Eastern Gardener ISO Desert Plants


One of the many press releases coming my way recently was from High Country Gardens, and I found myself wanting all of its new introductions, especially the Salvias.hcg5  Loved by hummingbirds but NOT by deer or rabbits!  But then I read this quote from David Salman, the company’s chief horticulturist, and was reminded of the many desert-loving plants I’ve killed in my wet Maryland garden (39 inches of rain yearly): “The plants we offer are easy-to-grow, beautiful, and adaptable to a wide range of climates, cold hardiness and low-water conditions.

Low-water only?  So I called David to find out more and to generally whine about my plant losses.  He told me to not even try the far Western-type Salvias (like S. nemerosa cultivars and SW natives S. dorri and S. pachyphyllia), which will indeed perish in the East.  But I should try the European types, like Salvia Greggii and hybrids, which do fine here “with good drainage.”

hcg3Dog-Tuff Turfgrass

Another HCG introduction is very exciting to lawn reformers like myself – it’s called “Dog Tuff.”  It’s described as very xeric and tolerant of play (by dogs or, one supposes, humans) and dog urine (no test done for tolerance of human urine).  David told me it was brought to the U.S. 30 years ago and discovered by a Denver nursery owner about 20 years ago a few years ago growing on the Colorado ranch where the daughter of the rancher had planted it upon her return from South Africa those decades ago. Now it’s proven its mettle at the Denver Botanic Garden and elsewhere and being introduced to the trade just this year.  Similar to Legacy Buffalo grass, it requires little water or mowing (just every 4-6 weeks) but unlike Buffalo grass, by its third year it’s so dense, it’s weed-proof.   Yes, it needs sun but great news for Easterners – it’s so adaptable, it should be fine in wetter climates, up to 40″ yearly!  It’s even okay in heavy soils.  Dog-Tuff can’t be grown from seed, though, because it’s a sterile hybrid of two S. African grasses.  So, it’s sold as plugs – and I’m writing to U.Md. turf researchers today to relay David’s offer of plugs for them to trial here.

Pre-Planned Gardens


You know those preplanned gardens we seen in catalogs that are (to my eyes) utterly unappealing and also so unreal, those the plants don’t all bloom together, as shown?  Yeah, those.  But there are two of them in HCG’s new introductions, the one above having one the Green Thumb Award from the Direct Marketing Association.  So I rudely asked David – do people actually buy them?  David says boyoboy, do they buy them!  They’re very popular, especially with beginners, who feel more confident using them.  And they actually look great in the garden, which is no surprise since these are designed by none other than Lauren Springer, whom David hired for the job because he didn’t want to duplicate the “horrible designs” used in the typical preplanned gardens.  Btw, this particular pre-planned garden of 14 bird-attracting perennials shouldn’t be tried where rainfall is more than 25 inches annually.

Grasses for the Mid-Atlantic?


Because I whined so much about HCG’s plants not growing for us Easterners, David assured me that several fabulous grasses would grow well here and he’d send me some to trial.  Yay for whining!  The shipment will include, from left, ‘Blond Ambition’ blue grama grass (2011 Plant Select winner), ‘Pink Flamingo’ Muhlenbergia, and Muhlenbergia reverchonii (2014 Plant Select winner).

Company News

High Country Gardens is now owned by American Meadows, which is based in Vermont.  Its greenhouses are in Denver, but the research facilities are still in Santa Fe, where David works as its “chief horticulturist.”  Under this new arrangement David is freed up to write and do plant production, rather than run the business.  Here’s his blog, which he updates weekly.


  1. Sorry, but your whining would have fallen on deaf ears had I been on the other end of that line. HCG is a godsend to us folks out West who are facing water shortages that only grow more dire by the day (three years of drought & no rain of any consequence since November in what should be our rainy season). You have a whole world of plants to choose from, fabulous plants that won’t survive without special consideration in our rainless summers & more-intense sunlight. I’m sure there are even many to choose from that are deer/rabbit resistant. HCG doesn’t need to develop or search for plants that tolerate more water. They need to stick to what they do best – providing options otherwise unavailable to those of us who garden in the often poor, dry soils out West.

    • Laura, I get it – we wet-climate gardeners have so many plants to choose from. BUT with climate change our droughts are getting longer and longer and the rains are coming in more destructive sudden bursts. So drought-tolerance is an increasingly important factor here in the now-erratic East.

  2. My buffalo grass turf was spectacular the first year, but now it’s about 75% grassy weeds (unknown ID) and 25% buffalo. There’s no plant claim that I’m more leery of than “chokes out weeds” — what happens if perennial weeds get established in years 1 and 2?

    You should definitely try Salvia greggii. I have one (‘Wild Thing’) that’s been doing great in my clay soil for 7 years or more.

  3. 39 inches!?!?!
    Oh my word. Fanning myself at the thought.
    Here in Livingston MT, I get 16 inches in a good year, last couple of years we’ve averaged more like 12. By September, my raised beds are filled with soil the texture of hard styrofoam.
    On the other hand, the salvias, well, they’re my friends.

    • I’m with you. We get 17 inches in a good year. And we haven’t seen a “good year” for a while now. Last year, only 6; this year so far ? Less than 2 inches since July 1, and three-quarters through our rainiest months.

  4. Susan
    I actually went in person to HCG nursery on a trip several years ago and bought way too much stuff that unfortunately like you reported, cannot tolerate our 39 inches of rain. The plants hung around for a couple of years, looking scruffy, and finally mercifully died. I learned my lesson from that experience and admire from afar plants that like dry Western conditions. And just like your first commenter said, we have a whole world to choose from with our rainfall, but as a passionate gardener, we always want to push the envelope.

  5. We were so fortunate to have David Salmon visit us in Portland last fall. There at the plant sale that followed his talk I purchased a Salvia pachyphylla. It did really well when our temps dipped as low as the records of twenty years ago. I have it planted in a little soil with a lot of small crushed gravel for good drainage, too, in our usually wet winters. Now when I see the photo of the ‘Mulberry Flambe’ I’m thinking I need THAT one! Too gorgeous!

  6. I’ve grown the Bouteloua ‘Blonde Ambition’ and Muehlenbergia reverchonii for several years here in southern VT. Both EXCELLENT grasses. When purchasing from HCG, one needs to check their excellent key. No “cowboy hats” for us eastern humid gardeners!

  7. Oops! I think you switched two plant names. Salvia greggii is from Texas and Mexico. Allan Armitage says S. greggii tolerates heat, high humidity and drought and does well in the southeast. Salvia nemerosa is from Europe and its cultivars and hybrids are commonly used in the midwest and eastern US. ‘May Night’ is one of the best known hybrids. S. nemorosa does better where nights are cool.

    I also love the western sages. Unfortunately, being in Wisconsin, if the rain and humidity doesn’t kill them in the summer, the cold and wet gets them in the winter.

    • I forwarded your comment and here’s David response: “Salvia greggi and hybrids originate from the southwestern US and should be a great choice for Maryland.”
      So, a correction, and thanks!

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