Turning to the natives
Some of the best landscape and garden plants are natives. Among the obvious are Colorado columbine and Colorado spruce. There are also other good selections for any of the climates throughout the valley.True natives as a category exclude naturalized wildflowers, as well as hybrids, named varieties and such. Rocky Mountain penstemon is a native, where Wasatch penstemon is naturalizing here. Colorado Columbine is a native where “Crimson Star” is a named variety developed from our state flower. By the way, all these plants are excellent landscape flowers.
Scottish harebells is gaining use as a reliable native garden perennial. It works in areas that columbines like.Another underused yet amazing ground cover is creeping grape holly. It is a standout among any of the hollies (many don’t grow here), in appearance, colors, flower, and it fits into gardens in a way that its upright cousin, Oregon grape holly, can’t match. Its colors range from muted purples, holly greens, to scarlet, depending on the time of year, and stress. The flowers and berries are even more treats that join the interesting display for awhile. Mahonia repens is the name, choicest undergrowth is the game.Another gem is sulfur umbrella flower. Many of the buckwheats are interesting in gardens, particularly in rock gardens. Eriogonum umbellatum is particularly striking due to its bright sulfur yellow color. It occurs in our hillsides, and there are some large patches by the bike path by Miller Ranch. There are other eriogonums that grow native in the area, and all are choice feature plants for mountain and high foothills gardens, especially rock gardens.
Rocky Mountain penstemon is an excellent garden perennial. It is used more and more throughout the valley, and it is among the best penstemons for length of bloom and size. It is visible in its native state along I-70 and other roadsides, often accompanied by other naturalized penstemons that have worked their way into the terrain. Penstemons make excellent wildflowers and garden plants.Oh, pinon. For much of the valley, pinon pine makes an excellent feature tree. It is one of the primary trees in the western part of the valley, and absolutely kicks in its Eagle County native environment. It also is growing successfully in landscapes through Avon. Up close as a specimen, it makes a fantastic tree for shape and form. Separated, or as individuals, they stand well on their appearance.They also can be shaped with light pruning. Just go for informal shape, not neat. Also, pruning (good) is not shearing (bad). Some pinons have a more upright habit, some a more open. Another trick with pinons: The ones that look so-so in the nursery wind up being the ones with the interesting shapes when they grow up.This is just a handful of excellent native selections for your landscape. We’ll certainly discuss many more, and the near-natives good for this area over the weeks.
Opinion: So there were some thistles. Whoopdeedoo. But great photo-op. (I wrote the column, not the photo caption BTW) To fairly balance, because it’s true, the town of Vail has some of the best examples of perennial gardens and design in the valley. And the planting crew (“Liz’s lady landscape labor slaves”) rocks. The weed diatribe and photo was a dramatic example, but not as major a situation in reality as it looks. Besides, Canada thistle is Canada’s fault and it’s everywhere.M.G. Gallagher writes a column about plants and landscaping in the mountain zones.Vail, Colorado