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A Joint Publication of Denver Botanic Gardens and Vail Alpine Garden Foundation



Gardening with Altitude

The higher elevations of the Rocky Mountain West have experienced phenomenal population growth in recent decades, and all indications are that the trend will continue. Hillsides and valleys near some popular mountain communities have begun to resemble the sprawling suburban developments that surround our western cities.

As homes are built and mountain "neighborhoods" created, many owners express the logi¬ cal desire for landscaping to surround and beautify their residences. But what style of gar¬ den is appropriate in a mountain setting? What kinds of plants will grow here?

The answers to these questions vary as much as the horticulturists who try to answer them. In recent years, some individuals have constructed extensive and elaborate moun¬ tain gardens which rival the best private gardens anywhere in the world; yet some individ¬ uals advocate that we should leave the mountain setting alone, and appreciate its natural beauty. For most mountain residents, the answer seems to lie somewhere in between.

Perhaps the best way to get started is to answer some basic questions:

How much time are you willing to spend installing and maintaining your garden and landscape?

How long is the growing season where you live?

When does your snow cover begin and end?

Do you want to attract or deter wildlife?

Do you want to frame or block views from your residence?

What is the general climate or habitat around your residence?

Does the landscape you envision require an irrigation system?

Mountain Gardening should provoke consideration of these and other questions.

This publication will focus on the unique horticultural concerns of Rocky Mountain residents who live in the foothills or mountains at elevations of 6000 feet and higher.

The authors of this anthology represent a broad range of philosophies regarding high- altitude landscaping. We hope you'll gain insight from their experience and points of view. High-altitude horticulture is rapidly forming its own identity as the regional mountain population burgeons. Dig in and create your own version of a mountain garden we're all sharing in the development of a new horticultural tradition throughout one of the most scenic regions on earth.

Special thanks to the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, the Vail Valley Foundation and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District for assistance in financing this publication.

Richard H. Daley Executive Director Denver Botanic Gardens

Elizabeth Robechek

Executive Director

Vail Alpine Garden Foundation

2a -45 to

2b -40 to

5b -10 to -15

6a -5 to -10

6b 0 to -5

7a 5 to 0

7b 10 to 5


5a -15 to -20

This portion of the United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map represents the

Rocky Mountain region.

Mountain Gardening

A continuation of Mountain , Plain and Garden, Volume 55, Number 1, Spring 1998.

Denver Botanic Gardens and Vail Alpine Garden Foundation Profiles . 4

Mountain Garden Pictorial, by Rob Proctor . 6

Challenges in Foothills Gardening, by Lauren Springer . 8

Mountain Garden Style, by Angela Foster . 12

Consider Natives forYour Mountain Garden, by Jim Borland . 16

Perennials for the Mountains, by David Salman . 22

Creating a Mountain Shade Garden, by Andrew Pierce . 26

Gardens on the Rocks, by Panayoti Kelaidis . 32

Attracting "Hummers "to Your Habitat, by Tina Jones . 38

High Altitude Container Gardens, by Helen Fritch . 42

Wildlife in the Garden, by Barbara DeVoe . 48

Woody Plants for Mountain Gardens, by Marty Jones and Ken Slump . 52

Advertising . 58

Membership Information . 62

Bibliography . 64

To Fellow Mountain Residents and Gardeners:

Gardening is an important way for us to appreciate, preserve and learn more about the environment around us. I hope you will enjoy, and put to use, this fine collaboration between Denver Botanic Gardens and the Vail Alpine Garden Foundation.

Former First Lady of the United States

For information on ordering copies of Mountain Gardening or advertising in future Denver Botanic Gardens publications, call 303-370-8033. © 1998, Denver Botanic Gardens, Inc., 909 York Street, Denver, Colorado 80206-3799.

Julie Behrens, Managing Editor Kenneth W. Slump, Jr., Consulting Editor

Produced by Denver Botanic Gardens and Vail Alpine Garden Foundation.

Front/back cover photos: Mountain gardens by Rob Proctor. Inside covers photo: Mountain meadow by Richard H. Daley.

Denver Botanic Gardens and Chatfield Arboretum are estab¬ lished and maintained by Denver Botanic Gardens, Inc. for the people of the City and County of Denver and the general public in cooperation with the Denver Parks and Recreation Department. Denver Botanic Gardens is grateful for funds from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) which enable the Gardens to expand services and enhance the quality of programs and exhibits.

