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High Country Gardens' 2010 crop of water-wise plants

January 12, 2010 | 10:59 am
Lavandula angustifolia Thumbelina Leigh #1

High Country Gardens, based in Santa Fe, N.M., has a reputation for introducing enticing new water-wise perennial plants to American gardeners every year. Its main catalog features 300 plants that have been grown and evaluated in its nursery trial gardens.

President David Salman says High Country ships plants to customers in all 50 states; California is second only to Colorado for customer volume. While Santa Fe’s winters are decidedly colder than Southern California’s, its limited precipitation and hot summers are pretty similar to our gardening conditions. “My focus has always been on plants for the western garden,” he says. “Our approach is not only to conserve water, but to make the landscape more resource efficient.”

Salman is not a huge fan of the word “xeric,” which is the accepted term for low-water landscapes. “Some people call it ‘zero-scaping’ and equate it with one-inch of gravel with a yucca sticking out of it,” he says. “We like to focus on a green style of xeriscaping. That means creating habitat where possible, using organic methods and promoting healthy-living soil through the use of compost and natural soil amendments.”

Here are some of Salman’s picks for Southern California gardens, including some that attract crucial pollinating  bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. The plants are shipped in 5-inch deep pots unless otherwise noted; spring shipping begins Feb. 15. Other new and recent introductions are on view in High Country’s online catalog. Or, if you'll be in Santa Fe in the near future, stop by the public xeric demonstration garden at Santa Fe Greenhouses, High Country’s parent company.

Dwarf English lavender
(Lavandula angustifolia ‘Thumbelina Leigh’)

Pictured at top. A plant selected from a cross between two of the best old varieties in cultivation, ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead.’ It has chubby little dark blue and lavender flower heads on short stems.

“I grow over 20 varieties of English and French hybrid lavenders for our region, and this is one of the most profuse bloomers I have ever seen,” Salman says. “It works well for small yards but you don’t give up fragrance and aroma. It is a superior honeybee plant.”

Mature size: 12-15 inches tall by 18-24 inches wide. Price: $7.99.

For more plants and photos, click through to the jump.

PlusMahonia-fremontii-close Desert holly (Mahonia fremontii)

Desert holly is a showy broadleaf evergreen with gorgeous blue, sharply-spined leaves and an attractive irregular branching structure. It is one of those rare finds for the landscape because it has four-season interest. In late spring, mature plants burst into bloom with highly fragrant yellow flowers. Once pollinated, the flowers are replaced by thousands of tiny orange-red berries that ripen by mid-summer. Plant two or more for pollination.

“The spiny leaves make this an excellent barrier plant for the edges of your property,” Salman says. In other words, don’t plant it next to the front walkway where your bare legs will be scratched.

Mature size: 5-11 inches tall by 5-11 inches wide. Price:  $7.99.

Allium-'Millenium' Millennium ornamental onion
(Allium ‘Millennium’)
“Talk about a fabulous bee plant,” Salman raves. “It blooms in late July and August so you should plant this around melons, squash and cucumber to bring the bees around. The flowers are also an important nectar source for butterflies.”

Millennium has a vigorous growth habit, glossy, dark-green strap-like foliage, and huge, 2-1/2 inch flowering globes in bright rose-pink. It also tolerates clay soil.

Mature size: 15 inches tall by 18-22 inches wide. Price: $7.99.

WebJPEGMuhlenbergia-Pink-Fl Pink flamingo muhly grass

(Muhlenbergia 'Pink Flamingo')

“This grass is fabulous for Southern California gardens,” Salman says. “It blooms with gigantic pink spikes on it.” A naturally occurring cross between Gulf Coast Muhly and Deer Grass, this vigorous grass has very narrow blue-green foliage and soft pink flower spikes in early fall. Its narrow, upright growing habit makes it a great choice against walls and in tight spaces.

Mature size: 4-5 feet tall by 15-18 inches wide. Price: $14.99 (one gallon pot).

Thymus praecox ssp. arcticus 'Coccineus' Pink creeping thyme
(Thymus praecox sp. arcticus ‘Coccineus’)

Salman recommends this selection over another variety called Red Mother-of-Thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Coccineus’). “While the flowers are not as deeply rose-pink, the plant itself is so much better in all respects,” he says. It is well-adapted to arid, western landscapes and is covered with light pink flowers that bloom in early summer. High Country says this thyme is “impressively xeric” with tough, woody stems and leathery foliage that won’t fry in the heat.

Mature size: 2 inches tall by 18-30 inches wide. Price: $5.99.

Agave neomexicana 'Sunspot' Agave neomexicana ‘Sunspot’

With green and cream-yellow variegation and jet black spines, this is a handsome agave for containers. But when grown in the ground, it produces a lot of offsets, eventually forming a multi-headed clump of up to one-foot-ride rosettes.

Mature size: 12 inches tall by 15-20 inches wide. Price: $14.99.


Melampodium-leucanthemum-#2 Black foot daisy

(Melampodium leucanthemum)

A dryland wildflower, black foot daisy is well-adapted to life in arid conditions. With enough winter and early spring rainfall, it will flower almost all summer, covering itself with one-inch wide, white-petaled, yellow centered daisies borne on tiny, mounding plants.

This is not a plant to grow near a drip system, Salman says. “It’s something I recommend for the ‘hell strip’ – that planting area between the sidewalk and curb,” he says. Black foot daisies prefer sandy soil and gravel mulch. This plant will suffer in clay soil.

Mature size: 10-12 inches tall by 15-20 inches wide. Price: $5.99 in a standard pot.

-- Debra Prinzing