Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?

High Country Gardens' Jumbo Waterwise Garden. A girl can dream.

High Country Gardens’ Jumbo Waterwise Garden. A girl can dream.

Spring and I did not get off to a good start. The pollen (worst season in years) kicked me in the head every time I inhaled. I am not sure if these things helped:

3-4 packets of Emergen-C daily (Lally’s doctor recommends)
1-2 tbsp. of Barlean’s Lemon Omega Swirl (an anti-inflammatory)
Seasonal Freedom herbal pills (lessens reactiveness to pollen)

Neti Pot (rinses out pollen gunk)

But I did get better within a matter of days.

So now, I can enjoy the things I’ve managed to plant in my rock-hard soil over the last 2 years. Secret: after the first summer’s chiseling, I reverted to doing a lot of planting in containers. Not only is the soil soft and less miserably clay-ey, I can take them with me to my next abode.

I’ve learned a lot about…a lot in my garden quest. Previous to owning this house, I lived in places where things were minimalist, but in place. Much of Santa Fe landscaping can rely on naturally occurring grasses, cacti (cholla, not Saguaro–that’s Arizona), and low pinon trees.

I moved in to my current neighborhood, which has small adjoining front yards, much of them covered in gray rocks the size of large grapes. In the idiom of the neighborhood, apparently all the better to park on should your car count exceed the two-three of most households. I assumed nobody really cared about landscaping too much and let nature take its course. Oh. Silly me. The erstwhile neighborhood association president (there’s no neighborhood association, although I wish there was one) told me that I needed to get rid of the weeds because my neighbors care about property values. Okay…

I went to a very pissy and contrary place internally, although I said the bare minimum in my polite voice to get him on to the next malefactor. A few days later, I went to the store and got some gardening gloves…and some for the kids, too. We commenced weeding. Big tall honker weeds with spiky leaves. Wispy grasses that seem to come out of the ground already dried up and dad. Hunks of dense hairy grass that need to be dug out with a trowel. Sweet little posies and tall, stalky columnar flowers. I left the flowers where they were. Who decides what’s a weed and what deserves to be cultivating?

My yard is also quite popular with a kind of grass that goes to seed in such a way that it throws off these monstrous little rolling balls of spikes. Think mini-tumbleweed, which is so flimsy that it doesn’t sweep up, finds its way into the house, and loves to pile up in front of my front door like a bunch of small party-seekers waiting for the keg to arrive before blowing in. “You might want to pull those,” my neighbor told me. “They make their way into gardening gloves and dog paws and they HURT.”

“Oh, is that where those roll-y things come from?” I asked, feeling cream-puffy and not in the know. “That’s a shame, because the grasses are so pretty.”

“Yeah, they’re pretty, but they’re a pain in the ass. You can pull them or just cut off the tops before they go to seed. Your neighbors would probably appreciate it if you did.”

Oh, okay, my neighbors. Let me get right on that. Again, I felt internally pissy, but this year I’ve been out there with the weedwacker, beheading the offending, aggressive grasses. Not pulling them. Just de-clawing them.

One area that got me thinking was the “hell strip,” aka the rectangle between the road and the sidewalk that is in many ways more like public property but is mine for the designing.

I fantasized about High Country Garden’s lnferno Strip Kits, which have a ready-planned assortment of flowers for those dimensions, but worried at the price ($170!!!) and the amount of digging I’d have to do. Then I thought about making a container garden there out of wood planks and metal joints (joints? you know what I mean). Laura worried about the boards warping. That could be a mess, and a public mess at that.

I went with 3 sedums backed with 3 Mexican grass tufts. One of the Mexican grass tufts died–the one in the middle. So considerate of that one to kick the bucket since it preserves the symmetry. However, I really should get another one. When the sedums are blooming in the late summer, it looks really wonderful. And then they stick around, almost like living dried flowers, through many snowfalls. Nothing more poignant that seeing those sedum blooms coated in snow, but holding up quite fine, thank you, with a face full of wet mush.

The weeds that favor that area look more like ground cover, so I just snip at them instead of ripping them all out. I also have to pick up a modicum of cigarette butts, empty mini booze bottles, and other passerby flotsam and jetsam. Some of it is just the wind…and some of it is bad manners. Welcome to maintaining public space.

I initially bought five Russian Sages, because I love the way they fill out. They get to be at least 4′x4′x4′, and they’re a lovely combination of dusty lavender and green. I placed two against my adobe-walled house for good contrast. The other two did not make it, by virtue of their placement. One struggled because it was too close to the front walkway and got trampled. The other was in a place where it didn’t get enough sun, then I moved it and it got too much sun. If I baby it this season, it might just come back. I see some leaves down there. The fifth one is doing pretty well, but a rosebush decided to up and grow in the exact same place. They’re intertwined right now and I hope they both benefit from their symbiosis. They’d be like a living flower arrangement if they both bloomed at the same time. I’m not one to interfere…

Last summer, I bought an impulse oleander. It did wonderfully all summer but couldn’t get through the Santa Fe winter. That poor honey got pulled out and I planted a delphinium in its place–which the garden hose bonked a couple of times, so now it has a few less branches. I’m hoping the plant will interpret it as pruning and come back with a lot of determination.

My penstemons are bushy and lively so far, but haven’t come up with any blooms. I know they will at some point. My wine-red yarrows, in a big flower pot, are just about to pop. They’re tall and have lots of clustered buds shooting out in all directions.

I just brought out my bougainvillea from the indoors to the garden. It goes back and forth. Never is it happier than in August, when the monsoons drench it every afternoon, and then the hot morning sun dries it out to a near crisp. Repeat. It likes extremes. I can’t believe I kept that thing alive for 3 years! I used to be completely useless when it came to plants. Right now, my bougainvillea is about 4 1/2 feet tall, and I am looking forward to it blooming. Purple flowers everywhere, with gorgeous stamens. Except that the “purple flowers” are actually leaves, and the stamen-looking things are the flowers.

My back yard has a giant mint bush that seems to have come out of nowhere. It has fuzzy purple blooms on it. I’m so happy it turned up. An uninvited guest who is welcome to stay. As a gardening novice, I have come to realize that I shouldn’t obsess about the plants that don’t make it, but nurture the ones that manage to stick around. I should also write down what I plant, because I have a planter with two different plants in it and I cannot for the life of me remember what the heck they are. Like my newfound gardening habit, at least they appear to be thriving.


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