It's wonderful when someone has one great talent, and even better when she has two. For all I know, consummate gardener Mary F. Irish, who is also a writer (Gardening in the Desert,
Agaves, Yuccas and Related Plants, etc) has other creative abilities. She claims she can’t draw, can barely scrawl her name. But it's certain that she is a masterful gardener and an intelligent, evocative author who makes her plants come alive on the page.
When Mary and her husband, Gary, moved to Arizona (near Scottsdale), they were seeking a calm climate with plenty of sun. They really had not fully anticipated the extremes of heat in their new desert home, nor the powdery dryness. They stopped thinking in terms of four seasons and thought instead of two: hot and cool. Being plant lovers, they soon adapted and found plants to surround their house and grace their sandy half-acre.
Cacti are, of course, required for a garden in the desert. Irish notes that they have had a number of these remarkable garden guests, and they always seem to mind their own business and maintain themselves politely, despite the fact that their human visitors can be so rude: "I have had people ask me in all earnestness whether cactus ever need watering...I have even had people ask me if they are in fact plants..."
In addition to co-existing with the plants, the Irish household includes cats, who rarely interfere with the garden, and dogs, who often do--forging their own pathways, for example. "There are good things that dogs could contribute to a garden," Irish puzzles, "but they don't. They could keep out rabbits, but they don't." But they do, she admits, make the rabbits slightly more nervous about approaching.
Veteran gardeners and those just embarking on the task (especially in the Southwest) will want to make a list of Irish's favorite fauna (aloes, Vallesia Baileyana, Arabian jasmine, cholla, bromeliads, agaves, palo colorado, Mexican oregano), and anyone who has ever put trowel to soil will appreciate such wry observations as "you have to kill a plant three times before you understand it," or that plants may not exactly converse but they do take heed of threats. When Irish stood near her yellowbells and loudly announced, "No flowers this summer--no more yellowbells," she was rewarded that season with "an extravagant bloom."
Gardening wives will appreciate Irish’s frustration at her husband and fellow gardener Gary’s techniques--watering, for example, as and when and how it suits him without regard to the needs of the plants (“you are just wandering around waving that extension of your you know what”). Yet is only with Gary, she declares, that she can make a garden: “our garden building has and probably always will be full of conflicts, compromises, changes of direction, and shifts in emphasis…that is why it is so much fun, so worth doing, and so completely satisfying in the end.”