Adobe Reboot: Winter 2013 Master Gardener Newsletter

By Master Gardener Liz Morrow

After over 30 years, a high school friend, Robin, and I reconnected via Facebook earlier this year. A few phone calls later, the years didn’t seem to matter and we quickly caught up. Robin had recently suffered a serious injury and had reconstructive surgery on her ankle. Her healing process was interfering with her dreams of having a nice garden. Robin recently acquired a beautiful 1938 adobe (sun-dried earthen brick) home just off of the famous vacation destination Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Robin’s home has the traditional adobe home elements, including: canals (which are drain spouts) extending out from a parapet flat roof, originally designed to protect adobe walls from falling water; corbels; and support vigas – the debarked logs used as ceiling beams.

After going through the turquoise entrada (entry way) you enter the placita (courtyard). The placita is complete with its own banco (adobe bench) right beside an adobe fire place. There are several flower beds with natural rock holding lifeless, ‘dead’ dirt in place. The sides of the house and placita that aren’t adobe are coyote fencing. This home is extremely charming and the potential of a sanctuary was just waiting for someone to bring that into being. This is where I come into the picture. Robin offered to fly me to New Mexico to help give her yard a reboot. With an offer like that, how can I refuse?

We set a date and I went for six days at the end of June. The week before I got there, Robin hired two brothers to remove the first four-to-six inches of dead dirt and replace it with nice, biotic and manure-enriched (I’m unsure of the source) soil (I personally love the smell of good soil). One of the brothers specializes in irrigation and he was working on redoing the several systems that had been put into place over the years from prior owners—none of which were working correctly. What was working in the yard were the mature trees and shrubs, although they were a bit distressed due to lack of water.

Some of the trees present include apricot, weeping cherry, Quaking Aspen, Acanthus, Pinion Pine and a few others that none of us could identify. Additionally, there were three lilacs and a butterfly bush. Robin, an avid animal and pet owner, has a desire to add more Quaking Aspens to her yard, creating a memorial for the many pets she has nurtured and loved over the years.

Santa Fe has a similar climate and zone as the Reno/Sparks area. They have the cold, sometimes dry and sometimes wet with snow winters, as well as hot summer days complete with droughts. What is slightly different is the elevation. Whereas Reno runs around 4,400 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is at 6,750 feet.

I finally arrived and Robin and I did a little brainstorming, dreaming and planning and made plans to visit a home-grown nursery, Agua Fria. Now this nursery is a Master Gardner’s dream in itself. It has several working greenhouses and hoop houses and specializes in native plants, perennials and naturally/organically-grown vegetables.

Two visits later, and I don’t even want to disclose how much Robin spent in nursery stock, we had enough plants to put the plan in motion.

Our purchases included over 100 plants (flowers, herbs, shrubs, vines and six Quaking Aspens) and seed packets of sun flowers. Many of the plant selections are familiar to northern Nevadans as they also do well in Santa Fe, i.e. Hollyhocks, Artemisia, Yarrow, Trumpet vine, Coreopsis, Russian Sage, Day Lilies, Salvia, French Lavender, Cosmos, Hostas, Geraniums, Roses, herbs, succulents like Hens and Chicks, Lamb’s Ear, and more… much, much more.

At one time in the center of this garden was turf. However, with the drought environment, Robin decided to remove it to be water smart. Now in the middle where the lawn used to be is a bird bath, with river rock and four French Lavender plants to surround it. The bird bath doubles as a water bowl for Henry.

Outside of the placita, visitors to Santa Fe often park in the arroyo-turned-street, even though it’s marked as ‘no parking.’ Sadly, they unintentionally destroy Robin’s rock wall. We planted some Havard Agave, a.k.a. Century plants as a deterrent because as these plants grow, they will become even pricklier. Something I quickly discovered while transporting and planting. Mixed amongst the agave plants are Hollyhocks as well as sun flower seeds. The clay wall will be a beautiful back drop against the promised flowers.

It quickly came time for me to return home. I was disappointed that I ran out of time to plant the remaining annuals we picked up for several pots to scatter around the placita and outside the entrada.

While there, I couldn’t help but admire the landscape of this community. All these adobe homes with their placitas have a mystery about them-– what’s behind those clay walls? My imagination wonders……