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By Stephanie Hainsfurther, Managing Editor

The Thirsty Gardener Column.

by Stephanie Hainsfurther has written for national gardening magazines including Better Homes & Gardens and Gardening How-To. She funds her gardening habit by serving as the features editor of the Comment. Send her gardening tips or just reach out to chat here.

Recently I visited my home state of New Jersey and went “down the shore” as we say there. I was impressed by the abundance of serious gardens – not just for windbreaks and protection from salt water spray, but for enjoyment itself. I could name almost every single plant because almost anything that grows in the harsh conditions of the desert grows near the ocean.

One of the standouts was Oenthera (formerly Gaura) lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies,’ which was quite a surprise because I had never seen it there in my childhood. I use it in my New Mexico garden because it is drought tolerant and versatile. The wispy stalks grow from 2-4′ high and the small, white flowers fit in anywhere in the colorscape. The plant also bobs in the wind and the flowers flutter, hence the name. ‘Siskiyou Pink’ is the blush version.

I like ‘Whirling Butterflies’ because it doesn’t take up any visual space. You want something slender next to a bushy Rosemary or spiky mounds of Sedum. And this plant looks like a wonder scattered in with Chamisa and Prairie grasses and Apache Plume. It’s not too fussy but can bring grace and style to the natural look of a Corrales garden, just as if Audrey Hepburn had dropped by for tea.

Other companions for White Gaura (as we called it ten minutes ago before the horticultural gods reclassified it) are yellow Coreopsis at its feet and blue Nepeta faassenii (the sterile Catmint) alongside. Add in a few ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum and you can tuck pocket gardens all around your personal prairie.

‘Whirling Butterflies’ is a good mid-height choice for a fussier border garden. It needs well-draining soil and can take a bit of shade in our sparking sunlight. This plant also makes an impression in drifts all its own.

Stephanie Hainsfurther has written for national gardening magazines including Better Homes & Gardens and Gardening How-To. She is the author of Pocket Gardens for Your Outdoor Spaces. All photos by Michelle Dillon/Stone Crow Photography were taken at Jericho Nursery on Alameda.

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