GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show16
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Show #16/403

This week we visit the high desert of Taos, New Mexico. There are some beautiful gardens in the middle of the sagebrush. Part of the fun of visiting a new city is to see the gardens. It's even better when you get to meet the people that care for them. In this show we tour some very special gardens tucked away in some unsuspecting places. The diversity of the people, the environment and the plants that grow here is something to remember.

Susan Raymond is a landscape architect registered in New Mexico and Arizona. She lives in Taos, New Mexico and loves the area, it's located in the high desert so it's a challenge to garden here. But the area is filled with people passionate about gardening, passionate about their community and motivated to give back. Susan is also President of the Los Jardineros Garden Club of Taos. It's a non profit organization devoted to environmental horticultural education and beautification of public landscapes in the community. Last year, they donated $12,000 in grants for beautification projects. Susan thinks the gardens on the tour in this show are fantastic. There is a house on the mesa that's an earth ship, a sustaining home that uses solar energy, a retirement community with some very passionate gardening women and a smaller in-town walled courtyard garden. Susan hopes everyone enjoys the tour and invites all at some point to visit Taos.

Our first garden is a small space garden. The owner, Doug, says in his garden he wants to have fun. He wants it to look good, but doesn't want work too hard. Doug began life in the Texas panhandle. He grew up about 3 houses from his grandmother and she, as grandmoms do, would invite Doug down and work him hard in her garden. But she made him feel so good while working in the garden that he, then and there, started his love of gardening. He's retired now and decided he wanted to spend time gardening once again. Doug bought this property while the house was under construction, thus it allowed him to focus on the outside and inside at the same time. First he concentrated on the hardscape because water was running towards the house on 3 sides, he needed to get the water away from the house. The hardscape design helps alleviate the water problem and funnel it in a direction that allows him to utilize the water for his plants. Doug has utilized a lot of hardscaping because that means less maintenance. Because he likes less maintenance he utilizes perennials. Doug's best gardening tip is to use a weed cloth. He utilized one in this garden, covering the ground completely before he planted. He then cut holes in the weed cloth, dug holes and planted his plants. It keeps the plants confined, they don't get overgrown and it, of course, controls weeds. It's a big help. Joe notices a Tanacetum. It's fern like, very soft and grows in sun and shade. Doug says a lot of people mention it and he thinks it's a good plant, it adds a lot of texture to the garden. Joe next notices a Primrose. It's a Missouri Primrose, the blooms last about 1 and 1/2 days, although it requires deadheading, the blooms last through the fall. And, it has a nice texture. Joe thinks the yellow looks great against the walkway. Doug has incorporated Thyme throughout the walkway, there are 5 varieties of Thyme here. Some are blooming right next to the purple Scabiosa, together they're a great combination. Another area is filled with roses. This was an old drainage ditch and somebody planted them here 150 years ago. They're doing great, he chopped them down the first year and since then has let them go. They require no maintenance, have beautiful blooming colors in the spring and provide spectacular fall color. Joe hates to go but has more to see. He thanks Doug and is off to an earth ship.

