GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show18
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Show #18/405

In many parts of the country, growing conditions and climate are fairly consistent and plant choices abound in favorable conditions. In this show, we visit a beautiful garden center in the high desert of Taos, New Mexico. Because there is a wide range of growing conditions in this area, gardening can be challenging, but surprisingly many plants thrive. In this show we feature some of the best selections and along the way possibly open your eyes to a new world of plants that just might do well in your garden.

Gail Martinez is the Executive Director of the Taos County Chamber of Commerce. Gail enlightens us about Taos, where it is and what makes Taos special and unique. The Conquistadors called the area "place of the north." Native American Indians referred to Taos as the "place of the Red Willow, because along the many streams and rivers in the area one sees the Red Willow.

Taos is located in north central New Mexico and is 7,000 feet in elevation. Nearby they have mountains that range up to 10,000 feet, thus they are a mountain and ski destination in the winter but as well they have year round offerings and activities. In the summer one can enjoy river rafting, trails, hot air ballooning as well as many galleries.

Taos is an art colony. It was developed in the 1930's. Many of the artists not only make their living here, they actually live here. Taos has a long history - over 1,000 years with the Native American community and the development of the Taos Pueblo along the river banks coming out of the Taos Mountain.

Taos has become a crossroads of trade, business and commerce. Gail refers to Taos as a little bit of heaven on earth. She feels that the inspiration of our creator is the basis of the creative works today. Creativity is also evidenced in the landscaping. Whether one has an in-town property, a Mesa property or a mountain property, there are many ways to make a statement. Gail welcomes Garden Smart and invites all in the audience to visit Taos. It is sure to be a destination that will inspire.

Joe meets Uma Miller, who along with her husband Vish and their faithful companion Sheltie, own and operate Blossoms Garden Center. Uma and Vish were passionate gardeners but not horticulturists. Though not educated in the field, they have learned through experience about the plants that work in this area. It has been trial and error but they love sharing their experience with their customers.

They started with a very small greenhouse. Responding to the needs of the town, the business has grown quite dramatically. So, today they're running a large, small business.

Gardeners all around say, if one wants to learn about plants for the area, visit Uma and Vish. Joe asks, "If he were new to town and didn't know anything about plants that would grow here, and wanted a great looking landscape, what do I need to know?"

Uma would 1st want to know where he lives, where he has bought land. In Taos there are basically 3 different elevations (in-town about 7,000 feet, the mesa, about 8,500 feet and the mountains up to 10,000 feet) and there are many microclimates. Some land is exposed and windy, others in town are behind adobe walls, or under deciduous trees. They're all very different. Uma would need to know these basics to make sure the right plant goes in the right place.

Uma starts with high altitude plants. People in the ski valley could have homes at 10,000 feet and there are plants that do well at this high altitude. One is the Blue Spruce. Many think of these trees when thinking of high altitudes. It is the signature tree up there and does very well. Other Pines also do well. One example is, Pinus aristata the Bristlecone Pine, sometimes also called Sugar Pine because it gets a little sap on the end of the needles, which then glistens in the sun. People love this tree because it grows to about 40 feet. It doesn't do as well at lower altitudes, however.

The Siberian Pea Shrub, Caragana arborescens, is another plant that does well in high elevations. It's tough as nails, can take wind and cold and the snow load which is a consideration in the ski valley. In Wyoming they use it for hedges; it's that tough. It's an interesting plant and versatile.

Uma next shows us a Fernleaf Caragana. It has been grafted at this height which means it won't grow any taller but it would look great in a garden bed as a focal point. It gets little yellow flowers in the spring, which indicates that it is a legume. It's a nitrogen fixer, so will actually improve the soil. It could be made into a hedge.

Ninebark, 'Diablo,' Physocarpus 'Diablo,' leafs out in a wonderful rich, red color. It keeps that color all summer long. 'Dart's Gold' Ninebark leafs out in a light green color, although the color changes as the season progresses. This is an interesting variety because it's grafted and shows exfoliating bark, which is a signature of Ninebark. It is a tough plant and comes in a lot of different varieties.

