I’ve waited more than five years to find out that I’ve been gardening all wrong in the Chihuahuan desert. I did this by finally experiencing the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Arizona.
First I was working. I never seemed to find the time to take leave in April. Springtime, before it gets too hot, is the best time to visit this 400 acre arboretum dedicated to desert ecosystems.
Then just as I was thinking: “this is the year I go to Boyce Thompson” March 2020 happened. The pandemic shutdown happened. My state discouraged travel and especially forbade non-essential crossing of state lines. The arboretum closed to visitors. The plants didn’t care whether they were looked at or not.
Finally, while others were seizing the day and booking last minute international travel, a window of opportunity opened this week for me to visit this horticultural mecca.
I had to leave the hacienda at my favourite time to start a journey: 4 in the morning. After driving more than five hours, crossing into a different time zone and one refreshment break for coffee and a sandwich, I was there.
400 acres is quite big. All of it dazzled and delighted. This is a beautifully maintained horticultural treasure.
Nothing was mediocre or boring about the trails meandering through the different sections.
Without noticing it, in the space of around half a day, I walked close on 12 miles (according to my wrist tracker).
There were plenty of trees for shady respite.
I had deliberately chosen the coolest day of the week for my visit.
I wouldn’t like to visit any later in the season, even though that might be better for most cactus blooms. The heat might be uncomfortable.
There were however plenty of blooms: a scattering of early cactus flowers, a whole avenue of aloes and another of sweetly perfumed yucca in full song.
Ocotillo played the high wild hand way up above in the impossible blue: little flags of scarlet brilliance.
The place was humming and whirring: a busyness of birds and bees.
Most of all it was the phenomenal detail of colour, line, texture which entranced and enchanted.
Thorns like stars. Or polka dots.
The stripes of accordion pleated leaves.
Or starry pleated trunks
Colour exploded everywhere.
Leaves arranged in rosettes checking all the boxes: colour, line, shape, form.
There was even a shade structure constructed from living Ocotillo. Who knew this strange almost leafless, thorny desert dweller could be trained?
I’ve been gardening all wrong.
I have 149 photos to remind me of the possibilities of a paradigm shift.
My father’s ashes are scattered in a dam (lake) amongst blue water lilies, my mother’s ashes are, I believe, in the clivia miniata bed in a botanical garden which was founded in 1870. In the old country. Experiencing this arid paradise, there’s a profound sense of destiny: it’s a spiky, prickly, resilient, colorful vision of home.
Memory is metaphor, not the thing itself. In a burning world, desert gardening is both metaphor AND the thing itself.
A thing to do with one’s last years.