From Gardener's Supply (

Success in High, Dry Places

Determined Gardener Creates
a Cottage Garden in the Desert

Jan Weverka
Jan Weverka has used our Accelerated Propagation System (APS) to start hundreds of seedlings for her garden.
A native Californian, Jan Weverka has been gardening her whole life, most recently for about 25 years in Monrovia, Calif. Her gardens in Monrovia were featured in both Sunset and Better Homes and Gardens magazines. When Jan "retired" two years ago she decided to move out of the city and back into the country. After relocating to Apple Valley, Calif., she became intrigued by the idea of growing a cottage garden in the desert.

Jan's new home is on a three-quarter acre lot at an elevation of 3,000 feet. The winters are much colder than Monrovia and the soil is pure sand. Though the growing conditions are quite different, it hasn't taken Jan long to get a feel for her new garden. In two years, this 78-year-old gardener has planted 400 rose bushes, a mini-orchard filled with figs, apples and pears, a vegetable garden with 30 tomato plants, and flower gardens with buddleia (butterfly bush), scabiosa, sage, iris and daffodils.

"I grow the fruits mostly to attract birds to my garden," she says. Birds are my workhorses, eating bugs, such as scale and aphids. Plus, I love watching them."

Jan's pride and joy is her collection of roses. She grows them in curved rows, three plants deep, in groups of 20 by color compatibility, such as lavender, pink, and ivory. Her garden has visitors as often as three times a week when the roses are blooming.

The key to her success is in the soil. "When I first moved to Apple Valley," Jan remembers, "people I met told me roses only bloomed in the spring and fall because of the intense summer heat. But they were using chemical fertilizers."

Jan is an organic gardener, and her roses bloom all summer long. "I make my own fertilizer and the roses love it," says Jan. Her fertilizer formula includes 3 cups of alfalfa meal, 1 cup of cottonseed meal, 2 tablespoons of sulfur, a quarter cup of ferrous sulfate, and a quarter cup of kelp. Mixing her fertilizer with compost and the native soil provides the perfect growing medium for her plants.

Water is obviously an issue in the high desert, but Jan uses native plants and a bubbler system (drip irrigation emitters clog too easily with the blowing desert sand) to reduce her water bills. Drought-tolerant plants, such as sage, need only the occasional hand watering to keep them growing well.

Jan loves to try unusual varieties that often need to be started from seed. She uses the APS seedstarters to get her seedlings off to a healthy start. "It's hard to find the right products here in the high desert," she says. "Gardener's Supply has a good selection of seedstarting products that work beautifully." With the APS seedstarter and its domed greenhouse covers and a heating mat, Jan starts more than 600 seedlings a year each March. Some go into her gardens and others end up with friends. "Before I started using the APS seedstarter, I had spotty success with my seedlings. Now they all grow wonderfully," she says.

Jan also loves the flower supports and Tomato Ladders from Gardener's Supply. "I use the support rings on my feverfew to prevent them from tipping over due to our high winds. They're functional and attractive. Within one month, the foliage covers the metal and you can't even see the rings," she says. "The Tomato Ladders work so much better than stakes or wire cages," she adds.

"A favorite Gardener's Supply product?" asks Jan. "That would have to be my green and yellow Garden Kneeler. It makes it possible for me to prune all my 400 roses myself, since there's no strain on my back or legs."

Jan's mission isn't to just grow a beautiful garden in the desert, but to teach others. "So many people in the high desert think they can't garden," she says. "I show them how to have colorful, productive gardens while using less water and creating a habitat for wildlife," says Jan. She has a gardening newsletter, teaches classes and organizes tours of other great desert gardens. People are hungry to learn. "I offered a pruning workshop recently and expected eight people and 30 showed up," she says. She particularly loves showing children the joys of gardening. Children are fascinated with nature, and the garden is the perfect place for learning.

While Jan's gardens are already beautiful and abundant, she's still adding to them. "This year I'm going to try growing a winter vegetable garden," she says. Our hats are off to this enthusiastic gardener who is discovering new ways to expand and share her love of gardening.

Last updated: 10/24/15