Reflections on Scott Calhoun’s The Hot Garden (Part 2)


Will this book, by Scott Calhoun, feed my maverickiness?

Part 1 of this extended review can be found here.

To be clear The Hot Garden‘s author, Scott Calhoun, didn’t set out to offer landscape design advice for my area of Texas. Nope, he intended to focus more on the areas within and adjacent to the three hottest American desserts: the Chihuahuan, the Mojave and the Sonoran–all West of here.

Still, the extremes of heat and cold coupled with Calhoun’s point that he “knew that the focus of this book would be the areas of the Southwest where the primary mulch used between plants in composed of plants.” While that isn’t especially common here due, in my opinion, to local convention–and the fact that buffalo and other native grasses will invade rocky mulch and paths, it is true, as Calhoun asserts, that the limiting factor on plant survival here is the cold, not the heat. Out here in NW Bexar County, we’re guaranteed at least two good, solid cold snaps–and some ice and flurries–each year. This is the reason why I chuckle at folks who insist upon  planting palm trees out here. (It happens more often than you’d expect–and usually ends badly.)

Having established the challenges facing gardeners in the American Southwest, Calhoun moves on to making suggestions for reliable plants. Among the many plants Calhoun recommends is the native Blackfoot daisy, the very plant that I tucked into the edge of my veggie garden last fall to see if it would over-winter. It’s fine now, waiting for spring to bloom. Calhoun makes an excellent (albeit obvious) point that gardeners in “the hot garden region” should explore the local wildflower population for ideas, incorporating them into the garden freely. As it happens, our first crop of bluebonnet plants is up in a stretch near the back fence nicknamed “the meadow.” Validation feels good!

Most satisfying of all Calhoun’s suggestions are set off from the main text in boxes labeled “Eat Your Garden.” There are several such boxes scattered throughout the book, each with suggestions for harvesting and/or preparing edibles ranging from mesquite beans to prickly pears. Calhoun writes that there’s a group out in Tucson, Desert Harvesters, that converts mesquite bean pods into flour every fall. This has me thinking that it may be fun to create a Hot (Veggie) Garden that extends beyond the usual peppers, onions, chiles, and tomatoes. Oh, and just so you know, sometime later this year I’ll be serving up yucca blossoms for the first time! (I always wondered what to do with them.)

At the end of the day, in targeting an under-appreciated region of the United States and granting gardeners situated therein permission to chart their own courses, Calhoun’s book has the power to open the eyes of those of us along the central region’s fringe to the potential our own yards also possess.  Essentially, The Hot Garden offers this reader a much needed atta-girl, the kind of nudge that will shore up my resolve this spring to walk past the magazine racks promising lush, leafy landscapes with my head held high.

And so to answer that question from Part 1, I don’t have to wait to become a better maverick-y, hot-climate gardener.  That will likely come with time, a by-product of my journey here. Yet in listening to the land, in seeking out the history of this place and climate we now call “home”–and finding inspiration in it , I’m becoming attuned to this landscape in a direct, fulfilling manner. Ultimately, that may prove the greatest reward of all.

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