Lush look on little water

Good soil and smart plants lead to xeriscaping success

Low water Santa Fe garden
Photo: Norm Plate

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)


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