Every now and again when our friend Laura hung out with us in our backyard, she’d say something along the lines of “Y’know, you should scatter some wildflower seeds back here.” I’d enthusiastically nod my head but then forget – the backyard is full of pavers and gravel with a little bit of earth around our refrigerator bed. Nothing that seemed to want to be home to flowers. Even though I’m hyper-aware of the surprising amount of color and variety in the spring flowers of the Sonoran desert, I was content with the African daisies we inherited in our front yard.
Then sometime last fall Jamie and I finally stopped by Native Seeds to grab some vegetable seeds for the winter garden in our new berm.
Let me back up.
Now, way back during last monsoon season – after a long wet summer day of the both of us futilely sweeping a flood of rainwater off of our backporch and away from the doors – after doing this TWICE in the same morning – after my shoulder muscles seized up, I got a blister in the crook between my thumb and forefinger and was drenched to the bone – after looking at each other and saying “No more!” (actually there was an expletive or two involved), we called in our friend Ray Clamons who is a local xeriscaping expert to help us figure out a way to keep those fast-running rains out of our house and into our land. We’d considered those big cisterns that hold gallons and gallons of rain, but by the time we made the call, a new storm was approaching soon and time was of the essence!
I was conveniently out of town when Ray came over – so it was up to him and Jamie to laboriously dig ditches in strategic areas while piling up the extra soil around it into hills (or ‘berms’).
These new contours were meant to funnel the water away from the house and into different parts of the yard where the water can pool and be absorbed back into the ground. Ray also extended the rain spout in a corner that was dumping most of the water to instead go underneath the pavers and into a larger ‘ditch’ to the back of the year. (These pictures show the extension before Ray buried it).
For the new depression next to the house, Ray asked if I’d like a little vegetable plot and I said ‘Sure!’, so he filled in the area with some nice, dark, slightly dank compost and filled the other, longer ditch with bark. After a VERY healthy monsoon and wet winter, I am overjoyed to say it works and my stomach no longer clenches like a robot claw when it starts to rain.
Fast forward a few weeks to October, prime planting season in Tucson for the fall/winter garden, and we took a trip to the best seed store in town, Native Seeds/SEARCH, to get some veggie seeds suitable for our low elevation desert climate. After I grabbed the Southwest Cool Season Garden collection (with radishes, lettuce, kale, arugula and carrots – among many others), then plucked some bulbs from a basket of Silver Rose garlic, I spied a single plastic bag listed for ‘Desert Wildflowers’. The black-and-white paper label inside had names like ‘Firewheel’, ‘Desert Bluebell’ and my favorite, ‘Mexican Gold Poppy’ and my eyes grew wide as I snatched the bag and plopped it down by the soil-encrusted garlic. My heart started beating faster as I dared to dream of a backyard with a little more color and drama.
The instructions seemed too simple – rake the soil, scatter seeds, water well once, leave alone. The seeds were…underwhelming. Some were cool and feathery looking but most were almost too small to see. But what the hell, I raked the area by the refrigerator bed and scattered seeds hither and yon. Then I looked at the hill alongside the new ditch all covered in pink gravel, shrugged and threw the rest of the seeds among the craggy rocks. I gave them a nice drenching and then left them alone.
Here’s what we got.
First up, the wildflowers and little vegetable garden growing happily in their new homes:
On the left are the wildflowers – the poppies were the first to unfurl their golden faces but if you look closely you’ll see they’re slowly being joined by the purple-ish hues of some young bluebells. Since this picture was taken, pink-petaled Firewheels and tiny yellow flowers I haven’t identified yet have popped also up.
On the other side are the lettuce, arugula, radishes (all harvested by now) and carrots (slow to grow). I was going to plant successive rows of each, which is why there’s so much space behind them, but never got around to it (le sigh). In the shade there’s also some baby Swiss chard and parsley.
Here’s a closeup of the lettuce – yum!
On the other side of the yard is our ol’ refrigerator bed – but now surrounded with its own field of wildflowers:
Got some bigger veggies in here – peas, kale and mustard (a few I’ve let flower):
From above – there’s also garlic, cilantro and sage fighting for some sun:
And a close up of the pea blossoms – so pretty!
Now that spring is already sproinging all over the place, it’s time to start planting summer crops. And just by chance, Native Seeds happens to have a nice big fat bag called, wouldn’t you know it, Southwest Warm Season collection. Melons, chiles and squash, here I come!