I live in Tucson, Arizona and the best part of the year is upon us. I tune into the news to listen to local meteorologist Chuck George tell us about the weather. It is getting cooler at night and we most likely won't see triple digits again until June. It's time to go outside!
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 7, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Yes, friends, it is the moment we in the Southwest have been waiting for: Autumn! Since moving here five years ago, I have come to look forward to the cooler days of autumn more than any other time of year. A cool breeze is carried on the morning air and everything in the garden is given fresh new life. All those plants that had been languishing in the heat seem to perform on queue and seemingly overnight colour abounds. During the spring I planted several tomato plants and my yield was well below average. After consulting with friends in the SW Garden Forum, this is not unusual. When planting tomatoes here in the spring, they must bloom, set fruit and mature before the temperatures soar into the upper 90s and dreaded 100s. You can increase your chance of success by planting cherry tomatoes and yellow pears. The 'Sweet 100' tomatoes supposedly do well here throughout the summer as well. Not in my garden, I am sad to say. I have mentioned before that growing tomatoes here is an art form I have yet to perfect. As the days of summer started coming to an end, I was told DON'T remove your tomato plants. Trim them back a bit, fertilize them and you will reap the benefits of a second harvest. Well, I have done just that. I trimmed dead vines, picked off a few tomato horn worms (cheeky buggers), added some epsom salts and fertilizer made especially for tomatoes and now I will wait. The foliage is taking on a lovely bright green and the thumbnail size flowers are making a welcome appearance. Time will tell if the delicious fruit will follow.
With the tomatoes providing their encore performance, it is time to prepare the beds for a crop of winter vegetables. This is THE time of year to grow many varieties of vegetables in the low desert. I have consulted one of my desert gardening bibles, A Desert Gardener's Companion by Kim Nelson, and her words have spurred an excitement deep within. I am dedicating more and more of my garden to vegetables. In fact to prepare for this winter planting, I have donated many ornamentals to friends and family to make more room for food. Kim writes of peas, arugula, oak leaf lettuce, broccoli, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, bush beans and onions. Renee's Garden Seeds offered many of the varieties Kim wrote about. I am ecstatic that I will soon have a variety of carrots, broccoli, beans and peas in neat little rows in my newly prepared vegetable bed.
But wait, that's not all! I was speaking to a beloved member of our little forum and she mentioned I could also grow celery. I love celery and if I could have fresh celery from the garden in time for Thanksgiving, it would be a blessed day indeed! I purchased a variety called 'Tall Utah' from TGN's Pumpkin Nook. This is the same variety the member of our forum grew, so I should have some success.
Interlude: Here's a little fact I will share with you about celery. Did you know celery has so few calories eating it results in NEGATIVE calories? It's true. The amount of energy used in chewing and digesting celery is greater than the vegetable itself. So, not only is it a healthy snack but the ultimate food in weight loss! So, if you live in a mild climate, why not buy some seed and plant celery for a wonderful healthy snack! Not to mention, it is the all-important ingredient for Thanksgiving stuffing.
Get your nasturtiums started
In the SW Garden Forum, there seems to be a favorite plant among many of the members: nasturtiums. It is not hard to see why. The nasturtium is actually a herb known for its peppery tasting foliage and flowers. I love the nasturtium for its glorious, intricate flowers. There are many sites devoted to many varieties of these vintage garden staples. This year I ordered 'Peach Melba', 'Strawberry Ice', 'Creamsicle', 'Tip Top Mix' and 'Jewel' from Sunrise Seeds. Thank you Fish_Knees for letting me use the photo and to azreno for telling us all about Sunrise Seeds. It is a GREAT place to get a wide variety of Nasturtiums.
Don't forget the cool-season annuals
My garden is not completely devoid of ornamentals. There are many plants who will always hold a special place in my heart, and consequently a place in my bit of earth. I will be honest and say I have never been a huge fan of annuals but there are some which tug at my heartstrings. Pansies, vintage stock and wallflowers can all be planted soon. It is the pansy that I love the most. Their smiley faces with radiant colours exude happiness and exemplify the care free nature a garden can evoke. Stay tuned for an article devoted entirely to these whimsical fancies of nature.
Pansies with their friendly faces
Vintage Stock with their delicious scent
The unique beauty of the wallflower
Finally, this is the time of year we in the Southwest can plant our sweetpeas. Oh the sweetpea. All gardeners must grow sweetpeas at least once in their lifetime. The perfume from these beloved, nostalgic plants is a blend of the sweetest fragrances of heaven itself. This will be the first year I have sown my sweetpeas at the proper time of year since living here. For a desert dweller, October is when the seeds should be placed in the ground. I have heard so many conflicting stories but it took the helpful advice of one who has been gardening in this region for many years to set me straight! This year I shall be planting some vintage varieties including 'Lord Nelson' (a cultivar bred in 1907 with navy blue flowers), 'Winston Churchill' (with rich, crimson red blooms) and many other vintage favorites.
The gardens are alive in the desert southwest. We have been waiting patiently for the summer months to end, much like someone from the north waits for the winter to end. We are finally able to go outside and enjoy our bit of earth in comfort and relaxation. We shall sow and plan for a winter harvest and share with each other our successes and learning experiences. I have mentioned a variety of plants that we begin growing in the autumn but for many of you, these plants are grown in the spring. I pray I have inspired all of my Dave's Garden friends to think about what can be grown now or perhaps later when it is your time to sow.
Thumbnail image is royalty free from iStockphoto.com. Nasturtium photo is courtesy of Fish_Knees from the SW Forum. The pansies, stock and wall flower were taken by the author.
About Benjamin Hill
I am an old fashioned gardener. To me nothing is finer than the romantic cottage gardens. The colours and forms create a symphony to delight all the senses. I love to tell a good story and my garden provides my inspiration. I am blessed to have such a beautiful son and I enjoy teaching him to love and appreciate the goodness, peace and fulfillment tending a garden can bring. Finally, I shall be forever grateful to Alan Titchmarsh for inspiring me to get out there and make something out of a little bit of earth.