Friday, April 26, 2013

From summer back to spring

I had a fabulous time in Tucson experiencing a taste of summer and exploring the desert. But it's nice to come home to springtime in Victoria. April might be our prettiest month with trees and shrubs in full colour and the tulips glowing.  Fortunately it's been sunny for the past three days so I haven't gone into complete solar withdrawal.

The camas is blooming under the oak trees and my garden is producing rhubarb and purple sprouting broccoli. The broccoli was a surprise left over from last year. It survived the winter and is sprouting like crazy.  It's delicious steamed or sauted with olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Last night it was warm enough to sit outside with friends for a bit before dinner.  One summery thing I brought back from Tucson is the Mexican oil cloth that covers the table.  It's a nice reminder of Tucson's warmth.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Doors in the Barrio

The other day we took a tour around the oldest neighbourhood of Tucson, known as the barrio.  A dozen years ago this area was mostly crumbling adobe buildings dating from the 1800s. Some were occupied but many were in grave need of restoration.  We toured some beautifully restored homes as well as some newer ones that are built to fit into the streetscape.  Some of the buildings are still derelict but it's turning into a very cool place to live.  The houses are narrow but the yards go way back and are really lovely.  Next time I'll show you some of the yards, but today here are a few of the front doors that caught my eye.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hedgehog cactus surprise

Yesterday morning we turned a corner around the side of the house to find that overnight the hedgehog cactus had come into astonishing vibrant flower.  The night before there were only buds but by morning it was a festival of blooms.  Aren't they stunning?
Naturally I couldn't stop myself from taking dozens of photographs. Here are a few that show the gorgeousness of this plant.  The stamens around the edge of the green throat are so lovely!
This one still had some buds yesterday morning, but by the evening everything had opened and this one plant had 16 flowers.

By this morning some flowers were already beginning to fade.  But just in case we were too sad to see them go, another hedgehog cactus came into bloom. This one is a golden yellow.

The desert is just so full of surprises.

And to top it off this morning we saw a young bobcat on the patio. It looked curiously at us through the window for several minutes before it hopped over the wall back into its desert environment.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Saguaro saga

Since being in Tucson I've gained an appreciation of the amazing desert sentinel, the Saguaro. This is the iconic cactus from the cartoons and the cowboy movies. It grows at a specific altitude in areas of Arizona, California and Northern Mexico. 

This one stands in front of the house we're staying in and to me it looks like a Hopi Kachina twirling in a dance.  She's an old one for sure as they grow very slowly.  It takes up to 75 years for them to develop a side arm.

Nobody knows why some of them grow straight up like sentinels while others grow as many as twenty arms. But this difference makes them so fascinating and appealing.  Each Saguaro develops its own character as it grows and ages.

Here's another view of our Saguaro (we've named her Hopi), showing some other holes that give her her expression. These holes are made by Gila Woodpeckers and other desert birds.

Apparently the birds peck through the hard skin into the softer areas and create the size of hole they need, then they leave for a few weeks, during which time the cactus forms scar tissue that creates a perfect nest.  After the larger birds have left these holes, they're used by other birds like owls and wrens.

Here are a few other Saguaros. The one on the right has an unusual twist to it. The smaller ones on the left might be about 30 years old.

Sometimes instead of developing arms the saguaro will develop what's called a crest at its top.  Doesn't this one look as if its wearing a crown?

In spring saguaros hold a lot of water in their spongy core and their pleated skin expands.  The big ones can hold hundreds of gallons of water. Also in the spring they develop buds that become blooms. I've yet to see one of these but I have my fingers crossed.


These amazing plants are spread by tiny seeds from the fruit that birds eat. They can live as long as 150 years.  Some of the older ones look dead but still put out new buds and flowers.  These buds are from the end of the arm of the ancient one in our yard that we call Hopi.

When the plant dies it starts to reveal its inner structure. You can see the ribs, which have been used for centuries to build shelters.

Eventually it falls over and returns to the earth.  But the scar tissue from inside the holes that the birds created years ago remain.  These are called "boots" and as they lie on the desert floor they create homes for other desert creatures.  On the right here you can see quite a large boot that was lying beside this fallen giant.  We didn't dare to pick it up to see what was living inside.

One final thing, many saguaros stand close to the palo verde tree and the reason for this is that the seeds and tiny seedlings are sheltered by these trees during their vulnerable period.  Now you know a bit about the saguaro story.  Do you see why I'm so fascinated?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The blooming desert

It's so entrancing to spend time in a different landscape -- and the desert landscape here in Tucson couldn't be more different from that on Canada's west coast.  I've spent the last three days braving cactus spines to take photos of the amazing desert plants here. This is the perfect season for it, as just about every cactus is in bloom or coming into bloom.

Here are just a few of these gorgeous plants.

The prickly pear cactus in several comes with colours of pink or yellow,

And then there's the gorgeous purple paddled Santa Rita with its heavenly lemon-coloured blooms.

I'm not sure which types are used to make the prickly pear syrup used here to create a pretty margarita. 
Here are the flowers of the Cholla, they also come in gorgeous colours. The bees seem to love this one. Most of the flowers have a pollen-drunk bee buzzing around inside.

The Saguaros are not quite in bloom yet but their showing definite buds on the ends of their arms. I am hoping to see their flowers before I have to leave.

 The barrel cactus has golden orange blooms, and here's another one with heavenly magenta.

We can't forget the Ocotillo with its waving stems of flame red,

Or the Yucca's spike of creamy white flowers.  This one was so heavy that it drooped over.

Back in Victoria the trees are blooming pink this time of year, but Tucson is coloured with the pale greenish-yellow of the Palo Verde.  It's stunning in full flower, don't you think?
When the flowers drop they cover the roads in golden snow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Joesler hacienda

The house here in Tucson is one of a number of residences built by Josias Joesler, a Swiss-born architect who used traditional southwestern handcrafted motifs. He's probably Tucson's most famous architect of the time.

This house has been added to and the kitchen redone but the romantic 1930s feeling remains.

The swimming pool is likely a later addition and that's where we spend most of our time.  That is, when we're not cooking and lunching at the table under the ramada.  It's a perfect place for a peaceful retreat.

Here's the main living room complete with beams and period furniture.  We only go in here to change the music. But every time we go in there we find ourselves wanting to waltz or fox trot!

The exterior is landscaped with some lovely fountains and patios but the highlight here is the array of gorgeous mature desert plants, many of them just coming into bloom.  I'll show you some tomorrow. This is a view from the kitchen out towards the Catalina mountains as the sun sinks in the west.  How lucky am I to spend time in such a beautiful place!