All materials in Mountain Gardening are copyrighted by Denver Botanic Gardens. Use of the following articles or pho tographs without written consent from Denver Botanic Gardens is strictly prohibited.



Denver Botanic Gardens offers an oasis in an urban setting. Located just east of down¬ town, Denver Botanic Gardens is recognized not only for its beautiful gardens, but for ongoing research in plant conservation, educational programs, and many community activities including the annual Plant and Book Sale, BirdHaus Display, community gardens, summer con¬ certs, strolls and the Blossoms of Light winter holiday celebration.

Inside, the Boettcher Memorial Conservatory houses tropical plants, flowering orchids and bromeliads. Visitors can also attend lectures year- round, educational sessions and classes led by local, national and international horticultural experts.

Outside, on 23 acres, visitors can see the world-renowned Rock Alpine Garden or stroll through the Japanese, Water, Herb, Vegetable, Scripture or Water-Smart Gardens. A new Perennial Walk displays colorful flower and foliage combinations from spring to fall and features intriguing textures year-round. The newest addi¬ tion, the Romantic Gardens, features a cottage style garden with fragrant plants, a waterway, pool and waterfall and tranquil relaxation areas.

The gift shop offers books, gifts, live plants and decorative items. The Helen Fowler Library is the largest horticultural library west of the Mississippi and offers an extensive collection of horticultural books and

catalogs. Seasonal special events are planned throughout the year.

Denver Botanic Gardens also manages Chatfield Arboretum, locat¬ ed in southwest Denver. The Arboretum's 700 acres encompass several distinct high plains ecosys¬ tems including native flora and fauna, a woodland river, wetlands, open grassland and a historic 1866 home¬ stead farmhouse. The Walter S. Reed property at an altitude of 7,650 feet near Evergreen, Colorado and the Walter M. Pesman trail at Mount Goliath, elevation 11,500 to 12,150 feet, are managed by DBG as well.

Bristlecone pine at the Mt. Goliath site.


he Vail Alpine Garden Foundation seeks to cultivate harmony between plants and people in our mountain environ¬ ment and is a horticultural pioneer in teaching and celebrating the value of plants to human life. The Foundation provides unique educa¬ tional and environmental programs, encourages community beautifica¬ tion and plant research, and creates and maintains the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Ford Park ofVail, Colorado.

At 8,200 feet, the Betty Ford Apine Gardens is the highest pub¬ lic botanic garden in North America. The Gardens, a living museum of plant collections, cur¬ rently consist of three distinct and separate gardens featuring more than 2,000 varieties of plants. These gardens and remarkable outdoor classrooms, are the Apine Display

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens entrance.

Garden, the Perennial Garden and the Mountain Meditation Garden.

A fourth garden, the Apine Rock Garden is scheduled for completion by the year 2000. This garden will feature plants native to the North American Rocky Mountains and other alpine areas from around the world. The Apine Rock Garden will be both dramatic and intimate, consisting of several microclimates, astounding rock work and water features to inspire and delight.

Visitors to the Betty Ford Apine Gardens now exceed 100,000 per season between May and October. The Gardens are open, free to the public, from dawn to dusk, snowmelt to snowfall. For information on programs, events and tours, please call 970-476-0103.

We look forward to meeting you in the Gardens!

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By Rob Proctor


Rob Proctor is a noted author, teacher and artist. He is an instructor in Denver Botanic Gardens’ popular School of Botanical Illustration.


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Moving one's "Eden" 1400 feet upward to an eleva¬ tion of 6,200 feet, and sev¬ eral acres outward, didn't seem like such a big change at first. It was my dream... unlimited space, no neigh¬ bors, and inspiring natural beauty all around. Instead of blocking views, now I could celebrate them. Walking the land, I questioned how one could possibly improve on the wonderful rocks and plant commu¬ nities already there. I came away feeling that my creation, no matter how gorgeous, would somehow be a crime against the perfection of the place. Luckily, this dilemma was solved by the excavators, who made such a mess around our house site that my hand was desperately needed to heal the wounds inflicted on the land. My garden space had been decided by a bunch of machines.

