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The Native Plants Journal 5.1 (2004) 98-99

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Native Plants for High-Elevation Western Gardens. Janice Busco and Nancy R Morin. Fulcrum Publishing, 16100 Table Mountain Parkway, Suite 300, Golden, Colorado 80403; telephone 800.992.2908; URL: Paperback, 352 p, 250 color photos, 18 x 25 cm (7 x 10 in), 2003, ISBN 1-55591-475-6, US$ 30.

There has been an explosion of interest in gardening and landscaping with natives, and this attractive book is a contribution to this worthy art and science. The introductory sections provide useful advice for novices on planting and maintaining a native plant garden. These sections reveal that the authors are gardeners themselves and speak from actual experience. Most of the book is devoted to the illustration and discussion of 150 "guaranteed" low-maintenance native plants for the garden. The text associated with each species includes a section called Outstanding Features. For many of the species, this section contains some very useful insights, such as "self-sows and spreads quickly by underground runners" (Oenothera pallida), or "A nonstop bloomer...performs low-maintenance areas like medium strips and parkways" (Penstemon pinifolius). In another section they recommend combinations of species that can be grown together to provide a desired continuity of flowering and color. I especially like the fact that these 2 sections are apparently drawn completely from their gardening experience, presumably at The Arboretum at Flagstaff, Arizona. This is the kind of information that would take the average gardener years to discover by trial and error. A section titled Culture is disappointingly brief, generally consisting of only 1- or 2- word descriptions of soil, exposure, water use, propagation, and care of the species. Most of the rest of the text can be found in any wildflower book. The color photos of each species are generally excellent and it is a plus that most appear to be taken in a garden setting.

There are a few things of concern, however. First, the term "high elevation" used in the title and throughout the book is not a true ecological classification, which would be the most accurate way to convey where a native species occurs and perhaps where it can be cultivated. For example, the ponderosa pine zone (in which The Arboretum at Flagstaff lies) would not be described as a high-elevation zone anywhere it occurs throughout the West. And, most of the example gardens they cite as high elevation (in places such as Las Vegas and Boise) would be called low elevation by an ecologist. They provide an almost unreadably small plant hardiness zone map for North America, and define zones 1 to 6 as the "High-Elevation West." Inexplicably, they then correctly describe zones 5 and 6 as middle and lower elevation. This fuzziness in the defined scope of the book is further complicated by the fact that the 150 species are drawn predominantly from the southern Rocky Mountains. They feature many interesting southwestern species; the rest of the West is represented by the likes of yarrow and other wide-ranging species. They write about the summer monsoons as a factor in their gardening experiences at Flagstaff, but again this climate is characteristic of the southwest, and nowhere else in the West. Thus, the book has considerable local utility, but perhaps much more limited applicability for gardeners from other regions. I say perhaps because we really don't know about the performance of some of these species in other
climates. [End Page 98]

I wish the authors had written more to educate and caution readers about weeds and about what is and isn't a native plant. A plant is truly native only if it evolved in the particular habitat into which it is being planted. It is the existence of native pathogens, parasites, and herbivores that keeps the species in check. Some, perhaps many, of the plants considered in the book grow in the ecosystem represented at The Arboretum at Flagstaff. But many do not, and if they are sown widely, some could well...


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