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By: Sandra Immerso, Board Member
For: Red Rock News
Date: April 23, 2010

National Garden Month

I have had the great fortune of being introduced to a good number of indigenous plants from a new friend and mentor, Mary. She has been studying the flora of the high desert land since her arrival to Sedona 2 years ago. 

As do many of us who move to Sedona from different climates, Mary has developed an acute awareness of the flora that survives and flourishes in this arid climate; and I appreciate being able to share our love of gardeningOne of the first flowers that emerges, offering its nectar to the bees before the arrival of spring, is the flowering Manzanita - Arctostaphylos pringlei or patula. Its clusters of pink bell-flowers herald the approaching spring season. We have observed four different species of bees gathering nectar from its flowers.            

Groundsel (Senecio multicapitatus) is first to appear as a weed due to spiky leaves that cling to the ground. From this unassuming beginning, this yellow wildflower grows a medium size stalk with daisy-like flower heads. Blooming in early May, it adds color to the red earth of Sedona and more beauty to this city.

You can find the native shrub known as the Mormon Tea Plant or the Long Leaved Joint-fir (Ephedra trifurca) already showing its clusters of little yellow-orange flowers. Mary made a delicious iced tea from this shrub. But be careful, this plant can be confused with the Crucifixion Thorn plant and the Chinese Ephedra plant that has reportedly been used as an unhealthy stimulant. Until I can be sure that I can identify this plant, I’ll refrain from brewing my own tea. 
In my first experience of the spring season in Sedona, I decided to let anything that would, grow. I innocently enjoyed the flowering of plants and weeds alike.  Today, with a growing understanding of the environment through friends such as Mary and the indispensable resources found at the Sedona Public Library, I am learning about the importance of xeriscaping, soil, ph levels, compost, mulch, seed and flower selection.

One of the many wonderful guides for the novice gardener available at the Sedona Public Library is the “Reader’s Digest Beginners Guide to Gardening.” I found the wide array of material at the Sedona Public Library to be extremely helpful. Our Library shelves books and reference material pertaining to arid, desert and indigenous vegetation. Jennifer Bennet, author of “Dryland Gardening” not only discusses drought-tolerant flowers, but the need to heatproof the gardener from the incredible heat. She also encourages a garden that fulfills our desires for peace and renewal. Where better than Sedona to work outside and enjoy the serenity of both the Red Rocks and flora?

This being my second spring season in Sedona, the anticipation of spring with its burgeoning flora has me in my garden and out on the trails searching for signs of life. There is much to learn about this whole new group of plantsthat inhabit the Transition Zone of the Mogollon Rim and the upland desert of Sedona. Kudos to gardening books and their photographs.

The very idea of having to purchase soil for my vegetable garden was undoubtedly my first introduction to gardening in the southwest.  Adding compost, mulch, and organic soil came first to buying seeds or plants. Then as you watch the shoots pop out of this new-bought soil you are cautioned to cover the plants before something other than yourself gets to eat them.  Now covered from animals, the sun beats down and your plants dwindle before your eyes.  So you water and water, but be careful not to when the sun is shining on them. As the ground warms and you water, weed, nurture and enjoy the growth, someone reminds you that you’re not always alone in your garden. And right they are! While planting one day, I saw a snake curled up alongside my garden. I ran in to take a picture to show a friend and was informed it was a Mohave rattlesnake. Welcome to the Wild West.

But for the sake of floral beauty we persist. Planting a perennial garden brings joy to the soul. Starting with Leyland Cypress Hedges, which attract birds, I planted Arizona Sun Gaillardia, which attracts butterflies and has a red flower daisy-like petal dipped in a golden yellow. Then the Limerock Ruby Coreopsis blooms all summer and fall. It is both drought-tolerant and great for sunny borders. I mixed some Coreopsis Grandiflora Presto, which grows in the shape of a globe, with some Perovksia Atriplicifolia (or Russian Sage), for a nice contrast. I’ve planted Campanula, as ground cover under a sickly plum tree we rescued last fall. The name means bell for its bell-shaped flowers. Campanula does best in well-drained soil with some shade, ergo under the tree.

After much research at the Library and local Nursery, I am hoping to watch these vibrant colors fill my courtyard all summer and fall. Planting low maintenance perennials lessens the work and increases the joy. The flowers on the weeping cherry and plum trees are incredibly beautiful and it is almost sad to see them replaced by their leaves. The Agastache (Hummingbird Mint) now has its leaves and is a welcoming sight to the migrating hummingbirds. A great indicator that spring has sprung is the Anna Hummingbird, our year-round resident.

The Grape Hyacinths look best in groups, edging a garden bed, and are the first signs of spring. They are hardy little bulbs that act as a camel’s hump, storing moisture and nutrients to survive periods of drought. Bulbs need a dry period for survival; too much water causes them to decay. Dig them up after the foliage has died and separate the clumps to propagate in other places.

Our cold-loving annuals such as Pansies, Snapdragons and Stock are already in bloom. Remove them from the pots and plant them to enhance any garden. Somewhat more expensive than on the east coast, are beautiful Geraniums. Planting red Geraniums along a walkway or adorning a stairway, adds a European touch all summer long. 

For late spring, the Black-Footed Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum or Aster), a low growing plant, blooms with brilliant white daisies. Although they do not last long, they appear as a bouquet of flowers set upon the ground. As you drive along the highway in the Valley of Phoenix, Lantana blooms nonstop until the weather turns cold. Butterflies love its flowers, and the fruit is eaten by birds, which then distribute the seeds. Remember this plant is watered on the highways and needs water until it becomes established and then is drought-resistant. I am experimenting.

The native perennial Snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) is very abundant in Arizona. This wonderful drought-tolerant plant disperses seedlings to the surrounding soil, helping fill in those blank areas left from construction sites. It has taken a full season for them to set in good roots and now they are ready to present a show of delicate yellow aster-like flowers on tall stalks.  Expect the Snakeweed to blossom in late spring and into the fall. 

Cacti, native to the Western hemisphere, were given the Greek name Kaktos meaning cardoon or thistle. Supremely adapted to drought, the stem enlarges to hold water. Flowering is more prevalent after rainy seasons. We should anticipate lots of cactus flowers this spring. 

I would be remiss not to mention the giant Cottonwoods that bring the most golden color to their leaves each fall. Red Rock State Park has an enormous array of Cottonwood and Sycamore trees that provide welcomed shade to enthusiastic hikers lucky enough to get a last trek in before the closing this June. Hopefully monies raised at the recent fund-raiser, A Day at the Park, will help keep our park open. Juniper trees have already pushed their pollen into the spring air and you can see yellow dust burst out as the birds land on their branches.

In conclusion, as we approach Arbor Day (meaning tree day), let’s remember to plant a tree, flower, plant or vegetable garden and watch it grow.  Nature truly beautifies our Earth. Honor our earth by using recyclable bags, as plastic bags hurt marine animals. Be kind to our Earth and take the time to watch the flowers grow!

Sandra Immerso, author of this week's article,
is a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Sedona Public Library.

Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News
and is also presented on: Gateway to Sedona and Sedona Biz.