The Bloomin' Desert: A Book Review
The Bloomin' Desert by Karen Wright, alias Juniper Rose.
By Michael Stillman
Just released is a new book for desert (and other) gardeners, The Bloomin' Desert, by Juniper Rose. "Juniper Rose" is actually Karen Wright, who could accurately be described as a Renaissance Gardener. Not only has she managed her own gardens for decades, she is head gardener for the historic Gold Hill Hotel in Virginia City, Nevada (Bonanza's Cartwrights might have stayed there if they were real people), columnist for that city's Comstock Chronicle, bookseller and owner of The Wright Book, and writer for AE Monthly.
The Bloomin' Desert is written for gardeners in the high deserts, but the advice will apply to those who till the soil just about anywhere in the world. To paraphrase New York, New York, if you can garden here, you can garden anywhere. Gardening in the high desert is nothing like gardening in the tropical soil of Florida, the rich dirt of the Midwest, or even the crisp air of New England. No, gardening in the desert is like gardening on the moon. The most common "nutrients" in the soil are salt and various alkaline substances, water does not exist, temperatures range from so hot as to kill any rational forms of life to so cold as to freeze dry them, often all within the same day, and the winds will bowl over any plant that attempts to stand upright. Indeed, if you can grow things here, you can grow them anywhere.
The high desert, as the name implies, is like other deserts but at a higher altitude, generally a mile or more. Weather here is as dry and windy as one would expect, and summers desert hot, but the high desert also features very cold weather in the winter, including snow on those occasions when moisture manages to stop by for a rare visit.
Karen Wright's book is filled with advice for gardening under these extreme conditions, advice which is generally equally useful in more friendly climes. While not specifically an organic gardener, her tips and remedies are usually based on nature, rather than harsh chemicals and poisons. It is the type of advice you will particularly appreciate if you plan to eat anything which comes from your garden. However, this is not just a book for vegetable or fruit farmers, but for those who grow flowers and trees and bushes as well.
The Bloomin' Desert is not a textbook type of gardening book. It isn't filled with instructions such as plant tomatoes on May 15 if you live in zone 5, but consists of countless practical tips that come from someone who has had a "green thumb" virtually all of her life. It is filled with the advice you don't find in a seed catalogue.
The Bloomin' Desert: A Book Review
Along with all types of recommendations about when to plant, where, what type of fertilizers to use, when and how to prune, how to transplant, and how to protect - all of those things you need to have a productive garden - there are suggestions you might not think of on your own. For example, when discussing ground covers, one of Ms. Wright's recommendations is strawberries. Strawberries, for ground cover? Well, why not? They spread quickly, stay low to the ground, and on top of that, provide delicious berries for no extra charge. Makes sense to me.
In another section, Ms. Wright discourses on companion planting. Some plants get along well with each other; others fight like children. Of particular help to the gardener is recognizing that some plants give off odors that will drive away insects that feed on their neighbors. For example, horseradish will drive away potato bugs. I guess anything that feeds on something so bland as a plain potato would not be into spicy foods. On the other hand, knowing which plants do not make good neighbors is equally important. Cucumbers apparently don't much care for potatoes. If you place incompatible plants next to each other, they may not grow well, while you find yourself at a loss to understand why. You will probably assume you didn't water or fertilize enough, and endlessly frustrate yourself trying to solve the problem by dealing with everything but the cause.
There is only one section of this book with which I take issue: "incredible, edible squash." Squash are not edible. This is the one plant where Ms. Wright's advice to use manure is evidently meant to improve the flavor. My advice if you like oblong vegetables is to plant cucumbers instead. They actually taste good, especially if pickled.
"Gardening talks to my soul as nothing else can..." Those who love gardening as does Juniper/Karen will understand her quote, and the sense of peace that working the soil can bring to those who speak its language. This book is for you. You may reach the author at her store, The Wright Book, in Silver City, Nevada. I'm sure she can help you pick up a copy for your own. Her email address email@example.com, telephone 775-847-9518.