Sunday, October 15, 2006


What’s blooming in the area: Chamisa, roses, Maximilian sunflowers listing, purple aster, purple mat, silverlace vine. Two Santa Fe style houses have cleaned yards; elsewhere ragtag ends bloom of native sunflowers, áñil del muerto, yellow evening primrose, lance-leaf yellow brush, sweet peas, tall zinnias. Datura and heavenly blue morning glories open later. Wisteria, apache plume, caryopteris, coneflower turning yellow; pigweed browning even while putting out new plants. Red apples in orchards. Two black circles replaced piles of pigweed at sheep house.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Black-eyed Susan, gloriosa daisy, blanket flower, chocolate flower, Mexican hat, yellow cosmos, creeping zinnia, nasturtium, chrysanthemum, miniature rose (Rise and Shine).

Looking east: California poppy, crackerjack marigold, winecup, pink bachelor button, larkspur, Shirley poppy, sweet alyssum.

Looking south: Sensation cosmos; few, smaller crimson rambler morning glory.

Looking west: Single white phlox (David), frikarti aster fading, few catmint, purple ice plant, remnants of Russian sage.

Bedding plants: Petunias, Dalhburg daisies, few snapdragons, nicotiana, marigolds, sweet alyssum. Zucchini put out flower.

Animal sightings: Grasshoppers; gopher active in front; rabbit settling into uphill neighbor’s yard; horses being trained in village; birds in area.

Weather: Rain Sunday and Monday; cool temperatures since with sunny days, frost forming in morning on my windshield.

Weekly update: Mums are the one thing that isn’t blooming this year.

Grasshoppers found them particularly tasty last year, and every leaf on every stem disappeared into their maws. They are the one perennial that made no recovery last fall.

This spring I surveyed piles of dead sticks and couldn’t believe something that once had been so vital could be so completely decimated. Some chrysanthemum type leaves came up, but they were near where Mary Stoker had grown for years, and never bloomed.

Cushions mums are one of the few flowers I grew as a child, back when dime stores sold perennials in paper wrappings. When I rented a house in Ohio in the early 1970s, I put out a grocery store plant that turned into a football mum, with large flowers and a 3' stalk that needed support.

I couldn’t believe I couldn’t grow them when I returned to Michigan in 1984. At first I blamed the supplier - there was only one. Then I blamed the potting soil that turned into a hard block when it dried, and wouldn’t stay moist in the ground.

I had no hopes when I moved to New Mexico: there was still only the one supplier, and the climate was much drier that the lowlands of Oakland county. I was shocked. The mums I bought in 1995 thrived next to tile that edged the front of the house and, apparently, trapped and channeled water. Roots near bad places in the eaves did better than those where the troughs were properly installed. One summer, one composite was knee high and as wide.

Then, the plants declined. They still bloomed as much, but the skeletons remained small. I thought, maybe it was time to reread the guidebooks with their many strictures. But, I clung to Albert Wilkinson, who suggested the best way to handle garden mums, not those grown for competition, was to let them mulch themselves in the fall.

I thought maybe they’d exhausted their soil. I couldn’t find any high potency food in local stores that was easy to apply for 35 feet. So, I continued to scatter Ironrite, trim dead flowers and wait until spring to cut dead stems.

When the forbs began to exhibit characteristics writers might describe as "woody," I fretted. Not enough to divide them, but enough to doubt. Next I rationalized, maybe five years was their natural cycle, and all the books were telling me was how to perpetuate favorites in the face of death.

Then the grasshoppers landed. My only solace was that, if I replanted, I could correct my mistakes. I had put in mixed colors in a long row like several people near the village, then felt the red-tinged plants clashed with the yellow. I also disliked the long green hedge of leaves that was robust at one end, and continually dying at the other. This time I would only buy yellow and bronze heads, and maybe only a few for the good side.

I discovered that while the vendor I distrusted is still in business, its products have disappeared from the places I shop. I could only find plants in drug stores during their Mother’s Day promotion. At least they were yellow, but there was only one variety and florist gifts tend to be less robust.

In September potted plants appeared in grocery stores, and two of the spring purchases budded. My mysterious remains, which used to bloom in July, were opening. I don’t have to say what survived: rose Megan and brick Warm Megan, sold as lavender and orange duplex daisies.

In between, most vigorous of all, stands the lavender pink, spoon-tipped Naomi. In the past it was a geodesic ball covered by short branches terminating in flowers. In late August the mound was flat as 3" stalks arose directly from the ground, for the length of 4'. As the flowers opened, the stems doubled in height, to a full 6".

I’m not about to remove what works, but nature is wrong. These pink-hued plants need more subtle companions than brash chocolate flowers and yellow cosmos. Even the single stalk of Lisa, the only yellow specimen from last year’s twenty, doesn’t go well with the survivors that have encroached its space.

Notes: Wilkinson, Albert E. The Flower Encyclopedia and Gardener’s Guide, 1943.

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