Saturday, January 18, 2014

Now for Something Completely Different

The January thaw is over; it is snowing again; the temperature is below freezing. I think its time for something warming. It is time to recall my visit to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. My son and his family live in Arizona, so when we visited their beautiful home, my son (who knows his mother well) arranged a trip to the botanical gardens, so that I could get my 'flower fix.' Yes, it is very different from my English cottage garden, but majestically beautiful. From the 50 feet tall saguaro cactus (above) to the tiny desert marigold, the Desert Botanical Garden has more than 2,000 species of desert plants from around he world. Here are some of my favorites ...

Agave Plants in the Boulder Garden
Creosote Bush Larrea tridentata

The creosote bush is so named because the plant smells like creosote after the rain.

I wish the flowers on the pincushion cactus were in bloom during our visit. They have a very short bloom-time and we just missed it.

Pincushion Cactus Mammillaria‎ sp.

A gila woodpecker made a hole in the side of a saguaro cactus -- he moved too quickly to allow me to take his picture, but I love the shape of the hole ...

Gila Woodpecker's Nest

The Arizona ground squirrel appears much cuter than our gray squirrel, I think. They are called ground squirrels because they burrow in loose soil, often under mesquite trees and creosote bushes. To my amazement, they are extremely active even in very hot weather. (Rather like my youngest grandson - he is in the picture at the end.)

Round-Tailed Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus tereticaudus)

We saw some very prettily-marked lizards, but I am unable to identify any of the species.

Lizard (species unknown)

The beautiful brittlebrush is an evergreen shrub that grows to 5 feet. It has daisy-like flowers that bloom throughout the year following rains. I was not aware that it rained before we arrived, but the brittlebrush blooms were joyous.

Brittlebrush Encelia Farinosa

The Garden includes plants from deserts all around the world. The baja fairy duster is a shrub that is a native of Mexico. The red stamens on its blossoms give it its name ...

Baja Fairy Duster Calliandra californica

We saw some magnificent organ pipe cacti. They grow to a height of 20 feet.

Organ Pipe Cactus Stenocereus thurberi

Unfortunately, I failed to record the names of all the plants we saw ...

Are these the blooms of the century plant?

As my friends know, I am very fond of English hedgehogs, so you can imagine I was fascinated by a plant called Engelmann's Hedgehog. It is named for the botanist and physician George Engelmann, and is indeed quite hedgehog-like. Again we missed its beautiful blooms.

Hedgehog Cactus Echinocereus engelmanni

I guess vegetable gardens look similar the world over. The fenced-in garden here, with its rectangular beds are a case in point. Unfortunately, I didn't get a close up picture that shows which vegetables were planted.

The Desert Botanical Garden has a butterfly garden and a bee garden. There were carpets of flowers in both, and we saw many pollinators.

Blackfoot daisies predominate on this carpet of flowers

Throughout the Garden are stunning sculptures that surprised us on the various Garden trails. They were created by artist Dale Chihuly who revolutionizing the Studio Glass movement. Yes, his exciting sculptures are made of glass! He is renowned for his ambitious architectural installations around the world.

Three Chihuly sculptures at the entrance to the Gardens.

On a recent visit to my home, my son was amazed to see that I grow prickly pear in my Pennsylvania garden. It reliably returns to life after the harshest of winters and blooms in the middle of June.

Prickly Pear Cactus Opuntia spp.

My prickly pear is located at the end of a cottage garden border. As you can see by the buds in the picture below, it can bear more than 50 blooms. It is one small connection to my Arizona family.

Recalling my visit to the Desert Botanical Garden has warmed me on this cold wintery day as much as a chunky sweater. I hope it warmed you, too.

Pamela x

My grandson making flour in the children's activity area

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Three BIG Gardening Resolutions for 2014

It is a blue and white day: blue sky; white snow; long, blue shadows from the bright sun. It is cold, with a windchill below 0 degrees F (that's below -17 degrees C my English friends.) I can't complain because it is even colder in much of the country. Taking pictures in this weather is a challenge, so most of the photographs on this posting were taken from the warmth of the den through a dirty window -- it's too cold to clean windows. I did brave the elements to take a couple of macros. Of course, I am not satisfied with the quality of the pictures; I'm never happy with them. This is the year I am going to work to improve my photography -- the first of my three big resolutions for 2014.

I took these pictures with my trusty Nikon Coolpix L120. I loaded them into iPhoto and did a little cropping where necessary, but no other enhancing. Last year I purchased a Cannon Rebel T3/EOS 1100D and enrolled in classes at the local community college. I was determined not to use the new camera on auto setting, but to take RAW pictures, so I would have complete control of the results.  This was a difficult task for me, especially at my advanced age -- 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' and all that. When I became ill in September, I had to drop out of the photography class, but now I am feeling better, and although not completely recovered, I believe I am ready to take up the challenge again. So my dear friends, I hope you will notice an improvement in my pictures as the year progresses.

 'Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle ... a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.' -- Barbara Winkler

I'm sure I wont have any difficulty keeping my second big resolution for 2014 because I can't wait to start. It is to make at least one miniature garden. I wrote about miniature gardening here and here. I purchased some miniature garden accessories -- arbor, fence, bench, fairies, water cans, and such. I have some containers I believe will work, and some plants including my miniature hostas. I am going to get busy sketching some plans, so that when spring finally arrives I will be ready.

If my miniature garden creations are successful, I would like to make a how-to presentation with photographs and an actual example. I regularly teach gardening workshops at the Older Adult Learning Center at East Stroudsburg University and I think this topic will prove popular if I can pull it off.

My third resolution is the biggest, most important, and most difficult one for me: it is to write every day. You are thinking "What's the big deal?" Well, I have been writing a gardening book for years and at first I thought my resolution should be to complete the book in 2014. But when I consider why the book isn't finished, I realize it's because I procrastinate and making a resolution wont stop that. I have perfected numerous excuses why I don't write and they are all pathetic like, "the kitchen floor has to be mopped." Well, maybe that's a bad example; a truer one is, "I must finish reading this book" (I read at least one book, usually a novel, each week.) My excuses are a bit more acceptable in the gardening season when there is actual work to do outside, but we have nearly 6 months when gardening is impossible in this climate. I don't know why I procrastinate, because I really love to write. (I bet there are other writers who understand my problem.)

I was inspired by Stephanie Vanderslice's article in the Huffington Post, 'The Geek's Guide to the Writing Life: a Challenge for 2014'.  Stephanie talks about writers' resolutions and concludes that the most attainable one is 'write every day.' If you are a writer, click on the link to see why I decided to make it my goal.

I feel my goal to write every day can include blog writing, articles for the newspaper, my garden journal, and of course my book. Who knows, I might even accomplish something this year, maybe even finish the book. My book is about creating an English cottage garden in less than ideal conditions -- the easiest things to grow in this area are rocks. Wish me luck, and please pray I have the good health to achieve my goals.

Of course, gardening resolutions from previous years still stand: continue to simplify, test the soil, use compost and mulch, etc. Have you made any gardening resolutions this year?

 'A garden is never so good as it will be next year.'-- Thomas Cooper

I hope 2014 is your best gardening year ever!

Pamela x

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