Gardening Q & A with a Local: Meet Anna

Whether you're a seasoned gardener or still discovering your garden groove, you've probably discovered that gardeners & their approach to cultivation are as wonderfully diverse as the plants they tend and indeed, the folks themselves. What freedom and adventure our little patches of earth can offer us! But don't take our word for it, each month we'll be asking local garden folks questions about their own gardening adventures. This month Arizona native and home gardener, Anna, will be our guest gardener. As the mother of two young boys and the School Gardener Coordinator at Miles Exploratory Learning Center, Anna’s gardening experiences often have a playful side. You can follow Anna and her family’s adventures in nature on her blog “Nature to You, opens a new window.” Happy growing!

1.) When did you first discover your green thumb?

As a kid, I helped my mom plant flowers and my grandparents take care of their large, lush yard.  I have a vivid memory of my mom teaching me to gently remove flowers from their nursery pots – and then of making a horse costume inspired by the pots.  My Grandma encouraged my cousins and me to trim her trees as we made forts.  Gardening has always been a form of play and creativity for me. 

2.) What is your favorite time of year (season) to garden? 

Definitely fall.  I get to add color to the yard with native shrubs, expand my vegetable garden, anticipate wildflowers, and breathe in a big sigh of relief at the cooler weather.

3.) Biggest gardening success? Flop?

I love discovering which plants take off with little care.  A basil plant in my son’s class survived with minimal attention one summer. It finally froze that winter, then resurrected itself in the form of dozens of basil sprouts with watering from devoted students.  At home, a brave sunflower became a cheerful focal point of our backyard one difficult summer. 

My harvests at home are sometimes laughable – string-thin carrots and three tiny cobs of corn when I started vegetable gardening.  But if I try the same crop over a few years, and improve its growing conditions, the results grow each year. 

4.) Do you grow from seed or starts? 

Usually I use seeds for vegetables and treat myself to potted plants for perennial flowers.  I’m playing with propagating flowers to save some money.  But I’ll always love visiting local nurseries and seasonal plant sales!

5.) Favorite recipe for your harvest? 

Plants that can be eaten raw are a win for my family and my students.  The simple pleasure of eating a carrot straight from the ground or snap peas plucked off the vine makes kids happy and is less work for me.

6.) What special challenges do you face gardening in the desert? 

The heat of the summer is exhausting to be outside in and depressing to be trapped inside by, even for this Arizona native.  I’ve adapted by cutting back on gardening during June and July, emerging outdoors to dig in the dirt or water plants in the evening at home, and investing in lightweight pants and layered shirts for when I need to work outside during the day.

7.) What are you growing now? And what are you getting ready to plant? 

At school, the corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers got a good start with monsoon rains and are coming along with irrigation.  We’ll start winter greens and root veggies soon.  At home, our corn is almost ready to harvest!  The boys have requested tomatoes next, and wheat is something they look forward to because it’s fun to hide in and watch sway in the wind. 

8.) Planting dates, do follow religiously or do you tempt fate and experiment with when to plant? 

I try to use planting months or seasons from Arizona-based garden calendars. If I only have non-local seed packet to go on, I mentally shift up or down.  For example, “spring” weather starts by the end of February and “summer” is really April or August.   

9.) Most indispensable garden tool? 

Garden hose.  Hand-watering plants is a joy, and it gets the kids and me outside.  Showering students is my go-to energizer on a hot day.  “Are you going to water the plants tonight, Mom?” my 7-year-old just asked at supper, because he looks forward to playing in the puddles. 

10.) What’s your favorite gardening book?

For reference, Extreme Gardening; for teaching, My Garden by Kevin Henkes; for inspiration, Seeds of Hope by Jane Goodall.

11.) If you were a plant, what plant would you be and why?

I would like to be a desert marigold, because it blooms most of the year and is resilient to stress.  I’m probably more like a palo verde, because I have strong roots.  Sometimes I’m prickly but bloom when conditions are right.  When I asked my 4-year-old what I should be, he answered, “Lupines, because we all love them!”  I’ll take it.

12.) Are you a seed saver? 

Starting to be.  At school we’ll use saved seeds for part of our winter planting.  At home, more often I let plants re-seed, like my poppies, opens a new window and lupines, opens a new window, or enjoy some compost surprises, such as peppers, opens a new window and tomatoes, opens a new window.

Is there a local gardener that you'd like to see featured as one of our monthly guests, or perhaps you'd like to be an upcoming guest contributor? Please email us at with your suggestions.