Thursday, March 14, 2013

Planting in the Short Desert Spring.

There was barely a transitional stage.  It snowed within recent memory; the pictures are still cropping up on Tucsonans' Facebook pages.  We awoke after torrential rains to snow capping the mountains this weekend.  It had melted by the time I arrived at the Festival of Books, but the image was burned into my brain.  Elizibeth and I shared the warm clothing I'd brought along; flip flops were out of the question.

My polar fleece wasn't too heavy as I crossed the campus to my car.  I rolled down a window, and cranked it right back up once I began to move.  The breeze was frigid, though the sun was out and the trees were barely moving.  That's as wintry as Tucson gets, and I'm glad.

TBG turned on the pool's heater and the sun warmed the water as the mechanics did their job but the air temperature hovered near 60.  I was too cold to contemplate donning a swimsuit and taking a dip.  The winter seemed determined to stick around.

From Rillito Nursery
We have a six week window for planting, here in the desert Southwest.  The danger of frost must have passed, and the temperatures have to stay in double digits so that the roots don't burn up before they become established.  Valentines Day is the usual start to the gardening season; this year, it snowed.  Tomato plants required the cosseting of a water wall.

I put off planting anything.

It's hard enough to coax a tomato to grow here; I want them to have a safe and comfortable start.

So, I didn't get Brother to help me repair the raised bed.  I didn't buy new soil.  I had no plants resting in the shade of the acacia tree, waiting to be placed in their new home.  The irrigation set-up (timer, resistor, tubing) is connected to itself, but not to the garden plot.  It's been too cold to work outside.

And then, I woke up today.  Ernie called to remind me that he was coming to wash the windows and clean up winter's destruction of the yard.  I put on a long sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts and walked outside, intending to survey the scene and develop a strategy for the yard guys.  

I began to perspire almost immediately.  It wasn't even 9am, and it was H-O-T.

The actual temperature is immaterial; it felt like an outer circle of hell by the time I dragged myself across the expanse of the front yard.  Mexican Birds of Paradise need to be trimmed to nothingness; I could barely bend over to check for green (growing) shoots.  The wildflowers I've determined are weeds covered the stones; there are too many to pull, they are too close to those I've chosen to keep, and the Round-Up I sprayed last week doesn't seem to have accomplished a thing. 

The guys had a lot to do.  I wish they had paid closer attention to Ernie's instructions.  The volunteer crepe myrtle which had established itself amidst the purple lantana in the front yard fell victim to the power pruner's blades.  It will return, but I miss its smiling tentacles rising from the detritus of the spent ground cover below.  There's a price to be paid for having helpers in the yard; I was working with Ernie when the cutting began and wasn't there to save the pretty pink flowers from ruin.  Sigh....

Ernie cut the bougainvillas down to the nubs, and then worked on removing the unproductive, thick stumps near the ground.  We trimmed the branches which were headed toward the wall; this year the bougies are going to flower outward and upward, if I have anything to say on the subject.

The rosemary was a different story; I had hopes that a hedge would form.  They are doing nicely, but still look like distinct plants, plants which are growing forward and backward instead of left and right.  Ernie says they will eventually climb to the top of the pony wall and drape delightfully over to the other side.  

Given that the definition of a weed is a plant in the wrong place, I took issue with TBG's description of our courtyard as full of weeds.  I like these blue volunteers which are sprouting all over the place.  I like thinking about the animals whose coats dropped seeds, whose digestive tracts and excretions left bundles of beauty for me this spring.  The circle of life is quite obvious out here.

Soon, the entire courtyard, and a good portion of the front yard, will be blue and swaying in the breeze.  For now, it's a work in progress, with new flowers popping up every day.  I'll collect the seeds from them, and sprinkle them over the ground during the first summer rain.  Ernie promises that they'll take; I'm choosing to believe him.

The raised bed has boards that need reattaching and soil that needs enriching.  I'm considering a variety of possibilities for making it higher, but I think I'll have to wait til next year.  Summer came too quickly for me and there's no more time for thought.  Action must be taken before the climate intervenes and makes further work impossible.  

I'll plant tomatoes and basil and jalapenos; they've been successful in the past and I am sure I can grow them again.  I'm going to skip the melons and the beans and the peppers; I'm tired of investing energy in things that disappoint me. When it cools off, I'll put in lettuce, a cool weather crop that provides free salad and a smile every afternoon as I'm preparing dinner.  Yes, home grown lettuce tastes a lot better than that which you find at the store.

My citrus trees are a sorry example of my abilities; they are trying, but not having much luck at all. I'm blaming my irresponsible inattention to irrigation, when I'm not wondering why I chose plants that require so much coddling.  I'm reminded of G'ma advising me to find my houseplants at Woolworths.  "If they can survive there, they can survive with you," she told me, and she was right.  I expect compliance from my plants; a hard scrabble upbringing was always a good indicator of their success at home.

That's the joy and the frustration of gardening in an inhospitable climate.  The aloes and agaves froze when I was too lazy to go outside and cover them during our frigid winter.  It broke my heart to cut them off; I knew I had failed them, sending them to an early doom.  I promised that I'd do better next time.

By the time the electric blowers were on the gardeners' backs, I was drenched in sweat, my hair was stuck to my head, and my heart was full.  I have a few more holes to fill in the yard, a few more spaces to enhance, but, for the most part, the heavy work is done.  When the temperatures have climbed to triple digits I'll be able to admire my handiwork from air conditioned splendor. 

It's not as much fun as digging in the dirt all summer long, but we make do with what we have.  What I have is good.


  1. Your post resonated with me since before we lived in Northern New Mexico we lived in Inland Southern Californa, where summer temps regularly top 100. Gardening is a challenge there, and I found a few sweet spots winter and spring when stuff would grow. Now I am learning it all again.

  2. Northern New mexico has its own challenges, too, Bridget. Northern California was gardening heaven..... it's what I miss the most.

  3. When it's all done, I would love to see pictures. What are those blue-ish things on the plants at the nursery? I've never seen those before.

    As I've mentioned before, I have no green thumb. I like to live variously through others' when it comes to gardening. :)

    Hope you at least had some fun getting your hands dirty.

    It's already Thursday. Going on vacation on Wednesday. Cannot wait.

    Megan xxx

    1. I was too late to take pictures, when I got home from babysitting chores. I will do a picture post next week, once the veggies are in and I'm not humiliated by the appearance of the garden :)


Talk back to me! Word Verification is gone!