet) growing seasons, and the completion of Colorado State University’s Master Gardener program, the once barren back yard is now like an oasis with quite a wide variety of birds.

Heern-Problem-Hill-After-8-2014-(2)
Plants include a low growing variety of Solidago, Creeping Phlox, Bearded Iris, Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida), Catmint (Nepeta), a dwarf weeping Norway Spruce, Red Birds in a Tree, Penstemon, Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus).

There is also a garden now, full of pollinators, a snake, a lizard and even a mud puddle for the butterflies. The garden is left untouched over the winter to feed the birds, and there are heat coils in the bird baths. The arid Colorado climate and the completion of CSU’s Master Gardener program helped me to understand the importance of planting natives and xeric selections whenever possible. Outside the fence has been left to its natural, chaotic state, sustaining the wildlife that the fence keeps out!

What makes your wildscape special? For example, the story of creating it? The plants you use? Birds and other pollinators it attracts?

This garden is special to me because it is a fighter! It has survived and thrived what I call "combat gardening"--short growing seasons, frosts in early September, snow in May and late frosts again in June. It has survived cold summer nights, drying winds, little precipitation and every rodent imaginable under the hot sun!

It’s special because of the story of creating it, yes, but mostly because of all the birds and pollinators it has since attracted. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine having butterflies again--not with the strong winds we get up here at 8,700 feet! Starting out as nothing but a barren clearing, with many mistakes and much learned, its evolved over the last five growing seasons into a yard full of birds of every feather, bees, hawk moths and butterflies has been and will continue to be a labor of love.

Heern-Rock-Garden-After-7-2014
Plants include a Knock-out Rose (front left); the brighter pink is Geranium sanguineum 'John Elsley'; the pale pink is Karmina Geranium; directly behind the pale pink is Catmint (Nepeta); and in the far back peaking over the left top are several Bearded Iris..
Heern-Problem-Hill-After-6-2014
After: The rocky slope has evolved into a yard full of birds of every feather, bees, hawk moths and butterflies. Bordering the rock garden and the hill are wild Roses, Coneflower (Echinacea), Black-Eyed Susan, Daisy and Viburnum.
Heern-Rock-Garden-Before-5-2010-(1)
Before: The rocky hillside in Evergreen, CO presented a huge gardening challenge
  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 ...

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    Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Penstemon Blanca Peak™ Rocky Mountain Beardtongue Penstemon strictus 'WWG06'
    Sale Price I Save 5%
    $10.99 Sale $10.44
    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.
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  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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    Sale Price I Save 5%
    $8.99 Sale $8.54
    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

    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 ...

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    Purple Beauty Creeping Phlox Purple Beauty Creeping Phlox Phlox subulata Purple Beauty
    Sale Price I Save 5%
    $10.49 Sale $9.97
    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
    Sale Price I Save 5%
    $12.99 Sale $12.34
    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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  5. Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus intricatus

    A native shrub from the southwestern US, Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus intricatus) features attractive silvery evergreen foliage for year-round interest and bird habitat....

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    Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus) Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany Cercocarpus intricatus
    Sale Price I Save 5%
    $12.99 Sale $12.34
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    A native shrub from the southwestern US, Littleleaf Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus intricatus) features attractive silvery evergreen foliage for year-round interest and bird habitat. Its compact size and outstanding durability make it an excellent choice for hedging and xeric landscaping. In mid-spring, the shrub is covered in plumes of tiny pale flowers, which are pollinated by small native bees to create feathery seed tails that catch the afternoon light.
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  6. FlowerKisser Everpink Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis 'WWG08'

    FlowerKisser™ Everpink Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is a seedless desert willow with large, fragrant pink flowers that cover the plant all summer long. This wide-growing nati...

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    FlowerKisser™ Everpink Desert Willow FlowerKisser™ Everpink Desert Willow Chilopsis linearis 'WWG08'
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $14.99 Sale $13.49
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    FlowerKisser™ Everpink Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is a seedless desert willow with large, fragrant pink flowers that cover the plant all summer long. This wide-growing native tree loves heat and full sun, making it a versatile addition to hot, dry gardens. Nectar-rich blooms are highly attractive to hummingbirds. A High Country Gardens Introduction.
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  7. Giant Sulphur Buckwheat, Eriogonum umbellatum var. devestivum, growing on mountainside

    A showy display of bright yellow flower clusters in late summer to early fall distinguishes Giant Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) from all others. This durable, drought tole...

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    Giant Sulphur Buckwheat Giant Sulphur Buckwheat Eriogonum umbellatum var. devestivum
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $12.99 Sale $11.69
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    A showy display of bright yellow flower clusters in late summer to early fall distinguishes Giant Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum) from all others. This durable, drought tolerant shrub is especially valuable as a late season nectar source for bees and butterflies. Native to the Great Basin of the western US, this very xeric and long-lived Buckwheat can thrive for decades in your landscape.
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  8. Little Rascal Sulphur Buckwheat, Eriogonum allenii 'Little Rascal'

    Huge, flat-topped flower clusters create a dome of bright yellow color over the large attractive gray-green leaves of 'Little Rascal' Buckwheat (Eriogonum allenii). Blooming througho...

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    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $11.99 Sale $10.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Huge, flat-topped flower clusters create a dome of bright yellow color over the large attractive gray-green leaves of 'Little Rascal' Buckwheat (Eriogonum allenii). Blooming throughout the summer and into fall, it is highly attractive to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. This low-care buckwheat is more moisture tolerant than most and can be grown across much of the US when planted in full sun and well drained soils.
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Interview by Wendy Hatoum, Marketing Brand Manager, High Country Gardens

© This article is shared with High Country Gardens courtesy of Habitat Hero Program of the Audubon Rockies. Republishing an entire High Country Gardens blog post or article is prohibited without written 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.