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Front Page » May 16, 2002 » Castle County Homes and Gar... » Native Gardening, natural choice for waterwise landscaping
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Native Gardening, natural choice for waterwise landscaping

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A group of about 30 people gathered Saturday to walk through a native garden at 46 East 300 South in Price. The garden, which is part of the Utah Native Plant Society garden project is one of over 20 gardens throughout the state. One of the biggest features of the garden is its low maintenance features. Utah is the second driest state, but the most water per capita is used in Utah. According to Susan Meyers, "The days of free or cheap water are over and we need to design yards and gardens based on low water and low maintenance."

Pictured above are people walking through the various areas of the garden during the open house Saturday. This is the largest garden in Utah and was designed by Bitsy Schultz. The picture above shows the visitors in the area referred to as the high water area, while in the foreground is the medium area. Another area, known as the desert requires only one or two waterings a year. The picture below was taken in April of 2001. The colder spring and the drought this year is causing a delayed growing season by about three weeks.

When some people think of flower gardens they think of brightly colored petunias, marigolds and pansies. Although these are colorful and pretty, and relatively easy to care for, they require a lot of water and don't really fit into the landscape of Eastern Utah.

But there are alternatives and these include gardening with native plants.Not only do the native plants tie garden spots into a larger regional landscape, but it provides a practical garden saving both time and water.

Last Saturday there were two events in Carbon County that introduced and recognized gardening with Utah natives.

It was a busy day for the Utah Native Plant Society (UNPA) in Carbon County as they planted 21 gardens in East Carbon in the morning and held the dedication of the Utah Heritage Garden and Water Conservation The 6500-square foot demonstration garden, a joint project of the Utah Native Plant Society and the City of Price, is located at 46 East 300 South.

It was established in April of 2000 and contains examples of over 80 different kinds of Utah native plants that have value as ornamentals in low water-use landscapes. The Price garden was the sixth one of a network of 20 native plant demonstration gardens established statewide by UNPS over the past four years. It is also the largest garden.

According to Susan Meyer, ecologist with the State Forest Service, who was guest speaker, there are plans for 10 more gardens throughout Utah.

The event Saturday recognized the hard work of the local members as they looked over the landscape with pride on the organization's second anniversary. Each season is different and because of the drought and cold spring the blossoms are not as far ahead as it was at this time last year.

The mission of the Utah Heritage Garden Program is to teach the people of Utah about their unique and spectacular native plant heritage, and to show that water-wise landscaping with Utah natives can be as beautiful and interesting as traditional European-style landscaping.

On hand for the ceremony include Meyer as well as Bitsy Schultz, also from the Wasatch Front, Mike Hubbard, local UNPS chapter president and Lyle Bauer, Price city garden liaison.

"Because native plants are at home in the region and use resources efficiently, they require very little, " said Meyer in her opening remarks, adding, "once established, most are long-lived and largely maintenance free." And natives are a natural choice for the waterwise landscaping style of the future, because they often look their best with little or no extra water. A garden with a diversity of native plants creates a year-round haven for wild creatures such as birds and butterflies.

"Most importantly, the wealth of color, texture, and form found in natives greatly surpasses that found at the traditional nursery," said Meyers explaining that for a yard that looks beautiful and interesting in every season, a native landscape is an excellent choice.

Lyle Bauer, Price City employee who works with parks and cemetery department first brought the idea to Price after attending a native plant symposium in Logan and returned home to share his excitement. "This would be perfect for this lot," said Bauer, who was part of the city crew that was expected to weed the lot after Reeves School closed. One thing led to another and the garden was established. Bauer, in speaking Saturday shared that this is an interactive and teaching garden. In a guide to beginning a native garden Meyer and Schultz point out "that a beautiful native landscape can look as formal or informal as you like. One approach is to use traditional designs, but substitute drought-tolerant natives for water-guzzling exotic plants. Substitute low-growing ground covers for typical bluegrass lawn, and use a variety of native trees, shrubs, and perennials to create your foundation plantings and flower beds. An alternative approach is to imitate the masterful gardening style of nature, with informal groupings of shrubs and trees, rock garden areas, and wildflower meadows. Focusing on structure and texture as well as seasonal color assures that the planting will look good year-round."

