There are plenty of resources out there that help you find these kinds of plants, but the information is scattered all over the place. That's why I was excited when Timber Press sent me this book to review:
What's special about this book is that it was created not by a single author, but by a non-profit organization: Plant Select:
Plant Select® is a nonprofit collaboration of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens and professional horticulturists. Our mission is to seek out and distribute the very best plants for landscapes and gardens from the intermountain region to the high plains and beyond. (Source: Plant Select web site)This 4-minute YouTube video gives an excellent introduction who Plant Select is what they do.
Plant Select introduced its first five plants in 1997. Since then, they have released 152 plants under their label. This includes "recommended" plants (plants already availabe in the nursery trade but underpromoted or underused) and their own introductions (often patented or carrying a trademarked name).
Pretty Tough Plants features all 152 plants, broken down into eight categories: "Tender Perennials and Annuals," "Petites," "Groundcovers," "Perennials," "Ornamental Grasses," "Vines," "Shrubs," and "Trees and Conifers."
Each plant has its own page (sometimes two), complete with stats like size, flower color and bloom season, preferred position (sun/shade), water requirements, and the kinds of pollinators it attracts. Subsections on "Culture," "Landscape Use," and "Native Range and Origins" provide a concise description of the plant. One or several beautifully reproduced photos show the plant at its best.
A handy "Plant Reference Guide" following the main section summarizes the main stats for all plants. This makes it easy to compare plants and pick out the ones that might work best in your garden.
While Plant Select is a Colorado-based organization and focuses on plants for the Rocky Mountain Region, the High Plains, and the Intermountain West--areas characterized by cold winters, hot summers, and scarce rainfall (often under 10 inches)--many of Plant Select selections are equally well suited for inland California, including the Sacramento Valley where I live. In fact, I already grow quite a few of the plants described in the book, such as Agastache aurantiaca, Berlandiera lyrata, Bouteloua gracilis, Echium amoenum, Gazania sp., Hesperaloe parviflora, Osteospermum sp., Penstemon pseudospectabilis, Salvia greggii, and Zinnia grandiflora.
However, others were totally new to me and I would love to give them a try. Here are three examples:
Clematis integrifolia 'PSHarlan':
Diascia integerrima 'P009S':
Penstemon 'Coral Baby':
The biggest problem for us gardeners outside of Plant Select's target region is plant availability. Plant Select does work with licensed wholesale growers all over the country (and British Columbia), but I can't simply walk into my local nursery and expect to find a full complement of Plant Select introductions. Fortunately, a number of online retailers carry parts of the Plant Select line, including two I've personally bought from in the past: Bluestone Perennials and High Country Gardens.
While gardeners in Colorado may be quite familiar with the Plant Select brand, it's not a household name in California and the Pacific Northwest. My hope is that Pretty Tough Plants will change that--and that local availability of the Plant Select line will improve along with it.
Note: Timber Press provided me with a complimentary review copy of this book.