One of our readers has sent us an article. This reader now lives in South Carolina. There she enjoys the pleasures of gardening, savoring the products of her diligent work. She’s a professional gardener, and what she shares with us here is the earlier experience she had of tending her patch of land between Phoenix and Tucson in the Arizona desert. That’s where she lived until recently, before moving to the more fertile South Carolinian soils. Here’s her story of the pleasures of desert gardening.
Diligence in desert gardening
Everywhere I go, I scratch in the dirt, plant a seed, care and nurture that seed. I’ve reaped bountiful harvests and had complete failures. Such is life.
Ten years of living in the high desert taught lessons of perseverance. Three hundred plus days of sun, wind, wild temperature swings, very little rainfall, and soil with no organic matter make gardening difficult. But we tried.
The first garden was a small plot in the front (south) of the house. The previous owner had put in a small patch of grass. The grass was mostly dead, so we gently shoveled the soil into a patch where we could fence and grow some vegetables and herbs. Rabbits ate the tomatoes and anything that ventured beyond the confines of the fence, but for a couple of years, there was some produce.
And I had an edge trimmer! The soaker hoses we had for irrigation clogged up from all the minerals in the water, so we temporarily used an overhead sprinkler. It clogged up, too. We ended up with drip irrigation, but it also needed attention, and was less expensive to fix. We decided to move the garden for many reasons.
So, the garden went out back away from the house, got expanded, lots of organic matter was added to the soil, eventually irrigation was dug into place and a fence. (Everyone that inhabits the desert is hungry.) The vegetable garden eventually got overtaken with mesquite tree roots (Prosopis sp.) and creosote bush roots (Larrea tridentata) which destroy the soil so other plants won’t grow, leaving the nutrients for the creosote to flourish. Desert plants can be greedy when water is available.
I had a greenhouse, so the winter/spring garden moved indoors. There was Swiss chard, kale, a variety of lettuce, arugula, fennel all growing in flats. The summer garden consisted of a pot of eggplant. I gave up on trying to grow tomatoes because of all the tomato horn-worms and rabbits. Green beans didn’t like the water, it had a trace of salt, squash just didn’t like anything. Summer was not the best time to grow vegetables in the desert. It was too hot. Pollen becomes inviable above 95 degrees, so nothing will pollinate. The gardening seasons were autumn, winter (in places, or greenhouse) and spring.
I also put an herb garden in around the patio. I had a mixture of annual and perennial herbs. It was also fenced.
Herbs for the most part did well in the desert. I used rosemary for hedges near the house for greenery and a desert plant called Texas Ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens).
Both were evergreen and would flower if there had been some rain early in the year. I put in native plants and built raised gardens for interest in the front of the house. There was no grass to mow and something was always blooming.
Summer brought high temperatures (dry), monsoon, humidity, rain and weeds – pungent smelling, low growing, yellow flowers mostly, called Fetid Marigold (Dyssodia papposa).
Rain was measured in feet – how many feet apart were the drops, that was the joke. A good year, rainfall was 9 inches. For several years in a row, we got 2 inches for the year. Winter had wild temperature ranges. Temperatures could go as low as zero degrees F and be 60 degrees in the daytime. Spring and autumn temperatures had less swings.
By Karen Thomson who diligently tried desert gardening.