Saint Patricks Trivia and Gardening in the West

A very successful non-native species often seen in Wyoming and arid gardens is Artemisia ‘Powis Castle.’ It probably originated in the Mediterranean region, but it became popular when it was planted at Powis Castle in Wales, Wales being one of the leading best guesses for the birth place of St. Patrick.

Powis Castle Artemisia
'Powis Castle' Artemisia. Photo from Cornell University

Powis Castle is a hardy perennial for zones 4-9, forming a loose mound 1 -3 feet high and wide. It is drought tolerant and the deer do not love it- both very good reasons for using it in the garden.

If you are looking for a true native that serves the same purpose, consider Artemisia frigida (Fringed Sage) or Artemisia cana (Silver sage). Silver sage will tolerate more moisture and heavier soils. Fringed sage is a true high desert plant loving light soils, full sun, and little moisture.

Fringed Sage, Artemisia frigida
Fringed Sage with a little extra water

If you let Fringed sage survive on natural rainfall it will hug the ground and, if seeded thickly, will produce a lovely, lacey ground cover. However, if you water it moderately you will be rewarded with a beautiful, silvery plant covered with 18 inch flower stalks in August.

As with any Artemisia I have grown or observed, if they are found in partial shade with extra moisture, they will be a lovely blue/grey green, but if it grows on the drier, sunnier end of its preferred habitat,  it will develop a very dense tomentum on the leaves to guard against moisture loss, which gives it a fantastic silver sheen.

And of course the sages native to the Great Basin, High Plains, and Foothills of the Rockies are the source of  the quintessential aroma of the west.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. BigSkyKen says:

    Karen, your suggestion on these plants seems to answer our situation well. We need to get some “deer-proof” ground cover, and our water supply in the Bull Mountains is pretty limited. I hadn’t even though of using a sage, but it just might work out for us. How do you suggest we get them established? I know plenty places where I could get some to relocate, if transplanting works. Or should seedling be used and transplanted?

    1. wyominglife says:

      Hi Big Sky Ken, I have successfully transplanted quite a few of the Fringed Sage (Artemisia frigida). Just go for the smaller plants (say, four to six inch diameter) in the early, early spring. Leave the native soil around the roots, wrap them up for transport so the roots don’t get dry, get them back in to the ground ASAP, and give them a little extra water for the first month until they get established. If you want to keep them low growing, you can run the lawn mower right over them. They adapt well to this and tend to spread out low and wide. In the late summer when they begin to develop flower stalks you can leave them, or mow them off depending on how you are using them in the landscape.

      You can also find seeds of Fringed Sage for sale at Western Native Seed (see my sidebar for the link). It is listed as a wildflower there. Last year I sprinkled some OLD seed out on some pure, wind swept sand. I couldn’t keep it watered and nothing came up so I put it down as a fail. But when the weather cooled off in September, there they were!

      As far as Silver Sage (Artemisia cana), I have less experience, but I have transplanted a couple in the same way. Again, look for little ones, don’t try for the large shrub size. Silver Sage prefers a heavier soil, and in low lying areas I have seen it get three feet tall or more.

      I should clarify that in native habitat deer will browse on both these species, but in a home landscape situation, they seem to slip down the preference ladder. The deer that visit my yard seem to enjoy selectively snipping off colorful blossoms of Tulips as opposed to sampling what they would find in their native habitat- Red Twig Dogwood being the exception.

      At any rate, even if the deer chew on the fringed sage as a ground cover, it doesn’t bother me. It is less heartening if you plan on using Silver Sage as a shrub component, and a deer decides to take out a side leaving you with a lopsided shrub. This would be more likely if deer visit you in the winter months than summer.

      Let me know how it goes!

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