National Parks and Our Garden

By Marilyn Loser
2014 July 2

We just returned from a trip that included visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce National Park (NP), Zion NP, Grand Canyon NP (north rim), and Mesa Verde NP. I recognized quite a few wildflowers, shrubs, and trees that grow in my garden even though most of these places have more rainfall and a milder climate than Alamosa.

I was pleased to see the shrub Fernbush ( Chamebatiaria millefolium) in the wild for the first time on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  It also grows very well in the San Luis Valley, has beautiful white flowers, needs good drainage, and is fairly xeric once established. A native of the Rocky Mountains, it grows 6-8 feet tall, has finely divided, fernlike, aromatic foliage. In late summer it displays small white flowers in upright clusters.

Zion NP has many Hackberry trees (Celtis reticulate) – another species I’d never identified in the wild. According to a sign along a trail, Hackberries are “common to the floor and lower slopes of the canyon.  The sweet berries are an important food source for wildlife, including birds, foxes, and coyotes.” The Hackberries in our yard and in Jardin Hermosa are doing very well this year.  There was no dieback as in some previous years.

The shrub Silver Buffaloberry or Silverberry (Shepherdia Canadensis) adorned the slopes in Bryce and Zion NPs.  The “Sunset Western Garden” (SWG) book says, “These are tough plants for harsh growing conditions – withstand cold and wind, take most soils, tolerate drought.” They are related to Russian Olive (Elaeagnus) and have a similar blue-green color, but are not on the Colorado Noxious Weed list as is Russian Olive. They are native from Canada into intermountain areas of the West. SWG says they spread and sucker, but the shrub I planted several years ago is 5 ft. tall and hasn’t shown that proclivity.  I wouldn’t mind if it did.  It’s in an area I’d like to have taken over by shrubs.

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa), a shrub native to southwestern U.S., had finished blooming and was showing its feathery pink seeds heads in Bryce NP --  especially along the trail that descends into the canyon traversing from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. Healthy in the national park, it’s not doing so well in my garden. SWG says it needs gritty, well-drained soil. The bed where it’s planted in our yard is well-drained, but not gritty.  Not sure if that’s the problem. Its hardiness zones range from 2 – 23.  I consider Alamosa to be a 3 or 4. Sunset also says it needs no irrigation.  I’m not sure about that! I’ve seen it flourishing along roadsides in New Mexico where the average annual rainfall is double Alamosa’s 6-8 inches. I think I need to transplant this lovely shrub.

I especially love the wildflowers. We saw red Penstemons (Penstemon) and yellow Evening Primroses (Oenothera) in each of the places. There are more than 250 species of Penstemon -- also called Beardtongue -- so I’m not sure which species we were seeing. I have Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon strictus) in my garden which is native to mountains of the desert Southwest. It doesn’t flourish as well as our blue Rocky Mountain Penstemon and I will need to plant more next year.

I loved seeing small, yellow Bronze Evening Primroses on otherwise bare, reddish slopes in Bryce NP. I’m not sure of the species name, but many Evening Primroses are native to the western U.S. In the Mesa Verde NP region we also saw Bridge’s and Lavender (yes, the flower is yellow) Evening Primroses. The flowers have the same clear yellow of the Missouri Primroses (Oenothera  missouriensis) that thrive in my rock garden. The Missouri species is native to south-central U.S. and gently reseeds in Alamosa.

Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) and blue Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) were blooming in Zion NP.  There were a lot of the Golden specimens in wetter sites such as the Emerald Pools area and in the Grotto.

We saw white Desert Phlox (Phlox ?) along the rim in Bryce NP. In the SLV Creeping Phlox in lavender (Phlox stolonifera ) and pink (Phlox subulata) do well in the spring.

Other wildflowers we viewed that do well  in our yard are wild Pink Roses (Rosa woodsii), yellow and orange Wallflower (Erysimum allionii),  and orange Globemallow (Sphaeralcea munroana).

There was a lot of Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii) and Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa). I have one Gambel Oak that is over 8 ft. tall and another, planted about the same time, that is 2 ft. tall! Our lone Ponderosa is making it through, but not as beautiful as some of the older specimens I see around town.

"How lovely is the silence of growing things.”- Author Unknown