By Deborah Lebow Aal, Lisa Olsen, and Beth Hanson
Wild Ones Front Range Chapter and Highlands Garden Center hosted a talk by Beth Hanson entitled “Meet the Natives” on June 29, 2019. We were competing on that date with the Colorado Native Plant Society’s garden tours, but we had a wonderful turnout. Goes to show that many folks share an interest in learning about native plants!
Lisa Olsen, Front Range Chapter board member, kicked the talk off at a gorgeous amphitheater at the Highlands Garden Center, where she works. Highlands Garden Center is truly a lovely venue. One of the interesting points Lisa made is that it’s all well and good to learn the plants native to Colorado, but it’s really important to see how they grow in the wild – what conditions they like and what plants they like to grow near. We often forget that part, thinking we can put plants wherever it suits us. Take a hike, or sign up for a Colorado Native Plant Society walk with a knowledgeable guide, or register for a Native Plant Master Course through Colorado State University Extension. Learn about where these plants thrive and then mimic those conditions in your home landscape.
Beth Hanson is a Park Interpreter at the Carson Nature Center in Littleton. She started with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture at CSU before working in the green industry for over three decades. She brought a bouquet of self-sown natives from her garden that included Penstemon, Gaillardia, Ratibida, Rudbeckia, Erigeron, and more. It was gorgeous.
In addition, Highlands Garden Center carried many of the natives (and nativars) Beth spoke about, so she could show us the plant she was discussing. Here are a few of the plants Beth highlighted:
- Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.): “Regent” is the one she likes for smaller home landscapes
- Potentilla (Potentilla spp.): cultivars seem to be similar enough to the native to benefit wildlife
- Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius): several cultivars are available, some with burgundy foliage, which are marvelous accents when planted adjacent to our native Colorado blue spruce or other plants with silver foliage
- Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.): the silver is also a lovely accent to deeper green plants
- Fringed sage (Artemisia frigida): thrives on the sunny side of thirsty pines
- Creeping mahonia (Mahonia repens): an evergreen for dry shade
- Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata): attractive to many native pollinators
- Golden currant (Ribes aureum): a good plant for dry shade (not much grows in dry shade…)
- Penstemons (Penstemon spp.): fabulous regionally native selections are available, many of which will self-sow and naturalize
And some grasses Beth highlighted:
- Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
- Shenandoah switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
- Buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides)
She made several very important points. First, you don’t need five acres to make a difference. Pollinators sometimes just need a rest stop along their way, so your little patch of native plants can have an impact. Second, don’t forget about the fall for planting. In fact, many of our natives do very well planted in the fall; the soil is warm and roots can dig in quickly. Third, be careful with cultivars. For example, with a native Penstemon, the pollinator goes down into the tube of the flower; flowers and pollinators co-evolved in mutually beneficial relationships. In a cultivar, the pollinator might not be able to get inside the flowers to access the pollen or nectar. Do some research and choose from the many cultivars that meet the needs of pollinators. Also, “stealth” natives allow you to integrate a native shrub-like “Regent” serviceberry into your landscape without broadcasting your journey to the wild side. Neighbors will appreciate the beauty of your garden, without knowing that you are also benefitting native insects and other wildlife.
Arthur Clifford, a talented native plant propagator and dedicated member of the Colorado Native Plant Society, donated swamp milkweed plants to benefit Wild Ones Front Range Chapter and encourage attendees to take a first step with natives or to add a vital host plant to their habitat gardens. All in all, it was an enjoyable and highly educational experience. Thank you Highlands Garden Center, Beth Hanson, and Arthur Clifford!
Curious to learn more about transforming your garden into a habitat with Colorado native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees? Check out our native gardening toolkit, register for an upcoming event, subscribe to our newsletter, and/or become a member – if you’re not one already!