It’s Time to Make Southwest Gardening Fun

Gardening shouldn’t be scary, even when the temperature soars above 110 degrees and a dust storm rolls into your Southwest garden. If you love to garden or simply be outside, you take it in stride. And if you feel overwhelmed, you turn to fellow gardeners and gardening experts.

The contributors to Southwest Gardening are here to help. We can’t control the heat, but we can offer you tips on gardening in hot, dry climates from those of us with advanced degrees in the field and what we’ve all learned from our experiences, including the occasional mishap.

In the coming months, we’ll post weekly here and daily on our social media accounts with content tailored to the special challenges of gardening in the Southwest – from Texas to Arizona and surrounding states.

southwest gardener four acres new mexico
When spring arrives, Teresa is ready to hit the rock and vegetable gardens and acres of native grass and weeds!

Teresa Odle – Xeric Gardener and Microfarmer

I guess you could say I was a late bloomer. Although my parents loved to garden and embraced the challenge of growing in the Phoenix desert after transplanting from South Carolina, I didn’t pay enough attention. But then I married a man who has been mowing yards and gardening since before he reached puberty. And I got the bug. I’ve since been through Master Gardener training in Albuquerque, and moved in 2013 to a rural area in the mountains of southern New Mexico. Here, we keep going in a fairly hostile environment but have managed to tend a large xeric garden and grow food for local farmers’ markets on our four acres of dry, high-desert land.

Now, I share my experiences and love for all things green with Southwest gardeners on Gardening in a Drought and here on Southwest Gardening. I’m living proof that anyone can turn a brown thumb to green, even though (like most gardeners) I still make my share of mistakes. You’ll soon see a few of my pet peeves emerge: making gardeners think every landscape/container/tomato must be perfect, which puts way too much pressure on all of us; myths and just plain bad information online; and a bias toward East Coast plants and care tips in the literature.


Ann McCormick – the Herb ‘n Cowgirl

I’m one of those odd fish in the gardening world with no formal horticultural education. In fact, I started my adult life about as far away from gardening as you can get. My first career was managing computer systems in aerospace engineering. But despite this high-tech work, my heart never left my rural roots of a childhood in dry Southern California. Some of my earliest memories are of alfalfa fields, cows in the back paddock, and the family orchard and vegetable gardens. By day I may have been working with satellites but I went home to my gardens for stress relief and serious fun.

Then I hit my 40’s and decided it was time to plan for a mid-life change. I left aerospace, my family moved back to the Southwest, and I started to write about my passion for herbs and herb gardening. I began to study herbs and gardening with the same intensity I had when I was learning about telecommunications, orbital mechanics, and other bits or rocket science. Now I take that enthusiasm for gardening and use it to spread the fun of gardening. Although my specialty is herbs – I’m the Herb ‘n Cowgirl, after all – I enjoy learning about all aspects of gardening here in Texas. This is why I’m jazzed about working with Teresa, Noelle, and Jacqueline on Southwest Gardening. I know I will learn a lot and have fun doing it. Come along and join us as we explore the delights of gardening in a dry climate.


Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D – Botanist and Garden Writer

Jacqueline touring a community garden in Pittsburgh.
Jacqueline touring a community garden in Pittsburgh.

I was about four years old when I told my grandmother I wanted to be a doctor – not of people – but one of those doctors that gets to spend all day learning things.  “Wait ’til you start school before you decide that,” said she, a former school teacher. Dad listened though, and put me to work helping him plant a 30-acre pine plantation in a former cow pasture in Plainfield, Vermont. Along the way we discussed soil erosion, fertilizer, kinds of digging tools, and all the other topics that capture a kid’s imagination on a cold April day in Vermont.  Dad also helped me start my plant experiments in one corner of the vegetable garden that summer. I have been learning about plants ever since. My thirst for plant knowledge grew by moving to Tucson, Arizona, at age 7. Wow, what different plants and animals – and entirely different gardening concepts!  Age 7 is also when my first story about gardening was published in a national magazine.

