Thursday, June 19, 2008

Xeriscaping with Native Plants

Don't you just love the word xeriscape? I mean, how cool is it to use a word that begins with the letter x. The meaning of the word is neat, too. It's landscaping without the use of supplemental water, and the word was invented by combining xeros, Greek for dry, with landscape.

This last year my husband and I have been trying to come up with ways to make our house and yard more sustainable. We live in a one hundred year-old house that has a rock foundation, and in the winter we didn't like all that cold air seeping under the house. So he put a planter around it and filled it with dirt as an insulator. Our heating costs went down, and the planter has the added benefit that I have a convenient place to plant. The water that falls on the roof of the house drips right into the planter, so I have a built in watering system.

This spring I did some research on the internet and found a native plant nursery a couple hours from our house (everything seems to be a couple hours away, if not more). We went over and I had a wonderful time picking out some native plants. One of the best things about the native plants is that they've evolved with the desert conditions, so they don't need as much water as most of the other plants available in nurseries.

We only get about six inches of precipitation a year where we live, compared to 35 inches a year in Chicago and 42 inches a year in New York. So most plants that grow in the East or Midwest don't do so well in the dry Southwest unless they get a lot of extra help. That extra help means watering, which as you can see by the precipitation amounts, is a scarce resource. 

Desert plants aren't necessarily drab, as you can see in the photo above. This beautiful flower is desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea grossularifolia), a common flower that decorates the desert valleys and benches beginning in May and lasting through a good part of the summer. It grows well, so is often used in reseeding mixes after wildfires. 
This little fern bush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) will grow into a five foot tall bush with beautiful yellow blossoms. I love it because it's leaves look like ferns, which are so incongruous in the desert. Yet it is a native plant.
Great Basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus) is a native grass that can grow up to a horse's belly. It's not nearly so large in our yard, probably because the deer like to come through and munch on it!
When we planted this squawbush (Rhus trilobata), it looked like a stick in the ground. Fortunately a couple weeks later it started leafing out. In the fall the leaves should turn a beautiful red. Another common name is skunkbush, apparently because the leaves stink. I will have to go take a sniff soon.
We have several kinds of currants that are native here, including the wax currant (Ribes cereum). I think that's the one this is, but I'm not entirely sure. In the late summer they produce tangy berries. 
Cliff rose (Cowania stanburiana) is a shrub that has small white flowers. So far ours hasn't produced any flowers, but hopefully it will next year. It will grow to be a couple feet high. Deer also love to browse this plant, so we will need to train our puppy Henry to keep them away. So far Henry hasn't been good at keeping anything away, including the skunks.
Penstemon (Penstemon sp.) lend a lot of color to the planter. I really should have written down which kind this is (or take the time to key it out), but for the moment I will just say that it's a beautiful penstemon. We don't always have to know the name to appreciate the beauty, right?
And finally, this little cactus (maybe Simpson's Hedgehog Cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii)) surprised me by producing a flower bud. I can't wait to see it open. 

So what native plants do you have or would like to get for your yard?


Anonymous said...

There is beauty in all landscapes. I was stunned with the beauty of Nevada when I visited a few years back. Thanks for the beautiful pix and descriptions.

Sylvia said...

I'd like to take out what's left of the lilacs, which take lots of water and are devoured by the deer at the RH. Then extend the patio with Moriah fieldstone to the house, and plant the hill in native perennials, as you have shown. It may take a couple-3 summers, when I'm actually living there. Then 3-4 large planters for annuals that are hardy. Thanks for a few suggestions.
Are you familiar with the High Desert Gardens catalog/website?

Depends on my spring not drying up, for any scaping, at least to get started. Or living there...

Sarah said...

Your blog is wonderful! I've been trying to put in an Indiana natives garden along one side of the house, but it is slow going. I need to go digging in the nearby drainage area :) Keep up the awesome blogs!

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