JoAnne Skelly: A friend’s mini arboretum

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My friend Pat is quite the perennial gardener. She has volunteered at the Wilbur D. May Arboretum for almost 20 years, gardening, planting, and maintaining their gardens.

Every year the arboretum holds a plant sale. I have never attended, but I hear the plant selection is fantastic, offering many unique plants for our area. Pat shops there every year bringing home unusual perennial flowers. Now, her yard has been complimented by others as a “mini arboretum.” The layout and plant palette are striking and appealing.

Pat says perennials are pretty easy. You plant them and you’re done. We all know that’s not exactly true. There’s always weeding, dead heading, cutting back and replacing old, tired plants. There is always work on drip systems. However, once perennials are planted, unless something unforeseen happens, they come back for many years, filling in and re-seeding.

I spent a few delightful hours in her yard last week wandering from plant to plant. There were many specimens I didn’t recognize, but I enjoyed their beauty, nonetheless. As you walk up the driveway from the street there is a section that is simply gravel where milkweed has been allowed to take over. This hardy drought-tolerant plant is necessary food for monarch butterfly reproduction. It always makes me happy to see a yard where people care about monarchs.

After the milkweed is a colorful section of low-growing perennials including yellow and magenta delosperma ice plant, purple creeping thyme and occasional upright flowers that have re-seeded from other parts of the yard. The choices Pat made created a patchwork of colors and textures. Past this are some of the most unusual alliums I have seen. I didn’t realize they came in yellow or that they could look like a huge starburst.

There are traditional plants such as irises, but there’s also a “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” filbert with its twisted interesting branches. In the back yard beautiful, terraced gardens cover the hillside behind the house. Keystone blocks hold up the steep bank while flagstone stairs and walkways allow for easy climbing up the hill to see the trees, shrubs and flowers planted there.

There are oak trees, clumping low-growing yellow evening primrose, a lush yellow columbine and so many more plants. It’s all eye candy. I wondered a bit about the occasional golf ball I spotted in a bed. Pat uses them to mark where a bulb or other plant should come up.

They are fairly discrete, but with a touch of whimsy. I liked the idea. I hope you also have friends with beautiful gardens to enjoy this summer. Happy gardening!

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email


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