In the week leading up to the pruning demonstration, we received word that my bride Maggie’s brother passed away. As you know, both Maggie and I are native Arizonans, with family roots throughout the southern portions of the state.
Maggie was a late-comer in her family — there was a 12-year gap between her youngest brother and her. She is one of five children, the only girl, and what would be called an “oops” baby nowadays. She was raised in a very industrious family, and that upbringing has served her (and me) quite well. I don’t see anything “oops” about my wife. She has been a blessing and strong contributor to countless family members, community, church and business friends. Those of you who know her know what I mean.
Since there was such a large amount of time between when all her brothers were born and she came along, she wasn’t raised that much with them. It was only as an adult that she really got to know them. In the case of her brother that just passed away, he had moved from the area for many years and became a very successful businessman. Maggie and he got re-connected in the last few years, including his and his wife’s multi-day visit to the Tooele Valley about a year ago. It was a great time and is even more highly valued now.
So, tomorrow we’ll say goodbye to Maggie’s brother for a while. But even as that is happening, we are having a great time of reconnection with extended family. In fact, as I write this, we are staying with our niece that lives in northwest Tucson, in the Oro Valley area. She has a beautiful southwestern-style home, complete with high ceilings, vigas (rough-hewn logs that serve as rafters and support posts), earthen adobe walls, and smooth colored concrete floors. Because she is very active in her career, she is gone during the day, leaving Maggie and me to “suffer” in what feels like our own private resort casita. It’s tough, folks. But, as it’s been said, someone has to do it, it might as well be us.
With the daytime temps being in the high 80s and low 90s, springtime (or should we say summer?) has definitely set in here. Trees are budding, flowering plants and trees are ablaze with an array of color, and the scents of the desert and ornamentals that surround us is vibrant.
The wildlife is also abundant. It’s almost impossible to travel even a short distance down a country road without a series of critter encounters. Yesterday, as we drove up the extended dirt driveway to the house, we encountered several scurrying quail, darting lizards, and a couple of cottontail rabbits that counted on their coloration and stillness to not be detected. The trees and shrubs in the desert around the house are alive with flitting songbirds, as well as some bumble bees that have staked out their territory.
As you read this, the first day of spring (calendar-wise.) has already arrived. Those of us who live in northern Utah will continue to experience some fits and starts until spring firmly gets established. We’ve really enjoyed the sunshine here, but are highly aware that in the not-too-distant future it will be hotter than we want to stick around for. That’s where our Utah weather excels — it can get very warm, even hot, during a summer day, but when the sun sets and we get that luscious extended cooler afterglow to the day, it’s extremely gratifying to call the Tooele Valley our home.
However, our experience here has really kick-started my plans for getting our seed starting, bed preparation, and compost spreading going, as well as finishing up all the spring pruning around our place. Besides, the Garden Tour is just around the corner. Truth be told, this is my favorite time of the year.
One of the many enjoyable facets of being back in my birthplace is remembering anew the vast assortment of native and cultivated plants and shrubs. From creosote bush (which smells heavenly after a rain), to acacia and mesquite trees, all sorts of cactus (or for you purists out there — cacti), ocotillo, as well as desert sage, it’s all here to enjoy. When you add in citrus trees to the olive and pomegranate, there’s lots to see and experience. In fact, we are coming home with a bag full of lemons from another niece’s tree. This time of year around here, lemons, oranges and grapefruit are as plentiful as mid-summer zucchini in Utah.
There are several varieties of roses and ornamentals that do well here, including the explosively bright pinkish-red bougainvillea, colorful bird of paradise, and lantana with its clusters of complex blooms and berries. However, there’s one ornamental that has really caught my eye for its growth habit, texture, shade creation, bloom, and ease of care.
It’s a type of rambling, almost entirely thornless rose that many a tourist has seen when they have visited the American Southwest. In fact, it’s been said that the old-west town (and popular tourist attraction) of Tombstone, Arizona is home to one really shady lady. Just a few blocks from the world-renowned OK Corral, the world’s largest rosebush (according to Guinness World Records) flourishes year after year at the Rose Tree Inn. Planted in 1885, it has grown to a massive spread (supported on an equally impressive trellis.) of about 9,000 square feet. To support all that growth and bloom, the multi-branched trunk is about 12 feet around and the amount of shade it gives is equivalent to about 95 feet by 95 feet. It was brought to Tombstone from Scotland, and it has really made the Arizona desert its home. The Lady Banksia rose (or commonly known as Lady Banks or simply Banks rose or, in southern Arizona, a Tombstone rose) was originally from Western China, but is now well adapted in portions of the western hemisphere.
It is fragrant when in spring bloom, reminiscent of violets. The blooms are a carpet of small white clusters. A very early bloomer, the flowers drop fairly rapidly, but the foliage is hardy and can rapidly create a shade over trellises, porch supports, pergolas and gate archways. It provides a robust habitat for a variety of wildlife. Our niece has three of these roses growing at various corners of the tin roof porches that surround her hacienda. They have scrambled up the posts, as well as a bit sideways, and have to be pruned from time to time to assure they don’t put layers of heavy vegetation on the porch rooftop. The quail appear to especially enjoy them and like perching in them during the heat of the day. A dove has made its home in one of the rosebushes just above the walkway, where she tends two eggs in the small nest made from a variety of twigs.
I’ve discovered that this type of rose can be grown in Northern Utah, at least in our zone. How successfully they can flourish is yet to be seen, as there is a bit of diversity of opinion on how well they will do at our latitude.
I think it’s worth the risk to give them a shot. I’ll be on the lookout for them and see if I can grow them in a couple of locations in our yard. If they do well, or if they fail, I’ll let you know so you can consider this addition in your yardscape. We have some settings, including fences and trellises, that could benefit from this beautiful variety that is interesting to look at — whether it’s in bloom or not.
Besides, another shady spot around the yard is always welcome, for people and wildlife alike. Heck, adding this new variety to our yardscape may provide the perfect legitimate excuse to build a pergola or some other artistic yard sculpture to grow a Banks Rose or other complimentary plants on. Sounds like a plan to me.
One last thing. If you were thinking that I wrote all those complimentary comments about Maggie because must have really been in trouble, not so. That was the real thing. Besides, if I was in trouble, let me assure you that it would have taken a lot more than those few compliments to extract myself from the consequences of my trespass. Heed the voice of experience …
Jay Cooper can be contacted at email@example.com, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.