Midsummer in the Garden

     It seems like it has been longer, but we are just halfway through our 120 days of over 100 degrees F (38C).  The vegetable garden with its lettuce, carrots, radishes, and spinach stopped producing two months ago.  I have a few chard plants straining to put forth a few small leaves.  I'll keep watering them in hopes they kick into normal production in the fall.  My pepper and two tomato plants never did recover from being wind burned.  They struggled but were unable to produce flowers before the real heat set in which did them in.

     The flower garden is blooming, but without a lot of plants it started out with.  As I posted before, all the cosmos died when it hit 118 F (48C).  The marigolds finally gave up this week.  And the two petunias I kept watering and watering said, "Enough" and quit flowering.  All the strawflowers died, and the weak blue cup,
zinnia flower
Marguerite daisy, blue dianthus and gazania are laboring to produce a flower or two.  They are shadows of their former bloom state and are essentially done for the summer.  The zinnias are the stars of the garden right now and are blooming profusely.   They have filled in a lot of the bare spots left from plants that died.  The celosia and vinca, two workhorse plants that bloom through the summer heat, are doing well in another part of the garden.

Celosia and Vinca
red celosia
white vinca

     Out in the yard, the oranges and grapefruits continue to slowly grow bigger.  We look forward to the fall harvest.  The lime tree produced no fruit this year, but since it lost half its leaves in the freeze last winter, it has grown new leaves on all the bare branches.  Maybe next year.  The flowering bushes (bougainvillea, yellow bells and oleander) are doing well, and going through bloom cycles as are the lantana scattered throughout the yard.  Many trees and plants don't struggle in the intense heat and sun here because of adaptations they have developed..  I'll talk about some of these adaptations in my next post.


lime tree this summer

lime tree after freeze

Monsoon Season

     A monsoon in Arizona?  Yes, indeed.  The term monsoon was originally defined for the Indian subcontinent.  It is actually a wind shift which brings precipitation.  The Arizona Monsoon (some call it the summer thunderstorm season) is part of the larger Mexican Monsoon which occurs throughout the southwest area of the continent from Mexico to as far north as Wyoming.

     Two things happen to bring on our monsoon.  Heat builds in this area in April, May and June (with temps well over 100 F), and an upper level high pressure system (Bermuda High) moves north from winter to summer.  These two events cause the wind to shift from a west or northwest direction to a south or southwest direction bringing tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California and with it humidity, clouds and rain.

Monsoon Thunderstorm
      The surface heating and strong moisture influx create powerful thunderstorms.  In Arizona we generally get the thunderstorms from July to September.  These are brief downpours, but they flow on dry, hard-packed ground which causes flash flooding.  We get an average of 2.65 inches of rain for all of July, August and September.  Not much considering other areas of the country.  But this is the desert.  We get about 8 inches of rain a year.

Arizona Dust Storm July 5, 2011
       Sometimes, with these powerful thunderstorms, come dust storms.  You might have seen the photos of the two monster dust storms (or haboobs as meteorologists call them) that we have had in Arizona this month.  These dust storms are caused by strong winds flowing downward and outward from thunderstorms, kicking up dust in the dry desert areas.  The dust storm we had on July 5 was 5,000 feet high (1500m) and 100 miles (160 km) wide.  Anything outdoors - furniture, cars, uncovered pools - was covered in dust.  We only got a brief shower out of that storm, the first rain we've seen since March.  That's why xeriscaping ( dry or water efficient landscaping) is common and popular here.

Cool and Green

Ponderosa pines
     For a few days this past week my family and I escaped the heat of southern Arizona and went north to the cool and green mountains.The San Francisco Mountains, just north of Flagstaff, Arizona, are covered with aspen, spruce and ponderosa pine.  Flagstaff, at 7,000 feet elevation (2,135 meters), is surrounded by the world's largest, contiguous ponderosa pine forest.  The diverse terrain in the area ranges from desert cactus through pinon-juniper plateaus, green alpine forests to barren tundra.

Humphrey's Peak
       Humphrey's Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona, stands here at 12, 633 feet (3, 851 meters).  There was still a patch or two of snow visible at the vey top  of the peak.  The mountain ski area gets about 260 inches (660.4 cm) of snow every year.  It was 80 degrees F (27 C) during the day and a cool 50 degrees F (10 C) at night.  Ahhh, relief.

Sunset Crater Volcano
      While we were there, we visited Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.  Sunset Crater is the youngest volcano in the San Francisco volcanic field 12 miles northeast of Flagstaff.  Its last eruption, about 900 years ago, is the most recent in a six million year history of volcanic activity in the area.

