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Desert Blooms

Due to plentiful winter rains, the desert southwest is planning for a bombastic display of desert flowers sometime in early April.

A full desert bloom only happens once every few years. But when it does, the hills, mountainsides and desert floor explode with color.

Some hills, such as those in the Poppy Preserve in California, turn brilliant orange. Dunes near Yuma reportedly feature monochromatic displays of white, purple, red or yellow, while the desert floor and charred volcanic mountainsides throughout southern Arizona erupt into a riotous mass of mixed colors.

The desert cacti bloom every year, and they alone are something to see.

But following a rare winter of plentiful rain, long-dormant seeds germinate in the desert cinders and turn the usually dusty floor of the Sonoran desert into a car­pet of fresh green in late February.

In the past few days, the brilliant green beneath the cacti has become visible from the freeways. Even the distant mountains have changed hue.

To give the flowers an added boost, it rained again all last night.

It is a pity I have to leave before the wildflowers bloom!

In fact, I am almost tempted to get a $39 ticket on one of those flying cattle cars from Fargo to Mesa to see the bloom next month.

But it is a real trick timing such a trip. The exact days of the bloom are difficult to predict and, as most gardeners know, once poppies open up, their flowers aren’t long for this world.

So, you’d better have your bags packed and know how to use the internet——first to monitor the bloom and keep an eye on the predictions of the experts and second, to find a cheap last minute flight without hav­ing to fake a funeral.

The trip is worth it, say those who have seen the desert in bloom.

One of my grandfather’s most memorable trips was when my uncle flew he and Grandma in a small plane to see the desert flowers in bloom in the wastes of southern Utah forty some years ago.

Even hard-boiled non-gardeners and jaded anti-flower cynics have been reported to experience moments of wonder at the oceans of color during a desert bloom.

Desert dwellers enjoy the flowers nature offers up every few years even more because it is so difficult to grow colorful domestic flowers in the desert heat.

Gardeners can grow nice petunias in the winter in Tucson in pots, but few people go through the trouble.

And gardening as we think of gardening in Minne­sota (namely, vegetable and flower gardens) is made even more difficult in Arizona by the stubborn desert soil.

A few inches below the surface, most Arizona desert gardeners run into caliche (cal-EEE-chay), essen­tially a layer of salt and minerals which, over the mil­lennia, has calcified into a layer of concrete several feet thick.

No wonder there are so few basements in Tucson! Breaking through the caliche can be impossible even for a backhoe, and the authorities no longer allow the best solution of all: dynamite.

To grow most non-cacti, gardeners must hack at the caliche with a pick axe in order to allow newly planted trees proper drainage and the opportunity to set roots deep enough to hold the tree up.

For flowers or vegetables, it is possible haul in a mound of new soft soil. But raised beds in the desert simply require more water than is decent to use.

A gardener down the street here in Tucson raises flowers and herbs during the winter only. To do so, he bought in expensive new soil. It isn’t even as nice as the stuff in the farm fields in northwest Minnesota, but it works.

In the summer, however, his flower beds are parched, cracked and empty and he, like most residents of the desert, spends his days inside.

We Minnesotans with our plentiful supply of mois­ture, rich soils and moderate summer temperatures can grow gardens which are difficult to impossible in Ari­zona.

We take our summer beauty and bounty for granted.

In the desert, meanwhile, the wildflowers bloom only when they feel like it——which is very seldom.

But when rains come and the flowers bloom, the desert puts on enough of a show to make up for lost time.

(Visit Eric's weblog at

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