Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lava Stone Walls

Weather: It’s the time of year when there’s maybe an hour between the time when it gets warm enough to work outside and the winds start. Sunday and Thursday they were the harbingers of storm fronts that came through so low, the moisture in the winds fell on the ground. On Sunday it never quite rained, but water was in the air for hours. On Thursday, we got enough to call it a shower, but it only lasted two minutes. Last rain: 3/15.

What’s blooming in the area: Cranesbill in my drive. Apricots on Friday; they must be the dumbest trees that grow here; they get one warm day, and think it’s spring; instead they’re the first crop failure.

What’s reviving: Alfalfa under dead stems, Apache plume, purple asters, bouncing Bess, smooth brome grass, golden spur columbine, daylilies, Dutch iris, Queen Anne’s lace, tulips at both ends of the garage that get more sun, white yarrow; color is returning to Vinca leaves.

Tasks: I need to clean areas that were ignored for a year or more. I started near the crab apples where I planted alfalfa, thinking I would cut it with a weed eater. That never happened. So now, I’ve been out with loppers cutting last year’s dead stems, and a small floral rake breaking off the older stems and grasses under them. It worked fine on Thursday morning, but then we had just enough moisture to dampen the stems. On Friday, they were much harder to cut.

Animal sightings: Something heavy, probably the ground squirrel, stepped on all the thick plastic posts holding up a grapevine and bent some to the ground. It simply removed others.

Weekly update: I saw the most extraordinary thing last week when I was looking at a Ugandan video on YouTube. In the background was the stone wall shown in the above screen print that could have been built in Española.

Some years ago I started taking pictures of area walls and fences that were built by local farmers and craftsmen. [1] I saw more here than in Santa Fé or Albuquerque where walls were stuccoed over.

One defining characteristic was the exaggeration of the mortar. It was stained red or dark gray and often extended beyond the stones. This was an aesthetic difference that distinguished these walls from ones in other parts of this country or Europe where the tendency was to use as little mortar as possible.

Not everyone here who had a stone wall had one with decorative mortar work. I assumed that meant there were certain masons who had the skill to do such work, and they probably had come here from someplace like Zacatecas. However, I never found pictures of Mexican walls like ours. I suspected that lack of evidence simply meant people didn’t post pictures of their walls on the internet.

There would have been nothing unusual about African slaves being the source for such stonework. They certainly existed in México.

However, Uganda was on the east side of Africa, and most of the Spanish slaves came from Angola and southern Zaïre on the west side. Certainly, some from the central lakes district were taken in raids and moved west, but one wouldn’t think there were enough to be responsible for the local stonework.

The video probably was shot in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala or in Masaka. Both were in the ancestral lands of the Baganda on the western side of Lake Victoria. The area wasn’t much influenced by Europeans until the last half of the nineteenth century, and then the United Kingdom declared sovereignly in 1894. The wall may have been built for an Englishman.

One is left with one of those puzzles one finds more in human than in plant history: the independent development of an idea in two places at two different times.

Notes on photographs:
1. Screen print from "Kumbaya - Jose Mc Ft Juicy Landy." Uploaded to YouTube by tamjoe7 on 18 July 2013. A PVibe Production directed by ORIS.

2. Local wall, 28 February 2016.

3. Local wall, 17 January 2012.

End notes:

1. For more on local walls see index entries on Landscaping Walls.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Southern Hemisphere Plants

Weather: As I mentioned last week, it has been an abnormally cold winter. This week was no exception. It was 9 degrees on my front porch on Wednesday morning. Last night’s 70% forecast of snow materialized as only high, drying winds.

What also was unusual was that I never felt cold. Now that the morning low is around 20, the typical low for our winters, I’m often cold in the house. Apparently, the furnace comes on more often when it’s very cold, so the air in the rooms stays warm. When it comes on a little less often, the heat has time to rise and the cold air rises from the floor.

What’s blooming in the area: Cranesbill at post office.