Cinder dune
     There are many cinder dunes in the area.  These are older, smaller volcanos that are covered with cinders from the last eruption of the Sunset Crater volcano.  Vegetation is still slowly returning to the area.  Pink penstemon and scarlet gilia grow in the black cinders in the summer, but we saw only a few.  There is no hiking allowed on the cinder dunes or Sunset Crater volcano because the area is fragile and dangerous.  Lava and cinder are sharp, brittle and unstable.  A fall on it is not a pleasant experience.

Wupakti Pueblo
     We also saw Wupakti Naional Monument 20 miles northeast of Sunset Crater.  This area is dry high desert.  Indigenous Native Americans (Hopi, Zuni, Navajo) built pueblos and farmed here for about 100 years.  The Wupakti Pueblo was built in the 1100s and occupied until about 1250.  It was a multi-level high-rise that had about 100 rooms.

     There is dramatic and abrupt changes in elevation and climate in a relatively short distance as you travel from Sunset Crater volcano to the Wupakti Pueblo area.  The area changes from mountainous ponderosa pine, to middle elevation pinon pine, to grassland, to sparsely vegetated high desert.  This greatly increases the biological diversity of the and and was quite a sight for this gardener to see.

Garden Ornaments

Wind Chime
     Gardeners do a lot of planning to get just the look and layout they want each season.  We plan for plant height, color combinations, fragrance, foliage, and fresh flower cuttings to bring inside our homes.  We plan for sun, shade, trying new plants and native plants, and discarding rejects.  And we accessorize our gardens.  Accessories give a final, personal stamp on our designs.  Many gardeners put much effort into ornamenting their gardens.  I have seen gardens with complete fairy villages tucked in among the plantings.  Some gardeners design an area of their garden or yard for their grandchildren and embellish it accordingly.

     There are a few ornaments in my garden and yard, but I have not given a lot of thought and planning to accessorizing.  I have always wanted to have a sitting area intergrated in my gardens or out in the yard.  But I have only had decks or patios attached to the house with seating.  A gazing ball is another item I would like to try, but I have never had a garden where it would "fit."  I do possess a large, heavy wind chime, but I had to take it down.  It is so frequently windy here; it was clanging pretty loudly most every day.  I was afraid it was disturbing the neighbors, and the constant clanging was starting to bug my  husband and I.  There is a small, quieter one out in the yard.
Solar Lights on backyard path

Solar star

     Lighting provides a dramatic touch to a yard and garden at dusk and at night.  I have solar lights lining my backyard path, and a single solar star with changing colors that provides interest in the flower garden at night. 


     Some of nature's own handiwork can be used as ornamental touches in the garden.  There is a large boulder that sits in the center of my flower garden.  It is outfitted with hidden plumbing, so it is also a water feature.  Water comes out the top and flows over the sides when a switch is turned on.

Boulder water feature
     There is a variety of garden decor to choose from:  decorative stakes and planters, fountains, statues and sculptures, spinners, stepping stones, birdbaths, topiary frames.  Here are two more photos of my limited garden ornaments.  What do you have in your garden?

Garden angel

Painted metal lizard

Slow Garden, Slow Home

Celosia and Vinca
     With the continued heat things are really slowing down in the garden.  This extremely uncomfortable week started with 117 F (47C), went down to 115 F (46C) for two days, and then dropped to 113 F (45C).  My reliable summer bloomers - roses, celosia, and vinca - are doing fine.  The zinnias and the moss rose are doing ok so far.  But my cosmos are fading fast, and some of the marigolds don't look good.  Everything else has died or stopped blooming for the summer.  I have found that if you water at least twice per day, you can keep some flowers alive here in the summer.  I tried with my petunias.  They will stay green and produce a few blossoms, but they won't be vigorous and full of flowers.

But I don't want to spend the extra effort and water when other plants will do much better in the heat.  Even flowers that can take the heat have to be watered daily in summer as opposed to three times a week the rest of the year. We get about eight inches of rain a year.  The last time we had rain was in March. I don't do much in the garden now, except to prune dead blooms or pull out dead plants.  So I have a slow garden, but what I'd like is a slow home.

     The slow home movement, inspired by the slow food movement, is a philosophy of home design that emphasizes livability and sustainability.  To me that means a home that is easy to live in and works for me.  It could mean different designs for different family needs.  Slow homes eliminate little annoyances that are irritating or stressful.  Some of these annoyances would include:  bathrooms that open directly into living areas, an entry area without a closet or place to put stuff (keys, mail, backpacks, purses), indoor areas without good daylight, bedrooms without adequate closet space, bathrooms without sufficient counter space, rooms with wasted space.  Slow homes have a smaller footprint, reduce unnecessary energy consumption, and incorporate green building principles.  The slow home movement will grow because consumers will tire of the products builders are turning out:  cookie cutter houses with extravagant features and square footage that are costly and difficult to live in.  It is all about good design.

Dying Cosmos