Fun designs and plants that grow in our desert

KINGMAN - OMG (Oh Master Gardener!) The water bill has arrived and again my husband looks at me and says, "YOUR garden is getting more and more expensive!"

I try to justify the cost of watering by reasoning that our garden provides many rewards. It invites wildlife; it provides shade reducing our cooling bill; and it offers beautiful places to relax, reflect, and meditate.

"Well...," he says, presenting me the bill. "Meditate on this!"

I just smile because I have an ace in the hole: All the organic, nutritious food in my garden is providing for both of us now living in the desert!

In the high desert, a host of problems can exist for a gardener from the Midwest (via California). In those areas of our country, it was reasonably easy to grow just about anything edible, but the desert requires a good deal of know-how, patience, and endurance.

Knowing where and when to design and plant a garden requires planning and research. The outcome from all of this challenging preparation can bring a bounty of reward and enjoyment, making it well worth the challenge. In doing so, why not plan your landscaping to serve multiple purposes to make the best use of our water resources?

Design

considerations

Raised bed (amended ground level varies, recommend depth 1.5-2 feet) designs made accessible by winding paths of flagstone meandering between fruit trees placed in strategic positions for shade, ease of harvesting and maintenance.

Trellises (well-placed) provide overhead shade while beautifying your environment. Additionally, fruits such as grapes can grow abundantly in the desert.

Private seating areas separated by roses, herbs, dwarf fruit trees, containers or raspberry bushes.

Ground covers can be used as flower bed edgings. You can even use them for your lawn!

Containers and window boxes placed in areas on porches and/or patios can add extra attraction for your senses. Flowers and edible herbs make good fragrance teasers as you walk by and brush against them, releasing the scents of your favorite bouquets or food recipes.

You can be creative with your landscape design by using fruit, berries, vegetables, vines and herbs. A well-planned garden can save on water; provide shade, beauty, nature and edibles that feed us too!

Now I smile confidently as my husband devours a salad, eating fresh vegetables and enjoying sweet fruits and herbs from our garden. He's sold. Now it's "his" garden too!

What to plant

The following represents some of our favorite herbs also used for landscaping:

• Basil (Ocimum basilicum) - Annual. Plant in late spring after threat of frost.

Grows well in containers, beds and even in the kitchen window. Early sun dweller. Protect from wind and hot afternoon shade. Water when dry. Sweet or spicy, basil's varieties include cinnamon, lemon, bush Greek, Thai and purple ruffled, just to mention a few. All bloom light purple, pink or white. Pick young leaves from the top to encourage new growth. Can be grown from seeds; let flowers seed out, dry and collect for next year. Use in salads, soups, sauces, Asian dishes, pizza, pasta and anywhere you'd like. Basil has a wonderful aroma and taste! Eat leaves and flowers, fresh or dried.

• Chamomile (Cham-aemelum nobile) - Perennial/annual. Plant seeds in late spring.

Grows great in containers, or as bedding plants; additionally, it can be used as a lawn, ground cover or between pavers. Works best in the desert as it grows well in full sun and dry soil. Easy to start from seed.

• Roman Chamomile (Matricaria recutita). There is a double flower that is a very attractive selection. A good companion plant to keep away flying insects. Use as a rinse for fair hair to brighten, or infuse Chamomile with boiling water, let steep until cool and strain for tea. Tea helps gastric problems and calms the nerves. Or use it steeped in olive oil for skin problems. Keep chamomile productive by trimming flowers.

• Calendula (Calendula officinalis) - Annual.

Plant seeds in early summer. Grow in window boxes, hanging baskets or in beds. Loves hot dry conditions. Will not tolerate too much water. Use as a substitute for expensive Saffron. Young leaves can be added to salad but tends to be slightly bitter. Steep flower petals for tea or in olive oil for skin issues. Deadhead to keep flowers blooming. Will self-seed. Good for use on burns and stings.

• Lavender (Lavendula from the family Labiatae) - Perennial. Plant in early spring or late fall.

Can be planted as evergreen shrubs, hedges, in flower beds, borders and containers, or in well-drained soil. Will not tolerate very wet soil. Tender in some varieties, from the Mediterranean, Canary Islands and India. Lavender will grow in warm, airy and sunny areas but can adapt to some shade. There is so much to be said about it - a number of books have been written about lavender. Its healing properties are nearly endless, but it tastes good too! Use dried flowers to make tea or add to baking recipes. Use fresh or dried; add to sugar, honey, butter, and cold-pressed oils for flavoring. Its scent is relaxing and helps bring sleep - place a fresh bouquet at your bedside. I know of 21 varieties offering gray, green or gray-green foliage. Blooms can range from light to rich purples, blues, mauves, white and pinks. Make sure to plant where you brush against it often to inhale its amazing aroma! In autumn, before frost, trim back flowers and young growth (but not old wood) after blooming for shaping.

• Oregano (Origanum species) - Perennial. Plant in late spring.

Can be grown as a ground cover or in containers. Soils should be dry-ish and well drained, alkaline but nutrient rich. A Mediterranean native, also heat and full sun tolerant. Used in many pasta dishes and in pizza. Leaves and flowers can be white to light purplish. Eat fresh or dried.

• Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) - Bi-annual. Plant seeds in early spring or plant starts after the threat of frost.

Best in container for water usage. Tolerates alkaline soils but favors some shade and cooler temperatures. This beautiful curled, leafed parsley can be used for presentation or in dishes. It's known for bringing out the flavors of any dish and freshening breath. Fresh is best, but can be dried and added to dishes.

• Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) - Perennial. Plant after threat of frost.

Can be used in containers (both upright and hanging), in hedges and ground cover. Great for fireplace aroma! Grows well in the desert. Very attractive varieties include golden (green leaves with a splash of gold) and blue; prostrate and several types of shrubs; plants have white, blue or pink flowers. Also use in meat, soup, sauce, pasta dishes, pizza, rolls and breads. Eat both leaves and blooms. Great fresh or dried.

For more information, contact The University of Arizona Mohave County Cooperative Extension, 101 E. Beale Street, Kingman or telephone (928) 753-3788.