Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Bountiful School Garden

Where did you learn about gardening? 

I have shared about learning to garden as a young child when my dad gave me my own little plot of land and let me plant whatever I wanted.

Later, I learned more about gardening in school.  It was an elective gardening class and it was one of my favorites. 

So last fall, when I was asked to visit and help out the Johnson Elementary School Garden Club.  Of course, I said "yes".



As I walked into the school, I spotted a greenhouse and rain barrel sitting in the courtyard.     I was getting excited to see what else they had and wondered how I could help.


Farther in, I saw raised vegetable beds, which were implementing the 'square-foot' gardening method for growing vegetables.

Once I arrived at the classroom where the gardening club met, I was greeted by several teachers and the students themselves.  This is an after school club that is made up of 5th and 6th graders.  It is a very popular club as was evident by the filled classroom.

I was asked to talk with the students and was then taken around to see even more of what they were learning about.


I was blown away by their aquaponic garden and grow light set up.  

After viewing the classroom, our next stop was a prospective area where they wanted to grow vegetables, which they called "The Back Forty Garden".


Along the wall that bordered the school, was a raised bed.  Their question for me was how and if they could grow vegetables in this area.

The answer was "yes", but there were some challenges to deal with.

First, there was no irrigation, so drip irrigation would have to be added.  The second challenge was that this wall faced west, so growing vegetables in summer would be almost impossible without shade cloth.  But, growing vegetables fall, winter and spring would be fine.

I talked about how to amend the soil with compost, composted steer manure, blood and bone meal.  I gave them information on what vegetables to plant and when.

Fast forward 6 months later and I received a very nice email along with photos of the new vegetable garden.


I love the painted mural, don't you?


As you can see, a variety of vegetables were planted along the long length.  Wouldn't you love a garden space this big?


The kids planted the vegetables and later harvested them.  Each kid got to take home some of the bounty.


Look at these proud faces!

School gardens are a great resouce as they teach kids about the environment and nature.  Most of all, it can inspire a lifelong passion for gardening.  

I wonder how many of the kids in this photo will have vegetable gardens of their own when they are grown up?  Once you get a small taste of growing your own vegetables, it's hard to stop.

The teachers who work with the Garden Club at Johnson Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona are wonderful people with a passion for teaching and gardening.

What a perfect combination!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

4 Furry Bundles Behind the Lilac Vine

Have you ever had your day take a completely different turn than you anticipated?  Mind certainly did and it all started with a discovery behind the lilac vine.

My day was off to a great start.  I didn't have any appointments or looming writing deadlines.  Couple that with a weather forecast in the 70's, I decided to spend a few hours working in the garden.

Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) back in February.

One of the things that I needed to do was to prune back my purple lilac vines now that they were finished flowering.  They just needed a little light pruning to keep them from growing into my new lemon tree.

While I was pruning the vines, my little dog, Tobey, was trying desperately to get underneath  one of the vines.  I assumed that it was a lizard, but I couldn't call him off.


Now, Tobey, is our little rescue dog who thinks that he is big and tough, but truth be told, he's not.  But, when I had to carry him inside because he wouldn't leave the vine alone, I suspected that there might be something else going on.


I slowly approached the vine and heard something growl.  Concerned that there may be an injured animal, I slowly parted the leaves and a cat ran out and jumped over the fence.

At this point, I assumed that it was a feral cat and that the problem was solved. 

But, I heard some rustling sounds and thought that I could see some movement in the dark confines of the vine's branches.  So, I ran inside to grab a flashlight so that I could see better.  The problem was, that while we had plenty of flashlights, all their batteries were dead.

So, I decided to use the flash light on my cell phone to see what was making the sounds at the base of the vine.

I slowly parted the leaves and saw what looked like little rats.


But, closer examination showed them to be newly born kittens.


I could hardly believe it!


They were just darling and I tried to count how many there were.  I think that there were four, but it might have been three.

*By the way, if any of you are compulsively neat and tidy gardeners, there is a reason to leave some fallen leaves alone underneath plants.  They breakdown adding organic matter to the soil, keep weeds down and help preserve soil moisture.  The kittens seem perfectly at home nestled in a nest of dead leaves.


I went back inside so the mama cat could come back.  She hopped to the top of the wall and waited to be sure that there weren't any humans or dogs nearby before climbing down and disappearing into the vines.


So what will we do?  

I talked to my sister who has worked with feral cats in the past.  It turns out they are incredibly self-sufficient.  We'll probably wait until the kittens are weaned and then trap the mother and get her spayed and then re-release her.

As for now, I need to break the news about the furry bundles behind the vines to my husband (who sleeps during the day) and the kids once they come home after school.  



In the meantime, the dogs have been banished to the side yard for the time being, much to their dismay...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Poppies in the Vegetable Garden

What do you have growing in your vegetable garden?

I have three separate gardens where I grow vegetables, but they aren't the only thing that are growing in the rich, moist soil.



There are also red poppies present alongside the Swiss chard and leaf lettuce.


It all started 4 years ago with a packet of red poppy seeds.

Thereafter, every year a new crop of poppies grow among the vegetables.


Poppies aren't the only flowers that come up each year on their own - blue lobelia, marigolds and nasturtiums are always make their presence known every spring.

For this of you who enjoy colorful annuals, how about giving them some space in your vegetable garden?  It has everything they need - fertile soil and water.

Do you have anything else growing in your edible garden?  What flower would you add?

Monday, April 13, 2015

"April Showers Bring Golden Flowers"

April in the desert garden is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful time of year.  Winter and spring-flowering plants (damianita, penstemon and 'Valentine') are just beginning to fade and summer blooms are beginning to appear (coral fountain, Texas sage and yellow bells)

But perhaps, the most colorful event in this month  is the flowering of palo verde trees.

Did you know that each species of palo verde has a different shade of yellow?

It's true.  The differences may not be obvious unless you see them next to each other, but I'll make it easier for you and show you some examples below.

Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

Foothills (Littleaf) Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla)

'Desert Museum' Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid 'Desert Museum')

Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox)

Every year, the arrival of the yellow flowers are met with delight by many and to the dismay of others.  Those that like unnaturally, pristine landscapes, without a stray leaf or fallen flower, don't like the flowers that they leave behind.

As for me, I like things mostly natural and the golden carpet that my 'Desert Museum' palo verde trees leave behind, area welcome sight.

Yesterday, I went on Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine's Grand Tour of Gardens.  The gardens we visited were spectacular, but we also passed by equally impressive landscapes.

This one in particular caught my eye, so my husband stopped the car and patiently waited while I took a few photos - this tends to happen often, so he is used to it.


While I liked the contemporary entry to the front flanked by desert spoon and with the columnar cardon cacti surrounded by golden barrels, it was the majestic 'Desert Museum' palo verde trees that caught my eye.


The plant palette was limited, which works well with contemporary design.  The flowers from the palo verde trees along the street decorated the grass and sidewalk, although they were badly pruned.


While my personal style is more informal, I do appreciate good, contemporary design and I really liked this pathway, although I believe a better species of agave that can handle full, reflected heat without growing too large would have been better - maybe Victoria agave?

I'm still loving the flowers.


My favorite picture is this one of the entryway which is covered with a solid carpet of golden yellow flowers, which contrast beautifully with the gray-blue walls and red door.

How about you?  Do you like the way flowers look on the ground once they have fallen?  Or do you feel the overwhelming impulse to blow them away?

**I'll be sure to share about my experience on the Grand Tour of Gardens, but I need time to sift through the hundreds of photos I took.**

I hope your week is off to a great start!


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