Sunday, May 20, 2018

Potting Soil

Weather: The weather continues to be difficult. The winds and low relative humidities in the afternoons made it hard to keep seeded areas "evenly wet" as the packets recommend. The low morning temperatures may have discouraged seeds, while the high afternoon ones prematurely ended the blooming times of flowers that like the more normal May weather.

Last rain: 4/8. Week’s low: 33 degrees F. Week’s high: 87 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper, yellow and pink species roses, Dr. Huey and hybrid roses, pyracantha, snowball, purple-flowered locust shrub, silver lace vine, broad leafed and narrow leafed yuccas, red hot poker, Dutch iris, peonies, Jupiter’s beard, snow-in-summer, purple salvia, datura

What’s blooming in my yard: Woodsii, rugosa and miniature roses, yellow potentilla, beauty bush, Russian olive, black locust, chives, vinca, Bath pinks, pink evening primroses, coral bells, golden spur columbine, blue flax, Johnson Blue geranium, catmints, sweet pea, Shasta daisy

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than once, I have no sense of color. So, instead of planting contrasting colors, I dedicated different parts of the yard to plants of a single color: reds/pinks, yellows, blues. I only planted whites along the garage after I saw someone’s house that had white trim on creamy navajo white stucco. Thus, it was a bit of a surprise this week to discovered how many flowers were white. The shrubs and trees hadn’t been planted by color but by function.

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, alfilerillo, purple mat flower, white tufted evening primroses, western stickseed, bindweed, greenleaf five eyes, fern leaf globemallow, scurf pea, alfalfa, tumble mustard, fleabane, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, green amaranth; brome, rice, purple three-awn and June grasses.

Needle grass heads were waving in the wind on local grasslands.

What’s reviving: Buddleia

What’s coming up: Heavenly Blue morning glories and bachelor buttons planted 5/10; sweet alyssum planted 5/8; pigweed where the soil was disturbed to plant seeds

Tasks: In several of the market garden fields where plants had come up, men were out with hoes clearing irrigation furrows.

One man was putting out tomato plants on Friday. He always places white cylinders around them, probably cut from something like plastic gallon milk bottles. I suspect he has even worse problems than I do with rabbits.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, quail on back porch, small brown birds, geckos, bumble bee on beauty bush, sidewalk and harvester ants, hornets, other small flying insects

Saw my first brown, inch-long grasshopper. Before that I noticed the petals on the Shasta daisies were being eaten.

Weekly update: When I was putting in some bedding plants this past week I removed a pansy that had died. The soil was wet as was the outer edge of the root ball. Inside was a hard dry lump of potting soil that must have killed it.

I did my first such autopsy in Michigan when some azaleas died that had flourished for a few years. When I dug them up, I discovered the roots had never left the root balls. Instead, they had coiled and recoiled within their original habitat until they had starved themselves.

That was the last time I followed the instructions about disturbing a root ball as little as possible. I now look on potting soil as my enemy to be eradicated as much as possible.

Sometime back then, in the 1970s, some plants came in something resembling real soil, but most did not. Practically, there was only so much usable dirt available, and other mediums were adopted by nurseries. The pansy’s grower said a good growing medium contained "composted bark, peat moss, and other ingredients that do not include earthen soil." [1]

The soilless mixes were sterile which meant they were less likely to nurture fungus and other diseases. They also could pass state lines, and weighed less in trucks. The pansy grower’s headquarters were in Alabama.

When people grew frustrated when their bedding plants died, a new idea was promoted. Build a raised bed and fill it with similar potting soil and install drip irrigation with a timer to keep it wet. Theoretically, the plants’ roots wouldn’t notice the difference and would spread into the surrounding medium.

I wouldn’t know. I haven’t tried it. I’m sometimes tempted to ask the men I see behind me in checkout lines with bags of the stuff how they get it to work in this area.

I did once try mixing peat moss into the soil and found all it did was create a dry layer. If I watered, it absorbed everything from around itself, creating a larger dry area hidden underground. Now, I dig out the old potting soil when I remove dead plants in the spring.

The nursery industry became a closed system. Seed breeders adopted the same mediums to test their experiments, knowing they had to survive the artificial mediums used by commercial growers. It got harder and harder to buy seeds that would grow outdoors, under natural conditions of sun, rain, and garden dirt.

