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Mother Nature’s gardens can be an inspiration for yours

If the summer heat laid waste to your garden, don't despair. Our unique geology and flora mean something is blooming in some part of Utah almost any time of the year.

Go from the valley floor to the tops of the Wasatch Mountains (some 20 miles), and you will pass through more plant zones than you would traveling nearly 1,000 miles from the Mississippi River to Denver. This unique mix of elevation and plants results in a rich ecosystem for you to enjoy.

In spite of the drought, our mountain wildflowers are spectacular. Because the snow stays late, spring recently arrived on some mountain tops. Spring wildflowers are blooming above 8,500 feet, while summer flowers are prevalent in the lower elevations. A hike to see these beautiful plants gets you out of the sweltering heat and provides a few ideas on how to improve your own garden and landscape.

In reality, all flowers are wild somewhere. We sometimes fail to appreciate the great beauty and the usefulness of some of these plants. They have many valuable functions in the wild and in our landscapes.

In natural areas, wildflowers are important in conserving water and soils. They hold soil in place and regulate stream flows and filter sediments from the water. Without adequate vegetation, wind or water quickly erode the thin mantle of soil we depend on for our existence.

Diverse plant communities including wildflowers are important to sustain healthy ecosystems. Wildflowers provide food and shelter for many creatures including mammals, birds and insects. They beautify our surroundings and make our mountain picnics, hiking and camping more enjoyable.

In our gardens, they often provide stunning beauty and may prove to be a sustainable plant that needs little care. Most are reasonably pest free and are usually waterwise plants that need less water than some others to keep them blooming.

The term "wildflower" seems contradictory when it's used to describe plants growing in the garden. In modern use, a wildflower is a plant that has not undergone any change or improvement by humans and is usually still found growing natively somewhere in the region where it is being cultivated. By definition, this excludes most modern hybrids and nursery selections.

Most wildflowers are hardy and durable and can be grown in the garden with little care. Wildflowers often are well adapted to some sites and do not need extensive maintenance, if a less "manicured" landscape is acceptable. Some plants need very specific conditions to grow and thrive. If they do not have these conditions, they will never thrive.

If you are interested in developing a wildflower garden, look for plants with particular characteristics.

Make certain the plant is not a noxious weed and is not so aggressive that it will invade other areas or crowd out desirable nearby wildflowers. The plant should not be poisonous to humans or animals.

The plant must be perennial or an annual that self-seeds to maintain itself from year to year. This quality helps eliminate yearly attention to fill bare spaces. Wildflowers must compete and persist when mixed with other vegetation.

Look for plants with some showy characteristics that make them desirable in the wildflower area. The showy part may be flowers, leaves, stems or seed structures.

When selecting wildflowers, make certain they are adapted to the conditions available. The plant must be well adapted to the growing conditions. Plants must be shade tolerant for the woodland garden, sun and drought tolerant for the meadow garden and water tolerant for a bog garden.

Many wildflowers work well in combination with other perennials or annual flowers in a perennial border. A wildflower garden is best planted in an area designed specifically for wildflowers. You can then develop a naturalistic look with lower maintenance.

Placement of plants in the design is very flexible. Nature is very random and wildflower plantings should convey this appearance. Clusters and clumps of flowers look more natural, and the only arrangement to avoid is plants in rows or precise geometric forms.

Spend some time enjoying the beautiful flowers of our mountains, but leave them there. Many nurseries carry both starts and seeds of wildflowers. Never try to move them from the mountains to your garden.

Wildflower hotline

National Wildflower viewing hotline, 1-800-354-4595. The hotline is updated weekly from April to August.

Wildflower conservation and etiquette: Wildflowers, like any treasure, must be protected for all to enjoy. Conserve these priceless resources by following these conservation tips:

Take only photographs and memories when you leave. Wildflowers wilt quickly after picking and never transplant well. Leave them for all to enjoy.

Drive only on designated roadways and use trails whenever possible. Tread lightly on desert soils.

Learn more about wildflowers to help preserve them and protect their habitats.

Greenhouse Show is every Saturday

Join Larry Sagers and co-host Don Shafer for the KSL Greenhouse Show on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The topic this week: black locust borers.