Friday, April 14, 2017

What I'd Grow in the West

The area we are thinking of moving to is in northern New Mexico and it is not the cactus-sagebrush-desert scene everyone pictures. It is high altitude piƱon pine mountain scrub, with snowy winters. It's zone 5, very dry, with a rainy season in late summer.


Gardeners there irrigate. You don't have a garden without drip irrigation, although gardeners do carefully select plants that like the dry, and gardens are smaller, enclosed in courtyards. The bigger issue for plant selection is the intensity of the sun at 7,000 feet, and the thin alkaline soils.

I'll have fun learning about all the plants that gardeners grow there. But meanwhile, I am thinking of all the plants in my own garden here that I would miss. Would some of them do well out there? Which ones?

I have some favorites that I'd like to grow again if I have any room in a new place. These are the ones I'd want:

Sweetfern - Comptonia peregrina
Does well in harsh, dry conditions. Scented foliage.

Oklahoma redbud - Cercis reniformis
This is actually a western version of redbud that I grew successfully
until a freak storm toppled it. Loved it!

Orangebark - Stewartia monadelpha
I don't know how it would do in a mountain climate, but it does not like
wet conditions. I just love this tree and want to try it again.

St. Johnswort 'Blue Velvet'  - Hypericum 
A workhorse that I've come to appreciate.
Deep blue green leaves are cooling; yellow flowers are sunny.

'Gro-Low' Fragrant Sumac - Rhus aromatica
This groundcover sumac has gorgeous foliage, grows easily
in dry conditions, and would do well in the west.

Witch Hazel - Hamamelis hybrids
I was surprised to learn witch hazel does well in all ph ranges.
I'd love to try one for winter interest and fragrance there.

Persian Ironwood - Parrotia persica
Tough, ph adaptable, grows at elevation, might not be quite so dry tolerant.
Mine is "Vanessa', an upright form good for a small courtyard.

Bluebeard - Caryopteris
A shrub that likes dry conditions and lean soil.
It rivals Russian sage for late summer purple flowers.

New Jersey Tea - Ceanothus americanus
The native eastern version of ceanothus. It likes dry, infertile, sandy soils
and grows natively in pine barrens.

Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonica) is one I'd hate to live without. It is surprisingly tolerant of alkaline soil, but it isn't really a dry-lover. It wants water. With irrigation, though . . .  ?

Other plants I grow and love here that are high ph-tolerant are Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) and Corneliancherry dogwood (Cornus mas) and Inkberry holly (Ilex glabra).

Dense green inkberry holly shrubs, yellow flowered Cornus mas, and the hop-like flowers
on the Hophornbeam tree. Some of my favorites that do well in high ph.

Plants I've grown here that I'd like out west also include Russian sage, of course, and any of the true sages -- salvias of different varieties. Clematis likes alkaline soils and there are several I'd like to grow there.

Agastache too, and the western honeysuckle Lonicera reticulata 'Kintzley's Ghost' would be nice to replicate on a trellis in a western courtyard. Maybe the pretty dwarf groundcover deutzias 'Nikko' would do okay there?

There are plants I have grown here that I wouldn't attempt or even want to in a new climate. They've been pretty but troublesome here. I'm sort of over these plants:
Viburnums
Hydrangeas
Roses
Japanese maples
And there are plants I love here, and would miss so much, but would not attempt out west. These really are better as eastern woodland plants, both aesthetically and in terms of climate suitability:
Stewartia pseudocamellia
Sourwood - Oxydendrum arboreum
Eastern Redbud - Cercis canadensis 
Beech, willow, birch, sweetgum, black gum 
Red maples, Sugar maples 
         But most of all, my sassafras grove.

These lists have made me really look critically at my garden and figure out what I like.

Even if we never make a move to a high mountain dry climate, this has been a fun exercise in plant evaluation.

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