Joe wants to see some flowers for high elevation. Uma says there are plenty of perennials that do well at high elevations. The Rocky Mountain Columbine Aquilegia caerulea, and Columbine Chrysantha, which has long tails, are both delicate looking but very tough.

Uma says that many folks think that with perennials they will only get 1 flush of color each season. She says, "Think like a flower, deadhead the seedpod. They will then often come back with more flowers, in order to make more seeds, in order to survive." So, deadhead for more color during the season. And, one still gets more plants.

Plumbago has an intense blue color. It's a ground cover plant and loves gravely soil. Importantly, it will find that soil. If it's planted in a rich bed, it'll find the gravely soil and spread to it. It makes a nice mound, has intense blue color in the summer, then in the fall the foliage turns brilliant red. It has several seasons of interest.

We next look at plants that do well on the Mesa. Mesa, means tabletop in Spanish. It is located at 7,000 to 8,500 feet and is a windy, dry, exposed area. Joe has only seen sagebrush in the area, but Uma shows him plants that thrive in this location. These plants are drought tolerant and can take the harsh climate.

The Pinion Pine is the state tree. But a blight has come through the state, affecting the tree. Uma feels a good replacement is the juniper and shows Joe 2 species of junipers. The Rocky Mountain Juniper is a good choice. It grows almost as wide as it is tall, so it makes a great visual barrier if one needs to block something out. It also creates a great windbreak, which is something desirable on the Mesa and needed for plants to survive.

There is also the Skyrocket, a Rocky Mountain Juniper and the Oneseed Juniper, Juniperus monosperma. It's a native, has little Juniper berries, and is a bit slower growing than the Rocky Mountain Juniper, but it's a beautiful tree when mature. There is a weeping form that would make a great focal point in a garden bed or landscape.

Joe asks about a deciduous tree. One wouldn't normally think of an Oak growing in Taos, but indeed they do. The name "Albuquerque," Albuquerque comes from Querqes, or Oak; and Alba is white. Together it becomes "White Oak." Uma shows Joe a Bur Oak. It does well here. It has peculiar bark which adds some winter interest and it produces acorns like an Oak tree.

Artemisias are a wonderful plants. Uma has found that plants with grey foliage transpire less than plants with green foliage. 'Powis Castle' Artemisia will grow bushy and shrubby and is a great background plant. 'Silver Brocade' Artemisia is a nice groundcover and will spread along the ground.

Russian Sage has a light color foliage yet has a purple colored flower. It thrives on the Mesa, is tall, moves in the wind and commands a lot of attention. In addition, it shows up from a distance.

Penstemon has a wonderful variety of flowers. 'Pineleaf' Penstemon is a small variety. 'Red Rocks' is very lush looking. Mat-forming penstemon is a miniature variety. If one looks closely, the one thing they all have in common is that they have 5 lobes on the flower and they have tubular flowers which attracts butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.

Earthships are passive solar homes rooted in the earth. They're typically carved out of the hillside. The walls of these eco friendly homes are made of discarded tires and packed tightly with dirt. They're finished with adobe, plaster or stucco. The south facing wall is made almost entirely of glass to maximize exposure to the sun. In the winter, the sunlight streams in through the glass to heat the house's heavy walls, which in turn, then warms the house. In summer, the windows and skylights provide ventilation, which helps maintain a relatively stable and comfortable temperature year round. The sun's energy is also captured to provide power to these houses. Earthships are an environmentally smart way to save on natural resources and money.

With Uma we next descend out of the Mesa, moving to an intown location. Joe notices more green and a vine catches his eye. It cascades over the wall and softens it. This is a Silver Lace vine and does well in all three areas; high altitude, Mesa and in-town. It is planted in this location so it will cascade over the wall. It was a small 1-gallon plant several years ago, thus is fairly aggressive. It is more typically grown on a fence or adobe wall. Uma has recently learned that it is edible and Joe tries a piece. He likes the taste; it's like sorrel and lemony.