Somehow, this doesn’t make ecological sense. When I first established beds here, I put in layers of sand, manure, fertilizer, sawdust, [2] and local dirt. I assumed over the years it would mix itself. If I got time in summer, I threw out more composted manure and powdered fertilizer and let the water leach it into the soil below.

Then, like this past week, when I put in new plants, I removed as much of the potting soil as possible. The roots almost always exist only on the outside of the pots and pool at the bottom. There’s nothing in the center, no matter how large or small the container. The danger is killing the roots by mere contact or breaking them if they’re fine. The alternative is they will die anyway.

I’ve tried to kept to remember whose potting soil holds so little water that it’s hard to keep their bedding plants alive until I plant them. When I go into their nurseries, I’m often charmed by the beauty of the flowers, but I’m no longer tempted to buy anything more than I went there for.

All I can think is other people have better luck than I, although where those all those plants go I see in the big boxes remains a mystery. I rarely see bedding plants blooming in fronts of house in this area.

Notes on photographs:
1. Black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, 19 May 2018.
2. Bridal Veil spirea cluster, Spirea vanhouttei, 12 May 2018.
3. Festiva Maxima double peony, Paeonia lactiflora, 19 May 2018.

End notes:
1. "You Must Use a Good Potting Mix." Bonnie Plants website.

2. I’ve since read sawdust was a bad idea because it would dry out and become a fire hazard. I think the author was discouraging its use as a surface mulch.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Long Lot Development

Weather: The seasons unofficially changed Monday when the first tropical depression was reported in the Pacific west of the heel of México. It also went from too cold to hot to plant before May had much begun.

We’ve had no rain since the beginning of April, and no real moisture since last October. Instead, we’ve had front after front come through with water that didn’t fall. Some of the native plants have been able to thrive on atmospheric moisture. The tufted white evening primroses are having a good year, and the needle grass in the prairie has greened.

Unirrigated cultivated grasses are doing less well. The alfalfa in hay fields is up, but the brome grass is still brown in many places. It’s flourishing as an unwanted volunteer in my yard, and even putting out its first flowers.

Last rain: 4/8. Week’s low: 34 degrees F. Week’s high: 91 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Austrian copper and yellow roses, spirea, snowball, broad leafed yucca, Dutch iris, peonies, oriental poppies, Jupiter’s beard, snow-in-summer, blue flax, purple salvia

What’s blooming in my yard: Woodsii and rugosa roses, beauty bush, skunk bush, chives, vinca, Bath pinks, pink evening primroses, coral bells, golden spur columbine, Shasta daisy

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, alfilerillo, hoary cress, purple mat flower, white tufted evening primroses, western stickseed, bindweed, greenleaf five eyes, fern leaf globemallow, scurf pea, fleabane, common and native dandelions, goat’s beard, green amaranth; brome, needle, rice, cheat, purple three-awn and June grasses

What’s reviving: Roses of Sharon, buffalo gourd, showy milkweed

Some things didn’t survive the harsh winter in my yard: four shrubs, moss phlox, blue flax, and oriental poppies. Since they all had been planted in the past two years I assumed they hadn’t developed strong enough roots. However, I haven’t seen moss phlox blooming in the usual places yet.

When I was in Santa Fé last week, a friend told me none of his flax hadn’t survived, though his neighbor’s were blooming profusely. When I was in a plant store, I overhead one woman tell another a third person’s plants at died despite having their roots in the shade and their tops in the sun. I suspect part of the problem is stores sell cultivars rather than the natives that perpetuate themselves with seeds in bad years.

What’s coming up: native sunflowers

Tasks: I started putting in seeds; the afternoons were too hot, too dry, and too windy to transplant bedding plants. The area where the moss phlox died wasn’t level. I think it was one of the places that was eroded before an uphill neighbor dug some trenches to reroute water that was washing down the hill. The bed was edged with bricks, but they had sunk into the ground and were tilted. I put a new row behind them on the surface, then leveled the area with dirt before scattering seeds.

