A Thorny Tale

Bill and I had a wonderful border of native plants growing around the sun porch at the back of the house.  They were planted in the fall of 2010 and happily settled in over the winter.  The garden contained several Crown of Thorns, some aloe, a couple of small agaves and a few ice plants.  We also had a chicken wire fence surrounding it because the bunnies would have devoured each and every plant.

Everything grew wonderfully throughout the spring and early summer thanks to Miracle Grow and the magic of a timer and a soaker system that Bill installed.  And then the 2011 August from Hell settled itself firmly around the state of Arizona.  Records were broken for consecutive three-digit days and days over 110 degrees and days over 115 and just plain hottest day ever in recorded history – and then that record was also broken.  It was so brutal that by September – which, by the way was also no picnic – our little desert garden of native and drought-tolerant plants was pretty much decimated.  The Crown of Thorns had burned up so badly that all that was left of the lovely green leaves and delicate rose-like flowers was the thorny stem.  The aloe and agaves withered and dried up like beef strips in a dehydrator.  And the ice plants became a major water source for every wren, finch and woodpecker within a ten mile radius.  By the end of August all that was left of them were vine-like stems snaking over the rock groundcover like emaciated octopus tentacles.

One day Bill got sick of looking at the carnage so he tore out the skeletal remains and vowed that, once the cooler weather of fall began, he would replace these plant cadavers with something that was hardier, as well as bunny and bird-proof.  Thus began our quest for the most picky, spiky, dangerous cactus and succulents that we could find.

All thought October we spent at least one day a week going to garden centers at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Target.  We visited landscape centers in Phoenix, Cave Creek, Peoria and Glendale.  We compared prices and selection.  We measured thorn length and density.  We debated uniqueness versus function and finally, on the first Sunday of November, we made our selections, brought them home and planted them around the sun porch.

We were so proud of ourselves that we celebrated by buying a tomato plant, a jalapeño pepper plant and a cilantro plant so that we could make homemade salsa.  These were placed in large pots and put on top of the deck box that rests against the back of the house, under the dining room window.  They would get lots of sun but would be up high enough so that we, not the rabbits, could enjoy the harvest.

We came into the house, sweaty and dirt-smudged, but happy with the new garden, and headed toward the kitchen for a well deserved drink of something cold.  We were brought up short when Mom looked up from the magazine in her lap and asked “What have you two been up to?”

“Replanting the sun porch garden,” I said as Bill continued into the kitchen.

“What was wrong with it?” she asked, flipping the page of her TV Guide magazine.

“Everything burned up this summer, remember?” I replied, watching Bill out of the corner of my eye as he guzzled Crystal Light lemonade right from the jug.  “We put in cactus, so we shouldn’t have that problem next summer,” I said, heading into the kitchen and the rapidly vanishing lemonade.

A few seconds later, as I wrestled the container from him, Mom called out “I think something’s wrong with this one.  It’s all gangly and doesn’t look too healthy.”

We turned around and saw her standing at the dining room window, looking out at some of the new plants.

“What do you mean?” asked Bill, moving towards the window.  “Which one doesn’t look too good?”

“This one, right here,” she said, pointing at the pots on the deck box.

“That’s a tomato plant, Mom.  The cactus is in the ground, around the base of the sum porch,” he said, pointing to the right.

“Oh, well then I guess this one looks okay for a tomato plant, even though it’s sort of puny.  It just looked pretty pathetic for a cactus.”


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