Lush look on little water

Good soil and smart plants lead to xeriscaping success
SHARON COHOON

Extravagant vegetation greets you in Barney Cohen's Santa Fe garden. Yet most of the plants have only modest water needs and are irrigated just once a week. "That's the normal schedule for a drought-tolerant garden in this area," says Azul Nancy Cobb of Carlotta From Paradise, the landscape design firm that created the planting.

To create a lush but lean garden in the arid Southwest, begin with ample soil preparation, Cobb advises. "We removed 1 ½ feet of heavy, alkaline soil and replaced it with much-improved topsoil." To protect and nourish the soil, she covered it with several inches of organic mulch. Cobb favors a blend of equal parts aged steer manure, compost, cotton burr, and aged ground wood chips.

Appropriate plants are also key. Most in the Cohen garden are quite xeric, including yellow-flowered 'Moonshine' yarrow, blue-flowered Russian sage (Perovskia), chaste tree (Vitex), and the Chinese wisteria covering the pergola. A few, such as yellow 'Stella de Oro' daylilies, require more water initially, says Cobb, but thanks to soil preparation and mulch, they soon adapt to once-a-week irrigation.

The final secret for achieving a lush look? Dense planting. "We averaged one plant for every 2 ¼ square feet," says Cobb. When the ground is shaded by vegetation, soil stays cooler and moister.

DESIGN: Azul Nancy Cobb and Monika Hellwegen, Carlotta From Paradise, Santa Fe (505/983-1109)