I wanted to echo nature. Surprisingly, this decision became my biggest design challenge. Naturalistic planting is much more difficult to do well than more for¬ mal types, and I am still working on integrating the design into the nat¬ ural landscape after almost three years. My best advice to new mountain gardeners is to consider a framework to surround your cre¬ ation. This makes that transition easier, be it a stone or stucco wall, a split rail fence, a tall but incon¬ spicuous post-and-wire ranch fence

or what have you. The lines between nature and the planting are now defined, and no matter whether you decide to do a billow¬ ing English-style flower border, a natural-looking informal planting of natives or something in between, having a visual boundary will help tremendously. It's also a chance to create some evocative structure, and an opportunity to make a bar¬ rier against potentially pesky gar¬ den invaders, be they rabbits, deer, range cattle, elk, rattlesnakes, or, as in our case, all the above plus two horses and four rambunctious dogs.

Deciding what kind of frame¬ work to use and where to put it depends on several things. First, how big a garden do you want? I went with approximately four acres, of which only one is actually plant¬ ed, but I left some contingency space for when I have more time as my three children get older. With a big area, certain materials are going to be out of the question unless you have unlimited financial resources.

Another thing to consider is whether you want the framework to echo the house and be a domi¬ nant architectural feature, or whether you'd like to have a more low-key, meld-into-the-back- ground kind of thing. I combined both ideas, going with a utilitarian livestock fence of wooden posts and wire around the perimeter, and within that space, making another


By Lauren Springer

The stucco walls at Lauren’s new garden. photo: Lauren Springer

enclosure of about 80' x 80' with a three and a half foot stucco wall. This became a courtyard garden for my least natural plantings, and the walls keep these from clashing with the wilder parts of the garden.

The stucco also visually connects the garden with the house. I dis¬ solved into tears upon seeing our house after the stucco had been put on. During framing and sheathing it looked awful but I assumed all that would be rectified once the stucco went on. Well, once stuc¬ coed, the house looked terrific but completely out of place. I had worked so hard to choose colors from the predominant natural palette of the surroundings,

painstakingly matching stucco sam¬ ples with dried grass, juniper foliage, soil, rocks and the like. And here, after all this, the small house still looked like a land-locked barge marooned on our hillside. Building the stucco-walled courtyard com¬ pletely changed this: now the site has a connection with the house.

Then the really awful work set in. It took the better part of a year and a half before I felt the garden was ready for planting. People kept ask¬ ing how the new garden was com¬ ing along and when they could come see it, and I kept getting more depressed. Starting a garden in a natural site and attempting to sal¬ vage the damage done on the

A transitional wall at a garden near Vail.

photo: Ken Slump

post-atomic holocaust that is a new construction site are a far cry from suburban or town garden creation.

The gentle art of gardening becomes an oxymoron. This was more like war. My husband enjoyed

all the large rental machinery, including bobcats, to move large boulders, tractors to fix drainage problems and hydraulic-powered rototillers to break up compacted soil and reincorporate the topsoil


we had removed and stockpiled during construction.

Formerly quite the organic gar¬ dener, I made an about-face and pulled out the chemical arsenal to go after the Canada thistle. After three growing seasons of spraying at monthly intervals, the weed is on the wane, but I have no illusions of ever eradicating it entirely, with decades of seeds stored in the soil and flocks of gold finches bringing new seeds from other parts of the canyon.

Last year I finally was able to indulge myself in the joys of plant¬ ing. All the work had paid off the soil was now a heavy but healthy, rich, dark clay, easy to dig when not wet. However, the foothills winds made establishing plants much harder. I've found that planting small perennials later than early September results in tremen¬ dous losses due to desiccation.

Winter protection? All those evergreen boughs scrounged after Christmas and painstakingly placed over young plants were blown down the gulch a few nights later. Forget any mulch except rock. And expect things to take longer to get settled in and grow to any size. Of course, high mountain gardens have much more snow, wonderful for plants and miserable for humans. Here in the foothills we get just a little more snow than the plains, and the season is only

slightly shorter. Our temperatures are actually milder and more even. Plants emerge slowly in the spring so we rarely have frost damage.