Animal sightings: Two rabbits, quail, small brown birds, gecko, sidewalk ants, hornets. Harvester ants were stealing seeds as I was planting them, but I couldn’t find their hill.

I sprayed the aphids I saw on a rose bud. I also cut every goat’s beard I saw. They get covered with ants and black debris, which makes me suspect them of harboring aphids. The sap in the stems was so thick, I had to scrub the pruners with a brush and soap each time.

Birds were noisy around the peach and black locust trees. I didn’t see any nests. I think they’re lodging in nearby buildings, and using the trees as stoops and watch towers.

The past several winters the ground squirrel has been eating all the new growth off the cholla cacti, and stripped the bark from the stems. I try to keep them going by watering them in the summer, but they that just made them better winter food. Two of the three put out new growth this week.

Weekly update: Long lot ownership governed post-World War II development around Española. While developers in many places were taking advantage of government programs to provide housing for veterans, new homes here were built by individuals, probably on family land.

When someone finally did develop a tract with a plat that would be familiar to a Levittown resident, it was in the area around McCurdy School that originally have been a Brethren settlement, then became generally Anglo. It had cross streets and thematic names.

Elsewhere, individuals who owned long lots sold land along their drives. When the county was assigning addresses to meet 911 requirements, they had no formal plans. It designated some county roads and some private drives while ignoring others. None were maintained by the county. People who actually lived on state roads considered them private drives that can be closed at will.

When the lots weren’t big enough to develop, homeowners subdivided the land around their houses. Wherever you drive in town, you see a house on the street, and possibly an older house, converted outbuildings, or trailers in back. In the country, farmers kept the land nearest the acequia in hay production, and sold the land that was farther away without water rights.

One result was there are a few long roads, with no cross streets. If the main road is closed, there’s no way to get in or out. In an emergency, everyone will be funneled into the main arteries, none of which are more than two cars wide.

Notes on photographs:
1. Tufted white evening primroses growing among native grasses, 11 May 2018. In good years, they blanket areas with splotches of white.

2. Levittown style layout in town between a main road on the left and the acequia on the right. Land beyond the ditch must have been owned by someone else. That road doesn’t go through, but stops before another ditch. Map derived from Google Maps.

3. Long lot street layout in the country between a main road on the left and the acequia on the right. Map derived from Google Maps.

Sunday, May 06, 2018


Weather: It got down to 30 on Thursday morning, and some surviving lilac buds began opening. The same day, one pansy and one viola, which weren’t in bloom when I bought them, responded to the cool by blooming. Morning temperatures Friday and Saturday were just at freezing, and they continued to flower.

The winds have not stopped, though some days have been calm enough to be encourage false hopes. Earlier this week I was finally able to break off a black locust branch that had come down several years ago. I put it on top of the burn pile as a weight, and may remove it when I burn until the winds stop. The only problem is even the base of the 2.5" diameter stem has thorns.

Last rain: 4/8. Week’s low: 30 degrees F. Week’s high: 81 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Spirea, few lilacs, broad leafed yucca, Dutch iris

What’s blooming in my yard: Fruiting crab apples, sour cherry, Siberian peas, tulips, lilies of the valley, vinca, blue flax, pink evening primroses, coral bells

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, tansy mustard, hoary cress, purple mat flower, oxalis, white tufted evening primroses, western stickseed, bindweed, greenleaf five eyes, fern leaf globemallow, fleabane, dandelions, goat’s beard, green amaranth; needle, rice, cheat, and June grasses

What’s reviving: Virginia creeper, catalpa, desert willow, trees of heaven, skunk bush, buddleia, Russian sage, regreening arborvitae, baptisia, perennial four o’clock, goldenrod, coreopsis, purple leaf coneflower

What’s coming up: Stickleaf, tomatillo, reseeded larkspur. Onions are up in one of the market garden fields.

Tasks: I’m still picking dandelions everyday to keep them from going to seed, and have the brown and yellow stains on my hands to prove it. The first comes from the milky sap in the hollow stems. The flowers open about midmorning, and not all at once, so I have to go looking for them several times. Even then, some sneak by and are scattered by the afternoon winds before I find them.

