Water-wise tour highlights the benefits of planting local

Desert-Wise Landscaping Tour visitors to Kristen Steven's home stop at her back patio before inspecting her cage garden.

MORONGO BASIN — Lush landscapes that thrive with little water were showcased in the Morongo Basin Conservation Association’s ninth annual Desert-Wise Landscaping Saturday and Sunday.

Spanning the Morongo Basin, the tour featured homes that incorporate inventive water conservation technologies and native plants that thrive in dry weather.

The Joshua Tree home of Luana Lynch is a lush, green oasis situated against large boulders near the national park border. Though she is on “city water,” she keeps her water use low by using well-established native plants and succulents.

On her property is a geodesic dome that she uses as an Airbnb next to her original home. A redwood stairway climbs the boulders to a small valley above where she pumps water for visiting bighorn sheep. “The bighorn sheep use a lot of water. They’ll drink the whole bathtub,” said Lynch.

A giant manzanita tree provides shade to her house, salt tamarisks dot her landscape and her garden is filled with native medicinal plants and tall succulents. She has a very small koi pond in front surrounded by cattails and yerba mansa plants.

“I used to have a big koi pond in back, but the water use was too high from evaporation. The yerba mansa is a medicinal plant that is alone in its own genus,” said Lynch.

Just down the street from Lynch’s property is the home of Kristin Stevens, who is turning an above-ground pool into a vegetable garden. She has lined and covered the pool with aviary wire to keep out vermin and cut large plastic drums to make wicking buckets for low-use watering.

Kathleen Lowndes with the Joshua Basin Water District helped docent the tour at Stevens’ house.

“Kristen is dedicated to growing food in the desert. People come to the site just to see the cage garden. She has been learning from observation and experience and is hooked up with a lot of permaculture people. And she is doing it on a budget,” said Lowndes. “She only has to water once a week, and the aviary wire allows bees to get through.”

North of Stevens’ house, Miriam Seger showed off her garden created with a combination of nursery cultivars, salvaged yucca and cacti and seed scatterings.

“This property was acquired as a scraped lot with only creosotes in place,” Seger said. “At the time there were no options to buy native plants locally.”

Seger took matters into her own hands, literally, and planted cuttings she culled from dumpsters.

She had a lot of trial and error in the beginning.

“Initially, I created a completed design for the garden but my ambition exceeded my skills and almost everything died or was eaten,” she said.

For those starting out, she recommends planting things that will propagate easily, like agaves and yuccas, and plants that will grow easily from cuttings like chollas and prickly pears. She also suggests gardeners cage everything in the beginning, as rabbits will bite into nursery plants for the water.

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