Be adventurous: Broaden your plant palette

Snow in summer grows easily and resists garden pests, such as rabbits and ground squirrels.

Snow in summer grows easily and resists garden pests, such as rabbits and ground squirrels.

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This past week I visited a friend who is an outstanding plant person. Peg’s landscape is filled with plant species or varieties that I have not used before. They are perennials with interesting foliage, flowers, form and often scent. They also are water efficient and hearty for our area. I wandered around her little horticulture heaven being inspired to broaden my plant choices.

While my landscape is lovely, particularly at this time of year, it’s a basic country garden with many old standbys that grow easily and resist rabbit and ground squirrel predation. These include snow-in-summer with its gray foliage and white flowers; candytuft — dark green with white flowers early in the season; bleeding hearts with its fernlike foliage and dangling “hearts” of deep pink; golden yarrow; iris; hardy geranium; penstemon; red hot poker for attracting orioles and hummingbirds; Mexican primrose; catmint that is great for bees and hummingbirds; Russian sage; sulfur-flowered buckwheat, sedums and lace-leaf coreopsis.

Peg has a few of my old standards, but also blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) with a dark blue pea-like flower. This pea family member comes from the eastern states, grows in Midwest too and works well here. Reaching two to three feet in height in full to filtered sun, it tolerates drought and poor soils. It attracts butterflies and resists rabbits.

There also was the obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) with its pink flowers. This is in the mint family and its name “obedient” is misleading because it is an aggressive spreader by roots (rhizomes) or seed. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, it is “commonly called obedient plant because each individual flower will, upon being pushed in any one direction, temporarily remain in the new position as if it were hinged.” Flowers are pink or white. Supposedly, it grows best in a moist acidic soil, but Peg’s is flourishing on drip even in our alkaline Nevada soil. It attracts hummingbirds and resists deer.

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis species) is a plant with gray foliage and yellow flowers. It grows in full sun with dry to medium well-drained soils. Another member of the mint family, it has fragrant leaves. Its rhizomes spread and so it fills in an area quickly, reaching three feet tall by two feet wide. The lovely flowers are followed by decorative seed-heads that provide fall interest. It is deer resistant.

As you plant this summer, be adventurous. Try something new!

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor & extension educator, emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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