I finally planted the pansies and violas I bought more than a month ago. The roots hadn’t developed much, making them just as fragile as they were when I first put them out to harden up. Once morning temperatures had stabilized around freezing, I discovered another reason I couldn’t plant them. The pansies were going into an existing bed, and the hostas hadn’t come up yet. The violas had to wait until the lilies of the valleys emerged. When I dug their holes I discovered the shrubs that were more than 6' away had sent their roots over and I had to scrape out spaces without disturbing them.

Animal sightings: Quail, small brown birds, gecko, hornets, sidewalk ants. My neighbor has a family of chickadees who’ve been nesting in his metal building for years. The sentinel seems larger this year, but doesn’t seem to bothered when I walk by in my drive.

Weekly update: Mother’s Day has become the traditional day for nurseries to sell plants. It’s not simply because it makes for nice advertising to suggest one take one’s mom out shopping for something for the backyard, but the last projected frost date has passed.

It’s also getting so warm it’s hard to transplant things safely, so I start shopping the end of April. Prices go up every year, but this season seems like the one that definitely separates the rich from the rest of us.

I decided I wanted three small potentillas for a very narrow part of a bed that was on a slope and edged with bricks. Dutch iris were already in the area. I needed something in a small pot to fit the space.

When I was in Albuquerque Monday I stopped in one garden store where the only yellow potentilla was in a five-gallon pot and cost $31. With tax, three were more than a hundred dollars. The other two places I looked didn’t have them, or much of anything yet.

The next day I was in Santa Fé and stopped in two places. Both had the same brand, the same size, and the same price. I also checked out the two big boxes and the two local hardware: none even carried potentillas.

Friday I had to go back to Santa Fé and tried one other place. It actually had exactly what I wanted: potentillas in half-gallon pots for $11. They came from another nursery.

I read somewhere that the nursery offering the large pots had serious financial problems after the real estate crash of 2008. For a couple seasons, few new houses were built, which meant few new landscapes were created. Their stock of unsold pots accumulated, and had to be wintered over or sold at reduced prices.

The crash also meant financing became for difficult as banks consolidated and local ones disappeared. We no longer have a locally owned one here in Española. The combined effects of more stringent lending requirements and non-local owners has meant local businesses have a hard time getting the credit they need to buy spring inventory.

If there’s a 50% markup on goods, then those thirty dollar shrubs cost them fifteen. If they can get the seasonal loan, it can buy less. One striking feature of many places I went this week was how little they were carrying.

Even bedding plants have become dear and hard to locate. Several years ago, the big boxes converted from six-packs of plants to single pots. The marketing idea was they could get more money per square inch of shelf space with the single pots than they could the six-packs.

Apart from price, they were the same problem as the five-gallon shrub. They required too big a hole in beds with other plants. They were designed for decks and raised beds filled with matching potting soil.

When I was looking for pansies I was in a big box in Santa Fé where someone put two flats in his cart. When I got to the plants I saw they were singles, and walked away. I thought, while I stood behind the man at the checkout counter, he must be a gardener for someone who didn’t worry about cost. No, he was a homeowner and put them back when he was told instead of two flats he had to pay $1.59 for 48 pots. Pansies weren’t worth $75.

My local hardware stores still carry locally grown six-packs. The one gets them from McLain’s Greenhouse in Estancia, and the other has other sources. The latter are expensive: five dollars for a six-pack means that man’s 48 pansies would be forty dollars.

Neither store carries as much as they used to. On the one hand they can’t compete with the big box prices. The one had no trees or shrubs this year, and very few annuals or perennials. The other still had a full range, because loyal customers know it tends to provide better plants, so they don’t lose as many when they pay the higher price.

Notes on photographs:
1. Viola that came into bloom after temperatures few below 32 degrees, 4 May 2018.
2. Siberian pea tree flowers, Caragana arborescens, 2 May 2018.
3. Gold Star Potentilla fruticosa in its narrow bed, 6 May 2018.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Apples Tell No Lies

Weather: Unlike most places that have four seasons, we have fire season inserted between spring and summer. Winds this year have seemed more constant, though so far no serious fires have been reported in our area. Perhaps that’s because the fronts that have come through had no water with its attendant lightening. So instead of fire and rain, we got more drying that will feed a fire when it occurs.

