MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
Tuesday, December 26, 2000
It is unusually cold in Phoenix right now. Frost was on my car two days in a row. Brenda Kiehler reports that it is already so cold in Minnesota that the state legislators have their hands in their own pockets!
Although it is an ideal time to plant roses, bushes, and trees in Phoenix, they are seldom ordered during this period, as I mentioned in the last post. In January there will be panic buying of tomato plants, since they need to fruit before its get wretchedly hot. Fragile tomato cages will bought up faster than bottled water in the days preceding Y2K.
We are in the best period for all gardeners, the Pax Gardenorum (Peace of the Gardeners). During this blessed time, rose and seed catalogues arrive, inducing a dream-like state uninterrupted by actual work. Four-season gardeners have the good fortune of having last year’s mistakes covered by a blanket of snow.
I used to love having sunflower stalks reaching up through the snow in New Ulm. My mother thought they should be chopped down. I said, “Wait until winter. The birds will use them as look-out posts before landing for food.” Birds feel vulnerable when feeding, so they like to fly from their main post (a high tree) to an intermediate position before landing at the food, even if the feeder is hanging from a post.
I violated the Pax Gardenorum and entered into a remake of our yard, with the help of Jim’s Lawn Service. I have finally accepted that I am living in a desert valley and no longer in the Great Plains, where the topsoil is 10 feet deep and the rain falls steadily.
So now the soil is being leveled to receive 45 tons of colored gravel. No, our yard will not look like a cheap parking lot. We have 5 mesquites, 1 paloverde, and 1 saguaro planted in the rock. (It’s hard work imitating a desert landscape.) I will get some cacti to plant in areas where I formerly tortured roses, who returned the favor.
We have a narrow band of soil around our swimming pool. It has a good sprinkler system, which worked much better once I replaced the nozzles chewed off by Precious, our sheltie. Shelties love spraying water but they hate getting into the water. If she gets herself soaked, I often give her a quick bath on the top step of the pool. Although she is already dripping from head to tail, she goes into the dead dog routine as I drag her lifeless body to the pool. A friend told me his shelties is no different. In the same way, shelties must guard doors and small children. They love to watch their flock and protect their property. When Precious began her barking routine with one utility repairman, he said, “That’s OK. You are just earning your keep. Doing your job. I understand.”
Precious has unusual insights into visitors at our front door. When Christmas carolers began singing, she barked several times and left the door in disgust. The singers laughed at the critique of their music. When Jehovah’s Witnesses tried their doctrine on me, I said, “You are wolves in sheep’s clothing because you deny the Trinity.” Precious punctuated my sentence with a threatening guttural growl she seldom uses.
Where was I? Oh, the yard. The more I work on the yard and our water sources (waterfall, pool, spa), the more I see how hard it is to imitate God’s Creation. The pool requires 5 filtering agents and chlorine tablets to remain decent and clear, killing and filtering out algae. The waterfall needs its own electrical pump to create its natural effect. The spa needs a filter, chlorine, and an ozone maker. We design all these mechanisms to imitate nature, but modern man does not see the same mechanics behind the maintenance of God’s Creation.
In a pond the algae is food, with the plants and animals working together to form a self-cleansing and productive source of food and water for land based animals, insects, and birds. The sunlight is the power energizing the pond in Creation, warming and feeding. Algae loves sunlight and plenty of creatures love algae.
I keep trying to discover what plants will grow well in certain parts of the yard. Unfortunately, I have to deal with a large group of vocal critics who do not appreciate being near the Nicola Tesla of gardening.
I just had to have rugosa roses, after seeing them thrive in Minnesota. I learned when they arrived that rugosa roses are great plants for cold areas, a strategic mistake on my part. Of all the Simplicity roses I planted, one thrived and now is a large bush with plenty of pink flowers. It also has much more of a water supply than the other roses. Several roses did well because they were so overshadowed by other plants that they survived the sun, heat, and drying winds.
Mr. Lincoln was a rose I planted too near the rubber tree. The rubber tree overwhelmed the rose and the rose was also overwatered. Still, when I moved the rose I had a bloom with a 20 inch stem. That may explain why Mr. Lincoln is so popular after many years.
