MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
GARDENS: THE ROSE OF THE DESERT
Weathercasters promised Phoenix, the Valley of the Sun, an end to its endless summer of heat and humidity three weeks ago. The economic factor was foremost for many of us, as we calculated how high our electricity bills would soar. Jungle climate continued and I began to identify with B movies about the South, where people sit on porches sweating profusely, gossiping languidly, hoping for rain, yet fearing the aftermath of hotter and more humid days and nights.
Ma: “Did you feed the dawg today?”
Pa: “Too tard.”
Ma: “Dawg’s gonn dah. Y’all haftah bury him.”
Pa: “Too tard.”
We changed from refrigeration (air-conditioning) to evap, a cumbersome process in this house. Metal sheets must be removed from the two refrigeration units on the roof the house. The evaps must be filled with water. Evaps were used in tropical India, only a servant had to fan the moist reed screen 24 hours a day, creating one cooled room. And the British wondered why the Indians wanted them out of their sub-continent? An evap is very inexpensive to run. A blower sends chilled moist air through the house. In dry weather it can drop the inside temperature to 70 degrees even though it is 100 outside.
Do not be too shocked. A 100 degree day in Phoenix is not considered very hot. A 90 degree day is ideal, because dry weather comes with the lower temperatures. But the monsoon season (high heat and humidity) can bring strong winds, high humidity, and 115 degree days. It feels like rain but seldom offers fulfillment.
So the evap works fine if the humidity is low. In hope and optimism we changed over to evaporation, two weeks early. Not to worry. The cool weather was only one week away. We could wait. They were wrong again.
Now we are finally in the cool season again, after setting records for heat and bad forecasts. The rain yesterday was not on anyone’s weather-map, but it dumped hail, rain, and cool weather on us.
One plant stood out as a champion this summer – the zinnia, the desert rose. That’s my new term for the zinnia. People grow roses for blooms and for greats swaths of color. The Simplicity roses from J & P and the floribunda class of roses are great for color rather than the bloom itself. God will not allow any rose to have all the characteristics we love: perfume, color, foliage, freedom from mildew and blackspot, tolerance of heat, immunity from cold, frequency of bloom, formation of buds and blooms. Hybrid teas have perfect roses, but they are leggy and seem to have no foundation for their platter-sized blooms. Yellow roses are eaten alive with blackspot. Perfect red roses have no perfume. The best perfumed rose, Fragrant Cloud, has a color no one can spin – brick-pink. Therefore, the roses creating the most blooms, great clouds of color, are plants with lots of poorly formed roses. No one will give you a dozen Simplicity roses. The floribundas are not cutting roses either.
But I digress. I have christened the zinnia the desert rose because it tolerates the Valley of the Sun and my gardening habits better than any other plant, including the sunflower, whose only fault in greed for water.
Details are sketchy, because I was engrossed in the book project and Cisco routers at the time, but I ordered a very large amount of zinnia seed, mostly red. I planted zinnia seed around the citrus tree, where it would get water, near the swimming pool fence, and around the swimming pool. A lot of zinnia seed does not cost very much money. A lot of roses do. I can order large amounts of flower and vegetable seed for several families and still spend only $25. That is the cost of two rose bushes, without shipping.
Zinnias love water and bask in the baking heat of Phoenix. Sunflowers demand swimming pools of water to reach 12 feet. Otherwise they pout and grow 3 feet tall with small seedheads, hardly worth the bother to plant them. Zinnias need water, but their smaller size means less demand. Secondly, they are not inclined to sulk when I forget to water them nor do they rot away when I over-water the plants.
Roses are notorious for being finicky about watering. We have clay soil, which can be very fertile (once the rocks are removed and organic matter added). Clay soil holds water too well. Digging a hole for roses and trees and filling it with good soil only makes the problem worse. The clay soil surrounding the more porous soil creates a dam and wrecks roots. The amateur desert gardener sees the roses wilting from rot and says, “Oh, I must water them even more.”
I have not turned against roses, even though they have betrayed my good intentions. Someone said, “Now you have two years of experience in desert gardening.” I replied, “Two years of humiliation and shame.”
