Native ornamentals flourish with little water

Diane Jones started her nursery on 3 acres she bought in 1999.

By Dianna Troyer

For the Capital Press

Published on August 17, 2018 2:59PM

Diane Jones says the radiant Sulphur Buckwheat is an Idaho native that thrives with little water.

Dianna Troyer/For the Capital Press

Diane Jones says the radiant Sulphur Buckwheat is an Idaho native that thrives with little water.

Sundrops and Giant Flowered Purple Sage flourish in a demonstration garden in northwestern Boise.

Dianna Troyer/For the Capital Press

Sundrops and Giant Flowered Purple Sage flourish in a demonstration garden in northwestern Boise.


Many consumers are saying so long to their lawns and replacing thirsty grass with low-maintenance native plants, says Diane Jones, owner of Draggin’ Wing High Desert Nursery in northwest Boise.

“There’s a growing awareness of the importance of native plants because they tolerate heat and a dry climate and are attractive,” said Jones, who opened her business in 2004. “It’s encouraging to see how people’s attitudes are changing.”

Once reviled, even sagebrush with its many varieties is becoming revered and popular as a low maintenance ornamental plant.

“Sagebrush and other native shrubs will be used in re-landscaping the area around the new Broadway Bridge,” she said.

In a demonstration garden, Jones points out bright yellow flowers that flourish with little water.

“Sulphur Buckwheat is an Idaho native that’s gorgeous and often overlooked,” she said. “It has evergreen foliage and is beautiful either cut or dried for flower arrangements. Bees and other pollinators love it, too.”

A Rocky Mountain Bee plant, nearly 3 feet tall, attracts bumblebees and honeybees to its fringy purple flowers.

“These are incredible, too, and bloom all summer,” she said, pointing to nearby Sundrops, a mound bursting with half-dollar-sized flowers with four satiny yellow petals.

“Sundrops are native to the Southwest and grow well here, too,” she said.

Behind the Sundrops, Giant Flowered Purple Sage grows.

A retired history professor, Jones, 72, started her nursery on 3 acres she bought in 1999. She named her business for killdeers that nest there in spring and pretend to have a broken wing as a ploy to lead predators away from chicks.

“I loved gardening and had landscaped my own yard with native plants that didn’t need much water,” she said. “One thing led to another, and I wanted to provide these xeriscape plants to others. Most plants in the demo gardens are on a light drip system, although the sagebrush receives no water.”

For the nursery, Jones selects native and regionally adapted ornamental plants based on their beauty, cold-hardiness, and drought-tolerance.

To give clients an idea of what plants will look like in their yards, she planted demonstration gardens.

“The beds are constantly changing throughout the year and look beautiful even in winter,” she said. “You can plan a landscape for four seasons.” 

In addition to running Draggin’ Wing, Jones leases her land to other growers. Earthly Delights is a community supported agriculture program that sells fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs.

The Snake River Seed Cooperative grows, packages and sells heirloom, open-pollinated vegetable and flower seeds. It has 29 growers throughout the Intermountain West.

“I package the seeds from a few of my own native plants,” said Jones, also a member of the cooperative.

“People tell me they like native flowering plants because they’re so low-maintenance and also attract pollinators: native bees, honeybees, butterflies and others.”



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