CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, September 26, 2019

High and Dry Garden

The High and Dry Garden
By CSU Horticulture Agent, Linda Langelo

In Akron, Colorado, we have a demonstration garden that shows the public what plants can tolerate an extended drought and still survive.  In some cases, even do well.  Last year we applied for a Colorado Garden Show Grant and received funding to renovate the garden.  It was first implemented in July 2005 by a now retired CSU Horticulture Agent, Joanne Jones.

Since 2005, we have watched the garden through the seasons to see which plants were able to tolerate the conditions and which plants did not.  The plants received supplement precipitation from Mother Nature.

The plants that survived and did the best are listed as follows:

Squaw apple--------------------------Peraphyllum ramosissimum
Oregon grape-------------------------Mahonia repens
Desert Colorado Four O'Clock----Mirabilis multiflora
Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany----Cercocarpus ledifolius
Common Gaillardia-----------------Gaillardia aristata
Chocolate Flower-------------------Berlandiera lyrate
Provence Broom--------------------Cytisus purgans
Snow Mesa Buckwheat------------Eriogonum wrightii var. wrightii
Upright Blue Penstemon-----------Penstemon virgatus

I want to share two of my most favorite plants from the list above:

Squaw apple-- 
Photo Credit: Linda Langelo 

Squaw apple is in the rose family and is also known as wild crab apple.  It has endured without any extra care.  This could make a great hedge or backdrop for a garden.  It gets four to six feet tall. It attracts birds, bees and butterflies.

Desert Colorado Four O'Clock- 

Photo Credit: Linda Langelo

This is a no muss, no fuss plant.  Once it gets established it can seed itself in other places, but in our garden it has never been invasive.  It is a deep-rooted native plant.  It is filled with flowers from late May through the end of summer.  The flowers open in the afternoon.  It is hardy to zone 4.  It grows to 18" tall and spreads to 72" wide.  I would consider both of these plants underused.  They are great for conserving water.

The new plants that we were able to implement in the garden are as follows:

Silver Edged Horehound--------Marrubium rotundifolium
Undaunted Ruby Muhly Grass-Muhlenbergia reverchonii
Dark Knight Blue Mist Spirea--Caryopteris clandonensis 'Dark Knight'
Desert Sweet, Fernbush----------Chamaebatiaria millefolium
Apache plume---------------------Fallugia paradoxa

It is hard to pick a favorite or two from this list.  They are all great plants, especially when it comes to drought tolerance.  I really like the blossoms on Blue Mist Spirea.
Photo Credit: Linda Langelo
We ended up having chosen the right season to renovate this garden.  We had snow a week after the plants were in the ground.  Then we have had rain almost weekly or more through the season.  All the plants did well from the 29 degree Fahrenheit day with snow on the ground through this wet season.  

This garden is placed along our walking path in the Washington County Fairgrounds.  We also have placed a free library to hold our brochures, other Extension information and have a horticulture book exchange.  

Photo Credit: Linda Langelo
Without the funding from the Colorado Garden Show, this would not have been possible to give this garden a new "facelift".  We had community volunteers, Akron High School Science Students, Colorado Master Gardeners, office staff and the town workers, even the neighbor by the walking path participated in the renovation.  That is what makes a community.  As the garden grows I can take more photos and share them in a 2020 blog!  Stay tuned.....


  1. Wow! And only water from Mother Nature--very wonderful.

    1. If you are ever out this way, stop by for a visit.

  2. Thanks so much for the list and the photos. Was there any soil prep, composting, etc.?

    1. No there was no amendments used. We just put down pea gravel around the plants for a "mulch".

  3. Thanks for posting on this garden. I hope to see it in all seasons. Your effort can be a poster child for incentives for lawn conversions (in part or in whole) and a boost for pollinators.

  4. Thanks for your comment. Great idea. This demonstration garden attempts to show people the beauty they can have with Mother Nature's water. If it works in the demonstration garden, it will work in their landscape.

  5. What's your elevation? Thanks for the article.

    1. 3913 is the elevation. Your welcome and I hope you enjoyed the article.