Thursday, May 15, 2008

Greetings from Southern Arizona

I invited my sister, Adriana, to write about her experiences of trying to grow a garden in Tucson. Here is what she had to say:

A young sunflower enjoys the sun before the onslaught of summer.

Like the first wave of settlers to this Land of Perpetual Sunshine, I thought all this solar power simply meant a longer growing season than I had been used to in Colorado. Like those early westward expansionists, I took the surprising abundance of vegetation in Tucson, Ariz., to mean that things could actually grow in the desert. While they decided that their home crops of cotton, citrus, and pecans would produce that much more with all this extra sunshine and no winter to speak of, I decided that it meant I could grow the vegetables of my red-hued homeland – herbs, spinach, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peas – with little issue. We both ignored the fact that this is a desert, and deserts are, generally, very hot and very dry and any plant seen to survive here has a wicked cache of water-saving and cooling tricks up its branches.

Ripe tomatoes on the vine.

The settlers’ mistaken judgment laid the foundation for our current water crisis and created a cornucopia of pollens perpetually wafting through our air and into our nasal passages. The crops they chose release their pollens into the air, to be later brought back to terra firma by rain. We don’t have rain here – at least not enough to wash out that much pollen – so it hangs out in the air until we breathe it in and sneeze it out (plants native to here spread their seed through burs and stickers that hook onto any passing creature and get transported to a new home). So, in addition to a longer growing season, we have a longer allergy season.

Adriana's cat, Boris, enjoys the garden.

My mistaken judgment resulted in an annual cycle of hope, delusion, frustration, bitterness, resignation, and renewed hope. The first year I called Tucson home, I kept it simple and scattered some native wildflower seeds in the dirt plot on either side of my front walkway. One side of the walk included a short, wide mesquite tree, which I worried might shade the flowers too much and inhibit their growth. Putting faith in that idea of “native” though, and working from the hope and delusion that start my growing season, I scattered, I watered, and I waited. I know some prefer seedlings, but I can’t bring myself to give up the miracle of a seed for the quick-fix of a seedling.
That miracle occurred, and the front of my yard was full of tender, green-stemmed flowers with red, orange, and yellow hats – for a week. And then, May turned to June, which in Southern Arizona doesn’t bring flowers, showers, or anything else cute and endearing. June brings sun – hot, dry, direct sun that beats incessantly down on all creatures for more and more minutes each day.
To say that my wildflowers on the side of the yard that did not have the protective shade of the mesquite “died” would not begin to adequately express their demise. In other places, plants that die curl up, fall over, and work their way back into the game as compost. Here, plants that have been killed by the sun stand like torched sentinels, screaming to all who pass, “Seek shelter! Wear your sunscreen!” with their perfectly erect, perfectly frozen, perfectly burnt shells of their former verdant selves. It happens in an instant but haunts your garden memory forever.

Young shoots get some protection from straw mulch.

Since that first season, I’ve tried to adapt. I start growing earlier. I use straw mulch to ease the evaporation of water from the soil. I add potting soil to the barren soil that seems to best support succulents and the Valley Fever virus. I build raised beds, created emergency shade from lawn chairs, and plead and pray for the sun to be gentle to my garden. And each year, as the first vulnerable green shoots break through the earth, I accept that, as with all miracles, it’s best I enjoy them in that precious moment and hold no further expectations.


Adriana said...

Thanks, Cathy. :) Your blog is great and it was good, good fun to write for it. :)Anna

Adriana said...

Also - many thanks to my partner Cathy for the beautiful photos to go with my words for my sister Cathy's blog. :)Anna

LOLA said...

:) Colorado is also fraught with spring flower challenges. Having been born and raised on the east coast, Baltimore to be specific, when spring arrived it ARRIVED. Oh, we would have our share of four and seven day rains but not blizzards. I mean BLIZZARD as in SNOW. So as a young naive bride from the east coast now living in the wild west I had a few baptisms by fire from the weather.
I remember one Easter in paticular, April 1974, our little family of three beautiful little girls my husband and myself were eargerly preparing for our beautiful Easter day. These spring storms in particular are like a thief in the night.
All of the week before Easter the weather was beautiful and warm. Shopping for the Easter outfits for the girls, making easter candy, and dying the eggs only added to the be beautiful Easter Sunday which we anticipated. Late on Good Friday the wind picked up and the temperature droped about thirty degrees and the snow came with a fury. It snowed all day and night on saturday and with the Easter Sunday sunrise we were greeted with a winter wonderland.
As the ham baked, and the fire in the fireplace burned brightly the girls discovering the goodies in their baskets, I searched for the answer to "Mommy, how did the Easter Bunny get through the snow?"
The spring phenomenon that just wants to make you cry occurs out of the clear blue sky. As one ponders the beautiful hues of green on the tender baby plants that are just peeking their heads out of the ground. We are pummeled by a hail storm. Hail comes in soft, hard pea size, golf ball size, baseball size, a size for each havoc it can wreak from denting the new car to shredding the garden. It just makes you want to cry. Over all Colorado's weather is wonderful and it's frequent changes never lead to boredom. :)Lola