Native Sun(flowers)

Sunflowers - Helianthus annuus

When I first moved into my home the front and back yards were a mess. Other than (thankfully) a few trees, both the front and back yards were barren. My new home featured a landscape of bare dirt, rocks and a few weeds. The realtor offered to get the seller to pay for a load of gravel to spread in the front yard, but I said no. Crazy? Perhaps. I just can't stand gravel-scaping in lieu of actual plants. So, instead of covering up the problem, I started planning a native and xeric landscape around my home.

Why choose native plants when I could go to the nearest nursery and load up a truck full of plants, dig them in and be done with it? Well, first off I'm lazy. Specifically, I do what I can to minimize any ongoing maintenance (i.e. watering, pruning, etc.). I figure that if a plant grows in the area natively, then it won't need much help to grow in my yard. Hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection have done an excellent job of adapting plants to this environment and I doubt that I can improve on that.

Secondly, I think that many native plants are absolutely beautiful. For example, I know that arbor vitae are tough, resilient plants - but I hate how they look. I find many of the plants that are commonly used in commercial and home landscapes to be boring and overused. On the other hand, native plants are more rare and distinctive in a planned landscape. Why have another Bradford Pear tree in your yard when you could have a Mountain Mahogany?

I also want to bring a bit of the wilderness home with me. Every time I go for a mountain bike ride or hike in the forests and grasslands near my home I feel refreshed and reinvigorated. Since it's irresponsible, and in many cases illegal, to uproot the wild flora and bring it home, I'm happy to buy seeds and seedlings from a local nursery that specializes in native plants. Not only do they have a wide selection of native and xeric greenery to choose from, my nursery patiently answers my dumb questions about the proper watering schedule for grass seeds (the answer is to water grass seed frequently and consistently for germination - fortunately native grasses are pretty tough).

I'm not a purist though. I have non-native plants in the front and backyards. Previous owners planted non-native pines and a Honey Locust in the front which are in great shape. I've added other xeric plants like Hardy Plumbago which need very little attention from an inattentive gardener like myself. As well, I have beds of herbs like Thyme, Lavendar, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Basil and Cilantro. But, to balance it out I've also planted Chinquapin Oak, Wild Plum, Woods Rose, Buffalo and Blue Grama grass and a mix of wildflowers. Past the first year the native plants have needed very little help and whatever infrequent watering I provide has been sufficient for them to grow and thrive.

The landscape around my house is nowhere near "done", but I'm making progress. The bare dirt is covered in mulch, flowers and the start of a native grass lawn. I have two beds of herbs and three beds of vegetables growing around the house. My favorites though are the two large wildflower beds. Wildflowers have required the least work for the most showy results of anything I've planted so far.

Tell us what native and xeric plants are growing and thriving around your home.

Native Plant Links:

Native Plant Society of New Mexico

New Mexico Master Gardeners

Plants of the Southwest