What’s reviving: Leaves on the cliff roses and fern bushes.

Weekly update: Most of the plants on my indoor porch are from southern Africa. The one that’s from somewhere else, the moss rose, is native to Argentina and nearby Uruguay and Brazil.

This was not a conscious choice of my part. They are simply the ones that survived the drought and temperature extremes of the east facing room.

What the plants have in common is they’re from the Southern Hemisphere where our winter is their summer. Seasons are managed by the sun, which is high in summer and low in winter. Generally, plants bloom in the environment’s summer and go dormant in winter. Exotic imports don’t have some vestigial preference for their ancestral home. They adapt and bloom when conditions are right. If they don’t, plant breeders abandon them for more pliable species.

They should bloom in our summer. The fact the ones on my porch bloom in our winter made little sense until I looked up. Or rather, I didn’t look up because the sun was coming into my eyes over the roof of my neighbor’s roof. That happens every winter. Last fall, it started bothering me on October 4.

The porch doesn’t get sun from above but through the windows, and the windows get more light when the sun is low to the horizon.

The plants currently blooming are zonal geraniums, an ivy-leaf geranium, and aptenia. The ones not blooming are the snake plant, which bloomed last winter, and the moss rose, which has gotten luxuriantly green instead.

The rochea never bloomed until I moved it this summer from the side of the porch, to the front where it got more sun. It put out new growth, then in October, soon after the sun was in my eyes, thrust up a bud stem. It’s still in flower, though the tiny white flowers can’t be seen from a distance.

Notes on photographs:
1. Rochea (Rochea coccinea), 10 March 2018.

2. Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora), 10 March 2018.

Sunday, March 04, 2018


Weather: It has been a cold, dry winter. We had a week of rain in October, and nothing to measure after that. It got down to 3 degrees in December and to 2 the end of January. The first time the temperature fell so low I wondered if the sensor for the digital thermometer was working. I put out a mercury thermometer to test, and the sensor battery was good. It was that cold.

The winds started a couple weeks ago, and any moisture that survived is being sucked away. In its place, the winds have been depositing Russian thistle and white pigweed carcases outside my gate.

What’s blooming: Cranesbill on the west side of the post office in town.

What’s reviving: Sweet peas have some green leaves, and there’s new growth at the tips of the blue flax. Some low ferny green plants are up outside the gate, but this early I don’t know if they’re western stickseed or tansy mustard.

Animal sightings: Chickadees stay here year round, and nest in the eaves of my neighbor’s metal building.

Weekly update: The thumb I injured in October 2016 has not recovered. I did very little work in the garden last year to let it rest, but it didn’t improve. It was a hot, dry summer and little grew, so the neglect probably had few consequences. I could still turn on the water.

What did suffer was my awareness of nature. Since I couldn’t work outside, I didn’t go out as often, and observed less. Then, because I had to learn a new way to write with my right hand, I took fewer notes. Since I wasn’t taking notes, I looked less. And, since I couldn’t use my thumb on the space bar, I didn’t post to this blog.

Nursery catalogs stopped reviving my garden interest years ago when companies were consolidated, and the only new seeds were for greenhouse growers. However, I force myself each year to look at them to order the reduced number of seeds I buy. That activity does act as a stimulus.

The reason I order seeds is the local stores stopped carrying them a few years ago. There’s one hardware in Española, one plant store in Santa Fé, and one plant store in Albuquerque that carry Lake Valley, and that’s all that’s reliably available.

I did my annual seed shopping Saturday morning. When I was checking out, the girl said her grandfather in Dixon always maintained a garden for his wife. He planted corn and both green and red chilies. She said he was the one who did the canning.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The World Turned Upside Down

Weather: Last snow, this morning.

What’s blooming: Nothing.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, moss roses, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds.

Weekly update: The Halloween season has finally ended. That’s my term for the period after the trees have dropped all the leaves they’re voluntarily going to, and before a severe frost completes the transition to winter.