I mentioned recently that my garden glorified God more than any other, because I put so little work into it. One wit added, “You can say that again.” I think gardens should be like old used book stores, full of surprises. I was at the Barnes and Noble today: too sterile, neatly piled predictable titles in apple pie order. Give me a store and a garden where the unexpected is routine.
Zinnias have dazzled us all summer and continue to bloom with abandon. At first I did not think the plants were going to be so hearty. They follow the same pattern as other plants in Phoenix. Once established as seedlings, their progress is astonishing. They remind me of tulips, large and boisterous in full bloom, eyesores in decline. Unlike tulips, zinnias reproduce well. The zinnia bud seems unpromising. When the flower appears, it is delicate and very attractive, but small. Then the flower matures and takes on the look of a large flower-shop mum, vivid colors, huge blooms.
The zinnia bloom is especially popular with beneficial insects. Bees work the flowers for their pollen. Butterflies favor them for their nectar. Doubtless the garden area around the pool looks like a 24 hour café to them. In addition, moonflowers are now blooming as well. As many of you know, all night-blooming flowers have two things in common: 1) they are white, because God knows color is no attraction at night; 2) they are heavily perfumed to guide insects to them.
Once a zinnia bloom begins to set seed, it fades. Slowly it begins to look like a floormop left to dry while leaning against a wall. Inside are plenty of seeds which easily germinate, grow, and bloom again. Many people grow zinnias for the summer and then collect the seed for the next year. I grab dried up blooms, crush them in my hand, and scatter the seeds in new places.
If someone asked me what flower to plant for children, I would suggest zinnias, because the flowers are so brilliant, the seeds so abundant, the plants so immune to the vagaries of weather.
One family is trying to raise their children without the joy of drying warty gourds. I have decided to intervene by growing as many as possible outside the chapel door, once the home of the sunflower patch, where mammoth sunflower heads bonked anyone who tried to run the gauntlet to the back yard.
Warty gourds have little purpose in life, but they are cute. They grow, bloom, and fruit quickly. I planted (yes planted, those seeds cost a bundle) some Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds near the pool. The pumpkins are just starting to roam, sending out runners, new roots. The pumpkin leaves are still small for the variety. In Midland I had leaves should high and as large as an elephant’s ear, but that took time.
Meanwhile the gourds have spread over the sunflower patch, bloomed, and started fruiting. When a gourd or pumpkin flowers, the male flowers provide pollen for the female flowers. Bees have to drop by the male flowers and pollinate. I used to look into pumpkin flowers and have a bumble bee head out into my face. I keep bees so well fed that they never sting me.
Warty gourds have bumps all over them and they like to climb chicken wire. I don’t think they can climb unless they have plenty of holds for their climbing arms. It’s fun to see them reach up and wind around wire, lifting the gourd plant into the air. My first experience with this happened in Midland, when gourds erupted out of a compost pit and grew in every direction, hanging on the corn plants, invading the neighbors bushes, and winding around the garage, which was festooned with chicken-wire for peas and scarlet runner beans.
All vines are interesting. They reach for every step into the air. I have some moonflowers wrapped around orange zinnia plants. The were ready to be recycled, but the moonflower wound around the zinnias and bloomed in mid-air, daring me to cut it down. I understand that moonflowers snap open with an audible pop. I have not heard that so far.
I have lost most of my roses now, but a few are doing well. The healthiest is being overshadowed by bougainvillea, a favorite decorative plant in Phoenix. I had two bougainvillea plants only surviving until I began watering almost every day. They suddenly took off in growth, reaching 12 feet into the sky, their brilliant pink bracts proclaiming, with the bees buzzing around them, the birds singing in their shade:
“Oh, come, let us sing unto the Lord:
let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving:
And make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God:
And a great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth,
The strength of the hills is His also.”
Bracts are not real flower petals, so they last much longer. Sunflowers, poinsettias, and bougainvilleas all get their glorious color from bracts rather than their inconspicuous flowers. So now I have a deep pink bougainvillea shooting into the air with a pink perfume rose entangled in its greenery. I could not have planned this happy accident. The bougainvillea has kept the rose from being fried in the sun. The flowers are similar in color and blend well together. What does not blend well with a rose?