Xeriscaping Pioneer David Salman Dies at 65
David Salman — a pioneer of waterwise gardening, passionate plant explorer, and charismatic storyteller — passed away on Sunday, June 5. His commitment to cultivating a palette of beautiful waterwise plants transformed gardening in the American West.
Founder of Santa Fe Greenhouses, High Country Gardens, and Waterwise Gardening, David Salman was an expert in the field of waterwise gardening and xeriscaping. He was a distinguished recipient of the 2008 American Horticultural Society Great American Gardeners Award. For decades, he encouraged environmentally conscious gardening practices, long before “organic” became a household word. He was also an enthusiastic, highly sought-after speaker on these subjects. Gardeners who were fortunate enough to speak with David or hear his presentations were sure to be captivated by his knowledge, experience, and passion.
Armed with a degree in horticulture, a shovel, and a spirit of adventure, David set out on a mission. He started in 1984 with a single greenhouse and brought his revolutionary vision for the future of gardening to the community of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over time, through a commitment to waterwise, native, and habitat-friendly plants, his business grew into a brand that inspired millions of Americans to consider sustainability in their own yards.
David had a gift for seeking out and propagating unique plant species native to the wild landscapes of the Southwest. His many years of intrepid explorations collecting seeds and specimens around the world led to the introduction of more than 60 plants to the horticulture trade. In 1996, his introduction of Agastache rupestris caught the attention of gardeners and plant breeders across the country; the rare species with showy sunset-colored blooms and a delicious aroma became an instant garden sensation. Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ P.P. #22048, a selection of native blue grama grass with distinctive horizontal seed heads, was patented in 2010 and remains a mainstream staple for landscape designers.
A self-described “off the wall plant-nerd,” and “plant explorer with a gift for talking to plants,” David’s passion started at an early age. Growing up in Houston, Texas, and La Cueva, New Mexico, his playground included bayous, mountains, and arroyos. He observed as development encroached on butterflies, insects, and the plants that support them, and he became determined to make a difference. In 1979, he graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in horticultural science. Five years later, he founded Santa Fe Greenhouses with a focus on cold-hardy, drought-tolerant plants. The business quickly became a legendary destination for gardeners.
David was also a founding member of Plant Select, a collaboration between Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens. Founded in 1992, the organization has united renowned horticulturists, plant breeders, landscapers, and commercial plant growers with the goal of introducing plants that thrive in the Great Plains and Intermountain states. The organization enabled David to introduce many of his 60+ plant varieties.
In response to ever-increasing demand for his plants, David and his wife, Ava, launched High Country Gardens in 1993. David focused on plant development while Ava spearheaded the print catalog and website. The catalog won four Silver Awards and one Gold Award for Best Gardening Catalog by Catalog Age Magazine and inspired many loyal fans.
After nearly 30 years in business, David was ready to dedicate more time to plant breeding, his home gardens, and exploring the increasingly scarce wild landscapes of the Southwest. In 2012, the Salmans closed their garden centers and sold their mail-order division to like-minded online retailer American Meadows. David stayed on as High Country Gardens’ chief horticulturist, where he played an integral role in product development and education. David’s passion for plants persisted, and in 2013 he returned to the Santa Fe market with a new wholesale business, Waterwise Gardens. There, and in his ongoing role at High Country Gardens, David focused on the art of plant propagation, inspiring gardeners, and furthering his vision for sustainable gardening.
Though he sometimes claimed he was better at talking to plants than people, he was an avid storyteller and spent countless hours mentoring the next generations of horticulturists and plant lovers. David’s legacy will live on in the many gardens he inspired that grow more beautiful every year.