Sunday, March 9, 2008

Desert Gardening

Today is the birthday of Vita Sackville-West, best remembered as a writer (The Edwardians) and as one of Virginia Woolf's several lovers. But she was also an avid gardener. Sackville-West is largely responsible for getting the English upper classes outside, working in their gardens beginning in the 1930's. At a time when most considered gardening a masculine occupation best left to servants, Sackville-West brought gardening into the mainstream through her weekly column for The London Observer. She wrote about the joys she found digging in the garden and the satisfaction of arranging her own flowers at her beloved country home, Sissinghurst.

In Vita's honor, I present a list of desert gardening resources for the Valley's many transplanted humans, relocated to the desert Southwest from a "somewhere else" that invariably has more rainfall. For all of us struggling to figure out how to grow anything but rocks in a climate bursting with 100+ degree temperatures and less than 7 inches of rainfall annually, I invite you to click and grow.

Of course the mac daddy of all desert gardening books is The Sunset Western Gardening Book. First published in 1972 by the same folks who produce Sunset magazine, this has been the bible for desert gardeners since publication. I believe my good ole' Dad still has a copy, proudly purchased when we first moved to the Valley in 1978. Dad bought a 4 bedroom, 2 bath family rambler on about a 1/2 acre of land in Squaw Peak and felt compelled to make that land produce something. Anything. (My link is to the original 1972 cover art. There are newer editions but the old cover is kitschy cool so I linked to it.)

desert-flowers-by-maggieaz.jpgDesert Botanical Gardens is a wonderful resource for desert gardening, both online and in person. They offer online photos & tips, adult education classes, and tours of their beautiful grounds. With our recent spring rains, the DBG is breathtakingly beautiful. Visit!

(photo credit to MaggieAZ of stock.xchng) has a monthly calendar of tips and to do's for desert gardening.

The Sierra Vista Garden Club website seems to be kept up to date with tips, events, recipes, links, and a super list of nontoxic household items useful in gardening such as tea, ammonia, baby shampoo & beer. Sierra Vista is a good deal south of the metro Phoenix region (just southeast of Tucson) so take note that their climate might be slightly different than our urban heat island affected climes. The SV Garden Club has a link to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. You can zoom in on a region, but its a little hard to tell if Phoeix is in Zone 8b or 9a.

The Tucson Gardener has a fabulous list of desert gardening books. No links, but you could print and take to your local library.

Finally, for those who'd like to enjoy the desert beauty without attempting to garden on their own, try the Desert Foothills Land Trust and their 13th Annual Sonoran Symphony. Get out and view the desert's beauty while being serenaded by a full symphony.