Gardening in Arizona: The Little Garden that Could

A small plot of land and an unpromising climate could not deter one Tucson couple from gardening in Arizona.

| March/April 1979

When we moved to Tucson, Arizona from a big city in the Northeast, we were delighted to find an apartment with a patio ... even though that plot was just a narrow rectangle of barren adobe clay! We weren't discouraged, either, by the formidable challenges of gardening in Arizona: limited rainfall,  and temperatures that ranged between 100° and 110° from June until October. After six years of a single plant on a city windowsill and "Keep Off" signs on every available patch of grass, we saw in this arid little plot of dirt a great potential for vegetables, flowers, and relaxation. We were right!

Doing More With Less 

Unfortunately, our new patio was small (15 by 29 feet), and nearly a quarter of its total area was paved with concrete. The usable space was reduced further, too, because we had to leave an access path to the electric meter at the plot's far end.

In addition to the space problems, we discovered that—since the "yard" was flanked on three sides by a high wooden fence and by an apartment building on the fourth—our prospective garden would receive only a few hours of sun a day. (And that desert sun seemed more likely to burn delicate seedlings than to nourish them!)

But we were undeterred. Although neither Jack nor I was familiar with organic gardening methods, we knew we didn't want to use any of the chemicals and pesticides that had been a part of our previous gardens. So, with wholistically grown flowers and vegetables in mind, we set to work under an already hot February sky.

The "native flora" on our tiny patio's parched soil consisted of a few especially stubborn weeds, which I pulled up and stuffed into the open spaces under the fence to form a crude retaining wall (I hoped this "dike" would help keep desperately needed water in the garden where it "belonged"). Once that was done, my husband and I outlined a path to the meter with discarded bricks, and—using a borrowed shovel—dug up the rest of the adobe to a depth of eight or ten inches. It was a truly backbreaking and blistering job.

To our surprise, we found the soil was rich, but also that it packed down quickly. In order to keep our sunbaked earth loose, we mixed in 10 cubic feet of redwood mulch and four cubic feet of peat moss. And—where the patio sloped up to the far-back corner—Jack and I built terraces with small clay walls to help hold precious, life-giving water.

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