Saturday was too warm to be out by 10:30 in the morning. Even it gets cold next week, days like it signal the end of spring to cold-loving plants. Lilacs everywhere seem to have given up opening their buds.

Last rain: 4/8. Week’s low: 33 degrees F. Week’s high: 83 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Apples, spirea, redbud, few lilacs, Dutch iris, tansy mustard, purple mat flower, bindweed, dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Fruiting crab apples, sour cherry, sand cherries, weeping cherry, choke cherries, Siberian peas, tulips, lilies of the valley, alfilerillo, vinca, blue flax, oxalis, white tufted evening primroses, western stickseed, cheat and June grasses

What’s reviving: Grapes, tamarix, lilies, scarlet loco, Saint John’s wort, lead plant, Rumanian sage, Maximilian sunflowers, wild lettuce, heath asters

Tasks: Two local market-garden fields have been planted. People continued to clean debris and silt from their ditches with shovels.

Last Sunday I used a herbicide on some purple asters that had come up in the car’s path in the gravel driveway. Unlike alfilerillo which stays low, aster stems get tall enough to brush my car’s bottom. In late summer, they turn woody. I also sprayed some alfalfa that had come up in my walkway. The label said I should see results within 24 hours. Instead, I didn’t see any wilting for 48 hours, and yesterday, seven days later, the aster tops were still just bent over. The alfalfa finally was losing color. There’s obviously something I don’t know.

I did continue cleaning the alfalfa I had planted around the crab apples. Of course, it didn’t stay put, but went to seed next to the block path. Then those plants put out stems over the blocks that trapped blowing dirt. New seeds landed into the bed it had made for them. I hacked away two-inch blocks of dirt with a small hoe to reopen the path.

Animal sightings: Hummingbird, chickadees and another small brown birds, small bees around choke cherries, ladybugs which means aphids somewhere, hummingbird moth on a sterile vinca flower, sidewalk ants, hornets

The rabbit has been sitting on the bricks that line the bed around the drive, and filled the narrow area under a peach tree with its droppings.

Weekly update: I thought about long lots this spring when the apricots, cherries, and apples had distinctly separate blooming seasons. Once that land usage pattern was set, it perpetuated itself. Alvar Carlson said when land was divided among heirs, it always was done longitudinally. [1]

The tradition only was modified in the later part of the twentieth century, when people had city water or artesian wells and weren’t as dependent on their ditches. Then, road frontage became more valuable. Landowners created small, shallow lots along the main arteries and kept the long lots in back for themselves.

Old houses were isolated from their acreage, and new houses were built between them. Some apple orchards were cut down, since the fruit market was nationalized, then internationalized. The Acequia manager, Ken Salazar, said he still had productive trees and was able to sell 400 bushels last year in Abiquiú and Colorado. [2]

What weren’t felled were the non-commercial fruit trees. The old long-lot boundaries can be deduced from those trees. You often see a fruit tree in a fallow field near the fence separating it from its mate in the yard of an old house. Less commonly, you see the estranged pair in the yards of an older and newer house.

In the picture below, you can see the man who owned the long lot kept as much as possible that was valuable when he turned the old house into a separate property. That’s a apple tree near the fence, and just behind it is a cement-lined ditch that carried water from the lateral feeder back. The house boundary was the other side of the ditch. I’m not sure which plot got the pollinating apple tree that’s behind the house.

Notes on photographs:
1. Blue flax (Linum perenne) in my garden, 25 April 2018.
2. Tufted white evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) in my driveway, 25 April 2018.
3. Local field and hose, 19 January 2012.

End notes:
1. Alvar W. Carlson. The Spanish-American Homeland. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. 31.

2. Amanda Martinez. "Acequia Water Released Early." Rio Grande Sun. 29 March 2018. A3.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Long Lots

Weather: Winds were strong again this past week, though I don’t think they reached the 62 mph registered at the Santa Fé airport on Tuesday. The accumulated affects of age and wind loosened four fence boards that fell to the ground. I noticed two people had complete panels blown down from vertical board fences that had been installed in 8' sections.

