My new Flagstaff house had a native backyard garden that I just watched the first year to see what would come up. Disappointment with the non-showiness of this garden spurred me into action, digging up all those native plants and replacing them with plants I expected would create a waterfall of flowers.
Such ignorance. I found the accidental gardener, like the accidental tourist, is jolted into reality and has to face the decision to go back to her old way of thinking or move on with the new reality. It took time, just like it took time for the main character in the book, but slowly I learned gardening in Flagstaff requires patience, special attention to the soil and weather, and most importantly, new ways of thinking about what is beautiful.
I learned to focus and revel in the perfection of a single or a small group of plants or blooms. I learned those native plants might not be quite as showy as my Midwest and East Coast favorites, but they attracted many beautiful butterflies, bees, and birds. When they survived the snow, cold, wind, shade, and drought, they were miracles of color and joy.
Here are some of the accidental gardening discoveries I made. First, a label of perennial did not mean it will come back every year. This was a big surprise to me. Columbines and Shasta Daisies were often perennial for many years and then just disappeared. I love tulips but do not plant them anymore because they rarely bloomed more than one or two seasons. Daffodils, on the other hand, were always reliable bloomers. Second, planting with good rich dirt meant almost nothing the following year. Soil needs to be amended with organic matter every year. Lastly, water was the stuff of life but expensive. During my second year in Flagstaff, I planted fifty bare root Amur Maples around the borders of my yard. Only two stayed alive because I had no way to water them or protect them from the deer.