Each year, I grow new plants sent to me from Proven Winners to try out in my garden. The free plants are a perk to being a garden writer, but more importantly it is a chance to see how new plants, especially annuals, will perform in a gardener’s garden. It gives me true life experiences to write about.
What is also new this year is learning about my own new garden; a new location in a never-lived-in state. A state, I might add, with varying degrees of hot climate in a geography ranging from deserts to valleys to mountains.
While my Midwest sensibilities still have a tendency toward using cold hardiness zone maps, they are not useful in the low desert of the Phoenix area where I live, nor is that mindset. Although I am in a zone 9b, it is hardly the 9b of lush green Florida. Plants can withstand the cold here, but making it through a summer of our heat and dry conditions is another matter.
Spring and Summer
Beyond the sand, my first hint gardening in the southwest would be like nothing I ever experienced before played out when I saw trays of red geraniums being sold in December instead of pointsettias. Then came spring and summer.
Sure, I loved the fact I had an annual Snow Princess blooming in a hanging basket on my patio in February, okay that was spring. But summer, I think I was done in June.
Some numbers might help with perspective. On February 29th the high was 70 and the low was 44, aaahh perfect! On April 29, it was 93 and 66; May 7, 92 and 68; May 24, 99 and 76 and June 24, the high was 105 and low 87.
Coupling the temps with extremely low rainfall as a normal course of business and the skies over my garden mostly blue, it is no wonder low desert gardening has to be experienced to really understand the dynamics.
What I Learned This Summer Gardening
When the tag says “full sun,” I am thinking dappled shade. And, that dappled shade is my friend. Of course, if you live most other places Calibrachoa and Petunia should be in full sun, but here, not if I want them to live at least to June.
Of course, annuals are not the only plants tested. Never mind the Buddlea Lo & Behold ‘Ice Chip’ or ‘Lilac Chip,’ I loved the early flowers that showed me pretty colors but the leaves burned up quickly after curling, whether I had them in the ground or pot, whether they were in an eastern exposure or western exposure shaded by other plants.
I am hopeful of Panicum virgatum ‘Cheyenne Sky.’ I grew Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ in Ohio and loved the fall color. Here it is planted in the shade with only some dappled sun in early afternoon; it is growing even through the hottest days.
This is only the first year of my desert garden. Luckily the ability to stay gardening is rooted well in.
FYI – My sweet alyssum, Snow Princess did not finish out the summer. But, it had a long run, finishing out in the shadier part of the garden.