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Plant Select® Conference News

20 Jun 2023 2:04 PM | Bill LeMaire (Administrator)

Three members and docents of the Durango Botanic Gardens (DBG), Melanie Palmer, Curator and Docent Director of the Durango Botanic Gardens and DBG Docents, Veronica Zanon and Tish Varney, attended the Plant Select® 2023 Annual Conference on June 15 at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  They each prepared a report on their observations and principal takeaways from the event.

Native Plant Dreaming

Submitted by Veronica, ‘Ronnie,’ Zanon

Jennifer Ackerfield, Head Curator of the Natural History Collections and Associate of Biodiversity Research at the Denver Botanic Gardens, has my ‘dream’ job—traveling throughout Colorado searching for native plants to be considered for inclusion in the Plant Select® program.

            Among the advantages of using Colorado native plants is that they are pre-adapted to the Colorado climate, as well as their hardiness, low water requirements, attractiveness to pollinators and visual appeal.  She approached the topic by considering the various growing zones in Colorado, beginning with the Plains (3500 – 5600 ft.) of eastern Colorado.  About 35% of Colorado is shortgrass prairie land. One of the outstanding plants of the plains is the Nebraska Lupine (Lupinis plattensis...see photo), a perennial with striking bi-colored flowers.

            By contrast, the Foothills Zone (6000 – 8000 ft.) contains mainly gambel oak, ponderosa pine, pinyon, and juniper.  Here various species of the Asclepias genus(milkweed) thrive.  Milkweed species are especially beneficial to the Monarch butterfly.

            In the Montane (8000 – 10,000 ft.) one sees Douglas fir, blue spruce, aspen, columbine and the Erigeron genus. Some notable performers of the Montane are Mules Ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis) and Bee Balm (Monardella odoratissimus).

            The Alpine Zone (11,000 ft. and above) contains low growing perennials adapted to cold and wind – think purple fringe (Phacelia sericea) and Penstemmon harbourii – found in rocky scree.

            Moving west are the shrublands of the Western slope, a semi-desert, sagebrush covered habitat.  A couple stars of this area are the Easter Daisy (Townsendia incana) and the Woody-aster (Xylorhiza venusta), with its basal leaves and large daisy flower.

Some considerations for adapting native plants to common cultivation  are: aggressiveness, rabbit/deer resistance, pest and disease susceptibility, ability to propagate, performance in gardens. 

So, who knows, in a few years, you may find some or all of these wonderful Colorado natives at a nursery near you!

Melanie Joins Trial Plant Evaluations

Submitted by Melanie Palmer, curator, Durango Botanic Gardens

Chatfield Farms, located in southwest Denver, is a 700+ acre nature preserve, working farm, and historic site that has been an important part of the Denver Botanic Gardens for many years. It includes nature trails, numerous themed gardens, including CSA fields, an herb garden, iris garden, and a Plant Select® Demonstration Garden designed by Lauren Springer.

It is also a trial site for many plants that are considered for the Plant Select®program.  The Durango Botanic Gardens received an invitation from Plant Select Director Ross Shrigley to participate in trial plant evaluations the day before the annual Plant Select meeting, along with garden center and other nursery professionals. Melanie Palmer participated in the evaluations. Plants including groundcovers, other flowering perennials, shrubs, and grasses were scored on several parameters, and ultimately received YES/NO votes on possible inclusion in the program in future years.

Fire Mitigation By Zones

Submitted by Tish Varney, DBG Docent

It’s Elemental: Water, Fire, Natives was the theme of the Plant Select® Conference that included talks addressing issues that gardeners are facing today.  “Creating Fire-Resilient Landscapes” was the title of a presentation by Andrea Dorman, Horticulturist and Southwest Idaho Program Coordinator of Idaho Firewise.

Western gardeners require forethought in choosing the plants and placement when designing landscapes. Because of increased fire danger and a warming climate, the risk of fire impacting homes also increases. Idaho Firewise and Plant Select® collaborate in offering a demonstration garden that highlights the principles of creating fire-wise and water-wise space.

Dorman and other experts discuss plant selection and landscaping in terms of three zones radiating away from a house: Zone 1 = 0- 5’, Zone 2 = 5-30-‘ and Zone 3 = 30-100’ or more. The types of plants and mulch in these different zones are “lean, clean and green”. 

Zone 1 includes only fire-wise plants and rock mulch. Examples of these include high moisture content cacti, latex and pectin (fruit trees) with compact or low growth form.  iceplant, sedum, veronica are to name a few available from Plant Select.

Zone 2 uses less dense plantings and manageable turf areas with hardscape such as 6’ pathways. It is best to avoid planting conifers and other high pitch plants while including shrubs containing soap such as mock orange, soapwort, yucca and berries (pectin).

Finally, in Zone 3, trees are limbed up 6-10 feet high. This will discourage fire from reaching and spreading though the branches. Thin and prune overlapping branches. Irrigation such as drip saves water and at the same time keeps plants from drying out.

For more information, go to for tips on creating your own defensible space. 

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NOTE: Our physical location is 1900 E. Third Avenue, at the Durango Public Library. The gardens are located to the north and east of the library, along the Animas River Trail.

Mailing Address:

Durango Botanic Gardens

10 Town Plaza, #460

Durango, CO  81301

Phone: 970-880-4841

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Durango Botanic Gardens

Our Location:

The Durango Botanic Gardens are physically located at the Durango Public Library, to the north and east of the library.  The library is located at 1900 E. 3rd Ave., Durango.

There is no admission charge.  Stroll the gardens yourself (there is ample signage in most gardens) or call us at 970-880-4841 to arrange a group tour. See our Information Tab for more.

Contact Us:

10 Town Plaza, #460
Durango, CO  81301    

Phone:  970-880-4841

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