I went on to live abroad for five years, travel most of the continents, spend years getting degrees, do some pure research, work in several different botanical gardens, and all the while I was writing about plants and gardening, as well as offering classes and programs on plant related topics. I write daily, with columns in a number of papers, articles in technical magazines, blogging for Gardening With Soule and Savor the Southwest, and then there are the books – 10 to date about gardening in our unique Southwestern climate.

Yes, it is technically Dr. Soule, but I don’t live in an ivory tower. My nails are usually broken and often have dirt under them. I still love learning about plants, but I found what I like best of all is getting to share just how cool plants are with people.  And to find out what they know too.  I still learn something new every day.

Noelle Johnson ‘AZ Plant Lady’ – Horticulturist and Landscape Consultant

Talking on television about growing my favorite plant – roses!

I never set out to be a gardener. Oh, I liked growing plants, but doing it for my career? Well, life has a funny way of moving in directions that we don’t anticipate. After meeting the man of my dreams at college in California, we moved to the Phoenix area, bought our first home and where I decided to plant a garden, I thought gardening in the desert would be easy. Well, I was soon proved wrong after I unintentionally killed a large number of plants in my attempt to grow a garden. Determined to figure out what I was doing wrong, I found that there weren’t many resources available for gardening in the Southwest. So, I went back to school and received my degree in Horticulture from Arizona State University.

I now have a job that I am passionate about, teaching others how to create beautiful gardens, that thrive in arid climates with a minimum of fuss. Whether I’m communicating about gardening through my blog, Ramblings From a Desert Garden, by meeting with people, speaking to garden groups, writing articles, appearing on television, or even video, there is so much you can grow in the desert climate. The Southwestern region of the U.S. is widely overlooked by traditional garden media, and whether you are a native or a recent transplant, we are here to help inspire you in creating a lovely outdoor space. I tell people that “gardening in the desert isn’t hard, but it is different.” We’ve all made our share of mistakes, which is part of the road toward to having a green thumb. We are excited to have you join us!

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  • Sandy Smith

    Hi all!
    Somehow I missed this post. I know Noelle from working with her, her Ramblings Blog and posts on Houzz.
    What a terrific, personable and knowledgeable group of women we have assembled. It’s nice to be able to put a face and location behind the names.
    My husband and I are in the Low Desert, zip code 85253, short-term relocation, company rental of a not-well tended property. We moved here from Newport Beach (still own our house, 20+ years), but before that we owned our first home in Sherman Oaks, CA (zone 10a). We had approx five yrs of the biggest droughts in my memory, late 80s – early 90s. Every plant had to be both drought and frost tolerant. The move to NB was another Corp Relo. Talk about a change in gardening?!
    I love your (plural) Blog! It’s fun and so helpful!

  • Jenny

    I will be sure to pass his along to my son who lives in Ahwatukee and is the only one of my sons to show an interest in gardening.

  • Laurrie

    I’m so glad to find this blog. I just moved to Santa Fe from Connecticut and have so much to learn about high altitude dry-climate gardening. I had extensive gardens back east, and that was hard to give up when we moved, but I’m excited about the new challenges in my small gravel courtyard now.

    I’m not far from Teresa Odle in Ruidoso, and Santa Fe is the same altitude, so I’ll be looking forward to reading her. I even noticed her comment that she has an upcoming post on us “transplants” from the northeast! Looking forward to all the other contributors’ posts as well.

    Thanks for launching a garden blog just for southwestern gardeners — very timely!

    • Teresa Odle

      Laurrie: Welcome to New Mexico! You will eventually love the challenges of growing in the dry, high climates we have. Thanks so much for finding us.

    • Teresa Odle

      Patti: I bet you’re loving Phoenix this winter! We have a post coming in a few weeks especially for “transplants” to the Southwest. So stay tuned. And thanks.