While I am eaten alive by envy when flatland gardening friends describe all the spring things in bloom while my place is still dressed in boring tans and browns, I get to boast how many things still look good in mid and late summer when the plains take their turn at those colors. Cloudy afternoons with gentle sprinkles keep sum¬ mers delightfully cool and plants happy. Everything blooms for much longer. It is fun to invent combina¬ tions never possible at 4800 feet. And though I will have to wait a few extra years before the garden looks the way I envision it, I can always turn to the natural Garden of Eden all around me for beauty and solace when my own creation isn't up to snuff.


Lauren Springer is a well-known writer, lecturer and garden designer. She became nationally recognized for her daring, unconventional approach to gardening, chronicled in her award¬ winning book The Undaunted Garden. Her new garden is well underway on 115 acres in the foothills west of Fort Collins, CO.


Before we consider style we must develop three attributes which gardening books do not list but which do affect our approach, especially at this altitude; a sense of humor and patience, an ability to accept failure, and a facili¬ ty to accept being humbled by the elements. If you do not share all the attributes listed above, join us any¬ way and by gardening at high alti¬ tude, you will be forced to build these admirable qualities. Mountain gardeners become pragmatic and reflective not by choice but by necessity.

There is a fourth attribute, affect¬ ing our "style, "which has been overshadowed by our adoration of the "English garden," especially where flower gardening is con¬ cerned. This attribute is the ability to develop confidence in our own

approach rather than trying to be something that we are not. Nature is a cruel teacher and we can only be thwarted if we persist with grandiose plans to have Giverny in the rugged Tetons or below the cliffs of Grand Junction! There is much that is inspiring in our own western mountain landscape and we can develop our own style from its examples.

Remember that Giverny, Kew, Hidcote and the great gardens of Northern Europe do not contend with low rainfall, huge ranges in temperature, high raking winds, alkaline soils, searing sun in July and August, frost in May, again in September and snow at any time! These adversities would be enough to deter most gardeners but moun¬ tain gardeners are dogged folk and our gardens have their own glories.

There is much for us to learn from what grows in our mountain mead¬ ows, our sage brush flats and our cot¬ tonwood-lined river beds. However, while design can be guided by what we see in the moun¬ tains, our style or method of presen¬ tation is controlled by our own person¬ alities and our approach to the dif¬ ferent challenges that a garden site might offer. Life

Alchemilla vulgaris, Lobelia erinus cv. and photo: Rob Proctor

Viola x wittrockiana cv.


By Angela Foster

and landscape here are more infor¬ mal than many places and most rugged individuals residing here have an endearing quirkiness about them; these traits are reflected in our gardens.

One gardener might solve the problem of a steep slope by build¬ ing tidy retained beds. Another might seed the whole slope in tan¬ gled spreading wildflowers. A third might use rocks or stone slabs while a fourth might add a scare¬ crow. All could be perceived as great "style/' Each approach is right for that gardener and that is the secret. Style is not dictated by, nor gained from "style gurus." Style comes from our own interpretation and invention. There is nothing wrong with using a few books for ideas but the fun is in adding our own interpretation to them.

My approach is drawn from what I see on wilderness walks or in parks: the natural placement of rocks; twisted, gnarled scrub oak or juniper; and the variations in slcpe.

These natural elements are then combined in my garden with flow¬ ers in color combinations that I like and which grow here! The soft gray of the bigleaf western sage (Artemisia tridentata) and yellow tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata) of our wilderness are reflected in my gar¬ den by English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and moonbeam core¬ opsis (Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'). Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) peep out of rocky arrangements just as violets (Viola spp.) do in the shaded wild. At the

Dianthus sp., Papaver nudicaule photo: Rob Proctor

and Heuchera sanguinea.

same time, I love my splashy per¬ fumed lilies (Lilium hybrids), over¬ sized delphinium (Delphinium hybrids) and sprawling daylilies (Hemerocallis cvs.). Remember too that our gardens, like the land¬ scape, are enhanced by foliage, rocks and trees which set the stage for the flowering plants.

The mountain garden can reflect our regional landscape and, like the English cottage garden, is one of experimentation, not controlled form. It succeeds when the plants grown are similar to the native plants. The cottage garden style was developed by cottager wives who added wild hedgerow plants to their vegetable gardens. While there are no hedgerows for us here, do consider the palette (from magenta through yellow, blue and red) that our own moun¬ tain meadows offer us.

