A naturalist and gardener explores Arizona desert life. Bowers (The Mountains Next Door, 1991, etc.--not reviewed), although a botanist for more than a decade, never wanted a garden: She studied wild plants and distrusted New Agers' talk of tomatoes that love carrots. Then, nearing 40, she conceived a passion to garden; here, 16 essays record her beginning green- thumb years. Bowers decided to garden organically, and she cogently demystifies some of the organic farmer's seemingly irrational methods. Her new conviction, though, occasionally veers into sanctimony: ``Professional agronomists...[are] often little more than shills for the pesticide industry'' while organic gardeners are ``large-hearted'' and ``reverent.'' An essay on composting finds the author musing on death and on mortals' return to the soil as her compost pile arouses oceanic feelings ``of being part of the endless nutrient cycles that keep our planet alive''--a familiar theme of ego-loss in nature writing that goes back to Thoreau's description of hoeing beans. Elsewhere, beginning with the statement that ``gardening imparts a sense of place and time that little else can,'' Bowers expounds beautifully on how Native Americans plant by natural events rather than by the calendar. When oaks bloomed and catbirds began to call in Massachusetts, Algonquins knew the soil had warmed enough to plant corn; in the author's own Sonoran desert, the stirring of harvester ants and the mesquite's new leaves signal that the danger of frost is past. Despite adroit detailing and many highlights, these essays as a whole feel inert, unleavened by action, progress, or other people; still, reflective and informed nature writing.