What exactly is a high desert, and how do I garden there?
I’ve been doing some digging, pun intended, and have found that “high desert” is a loosey-goosey term. Of course, “high” refers to elevation, and high deserts are typically between 2000 and 7000 feet above sea level. “Low desert” describes any desert under 2000 feet. At 100 feet above sea level, Palm Spring is the one of the lowest low deserts. “Desert” refers to low annual rainfall, duh!—under 10 inches per year.
High deserts are common in the western United States. The most noted high deserts are in Southern California. Boise, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, Reno, and Sedona all fit the description, among many other localities. Each of those areas have their own unique variables. For instance, a garden at 2000 feet above sea level is quite different than one at 4000 feet and above.
Without a doubt, the life of a high desert gardener is a hot mess of a challenge. Short seasons, temperature extremes, alkaline soils, low organic matter, baking sun, high winds, and dry, dry, dry conditions don’t make an easy mix. Must I go on!
Back to Boise…
What I found in Boise were incredible gardens, despite the challenges. Boise is unique to a high desert environment because water is plentiful. It just doesn’t come in the form of rainfall! The water source for the regions many rivers, lakes, and aquifers is Canadian and mountain show melt.
Abundant water in a desert environment produces two distinct types of gardens in and around Boise. Lush, green, irrigated gardens are common to the city and residential areas. They remind me of Virginia and the eastern US. In vivid contrast is the native growth of the surrounding foothills and countryside. By late summer, khaki and brown dominate the natural landscape. Interesting combinations of native trees, foliage, and occasional wild flowers add to the serene beauty. Crop fields add to the natures landscape design tapestry.
Nature’s stunning and surprising contrast is what I love most about Boise and surrounds!
More coming on Boise !
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