The next home is referred to as an earth ship. It's fully self sustainable, very energy efficient, they generate their own electricity and collect their own water. Behind the home and inside the walls is a great looking garden. The owners are Tony and Janelle. Tony is a retired New York City detective, Janelle an actress. They moved from the east to the west because they love to ski but don't like the mess of snow. Here they can ski in the morning, golf in the afternoon. This is a spectacular home, garden and setting. When they found this home it was a plain home on 10 acres with dirt all around the house. They were attracted to it because the real landscape is the sky. Janelle always said she wanted to live in the sky, she didn't want to cover the sky, she wanted a place where they could sit and enjoy the night sky of Taos, which is unbelievable. One sees galaxies galore plus you can see the Taos Mountain. But she needed a green fix because in the summer, with mostly sage surrounding the home, it's very muted. She wanted a landscape feel around the house. That's how it began. They had to wall in the yard in order for plants to survive because they get wind from the west off the gorge. The garden and entertainment areas were positioned where they are because the house is a solar home. It faces south and they can't cover the windows because that's their heat source. Janelle wanted to create areas of outdoor living, in particular a kitchen area with an overhang. Therefore they created 2 decks at either end to create symmetry. Additionally, Janelle had always wanted a fire pit area, a perennial garden, some grass, a raised seedbed, an orchard and a vegetable garden. She tells Joe how this garden took shape. Because the house is solar it sits 2 feet below ground level. She would sit inside and look out. This became her theater. They would build the wall and the wall would block the view of the sage but they could see the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and the sky. Tony would say, how high do you want the wall? She, inside, would say, put up another row of blocks.That's how they arrived at the present height. So they built the curved wall, created the banco, then the fire pit and the patio. Janelle read the Secret Garden and that was her feeling here. When one enters this place, first through the gates, one doesn't expect to see this garden. For example, when one rounds a corner with a butterfly bush blocking the view, a room becomes apparent. It's a secret room. Moving from the east to the west didn't pose a problem when selecting plants. She visited others gardens in Taos and thought - Oh!, Delphinium's grow here, they also grow back east. So, she realized that the things that grew back east could also grow here because it was a similar zone. Since this is a similar zone and growing season as the east Janelle knew the plants that would work. That, made her comfortable and enabled her to start gardening in Taos. Janelle takes Joe on a tour. They discuss her seed garden. Jannell loves to plant things from seed because it saves money and it's exciting. She looks at the little seedlings coming up and gets thrilled. Then she takes them and moves them around the garden. She did find plants that were more drought resistant. Friends would give her plants, the Irises all came from friends. They've multiplied, she's divided them and now given some away. This type activity connects her to her friends and provides solace when tending these beautiful creatures. Joe notices in the edible section that there are cages. They have rabbits and rock squirrels. The rabbits are OK, the squirrels will eat all the vegetables. So, Tony created the cages and they work perfectly handling the problem. She lifts them off at harvest or when tending to the vegetables. Vegetables do great in this climate, except for the tomatoes. They usually don't ripen to the red stage because they are at 7,400 feet altitude and the nights are very cool. This doesn't present a problem, she picks them all summer, in September particularly, puts them in a brown paper bag, takes them into her solar home and soon she has ruby red flesh and they're great tasting. Joe asks - with vegetables and perennials Janelle must need plenty of irrigation and this is in the middle of the desert. How do they handle the water problem? In the summer they have monsoons and they have a huge roof from which they collect water. To utilize this water, they have underground cisterns and Tony has created a drip system for everything in the garden and it works very well. Joe thanks Janelle, this has been fantastic but there are more gardens to see.

Gardens in small spaces don't need to be any less interesting or colorful. The next 2 gardeners make the most of small spaces. The gardeners, Kaaren and Pat, are residents of a retirement community. And their gardens are spectacular.

Kaaren has a beautiful garden and has been gardening all her life. There hasn't always been a garden at this location however. Kaaren choose this spot because it afforded her a 50 foot by 20 foot garden space. This was originally a carport. She chose to close it off and brick it to make an extension of the apartment. Gardening is important to Kaaren and she's been resourceful with what she had to work with, including traffic noise. There are also drainage issues, water coming off the parking lot. The first thing Kaaren did was pick up a pencil and paper and do a scale drawing measuring the area. She had to address the terrible problem of the water that flows from the parking lot. She laid down a garden hose, drew it in, edged it with rock that she had been collecting during many, many trips that were all within 20 miles or so. She had been gathering these rocks before she moved in. She then needed a higher area with the path down below. With these in place, she had the bones of her garden. She next needed to add plants. They had been drawn in at the the pen and pencil stage. She wanted a balance of color and sculptural form. Looking from the back of the garden path down one gets a new perspective. Kaaren selected plants and garden art, specifically as it pertains to form. Form was very important to her, both in terms of sculptures from her own collection, which have been employed, but, also in the selection of the bushes, shrubs and trees. A good example is the light blue of the Globe Spruce, which will become 4 and 1/2 feet around. And the Juniper Topiary, a favorite, won't become any wider, but will get taller. If Kaaren should fall or not be able to care for all of this, each of the shrubs were selected so that they would fill the area without perennials. Birds are a favorite of Kaaren's and very important. She feeds the birds and they love to bathe here and love to roost in the Locust tree. It's called a Lady Lace and is curvilinear. The little leaflets fall, making great mulch, then the ribs are exposed and are contorted. When covered with snow in the winter, it's beautiful. The birds roost there all the time. There is also a Weeping Cherry and the red bark of the Canadian Choke Cherry and a Nine Bark. She's trying to fill in along the fence with thicker things like the Junipers which diminish the noise of the street. There are beautiful lower plants along the edge of the carport. She loves the area, as does Joe. Unfortunately he must move on to another garden, thus thanks Kaaren for the wonderful tour.

