Top 5 Plants for an Organic Garden

An organic gardener uses native and drought-tolerant plants to create a wildlife-friendly garden.

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Dramatic Agave Fronds

John Dromgoole is a native Texan who caught the gardening bug at an early age and made it his life's work. Now he's an organic-gardening expert, nurseryman and the host of a radio talk show on gardening. He's so busy keeping the fires of his gardening passion raging that he doesn't have time to garden at home, so his nursery is his garden. He has eight acres of vegetable, butterfly, herb and drought-tolerant gardens. He even has a labyrinth made of low-growing sedge near a meditation teepee.

John says that compost is nature's way of healing the earth with beneficial fungi. He relies heavily on Texas native plants in his butterfly and xeriscape gardens. John knows the needs of butterflies, bees and birds, and his garden devoted to them has plants that will make them feel right at home. Grasses provide shelter for butterflies in stormy weather, and a small water feature placed near the red and orange flowers serves as a drinking fountain for the thirsty, winged visitors.

Here are a few of John's favorite plants:

American agave (Agave americana var. striata)
The plant: A striking architectural accent, this variegated American agave offers glaucous blue-gray, swordlike leaves irregularly striped in creamy white. The rigid foliage has jagged leaf margins. American agave grows to six feet tall and as wide.
How to use it: Excellent for low-water gardens and containers.
Cultivation: American agave does well in full to partial sun and average to dry soil. Note: This plant has spines or sharp edges so should be handled with care. Drought tolerant. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 10b.

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha)
The plant: A late-season bloomer, Mexican bush sage produces velvety purple to purple-and-white flowers. The plant grows up to two to three feet tall and as wide and has slightly fuzzy foliage. Lasts until frost. Hummingbirds and butterflies love this sage.
How to use it: Place in the middle to the back of a perennial border, in containers, or as a cut flower.
Cultivation: Mexican bush sage does best in full sun but can tolerate some afternoon shade. Cut back in midsummer to keep plants looking tidy. Drought tolerant. Hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 10.

Pentas (Pentas lanceolata)
The plant: Pentas are grown as a summer annual in most climates and as a perennial or shrub in warmer climates. Clusters of tubular, star-shaped flowers rise above clean, green foliage. Flowers come in shades of pink, purple, red and white. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Depending on cultivar, plants are one to three feet tall and almost as wide.
How to use it: Use as a bedding plant in the front of a perennial border. Also good in containers and wildlife-friendly plantings. Excellent cut flowers.
Cultivation: Give this plant rich, moist, well-draining soil; it doesn't tolerate wet feet. Blooms better in full sun although it withstands some shade. May require some deadheading. Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11.

Red mountain sage (Salvia darcyi)
The plant: Spikes of tubular, orange-red flowers appear in summer to fall and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. It grows to three to four feet tall and six to seven feet wide.
How to use it: Use in a xeriscape or a wildlife friendly garden.
Cultivation: Red mountain sage does best in full sun and well-drained soil. It tolerates partial shade but has better flowering in more sun. Cut back foliage to the ground in early spring. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 10.

'Scotch Bonnet' pepper
The plant: 'Scotch Bonnet' is a type of pepper similar to the habanero. Fruit is wrinkled and about two inches in diameter. The red fruit is sweeter and slightly less hot than other habaneros but still has plenty of heat.
How to use it: Use in making salsa and jerk sauces.
Cultivation: 'Scotch Bonnet' pepper requires full sun and a moist, well-drained soil. The fruit can be harvested green, and the flavor and heat will become more intense as they ripen. Note: take care to wear gloves when chopping and avoid wiping eyes.

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