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Ranchos man creates environment

by Linda Hiller

Even a small yard can become a sanctuary. Going on the idea that “If you plant it, and if you build it – they will come,” Gardnerville Ranchos resident Tom Sager has created an environment already frequented by many different bird species, as well as providing a renewing environment for he and his wife, Sally.

“We absolutely love it,” Sager said. “People will come here, see it for the first time and be amazed at what we’ve done. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.”

The Sagers moved to the Carson Valley from Washington D.C. five years ago and took the back yard of their Ranchos home from bare dirt to a lush showplace with a two-level pond in two years.

A native of Pennsylvania, Sager, 57, designed and built the layout and pond placement, wanting to incorporate some of his favorite Eastern U.S. plants with successful Western varieties.

“I brought some wonderful plants west with us,” he said. “This Siberian Iris is unlike anything I’ve seen out here, and people ask me about them all the time.”

The Siberian Iris stand more than three feet tall, and the deep purple flowers well in flower arrangements, he said, pointing to flowering peonies – another flower not common to Northern Nevada gardens.

“If you understand what a plant likes and needs, you should be able to grow it almost anywhere,” he said.

– Do-it-yourself pond. But it is the pond that draws the eye in the Sagers’ yard, and the fact that they did it themselves is especially gratifying, Tom said.

“It took a lot of research and planning to get it just right, though,” he said. “In the beginning, I was going to use a rubber liner for the pond, but then I decided to go with the pre-formed pools because I found out they will last longer in the sun around here.”

If you want to build your own backyard pond, Sager suggests some serious visualizing – taking into account the surrounding elements in the immediate area.

“Ask yourself, ‘What do I see and what do I want to spend?'” he said. “I had it in my head before I put it on paper.”

Sager researched his pond using library books, purchased books and information from the internet. He also picked the brains of nursery workers who knew about ponds and generally immersed himself in the project before finalizing the plan.

From beginning to end, the pond took around one year to complete, Sager said. Along the way, he made some mistakes, but learned from each one. Some of his lessons:

– For waterfalls, make a hollow chamber behind the falls to amplify the sound.

– Also for waterfalls, allow for some small natural pools for birds when they come in to bathe and drink.

– Make sure your water pump is adequate to handle the amount of water in your pond.

– Purchase fish that are compatible with the size of your pond. Remember, they’ll grow.

– When using chemicals to treat the water, make sure they are safe for your fish.

– Make sure the ground underneath your pond, especially if you use rocks, is reinforced and not likely to sink down from the weight of all the water and rocks.

Sager estimated that his pond cost around $2,000 to build, and said that if he’d had it done by some one else, it would have run anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000.

“You can build it at any level you can afford,” he said. “I spent a lot on several loads of rocks.”

– Dare to be creative with plants. Sager, who is a part-time groundskeeper at Saint Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville, went to the University of Nevada, Reno, office of the cooperative extension to ask about what does and doesn’t work in this dry, high altitude Western climate.

He also had an arborist come to the house to suggest what to plant, and thus learned about successful trees to plant, including Russian Olive, Purple Robe Locust and Sunburst Locust.

He also selected plants that would bloom throughout the year, and recommends several species: tall phlox, pyracantha, quince, pussy willow, kerrie japenica, lobelia, hosta (plant in shade), vibernum, golden chain tree, blue spruce, blue atlas cedar, western white pine, heavenly bamboo, azaleas (protect), rhododendron (ditto), Nellie Stevens Holly and purple smoke tree. Sager buys plants wherever he sees the best deal, and has everything in his yard on an automatic drip and spray system.

A sign in the yard at Tom and Sally Sager’s yard reads “One who plants a garden, plants happiness.”

“I enjoy sharing this yard,” Tom said. “Both Sally and I used to work for the U.S. government in Washington, DC, and our jobs were so taxing. Everyone should have a beautiful garden to come home to.”