The winds created another problem. I had put small plastic protectors around some young roses two years ago to keep the rabbits from eating the new, low growth. Sun aged the plastic, and the wind blew them apart. I spent a few minutes tying them back together with string. The problem with that is string disappears. I’m not sure if its age, the wind, or birds foraging for nesting materials.

While the wind kept me from doing more clean up work, it didn’t stop everyone. On Tuesday, when they were gusting the most, one person was cleaning a ditch and another was riding his lawn mower with a bag attachment.

Surprisingly, I haven’t found Russian thistle carcasses blown into the yard. Perhaps that’s because it was so dry last summer they didn’t developed.

Last rain: 4/8. Week’s low: 29 degrees F. Week’s high: 84 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Apples, fruiting crab apples, sand cherries, weeping cherry, flowering quince, redbud, forsythia, lilac, tulips, grape hyacinth, alfilerillo, vinca, oxalis, tansy mustard, white tufted evening primrose, western stickseed, common and native dandelions, cheat grass

What’s reviving: Russian olive, sandbar willow, hostas, bindweed, snow-in-summer, Mönch asters

Tasks: I finished fixing hoses on Sunday, and on Wednesday my message therapist told me if I was going to do any more of that work, he should see me again in a week rather than wait the usual two to three weeks. He agreed the work used a great many lazy muscles.

I didn’t tell him this is the season when I pick dandelion flowers to keep them from going to seed. They especially like to come up under shrubs. Each picked head requires calf, ham strings, and lower back muscles grown soft from lack of use. The task is made harder because pinching stems is too much for my right thumb, so I’m also teaching my left hand something new.

Animal sightings: Rabbit in the small rose bed, small brown birds, sidewalk ants. No bees; they don’t like the wind.

Weekly update: When my home county in Michigan was opened for settlement in the early 1830s, the first settler "secured a pre-emption of the water-power and adjoining lands." More speculators appeared buying up early claims like his. One located in what would be my hometown where he staked a claim "covering the water power." [1]

No one in 1877 though it strange someone could claim a monopoly on water, but it was unthinkable in Rio Arriba county at the time. Here, land was allocated in strips 420' wide running between highlands and irrigation ditches, so each farmer had access to bottom lands where he could grow chile, beans and corn on the heavier, more fertile soils, upper lands where he could grow fruit trees on the coarser soils, and grazing lands without irrigation. Houses were built between the farm land and the fruit land, and roads were up land on non-productive soil.

The average width was probably less a matter of legal precedent, than the amount of land that could effectively be watered by an irrigation branch. Alvar Carlson said the fields could be any length, depending on topography.

Carlson believed long lots developed from the rigors of farming in an arid environment and that the earlier development of such lots by the French in the 1630s in Quebec was an independent invention.

The early settlers in La Cañada did not have a strong sense of community or common cause, although they did care about some of their kin and their children married neighbors. They probably owed their views of equal access to water to the Moors. However, like the French, they created a settlement where every family had access to water and every type of land needed to grow food.

These long lots survive today everywhere in and around Española where they are bounded by laterals bringing water from the main ditches.

Notes on photographs:
1. Blue Spike grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum), 21 April 2014.

2. Simple irrigation system in Cundiyo valley, 23 March 2012; the Río Frijoles is flowing across the photograph (you can just see some water in the center back) and irrigation channels have been dug to both sides (marked by taller vegetation). The land is used for pasturage.

3. Long lot near La Puebla, 23 March 2012. The Santa Cruz river is at the back, before the Tertiary mound, where the cottonwoods are growing. There is probably a ditch to the right, marked by the red branches of sandbar willow.

End notes:

1. History of Calhoun County, Michigan. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts and Company, 1877. 12.

2. Alvar W. Carlson. "Community Land Grants, Long-Lots, and Irrigation." 23-37 in The Spanish-American Homeland. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Forsythazioc Era

Weather: On Wednesday I noticed one of my neighbors had erected a metal pole and was flying the US and New Mexico flags. On Thursday, the high winds came through, and they seemed to have survived, though they made a racket flapping about.

The winds made it impossible to continue clearing dead stems, because I couldn’t burn the brush before the winds started in late morning. Then, it got too cold to do much else.

