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Southwest Adventures: The Desert Comes to Life

By Benjamin Hill (BennysPlaceApril 3, 2009
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Do you believe in magic? As gardeners, I am almost certain that you do. I shall share with you a beautiful sort of magic that is unveiled twice a year in the low desert.

Gardening picture

The Easter season is upon us and with its arrival comes many traditions formed during our childhood. For me, we always watch The Ten Commandments which is still shown today on Easter and we also enjoy The Wizard of Oz shown usually a few days prior to Easter. I loved the Wizard of Oz and still do. The story is exciting and the effects were amazing considering the movie was made in 1939. August 25, 2009 will mark the 70th anniversary of this amazing, classic film and I anticipate a special ultra deluxe Blu-Ray edition with never before seen footage and extras to be released. We shall see.

ImageDo you remember the part in the film when Dorothy's house lands in Oz? The movie is still in black and white but takes on a sort of sepia tone and then, when she opens the door, everything is in color. As a child seeing that for the first time, you perhaps believed it happened by magic. I actually envisioned this to be the exact moment when color motion pictures were invented--just in time for Dorothy to discover Oz. How wonderful! Here in the desert, we experience a similar sort of magic.

The magic begins in a subtle way. At first, a few dots of orange and yellow appear as the Arizona poppies, brittlebush and desert marigolds make their presence known along the roads and parks. Soon after, the unmistakable fuchsia colored blooms of Parry's Penstemon join the display. Before long, the whole ensemble performs quite magnificently as the lupines, owl clover, fiddlenecks, and globemallows create the most beautiful symphony of color your eyes could ever hope to behold. I can honestly say that in all my travels I have seen nothing that compares to the awe inspiring colors and magic of the desert in bloom. What once appeared lifeless, dull and particularly unappealing suddenly burst forth into a beautiful, tranquil sea of life. Just as the Wizard of Oz switched from black and white to color, the desert transforms just as magnificently.

I will forever be thankful to Arizona Highways for being the first publication to inspire me to take part in this annual phenomenon. My fellow gardeners, if you have not witnessed a low desert taking bloom, you should add it to your "must do" list for you will witness something completely spectacular and humbling.

Desert Report and Where to Go

If you are interested in taking part in witnessing the desert wildflower symphony of color, the best resource is the desert wildflower report. This report gives details of the wildflowers currently being viewed in parts of Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico and Nevada. Wildflower hunters log in and share their experiences and give reports of where to view the best shows. Overall, you can gauge what sort of viewing year we will have by these reports. Even if it is not a banner year (which only happens every decade or so), there will always be something to see somewhere.

ImageIn Arizona, there are a few places I highly recommend:

Lost Dutchman State Park: Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman is located in the Sonoran Desert at an elevation of 2000 feet. There are a variety of hiking and nature trails and picnic facilities. I have yet to visit this location but it is continually recommended in Arizona Highways and the photos are stunning!

Picacho Peak State Park: Picacho is about 30 minute drive from Tucson. There are a multitude of trails and surprises around every corner. There are also places to have picnics. I have seen poppies, lupine and many other flowers at this location.

Tohono Chul: Located in Tucson, this is a gem of a place to visit. They have an intimate tea room and demonstration gardens with native plants. Their gift shop also sells nothing but native varieties of plants typically found within their grounds which makes it easy to replicate what you see as you wander around. I have seen poppies, lupine, owl clover and dozens more varieties at this location.

Inspirations for the Home Garden

ImageBeyond our gardens, we look to nature to provide inspiration and motivation to work the difficult soil found in the low desert. A typical hike through wildflower country typically results in a bit of a botanical adventure. I have determined through the years when the wildflower bloom will begin and end. The end is the easiest thing to predict. Once the temperatures soar, the wildflowers fade. The colors go out but the show is certainly not over. Once summer arrives, I take note of those plants that continue to stay green and better yet flower. I learn the names and head to a local nursery to purchase the same for my garden. I have learned -albeit the hard way - that if I intend to have success in this climate, I need to choose native plants. When I first arrived, I thought my selection was very limited until I walked along the desert canopy and discovered plants that can still perform despite the heat.

I hope I have inspired you today to come and have a look at our wildflowers. They really are a sight to behold. If you cannot make the trip to the beautiful Southwest, take to the roads and immerse yourself in your own native wildflowers. You will be so glad you did. Once you come back to your own garden, you will have such an appreciation for your native habitat and you can work your own magic in your own bit of earth.


While doing research for this article, I discovered another Dave's Garden article very much worth reading. Please read Focus on Encelia farinosa (Brittle Bush) by Jacqueline Cross. It is a wonderful article.

All photos 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.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
article jcoats123 1 4 Apr 10, 2009 6:04 PM
Fascinating! Fleurs 1 4 Apr 10, 2009 6:03 PM
Enjoyed your article roadrunner 4 27 Apr 5, 2009 5:54 PM
Thank you Benny ! dahlianut 1 10 Apr 5, 2009 5:43 PM
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