Late Summer Color, Or a Small Garden Saga

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Several years ago, I put a trellis in my garden where I wanted to grow roses. I did not succeed. After giving up that attempt I planted amaranth there. A few plants survived; when I returned from vacation they were bent over, going to seed. The next year I planted a few sunflower plants there. A few of them survived. They had competition from a few amaranth volunteers, which, like the year before, bent over. One was worth staking for a while.P1000625

This year I planted nothing in that section of the garden. Several sunflowers volunteers came up. They had reverted to a smaller, more native look. And there have been lots of them.P1000624

Several amaranth plants also appeared. Nothing special at first. Now, at the end of the season, a giant appears―a giant which is also absolutely straight. Nature has taken its time to do far better than I can.

At the opposite side of my yard I have a red-trumpet-flowered bush with dark green leaves. I bought it three years ago, and I have had to prune back the bushes on either side to keep them from crowding its space. It is blooming abundantly this year. Unfortunately I have lost the papers from my purchase and I can’t remember what its name is, or what feeding and pruning I should give it.P1000622

This week I took a piece of it with me to a small flower show. I found a piece of the same plant in one of the bouquets on exhibit. I asked around. Some people thought it a Cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis). Others suggested a salvia. The flower tube opens up into four equal narrow petals―unlike anything I can find on Google or in my native plant book. I guess I will have to keep calling it Red Trumpet Flower Bush.


Fall Color

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Some days I miss the many fall colors of the east.  There’s no question that the dominant fall color where I live now is yellow. P1000294I chose the chamisa for my garden because it does have great fall color.  The photo above is carefully framed.  Here’s the general view:P1000295I think the plant got too much water from the new watering system I put in last year.  It’s a problem I saw coming, but I didn’t crawl into the plant to adjust the emitter near its base, knowing it would be easier to reach when I cut it back   At least the clothesline holding parts of it from falling further doesn’t show up too much in the photo!

Gardening is ever an experiment.

Marks of Spring

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Two signs that we are really into spring have appeared in my yard this week. primrose.1

One is the Mexican Primrose.  I planted this early in my gardening efforts and thought it had died, so I planted a chamisa bush in the “empty” space.  The Primrose evidently appreciated the cover and came back to life.  It blooms in spring and then is covered over by the chamisa.  In late summer or fall, thin tendrils push through the bush to produce a few more of the lovely pink flowers.  I don’t dare transplant it.  It likes its present location.



The second sign of spring is the leafing out of the mesquite tree.  I planted this tree as a wee thing out of a seven inch pot about six years ago.  I worried for two years whether it would ever tree; all it took was patience.  I have been told by more experienced gardeners that the mesquite is the best marker of spring.  Unlike the decorative fruit trees and some others, when the mesquite begins to leaf, one can be confident that the danger of serious frost is past.

What have these signs of spring to do with either freethought or metaphor?  Both freethinkers and poets are aware, though in different ways, that humans are connected to the rest of nature.  The wisdom of these plants appeals to both sides of my mind.

After Desert Rain


My back yard is mostly sand.  At least twice previous owners have tried to grow grass there and given up, leaving the strings which once held sod together.  The ground is a pale yellow color.

Until the summer rains come.  Then all manner of weeds sprout up, providing a cover of green.  It is said that a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place, but I find the situation is more complicated than that.  Some weeds I pull as fast as I can: the lanky grass that goes to seed so quickly, and the pretty, spreading plant called goathead, whose yellow flowers turn into nasty pronged seeds that stick to cloth and hurt bare feet.

Purple Mat

Other weeds I have reclassified as wildflowers.  One of these is purple mat (Nama hispidum).  When we have a wet winter, which we did not this year, this low plant shows up across the desert where I walk.  In my yard, it likes the shady spots where moisture lasts a little longer.  I had to go out early to get a picture of it in the sun.  And even so, you can hardly make out the purple flowers.

Another native flower I’m fond of is limoncillo ((Pectis angustifolia).


Its English name, lemonweed, may reflect what most people think of it, but I think it’s lovely, with its thin leaves and yellow flowers.  I usually get a scattering of this.  This year, it has sprouted all around our small pool, as if it had been planted there.  How very nice of it!  I happily pull out all the competing weeds so that it can shine.

In this harsh desert climate I’ve had little luck at the kind of gardening I did in Pennsylvania. Even when I focus on heat-hardy plants, my seedlings fail to take hold and my vegetables die off before producing.  I’m dependent on nature and native plants to fill my yard.  After the poppies of early spring there were “wire lettuce” with its wee pink flowers, and stickweed, currently called “Velcro plant,” whose pale yellow flowers are best appreciated from a distance.  Then things got hot and dry.  After the rains come, purple mat and limoncillo arrive to give me joy.  They are a gift I did nothing to earn.