I’ve packed an arsenal of high SPF sunblocks, camera gear, and several light, long-sleeved shirts and am now on my way to the desert. The forecast says it will be 111°F in Phoenix when we arrive and I am already imagining myself in the Arrested Development scene where Michael reaches for the door handle of a taxi at the Phoenix airport and the hot metal burns his hand.
Should we make it through this incredible shock to the system alive, you can expect a few slightly crazed heat strock-induced dispatches from the desert peppered throughout the trip.
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It’s been interesting to see how differently people react to the Grow Write Guild prompts. Some people say they’re too easy; others too hard. I’m behind schedule with my responses and was very tempted to throw in a super easy one for number 4, but I promised myself from the start that I would not write prompts to suit my own needs. Falling behind is not the end of the world. That said, I do have a simple one in mind for the near future. It just didn’t feel like the right time to pull it out.
I didn’t find number 3 particularly difficult to do. I’m late because I was feeling lazy and didn’t feel like writing it. However, I did enjoy taking the pictures.
Grow Write Guild Prompt #3: Describe your garden right now.
Stand in one spot in your garden and describe what you see in front of you. Turn to your right. Describe what you see there. What’s behind you? Your left side? What is underneath your feet? What do you see above your head?
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I am always on the lookout for drought tolerant plants that will thrive with little effort through my region’s paradoxical climate (hot summers and cold winters). Cold hardy sedums were a trusted friend through the years when I gardened in a trifecta of challenging spaces: a hot rooftop garden, a community garden plot, and a pocket of poor soil on a very busy urban street. Back then I needed plants that could suffer extreme heat and drought, neglect, poor soil, and sometimes even trampling by passersby both human and non-human. These days my primary garden is a sunny yard with mostly sandy soil and while the challenges are not as great, sedums are still a much-loved go-to plant. In fact, I’d say my love for these rough and tumble, stalwart plants has only grown.
Throughout my gardening life there have been many plants that I tried to grow with middling success, until I observed them growing in the wild. Sarracenia (pitcher plants), venus fly trap (Dioneae muscipula), episcia, and ginger are just a few that come to mind. Seeing them in their natural habitat helped me understand something about the soil, light, moisture, or the communities they grow in that allowed me to better approximate their needs at home in my own garden and pots.
In June 2011 I travelled to Denver, Colorado to speak at the Denver Botanic Gardens. One of many things I was excited to see in the area were cold hardy cactus growing in the wild. I’ve been growing Opuntia humifusa and other hardy cacti in pots for years and had only recently began to have success with them in the ground. But I still felt that there was something that I was missing.
A pretty typical cactus garden with lots of space between plants. Note that I took this photo on the roof of one of the buildings at Denver Botanic Gardens.
As previously mentioned, I decided to stop posting weekly from my ongoing Herbaria project. However, I am still assembling the boxes and taking the photos each week and hope to make this into something bigger once the full year is up in May. Until then they will make an appearance now and again rather than weekly.
When I took this photo we had just experienced a big thaw and I thought it would be interesting to assemble the opuntias to see how they have been fairing up underneath snow. For eight of the nine plants this is their first winter in the ground, outdoors. I checked up on them today (another big thaw) and they are holding up nicely.
I am yet to write extensively about my experiments with hardy cactus in Toronto, Canada, but I promise there is more to come. What you see here represent the sum total that I have growing outdoors to date, but I hope to add many more this spring. The desire to fill up all available space with these ferocious beauties is strong — the trick is in finding them.
If you’d like to learn more about growing hardy cacti, I highly suggest “Cacti and Succulents for Cold Climates” by Leo J. Chance. It’s a fantastic book full of useful information. I’ve gone back to explore its pages and drool over the photos many times since I purchased it.