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. Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'

    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild popula...

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    Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild population in its Indiana habitat. Grow this special native cultivar to add unexpected color and an interesting conversation starter to your pollinator garden. A 2021 High Country Gardens Introduction.
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  2. Superstar Aster Collection

    Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. F...

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    Superstar Aster Collection Superstar Aster Collection
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $47.95 Sale $43.15
    Per Collection of 5
    Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. Featuring five varieties of Asters for an array of colors and varying heights, this collection will refresh the garden with late season flowers, just as summer’s blooms begin to fade. Collection of 5 plants. (Symphyotrichum)
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  3. Honeysong Pink New England Aster, Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae Honeysong Pink

    Honeysong Pink New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglie) announces fall with an abundance of lovely pink, golden-centered flowers. Standing tall, it is a perfect solution for a...

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    Honeysong Pink New England Aster Honeysong Pink New England Aster Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae 'Honeysong Pink'
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Honeysong Pink New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglie) announces fall with an abundance of lovely pink, golden-centered flowers. Standing tall, it is a perfect solution for adding height to the back of the perennial border. A pollinator favorite, this easy to grow native cultivar will bloom from late summer well into fall, filling the garden with late season color and visiting pollinators.
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  4. Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster, Aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolius 'Dream of Beauty'

    Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many A...

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    Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster Aster (Symphyotrichum) oblongifolius 'Dream of Beauty'
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many Asters, it will brighten the garden with dense foliage and sweet pink flowers. A favorite of butterflies, this native cultivar is essential for late-season blooms in the pollinator garden.
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  5. Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm, Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm

    Rudbeckia Goldsturm blooms in mid-to-late summer with an eye-catching display of golden flowers. Black Eyed Susan is very attractive to butterflies and the seed heads provide winter ...

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    Goldsturm Black Eyed Susan Black Eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm
    As low as $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Rudbeckia Goldsturm blooms in mid-to-late summer with an eye-catching display of golden flowers. Black Eyed Susan is very attractive to butterflies and the seed heads provide winter food for seed-eating songbirds as well. Reliable and tough, Rudbeckia tolerates both drought and clay plus easy to maintain.
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  6. Pink and Orange and Silver Agastache rupestris, Agastache rupestris, Licorice Mint or Sunset Hyssop

    Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) is one of the best, most durable species in the Agastache family. With smoky orange flowers held by lavender calyxes, the entire plant is s...

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    Agastache rupestris Licorice Hummingbird Mint (Sunset Hyssop) Agastache rupestris
    As low as $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Agastache rupestris (Licorice Mint Hyssop) is one of the best, most durable species in the Agastache family. With smoky orange flowers held by lavender calyxes, the entire plant is scented like licorice and mint. A 1996 High Country Gardens introduction. Drought resistant/drought tolerant perennial plant (xeric).
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  7. Rose Swamp Milkweed

    Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for adult butterflies. Also...

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    Rose Swamp Milkweed Rose Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for adult butterflies. Also known as Swamp Milkweed, it grows best in moist or wet soils.
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  8. Red and Yellow Gaillardia grandiflora Arizona Sun, Gaillardia grandiflora Arizona Sun, Arizona Sun Blanket Flower

    Gaillardia Arizona Sun is a 2005 All America Selections winner because of its outstanding hardiness, everblooming flowers, and drought tolerance. With modest deadheading Arizona Sun ...

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    Arizona Sun Gaillardia Arizona Sun Blanket Flower Gaillardia grandiflora Arizona Sun
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Gaillardia Arizona Sun is a 2005 All America Selections winner because of its outstanding hardiness, everblooming flowers, and drought tolerance. With modest deadheading Arizona Sun Blanket Flower is covered with red-orange and yellow bi-colored flowers all season long. Drought resistant perennial plant (xeric).
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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.