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Hot Gardens Newsletter:  June 2004

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The Disappearing Anasazis. The drought in the Colorado River drainage continues. 2004 winter snows in the Rocky Mountains were below normal and the Colorado River is drying up. At Lake Mead for example, the water level behind Hoover Dam is 70 feet lower than it should be and a town that was submerged when the Lake was filled back in the 1930s, is exposed again. Lake Powell, behind the Glen Canyon Dam farther up the Colorado River, has even less water in it.   (By 2011 the reservoirs have begun to fill up again.)

And the Colorado River no longer empties into the Gulf of California – but vanishes into the parched earth near the Mexican border before reaching it.

Newcomers to the Southwest may not be aware that the great "oasis cities" -- Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles -- rely heavily on the Colorado for significant portions of their cities' water supplies. Local groundwater is not enough for the millions of people.

While all of us who live in the desert southwest and California hope that coming winters will give us above-normal precipitation, there is evidence that previous desert dwellers, the Anasazi people, faced decades-long drought.

By looking at tree rings, researchers have discovered that there was a major drought in the Southwest between 1125 and 1180 – that’s 55 years! Again, in the following century, a drought came and, this time, the Anasazi destroyed their kivas, abandoned their pueblos and left the area. The prospect of a decades-long drought is real. Consider this when you design and plant a desert garden.

golden barrel cactus Just one of the mini-gardens of succulents and cactus in the Desert Garden section of the Huntington Botanic Gardens.

Cactus Confession. Cactus and Succulents are the ultimate drought-tolerant plants, but we confess they have never been of great interest to us until a recent visit to the Huntington Botanic Gardening San Marino, California. The Desert Garden section of this Botanic Garden is guaranteed to inspire a love of succulents and their prickly cousins, cactus. And what a joy – almost every single plant is clearly identified on an easily readable label.

As important as the individual specimens are, the overall design of the HuntingtonDesert Garden is spectacular. For one thing, they have not planted one specimen here, another there. The plants are massed in groups to create dramatic, dense borders and mini-gardens along winding paths beneath pines and mesquites.

We have added a new page to the Hot Gardens website to show you how beautiful a cactus and succulent garden can be. Visit our new page, then visit the Huntington Botanic Gardens in person or online at

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Palm Season. Unlike other trees, palms do best when planted in warm weather. They love warm soil around their roots. Of course, a newly planted palm, like any transplant, needs additional watering until it is established. Another note about the Huntington Botanic Garden: they have huge section devoted to Palm trees right next to the Desert Garden. Some of these palms will thrive in the desert, others will not. Be sure to check with your local nursery about which palms do best in your area. (Then after you have seen the palms and cactus, go to the Huntington Tea Room for a traditional English Tea!)

New Climber. There is a new hybrid of the Cape Honeysuckle in nurseries this year with a light yellow blossom. This South African native vine blooms beautifully for months on end and is probably one of the best climbers for the desert. It needs support so plant it adjacent to your arbor or pergola; it is too vigorous a grower for a simple short trellis.

Go to our Newsletter for June 2003


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