Avant garden

An ingenious design uses low-water plants in a fire-safe landscape

In the Sugar Loaf community, west of Boulder, Colorado, Laurie Jennings and Doug Sault have created a garden of perennials seldom seen in higher-elevation landscapes. When Jennings chooses a new perennial, she aims for a plant with low water needs rather than strictly heeding cold-hardiness classifications. As a result, she has found a number of unthirsty plants that thrive in her garden, in Sunset climate zone 2a.

Surrounding the house, the garden forms a series of concentric rings corresponding to plants' irrigation needs, with those requiring the most water abutting the house. A stacked-stone wall and a gravel walk planted with white Mount Atlas daisies and purple Corsican violets separate the watered and unirrigated areas. Orange California poppies and purple thyme thrive in the unirrigated area in front of the wall. Complementing the pastel color scheme are accents of white Digitalis purpurea 'Alba', yellow foxtail lily (Eremurus bungei), and long-spurred 'Swallowtail' columbine.

Because of its configuration and materials, the garden doubles as a firebreak. It proved its worth in 1989, when a devastating fire that damaged much of the community burned to within a few feet of the house but left it unharmed.

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