The best time to move a rose is when it is dormant. It is cool enough for that in Phoenix until late January. In four-season country, late fall or early spring will do. The best way to wake up a rose (any bush) is to prune it. Prune the canes. Prune the roots. Prune the deadwood away and prune the fruitful canes (John 15:1-10).
Moonflowers were just budding and blooming when the frost came, nipping the tender buds. But I can see that a new start in January will give me a lush vine with plenty of flowers. Our moonflower expert, Kathy Baker, reports that they need plenty of time to develop. Four-season gardeners may want to start them inside in early spring and transplant them. Since they are related to morning glories, moonflowers can be counted upon to germinate with maximum fussiness and to bloom with great abundance.
I have graveled most of the yard so I can concentrate on a few areas to garden. The sunflower patch will grow bamboo instead, to shade the west wall completely. I plan on growing various vines up the bamboo. Right now I have warty gourds growing on the ground. I also had some spinach, which I enjoyed until a member (name withheld) pointed out that the plants shared the same ground with Precious. I knew the gourds would be dug up very soon, so I encouraged the kids to lift up the vines and harvest all the gourds. They grabbed a pail and began plucking the gourds from the prickly vine. It’s always fun to harvest this way. I had more fun than the kids. The gourds will ripen and dry, then become light with seed rattling around inside. Warty gourds are purely decorative, but that’s ok.
I plan on surrounding the pool area with constantly blooming flowers and roses, with several large bushes. The camp honeysuckles are now large, green, and healthy, with plenty of flowers for bees and humming birds. The bougainvillea have sent up long branches filled with brilliant bracts. Zinnias proved how easily they seeded themselves. That’s what I like. Certain flowers will bloom abundantly and sow their own seed, so new plants are always getting ready to bloom again.
One of my experiments was to grow borage, an herb used in salads. The blue and pink flowers grow so abundantly that its nickname is “bee bread.” Bees work the blooms which turn into seed and fall to the ground. In the pool area I have quite a few borage plants ready to grow up and flower. They will be shoulder high to me and full of flowers. They love sun and water as much as zinnias. Oddly, they do just as well in Minnesota, although their growth is not so Paul Bunyanesque there.
Herbs usually love poor soil and seed themselves or grow well from spreading roots. Could God have planned this any better? The main medicine for mankind for centuries was the herb garden and anyone could grow herbs. Any soil will support herbs.
I love the aroma of basil, so I scattered basil seed around the pool. Now basil is already blooming. Some radishes are growing. I hope to get hollyhocks established against the wall. Once they are growing, they will also reseed themselves forever. That’s way many people look down upon hollyhocks and other self-seeding plants. They bloom easily and tend to be rather large and coarse looking, compared to the delicate varieties of flowers. Instead of despising them, I say admire them for the precision of their architecture. The hollyhock seedpod is a marvel, with little disks lined up in a circle.
God could have said, “Now there’s a good design. I will stick with that.” But no, He has many different ways of putting seeds in cases. The cat’s claw pod is long and slender, like a bean, with each thin seed wrapped in paper and overlapping the next. Wild goat’s beard looks like dandelion. Its seeds are airborne on little parachutes. Zinnias create dried up floor-mop-heads, loaded with seed. Thunk, they hit the ground. But birds and other animals pick them up to eat them. Then they are scattered. Or a bird will eat the seed and jettison some half-digested seed as waste. So then the seed is dropped as a fertilized bomb in the next yard or blocks away.
We can create micro-climates, but plants enjoy growing where they feel most at home. Some will not tolerate another home. Saguaro cacti will grow only in the Sonoran Desert. They are protected, licensed, and very valuable when they are 12 feet tall. They are the only plant to arrive with a tag on them. Yes, they are registered like automobiles in Phoenix. Even the tags are stolen, to facilitate stealing saguaros from the outlying areas and supplying them with tags. A mature saguaro will produce one million seeds in one cycle, but it is unlikely that any of the seeds will turn into a mature plant.