We can grow perennial flower gardens of soft colors in the spring when the light is soft and cool, and

A colorful mountain garden of an informal style.

photo: Rob Proctor

then, just as the meadow flowers change, the vivid hues of our other perennials will bloom to agree with the hot summer sun. The delicate colors of Monet's water garden paintings simply cannot exist under our brilliant western sun.

Color is a personal preference and some gardeners go to extremes. Eleanor Perenyi, in her book, Green Thoughts , says, "It fol¬ lows that blue and white are the choices of the discriminating and your real garden snob will go so far as to cast whole gardens in one or the other." Read her book, she is wicked and gives you a good chance to laugh at yourself.

Some gardens may be defined by a fence or property line, for oth¬ ers the garden is backed by the nat¬ ural landscape; both are elements

which affected the cottage garden. Different approaches are called for in different situations and yet they can both offer an informal cottage garden feel. In a fenced garden I like to use native shrubs and lilacs against the fence to add variety in height and fullness and provide the backbone for a mixture of perenni¬ als of all different sizes and styles. For the garden which meets the natural world it is important to pay attention to the transition zone between the two, to honor each by gradually adjusting the plantings so that cultivated varieties blend with their native cousins.

Style is yours to develop within the confines of our rugged climate and landscape. It is a rewarding challenge.


Here’s a basic list of the perennial survivors that bloom throughout the gardening season at 7,000 feet in Colorado.

Early Spring

Arabis caucasica rock cress Geum coccineum ‘Werner Arends’

Werner Arends geum Iberis sempervirens perennial candytuft

Primula spp. and cvs. primroses

May to June

Alchemilla mollis lady’s mantle Aquilegia cvs. columbines Convallaria majalis lily of the valley Dianthus ‘Tiny Rubies’

Tiny Rubies dianthus Dicentra spectabilis bleeding heart Galium odoratum sweet woodruff Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’

Johnson’s Blue geranium Iris pallida sweet iris Iris sibirica Siberian iris Lupinus ‘Russell Hybrids’

Russell Hybrids lupine Papaver orientale Oriental poppy Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Blue’ Emerald Blue creeping phlox Polemonium caeruleum

Jacob’s ladder

Pulmonaria angustifolia lungwort Trollius europaeus globeflower Vinca minor periwinkle

July and August

Achillea ‘Moonshine’

Moonshine yarrow Aconitum napellus monkshood Alcea rosea hollyhock Campanula carpatica ‘Blue Clips’

Blue Clips Carpathian bellflower Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ Moonbeam coreopsis Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ Lucifer crocosmia Delphinium cvs. delphiniums Digitalis purpurea foxglove Gaillardia x g rand i flora blanket flower

Hemerocallis cvs. daylilies Heuchera sanguinea coral bells Hosta cvs. plantain lilies/hostas Lavandula angustifolia English lavender

Leucanthemum x superbum

Shasta daisy

Lilium spp. and cvs. lilies Linum perenne perennial flax Lychnis chalcedonica Maltese cross Myrrhis odorata sweet cicely Nepeta x faassenii blue catmint Paeonia cvs. peonies Penstemon spp. and cvs. beardtongues

Phlox paniculata garden phlox Prunella ‘Pink Loveliness’

Pink Loveliness self-heal Scabiosa caucasica pincushion flower Verbose urn chaixii mullein Veronica spicata spike speedwell

End of August into September

Anemone x hybrida

Japanese anemone

Colchicum autumnale autumn crocus Lilium lancifolium tiger lily Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian sage


A rugged, 28-year resident of the Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado, Foster was born in England and is now proud to be a Rocky Mountain American tending to a small 100- year old farm property. She also serves as an educational advisor in Denver and a “sometime” Gardening Editor to The Aspen Times. Foster’s mountain garden was recently in Garden Design magazine.





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The gardening strategy most often practiced by even pro¬ fessional gardeners is the trial and error or shotgun approach of spending a lot of money to acquire a profusion of plants from around the world, then throwing them at the ground in hopes that some will stick. When this doesn't work or work well enough, more effort is expended in changing the environ¬ ment with rocks, boulders, soil amendments, fertilizers and sup¬ plemental irrigation in hopes that more plants might survive. The more patient or conservative gar¬ dener's benefit is to learn of the professional's failures through books, lectures, articles and over- the-fence chats.

