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Having a beautiful landscape on a budget in a cold climate

In the Garden

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Lance Ellis,

Idaho is known for many things such as incredible natural scenery, short growing seasons, cold winters, and a relatively low cost of living compared to states to the west of us.

You mix these seemingly unrelated attributes together, and you get a place where people want to replicate the natural mountainous beauty in their yards on a tight budget, and make it successful within a five month growing season.

It’s a tough endeavor, but totally possible. The pictures in this article were taken in Ashton, and accurately fit the above description. Done on a budget, in a really cold place, and breathtakingly beautiful. So here are some simple tips to create your own nature scene in your backyard.

Lance Ellis,
  • Choose a theme and create a plan for your landscape that works well with our climate rather than choosing something alien to our environment. The saying of “what works in California does not work in Idaho” could not be more true. The plants you select, the sources of materials to build hardscapes (like flagstone walkways), even the type of large rocks (boulders) should be native as they will be readily available and less money than something that has to be shipped in. I have seen many people try to recreate a southern California style landscape or trying to grow exotic roses in Idaho. Since the plant material from other parts of the country is so different from the plants we can grow here, most of the time, trying to recreate it or (get it to grow here) is not realistic.
  • Native plants to the intermountain west will be the best solution to most of the headaches gardeners face when trying to get plants to grow in our arid, cold, and alkaline soil climate. These plants have already survived a millennia in Idaho, and unless you do something dramatically wrong to them, such as under or overwatering, they should thrive in your yard with little effort. If you want less expense and work in the long run, then make sure you have eliminated all perennial weeds from the area prior to planting, and then use mostly perennials so you don’t have to replant annually.
  • Create a reasonable annual budget of how much you will spend that year for general maintenance and or special projects. A great example is putting in a fence, or a water feature, or a planter bed. These can be quite expensive, so budgeting ahead of time to be able to afford it, and build it correctly, rather than trying to cut corners and end up with a mess in the future. We don’t want to start with a poor quality landscape, as it will cost you more money and time in the long run, rather than building it right in the first place.
  • Lance Ellis,
  • Be creative as you explore sources of materials to add variety and a theme to your yard. An example is using old farm equipment as a nostalgic focal point in a planting bed. This works with the theme of a country setting, but obviously doesn’t work in other settings. The idea though of repurposing non-living additions such as driftwood, large rocks, dry creek beds, bridges, hand water pumps, and anything that adds nostalgia and positive memories can add to the landscape.
  • I would say one of the best landscape approaches is to repeat what mother nature does that you really like. Design your landscape the way she has done it in the mountains, forests, and natural places you like to visit. I am not saying let the yard go to weeds, but rather you could plant trees to create a small forest like setting, or use tall grasses to create a meadow and give some privacy, or use rocks and low growing shrubs to give you something interesting to look at. There are countless ways to mimic nature in our yards, and reduce the amount of time, money, and work needed to maintain them.

Good luck in improving your yards and making them beautiful this year. For further gardening questions you can reach Lance at (208) 624-3102.

Lance Ellis,