Lowe's Outdoor Living - Landscape Design - Better Borders

March/April, 2009

Grow Water Wise

When Nan Simonsen, a California garden designer, first saw the border around her clientís property in Riverside, she was dismayed. Little remained of the 150-foot borderís once beautiful design. "It was dry and poorly cared for, and it looked like a wild hillside," she says.

Known for creating affordable and water-wise gardens, Nan brought in a new palette of Mediterranean plants, mixing shimmering grasses with jewel-tone perennials, including sage, statice, and lantana selections.

She created layers of diversity and planted a few trees for shade. In addition, she rebuilt the planting beds, installed drip irrigation, and laid down a 2-inch layer of mulch. In an environment with a sometimes harsh climate, the border now sparkles with life.

The landscape has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a backyard habitat. Now, wildlife (and Nanís neighbors) love the new garden.

Plant By Design

Irrigate properly. Although Nan uses plants that thrive in the dry heat of a Mediterranean climate, watering is still necessary. She recommends using 1/2-inch hoses for drip irrigation rather than 1/4-inch hoses. Placement is critical; water must reach the root ball and deeper soil for the plant roots to grow as deeply as they should. Use an irrigation kit (#248982; selection varies by market) in your garden to reduce water use by up to 80%.

Donít skimp on mulch. "It always makes clients nervous when they see the garden planted before itís mulched," Nan says. Plants should be raised by as much as 1 inch to accommodate 2 inches of mulch (Nan prefers the type made from pulled bark). If plants are put in at ground level, the mulch will gather around the top of the plant and cause it to rot.

Use grasses for movement. A wind usually comes up around two or three oíclock in the afternoon, blowing through the tall grasses and giving a magical life to the border. "The grasses that work well here are Stipa and Muhlenbergia selections," Nan says. "They not only provide height and a soft vertical accent, but also when the wind blows just slightly, they wave and add movement that is beautiful." Plus, many perennial grasses tolerate drought.

Walk weekly. Even a border that is low maintenance needs to be checked on a regular basis. Examine plants for signs of dehydration, such as yellowing leaves. "I recommend that people walk their property at least once a week," Nan advises. If you are not usually outside while the irrigation system is running, be sure to turn it on and go out for an inspection. Look for leaks, and verify that the hoses are secure and the emitters are working properly.