Garden Spaces: Grow a Native Plant Garden

Grow a low-maintenance native plant garden full of hardy plants. Learn the basics of native garden designs and how to spot edible native herbs in the wild.

| October/November 2009

  • Grow these 11 native plants for a low-maintenance garden.
    Illustration by Gayle Ford
  • Design a native garden with low-maintenance plants featured in our plant key.
    Illustration by Gayle Ford
  • Black-eyed Susans are one of our most beloved wildflowers.
    Photo by Foxtrot101
  • Flax is a carefree herb that grows to about 20 inches and comes in both annual and perennial forms. Add its pretty blue flowers to your summer garden.
    Photo by Krivosheev Vitaly
  • Sage makes a beautiful addition to any native landscape. Plant Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’ or S. nemorosa ‘Cardonna’ for extra color.
    Photo by zorani
  • Beyond the common garden sage (S. officinalis), and its multi-colored varieties, there are many other garden-worthy salvia species and hybrids. Plant clary sage (Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica) in your native herbs garden.
    Photo by Saxon Holt

When I discover an undemanding plant that thrives in my toughest garden spots, I’m usually not surprised to learn how it comes by its easygoing nature: It’s a native.

The value of native plants is especially evident in difficult climates and in the most challenging areas of your landscape. I live in Texas, where heat, drought and wind extremes challenge all life forms who dare call it home. But in all regions, native plants often can stand up to the worst you throw at them. Many are tough, drought-tolerant, heat-resistant, cold-tolerant and low-maintenance—qualities that make them perfect for that patch of horticultural challenge known as The Hell Strip.

That’s the epithet given to the long, narrow strip sandwiched between the street and the sidewalk, usually a rectangle of grass or weeds. Subject to all manner of abuse, these neglected strips are hot and dry in summers, not only because they’re in full sun, but also because they pick up reflected heat from both sides.

Our low-growing, native plant garden strip combines native herbs, wildflowers and ornamental native grasses for a tough but beautiful tapestry of color and texture. Once established, it will be more drought-tolerant than the turf grass it replaced. As a bonus, the variety of native plants attracts more butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds and other native wildlife than a boring strip of grass. You can use this native planting along the street or for any other difficult site, such as along a driveway.

Native Garden Design and Plants

• Garden Spaces: 11 Native Plants for a Low-Maintenance Garden
• 10 Wild Edible Plants 

Prepare the Site: Drought-Resistant Landscaping

Prepare the soil by removing any grass or weeds, roots and rocks, and digging in some compost. Generally speaking, native plants do fine in native soil, but compost will improve almost any soil’s texture, particularly if it’s compacted from constant trampling; your plants will do best in a soil that drains quickly but retains the water and nutrients they need, adding to their drought tolerance.

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