Sunday, July 15, 2012


Weather: No sooner did I spray my black locust stump to kill the borers than we got three days of rain. 14:20 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Tree of heaven, hybrid perpetual roses, buddleia, bird of Paradise, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, red yucca, daylily, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, datura, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, purple garden phlox, single sunflowers, yellow flowered yarrow, zinnias, Shasta daisies; red beginning to show on apples.

Beyond the walls and fences: Leatherleaf globemallow, mullein, tumble mustard, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, white and pink bindweeds, scurf peas, silver leaf nightshade, buffalo gourd, knotted spurge, prostrate knotweed, goat’s head, Hopi tea, plain’s paper flower, goat’s beard, horseweed, wild lettuce, golden hairy asters, native dandelion, goldenrod.

In my yard, looking east: Snow-in-summer, bouncing Bess, coral beardtongue, Jupiter’s beard, pink evening primrose, winecup mallow, sidalcea Party Girl, California and Shirley poppies, Saint John’s wort.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses, Dutch clover, Illinois bundle flower, scarlet flax.

Looking west: Caryopteris, Siberian and Seven Hills Giant catmints, calamintha, leadplant, Goodness Grows speedwell, David phlox, white spurge, perennial four o’clock, sea lavender, ladybells peaked, Mönch asters, purple coneflowers.

Looking north: Hartweig evening primrose, nasturtium, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Petunia, nicotiana, snapdragons.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds, small brown birds, geckos, hummingbird moths, cabbage and other butterflies, bees, hornets, harvester and small black ants.

The day after I put down a soaker hose to the new cherry tree to replace the sprinkler I’d been using in the heat of June some burrowing animal left mounds under its trail of water to remind me you cannot just put a plant out in virgin territory here.

Weekly update: There’s something about an abandoned building that evokes thoughts of what must have been, places like those along the main road from Santa Fé to Taos that remind you Española wasn’t always the domain of chain outlets with paved parking lots. It once was the proud center of small shops serving tourists and the locus of the finest homes.

One vacant compound has a step down into what looks like it had been a store in a wall that joins the buildings so nothing is visible from the main road but various sorts of masonry. In front of the public entrance an iris grows with an ivy plant and some Virginia creeper. At the side street end, which probably was the residential entrance, daylilies grow under an old tree and one hosta survives in a raised bed.

When I say survive with a property like this, I mean the plants not only have persisted despite neglect but also have not been dug up by thieves. In this case, I suspect the original plantings have been taken and the iris and hosta represent roots that broke off and somehow came back.

The back of the property is fenced but not walled with a blooming silver lace vine at the far end. Along the fence, fernbushes grow about 4’ high, forming a nearly contiguous hedge of green.

Now what’s odd is that fernbushes, unlike the iris and hosta, aren’t common in old yards of the local well to do. They weren’t mentioned in Rosalie Doolittle’s 1953 garden guide that embodies the aesthetic of a home like this.

Even today, the rust brown branches aren’t particularly common. You need to go to one of the upscale nurseries that features drought resistant shrubs to find one. They’re not carried by the mass market retailers or local hardwares.

The only one I saw blooming this year was in a mixed shrub border of a home whose owners have the resources to develop and maintain a garden on an estate scale in a dry environment.

If the shrub isn’t easily available in local stores, it’s also not something you can dig up somewhere in the wild. It’s native to the Great Basin to the northwest where it’s been used medicinally by the Gosiute, Paiute, and Shoshoni.

The Ramah Navajo recognized it was eaten by sheep, cattle and mule deer. According to Paul Vestal, they smoked the leaves in corn husks to prepare for a hunt and blew the smoke toward the place where they hoped to find deer. Then they rubbed the ashes on their bodies and said prayers “to a plant if one is found.”

Chamaebatiaria millefolium, with its 3/8” wide, white, five-petaled flowers on sumac-shaped cones and deeply dissected grey-green leaves, is a bit of an anomaly, the only member of its genus in the rose family. There’s some evidence it evolved during the Eocene when the climate was drying in the mountains, and that they were growing on sun-exposed ledges some 10,000 to 50,000 years ago during the Middle Wisconsin glacier period in the Grand Canyon.

In 1928, a group exploring an isolated part of the canyon that once had been used by Indians hunting mountain sheep and prospectors found fernbushes growing with cliff roses and Apache plume on the edges of meadows on the Cococino Plateau. In California, it’s one of the plants growing in the interior passages of cave mouths in the Lava Beds National Monument.

The shrubs stand today, like the catalpa near the rear of the building complex, as possible relics from those distance days when communication and trade routes were different, when the railroad still ran to Colorado and men who left the state seeking work brought back exotic souvenirs.

Coats, Larry L., Kenneth L. Cole, Jim I. Mead, John A. Cannella and Jessa Fisher. “Middle Wisconsinan Vegetation on the Colorado Plateau, Utah and Arizona, USA: Evidence for Glacial-age Monsoons?,” Geological Society of America annual meeting, 2003.

Doolittle, Rosalie. Southwest Gardening, 1953, revised 1967.

Matthews, Robin F. “Chamaebatiaria millefolium,” 1994, in United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Fire Effects Information System, available on-line.

Moerman, Dan. Native American Ethnobotany, 1998, summarizes data from a number of ethnographies.

Shaw, Nancy and Emerenciana G. Hurd. “Chamaebatiaria millefolium” (Torr.) Maxim.,” in Franklin T. Bonner and Robert P. Karrfalt, The Woody Plant Seed Manual, 2008, describes work by Howard E. Schorn, W. Wehr and Jack A. Wolfe on the evolution of fernbushes.

Strurdevant, G. E. “A Visit to an Un-frequented Part of the Grand Canyon!,” 28 February 1928, Grand Canyon Treks website.

United States. Department of the Interior. National Park Service. “Plants” page on Lava Beds National Monument website.

Vestal, Paul A. The Ethnobotany of the Ramah Navaho, 1952.

1. Fernbush flower, 11 July 2012.

2. Fernbushes growing near an abandoned building, 6 July 2012; catalpa at right rear.

3. Hornet on fernbush flower, 14 July 2012.

4. Fernbushes in winter, 3 February 2012.

No comments: