Friday, August 6, 2010

Ridgetop ode


Living on the border of the second-largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states swells one's comprehension of landscaping into vast vistas; slopes become shaded hedges leading the eye to rocky promontories, the north sides of hills shady groves leading allée-style to obscured ends, and the gulches become seasonal water features tracing gurgling sound through intricate stone detail. Inspiration is all around for gardeners, yet it frequently veers in proportionally disconcerting vectors when applied to a city block's worth of land.

The seamless, sensuously bare rolling hills seem impossible to minimize into a residential-home-scaled berm, and the wildflowers too ephemeral to capture in cultivation despite their dainty, individualistic footprints. Many of us bring focus to our yards with pocket-garden ideas, little groupings that highlight a certain nook or celebrate a special plant. But how can we ever bring the ridgeline into the backyard, the lupine and purple aster explosion to the front?

The Hailey Garden Tour of two weeks ago offered me just such a mountaintop moment in the front yard of Jim Feldbaum. Past a small lawn of native bunch grasses emerges a small rise in terrain, lichen-splattered rocks accenting the smallest of hillocks. Native wildflowers, such as penstemon and buckwheat varieties, sprout naturally from the minimalist approach to color palette; the planting perfectly resembles a high ridge, stone and plant exposed to harsh winds and lacking water, yet brilliant in color and pure ambition to survive.

Ours being a high-desert environment, this particular garden spoke to my rational design brain in addition to sparking the emotional high of mountain hiking—appropriate irrigation and "trout friendly" practices are in use as well. Regarding irrigation, Feldbaum and the garden designer, Kelly Weston of Native Landscapes, have separated this zone so as to utilize less water, mimicking the water needs of such plants in their naturally landscaped origins.


Regarding "trout" friendliness, no chemicals are used to feed the plants or control pests, rendering this yard an unobtrusive neighbor to the Big Wood River flowing at the backyard's edge. More information on such practices is available at the Wood River Land Trust, the home of this campaign to improve water quality for fish and flora.

Consider such an approach to your gardening. Installing native plants and hardscape may seem redundant when you can see such beauty by hucking up Carbonate or Baldy every day. But doing so also brings you full circle into the natural flow of resources for our area. It's responsible to the elements surrounding you, and a beautiful challenge to dig into our desert earth and create.

Also consider xeriscaping (zare-ih-scape-ing), which means selecting plants adapted to very low water conditions. Combining natives and other dry-loving plants keeps your color and texture options broad; our valley's garden shops stock plenty of dry-weather and drought-tolerant plants. Swing by the Sawtooth Botanical Garden for a look at some of these plants in action right now. Their library also offers you plenty of resources to browse through, that is if you can pull yourself inside for several hours.

Remember to take pictures as you explore the hills during these last weeks of summer for further help in identification, and consider gathering seeds as the plants finish their blooming. As would be expected, take minimal amounts if you do this. Tossing these into a properly dry, probably sunny area of your yard this fall might yield beautiful surprises next June!

Lynea Newcomer is a gardening enthusiast and writer. You can find out more about her at

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