Last rain: 4/8. Week’s low: 21 degrees F. Week’s high: 86 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: It’s not that nature hates fruit and does everything it can to destroy the flowers every year. It’s more that cold fronts come after its gotten too warm, and the destruction of blossoms that opened in the premature heat is simply collateral damage. Saturday morning’s cold scotched the flowers on my flowering crab apple, sweet cherries, sand cherry, and forsythia.

The following list of plants blooming in the area was done Friday: sweet cherries, sand cherries, purple leaf sand cherries, flowering crab apples, flowering quince, redbud, forsythia, daffodils, tulips, alfilerillo, purple and tansy mustards, western stickseed, common and native dandelions.

What’s reviving: Apples, raspberries, snowball, beauty bush, caryopteris, lilacs, cottonwoods, Siberian pea tree, lilies of the valley, peonies, ladybells, donkey spurge, coral bells, catmints, black eyed Susans, Mexican hats, Silver King artemesia, Shasta daisies, tahoka daisy, leather leaf globe mallows, ring muhly grass

Tasks: The most arduous garden task for me is laying hoses. My upper arms aren’t particularly strong, and just pulling 50' of inert rubber leaves me breathless. Then, trying to get a brittle hose into a plastic garbage bag is even more demanding.

Last summer, after it as apparent the hoses I had installed in the spring were failing, I had to put down new ones. The only time you can easily lay hoses is this time of year, when few things have leafed. To get anything done, I simply threaded them through branches and around plants. Now, I have to go back and fix them.

Sometimes, it’s simple: I just walk on the hose and break off dead stems with my feet. However, in other cases I have to get on my knees and crawl under shrubs, pulling as I go. If they still don’t lay flat, I have to get some bricks to hold them, then later bend down and retrieve the weights with my left hand.

Animal sightings: Quail, gecko, bumble bee, cricket, pill bug, sidewalk ants

Weekly update: In the nineteenth century, before geologists had a firm definition of stratigraphy, they often named a layer for the uncovered bones. This didn’t mean they did something simple like call it the Camel layer. Instead, they found a report of similar paleozoological discoveries, and named the layer for that town. Thus, areas around Española that now are called Pojoque member, Tesuque member, or simply middle Miocene were then identified as Barstovian beds [1] for remains found in Barstow, California. [2]

I use a similar scheme when I group local landscapes into the Rosicrucian, Forsythazoic, and Perovskian eras. The first existed through the early 1950s when people planted fruit trees. [3] The second began in the late 1950s when ranch-style houses began displacing block houses modeled on those built in Los Alamos. That was followed by a barren period, when, if a characteristic shrub was planted, it didn’t survive. Today we’re in the age of Russian Sage. [4]

The interesting thing about the history of the local landscape is that once a flora was established, it was perpetuated by people who bought older homes. If the house had forsythia, they did not plant fruit trees, while those in older houses often added a forsythia. They also did not dig them out. The difference between the landscapes of the two groups was the Forsythazoic owners kept their shrubs pruned, while the Rosicrucians tended to let them take on their natural shape.

The continuity in taste came from two factors. When many people move into an established neighborhood, they wanted to blend in, if for no other reason that they feared they might destroy their property values if they introduced something different. But a larger factor may have been the reason they bought a particular house in the first place. They may already have had associations of plants with the architecture from their childhood.

Notes on photographs:
1. Unpruned Forsythia intermedia Lynwood Gold, 10 April 2018.

2. Soaker hose going over branches of a sandcherry that hadn’t yet begun to bloom, 10 April 2018. I also often have to remove the dead leaves to get a hose to lay flat, or to let the water reach the ground.

3. Another sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) in full bloom, 10 April 2018.

End notes:
1. Daniel J. Koning. Preliminary Geologic Map of the Española Quadrangle, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe Counties, New Mexico. Socorro: New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, May 2002. Map and report.

2. Ted Galusha and John C. Blick. "Stratigraphy of the Santa Fe Group, New Mexico." American Museum of Natural History. Bulletin 144:1-128:April 1971.

