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Creating a Water-Thrifty Cottage Garden in Reno

Tova Roseman has created a xeric cottage garden in her Reno, NV yard.

Exploring Xeric Garden Designer Tova Roseman's Reno, NV Garden

Tova Roseman's old-style cottage garden

How would you describe your garden?

It’s a cottage garden in the old style, where the perennials and vegetables are grown together. The garden is ½ acre and its taken us about 15 years. We did 90% of it ourselves. It’s all waterwise.

What strategies do you use to conserve water?

The most important thing is that water conservation starts with the soil. Everybody thinks they have the worst soil in the world, but if you add the proper nutrients, it doesn’t take that much water to have a great garden.

You should add a lot of mulch to your soil, and I find forest mulch the most beneficial, along with steer manure (or lama if available), and alfalfa pellets. (For the specific ratios and more details you can visit Tova’s Garden Soil Recipe. Use password: AwesomeSoil2015)

Everything is on drip irrigation. In our area we don’t get that much rain; we depend on the snowpack to provide our water, so irrigation is a necessity. For the perennial beds, I’ve developed a special drip method using laser-line to moisten the entire soil area—which mimics rain. If all the soil is moist you can plant anywhere you want, and it encourages any seeds to grow and spread. The plants become huge and healthy.

The garden was inspired by Monet's colors and lavish use of plants.
Before: Drip irrigation was installed prior to planting.
It was important to Roseman that the garden design included a water feature for birds and fish.

What inspired you to create the garden?

From the very beginning it was inspired by Monet’s garden. I’ve always been intrigued by his art and his colors and lavish use of plants. The cottage-style garden I’ve created is unique for this area. Everybody wants that look, but it’s not typical for northern Nevada.

What is typical in your area (Reno)?

It used to barberry, junipers, a couple other shrubs, and not too many perennials. We have pines as well. When our area began to grow, people coming in didn’t like that landscape look. Now the standard is Karl Forester grass, groundcover roses and lavender or Russian sage.

There are so many other varieties of plants you can use, but a lot of landscape people are more knowledgeable about the hardscape, they aren’t plant people and that is what they’re comfortable with.

What are your favorite plants?

I love ornamental grasses, all perennials and I love unique plants. Right now I’m enchanted with all of the cold climate Ice Plants (Delosperma).

My all time favorite perennials are delphinium. They don’t seem to survive more than 1-2 years, even though they’re rated for our zone. They peter out, so you have to replant them.

Before: Tova Roseman started her xeric garden by amending the soil.

Any special challenges gardening in Reno?

The last winter was so dry, without much snow to cover the ground and water the plants when it melts. This is becoming a typical winter. The biggest killer of trees and plants in our area is not the cold winter temperatures, its lack of moisture. People don’t realize they sometimes have to water in winter.

Roseman advises making a list of favorite, must-have plants.

If someone wanted to create a similar transformation to their landscape, what advice would you give them?

Always start with the soil; fall is a good time to get the soil prepped for spring. Get your design ideas in place, think about what you want the use of the garden to be. Make a list of favorite, must-have plants and trees.

What benefits have you seen by creating this garden?

It’s an organic garden, so we have tons of birds and butterflies. The animals will come if your garden offers food for them. We watch every day for the quail to come and we have a pair of ducks that return every year. We have a lot of fruit trees, so unfortunately the falling fruit also attracts visiting skunks. But it’s all part of garden life, and that’s okay.

Water is important. We have two ponds, one for frogs and one for fish. The birds come every day to bathe and its fun to watch.

I’m a big believer that a well-prepared garden creates a beneficial energy for us as humans. It’s a place that gives me time to think, let my mind wander and be creative.

The cottage-style garden Roseman created is an atypical style for northern Nevada.

Tova Roseman is a consultant for water-wise gardening in the Reno, NV area.

For more information about eco-friendly waterwise garden design visit: Making Eco Friendly A Part of the Planning and Design Process and Xeriscape Design: Steps to Designing a Drought-resistant Garden

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