March 9, 2013

Late Winter in the Sonoran Desert

Saguara Cactus ( Carnegiea gigantea)  punctuate the desert on a chilly hike in March, in Arizona's Desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix. I am here for a few days for a special blog event hosted by Troy-Bilt. 

It's a tough task, but someone has to do it. With 24 inches of snow dumped onto the home garden this weekend, I find myself in Arizona, enjoying the sun ( and hail!), and the late winter desert as a guest of Troy-Bilt, who has invited me to be one of their Saturday6 spokesmen. You'll hear more about my Saturday6 partnership with them soon, for now, I am just going to share a few images from the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, where the six of us Saturday6'rs visited today.

After the sun sets, the desert garden becomes even more colorful. No retouching here ( really!). Natures filter takes over
ones camera, and Photoshop can be left alone. Violet Opuntia sparkles on a chilly, evening in March.

The Sonoran Desert reminds me of vintage, black plasticViewmaster's. I know, it's sad, but it's true. ( I can hear you now....."what's a Viewmaster?" ). When I was a kid, my older brothers had Viewmaster's, and I remember the disks of the Sonoran Desert as well as the ones of the National Parks of the Western United States. I suppose I am reminded of the Time Life Nature Series of books too, but that's way too much information. Plainly said, In my mind, the desert is surreal - existing as postcard images, cliches of how travel magazines, calendar's and Sunset Magazine portray the great South West, but if you ever get a chance to visit the deserts of Arizona or New Mexico, be prepared to be awed, for when experienced in real life, they can be awesome and life changing.

It's been cold this winter in Arizona, so many desert plants are either weeks behind, or even frost bit. This cactus was the only one we saw blooming on a hike yesterday. I have no idea what species it is.

Aloe longistyla, the Karoo Aloe, blooms, showing off it's trademarked "longi-styla" - those impressively long
 stamens and styles which impress the lady-aloes. (No, wait a minute..) The sexy bits extend from the mouth
of the up-curved blossoms and that is where this plant gets its name. In the world of aloes, this species is known
for its large blossoms and small, dwarf habit, as the plant forms small rosettes of foliage. New selections are being introduced for home gardeners, but this one is the pure species, as it is found in the wild.

Another, much taller aloe in bloom in the winter garden is Aloe striata, from the Cape Region of South Africa. This
species if popular with gardeners as it spineless. It also blooms profusely, as you can see, in large panicles, and botanists group these species together at 'Paniculate specie's'. Organizing similar species together makes identification easier.

A Barrel Cactus in fruit. Who needs flowers? Notice those nasty, yet amazing hooked spines.

I added three new birds to my lifelist - here, a Hooked-Billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre) gathers nesting material just before sunset. I also spotted some Gambel's Quail ( a covey?) and a nesting cactus wren. Oh yes, and
hummingbirds. lots, and lots of Hummingbirds.

A popular landscape plant that we are seeing everywhere in bloom right now is this Senna artimisioides v filifolia, or Green Feathery Senna. It is fragrant, and at first, I identified an un-bloomed specimen as a Grevillia species ( duh), but after some ID work, I now know better ( dumb New England Gardner here!). I wonder if I can grow this shrub
in my cold greenhouse?

 Light transforms a desert, especially in the evening when the air is still, and the thorn refract the evening light.
Like a painting, the desert shimmers and sparkles even without sunlight.

Of course, even with sunlight, it's not that bad!

Thorns are what makes the Ocotillo, or Fouquiera splendens, so splendid. This Southwestern native
is a common landscape plant in Arizona and New Mexico.

And what Botanic Garden would be complete, without a Dale Chihuly installation.

Soon I'll be writing about my new partnership with Troy-Bilt, but for now, I share this awesome sneak peak at a lawn mower I test drove this weekend in Scottsdale. I've fretted about accepting advertising and sponsorships for some time now,  for as many of you know, I don't accept a very much advertising ( and believe me, I get asked a lot!) or even sponsorships on this blog - but I think you will soon see why this offer from Troy-Bilt makes sense. I'm thinking a couple of really incredible giveaways here....just sayin'. A couple of you readers might be super happy come this summer.

 I'm a little bit selfish about design and space on these pages. For me,  visual design is very important, and honestly, I really don't need ads, especially if they don't add visually to the site. I do this for you too, as much as me. After great consideration, I've accepted to work with the nice folks at Troy-Bilt as a blog spokesperson for a number or reasons but mostly because it is a brand I really believe in.  We have many Troy-Bilt products in our own shed, a couple have worked the soil in our garden for over 30 years and have been handed down from my parents!


  1. If you have time, the
    Boyce Thompson Arboretum
    37615 US Highway 60
    Superior, Arizona
    (520) 689-2723
    is a nice place. It's a little out of the way and not quite as groomed as DGB, but still worth it.

  2. Some lovely pics there. The striata grows not very far from where I live and it puts up a great show, when they flower in the thousands. It is always a nice aloe, as you say, for the garden.

  3. Such stunning photos! Amy and I saw a cactus wren but didn't know what it was! It was actually pretty beautiful.

  4. Beautiful photos Matt! You are so wise in your knowledge of plant identification! You'll probably laugh when I publish my post about this garden. You and Noelle can help me with plant IDs. :-)



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