Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 27, 2009. 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.)
It was a late September when we moved into our new Tucson home and the cooler weather not only made the move that much more bearable but presented the perfect time to start a new garden. Before helping unpack boxes, I went outside to stare at the canvas that lay before me. So much work needed to be done and I was grateful we moved at a time when I could do it. The hard clay needed to be removed and I had to get to work on improving the soil if I was going to make anything of this bit of earth. As I stared, the barren ground transformed into greens, reds, oranges, yellows and fuchsias of various desert plants that might have a chance in the desert heat. The dead tree would have to come out and a new one planted. Perhaps a raised bed instead. The visions were coming thick and fast and I was anxious to put them all into action. I was brought back to reality when the sliding glass door opened and my wife's pleading eyes asked if I was going to help unpack and arrange the house. The garden would have to wait.
After a couple days, the inside of the house was sorted and I could once again return to my grand plans of creating my new garden. I had two foundation potato bushes that were severely overgrown so on the first morning I trimmed both down to a respectable size and then tried my hand at pushing a shovel into the rock hard clay dirt. It turns out that clay is actually called caliche and it is incredibly resistant to a shovel. To top it off, it also prevents drainage so I dug down as far as I could go (using a pick ax) and I then mixed in some gypsum with quality soil and compost and little by little the beds came together.
After the first year, I had something of a foundation started but I could never properly enjoy it. I was thankful when autumn rolled around once again because I could then go back to working on the garden properly. Autumn came and went, as did winter. It was spring again and the only thing on my mind was the dreaded summer heat and knowing my ability to be outside and work was coming to an end. I planted here and there, moved plants around, set aside spaces to grow crops and all the while magic was happening everywhere. Certain plants were beginning to naturalize and spread out. This is what I wanted. I welcomed self seeding and spreading and massive growth. I now realize I was so busy with what was going to come next, I did not take enough time to enjoy the beauty of what was happening at the moment.
The second year had come to an end and I was pleased with what I had accomplished and was sure I could spend most of the winter enjoying the fruits of my labor. It turns out my restless hands and legs had other plans. More changes were made and finally as I was about to welcome my third summer in our home, the garden had taken on a form I was very pleased with. Everything looked right and it felt right. I knew that this autumn and winter, I could finally relax outside and enjoy the mild temperatures without feeling there was something that needed to be done apart from routine maintenance and annual planting of seeds, bulbs, etc.
Well, I think John Lennon said it best: Life is what happens, while you are busy making other plans. It turns out, I will not be able to enjoy my garden this autumn or winter or any season thereafter for it will have to go on without me. I received news that to keep her job my wife has to relocate to another city. We will be off on a new adventure and I just hope and pray we can find a home that has a garden where I can once again make something out of a little bit of earth.
We rent our home and one of the provisos for my being able to create something beyond the typical rock landscaped, featureless ‘yard' was I had to put it back the way it was when I leave. This is now my current task. I am ripping out plants that would not survive on a meager watering schedule and sharing them with friends and as I do this a funny thing has happened. As I am no longer distracted by all the work that needs to be done and I am forced to be out in the garden in the summer, I am noticing so many things. Cheerful Johnny Jump Up's have managed to survive in a shaded spot as they snuggle under the protective cover of evening primrose. I have a multitude of monarch caterpillars devouring an entire crop of volunteer milkweed that has made its home seemingly everywhere. I planted the milkweed specifically for this purpose and only now do I notice I was successful. Rain lilies have spread like wildfire and many have blooms. I could go on and on. This morning, I stared across the garden reminiscent of the first few days I studied this piece of earth and dreamed of what I could do with it. It is in shambles and in complete transition but it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It just took having to give it all up to realize that.