Favorites in a Designer's Garden

Pam Duncan shares a few of her favorite plants from her own gardens.


Pamela Duncan at work in her garden.

Pamela Duncan at work in her garden.

Pam Duncan's rambling adobe house is nestled in the hills above Santa Fe and looks out at a spectacular view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. From the ridge in back of Duncan’s home, one can look down to see that gardens jut out from all sides of the house. An interior designer, Duncan has decorated the garden "rooms" with shrubs, trees and perennials.

The gardens start along the parking area and driveway in front of the house. Here, wild Apache plume grows in huge swaths. Next to an adobe arch at the parking level is a clump of native blue penstemon.

The arch itself is cloaked in wisteria vine and flanked on each side by huge terra-cotta olive jars. Stone steps planted with low-growing sedum lead up to the front door. On either side of the risers is an adobe wall outfitted with a trellis made of re-bar and wood. Pink 'New Dawn' roses and English ivy grow on the walls.

The living room garden features a pinyon (a native pine and New Mexico’s state tree), a spectacular planting of white roses and a groundcover of blue catnip. A garden outside the family room features lavender, red penstemons, dark blue salvia, daylilies and golden yarrow. A bench looks out at a sweeping view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Yet another set of steps at the side of the house leads up to a covered patio. The walls of the house in this area are covered in Boston ivy, which boasts large, glossy-green leaves in summer.

A feature next to this patio is a mound which covers the roots of a native ponderosa pine Duncan saved during construction of the house. Tucked into the stones around the pine are various sedums; at the base of the tree is a small garden pool.

Several other small areas off the house include plantings of aspens and other native trees and shrubs. A tiny garden off a den at the back of the house contains a planting of red sedum and a trellis of climbing roses.

Duncan uses tough plants that can withstand the harsh winds and intense summer sun. Some of her favorites include:



Apache plume

Apache plume

Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa).
Native to the deserts of the southeastern United States, Apache plume derives its common name from the fact that the plant resembles war bonnets worn by the Apaches. Native Americans used the stems of this plant to make brooms and arrow shafts; a brew of the leaves was believed to prevent hair loss.

Apache plume has an open, shrubby character; the semi-evergreen plant boasts fine leaves on twiggy branches for an overall gray-green appearance. White single flowers occur in early to mid spring followed by showy pink feathery seed clusters that persist well into autumn. Fallugia paradoxa is a member of the rose family and is hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 8.

How to use it: This is an excellent plant to prevent soil erosion and is ideal for xeriscaping. Plant in informal settings.
Cultivation: Site in full sun facing south or west. Apache plume likes poor sandy soil and should not be overwatered.
Source: For a list of retail outlets selling apache plume, contact Monrovia Growers (wholesale).



Boston ivy

Boston ivy

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata).
Native to China, Boston ivy is a deciduous, self-clinging vine with large (to six inches across) glossy green leaves that turn a brilliant orange to deep red in autumn. Blue-black berries occur in late spring and are attractive to birds and bees. This fast-growing vine is hardy from USDA Zones 4 to 10 but does best in climates with cool summer nights. Don’t confuse this plant with evergreen English ivy which clings much tighter to a surface. Boston ivy is, however, a rampant grower.
How to use it: An excellent cover for masonry walls to provide a cooling effect in summer and brilliant fall color. The tracery of the bare branches in winter is also attractive.
Cultivation: Grow in any ordinary garden soil. Trim back anytime as needed.
Source: Nature Hills Nursery



Beardstongue (Penstemon sp.).
This genus contains some of the most beautiful of all North American perennials and is native from Alaska to Guatemala. The mostly tubular flowers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Foliage and habit are equally varied, ranging from evergreen, pine-like, feathery to broad-leaved. The blue-flowering species in Duncan's garden is from the surrounding area. Many garden hybrids are available, and, depending on the variety, can be a few inches high to three feet tall. Penstemons can be hardy only in USDA Zones 7 to 9 or can extend to Zones 3 and 4, depending on variety.
How to use it: Grow penstemons for color (blue, salmon-red, white, light violet-blue, pale pink, burgundy, dark purple-blue, red with a white throat, coral pink or bright red). Many are highly attractive to hummingbirds. A short penstemon can be an excellent groundcover; a tall penstemon can serve as a spiky accent to borders.
Cultivation: Grow in full sun in well-drained soil. Do not mulch with organic matter. Fertilizer is not necessary.
Source: Joy Creek Nursery



Pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius).
Here's one of the many variations on the penstemon theme. This small semi-woody perennial, so named because its foliage resembles pine needles, has brilliant red flowers and is native to the southwestern U.S. The habit is low, spreading and shrubby. The narrow, tubular flowers, each an inch or more long, occur from June to September. Hardy in Zones 7 to 9. Many penstemons don't tolerate the excessive heat and humidity of the southeastern U.S.
How to use it: This is an excellent groundcover year-round. Plant where you want a cover of green foliage and, in summer, bright orange-red flowers that attract hummingbirds. Also great for rock gardens.
Cultivation: Plant in full sun in gravelly soil. Removing spent flowers will increase blooms.
Source: Goodwin Creek Gardens



Lavender 'Hidcote Blue'

Lavender 'Hidcote Blue'

English lavender 'Hidcote Blue' (Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote Blue').
Lavender is an aromatic herbaceous perennial that's often evergreen (with gray-green leaves) where the climate permits and bears whorled clusters on 18-inch spikes. In the species, flower color can vary from pale lavender to dark purple. 'Hidcote Blue' is a compact variety (to one foot tall) with silvery-gray foliage and dark violet flowers. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 9. Lavender is native to the regions around the Mediterranean Sea.
How to use it: Plant in containers or at the edge of flower borders or in an herb garden. Excellent for drying.
Cultivation: Lavender needs full sun and excellent drainage. Shear back by a third in late winter to keep the plants tidy.
Source: Wit's End Growers

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