I felt that way until I took the County Extension course and became a certified Master Gardener. I often don’t feel all that masterful, but I have become pretty knowledgeable about gardening in the low desert. And, I’ve discovered there’s a long list of native plants that will flourish in a home garden setting. I love the native plants because they bring wildlife right into my yard. I see more critters in my backyard than I do out hiking in the preserve.
Of course native plants have not been bred for urban gardens, and they don’t look great all the time. They can take on a weedy aspect and you’ll want to trim. Before you get too hasty, remember the seeds are food for quail, finches and sparrows. When the rains come or spring rolls around native perennials revitalize with buds and flowers. The hardy plants provide shelter and sustenance to birds, butterflies, lizards and native bees. Watching the interaction of plants and animals in my back yard connects me to the seasons and the natural world.
Maricopa County Extension Master Gardeners, Desert Botanical Gardens, Boyce Thompson Arboretum all have plant sales coming up. Sale organizers stock primarily native plants and non-natives that are well acclimated to our climate. I always come home from the plant sale with something new to try. (Understatement! I’m the crazy gardener you can barely see behind the loaded shopping cart.) Many native perennial finds have become favorites in my garden. Flame aniscanthus and chuparosa are great examples. These tubular bloomers are absolute magnets for hummingbirds and I always want to plant more.
The handsome creosote with its striped branches and lovely form graces gardens and desert alike with vivid green foliage and cheerful yellow flowers. This drought tolerant native looks great year around and requires no pruning and no irrigation once established. Creosote flowers are the only food source for twenty two species of bees. Small rodents dig burrows under its protection and share those hidey holes with lizards and other critters.
The folks from Az Herb Association introduced me to the cone head thyme. The name makes me giggle and the herb possesses a pleasingly pungent fragrance and a profusion of lavender flowers. As cone heads are hard to find, I’m trying my hand at raising some seedlings.
Last spring I discovered an elusive Superstition mallow (Abutilon palmeri) at a sale. The leaves are flamboyant, not like your usual desert-adapted. The mallow has grown into a pleasing addition to the garden. It flaunts its furry heart shaped leaves while bees shuffle together between the buttercup petals of its flowers like dancers on a packed dance floor.
See sidebar for sale dates and locations.