3. Most fruit trees, including apples, apricots, cherries, and peaches are members of the Rose family, the Rosaceae.

4. The Latin name for Russian sage is Perovskia atriplicifolia.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Pink and White Trees

Weather: We got a little rain in the night. Earlier in the week, I think on Monday, a brief, very strong wind shook the house and completely dispersed my burn pile. Luckily it was primarily dead grass. However, the wind was strong enough to also move the partially burned sticks. Friday, when the weather felt a bit oppressive, I burned the grasses and dead wood that had accumulated since in the evening, instead of waiting for the next morning. Last rain: 4/8. Week’s low: 32 degrees F. Week’s high: 78 degrees F.

What’s blooming in the area: Sweet cherries, sand cherries, peaches, Bradford pear, purple leaf plum, flowering quince, forsythia, daffodils, alfilerillo, purple and tansy mustards, western stickseed, common and native dandelions

What’s reviving: Jackmanii potentilla, spirea, choke cherry, privet, Johnson’s Blue geranium, chamisa, Mönch aster, yellow yarrow, goat’s beard

Tasks: A couple weeks ago I bought some pansies and violas that were grown by a nursery in Alabama. Since then, they’ve been sitting on the back porch hardening off. I’m waiting because I still expect a morning too cold for them to handle. Contradictorily, I’m also waiting for plants to break dormancy in the beds where I’m planting them. It’s both too warm and not warm enough.

In the meantime, the seedlings are going though the usual bedding plant phase of no longer blooming. They’re a bit like drug addicts: they were raised in warm, moist conditions where they were sprayed with nutrients to compensate for the poor diet in their potting soil. On my porch, they’re undergoing detoxification: getting used to normal water and erratic temperature cycles. Some may never bloom again.

Animal sightings: Robin, flock of quail, small brown birds, sidewalk ants, bees heard in afternoons

Weekly update: ’Tis the season of pink and white flowering trees, or more precisely pink flowered trees and white flowered ones. I’ve only seen one at a closed Honstein gas station in Arroyo Seco that looked like it had both kinds of flowers on one plant.

When I first moved here in 1991 it was fairly easy to use color to determine the type of tree blooming in a yard. Apricots appeared before apples. In the past few years with our warm Aprils, the cherries have come between. In addition to the different flowering times, apricots and cherries tended to be much larger trees and only one or two were planted. Apples often appeared in rows.

It was always difficult to decide if the pink trees were peaches or flowering crab apples, but the redbuds were easier to identify by their more columnar shape and deeper colored flowers. I usually decided the species based on what I could tell about the owner: if there were other fruit trees in the yard, I assumed the pink was a peach, but if it was the only tree I assumed a crab.

This schema has become useless since the big box opened north of town, and propagated national taste: it carried more ornamentals than fruit trees. The variety was greater: there were several varieties of flowering crab and flowering cherries as well. Some crabs were white and some cherries were pink. This year, the local hardware has Oklahoma white redbuds as well as the usual purple Texas ones.

The distinction between utilitarian neighbors and decorative ones has been blurred by the introduction of small fruit trees for suburban yards. This year I bought a cherry marketed as ideal for growing in a container. It came in a cardboard sleeve about three inches wide. At least the grower was honest that it had few roots; I’ve bought too many that had recently been moved into gallon or larger containers to make it seem like they were more mature than they were.

Those people who wouldn’t grow an apricot or cherry because of the size, now could plant them. More important, the association of the small fruit trees with trendy decks made them acceptable to people who associated productive trees with their agrarian ancestors. They came with the hint they required little effort, and the fruit was easily available.

Even more important, the new varieties were labeled self-fruitful, so one didn’t need to have two, or depend on one’s neighbors to have a complimentary tree. I’m not sure though what they meant by a self-fruitful Bing. The tree I bought was the only one I’ve been able to find in the past few years that would pollinate a Bing.

Notes on photographs:
1. White Bradford pear with pink peach behind it at the left and an unknown neighbor’s white tree at the right, 6 April 2018.

2. Full sized Elberta peach planted in 1997, 6 April 2018.

3. My uphill neighbor planted this patio peach about the time I planted mine. The next neighbor moved it away from the porch to the 5' fence, where it remains fence high. This picture was taken 28 March 2012.

4. The root ball of the Coral Champaign cherry, 29 March 2018. Most of the roots were in an inner sleeve, so the actual roots ball was about 1.5" in diameter.