NMSU revamps demonstration gardens

Jay Rodman
NMSU

New Mexico State University’s main demonstration garden is getting an extreme makeover, thanks to the creative

Micah Ward, NMSU horticulture major and coordinator of the Fabian Garcia Landscape Demonstration Gardens revitalization project, trims dead fronds from a palm tree damaged by the February freeze. The gardens’ new look will be lighter and more open, with newly planted perennials in a color wheel design and resurfaced pathways. (NMSU photo by Jay A. Rodman.)

energy of a horticulture student, three horticulture program endowment funds, and lots of collaboration among many NMSU individuals and units.

“Revitalization” is actually the term being used to describe the current work at NMSU’s Fabian Garcia Landscape Demonstration Gardens, near the main Las Cruces campus. The site, which functions as a teaching garden for both NMSU students and the general public, was severely hit by February’s “big freeze,” although the extent of the damage only became clear in late spring, when many plants failed to leaf out.

Plants as large as eucalyptus trees and as small as English lavender were severely damaged, if not killed outright. The extensive damage, along with the need for regular pruning, made this a perfect time to think beyond routine repair and maintenance to an extensive redesign of certain aspects of the facility.

The garden revitalization project is being coordinated by Micah Ward, an undergraduate horticulture major with an agriculture business management minor. Recognizing the unique opportunity that was available, she worked with her departmental adviser, Mark Uchanski, assistant professor of vegetable physiology, and submitted a proposal to her home department of Plant and Environmental Sciences to secure funding from the Dr. and Mrs. Donald J. Cotter Scholarship, the Shannon Family Fund, and the Randy and Cindy Farmer Endowment for support of the project.

“The funds covered my salary and a lot of the hard goods, like the plant material, fixing the irrigation in some of the places, some of the labor for getting the trees removed, and the rental fees for some of the equipment that we needed,” Ward said.

A major concept of the proposal was the introduction of perennials in a color-wheel design. As Ward envisioned it, plants that are predominantly red, orange and yellow, the “warm” colors, would greet visitors at the front of the garden. Cooler-colored plants – greens, blues and purples – would be farther back, toward the gazebo. There would also be contrasting white and black sections in this array, with the landmark Montezuma cypress in the center.

Ward reports to the Garden Committee and to Tracey Carrillo, superintendent of the Fabian Garcia and Leyendecker agricultural science centers, on this project. Carrillo authorized the use of some of the farm crew personnel to assist in the work. Numerous faculty members also gave of their time and labor.

By early August, the dead plants had been removed, dead branches thinned out, the old walkway was being redone, and new plants were already filling in some of the gaps.

“I’m really pleased to see the work Micah has done out here in the garden,” said John Mexal, professor of horticulture and one of the advisers on the project. “The garden is over 25 years old and I think in all that time we’ve not had this kind of rehabilitation and reconstruction take place.

“I think the public will really like the changes that are going to be made here. It will be much more open, there will be a lot more color in the understory here, and it will make it a very nice attraction, both for students and for visitors to campus.”

Ward hopes that the new design concept will give the garden more of a “botanical garden look” and that it will provide visitors with some new ideas for their own gardens. “This will serve as a teaching tool for the ornamental horticulture and landscape design students and the community of Las Cruces,” she said.

The new pathways will be finished with a landscaping material that will make it more accessible – and colorful – than the traditional crusher fines. Ward also anticipates that the new look will make the garden and gazebo more appealing for weddings and other group activities. According to Carrillo, much of the funding for maintaining the gardens comes from fees charged for such events, although donor funds play a large role, as well.

Faculty who have played an advisory role in the revitalization project, in addition to Uchanski, Mexal and Carrillo, include Sabine Green, coordinator of the floriculture program and consultant for color wheel plant choices, and Rolston St. Hilaire, professor of landscape and ornamental horticulture and consultant on irrigation and pathway reconstruction.

Coordinating the revitalization project has been a great learning experience for Ward. “From doing this project, I’ve learned what goes into actually managing some sort of crew, whether it be volunteers or anyone of the farm crew,” she said. “It’s added onto the experience that I can get while I’m doing my undergrad in horticulture and will help me in the future whenever I’m looking for a job. Then I can say I have done this project, I know I have put my knowledge to use, and have been able to work with people and direct people and just follow through with a timeline and a budget and work with anything that I’m given.”

Although this is essentially a summer project for Ward, she hopes to continue her involvement in it during the academic year.

The gardens are located at the Fabian Garcia Science Center at 109 W. University Ave. in Las Cruces. They are open to the public daily from sunrise to sundown.

More about the gardens and other aspects of the Fabian Garcia Science Center can be found at http://fabiangarciasc.nmsu.edu/

For information about renting the gazebo for special events, go to http://fabiangarciasc.nmsu.edu/gazebo-rental.html

 

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