By Noelle Johnson
As a horticulturist in the desert Southwest, I rely on attractive, drought-tolerant plants for
my client’s landscapes. Plants that I use must thrive in our hot, dry climate while providing beauty. Years ago, few plants fit those criteria, leaving much to be desired. Today, this has changed with local nurseries filled with a large variety of flowering plants and succulents that flourish with little attention to drought tolerant gardens. Many of the arid-adapted plants that we have access to today are due to nurseryman Ron Gass of Mountain State Wholesale Nursery.
When he arrived in Arizona in 1969, Ron took on the challenge of finding plants suitable for Southwest landscapes. That same year he founded Mountain States Wholesale Nursery (MSWN). His goal was to find native and arid-adapted plants with improved flowering, larger blooms, and less maintenance. Over the years this nursery has become a preeminent grower and developer of arid-adapted plants.
To celebrate their 47th anniversary MSWN recently opened their doors to landscape professionals and writers. GWA’s Region VI Connect event took place at the open house celebration. The folks at MSWN gave us a warm welcome as we arrived on a beautiful, sunny November day.
Before the festivities began, we held our Connect meeting with fellow GWA member Nicholas Staddon, serving as our host. Members shared with each other the challenges and joys of being a garden communicator in the Southwest. We agreed that people are expressing more interest in gardening. People see it as a way to enrich their lives while benefiting the earth as they focus on growing native plants or plants adapted to the regional climate.
After our meeting was over, we joined the open house festivities. We began with a trolley tour of the 120-acre nursery led by Bart Worthington, General Manager of MSWN. He drove us through fields filled with over a million plants including several new varieties not yet available to the public. MSWN frequently introduces new cultivars and trademarked plants that consistently demonstrate that the Southwestern plant palette isn’t limited to cactus. Of particular interest to us were new varieties of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) and members of the Hesperaloe group. I know that I wasn’t the only one who was tempted to jump off the trolley to examine these new plants more closely.
After the field tour we strolled through collections of plants that were introduced by MSWN throughout their 47-year history. Then we enjoyed lunch underneath white tents. Conversation flowed freely between landscape professionals – except for the occasional interruption of F-16 fighter jets from the Air Force Base next door.
During lunch I experienced an unexpected thrill when MSWN founder Ron Gass and his wife Maureen sat at our table for lunch. Ron was incredibly gracious. I felt honored to have had the opportunity to visit with the man who has impacted my career, allowing me to create beautiful outdoor spaces with plants he had developed.
At the end of the event, guests received their choice of one of the newer varieties of
Hesperaloe cultivated by MSWN. I chose a ‘Pink Parade’ Hesperaloe to take home. It is now planted in a prominent spot in my garden to remind me of that special day.
Meet the Author
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist, landscape consultant, and certified arborist from the desert southwest. Many know her as the “AZ Plant Lady.” She is passionate about helping people create beautiful, drought tolerant landscapes using plants that thrive in arid climates. In addition to her garden blog, “Ramblings From a Desert Garden,” she has written for several publications including Birds & Blooms, Home Depot, Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine, and Tractor Supply Company. She can also be contacted on Facebook at AZPlantLady and Twitter at AzPlantLady.