It’s a period of inversions. The clocks change and we’re disoriented for a few days. The weather changes, and some plants thrive. We treat them like pariahs because they deny our simple view that nature follows the same Newtonian rules as the Earth. Many are weeds with genes that make them immune to our most popular herbicides. The purple asters sneak back with innocent looking rosettes.

One doesn’t mind the pansies and snapdragons that keep blooming. It’s understood they prefer cool weather, and they stayed around all summer as bits of dormant green. But the golden spur columbine die in the summer, leaving large swathes of brown. Then, in the fall they recover and refill the bed they abandoned to weeds. Even today’s snow hasn’t destroyed their leaves.

It took a lot to end this Halloween. The cold front that blew through November 17 didn’t change things much, even though winds in Santa Fé were clocked at 55 mph and reached 45 mph in Los Alamos. Morning temperatures dropped to 23 the next day. My cottonwood’s leaves only turned color. Most clung to the branches.

Then they got teased with rain and warmer temperatures a week ago Monday. Nothing changed.

This past Saturday afternoon my workroom darkened, and I checked the weather maps. I had stopped bothering when the doldrums began. NOAA showed the remnants of a hurricane and a great arc of cold air sweeping from it up into New Mexico.

I wondered, how did I miss a hurricane. This one was named Otto, and the last one in late September had been Seymour. I looked at the time stamp on the display to make sure my computer’s browser didn’t have some embedded date in it.

Another inversion. Otto was an interloper that crossed from the Caribbean over Nicaragua and Costa Rica on Thanksgiving setting records for its lateness and strength.

Otto finally got Nature’s attention. A flock of migrating robins landed that afternoon in my yard. They seemed to have come for the privet berries, but left when they didn’t like them. I never get flocks of robins. At most, I see a couple closer to the river.

We’ve had some rain each day since Otto. Yesterday, I saw more flocks of birds finally heading south. They’d stopped to feed in the grasses in some adjacent orchards.

After dark last night, we got some snow, with a bit more this morning. The forecast low for Los Alamos tonight is 14. Lingering fall will die a sudden death, and claim it was all so unexpected. Why, only Sunday the morning temperature was above 37.

Notes: “Hurricane Otto Crosses From Caribbean to Pacific.”, 26 November 2016.

Photographs: All taken 18 November 2016, the day after the big winds and first morning temperatures in the low 20s.

1. Alfilerillo completely disappeared in the summer, then comes back in the fall.

2. The cottonwood still holding half its leaves.

3. Lush, resurgent golden spur columbine.

4. Vinca, which has grown very little since it was planted in 2000. It multiplied this fall.

5. Purple aster rosettes.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

As the World Turns

Weather: Some rain last weekend, and cold temperatures Thursday morning. Last rain 11/6.

The weather forecasts are deceptive: nothing’s happening, or highs and lows are maneuvering each other to little consequence. The southern waters have cooled, so there’s little tropical moisture coming our way. The changes are coming from the Earth moving through its orbit; one of those things that can be demonstrated in any number of ways, but is hard to actually see.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, chocolate flowers, blanket flower, random plants close to the ground, usually sheltered by a wall, larger plant, or fallen leaves.

What’s nearly bare: Siberian pea, black locust, choke cherry, spirea.

Leaves have stopped turning color, and simply fall in batches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, moss roses, aptenia.

About the time the sun began to shine in my eyes in the morning, the plants on the inside porch began producing more flowers. I knew they bloomed in winter, but hadn’t realized before that it was because they were enjoying the light that was bothering me.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds.

Tuesday afternoon I heard a noise about the house I couldn’t locate. I looked through the window on the enclosed porch before I entered, in case an animal had gotten in. I saw nothing when I looked through the window of the door, but still heard the noise. I knocked on the glass to make noise, and a large bird took off for the locust. It looked like a quail until it landed vertical, not horizontal, on a branch. It’s long beak declared it was a woodpecker with dark feathers spotted light.

