A collaborative effort between Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens, as well as Rocky Mountain region horticulturists and nurseries, the Plant Select program seeks out, identifies and distributes plants that thrive in the sunny, variable conditions of Rocky Mountain gardens.
“The program offers a full palette of shrubs, trees, groundcovers, perennials, vines and even annuals,” say Pat Hayward, Plant Select Executive Director, whose administrative office is based at CSU in Fort Collins.
The average consumer can find Plant Select plants at most Colorado garden centers, but for a glimpse at a real-life display, Plant Select Demonstration Gardens are also located in nearly 90 public locations throughout the state, including the San Miguel County Fairgrounds in Norwood, the Montrose Botanic Gardens, and Cliffrose garden center in Cortez. Many Plant Select recommendations are also featured in San Miguel County’s High and Dry Gardens in Telluride and Norwood, which contain plant species that thrive on little or no supplemental water.
Given that since the program’s inception each year’s list has contained on average six or seven selections, the entire Plant Select collection is substantial, with 94 plants to date, including 40 trademarked and four patented plants.
“We usually recommend four to six plants, but sometimes there are just some great plants we have to include,” says Hayward. “We prefer to have a variety of both herbaceous and woody plants for each year, but there’s no set rule about that.”
To be included in the program, the selected plants must have the following attributes: Thrive in a broad range of garden situations; be resilient to the region’s challenging climate; demonstrate disease and insect resistance; flourish in low-water conditions; be noninvasive; display a long season of beauty in the garden; exemplify uniqueness; be capable of being mass produced; demonstrate longevity in containers; and be easily propagated, among other requirements.
For 2010, Plant Select chose the following plants for their beauty, variety and resilience:
Prairie Lode sundrops – A bright-yellow, four-petal blossomed, vigorous prairie species that blooms from May to September. It tolerates a wide range of situations and thrives in hot, dry conditions, growing 6-8 inches tall and 12-15 inches wide, hardy in zones 3-9 (up to 9,000 feet).
Red feathers – A perennial featuring spikes of feathery, russet-red flowers in the spring that re-bloom in the summer if deadheaded. Red feathers grow 10-16 inches tall and 6-8 inches wide in full sun or part shade with moderate to xeric soil conditions, and hardy in zones 3-9 (up to 9,000 feet).
Snow mesa buckwheat – Produces billowy domes of glistening white flowers that turn a fawn color in fall. A wildflower from the Chihuahuan grasslands of the Southwest, it grows 18-20 inches tall and equally wide, hardy in zones 4-9 (up to 8,000 feet).
Red yucca – With arching, evergreen grass-like leaves and curly white filaments, the plant’s flowers are tall spikes of brilliant rose-pink and yellow-throated tubular blossoms. It can become 3-4 feet tall and wide, blooming from June to autumn in full sun, and is hardy in zones 5-10 (up to 5,800 feet).
Regal torchlily – With blue-green rosettes of foliage, crimson, golden and ivory torches develop by late summer, providing color and visual interest into Sept. Preferring sun or part shade, the plant will grow 40 inches tall and 24-30 inches wide, and is hardy in zones 4-9 (up to 7,000 feet).
Redleaf rose – A medium to large shrub rose with single blossoms ranging from a pastel pink to white, it also features persistent red hips and dark purple foliage. Growing 6-8 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide, Redleaf prefers full sun to part shade and is hardy in zones 3-9 (up to 9,000 feet).
Partridge feather – With silver mats of feathery foliage, this groundcover thrives in dry gardens with good drainage. Golden button flowers appear for a short time in June, and the plant, which prefers full sun to part shade, grows 3-5 inches tall and 15-24 inches wide. It’s hardy in zones 4-9 (up to 9,000 feet).
While seeking out and distributing the very best plants that thrive in the sunny, variable conditions of the Rocky Mountains, the Plant Select program promotes lesser known native plants as well as successful hybrids and new discoveries by program coordinators.
According to Hayward, over the years Plant Select has incorporated “more rigorous testing, more defined protocols for selection, national and even international cooperation.
“Our demonstration garden partner program has also grown to include gardens in other states, as well,” she says. “We’re also working harder to have more plants available sooner.”
Past Plant Select selections have included several varieties of Penstemon, yellow and purple hardy ice plants, native phlox, and salvias and snow daises from western Asia, all of which have gained popularity in Colorado gardens because of the program.
The Plant Select website, plantselect.org, has a wealth of information for the consumer, including full color photographs and detailed descriptions of all Plant Select plants dating back to 1997. The website also provides locations of Plant Select demonstration gardens, locations of garden centers that carry their recommended selections, a garden design gallery using Plant Select plants, and much more.
The next time you’re perusing the options at your local nursery, watch for the Plant Select logo for a sure garden winner.