Symposium will give homeowners a leg up on 'Winter Dreams, Summer Gardens'

How does this sound — an attractive, low-maintenance yard full of heath and heathers, plants which stay under 24 inches tall, need pruning only once a year, fill your space with colorful blooms or foliage all-year-round, and need watering only when nature isn't doing it?

It's just one of the possibilities you can learn about in the 30 classes being presented Saturday, Nov. 1, at the 10th annual, all-day symposium, "Winter Dreams, Summer Gardens," presented by the Jackson County Master Gardeners at Southern Oregon University.

The "Heath and Heathers" class will be presented by Susan Ewalt, owner of Woodville Nursery in Wimer. Her Evans Valley home, adjacent to her shop, shows what a yard full of heath and heather can look like — and she says you'll love these low-growing evergreens that blossom all year and whose foliage presents changing shades of green, yellow, gold, gray and silver.

Heath and heathers like full sun and good drainage, with slightly acid soil. That means mixing peat moss and bark mulch in with your soil, says Ewalt. They can be used for "drifts" of color, planted in rock gardens, as borders, or as what comes after lawn if you decide to pull out your water-guzzling grass.

"Removing lawns is big now and heath and heathers are a great replacement," she says.

They come in two dozen varieties and they're affordable, running $4 for a 4-inch plant, $7 for a gallon plant and $10 for a two-gallon size. You give them each three square feet and they will fill the gaps when they mature in four to five years.

More tips for those ripping out a lawn-based yard or starting with a new home are featured in "Bare to Beautiful, Landscape Basics Starting from Scratch."

"This is for people starting without a thing, organizing their landscape, prioritizing what they want and finding their direction," says Bonnie Bayard, a Medford landscape architect who will teach the class. "You ask yourself how you want to use the landscape. Is it for escape or will there be lots of activities — and how much energy do you want to put into it when it's done?"

You can create a low-maintenance yard, but not a "no-maintenance yard," she says, adding that the low-maintenance yard will require more energy the first couple years.

"The question is always: what do you love to do and what don't you love? Some people like to mow. Others find weeding meditative. It's a question for the individual," she says, and will help dictate the direction you take your yard.

In the same vein, Oregon State University Extension Agent Marcus Buchanan will talk on soil basics, covering treatment and application of organic wastes and waste waters, while Pam Rouhier of Grange Co-op in Medford will talk on "Ground Covers and Steppables" as alternatives to grass lawns, and which provide more interesting colors and textures.

Participants choose classes, one from each of four sessions, each running 90 minutes. They are:

Session I, 9 a.m.to 10:30 a.m.: fire-resistant plants, seed saving, succulents and cacti, lawns, landscaping from scratch, soil basics, plant choices for the Rogue Valley, native plants.

Session II, 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.: dream gardens, attracting wildlife, heath and heathers, native pollinators, ground covers, garden structure, tree diseases, worms.

Session III, 1:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.: pollination or fertilization, small space but large harvest, cutting gardens, gardening in containers, small winery startup, managing weeds, climate change, organic pest control.

Session IV, 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.: small-scale winery management, the campus as arboretum, decorating horticulturally, carnivorous plants, kale and squash, insects every gardener should know about, peonies, feng shui in the garden.

The event is in the Stevenson Union on the SOU campus and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check-in is 8:30 a.m. The cost is $50, $25 for full-time students, and includes lunch. The symposium usually attracts more than 200 people. Pre-registration by Oct. 29 is recommended.

Call the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center at 776-7371 or go to http://extension.oregonstate.edu/sorec/mg.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.