Gardening in general can be a challenge, and in the Rim country, gardeners face obstacles unknown in other places.
Due to the topography of the land; microclimates are formed, with cold little valleys, searing hilltops, moist canyons and dry, rocky hillsides. Low-lying areas can be full of thick, impenetrable clay soil, while in other places there may be only sand and gravel.
Some properties have thick undergrowth of native shrubs and too many trees too close together, and others have been stripped bare during the building process.
Dieter and Eileen Koerner live in a lovely Bavarian-style home nestled into a small hill in the lower reaches of Star Valley. Moving to the area 10 years ago after having lived many years in the Valley of the Sun, the Koerners set about making their home and gardens a part of the natural environment.
Native trees and shrubs have been pruned and thinned only to make way for under planting with perennial beds, which spill over with hardy, sun and heat loving plants such as penstemon and salvia.
Using the natural topography of the land, Koerner built retaining walls of native rock and months of hard labor. Forming planting areas which blend into the terraced hillside, the walls appear to have been there for eons, instead of less than a decade.
The Koerner garden has evolved slowly from the original plan to the way it is today. Plants that grew well in other places the couple have lived simply cannot thrive here, due to gravelly ground, dry air, cold winter nights and searing summer afternoon temperatures. Over the years, through trial and error, Dieter has eliminated plants that will not thrive here, and has learned how to find hardy, interesting and colorful plants that offer complementary beauty to the existing natives. Manzanita serves as a background shrub, with Koerner mastering the art of propagating them.
A purple leaf plum, honey locust and a huge willow tree form a complementary foreground to the backdrop of mixed junipers and pines, which border the lower garden. The willow thrives where it is planted at the lower end of the septic leach field, providing a beneficial re-use to previously used water. Another interesting feature of the Geo-Flow leach field septic system is a lush lawn area planted with hardy buffalo grass, which is watered as a process of the system itself.
A small vegetable garden will supply pumpkins for grandchildren, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, spinach, carrots and tomatoes. Fruit trees, when the climate cooperates, offer cherries, apples, peaches and plums. Culinary and medicinal herbs are inter-planted with flowers and shrubs.
The property is watered from Koerner's private well, but water conservation is always on the mind of these gardeners. Two pygmy goats reside in a pen at the bottom of the hill, and all of their manure, mixed with any diseased-free organic material from the property is composted, mixed into the ground, or layered on top as mulch. A drip system on an automatic timer is adjusted seasonally for watering, and the heavy mulch and organic water holding quality of the soil prevents evaporation.
The Koerner garden will be featured during the Rim Area Gardener's 2003 Garden Tour, June 7 and 8. Tickets will be available the second week of May at various locations. Watch the Roundup for more information.
Gardening chores for May include cleaning up and preparing for summer. Mulching is imperative to save water. Make sure drip systems are in good repair, and on an automatic or manual timer that can be adjusted to compensate for cool and damp weather. Work on water harvesting features to enable capture of rainwater. Watch for information regarding water conservation measures for the coming months. Low-water use gardening techniques can be found at www.xeriscapeaz.org and free booklets are available at the Town of Payson Water Department.