Joe is also noticing more trees at this location, definitely indicating they're in a different area. This spot is not only different from the higher elevations we've just viewed but different from much of town. He wonders why? Uma explains, right here they're along the river, next to the Little Rio Grande. In this area Rio Grande Cottonwoods and Box Elders are growing. West of this is the vega, which is pasture land.

Uma even has a lawn which is unique. The lawn is on drip irrigation, but they've also planted a drought tolerant grass, a low growing Fescue, very deep rooted that finds water when it needs it. Joe was correct, this is a unique growing environment for this area. The proximity to the river makes it so.

The trees also provide another unique element, shade. Uma has experimented a lot with plants that work well in Taos. She particularly likes Luma, a myrtle; Spiraea, and Caryopteris. They all do well in-town. She finds that at 7,000 feet the UV is much higher than at lower altitudes, so when a plant tag says full sun, in Taos that generally means afternoon sun. So, if you can provide afternoon sun for a full sun plant, then you can plant it in half day sun in Taos. Uma experiments with shade plants and finds that sometimes they get a little leggy or they stretch, the color might not be exact, they may not have as many flowers, but generally they do pretty well.

Another environment in Taos that is typical of the in-town environment is the environment behind an adobe wall. This is a micro climate because the adobe wall protects from the wind, it absorbs heat and gives it off to the plants and ground, creating a more temperate zone.

We are in a protected adobe garden, thus Uma can choose from a whole new pallet of plants. She shows a Mugo Pine. People love to put it into a bed. It's great with a rock behind it. It's slow growing and in the spring will send off candles. If the candles aren't sheared, keeping it in a nice mounding form, it will grow upright and become irregular. To keep it small, in a container, for example, sheer it annually.

Golden Rain Tree is a lovely tree for a courtyard. It's a small tree, tops out at about 25 feet, and has an unusual leaf and lovely yellow flowers. The flowers turn into a papery seedpod. It's a lovely addition to a courtyard.

Meyeri Juniper has graceful blue green foliage. It keeps that color, it's an evergreen, has lovely exfoliating bark and a Japanese Southwestern feeling.

Prunus cistena, Purpleleaf sand cherry, does well in sun or shade. It grows to about 6 or 8 feet tall. This example has grown in the sun and has a vibrant red leaf. In the spring, it gets an inconspicuous pink flower. Another has grown in the shade. It is more open and a little greener. The new growth is redder but as it matures the growth is a little greener.

The Variegated Red Twig Dogwood has a lovely variegated leaf in the summer, which adds interest in the shade. In the winter, when it loses its leaves, its brilliant red of the red twigs show off best next to an adobe wall. If it snows, the red twigs are magnificent against the white snow. If it is cut back, the new growth is a brilliant red color.

Coreopsis is a short lived perennial and Uma's theory is that because they have such flower power they wear themselves out. You only get 3 or 4 years from them, but they are a good self seeder. There are many varieties of Coreopsis. A Thread-leafed Coreopsis has a smaller flower in lemon yellow. Lanceleaf Coreopsis has a little bright red eye in the center, and, there are doubles, giving gardeners a lot of choices.

Phlox is an old fashioned plant that is seen around the country. It does very well here. A lot of old adobe houses have stands of Phlox in different colors. It's fragrant and makes a lovely cut flower. It's easy and adds a lot to the landscape.

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra, comes up early in the spring when little else is blooming. It blooms look like exotic bleeding hearts and if pinched back Uma finds it continues to bloom. By about mid July it looks tired and the whole plant disappears. Although it will die back, it comes back the following spring. It comes in shades of pink and red and also white.

The Lily is a tough plant yet appears fragile and delicate. Uma shows us an Oriental Asiatic Lily which will grow in this environment. Plant it the first year, you get one stalk with lots of flowers, the second year you might get 5 stalks, the third year, 12 stalks, finishing with a stand of lilies that make an impressive show. With so many varieties to choose from Joe feels he could design his entire garden around just lilies.

Joe thanks Uma for sharing a lot of great plants with us today. The range of plants available at the different altitudes is most interesting. This has been a great learning experience and Uma has been a great teacher.

Links ::

El Monte Sagrado
Blossoms Garden Center

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By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.

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