Sunday, July 21, 2013


Weather: Lying clouds left some moisture Friday night; last rain 7/20/2013; 14:08 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, Russian sage, roses of Sharon, purple garden phlox, bouncing Bess, zinnias from seed, cultivated sunflowers, alfalfa.

Beyond the walls and fences: Trumpet creeper, scarlet and sweet peas, whorled milkweed, buffalo gourd, purple mat flower, stickleaf, leather-leafed globe mallow, bindweed, greenleaf five-eyes, silver-leaf nightshade, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, Queen Anne’s lace, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, Tahoka daisy, golden hairy aster, native Mexican hat; buds on gumweed.

In my yard, looking east: Baby’s breath, coral bells, pink salvia, winecup mallow, sidalcea, reseeded morning glories.

Looking south: Rugosa roses.

Looking west: Caryopteris, Johnson Blue geranium, David phlox, catmints, sea lavender, ladybells, white mullein, white spurge, bachelor buttons from seed, Mönch aster.

Looking north: Golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, chocolate flowers, anthemis, yellow yarrow, chrysanthemum.

In the open, along the drive: Fern bush, Dutch clover, hollyhock, Shirley and California poppies, larkspur, white yarrow peaked, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, lance-leaf and prairie coreopsis, yellow, red and mixed Mexican hats.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, pansies, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, impatiens, French marigolds, gazanias

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbird, geckos, hummingbird moth on columbine, bumble and small bees, hornets, large and small black ants.

Weekly update: Mulch!

Whenever anyone says that to me in that confidential voice self-styled experts assume, I think of Mr. McGuire pinning Benjamin in The Graduate.

It’s not like I don’t know what they mean. I see the same mass media they do. When I first moved here, I put in plants and seeds, then covered them with mulch. I came back in a few days. Everything had dried and blown away.

The only tree in my yard that saves its leaves is the black locust. It sends out low branches that shoo away the wind. Cut them away to clear a path, and they’re back within a week armed with thorns.

Last spring, I boxed in a small area next to the back porch foundation to sow annual seeds that no longer grew in my perennial beds. The ground sloped just enough, nothing would grow. I thought, with a brick perimeter, I could level it and improve the soil.

Nothing germinated. The area had become too shaded when the lilacs finally started to grow. The bricks trapped too much water from the soaking hose that ran through the area on its ways to the roses.

This year, I put in shade loving, water tolerant annuals like pansies. They at least have survived the heat of June to begin blooming again.

Now is the season I clean out weeds. As I go, I add dry fertilizer and composted manure to existing beds to keep them fertile. I hope the snow will soak in what the monsoons leave undigested.

When I came to the annual bed, I added some locust leaves I had removed when I was clearing that area. I hoped the lilacs and house protected them from the winds.

All was well, for a week. Then, it finally rained. The water tumbled off the roof and ran down hill. The mulch and manure washed away.

Mulch is the product of forests where leaves decay on the ground, dissolving into the duff layer. You don’t see it between cacti in the Mojave.

When I was driving on the access road to Albuquerque last Sunday, I stopped whenever I saw signs of green.

Outside, Pojoaque it was an illusion. Fine grains of soil on the surface had blown away, like my mulch. Left behind were the heavier bits of gravel that trapped water.

There are those who recommend gravel as a mulch, usually with the added hint it suppresses weeds. Have they never had a gravel driveway?

Nature treats mine like a rock garden. I’m still getting rid of the more noxious seeds, that came last summer when I had the drive expanded. There is no room in my yard for goats’ heads and nettles.

The Tahoka daisies and purple asters are banished to the edges. In the fall, their stems get taller than the clearance of my car. Then, they dry into wood.

It’s harder to sacrifice purple mat flowers, alfilerillo or greenleaf five-eyes. They stay low, and bloom, and have no thorns.

Last summer I extended some of my walks that paralleled the upgraded drive. I laid concrete blocks side by side. Egotistical plants think I did it for them. The skunk bush and Apache plume have taken them over. The black locust tries every summer. They may be native plants, but if you look carefully, they like those soils around Pojoaque with the gravel.

I inadvertently recreated their ideal environment.

When I was leaving Santa Fé last Sunday, I passed through the Mesita de Juana Lopez land grant. That’s the area before La Bajada hill where cholla displaces juniper.

There was a tinge of green. Something may have been growing in the distance, but near the fence where I could see, only dead vegetation spread sparsely on the surface. With the rains, it had reabsorbed moisture and turned darker.

Anchored mulch.

It took me years to find a place where roses would grow. Dr. Huey root stock thrives under the black locust. The floribundas like the drip line up hill from my experimental annual bed.

Several years ago, I noticed cheat grass grew around the canes that survived the winter icings. It died in spring, but was anchored mulch in winter.

I tried planting more desirable grasses, like blue grama and buffalo. Some took, but generally the seed wasn’t any more tolerant of wind and flooding than the annuals. Then I tried Dutch clover. I knew it needed water, but thought it if sprouts in late summer, it will leave a brown cover in the winter that can be removed in the spring and replanted the next summer.

When the backhoe left me with large, barren areas last summer, I scattered the left over clover seed along the slopes of the drive. I had put in new grape vines. The ones I had rarely survived the winter. The clover grew. White flowers appeared the first week of May, just days after the first vines emerged under the densest plants. The ones where little clover grew finally broke ground around June 20.

Dutch clover didn’t survive around the roses, but it turns out it creates an ideal environment for Shirley poppies. They have always come up each year when I planted new seed, but never perpetuated themselves. Last year’s seed has been blooming since June 20 in the clover.

Now the clover is asserting its rights to a nature preserve. It’s spreading across the walk. At least its easier to walk around than the Apache plume. And, if it dies this winter, I still have seed.

Mulch is nature’s way of trapping moisture. It’s just that in this area, you have to study nature to find what works. The mass media sees gardens on Long Island and outside London. Their idea of the west is the moist Mediterranean climate of southern California where The Graduate was filmed.

The arid west is a different place, Mr. McGuire.

1. Shirley poppies growing in Dutch clover, 13 July 013. Seed was planted last summer.

2. Mulched yard down the road, 5 February 2012.

3. Black locust, 11 July 2013. On June 15, I pruned back the locust, so I could cut dead wood from the forsythia at the front left. The locust quickly took advantage of the opening. Those low branches are the ones I think protect the brown understory from the winds.

4. Annual bed, 15 July 2013. I spread dried manure and black locust leaves on July 2. The leaflet branches caught on the dogtooth violets and wax begonias. Those dams trapped some of the manure. Most has returned to bare ground.

5. Coming into Pojoaque from the north, 14 July 2013. Differences in color are not changes in vegetation but surface soils with differing amounts of gravel to retain water.

6. Alfilerillo blooming in gravel drive, 8 April 2013. Stickleaf is blooming in bottom left.

7. Apache plume taking over block walk, just visible in front, 20 July 2013.

8. Mesita de Juana Lopez land grant, 14 July 2013. Cholla cactus with dead, water absorbent grasses.

9. Back drip line in winter, 19 February 2010, with green cheat grass in front.

10. Flame red grape with Dutch clover, 21 May 2013.

11. Same yard as #2, four months later. The straw mulch has been thinned, I assume by the wind.

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