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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Desertscapes

Air Date: Week of May 2, 1997

In his famous dictionary, Noah Webster defined desert as “a desolate and forbidding area”. Too bad he never had a chance to visit the American Southwest. Commentator Andy Wasowski says, if he had, he might have defined it as a place of color, vitality and exciting landscaping possibilities: Andy Wasowski is a garden writer based in northern New Mexico. He is co-author of Native Gardens for Dry Climates.

Transcript

CURWOOD: In his famous dictionary, Noah Webster defined desert as "a desolate and forbidding area." Too bad he never had a chance to visit the American Southwest. Commentator Andy Wasowski says if he had, he might have defined it as a place of color, vitality, and exciting landscaping possibilities.

WASOWSKI: Now, say desert landscaping and most folks think cactus and colored gravel. But that's really a caricature of the true desert. I'm talking about a softer, gentler look. Admittedly, our deserts are dry, with rainfall ranging from a mere 4 to 16 inches annually. But it's still a place of great beauty with vibrant wildflowers, blooming shrubs and trees, and startlingly attractive grasses, especially when you catch them with the sun setting or riding behind them. When you explore our deserts, the Chihuahuan, the Sonoran, the Mojave, what you find is a vast palate of native flora that rivals, and to my way of thinking, exceeds anything found in your neighborhood nursery. The true desert look isn't just brown and tan, it's also golden yellow, vibrant red, elegant pink, dramatic blue, and lush green. These plants should be used in home and commercial landscapes throughout the Southwest. But all too often, they're ignored.

Take turpentine bush. Okay, the name may not sound sexy. But when this golden knee-high shrub is in bloom, it's nothing short of a knockout. Then there's pink fairy duster. The name itself gives you an idea what it looks like: delicate and fluffy, with the coloring of a sunrise over the mesas. You've also got Apache plume, globe mallow, desert marigold, cat claw catia and -- the list is way too long to cover here. But what I don't understand is this. With this wealth of beautiful and drought-tolerant natives available, why do so many homeowners in desert communities like El Paso, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, insist on surrounding their homes with tropical plants better suited to a rainforest, and water guzzling lawns? Drive through these neighborhoods in the summer and you'll see sprinklers going full blast at noon, with most of the water running off into the streets or evaporating into the air. Wake up, Southwest, and smell the fragrant evening primroses. Start appreciating the native plants that have been growing in your area for millennia. Understand where you live and love it for what it is, and quit trying to transplant Connecticut, North Carolina, and Minnesota to the desert. That makes as much sense as wearing a bikini in the Arctic.

CURWOOD: Andy Wasowski is a garden writer based in northern New Mexico. He's coauthor of Native Gardens for Dry Climates.

 

 

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