Learning To Build A Water Wise Garden

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The thick yellow blossoms of moonshine yarrow and delicate pink blossoms of the whirling butterfly plants in the xeriscape garden at Gila Community College provide a treat for the eyes of humans, not for the mouths of javelinas.

And the rabbits, who once nibbled the blue fescue grass to nubs, are staying away from the garden.

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Glen and Linda McCombs discuss the state of the newest High Country Xeriscape Council garden at Gila Community College. Plaques with the name of each plant will be put in place as the next phase of the project.

Bobcat urine has that effect on animals.

Donna Hickman, secretary of the High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona, smiles at the effectiveness of the group's discovery. With animals no longer a concern, the council can concentrate on what's important --learning how to plant a garden in the desert.

Xeriscape gardening is done with water conservation in mind.

A rectangular bed, that a dozen or so members planted two months ago with low water use, drought resistant plants, is now in full bloom.

Master gardeners in the area at one time brought shrubs and flowers from home and planted them in the small rectangle. Unfortunately, included with the good plants were some weeds.

Now the soil has been dug out and refilled with approximately $600 worth of plants and a couple hundred dollars more in landscaping chosen and paid for by the group.

Some Russian sage was replanted from the old garden.

"Most of the plants are stand alone and are not bothered by animals anyway," said Glen McCombs, chair of HCXCA and owner of Plant Fair Nursery. "That is part of the xeriscape plan."

The bed was planted in just two hours on a Saturday morning, McCombs said.

Then an underground soaker system was installed to irrigate the Arizona ash tree and 14 or so other plants including blue thistle, orange coreopsis and red Salvia greggii inside and Mexican primrose to soften the rock edging.

Barrels of yucca, an evergreen that will bear white blossoms on white spikes called "Our Lord's candle," were planted just west of the new bed. A rainbow sorbet rose in a barrel has balanced out the rosebush Tracey Cochran, the college dean's secretary, planted six years ago near the administration building entrance.

"We have taken pictures in Albuquerque of landscapes that are just gorgeous with color," McCombs said. "You would think that they would take a lot of water and they (need) almost no water, so we are trying to copy that."

He first started to become a proponent of low water plants when Chaparral Pines mandated that type of landscaping for homes.

He has been into xeriscaping ever since.

Originally, the college garden areas were sparsely landscaped by a Valley contractor when the facility was built in 2000.

HCXCA members designed and created the larger courtyard garden with the support of the Town of Payson Water Department for labor, materials and resources in October 2003.

Since then, HCXCA members have maintained the garden for weeds and watering system.

Because their mandate is education, they maintain an informational kiosk at the garden. Brochure titles include, "Creating a Wildlife Habitat" and "Saving Water."

"We are in the process of trying to get a grant (from the Arizona Tree Council) to upgrade the large bed," Hickman said.

Combs estimated $3,000 to $4,000 will be needed to shade the east side of the kiosk from the damaging rays of the sun. The money will also be used to add more colorful plants to the big garden.

The HCXCA's next meeting is at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 24 at the college. They will be discussing the grant, and anyone who would like information on xeriscaping is welcome to attend.

HCXCA can be contacted by visiting: http://xeriscapeaz.org/index.html.

-- To reach Carol La Valley call 474-5251 ext. 122 or e-mail clavalley@payson.com.

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