When I moved to Phoenix in January, I had very low expectations when it came to growing plants here in the Valley. It seemed to me that any type of vegetation would simply not survive. Oh how wrong I was! I joined the Solarville team in March, and ever since, have been bringing in new life (literally) to the often overlooked and forgotten gallery on the fourth floor- Solarville! Just a few months ago, stepping out onto the Solar Terrace meant bravely entering what appeared to be a concrete oven exposed to the summer heat. But now, you are greeted with delightful greenery!
On Oct.13, 2012, we invited guests to the APS Solar Terrace to help us plant various seeds and transplant already established plants into four separate planter boxes. So what types of plants reside in our planter boxes now? The first box features our herb garden, which houses a wide variety of herbs, from everyday favorites like Rosemary, Parsley and Basil to the slightly out-of-the-ordinary Catnip! Mediterranean herbs are excellent to grow here in Phoenix as they thrive in hot, sunny, and dry climates. In fact, if you consider the Latin name for Rosemary, Rosmarinus, it translates to “dew of the sea”. This is because in many locations, it requires only the moisture from the sea carried by a nearby breeze.
The second box contains a wonderful and inspiring array of succulents. With such silly common names such as Pig’s Ear, Elephant’s Food, and Chocolate Soldier, who wouldn’t love these types of plants? I love succulents so much that I don’t think of them at plants at all. They are their own adorable little species of creatures, each with quite eclectic personalities, capable of thriving in dry climates. So why can succulents live so well in Phoenix? Luckily for these little guys, having specific adaptations allow them to retain moisture within their fleshy foliage, stems, and roots. For example, remember that Chocolate Soldier I mentioned earlier? This species, otherwise known as Kalanchoe tomentosa, feels very fuzzy because it has hairs on the leaves that slow the movement of air across the leaf surface, essentially limiting the amount of water vapor it loses through its stomata.
The third and fourth planter boxes contain vegetable and flower seeds that will continue to grow throughout the coming months. We are very excited about the vegetable garden, as it allows us the opportunity to discuss the opportunity to grow your own food! As long as you grow vegetables that are in season and do well in your environment, it can be a rewarding experience that is both cost effective and much more nutritious for you and your family. The vegetables we currently feature in our garden include onions, radishes, broccoli, beets, and carrots.
Growing plants in the backyard is an excellent way to appreciate the beauty and intricacy that surrounds us each and every day. It’s great for the planet, too! Now I’m sure your thinking to yourselves, well why, exactly? Plants help “sequester” or absorb carbon dioxide from the surrounding atmosphere. This is important because carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat and sending it back to Earth where it raises planetary temperatures. Many plants also help to cool the air around you by releasing water vapor from their leaves during transpiration. I don’t know about you, but in urban heat islands like Phoenix, I love all the help I can get to stay cool! Another way growing your own plantshelps our planet relates to “food miles”. Food miles refer to the distance the food you purchase has to travel before reaching your home. If you grow your own fruits and vegetables, they have zero food miles, which reduces the amount of energy used to feed your family!
During your next visit to Arizona Science Center, experience the new sights, smells, and textures found on the APS Solar Terrace- located just outside of Solarville on the 4th floor!
This post was written by our very own Lauren Preble. A Gallery Interpreter here at Arizona Science Center. Photos taken by Brian Sterrett.