Southern Arizona is a birder’s paradise, and even in the heart of Tucson, you will experience a bevy of winged visitors. Here, we profile some of the “usual suspects” you may see in your garden.
By Debby Larsen | Photos by Justin Carrillo
Along the Mount Lemmon highway on the far eastside of Tucson, the Fest family has embraced the farm life —in a scaled-down form.
Lenny and Jennifer Fest invested time and patience to locate the perfect property for a bucolic lifestyle with their daughters Sophia and Emma. After three years, the Fests’ spread now boasts lush vegetable and flower gardens, as well as 30 chickens of various breeds, three Welsh Harlequin ducks, three Nigerian dwarf goats, one mini Blue Heeler and one rescued calico cat.
The house was constructed by the previous owner, and had been added to in bits and pieces over many years. Although it was not their dream home, the Fests believed it had lots of potential for their family. Jennifer remarks that it was the wrap-around porch that sold them on the purchase.
However, the house reno was going to have to wait. They immediately began work on their outdoor projects, building several raised wooden beds for vegetables. Jennifer’s parents, Jim and Cindy Willis, offered help, gardening expertise and encouragement during their many weekend projects.
In addition to other crops, several seed varieties from Native Seed Search were utilized. Gardening has become an adventure, with lots to learn in the process. “One year we planted Dragon Carrot and Scarlet Nantes seed. They cross-pollinated and the next year’s result was a lovely, ‘ombre’ carrot in purple, pink and orange,” Jennifer says with a laugh. Each season, their garden yields bountiful produce.
After getting the gardens started, they set about acquiring hens, but first needed a chicken coop. The Fests built a shed from a kit, but added a little Southwest charm in the form of a shiny, tin roof. Their chickens now provide beautiful multi-colored eggs that Sophia and Emma sell at their flower-bedecked “Farm Stand” on their property.
Jennifer studied interior design in college, and her touch can be found in the carefully crafted signs throughout
the garden. She often recycles old wood and vintage windows for her palette. Photos from Pinterest were the inspiration for the recently added goat house. Leftover parts from their daughters’ pre-fab playhouse were utilized in this project. An old tractor tire became a favorite addition to the goats’ playground.
Native trees, along with shade and fruit trees (some 50 in all), dot the property, watered in large part with rainwater collected and held in a giant tank just for this purpose. Grapevines cover a hillside ramada — a lovely site for a party.
When Jennifer and Lenny are asked what is next on their long list of projects, they mention plans for a small greenhouse to nurture tiny plants during the cool season.
Daughters Sophia, now eight, and Emma, six, obviously enjoy this lifestyle. When the family entertains, the girls — in their cotton frocks and their best mini-work boots — proudly show off the eggs they have collected that morning and offer tours of the gardens.
Tucson experiences five gardening cycles: spring, summer, monsoon, fall and winter. With a little luck, the much-needed moisture from the monsoons stretches into September, setting things up for the next cycle.
With autumn making its appearance this month, the warm season plants are winding down and the night temperatures are dropping slightly. This is the time when many of us re-evaluate our outdoor spaces and how we want to use them. For our cover story this month, we visited the Fest family, who are well versed in the cycles of desert gardening, and have created a mini-farm on their eastside property. See the picturesque results beginning on page 16.
We also feature the garden of the McPheeters, and as we traveled to midtown for our photo shoot, we didn’t need our GPS to find the right address. This colorful space certainly got our attention. Creating a well-designed front garden can generate enormous curb appeal. Check out the result of landscape architect Shelly Ann Abbott’s project on page 22.
There are many types of winged visitors you can attract to your outdoor environment. Turn to page 32 to catch a glimpse of some birds that you may want to put on your guest list.
Our Pro this month is stonesmith Jon Aguilar, who utilizes ancient dry stone techniques to build fire features, walls, patios and much more. Read about his company on page 14.
Plant citrus while the weather is still warm. Choose varieties that are better adapted to desert conditions.
Plant strawberry varieties that perform in low-desert conditions. Choose a location that has protection from afternoon sun.
Plant fall herbs such as chives, thyme, catmint, cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel and parsley.
Transplant herbs such as lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme.
Dig compost into vegetable beds.
Rearrange container plants to sunnier locations as the sun’s arc slips southward.
Chill tulip, crocus, daffodil and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator for eight weeks prior to planting.
Cut back tomatoes and peppers that made it through the summer to promote a new bloom before frost.
Trim roses and remove dead twigs to promote a second bloom in the fall.
Prune shrubs such as oleander, privet, xylosma, Texas ranger and Arizona rosewood that have become overgrown.
Cut back on water for deciduous fruit trees, grape vines and citrus to slow growth and get ready for cooler temperatures.
Water citrus deeply out to the plant’s canopy every two weeks.
Hose off dusty plants to control spider mites.
Divide iris this month. Dig up large clumps and cut rhizomes into small pieces.
Pull and compost the last of the summer annuals.
Refresh garden beds by incorporating four to six inches of organic matter.
Fertilize with nitrogen in early September to provide nutrients to summer-stressed plants. Water the day before and after applications to prevent burn.
Feed roses with a slow-release fertilizer that will last through fall.
Fertilize citrus with the third and final application of nitrogen for the year.
Add organic nitrogen sources to the soil, including alfalfa meal, blood meal, coffee grounds, cottonseed meal, fish emulsion and guano.
TIP OF THE MONTH
The hibiscus is an iconic flower of the tropics, but can make a bright splash of color in your patio or container garden. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a heat-loving, evergreen shrub with glossy green leaves and a colorful whorl of five-petalled, trumpet-shaped blooms. The color range includes shades of red, orange, yellow, pink, peach and white. Different cultivars offer large flower sizes and double blooms. It has a long blooming season, from spring through late fall. When temperatures drop, reduce watering because the plant becomes semi-dormant. Prune after the frost to invigorate growth. Plant hibiscus on the east or north side of your home and give it regular watering. Add a slow-release fertilizer for best results. Yellow leaves can mean heat damage or too little water.