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D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    March 2008


 

Plant Planning

A Pinos Altos garden shows how planning pays off.



These warmer days are wonderful but dangerous, meaning I have succumbed to a heap of alluring plant catalogs that beckon like sirens from my desk. The damage toll so far: bright red day lilies for the front gate. Zowie, how eyes will pop!

The Kesler-Elliot residence and garden,
with their plan of the front garden.

I titillate myself further with the photocopies of garden photos taken last spring of borders in the front yard. This provides a visual document of what I conceptualized early on when the muse inside me took over. I see both failed plantings in need of editing and successful ones that offer utter satisfaction.

I draw directly on the copies, sketching shapes of plants to be added. Don't think for a moment that these renditions are artful or precise. Other than exhibiting a plant's basic form — spiky, round, swirly, fluffy, weeping (you get the idea) — they are decipherable to my eyes only. Nonetheless, these "touched-up" photos help keep my gardening at Ditch Cottage on plan.

This month, in time for my "write of spring" column, I discovered a stunning but simple new garden with a realized plan to share with you.

Resting in the foothills of Pinos Altos Mountain, the garden made by artists Karen Kesler and Sally Elliot displays the full potential of xeriscape when commandeered by experienced, creative eyes. Installed early last summer in one month's time, the results reflect Karen's requirements for "balance, a touch of the unexpected, repetition for unification, and the expression of the garden as art."

Plantings of sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) predominate along the garden's southern facade, originally flat terrain. In the plan shown here, you can see how these two species are used repetitively, offering coherence and unification to the space.

Karen and Sally used river sand to increase the height of the plantings and to achieve an appearance of raised beds. Gila burro manure and compost were added to the sand, on a plant by plant basis.

The installation of low-voltage lighting helps ensure safe footing on the flagstone path. Boulders, small rocks and plant forms attain dramatic splash when highlighted, especially the bold, spiky spheres of sotol. Texture factors strongly in the garden's hardscape, from the putty-colored stucco walls of the residence to its carved wooden gate. Striking shadows and angles result from the design of both planted and architectural elements. The use of putty for background color also enhances the lilac-hued blooms of the Perovskia. Over time, as the plants mature, their new proportions will add strength and stature to the design.

In the plan, note the placement of two plants: Perovskia, a bee magnet, is situated at a sensible distance from the courtyard entry and flagstone walk. The sotol with its sharp tips is also positioned carefully. Bearded iris, on the other hand, will lend fragrance along the walkway and close to the gate.

Karen describes herself as "a painter, designer and object maker who is used to thinking three-dimensionally." A high school drafting class and a college welding course buttressed her degrees in painting and art education.

Sally, a self-taught sculptor, gathers the wood for her pieces outdoors and embellishes them with beads, nails, feathers and paint.

The partners' previously designed homes and gardens were situated on exceptional sites from California to Utah and Arizona. Karen and Sally were innkeepers of their own bed and breakfast built in Torrey, Utah, on the edge of Capitol Reef National Park. They made their first xeriscape garden for the B&B, concocted a write-home-about breakfast for the guests, and ultimately earned a four-diamond rating from AAA.

Kesler/Elliot Front Garden Plant List

  1. Russian sage/Pevroskia
  2. Sotol
  3. Muhly grass
  4. Iris
  5. Potentilla
  6. Blue mist spirea
  7. Lavender
  8. Artemesia tridentata /
    Big sagebrush
  9. Apache plume
  10. Penstemon
  11. Agave
  12. Rosemary
  13. NM olive/privet

Among Torrey's red rock cliffs, Karen began painting landscapes. After seven years, the partners left Utah to renovate a house in Tucson's Sabino Canyon area. In the desert, plant forms evolved as the major component in Karen's art.

Eventually, the pair started to miss small-town life and decided to explore Silver City as a prospective new landing site. Immediately, Sally's sculpture found a home at the Art & Conversation Gallery. Construction on their home began in November 2006. By the following May, the pair were shoveling river sand and moving rocks.

Currently, Sally is at work on an exhibition scheduled to open in November at Mendicino (Calif.) College. Between now and then, the women will have harvested the essential ingredients for caprese salad, raised from their backyard herb and vegetable garden.

In 2009, artwork by both Kesler and Elliot will be exhibited at the Blue Dome Gallery in Silver City. How about that? Eventually plans do come to fruition, in life and in gardening.


 

Green Space

Providing garden geeks with news, information and inspiration.



Beyond weeding: "We do more than just pull weeds," proclaims Elizabeth Miller, president of the Town and Country Garden Club in Silver City.

Indeed! Funds generated by the club's Thrift Store benefit many organizations as well as a $1,700 scholarship at WNMU for students interested in botany-related careers, and books for the Literacy Link program in Grant County schools. Other gifts provide the lavish gardening magazines at the Silver City Library as well as an annual purchase of greenery books.

This month a two-phased irrigation and landscaping project gets underway at the High Desert Humane Society animal shelter under club auspices. And as an ongoing project, members maintain two rose gardens at Memory Lane Cemetery that contain the cremanes of more than 200 persons.

The Town & Country Thrift Store is open 9 a.m. to noon, Wednesday and Saturday, at 606 N. Bullard in downtown Silver City.



Animal control to the rescue: When faced with protecting your garden from beasts of the field or street, Sherwood Nance is the man to contact (388-8840). As the Silver City's animal control officer, Sherwood knows which ordinances prevail over animal problems like marauding dogs pooping on the penstemon or trampling the tanacetum.

A busy man, Sherwood responded to 1,600 calls on animal-related matters last year. He reports that "the community on the whole works with me and does its part in resolving disputes." Problems may involve animal containment (domestic animals, even cats, must be kept enclosed), feeding deer (a major no-no) and defecation (pet owners are responsible for scooping poop wherever it's dropped.)

A former gardener who tilled soil on "America's Riviera" — Santa Barbara, Calif. — Sherwood has held his job for two years and is married to the fanciful animal artist, Barbara Nance.



Aspects of "Urban Sustainable Gardening" will be examined in workshops to be held at locations around Silver City on Saturday, March l5. Emphasis will be on "gaining back the ability to grow our own food," according to GRIP spokeswoman Siri Khalsa. This is an opportunity to meet with local experts in their own gardens. Participation in each workshop is limited. Contact GRIP at 538-8078 for information.

The Native Plant Society Plant Sale is Saturday, March 8, on the third floor of the WNMU Student Memorial Building, from 9 a.m. to noon. During that time you can view an ongoing slide show that features the 80 plant species available to order. Program chairman Elroy Limmer (telephone, 538-5513) says the event is open to the public and includes discounts on native plant books. Pre-ordered plants can be picked up next month at Penny Park on Friday, April 18, or Saturday, April l9, during the Earth Day Celebration.

Horticulturist John B. White, a former agent with the Agricultural Extension Service in Las Cruces, now serves as assistant curator of the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. The gardens are located on the grounds of the Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso. Look for information on area public gardens and nurseries in a future column.

Hidden Oasis, a group of pond enthusiasts who began meeting last year, will reconvene at Dunn's Nursery, 2115 Pinos Altos Road in Silver City, at 9 a.m., Saturday, March l. Topics for discussion include pond construction, water plants, koi, fish health and filtering systems. Alex Munoz, president, reports that a 2008 Pond Tour is under consideration.


Southwest Gardener columnist Vivian Savitt gardens at "Ditch Cottage" in Silver City.



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