(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 14, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Taking a Moment to Consider Other Options
As a gardener in Tucson, I gradually came to terms with what appeared to be a limited number of plants I could grow during the summer season. I bought a lot of lantana and Salvia greggii. Gradually I discovered more plants that would not only last the summer but would thrive. My favorite to date is the red bird of paradise. Considering my affinity toward fuchsia, this plant fit the bill nicely as a replacement for my beloved fuchsias I left back in England. I can thank plants like the red bird of paradise, chuparosa and baja fairy duster for bringing me out of the "I can't grow anything here" rut. Pushing discouragement and melancholy aside, I made an honest effort to find alternative plants that would fulfill the sentimentality I so desperately needed in my garden.
As I mentioned in part one of this series, I will always have a desire to have the beautiful lilac growing in my garden. It brings back so many memories of childhood. I realized upon my arrival, there would be no way you could grow lilacs here. Many sources supported this thought process and that's just the way it was. Well, that changed this year. I visited a local nursery that is renowned for offering plants that are suited for our climate. In the midst of their offerings was a species of lilac I had not heard of - Persian Lilac. I trust this nursery implicitly to not sell plants that are of the "here today, gone tomorrow" variety so I bought it. Well, I bought three! When I got home, I went straight to Dave's Garden to check the plant files. Hardy to Zone 9b. How wonderful! In the SW Garden Forum, many people are growing this plant. With a bit of perseverance and exploration, I found a wonderful alternative to a beloved plant that will survive and flourish in my climate.
As I was working on this second part of the series, Dave's Garden member doss commented on part one of this series and mentioned hostas. This was another plant I sorely missed when moving to Arizona. At first I thought I could grow them if I kept them in full shade. It turned out I could not. When the temperatures went from the pleasant 80s of spring to the 90s and then triple digits of summer, each and every hosta wilted and eventually disappeared into the soil.
We now live in a different house and we have a covered sitting area that doesn't get too hot as the only sun that hits this area is a small amount of morning sun. Based on that, I was contemplating giving hostas another shot. I had my eye on some Frances Williams as recommended in another Dave's Garden post. Because Doss lives in California and is in the same zone as I, he found some hosta hybrid alternatives that are suited for warmer climates. Come Autumn I will be ordering one of the recommendations doss made. Thank you! I appreciate it. Yet another alternative is found for a plant once cherished in a different climate.
Would you like a sure fired way to enjoy success with your planting? Grow native. You would be amazed at what is available. I was! Sometimes finding an alternative is not about finding a different variety of the same plant you once grew. Sometimes and perhaps more rewarding is seeking out native plants. Research is a key component in successful planting. All you have to do is Google native plants for (insert where you live here) and I guarantee you will be given thousands of links. Once you find a site or two that offers a comprehensive list, start looking them up in the plant files. Take it a step further and mention them in your local forum and others will be all too happy to share their experiences with growing the plants you are interested in. Alternatively, if no one is growing it, YOU grow it and share with everyone your new found treasure. Before you know it, you will be captivated and motivated. The end result will be a new found appreciation for where you live and the plant life unique to it.
Just this year, I discovered so many species I have never heard of - each with their own attributes. Further, my garden has been given a new breath of life as a result. A native plant equals native fauna. Native fauna equals a healthy, vibrant garden. Who doesn't want that?
This is a wonderful, unique world we live in and thank goodness for that! The possibility to learn and embrace all that is different is infinite.
I do however understand and more importantly greatly empathize when you find a plant so desirable that you just have to be able to grow it - no matter what. Well, let me say this. I have a few of those plants. They are not supposed to grow here at all but they do. How did I do it? I chose a couple select areas and created some micro climates. You may have heard this garden buzz word in many of the forums. In part three of this series, I will discuss micro climates and how you can create them.
Thank you for reading now get out there and make something of your bit of earth!
The images used are my own. In order of appearance:
Thumbnail image is my Persian Lilac, followed by macro images of a Baja Fairy Duster, Salvia greggii, Parry's Penstemon and finally a snapdragon vine.