Natives thrive in garden getaway

Woman's green thumb succeeds with patience in shady retreat
2011-10-16T00:00:00Z Natives thrive in garden getawayElena Acoba Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A cool, shaded backyard is a welcome respite, especially in the summer. But it's a challenge for the gardener who wants flowers and edibles.

That's the message from Patti Hartmann, whose garden is one of five stops on the annual Master Gardener Home Garden Tour.

Sponsored by the Pima County Cooperative Extension, the tour on Saturday was moved from spring so that the gardens could recover from the unusually harsh freeze in February.

Hartmann, who lives in a midtown home with partner Bruce Plenk, had little damage because she grows mostly native plants.

And she already constantly deals with coolness and shade issues. The northeast-facing, compact backyard sits next to the Alamo Wash. It's almost always in filtered shade created by the mature mesquite, silver oak, honey locust, pineapple guava and other trees.

"It's been like this little dance," Hartmann says of trying to find what plants will grow well in which part of the backyard.

For instance, she planted passion flower vine in several places when she switched nearly three years ago to a native landscape with rainwater harvesting contours and irrigation.

It's growing best up the bottle brush trees on the south side, rising through the branches to reach the sunlight.

The fig tree on the north side acts similarly. It bears fruit only on the branches that extend above the house's roof line where the sun shines on it the longest.

Two Tecoma hybrids illustrate the need to find the right place for a plant. The solar flare, which barely gets any sun, is larger and has more blooms than the yellow bells, which gets a tad more sunlight.

Bushes, herbs and vegetables grow much slower in their shady environs. A trailing rosemary growing for more than two years appears not much larger than something you'd buy in a 4-inch container.

Hartmann laments that the winter greens in her garden are puny compared to the ones she grows at a community garden.

Successes do exist: Aloes, Mexican anise, rosemary mint, banksia rose and blue mist shrub, to name a few.

Undaunted, Hartmann constantly experiments. She has Mexican bird of paradise in two pots that she moves around to see where they grow the best. Once she finds the spot, she'll put them into the ground.

She could easily add more sunlight by removing some of the trees. She refuses.

"I love it this way," she says. "I want this to be a haven, particularly in the summer.

"For me taking out a tree …" she trails off, shaking her head.

That is most definitely not an option.

If you go

Master Gardener Home Garden Tour

• What: Self-guided tour of home gardens by four gardening educators and the demonstration gardens at the Pima County Cooperative Extension.

• Where: Home gardens are in midtown Tucson, the west side and the east side. Demonstration gardens are at 4210 N. Campbell Ave.

• When: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

• Admission: $8. Tickets with maps are available at the cooperative extension; Harlow Gardens, 5620 E. Pima St.; and Rillito Nursery & Garden Center, 6303 N. La Cholla Blvd.

• Et cetera: Master gardeners will answer questions at each stop.

• Information: 626-5161.

Plants victim to freeze can survive

Master gardeners hope to use this week's Master Gardener Home Garden Tour to share lessons learned from the plant-damaging freeze in February.

Organizer Paul Ellis moved the tour from April 9 to give the gardens time to recover.

Ellis, a master gardener whose home is on the tour, says the biggest lesson was that practicing patience saved money as well as plants.

"The one thing last winter really taught us is to do nothing for a long time," says Ellis.

He notes that dead-looking queen palms around town that were left alone now look pretty good. "People pulled them out way too early and it cost them a lot of money to replace," he says.

His own Mexican firecracker and emu bush that dried to snappy twigs have come back lush. Green, supple leaves on the kumquat replaced crackly ones from February.

Patti Hartmann experienced the same thing. Every frond on her three-year-old sago palms dried up. Instead of throwing them out, she continued to water them and gradually trimmed off the dead stock.

"Then one day, stuff started coming up," she says.

The native lobelia froze to dead twigs. Four months later it came back and by the end of September, with some extra water, it was sprouting babies.

Ellis, who replaced his dead collection of potted succulent and tropical plants, will try heating them under a sealed tarp with a space heater should a drastic freeze hit again.

He wishes his backyard was big enough for a greenhouse, which he says is ideal for taking care of outdoor potted plants in the winter.

"It's wonderful if you have the money and have the room."

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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