This time honored, grueling and expensive test of will vs. envi¬ ronment need not be the de facto strategy. Instead, accept a new challenge by asking new questions. Instead of asking"will it grow?" ask yourself "should I grow it?"

Why ask this question? You are now gardening or are attempting to do so in a landscape that has taken over 10,000 years to create. Do you really believe that you can do bet¬ ter? Your landscape and its support¬ ing cast of forests, shrubs, wild flowers, wildlife and grand vistas are undoubtedly reasons for your moving here. Is it really necessary to change all or part of this so that you can feel "at home?" Do you

really need to plant something that requires special soils, supplemental irrigation or fertilizer? Do you want plants that might turn into weeds and not support wildlife just so that you can say that you have succeed¬ ed in growing something? Miles upon miles of roadways and thou¬ sands of acres of ski slopes, home- sites, walkways, patios and com¬ mercial building sites already have eliminated much of the original landscape. Do you really need to remove more land from nature?

Instead, let Nature be your guide. Use her plants, soils and weather. Study your site and other undisturbed sites nearby with simi¬ lar elevation, slope angle, aspect or compass bearing, soils and expo¬ sure to sun or shade. Soon you will notice a pattern to the landscape, a common sense dictated by thou¬ sands of years of sorting out the many species native to the Rocky Mountains. In their proper place, no native plant needs any supple¬ mental irrigation, fertilizer, unique soil or special care of any kind.

Paying attention to that pattern, you will notice that at lower eleva¬ tions Colorado blue spruce (. Picea pungens) occupies only sites next to streams and that the more than 100 cultivars, mostly silvery-blue in color, occur rarely. Few, if any of these horticultural quirks look nat¬ ural in a native landscape. The same can be said for those cultivars


By Jim Borland

Penstemons brighten a dry spot. photo: Ken Slump

of shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fru- ticosa) with anything but yellow flowers and tightly shaped Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulo- rum ) cultivars.

You will also note that aspens (Populus tremuloides ) don't occur everywhere, but favor northern slopes or draws where soils are cool and moist. Planting aspen trees for shade or as a foil to the hot after¬ noon sun and ignoring their root requirements predisposes them to problems.

Provenance, a plant's nativity or origin, is linked to its genetic make¬ up which cannot be seen. In essence, this genetic makeup dic¬ tates how well a plant or group of

plants of a single species will per¬ form under a unique set of climatic and soil conditions, unaided by man. When planted too far outside the conditions under which many generations of the species evolved, they are destined for failure.

Typically, horticulture has moved plants from high elevations to lower ones with relative impunity because growing seasons are longer, winters are warmer and supplemental water is provided. Moving plants in the opposite direction or from more southerly latitudes poses new problems for gardeners. Foresters in Idaho, for example, will not plant ponderosa pine (. Pinus ponderosa) seedlings

more than 600 feet higher or lower than the original source of the seed.

The classic search for ironclad plants unaffected by deer, elk, gophers, birds, insects and disease often results in plants that take advantage of their invincibility and turn into weeds. A short list of invincible garden flowers proven to be weedy and problematic are loosestrife ( Lythrum spp.). Mayweed chamomile ( Anthemis cotula), ox-eye daisy ( Leucanthemum vulgare), Dame's rocket (. Hesperis matronalis), chicory ( Cichorium intybus), com¬ mon tansy ( Tanacetum vulgare ), creeping bellflower ( Campanula rapunculoides) , myrtle spurge ( Euphorbia myrsinites ), bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis ), bladder cam¬ pion ( Silene cucubalus), St.

Johnswort (. Hypericum perforatum), cypress spurge ( Euphorbia cyparis- sias) and common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). These and others will spread beyond the garden and begin, plant by plant, to displace the natives.

Fire, the fastest actor in the mountain theater, not only changes the landscape quickly, but contrarily ensures that the full diversity of plant life is maintained. Without fire, the natural pattern gradually shifts to one of relative monotony where dense forests take over meadows, close in riparian zones, force out aspens and generally shade out most other species.

Because the complexities of this topic are vast, consult with your state forest service for assistance in this area. The same consultation should also help protect landscape values against loss due to dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium spp.), bark and needle insects, and declining aspens and shrub communities due to old age. Without fire, it is up to man to ensure that this diversity is not lost.

