Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gardening in the Desert

Gardening in the desert is unlike anything I've ever done before. And I don't mean just unlike any gardening I've ever done before. This is the first time I've ever willingly put my body at risk because I was having fun - our yard is filled with prickers and glochids and spines on which I kneel or against which I brush with alarming regularity. I don't like getting up close and personal with wild creatures, and yet here they run rampant as I putter. I like doing what I want to do when I want to do it but here I seem perfectly content to wait for the air to cool down so the snakes will go back into their holes.

I love the feel of cool, dark soil with big, fat earthworms inching their way along. At least, that's what I remember that soil feels like. Here in the middle Sonoran Desert, 2350' above sea level, no matter what they say, this is dirt. I know what soil feels like, and this is definitely dirt. This ground laughs at trowels and demands the pickaxe and the pry bar. Digging a hole for a 5 gallon shrub (the same depth as the root ball, and twice as wide) can take an afternoon's labor. And don't get me started on drainage and caliche.

I love forgetting my gloves before digging in the ground or pinching off a spent bloom. Here, such foolishness leads to more than just a ruined manicure. Here, I find un-seen but not un-noticed bits of detritus embedded in my skin. Forever. And it's not only gloves which are necessary. Long sleeves and long pants are mandatory - the day I pruned in shorts and a tank top TBG wanted me to wear a sign absolving him of responsibility for the bleeding welts on my skin. I know that the prickers are defense against critters looking for a quick snack, but that doesn't make them hurt any less.

At first it didn't seem possible that I could learn to work with what I had. It didn't seem like that was very much to start with. But, as you'll see, while I haven't stopped yearning for gorgeous soil and tulips in the spring, desert horticulture is quite wonderful in its own, peculiar way.

Yes, I garden in the desert.

"This is probably the most spectacular desert in this country..." Pierre C. Fischer on Tucson's piece of the Sonoran Desert in 70 Common Cacti of the Southwest


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