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A Place All Our Own

Lives Entwined in a Desert Garden

Mary Irish

Publication Year: 2012

For twenty years Mary Irish, along with her husband Gary, tended a garden in Scottsdale, Arizona. Over the years they transformed it into a lively and lovely spot that reflected both its place in the world—hot, dry, and often hostile to gardeners who don’t understand its ways—and the particular passions of its two creators. Of course, not everything went as planned, and the garden talked back as much as it obeyed. But for these two gardeners, the unexpected outcome is one of gardening’s great pleasures. 

Mary Irish is a delightful writer. With grace, wit, and obvious affection, she tells the story of how she and Gary transformed a barren half-acre plot around their house in the center of Greater Phoenix into a haven: for its creators and their friends, for the birds and insects and other critters that have discovered it, and for the plants that have made it their home. Although it describes the experience of gardening in one of the most extreme climates in the inhabited world, A Place All Our Own will interest anyone who gardens—and everyone who enjoys a well-told, true-life nature tale.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-11

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pp. 1-4

Building a garden is no different than building a life; often the pieces and parts come together without much conscious effort, creating a recognizable pattern only when you look back on it. A garden in which you live for a long time, just like a life of almost any length, develops around choices little and big, conscious or not: the placement of a path, or a wall, ...

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1. The Beginning

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pp. 5-12

We came to Arizona more or less on a whim. We were driving from one parent’s house to another on a Christmas visit through an ice storm’s residue, knowing that the same storm had hit our home in New Orleans with a record freeze for the second time in as many years. Pipes were broken and leaking. Mercifully, a kindly neighbor had shut off the water. ...

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2. Weather

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pp. 13-26

While weather is not technically alive, it might as well be for all the effect it has on a garden. I learned early on that no matter where you live, weather vacillates from being a congenial, satisfying partner to a merciless bully, and learning to join the vagaries of your climate with your choice of When I first moved to the desert I remarked continuously on the stability ...

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3. The Back

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pp. 27-58

Like many gardeners, we consider our back garden a haven, a place to retire from the world and its demands, an intensely private world where we can be soothed by the first blooms of the oxblood lily, where summer nights are punctuated by the gentle, white flowers of sacred datura (Datura wrightii) and four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) as they offer their nectar to the ...

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4. Birds

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pp. 59-86

Owing to a lifetime of bird watching, birds always grab my attention. Sometimes it is embarrassing. I might stop in mid-sentence (mine or someone else’s) to snatch a quick look, or turn my head (and my attention) at an unfamiliar sound or flash of wings. Anyone who spends time around birders gets used to it, but others react with an uncomfortable stare, or ...

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5. The Front

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pp. 87-112

There are a number of reasons to love our neighborhood, but one of the most obvious is the way the front yards meet the street. There are no sidewalks and there are no streetlights, save the small ones that mark each home’s entry walk. The streets are not straight, but wander and slide, up and down, from wash to wash, side to side, from one curve to another. These ...

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6. Animals

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pp. 113-134

I have lived in close quarters with animals all my life. I grew up with a minor zoo of dogs, cats, cows, sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens, and turkeys. Most were working animals, well tended, reasonably tame, and there to provide food for the family. Some crossed over to become pets, There was a storeroom off the barn that held an assortment of animal ...

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7. The Outback

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pp. 135-142

It was a number of years before we addressed the issue of the outer garden, which we came to know as the Outback. There wasn’t much there when we arrived; three native mesquites, a small saguaro badly in need of care, a foothills palo verde in the farthest corner, and dozens of creosote. This area faces west for the most part, with most of it higher than the rest ...

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8. Bugs

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pp. 143-164

We live in a world with uncountable numbers of insects and invertebrates, a group we collectively call “bugs.” These lives are the most numerous on our planet (I think this is true) but to most of us they are either invisible, irrelevant, or too much in our way. It is fanciful, and tantalizing, to imagine an insect-driven world, supported and arranged to suit their needs. ...

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9. The Patios

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pp. 165-178

From the very beginning of our time in this house we envisioned a patio right outside the back door. The house has a large back porch that adjoins the living room and a big glass door that walks you right out into the patio. It seemed a natural for people like us: a patio that would be an extension of the house, a view that would bring the outdoors in, a cozy place ...

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10. People

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pp. 179-204

I have never made a garden with anyone but gary. I tried once, but it was an utter failure, marred by a lot of problems. When I think back on it, the overwhelming reason for its failure was that so many people were involved: some were incompetent; some uninterested or, worse, looked on the entire effort as a problem akin to pesky rodents or drenching hailstorms; ...

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11. In the End

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pp. 205-206

It is hard to estimate how people will take to our garden, or even if they will at all. We have such a large collection of oddities, interesting trials, and foolish choices, we wonder how anyone can begin to figure out what is going on or what was our intention. Assuming, of course, that we would know if asked. And while Gary is a wonderful builder in stone, ...

Index of Plants

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pp. 207-212

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About the Author

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pp. 213-224

...Mary Irish is a garden writer, lecturer, and educator who lived in She is the author of Gardening in the Dessert by University Press (2000); co-author with Gary Irish of Agaves, Yuccas, and Related Plants by Timber Press (2000); author of Arizona Gardener’s Guide (2003); and Month by Month Gardening in the Desert Southwest (2003), with a revised ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599394
E-ISBN-10: 0816599394
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816512829
Print-ISBN-10: 0816512825

Page Count: 223
Illustrations: 14 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2012


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Subject Headings

  • Desert gardening -- Arizona -- Anecdotes.
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