Photograph: A tansy cluster has finally come into bloom, 12 November 16.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

In Suspension

Weather: Temperatures staying about freezing with last rain 10/9.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, chocolate flowers, blanket flower.

What’s turning/turned red: Leaves on Bradford pear, pink evening primroses, lead plants, toothed spurge, Johnson’s Blue geranium.

What’s turning/turned yellow: Leaves on cottonwoods, apricots, globe willows.

What’s nearly bare: Purple leaf sand cherry, catalpa, Rose of Sharon, caryopteris, skunk bush.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, moss roses, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds.

Weekly update: Time is standing still. Sun angles change daily, but with the warm, dry days, nature’s preparations for winter are proceeding in slow motion. Little changes from day to day. It’s death by inertia rather than by cold.

The days are ideal for working outside, but there’s little to do. Most of the people have cleared their fields and cut their hay. And, most with trees seem to be watching the leaves fall, but not doing anything yet to remove them. Only the most fastidious go out before all have fallen that are going to.

I have things I could do, but they’re all heavy labor - finishing the repairs on the irrigation channel, extending a path, pruning shrubs. They’ve all been postponed before, and can wait until my thumb is ready for abuse.

It’s possible to find plants blooming in protected areas, but little is visible from the car. Even the roses are hard to see. Chrysanthemums were all but invisible this year. My florist ones are putting out flowers with only half the petals.

Leaves on the skunkbush dropped without turning color, but a young seedling protected by the catalpa has bright red ones. I don’t know if it’s its youth or the seclusion that allowed the member of the sumac family to show its true coloring.

I suppose the birds are migrating, but I haven’t heard them. This morning when I was running a hose that’s sprung a small leak, a half dozen birds came from somewhere for the pooling water, then disappeared when it sank into the gravel.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Observations from the Sidelines

Weather: More nice weather with no water; last rain 10/9.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, chocolate flowers, blanket flower, chrysanthemums.

What’s turning/turned red: Leaves on pink evening primroses, lead plants, toothed spurge.

What’s turning/turned yellow: Leaves on cottonwoods are yellow, but those on lilacs are lime green and are brownish-yellow on tamarix.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, moss roses, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small birds. Something, presumably the rabbit is eating the still green leaves on the gazanias and the oriental poppies.

Weekly update: Before I whacked by thumb, I was removing heath asters and cleaning grasses that had died under my globe willow. It was my last chance of the season, and now I can’t continue until next spring. Leaves then hadn’t started falling, but now the blankets are being laid.

Some trees and shrubs are bare: the young peaches, roses of Sharon, Siberian peas, and my neighbor’s ashes. Thick coats have accumulated under the catalpa, black locust, peach, and apricots.

There was a good reason to attack the Aster ericoides. As I mentioned in the post for 23 May 2010, their roots turn into woody masses. I found one that was lying right along the top of a tree root, so it was impossible to remove it without nicking what lay below. It was necessary, of course, because as long as it was there, no water would seep down. Most weren’t so bad, but the runners did have to be turfed out.

Flowers on the yellow Mary Stoker chrysanthemums have all died. I don’t know if this is because they are taller than the others still blooming two feet closer to the house, or if it’s the genetics. They are a rubellum hybrid, while the others are various forms of the cushion mum, morifolium. The florist mums in a much lower place are still hoping to get their flowers open before they’re cold killed. Every year there’s the same conundrum, will they make get to bloom, or will they be pinched at the last moment.

Thursday morning, after the temperature flirted with freezing, the garlic chives gave off a strong smell of onion.

I don’t know why the piñon nuts didn’t mature this year. If they’re anything like my late season raspberries, they stop developing when temperatures rise without additional water. In the past, my early season raspberries always produced, but the others always shriveled in July. My good Willamette canes didn’t survive the past winter, and I’ve been cutting down the Heritages as wasted effort, so I don’t know how they would have reacted to this odd summer.

Photographs: I can take pictures and download them, but sorting through them requires too many strokes of the space bar.