How Do You Get May Flowers Without April Showers?


With all the worries about forest fires, the impact of current drought conditions on the Rim country's gardeners has been overlooked.

But while achieving May flowers in the absence of April showers may be of secondary importance, it nonetheless affects a lot of area gardening enthusiasts.

Local artist and Payson Roundup garden columnist Barb Bourscheidt has a simple answer.

"I recommend people put the annual spring flowers that are coming in right now the pansies, snapdragons, petunias and all those kinds of things in pots near their house," she said. "Maybe around the front door and around the patio where they can be enjoyed every time you walk by or look out the window.

"It's too late to plant seeds anyway, but annuals will give you the kind of color you want, and by keeping them close to your house you can keep an eye on them."

Using containers is a more water-efficient way to achieve color.

"It's easy to put a pitcher full of water from the sink or that pasta water on those containers, instead of trying to landscape a whole big yard," she said. "To do that would take voluminous amounts of water, which is frankly inappropriate in the Rim country."

If you still prefer your color sticking out of the ground, Bourscheidt says perennials provide the best value for your money and the next most efficient use of water. Perennials, of course, are plants that die back in the winter, but "spring forth anew" every spring.

Yet another option is annuals that reseed.

"We just have to be responsible when we use water in the Rim country," Bourscheidt said. "That's not political, and I don't think it's fanatical."

And while the Rim country may have a more immediate water problem, it's an issue, Bourscheidt believes, with much wider implications.

"Everybody in the world needs to be realistic about where we get water," she said. "How much do we have? Are we going to have it forever? Or are we going to waste it and ruin it?"

To help people garden wisely, the High Country Xeriscape Council, a non-profit organization, is hard at work preparing publications to distribute at this year's Business Showcase April 27.

"Instead of having a separate Waterwise Festival this year, we've decided to participate in the Showcase," said Bourscheidt, who is a member of the organization's board of directors. "(The Showcase) has a built-in audience of 5,000 or 6,000 people."

The Xeriscape Council exhibit will be much like a regular garden show, with a planted demonstration garden outside for area gardeners to peruse. The garden will feature the three zone system that is the foundation for xeriscaping.

"That's an unfriendly word for many," Bourscheidt said, "so xeriscaping is also referred to as naturescaping. It's all about gardening with Mother Nature instead of against her."

Whatever you call it, the idea behind xeriscaping, derived from the Greek word "xeros" which means dry, is to group plants of similar water requirements in water zones around your house. By thus "zoning" your yard, your landscape will not only be beautiful, but also functional and water-efficient.

"The first zone is your oasis zone, which is right up next to the house where you can easily maintain a drip system and benefit from downspouts," Bourscheidt said. "You can also take advantage of the shade and the microclimate created by the buildings. This is where you put your exotics and the things you don't think you can live without maybe a vegetable garden or fruit trees, which are typically planted on the west side of the house so they receive shade in summer and sun in the winter.

The second zone is a transition zone that is used to blend lush areas with the drier parts of a landscape. This intermediate zone takes advantage of low and moderate-water use plants plants that need infrequent supplemental watering no more than once a week.

The third zone, located farthest away from the house is also known as the arid zone and features the most drought-tolerant vegetation. Here you should plant native varieties and others that rarely require supplemental watering.

Another important benefit of naturescaping besides using water more efficiently is that it is more user friendly.

"Gardening by water zone also tends to be lower maintenance," Bourscheidt said. "You don't have to do as much with the soil because plants that grow well here are adapted to the soil we have in the area."

Bourscheidt, who moved to the Rim country permanently in 1992 after visiting the area ever since she was in high school, also advises people not to try and introduce plants they loved when they lived in another part of the country.

"When I make presentations, I take people on an imaginary trip. I was raised in Arizona and when I have to move to Minnesota I can't imagine life without my Arizona plants. So I take a manzanita, a couple of yuccas, a pinon, but then I've got to create this artificial environment. I have to build a sunhouse, create alkaline soils, install a dehumidifier. It just doesn't make any sense.

"At that point, the lightbulbs usually come on because people see it also doesn't make any sense to bring an English elm, an azalea or a hydrangea to the desert. What people forget is that even though we have Ponderosa pines, we are a desert."

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