Meyer and Schultz points out that any yard can be transformed into an attractive native landscape, "if you follow a few simple rules." The fundamental rule is to respect the needs of each kind of plant. Group plants with similar water requirements.

Evening Primrose

Claret Cup Cactus

Utah Sweetvetch

Indian Paintbrush

The ecologists suggest not to try to plant drought-hardy penstemons in with petunias, or edge a bluegrass lawn with desert shrubs. Too much water or fertility can be lethal, and for many natives any extra water or fertilizer after establishment is too much. Meyer and Schultz suggest choosing plants carefully for the shady parts of the yard. There are natives that can handle shade, but most cannot. It also helps to consider the soil and topography of your planting site, penstemons and other droughthardy plants can tolerate some watering if the soil is sandy or gravelly or the site is sloping.

If someone is interrested in getting started landscaping a new property, they suggest incorporating the native element from the beginning. Gardeners can decide what the functions of different parts of the landscape will be. "You do not have to go 100 percent native, there is still a place for bluegrass lawn and English-style shade trees, where they have a function," said the ecologists. "But pick an area large enough to develop the native theme on its own. Most natives are not lush and 'cabbagy' like traditional garden plants, and they can look strange if just exposed with such plants."

The front yard is an ideal place to start, as lawn there doesn't usually serve much of a function. For those that are retrofitting an older yard, pick an area to devote entirely to the native concept, a hard-to-water city strip or sidewalk edge or a sunny corner beyond the reach of your sprinkler is a good choice. If possible, choose a spot that is sloping or where the soil is coarse, as many natives require good drainage. If soil is very heavy and the site is flat, the gardener may have to add amendments such as sand or gravel to keep plants like penstemons happy.

It is suggested to try to pick a site that is not infested with perennial weeds such as quackgrass, field bindweed (wild morning glory) or whitetop. If people are planting into former lawn, make sure the lawn is really dead and gone before you start. Mixing natives into existing landscaping is tricky, because most will not thrive on a traditional high-water regime. If someone tries a native garden in one area of the yard and are happy with the results, the plant specialists suggest converting the rest of the landscape to natives. This can be accomplished in stages, over a period of months or even years.

What about design? As mentioned above, the design for a native garden can be formal or informal. The UNPS website ( is expected to have sample native front yard designs as well as a plant information database, to give some ideas. A good place to start is to make a map of the planting site and to figure out the size of the area. This, along with information on size at maturity for the plants that the gardener intends to grow, will help determine the plant needs.

Meyers and Schultz reminds gardeners to plants with similar water and sun requirements. The north side of the house is a whole different world from the south side: shady, cool, and moist rather than sunny, hot, and dry. They suggest taking advantage of this naturalmicroclimate variation to increase the palette of plants that can grow successfully.

General gardening principles apply to native garden designs as well. Think about structure and texture as well as color: shrubs and small trees placed with perennials and ornamental grasses, harmonious color combinations, spreading out bloom times across the season, and including plants that are evergreen or have other good winter features. The ecologists suggest to include some plants that are fast-growing and provide structure and color quickly, as well as slower-growing shrubs and trees for longer-term effect. Be willing to be flexible in the design: if a plant fails to perform, experiment with replacements, until you discover a suite of plants that are well-adapted to the particular site.

Where do gardeners get native plants? The answer to the question of native plant availability is constantly changing. Right now in Utah, the choices are limited, but that could change very quickly as people become educated about the advantages of native plant landscaping and demand begins to climb.

If enough people go to a favorite traditional nursery and ask for native plants, availability will increase. A few natives are widely available in traditional nurseries, but these are mostly streamside or mountain plants that can tolerate overwatering-plants like golden currant, river birch, red osier dogwood, quaking aspen, and blue spruce. Drought-tolerant natives are conspicuously absent.

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May 16, 2002
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