A Place All Our Own: Lives Entwined in a Desert Garden
by Mary Irish



University of Arizona Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-816-51282-9.
Reviewed by Susan J. Tweit
Posted on 11/30/2012

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

"A truly comfortable garden is one where all the lives with whom we share it become intertwined, a place where most lives are tolerated, indeed welcome, and where a moderate live-and-let-live approach is enough to settle our differences."

When I read those words in the Introduction to A Place All Our Own, Mary Irish's story of the desert yard she and her husband Gary tended for two decades in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, my first thought was, I want to live in that garden! A place where most lives are "tolerated, indeed welcome," sounds like my kind of community, whether it be garden, town or whole nation.

This tale of the evolution of a xeric but bountiful Scottsdale yard shows how Irish and her husband come to terms with the harsh reality of gardening in the desert, not by overcoming climate, soil, landscape and wildlife but by coming to understand and thrive in an environment where the relentlessly hot and bone-dry months of late spring and early summer drive many people inside to turn up their air-conditioning, and rain—when it comes—pours down with such intensity that dry washes become muddy torrents capable of washing away trees and cars.

The chapters chronicle the growth and change of the garden itself ("The Back," "The Front," "The Outback," and "The Patios") as well as the lives which inhabit it ("Birds," "Animals," "Bugs," and lastly, "People"). Irish's keen eye, passion for plants, and generous sense of humor enliven this tale of growing a garden in which gardeners, plants, residents wild and not, and landscape are intertwined in a lively and fascinating community.

A Place All Our Own is a story of plants and plant obsession, of weather and insects, of bird song and flower displays. It's peppered with plant names, both in English and the odd language of science, a mix of Green and Latin that may seem undigestible at first. Don't be deterred; keep reading. Like the best of garden memoir—Joan Dye Gussow's books come to mind, for example—it's full of garden-grown wisdom about life and how to live it:

I think if all our gardens inspired us to live more carefully with each other, instead of insisting on our dominance over all the rest, it would be a more peaceful and richer world. In the end all our interests are the same: find a good mate, get a good meal, live in a safe, secure place, raise smart, good looking kids. It's hard enough in the best of times; the least we can do is create gardens that help that along as best we can.

Hear, hear! And, I would add, communities and nations too.


Mary Irish is a garden writer, lecturer, and educator who lived in Arizona for twenty-five years. She served as Director of Public Horticulture at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix for eleven years in 1999. She is the author of numerous books on desert gardening, including Gardening in the Desert, Arizona Gardener's Guide, and Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest. She is a frequent contributor to national and regional magazines including Horticulture and American Gardener, and she wrote a garden column for the Arizona Republic from 2003 to 2008. She has a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and an MS from Texas A&M University. Visit her website.

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