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Garden Tour Demonstrates Water-wise Gardening

Julie Segerstrom , Master Gardeneer

Tuolumne County Master Gardeners will host their Eleventh Annual Spring Garden Tour on Sunday, May 21.

Six gardens will be open from 11 am—4 pm for the public to enjoy and, possibly, to gather some new ideas to try at home. Tickets are on sale at Columbia Nursery, Antiques Etcetera, J.S. West & Symons, The Nest in Twain Harte and the University of California Cooperative Extension Office at 52 N. Washington Street, Sonora. Ticket price is $8. Proceeds go to fund Master Gardener projects such as the Master Gardener reference library (available to the public), school and demonstration gardens, and a scholarship at Columbia College. This weekly column has featured garden tour sites that demonstrate large garden spaces, small gardens and, today, waterwise gardening.

After a winter when we received over forty inches of rainfall it sounds odd to talk about water conservation. But gardeners know our summers are so hot that we need to get moving towards protecting our gardens from the summer sun. Growing plants that like our natural weather patterns makes it much easier to be successful in the garden.

Native and drought tolerant plants have adapted all sorts of mechanisms to survive summer heat. That means they do not need much water when it´s hot. In fact, they resent it and succumb to soggy soil and regular summer watering. They grow when its winter and rest while its summer. Choosing plants that have adapted to our Mediterranean climate makes gardening not only spectacular to view but easier on the labor end of creating a landscape.

One garden on display for our tour this year that exemplifies waterwise garden is the garden of Joan Bergsund. She moved here with her husband in 1994 and took the Master Gardener class the first fall she lived here. Relocating from Tiburon, Joan found the temperature changes challenging, to say the least. Fencing for deer was not an option since this couple decided to live with the wildlife nature provided. The first things they added were emerald carpet manzanita, rockrose and lavender, plants that are less palatable to deer. Gophers provided another menace in the yard and so new plantings were protected with gopher baskets (wire cages).

Being diligent gardeners, the Bergsunds raked and bagged their oak leaves for years. Then, after years of working to rid themselves of leaves, they finally decided to leave them on the ground. Ultimately this serves to cool the soil during summer heat, holds moisture in longer than soil that has been raked clean and also provides a weed barrier as a huge bonus!

What makes Joan´s garden waterwise is that she has dedicated her landscape to growing plants that do not need coddling or regular summer watering. If we go through a terribly hot phase, she does admit that she will run the sprinkler to refresh her plants. Most importantly, waterwise means Joan does not have a traditional lawn. She has a carpet of flowing plants that enjoy living under the oaks. They are colorful in spring, and green throughout the summer. The plants line the sidewalk up to her front door and edge paths that meander to different destinations in her yard.

For the most part only the ground that was disturbed during construction is under cultivation. The intent is to “flow” the cultivated garden smoothly into the natural environment. You will see a large bed in front of the house and another along the rear of the house. In the back a misting system is still in place to acclimate the most recently planted shrubs and plants. Joan explains that over the years there have been many trials and errors but the major plantings are the same today as they were ten years ago: lavender, rockrose and manzanita for a combination of leaf shapes and colors.

An arbor shades a brick terrace which leads to the “mail trail” – a path wandering down the hill to the mailbox. The grandchildren love getting the mail. Enhancing the arbor is a parterre of boxwood and dwarf Alberta spruce. At one time Montana Rubens clematis covered the arbor but it died out and has not yet been replaced. This illustrates that plants come and go in a garden as you learn what likes to be where you have planted it.

Joan´s garden compliments her home by providing interest and color, and enhancing her window views. Waterwise gardening is smart and full of seasonal variety. Come see the Master Gardener Tour landscapes this Sunday. We´ll see you on the tour and in the garden.

Julie Segerstrom is a Tuolumne County master gardener learning by trial and error every year. Her goals this summer are to mulch deeply and install drip irrigation while enjoying the vegetables and shrubs planted in her garden.