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Respecting the Desert

Respecting the desert just makes sense, especially if you live in one. More than that, appreciating the desert. I was driving in the way-far-north-western part of town recently and just before I got on the 95, my eye was caught by one of the hundreds of signs for new construction that's going on up there. I was horrified. On a billboard there's a picture of an enormous lush green lawn, with something that looked like a maple tree in front of a white wooden fence. As if that was the ideal that this developer was going after. As if that was the ideal that we should be going after here in Las Vegas.

Had there been anyone in the car with me, well, they would have heard how incredibly upset I was. I'm sure that someone who never set foot in the Mojave Desert found a picture of the stereotypical country setting and, without thinking, plopped it on a sign for a new development. Who cares that it couldn't be more inappropriate!

Now, being from the east originally - you know, the right hand side of the map, the side with rainfall, I like trees - broadleaved, deciduous, changing color in the fall trees - but I also know that they take a lot of water. A lot of water that we in Southern Nevada can't afford. Remember drought, Mojave Desert, water shortage? Even if we had rainfall for days, it won't make up for the water that's not coming into Lake Mead from the Colorado River. And anyway, we don't have the right conditions for color changing maples.

But that's beside the point.

Why is it so hard for some people to see the beauty of this area?

A friend told me about a conversation she'd been in with a woman who wanted to see unbridled development in the Las Vegas valley. The reason? According to her, the desert is so ugly, she wanted it to be paved over. How sad can anything be?.

Imagine being ready to destroy an entire ecosystem because you don't like the way a place looks. It boggles my mind. I have to ask why would somebody move here if they hate its appearance. How can anyone look at a desert willow and not see how exquisite that tree is? Or the Texas locust, or some of the mesquites (I myself prefer the thornless ones). All of these can provide shade and they belong in a desert. And let's not forget that if we create environments that are foreign to this part of the world, we push out native species and bring in foreign ones. Mosquitoes and pigeons come to mind.

As I go around town, I've been looking at some of the new developments, the ones where they've put in lawns. Well I've wondered what exactly are the builders thinking? After all, it's not as if you can't have a gorgeous landscape without fescue or rye grass. A lot of members of the group of low growers called "ice plant" make fine succulent ground covers. Not to mention rosemary, or gazanias. Evening primrose and trailing indigo bush - any one of these doesn't grow tall and has great color. You don't walk on these things, but how many people don't really walk on their lawns anyway? It crossed my mind that maybe some developers figure they can put in turf, then take it out to get the rebate from the water district. Not my idea of a good use of resources.

Oh well, that's my tirade.

Before I saw that sign, I thought that I'd actually use today's time to talk about preparing for the fall garden. Since the days are getting shorter, you might as well not be planting things to produce fruits or flowers. By the time these plants get big enough to flower, there might not be enough sunlight to get any fruit from them. Wait until spring. But anything that you might want to grow for the leaves, either pretty ornamental leaves or edible ones like lettuce or spinach, it'll soon be time to get them into the ground. They need fewer hours of direct sunlight, and in general they can tolerate cooler temperatures than something you're growing for flowers.

If you need some information, you can call the Cooperative Extension office and ask for some of the fact sheets and special publications we have: "Becoming a Desert Gardener" covers much of the material you'd on establishing a garden, and there's a lot of bulletins on vegetables as well as specific plants and problems.

For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

The number for cooperative extension is 222-3130 and the booklet Angela mentioned is called Becoming a Desert Gardener.