Desert Grandma Gardner

I’ve been a “casual” gardener for most of my life, but when I decided to retire after 38 years working in technology for a major US city, I also decided that I wanted to take gardening more seriously and chose it as my primary retirement pastime.  Maybe it’s a desire to work with the earth as one gets closer to returning to it, or maybe it’s a throwback to my “roots” - my Dad’s family were farmers and while he always said how much he hated it, he too started a garden in his retirement.  All I know is the thought of my being able to grow things made me happy.  

A life change like retirement should not be taken lightly.  My husband and I are planners and our decision to retire was a well-planned strategy that would make a military General proud. We decided that leaving Southern California would give us the best chance to plan to stay independent as long as possible, and the rising cost of living in California encouraged the move to Arizona.  Arizona’s growing economy allowed us to build a house with all the “bells and whistles” my husband and I would need to “age in place”, in a  “comparable” (meaning no snow) climate, with our grandchildren close by.  Everything seemed logical and well planned, except perhaps wanting to spend my time gardening in the “desert”.  

Arizona is however also known to have legendary sweltering temperatures in the summer months, coupled with torrential “monsoon” rains, but statistics show temps are generally comparable (thank you global warming) to recent summer temps in SoCal.  Remembering that California is an artificial oasis created by man-made redirection of precious water resources, and irrigation and drainage being something easily planned for, I’m calling it “even Steven” and gleefully looking forward to becoming the Desert Grandma Gardener.  

Of course, Murphy’s Law must take a shot at causing failure, and in our case, Murphy’s Law came in the form of COVID, supply chain, and scheduling challenges with the building trades which pushed our move-in date on the house and every other schedule.  But even with a 6+ month delay, I’ll finally be able to start working on the part of the house that signifies retirement to me - my garden and my Vego 17” raised planters.  To date, the planters will be put together in early August, filled and ready to plant as soon as the Arizona summer abates and the gardening can officially begin.  

With measuring and design help from my husband, irrigation put in during our basic landscaping phase, and a lot of internet research, I decided on  Vego Garden raised beds. I knew I wanted and needed to do a raised planters because the soil in our area of Arizona is rock hard - they had to use dynamite to dig out the community pool a couple of streets up from our house, so planters were a no brainer, and I chose Vego to get a choice of different planter heights, to give me more planting depth and save trips to the chiropractor.  Originally I thought about the 32” planters but I wanted my grandchildren to be able to work the garden without a step stool, so the 17” 10-in-1 and 6-in-1 units, along with 4 trellis’, in-ground worm composters, and solar lights were picked.  These kits should give me 3 9.5’ x 2.5’ raised beds along the north side of our lot to create my new Eden, and a 5.5’x2’ smaller raised bed for the grandkids to plant adjacent to the main row of planters, and I should still have enough room for a storage shed and potting table.

blank slate

I’ve enlisted our handyman to help me with putting the planters together and filling them…..while the instructions look very simple, I am 63, and only 5’2” (I won’t disclose my weight), so I expect things will go a lot faster, easier, and probably come out better if there’s a little more muscle on this part of the project.  I’ve also enlisted my husband to shift through the tons of cardboard moving boxes to collect the “cleanest” pieces to use in the fill/layering of the planters.

hose bib


At the suggestion from our landscape workers (a shout out to Chewy and Pancho) and our Pest Control guy, Bryant, who have been terrific in sharing words of wisdom on how to work with the desert environment, we’re also looking into rattlesnake fencing to add to our side gate and the cinderblock yard fencing - I’m told it’s like chicken-wire that you add to the bottom of your gate (like weather stripping) and between the cinder block wall segments that builders leave to help with drainage.  While I haven’t seen a rattler yet, they had me at “it’ll also help keep the mice and rats out of your garden” since I’ve been known to lose the most incredible zucchini and tomatoes to those crafty devils.  

potted fruit trees


I’m was always planning on chronicling my gardening adventures even before the opportunity came up to possibly share my experience with the Vego Community.  Having spent my working career in government technology, I’m very used to writing - documentation, procedures, and policies and I enjoy writing, but since I’ll be doing this for myself (and hopefully for the Vego community), this journal will be more of a cross between light agricultural science, of the Ben Franklin’s Common Sense level - what worked and must be remembered - what didn’t work and to remember not to try again.  I also expect that I’ll be throwing in a good deal of grandchild stories, humor, and grandparent advice since I want to leave this as a family artifact, filled with remembrances of the time spent with my grandchildren.  I’m hoping it won’t be too tedious, but it will give the “kiddos” a journal of time spent with Grandma, that I also hope will be helpful and maybe entertaining to them and whomever else happens to stumble upon it. 

irrigation controller

---- Photos from  Joyce Jinde Edson


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