So, a few weeks ago, I talked about how gardening might just improve your sex life. If you missed that post, read it here. Today, I'd like to introduce you to some of my garden friends who just LOVE growing in the Arizona climate. Want to try your hand at edible/herbal gardening in AZ but don't know where to start? Here are some beautiful and fairly easy options for the newbie gardener.
Before you start, you two basic things to create a successful garden - good soil and regular water.
These plants all enjoy fairly fertile, well drained soil. Since Arizona soil is largely hard rock clay, I add compost and sometimes a little sand if the soil isn't draining well. You may have to wet your soil down to add these other components. When you're finished, the dirt should look rich, dark and fairly crumbly. These plants will grow well in the ground or in a pot. But if you plant in pots, don't use anything smaller than a 5 gallon pot. In the summer, plant roots will steam in anything smaller.
As for water, if you want to have healthy plants, it's better to water deeply (soak rather than sprinkle!) and infrequently (every 2-3 days) to develop a strong root system. I actually plant my plants in little ditches so I fill them with water and the water soaks about 6-8 inches down. While it seems like a lot of water at the time, since you water less frequently, it's a more water conservative option.
Ok, now that you know how to successfully prep for these garden stars, let me introduce them!
There are a couple hundred varieties of Aloe Vera. Aloe is an absolute essential in sunny Arizona. There is no substitute for it when dealing with a sunburn. Those bottles of gel in the store are not as effective. When I was growing up at my parents' house, my mom devoted a flower bed lucious green variety of aloe. The leaves were bright green with pretty white spots and they produced a flowering stalk every year. If I, or one of my sisters, managed to get a sunburn, we simply smoothed this on the burn and it minimized the damage considerably. I have also read that some people use it as a sunburn preventative.
While some people use aloe internally as a laxative or for other ailments, our family primarily uses it topically for sunburns or in lotion making. It is wise to consult an herbalist when considering using aloe internally. Pregnant women should not use aloe internally.
Aloe reproduces by means of a little shoot that creates another plant. If you don't want the shooters, give them away as gifts!
Spearmint, peppermint, applemint, chocolate mint! There are a ton of mint varieties. Mint is colorful and delicious in tea or salads and creates a bright spot in any garden. It is cooling for feverish babies and energizing for those who are a bit tired. This is a great plant for beginning gardeners because it's a weed and will survive almost any abuse and return year after year. I, myself, have left my mint to die by not watering it many times but it just keeps on going! Though, a friend swears she has killed 3 mint plants. I think this is more of a unique accomplishment than a typical mint experience.
Mint is one of those plants that reproduces pretty fast. Unless you have time to keep in check, plant it in a pot. On the other hand, if you have an area you need to cover, mint will take it over.
What a lovely smell this plant has! It loves the hot weather and is seriously hardy. I have always loved rosemary because when I was a young, romantic girl (as opposed to a grown, romantic girl), I remember reading a story about a young hero giving his lover rosemary so she would remember him as he embarked on an epic journey. Of course, as an adult, I have also learned to love rosemary for the fragrant flavor she adds to savory and sweet recipes. One of my family's favorites recipes is a rosemary shortbread I make on rare occasions - mostly because I want to eat the whole pan! Mmmm....
Full sun is just fine for this mediterranean herb.
Like rosemary, thyme is a hardy friend in an Arizona garden. Also a mediterranean herb, the hot climate agrees with it. However, thyme does seem to appreciate a little afternoon shade in the summer. One of my thyme plants is in a pot so I just move it when the temperatures rise.
I recently planted some creeping thyme and I'm really pleased with how beautiful it looks. I am hoping to do a project on my patio soon which involves planting it in between paving stones. I'll post it when I find it.
Not only does lavender produce lovely blooms, it smells amazing in the garden all year 'round. I have this planted on my back patio and in my front flowerbed. I love how its gentle fragrance just wafts through the air as I'm watering it. It's surprisingly hardy as well. The back porch version gets full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon and it is just thriving.
The best thing about these plants is that they are also great companion plants for the veggies you're wanting to grow in the garden. These herbs all repel pests and seem fairly resistant to disease so you may find you success with these plants that you haven't previously enjoyed.
Another plus is that you don't need a big plant to start. Just buy a small plant from a nursery - or better yet scavenge from a friend's garden and get going! If you do go to a nursery, try a locally owned one like Baker's, The Style Nursery or Whitfill. They will know more about Arizona gardening than big box store employees and you'll feel good that you've supported your local economy.
Ok - Get out in that garden!!