As the population of the Wasatch Front area continues to grow, we see more and more of our favorite foothill wildflower patches disappear under concrete, asphalt, and kentucky bluegrass. The question we ask here is whether there is any way to help native plants coexist with people in this increasingly urban landscape. One place where Utahns and native plants could come to coexist is in a garden setting. The people of Utah are committed to gardening - perhaps if they learned to garden with native plants they might also become committed to the appreciation and preservation of these plants in the wild.
But how do we introduce people to native plants for their gardens? Only a few are readily available in the mainstream nursery trade, and many natives with truly outstanding horticultural potential have been grown only by a few aficionados or not at all. On one hand, we need local nurseries that specialize in Utah natives, where people can find many beautiful and unusual kinds of plants. On the other hand, we need some way to let people know why they would like growing these plants instead of petunias. And while a picture may be worth a thousand words, a living, growing garden is clearly worth a thousand pictures. This brings us to the idea of a Utah Heritage Garden.
People are accustomed to thinking of their heritage in cultural terms, but each resident of Utah can also lay claim to a unique bioregional heritage that includes all the complex natural communities of the state and the literally thousands of different kinds of plants, animals and other creatures that inhabit them. Most of us know very little about this extraordinary natural heritage. One meaningful way to learn about this heritage is to grow native plants.
As any serious gardener will tell you, growing a plant is a whole different experience from casual observation. Watching and aiding the astonishing transformation from seed to seedling to vigorous young plant to mature flowering plant can be transforming for the gardener as well. It also changes the way the gardener perceives that plant when it is encountered in a wild setting, growing without any human aid at all. The beauty and strength of native plants in the face of harsh conditions can be quite moving to those who have learned through gardening to see and to value them.
We are developing a procedure for implementing the Utah Heritage Garden idea at schools and city parks throughout the state. This procedure could be customized to meet the goals of each project. Each garden will be adapted to local soils and climate. Garden clubs or other organizations such as the schools themselves will be encouraged to get involved with propagation, which is one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening with natives.
The Utah Heritage Garden Program has the following purposes:
1) To teach the people of Utah about their unique and spectacular native plant heritage.
2) To show people that water-wise landscaping with Utah natives can be as beautiful and interesting as traditional European-style landscaping.
3) To help people discover how gardening with native plants can create a joyful sense of connectedness with wild nature.
4) To encourage people to care about the fate of native plants in the wild as well as enjoying them in the garden.