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5. Prolific Perennials Flowers, Flowers, Flowers!

Carolyn A. Harstad Indiana University Press ePub

More than anything I must have flowers, always, always.

—Claude Monet, French painter

Purple Prairie Clover

Native-plant enthusiasts call them forbs. Plant nurseries and garden centers identify them as perennials. Gardeners refer to them simply as flowers. Whatever you call them, these are the plants that light up the garden, bringing color, fragrance, and beauty to the landscape and earning compliments from passersby.

Gardeners are often surprised to learn how many familiar, gardenworthy plants are native. Coreopsis and Black-eyed Susan have been perennial garden anchors for decades. Recently, gardeners have become excited about the huge flowers of perennial hibiscus that bloom in late summer. Do you grow asters? Or sedum? Or spiderwort? All these familiar plants are native. Let us take time to describe some of them and to add a few more to our repertoire.

Prairie plants are usually what people envision when they hear “native plant.” Unfortunately, their reputation for being weedy is well earned. Many gardeners who yearn to fill their sunny front yards with waving grasses and beautiful flowers believe that if you remove the grass, sprinkle a few seeds on the existing soil, and dampen the ground, nature will do the rest. That is not the case. Rather, the result is an unkempt, terrible looking yard and the natives get a bad rap.

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Chapter Two. How to Design Native Landscapes

Susan E. Meyer Utah State University Press ePub

Silver buckwheat

Now that you have completed your tour of native landscapes, imagine some possibilities for taking a new approach to designing landscapes in the Intermountain West. What might be some characteristics of these landscapes? First, they would be experientially rich. Their spatial character would incorporate a sense of mystery or intrigue, making us want to explore them further. The forms, colors and textures of the plants would be harmonious, just as the forms, colors, and textures of plants growing together in the natural landscapes of the Intermountain West exhibit harmony.

Second, these designed landscapes would be ecologically sound. Plants would be matched both to the regional environment and to the microhabitats in which they are placed. Because of this matching, the need for supplemental water would be reduced. And because there would be few, if any, areas of mowed turf, there would be little need to use fossil fuels to mow them. These landscapes would not include invasive introduced species that have the capacity to escape into the native landscape and reduce the natural diversity there.

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4. Superb Shrubs Absolute Essentials

Carolyn A. Harstad Indiana University Press ePub

One of the great pleasures of gardening lies in that basic promise of a garden—that each is its owner’s attempt at creating a personal paradise on earth.

—Allen Paterson

Sweetfern

When homeowners plan their landscapes, they usually begin by creating a want list. As noted in the previous chapter, the first item on that list is a usually a tree. The next item is invariably flowers. But let us not hasten to the consideration of annuals and perennials.

Are trees and flowers important? Of course, but shrubs are even more so. In fact, they may be the main component necessary to unify your home landscape. As the chapter title states, they are absolute essentials. Some will question that statement, so pause for a moment to decide whether you agree. What qualities can a shrub bring to your yard? Do they really serve any function other than to disguise the foundation of the house?

Begin by imagining a typical affordable ranch-style house set on a plot of green grass. The entire street is filled with similar houses planted squarely in the middle of each rectangle of turf grass. Except for the house, the grass stretches nearly unbroken on both sides of the street.

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Chapter Four. How to Install Native Landscapes

Susan E. Meyer Utah State University Press ePub

Mountain ash

Throughout the process of designing your native landscape, it has been necessary to keep referring back to the realities of your site. Now it is time to go outside and make those changes that need to be made in order to prepare your site for its new inhabitants, and then to plant them in a way that guarantees that they will prosper. This will require planning. Much of this process will probably be familiar to you from other landscaping and gardening projects you have undertaken, but there are some things that are unique about native plant landscaping, and these require careful attention. Just how complex the process will be depends on several factors. First, you probably need to deal with removing at least some of the existing vegetation on your site, whether it is lawn, foundation plantings, new weeds that inevitably show up uninvited in recently-spread topsoil, or longstanding infestations of perennial weeds. Second, depending on the nature of your soil, you may need to do some soil replacement or terracing/ berming, or both, to create the drainage that your plants will need. These kinds of modifications may also be necessary even if you do not have drainage issues, for example, if you are trying to create a congenial place for plants from much drier water zones. And, as discussed in the design section, terracing or berming can also be used to create topographic relief solely for design purposes, not specifically to meet the cultural requirements of plants. You may also need to make some grade modifications in order to implement the water harvesting system you have designed. These two steps can be relatively simple or quite complex, depending on the magnitude of the changes you need to make.

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Chapter 6. Native Landscape Pioneers Tell Their Stories

Susan E. Meyer Utah State University Press ePub

Utah ladyfinger milkvetch

Return of the Natives

Phil and Judy Allen, Orem, Utah—Semi-desert Zone

Personally, my choice to “go native” was as much about reconnecting with favorite childhood plants and memories as it was about art or philosophical ponderings related to environmental stewardship. Still, ripping out what remained of our front lawn in 2004 felt strangely awkward. (Every other front yard on our street had copious quantities of Kentucky bluegrass, and my PhD in horticulture focused on high-maintenance turfgrasses). That said, the journey from a solid carpet of lawn to the creation of a Wasatch Front canyon landscape has been worth it in every way.

We purchased our brick rambler in 1992. At that time, the completely flat landscape was dominated by lawn that reached from the house to all property lines. The trees included exactly one of each of the following, growing as “lollipops” in the grass: Norway maple, sycamore maple, quaking aspen, flowering plum, cherry, apple, and Douglas fir. The only shrubs in the yard included four dwarf Alberta spruces (located in the front yard at the corners of the house and sides of the porch), a single lilac, and a row of pfitzer junipers along the fence in the back yard. We immediately removed the flowering plum, which was located in the center of the back lawn and conflicted with soccer.

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