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Start your garden with natives

M.G. GallagherVail CO, Colorado

I truly believe that good landscaping and gardening should be compatible with the area – both visually and environmentally. This season, the emphasis is on plants that appear at home in our mountain settings. On that note, we will again make fun of gerbera daisies.We have a number of plants native to our area, such as Rocky Mountain penstemon, that make excellent choices. There are also plants indigenous to other areas that work well and are in harmony with this area. Another penstemon, Wasatch penstemon, is a good example of a wildflower that technically is not native to this area, but is naturalizing, and will featured in an upcoming article on this most worthy genus.What to grow It is important to consider this beautiful and somewhat fragile area we live in when deciding what to grow in your gardens. Do you need to spend extra money watering some hybrid annual footoonia from another continent that needs a bunch of fertilizer? Do you want pest magnets in your garden? Do you need to transplant your garden from St. Louis?So lets start native this week. And what better choice than one of my favorite natives that is one of the first to show color – Creeping grape holly, or Mahonia repens. It is one of those subtle natives that literally is overlooked. “Repens” basically means that this plant creeps. It is a low grower and often not paid attention to. Yet this little beauty makes an excellent supplemental ground cover for smaller spaces and nooks.While small, creeping grape holly does offer colors other than its cute holly green leaves. First, its little yellow flowers open from a berry-shaped buds that open into tiny clusters in the spring. Near the end of the season, white berries develop that eventually turn blue, much like a blueberry in appearance.But the kicker is the tendency of the leaves to go haywire with color. Often you will see the leaves turn different shades of purple. When you’re riding up Chair 5 in the Back Bowls, you’ll see some nice light purple on the ground. That’s Mahonia repens. But another tendency of some plants is to go nuts with splashes of red, orange and yellow. It is an evergreen, though the leaves change color seasonally and variably.It isn’t as hard to grow, as some claim. It is growing pervasively in spots below Wildwood Road in Avon. It dots wooded areas where it doesn’t have to compete with as many invasive grasses and other more aggressive plants. Perhaps the reason some think it is hard to grow, is that it can be somewhat sensitive to planting and transplanting. So just be gentle with it when planting.Creeping grape holly spreads both by rhizomes and by seed. With patience, a small plant will slowly grow into a larger patch, but it is not a fast spreader by any means. It tolerates full sun in many areas, preferring drier, drained soils. It isn’t considered a full hot-weather xeriscape plant. It likes some water during establishment, and will grow faster with a little extra watering over existing rainfall. It does not like nor need overwatering.Mahonia repens isn’t going to be the foundation of your garden. However, it makes a terrific specialty or specimen planting for tucking into spots that need a nice low-growing plant.


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