Writer: Kevin Robinson-Avila
ALBUQUERQUE - Homeowners can learn to plant xeric gardens and create fire-defensible landscapes while viewing thousands of colorful, desert-adapted plants during a series of free garden tours June 25 in Los Alamos and White Rock.
New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service will host the event, which includes guided strolls through the Los Alamos Demonstration Garden and five other privately owned gardens.
"We want people to see firsthand how beautiful water-thrifty landscapes can be," said Carlos Valdez, Extension agricultural agent and county program director. "All the gardens feature drought-tolerant plants and water-wise irrigation systems. The array of colors will amaze visitors."
The tours will highlight new additions to the demonstration garden. Originally established in 1991 by members of NMSU's master gardener program, the garden has doubled in size to 1.5 acres thanks to a $35,000 grant from the county government.
New features include a model fire-defensible landscape with a small cabin made of noncombustible materials to demonstrate how to protect homes located near forests. The cabin includes water-harvesting features that show how to maximize use of rainwater, such as using barrels located under roof gutters to capture runoff.
The garden features thousands of xeric plants and trees that show the diversity of vegetation that can grow in mountainous, semiarid climates like Los Alamos, Valdez said. There's also a "sensory" section with plants that stimulate the senses, such as brightly colored flowers, edible plants such as licorice-scented fennel, a texture bed that includes papery strawflower and fuzzy lambs ear, and aromatic herbs and shrubs.
"During the tour, we'll show people how to deal with adverse growing conditions, such as planting on slopes and dealing with pests like gophers," Valdez said. "We'll also discuss drip irrigation, mulches and water-harvesting techniques."
The private gardens are owned by master gardeners, including two in Los Alamos and three in White Rock. On those tours, visitors can view creative designs, Valdez said.
"They're all xeric gardens with water-saving plants and irrigation, but each one features something unique," he said.
One shows how to pack many plants of varied colors into a small space. Another shows ways to combine ornamental plants with fruit trees and berry bushes while using bee hives for pollination. Others show "hardscape" features such as ponds and patio areas with benches and tables.
Tours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors can start anywhere and select the gardens they want to tour. Those unfamiliar with the area are encouraged to start at the Los Alamos Demonstration Garden, located on the north side of town at the corner of Central Avenue and Oppenheimer Drive.
Brochures with maps and information about each garden will be available at tour sites, the White Rock and Mesa public libraries, and the Extension office at 475 20th St.
For more information, or if you are an individual with a disability who is in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate, call Valdez at (505) 662-2656.
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