Columns » Small Talk

David Salman, Founder and president, High Country Gardens



David Salman has always had a fondness for gardening -- and for the natural systems on which healthy plants depend. Born in Houston, schooled in both New Mexico and Colorado, Salman also knows about the challenge of gardening in arid places.

Now the president and chief horticulturalist at Sante Fe Greenhouses, Salman is also founder of High Country Gardens, one of the country's largest suppliers of what he calls water-wise and Western planting.

When Salman's not running his Sante Fe-based mail-order plant business -- or using an eyedropper to water his lawn -- he travels the West talking about how to have lush-looking gardens without sucking Western aquifers dry.

This weekend, Salman is the featured speaker at the annual Founders Memorial Lecture at the Colorado Springs Horticultural Arts Society (Saturday, Sept. 25 at 10 a.m. at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave.).

His lecture ("Planning Next Year's Perennial Garden: Ideas for the Front Range") should be anything but dry, however. There will be lots of colorful slides of everything from butter-colored clumps of alyssum to swarms of orange Zauschneria. Tickets cost $10 prepaid, $12 at the door. Call 475-0250.

What do you mean by Western, or water-wise, plants?

One of the functions of the High Country Gardens catalog is to educate people and to offer appropriate plants for the area -- plants that are well-adapted to the dry climate and the alkaline soil. So we try to educate people about plants that don't have to struggle to be in our area and are therefore not as susceptible to pests and funguses. That way, you're not continually dumping pesticides and so forth on your back yard. You don't have to be at war with your garden, you can peacefully co-exist.

I also like to emphasize what I call the "Western cottage garden." Within the context of the xeriscaped (low-water-use) garden, there's a portion that I term the "oasis." In this oasis area, there's an opportunity to use what I call hardy garden perennials, which require a modest amount more water than native plants and like richer, heavily composted soils.

In terms of receptivity to water-wise gardening, who is more open, the home gardener? Or is it the people who tend the public parks and lawns for Front Range cities?

I think the home gardener is more flexible and perhaps a little more interested in trying new plants. The public gardener is hampered by the bureaucracy that they live under. Usually, the fields in parks and public areas are fescue or bluegrass, which you have to have for ball fields but which consume a lot of water. But there are a lot of park areas where a nice [low-water] gamma or buffalo grass could be used to provide a lawn. The maintenance on these native grasses is a lot less, because they take less water and they don't have to be cut so often.

I've arranged to have a tour of the xeriscaped demonstration garden [run by Colorado Springs Utilities at 2855 Mesa Road], and that's nice, that Colorado Springs has the demonstration garden as an educational resource. But generally, the home gardener is more interested in water-wise gardening, because they pay the water bills themselves.

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