Garden Guy: Southwest Plants for the Northwest Summers

Friday, August 12, 2022

Bruce will have a booth at this year’s CHOMP! Festival on Saturday, August 20, 2022, at Redmond’s Marymoor Park. Look for him at the Master Gardener Booths.
By Bruce Bennett

This gardening columnist has been hearing many tales from friends about their recent vacations and thought a ‘What I Did On My Vacation’ presentation was in order. 

Zion NP photo courtesy
For the past several years, springtime has found the Garden Guy and his wife volunteering for a month or two at various western state and national parks.

It’s a chance to see other parts of the country without damaging one’s bank account (too badly). 

This year followed suit with the RV heading south and two experienced interpretive park rangers working at Zion National Park for two months.

Southwestern Utah is the location of a chain of five stunning national parks (Arches, Canyonland, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion). 

Arches National Park photo courtesy
All are just above the northern rim of Grand Canyon. 

These parks are part and parcel of the same geological formations. Yet, with similar geological history, the five Utah parks couldn’t be more different. 

This is due, in part, to the varying elevation of the land.

The easternmost park, Arches, is the lowest at an average elevation of 4,000’ – 5,000’ and a temperature of 84 degrees when we happy campers were there on an sunny April afternoon.

Bryce Canyon photo Courtesy behance
Contrast this to, two days later, when the morning found us at the highest park, Bryce Canyon, at 9,500 ‘ with a 25 degree temperature and 8” of new snow.

If packing for a trip to Utah, definitely think about layering your clothing. The shoulder seasons of late spring and autumn are probably the best times to visit and hike these areas.

The wide range in weather (and as much as a 40 degree change in one day), coupled with an annual rainfall of 9” makes for a challenging environment for plants to grow. 

Many of the area’s plants wouldn’t survive the northwest weather, not because of its mild temperatures, but, because of its dampness. roots would simply rot. There are several dozen native floral candidates which could, however, make the 1,200 mile northward transition and be prime specimens in our northwest yards.

What do you want with desert plants in your green spaces? Think about the western and southern exposures of your property, especially in summer, or general climate change, for that matter. Among the adaptable desert native perennials and shrubs your Garden Guy can recommend for consideration are:

Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) This sun-lover is a member of the daisy family and is a native perennial we encountered across most of the country while making a coast-to-coast trip three years ago. While native yarrows are usually white or a light pink, garden center cultivars now offer a variety of different colors, including red, white, pink, yellow and several pastel colors. 

As with most of this plant list, after they are established, little care is required and they can survive just on rainwater and minimal summer irrigation.

Asclepias photo courtesy
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) is a herbaceous perennial which is a tuberous rooted native. It typically grows in a clump to 1-3' tall and features clusters of bright orange to yellow-orange flowers from late spring through autumn. Flowers morph into the typical spindle-shaped seed pods. 

For the artsy-craftsy folk amongst us, the seed pods are valued in dried flower arrangements. 

The flowers are a nectar source for many butterflies and leaves are a food source for monarch butterfly larvae/caterpillars.

Berberis photo courtesy
Berberis fremontii (Fremont Mahonia) may, at a natural 10’ tall, be a bit large for some urban landscapes, although it can be trimmed. 

But, this evergreen shrub can form a good hedge or privacy screen. It is another fine pollinator plant with clusters of yellow flowers and purple berries in late autumn.

Docatheon photo courtesy
Dodecatheon pulchellum (Shooting Star) is member of the primula family. For such a delicate looking herbaceous perennial, it is often found growing in xeric (extremely dry) and desert habitats

It can found in the Great Basin Deserts. We happened to see them in the Mojave Desert! No supplemental watering there.

Erigeron photo courtesy
Erigeron peregrinus (Mountain Daisy) is a member of the Aster family and is often called ‘daisies’ or ‘fleabanes.’ 

These perennial herbs spread by means of underground rhizomes and can grow in semi-desert to alpine environments. 

In the ‘Four Corners’ region of the country, there are some 30 species of this hardy little plant and you can find natives with blue, purple, pink, or white flowers. 

Erigeron is another top pollinator which will attract bees, butterflies and moths.

Dichelostemma photo courtesy
Dichelostemma capitatum (Wild Hyacinth) is a herbaceous perennial and the only corm on this list. 

Depending on its age the corm will have 2 to 15 flowers, in shades of blue, blue-purple, pink-purple, or white. 

In the wild, these plants thrive in open disturbed environments and are a common post-fire succession species.

Lonicera photo courtesy
Lonicera involucrata (Black Twinberry) is a deciduous shrub that grows to about 6’. So, it is not the typical vine-producing, powdery mildew- ridden, honeysuckle you may be used to. 

It is probably best known for its yellow flowers and paired red fruits. This is another low-care shrub for the natives-centric garden. It is also good for pollinator gardens. 

Check out the shrubs at Woodland Park Zoo’s Pollinator Patio this summer.

Penstemon photo
Penstemon utahensis (Beardtongue) is a large genus of roughly 250 species of flowering plants, with 20 species for in the Four Corners region. 

While this specific native species can produce a dozen or more stems loaded with red flowers and grey-green leaves, other natives will have pink, purple and white coloration.

Potentilla photo courtesy
Potentilla fruticosa (Shrubby Cinquefoil) is member of the rose family. It is a three foot branchy shrub with yellow flowers, although newer cultivars can also show red, orange or mango-colored blooms. 

Although it is a southwest native, this potentilla appears to grow even better in our part of the world and you can expect blooms from June through September. Butterflies and bees love this little shrub and it is all but maintenance-free!

Consider adding one or two plants from beyond our northwestern environs to your home landscape. While bringing in plants from the southwest which you will enjoy because of their good looks and low care, these new additions will stump your neighbors while adding to a growing smorgasbord of new greenery which will be enjoyed by the ever-working pollinators in your garden. Happy Gardening all!

Bruce Bennett
Contributing columnist, Bruce Bennett, is a Seattle-area garden designer, consultant and lecturer. 

Send your gardening questions and suggestions for future columns to him at

You can also speak with Bruce at this year’s CHOMP! Festival being held on Saturday, August 20, 2022, at Redmond’s Marymoor Park. Look for him at the Master Gardener Booths. Go to for more information about this annual county-wide event.


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