by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Every garden needs a few plants that can handle whatever abuse we throw their way. That’s not to say we should be needlessly tough on them, but let’s face it, there are times when we are unable to summon the time and/or energy to water. Also, there are places in every garden that present less than ideal growing conditions, and years when the weather mocks gardeners despite all of our efforts. For those and so many more times when our gardens must rise to the challenges of neglect, here are some (almost) indestructible plants.
Black-eyed Susan ~ This hardy Plains plant grabs hold of soil and takes whatever nutrition it needs. It’s really pretty amazing how much this knee-high bloomer does on such little care and feeding. Like other coneflower-type perennials, black-eyed Susan has a proclivity to form a thick mat of roots. I recommend dividing these every few years, while you can still get a spade through them. Go ahead, try to kill this plant; it will only seed more and spread like any native bloomer in the wild.
Coneflower ~ If you’ve ever tried to divide a large clump of coneflowers you know what a wicked root system these plants produce. Coneflowers are a great choice for controlling erosion. The roots weave together in a mat that holds soil in place while supporting the entire clump. The newer varieties are beautiful and even more tempting for mountain gardens. If you want an unflappable plant for poor soil and full sun, here’s your winner.
Daylily ~ It wasn’t so long ago that daylilies were the darlings of the plant world. Every year saw the introduction of numerous new cultivars, all hoping to be the next Stella d’Oro. Now many gardeners have grown weary of them and want to replace them with the next new darling of flowering plants. But, before you lift your spade, consider why the daylily became popular in the first place. Nothing fazes this plant! Oh sure, there’s the odd slug or thrip, but on the whole, daylilies can handle drought, flood, neglect, just about everything, even javelinas and rabbits. If you have a hot, sunny bed where nothing is happy, give daylilies serious consideration.
Hosta – Just about every older home has hostas somewhere on its property. Long before they were the darlings of plant breeders, they were the go-to plant for home owners who wanted something that looked good all season without any nurturing. Not only do hostas thrive without attention, they seem to live forever. Hostas look their best when planted in shade.
Peony ~ This extremely low maintenance plant resents being fussed over. These plants can live for decades and never need dividing. Deer, javelinas, rabbits, packrats, and the rest of our garden vermin find this perennial utterly detestable. This plant likes more air than water at its roots, so make sure your garden plot drains, and drains well. Peonies bloom like crazy in raised beds and in containers.
Sedum ~ Thick, juicy stems shoot up early in spring and remain attractive all season. Many of the hardy varieties are evergreen and for those that aren’t, by the time they get cut back there’s already new growth at their base. The many varieties are succulents, so they don’t need supplemental water; yet, hey can hardly wait until spring to emerge.
Yucca ~ Don’t turn your back on this mountain native. Yucca doesn’t get a lot of respect in the gardening world, but that’s not going to cause it to disappear. Those spiky leaves fend off intruders and the long tap root anchors it deep in the soil and makes moving it (or killing it) very difficult. Talk about a xeric plant! If the common species is too coarse for you, try one of the variegated varieties. They’re almost as tough, just as architectural, and they deliver a long season of color.
Summer Class Schedule has just been posted on the website:
June 16 @ 9:30am Firewise Landscaping – Beautiful AND Safe – You can have a beautiful landscape and still protect your home from wildfires. Learn what “defensible space” is and how it makes your landscaping more resistant to fire. Get to know which plants are considered firewise. Some plants are more flammable than others, and some plants even mitigate fire! By choosing the right ones, we can diminish the possibility of fire while having a landscape that enhances our homes.
June 23 @ 9:30am Landscapes that Add Beauty and Value – Did you know that the right landscaping can increase your home’s value by more than 10%? Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household’s energy costs for heating and cooling. Ken Lain will show students how to add personality and value to a landscape. The approach of our monsoon season is a prime time to change the look-and-feel of your yard. Students will hear about tree placement, privacy techniques, ground covers, erosion control, inspirational bloomers, and more.
June 30 @ 9:30am Totally Tomatoes: Grow the Best! – The first fruits are appearing in the garden! Yes, we go deep into all things tomato, but much of the same advice applies to the rest of the garden, too. Students learn which varieties work best for varying growing conditions and garden space, which bugs to watch for, diseases, companion plants, and garden advice to increase harvests this year.
Until next issue, I’ll be helping local gardeners pick the toughest plants here at Watters Garden Center.