Natives for Cultivation at High Altitudes

All plants native to the immedi¬ ate vicinity of your proposed gar¬ den are suitable for cultivation. Learn first how nature has success¬ fully dealt with your proposed gar¬ den area for thousands of years, without the aid of man, before attempting to "improve" upon it. In return, you may end up with a landscape filled with plants that require little maintenance, are attractive and look like they belong and support the native wildlife.

In many cases, you may choose to further enhance your area with local natives. There are many color¬ ful and low maintenance options that you should consider. Grasses are an important but frequently overlooked group of garden plants and the region has many suitable native grasses from which to choose. Most of these are good


candidates for meadow plantings or unmowed lawns. A few can be integrated into plantings of orna¬ mentals to be enjoyed for their form and texture.

wing are native grasses that ihould be considered:

Andropogon gerardii big bluestem Bouteloua gracilis blue grama Calamagrostis canadensis Canadian reed-grass Danthonia parryi Parry oat grass Deschampsia caespitosa tufted hair grass

Festuca arizonica Arizona fescue Festuca idahoensis Idaho fescue Koeleria macrantha junegrass Muhlenbergia montana mountain muhly

Poa agassizensis native bluegrass

Contact your local National Resources Conservation Service office, formerly known as Soil Conservation Service, with questions regarding growth habit or plant and seed availability of native grasses.

Koeleria macrantha photo: Ed Spence

The following wildflower natives are low maintenance options that can add spectacular color and interest to many foothills and mountain environments:

Achillea lanulosa yarrow Antennaria parvifolia pussy-toes Arnica cordifolia heart-leaved arnica Aster laevis smooth aster Balsamorhiza sagittata balsam root Campanula rotundifolia common harebell Delphinium nuttallianum

Nutall’s delphinium Dugaldia hoopesii orange sneezeweed Epilobium angustifolium fireweed Erigeron speciosus —blue aspen daisy Gaillardia aristata blanket flower Geranium caespitosum wild geranium Mirabilis multiflora showy four o’clock Thalictrum fendleri meadow rue Wyeth ia amplexicaulis mule’s ears

Please refer to the "Woody Plants for Mountain Gardening" article to learn more about tree and shrub options.

When attempting to enhance your area with new natives, ask, beg and demand that these plants be made available from your plant supplier. Grow your own or com¬ bine efforts with others in your area

Grasses, perennials and adapted shrubs provide a naturalistic setting for a mountain home.


to collect seeds or cuttings and make arrangements with a grower to supply these plants for your group.

Living in a relatively unspoiled environment imposes a higher degree of sensitivity to the land¬ scape than that practiced by most at lower elevations. Let that sensi¬ tivity extend to your garden as well


Jim Borland is an author, radio talk-show host (KEZW 1430-AM) and Open Space Coordinator for Genesee Foundation. His experience includes plant propagation at Denver Botanic Gardens and managing a native plant nursery and a horticultural research center (at Colorado State University). Borland is an avid gardener specializing in western native plants and small fruits.

photo: Ken Slump

Create garden impact with vivid floral color.

photo: Rob Proctor

With proper plant selection, a mountain perennial garden can be the envy of any lowland gardener. The short summers result in a concentrated blooming season with perennial flower combinations not typically seen at lower altitudes where flow¬ ering times don't overlap. The high¬ er level of precipitation typical of mountain climates also increases the variety of perennials that can be grown without a lot of additional irrigation. As an added bonus, the

intensity of sunlight at high alti¬ tudes also intensifies flower pig¬ ments creating a virtual color riot in your garden.

For the purposes of this article, areas of the Rocky Mountain region above 6,500 feet in elevation are considered to be part of the moun¬ tain gardening arena. As you move further north, the equivalent condi¬ tions occur at lower elevations including both foothills and moun¬ tain habitats.

By David Salman

Within this mountain arena, four basic types of sites can be identi¬ fied. The dry hillside, particularly in foothills locations, is often suited to rock gardens. The wooded garden requires plants suited to shady locations (see "Creating a Mountain Shade Garden"). The open meadow shares its plant palette and informal style with the cottage garden (see "Mountain Garden Style"). The fourth type of garden site is the streamside or damp meadow.

When planning gardens for