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Monday, October 29, 2012

Ozarks Gardens, Not So Bad After All


Sometimes it’s good to visit other kinds of gardening to make you appreciate your own. Our soil in the southern Ozarks is rocky, with lots of clay and yet we manage to grow pretty good gardens. Farther north in Missouri, and farther south in Arkansas, there’s actual soil to be found, more fertile, less rocky. But not all gardeners have the luxury of either kind of soil for their crops.

Last week I was in southern Arizona, Tucson to be exact, for a garden writers conference. Each year our conferences are held in different parts of the U.S. or Canada, exposing our membership to a wide variety of growing conditions and plants. Tucson was an area many of the 400 people who attended the conference, had never been before.
Pretty to look at, impossible to touch.
Imagine if you will, soil that looks like a hard, gray, gravel road. Any gravel road, anywhere in our area, looks pretty much like Tucson soil. Now imagine that the hard, gray, gravel is the only soil and you have to dig it with a pick to loosen it enough to make some sort of hole for your plant. Now imagine getting only 9 or 10 inches of rain in a year, and in a place where the summer daytime temperatures regularly reach 120 degrees.

It apparently is possible to grow some food crops there. Native Americans grew squash, beans and corn, as well as tiny hot peppers and some wild herbs. Since it doesn’t freeze in the lower areas, winter crops of lettuce and even some tomatoes can be grown. But what does best of all, are cactus. Hundreds, maybe thousands of kinds of cactus grow everywhere. They grow out of the rocks up into the mountains, they grow out of the cracks in the pavement along the road. They’re the only plants in the landscapes of yards and businesses. Grass is virtually non-existent.
Note the soil around the prairie dog.
Cactus are interesting to look at. Some produce beautiful flowers, some even produce edible fruit. But if you have 400 people, loaded onto 5 buses, and walking around in the gardens, what you soon learn is to watch where you walk. With that many people, at every turn in a garden, you are getting poked, stuck and prickled with cactus thorns!

In our Ozarks gardens, you can safely reach out and feel the plants you grow. Tomatoes and peppers and herbs don’t attack you every time you look away. But in a desert garden, you have to watch for rattle snakes, cactus with long thorns, cactus with thorns that look like paper, some that look like fuzzy puppies, all which will do painful damage to your skin.

While it is interesting to visit other kinds of gardens, this one in particular, made me especially grateful for our soil, our climate and most of all, for the wide variety of plants we can grow here.

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