Plant Select, a melding of botanical minds from Denver Botanic Garden, Green Industries of Colorado, and Colorado State University, is an invaluable resource for gardeners in the Rocky Mountains as well as beyond. The organization chooses and promotes about ten plants every year that will thrive in the dry, unpredictable conditions such as Rocky Mountains. Plant Select has recently published a guide to the past decade of plant selections in a full color book that is one of my favorites. Here is an overview of the new book and a look inside its pages in case you need help picking a few tough plants for your landscape.

In the past, I have written about how great the Plant Select program is. Their mission, which is denoted in the new book's introduction, states it is "a program designed to seek out and distribute the very best plants for gardens from the High Plains to the Intermountain region." For the past 25 years, the program has successfully trialed, promoted and introduced myriad cornerstone plants for the Rocky Mountain region. The plants also make excellent choices for areas that experience year-round drought and unpredictable summers.

Pages 24-25 detail Spanish Gold Broom (Cytisus purgans)

This book details each of the seventy-four plants that have been selected since 1997, when the organization began its annual list. The book, published in first edition in 2009, offers full color on 216 pages which delineate the broad range of plants from annuals to ground covers to perennials. After an introduction and a section on how to best use the book, the seventy-four selections are detailed in four separate categories: Trees/Shrubs/Woody Vines, Perennials, Perennial Groundcovers, and Annuals. Each year, several from each category are chosen to be represented as a "Plant Select" specimen.


Within each section, the plants are arranged alphabetically, from Agastache to Sporobolus (perennial section), for added readability. Every page contains helpful and in depth information about why and how to grow each specific plant. Each of the included plants, has a full two page spread containing a profusion of information: a pronunciation guide (Chamaebatiaria millefolium is pronounced kam-ee-bah-tee-AIR-ee-ah mil-le-FOE-lee-um), height and spread, year of recommendation, a narrative of why the plant was chosen to be part of the Plant Select program, landscape use, the plant's native range, its best features and characteristics, as well as any disadvantages the plant presents. Rarely does a plant book go into such helpful detail.

Four categories with plenty of photos Butterfly bush pictured among foxtail lilies and iris

In addition to the abundance of specific information, the book includes beautiful photographs from different sites and settings of the plant. A close up as well as a full landscape shot are usually included, which is especially helpful for making choices for your own landscape. On each page is a quaint, Dioscorides-esque color macro drawing of the plant to show leaf and bloom shape that would make any gardener or artist swoon. At the back of the book is a guide to year-long interest and flowering, with information about when each species flowers and fruits, and is organized by height. This appendix is an especially helpful guide to anyone planning a garden.

Botanical art renderings for each plantFlowering timeline appendix

The best part of the book is that it emphasizes native North American plants that are especially well suited to survive and thrive through unpredictable environment. With the new (old) trend toward planting natives and wildlife-friendly plants, gardeners can use any resources available on the subject.

Some other books that might help you while planting native plants:

Armitage's Native Plants for North American Gardens by Allan M. Armitage

Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas W. Tallamy

Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants by C. Colston Burrell

Going Native: Biodiversity in Our Own Backyards by Janet Marinelli

There are also countless regional-specific native gardening books for areas all over North America such as:

100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardeners by Lorraine Johnson

Gardening With Native Plants of the South by Sally Wosowski

California Native Plants for the Garden by Carol Bornstein

Reading up on gardening in the Rocky Mountains can sometimes be a challenge. Try these books out if you need more in addition to Plant Select's book:

A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers: Northern Arizona and New Mexico to British Columbia by John Craighead

Rocky Mountain Gardener's Guide by John Cretti

The Xeriscape Flower Gardener: A Waterwise Guide for the Rocky Mountain Region by Jim Knopf

Plants of the Rocky Mountains by Linda Kershaw

If you live in the Rocky Mountains, High Plains, or Intermountain region of the United States, or if you just struggle with drought and unpredictable weather in your neck of the woods, Plant Select's new release is a must for your library. The information is indispensable and because it is presented in such a clear manner, it is accessible and relevant to new and seasoned gardeners alike.


I hope you'll take a minute or two to check out Durable Plants for the Garden and other books on native or Rocky Mountain gardening mentioned in this article. In addition, the Plant Select organization also has great resources on their website. Visit Plant Select's website for more about the program and where to buy the plants or the book.