Friday, May 3, 2019

Behind The Garden Wall - Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George, Utah

Follow me to see what grows behind the garden wall.

The Red Hills Desert Garden is aptly named, as you can see. Situated on about 5 acres located above the city of St. George, Utah, the garden is described as "beautiful and smart." "Beautiful" because of its attractive layout and enchanting desert plant collection; "smart" because the garden "uses an average of five million gallons of water less per year than a traditional turf landscape. That’s enough water to support 50 average American homes for a year." 

Red Hills Desert Garden - opened in 2015 - is Utah’s first desert conservation garden, a collaboration of Washington County Water Conservancy District, City of St. George and Virgin River Program. It was established to showcase the beauty of a water-wise landscape, and to provide information to homeowners and businesses about designing, installing and maintaining one. It helps that the garden signage is well-placed and clear.

Simple fascinations

You'd think that such an exhibit would be a dull place to visit, but it's not. We were there on a Sunday afternoon. There were many families strolling about, picnicking nearby, and kids having the time of their lives. Certain features captivated the children most: dinosaur tracks, the meandering stream, and areas off the designated paths.

These attractions, of course, kept their parents occupied with scolding, "Get off the dinosaur tracks", "¡Sal del agua!", and "Come back here RIGHT NOW! NOW! I'LL COUNT TO THREE!" Then they'd demonstrate their arithmetical skills, and threaten to do it again.

Chilopsis linearis

I had a child-like fascination with the plants. Some, like the Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), Prickly Pears (Opuntia spp), and Chollas (Cylindropuntia spp) I soon realized are ubiquitous in the environment. But they interested me, nevertheless.

Recurring questions

I wondered about those dinosaur tracks. What were they doing around here?

More than that, though, I wondered about the plants. Many of the landscapes in the American southwest feature plants are well-known to me - Agave, Lantana, Oleander, Yucca, Barrel Cactus, Prickly Pear Cactus, Parkinsonia and Vitex.

Agave americana var. marginata
Parkinsonia florida
Vitex agnus-castus
The recurring question in my mind was whether many of the native or otherwise unfamiliar plants would thrive in the hot, humid coastal Georgia climate. I already knew that some do - Prickly Pear cactus, for instance. What about some others in this garden?

Problem solving

About the dinosaur tracks. Seen from the air, the area around and above the Red Hills Desert Garden looks like a dried up mud flat. I'm guessing those lizards were wandering around when conditions were more clement and left their tracks in the muck. Or, perhaps they were looking for water when it was becoming scarce. The climate was changing - as usual - and the region becoming more arid. Eventually, the mud dried, and the impressions turned to stone.

We're not in such dire straits, but Lord knows we coastal plain gardeners would have fewer worries and fatter pocketbooks if we didn't have to irrigate our plots so much. During some summers, the crispy grass under our feet is an immediate concern.

Not only does summer heat and occasional drought cause problems, some of us have poor, sandy soil. There are deer to contend with, and even some 2-legged trespassers. I asked myself, "Self, are there any plants commonly used in the southwest - native or otherwise - that might solve some of our problems back home?"

Here are some plants I saw at Red Hills Desert Garden that I think would be most likely to adapt to the climate at the southeastern edge of our continent. In addition to being drought tolerant, some might be deer resistant, and those armed with spines might deter trespassers.

Caesalpinia gilliesii

Cereus peruvianus

Agave parryi var. parryi

Agave parryi var. truncata

Euphorbia rigida

Gazania rigens 'Sun Gold'

Malephora lutea

Oenothera speciosa 'Siskiyou'

Opuntia violacea var. santa rita

Yucca rostrata

Zinnia acerosa

Zinnia acerosa

Would they adapt? What do you think? Do you have experience with any of these? Leave a comment.


Unknown said...

Thank you for an engaging read about desert plants I have seen only through a window of an Amtrak train.

I have lots of yucca in my NC yard, the typical yucca plant you see all over the South.

After reading this piece, I am inspired to seek out a public garden to explore. In fact, I have just made up my mind to visit our local arboretum this afternoon.

Thanks for sharing your love of the plants you see on your travels.
And continue to travel with your eyes wide open to a world of natural beauty.

GoGardenNow said...

Thanks for the comment. Enjoy your arboretum.