Joe next visits with Pat, who has another beautiful garden in Taos. Pat has lived and gardened all around the world. Pat feels this area is special because, although in the middle of town, it is fairly lush, which is special since she lives in the high desert. Pat when creating this lush environment, felt it important to have a house with a lot of solar gain. She doesn't use much power to warm in the winter. In the garden she wanted, if possible, to create an environment that had a variety of color, a variety of shaped leaves and something blooming all the time. Joe feels she has done a great job and taken advantage of a lot of evergreen. Pat wanted to make it as low maintenance as possible, because she didn't want to spend a lot of time working in the garden. She has tried to soften the walls of her house, which is adobe. She has plants on the edges which improves the look and grows grapes around the door. Pat has a Russian Olive Tree with a white/silver foliage. Against the blue sky it is spectacular. It is not a native plant and does require water. It is beautiful and has wonderful blossoms in the spring, a nice scent and has berries in the wintertime. This attracts birds which is another plus. Pat, when designing this house had an eye towards the future. It has a raised bed that is about 3 feet high so one doesn't have to lean over very far to attend to it. It's looking sparse at the moment because she has been away but soon Japanese Squash will appear. There are a lot of fruit trees growing against the fence, the term is Espalier or training against a flat space. This is probably a holdover from her childhood in England and Europe. There they make use of space because it is smaller there than here. The trees need a lot of pruning to keep them against the fence, but they produce a lot of fruit. She has nectarines, apples, cherries, Greengages and Damsons. In total she has 16 kinds of fruit. There is a lot going on in a small space. She even has turf which isn't used that much in this area. She explains, in this retirement community they cut the grass, she likes to play croquet, so the grass is important and sets off the rest of the garden. Pat also has grass growing right up to an elevation change, a pond. Pat calls this a rockery. The plants here don't need a lot of water and grow amongst the rocks. They provide as much color as possible over a long period of time. She has Lilies blooming in the water and a crazy Bonsai apricot for a little bit of fun. Joe notices a lot of different varieties of plants, textures, colors and then flowers with bright bold colors. Birds love the area, drink and bathe in the water on the fountain top.

Joe and Pat next visit an area outside Pat's fenced-in backyard. This is a completely different garden and came about as a community effort that was spearheaded by Pat. As it happened a few residents were standing around and happened to notice there was a beautiful view of the mountain but the near view was of the parking lot and not very pleasant. A group got together and Pat was appointed to make a garden. She thought, a butterfly garden, that has pretty flowers and quite easy. It turned out to be a bit more complicated because butterflies need more than flowers for nectar, they also need plants for the caterpillars and the chrysalis. In time and as a community they built this butterfly garden together, with contributions by people either in the form of planting things, giving money or donating plants, For the Monarch butterfly they have Milkweed, Alfalfa and Parsley, plants not found in a normal garden. They now have butterflies which have grown from caterpillars and chrysalis. It was especially fun when inaugurating the garden, to have people in wheelchairs, for example, come to the party where the neighbors were actually able to hold butterflies up allowing others to enjoy them. The people in wheelchairs enjoyed the time and were especially pleased when the butterflies didn't fly away. It was very moving and enjoyed by a lot of people.

This has been not only a great gardening experience but a great people story as well. Joe thanks Pat for the tour of her garden and the butterfly garden. The Taos tour of gardens has been most enjoyable. He thanks the ladies in the retirement community for the chance to visit their gardens, it has been a treat

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Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.

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