In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2001
Regional Report

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A butterfly sips nectar from a desert milkweed that is loaded with both flowers and pods.

Nursery Tour

Two fellow plant addicts and I took our own self-designed nursery tour to Tucson a week ago. We drove south in an SUV loaded with empty boxes and proceeded to fill them up as we traipsed from one nursery to the next. Tucson has many terrific nurseries and growers concentrating on native and desert-adapted plants, as well as some colorful displays of blooming annuals. We were so engrossed in our mission that we didn't pause for lunch!

It's definitely worth some time to browse your local nurseries from time to time, even if you don't need to buy any plants. You can spot new varieties, get some ideas for container combinations or just de-stress a bit.

Butterfly Magnet

It's also fun to chance upon things you might not see in your own landscape. At one nursery, my friends were waving and calling my name as if I'd won the lottery. Turns out they wanted me to see a group of desert milkweed plants (Asclepias subulata) in one-gallon pots that were loaded with butterflies. Asclepias shows up on numerous plant lists for butterfly gardens and it was easy to see why.

Asclepias

I frequently recommend this plant because it provides such an unusual focal point in the landscape. It is an attractive greenish-grey color. Slender stems grow to about 2 to 4 feet tall, with short wispy leaves at the tips. Don't be surprised if the leaves fall off. They don't seem to last long. Flowers are displayed in a creamy cluster, and there are 2- to 3-inch seed pods that resemble okra.

Easy to Grow

This plant takes full sun and needs excellent drainage; otherwise it is fairly trouble-free. Sometimes it is loaded with neon orange aphids, but their presence doesn't seem to hurt the plant. If they bother you, spray them off with water from the hose.

The plant makes an interesting silhouette against a wall if the sun's angle is appropriate. And of course, the butterflies will congregate when it's in bloom.

So if holiday stress is getting to you and there isn't time for a trip to a botanical garden or a hiking trail, go cruise a nursery or two. I bet you'll find something to delight your senses!


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