southwest GARDEN - Edible Communities Network
by Christie Green
Cool mornings, low golden light, the tantalizing scent of green
chiles roasting in a slowly turned tumbler; more delicious, freshgrown local produce than can be enjoyed at one sitting; an ease to
the frenetic pace of summer and its tourist-packed events, gardening
overwhelm and travel delirium—this is fall. It invites us to reflect on
what the year has brought and what we’ve encouraged to germinate
in our lives, our soil and our minds. Fall is forgiving in northern
New Mexico: it offers a respite from the heat and invites us to enjoy
idyllic outdoor temperatures, exquisite display of color and the final
push to preserve the season’s bounty. Fall is, as all true gardeners
know, the best time to consider what to cultivate in the year to come,
to rework beds for a new spring look and, of course, to plant.
Soil temperatures are cooler, wind has subsided, and there is often
residual monsoon moisture, allowing for optimal planting conditions. Now it’s up to you to decide what to plant in your landscape.
Based on previous years experience with success and failure or on
a nascent desire to spiff up your outdoor living space for the first
time, you may choose from what you’ve seen at nearby neighbors’,
a favorite art gallery, public space or gardening magazine. But what
you may not have seen could actually be what beckons.
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a wonderful, multi-trunk, part-shade-loving tree. The spring chartreuse leaves and airy winged seeds seem dainty in a tough environment, but it proves durable and lovely with little water or attention.
Fall is its time to shine brilliant crimson—a true knockout against
a native coniferous evergreen such as Pinus flexilis, limber pine or
Pinus aristata, bristlecone pine.
Ribes aureum, golden currant and Ribes cereum, wax currant, are
drought-tolerant, while offering golden spring bloom and generous shiny fruits that linger into fall. Hippophae rhamnoides, sea
buckthorn, is a native whose narrow, grey-green leaves and brusque
structure provide substance and contrast as a foundation planting
in less formal gardens. Birds congregate safely in its dense thickety form. Chamaebatiaria millefolium, fernbush, is a wonderful
summer bloomer, attracting bees in droves. The cutinized, fern-like
leaves resist desiccation and provide distinct texture. Prunus besseyi,
western sand cherry with its shiny olive-green leaves is an understory must. The spray of feminine white flowers in spring cover
slim branches, evolving into a deep almost black fat forage cherry.
For an alternative non-coniferous evergreen, Ephedra nevadensis,
Mormon tea, offers a distinct structure and yellow spring bloom.
magine tuning your senses to a more subtle sort of beauty, where
a plant’s slender branches arch laterally, allowing filtered light to
grace a patio or the exposed bark of a dormant deciduous shrub
gleams brightly with winter moisture and excites your eye. As the
easier pace of the cooler season seeps into your bones and there is
time to reflect, the multidimensional offerings of less popular plantings are sure to delight on a deeper level. The once coveted flamboyant strut of glam plants will soon seem common, even tacky.
Some of the native cool-season grasses, such as Aristida purpurea,
purple threeawn; Oryzopsis hymenoides, Indian ricegrass; and Stipa
neomexicana, New Mexico feathergrass, are elegant accessories that
dazzle with their late spring/early summer seed head display and
tenacious, soil-holding roots. Their warm-season counterparts,
Andropogon scoparius, little bluestem; Panicum virgatum, heavy
metal switchgrass; and Bouteloua curtipendula, sideoats grama,
stand strong and graceful long past summer’s heat, providing tasteful texture in a snowy landscape.
A multitude of native and adapted species thrive here in northern New Mexico and tend to be far underutilized. They beg to be
noticed with their sweet spring bloom, showy summer color, succulent fruit, fall foliage and winter structure and texture. Here are a
few—hopefully unfamiliar and exciting—tree, shrub and perennial
species to incorporate into your landscape palette. You’ll be thrilled
by their hearty resilience, provision of shade, windscreen, forage
and spectacular beauty.
Our flowering native perennials burst with possibility. Whether
yours is a tranquil, shady oasis or exposed, hot, sunny expanse, New
Mexico’s stunning plant palette would be challenging to exhaust.
Some options for shade or filtered light include: Galium odora-
Seasonal To-Do List
Allow yourself to explore the possibility of introducing more
species diversity, edibles (for humans, birds and wildlife alike) on
your land, both compact urban and sprawling rural. Our native
Prunus virginiana, chokecherry, is one of my personal favorites,
with its suckering tendency (good for soil stabilization), profuse
white spring bloom and tiny, tart fruits. The purple-leaved varieties
offer an alternative to everyday green and complement the lighterhued adobe walls well. Its plum-colored winter bark and dangling,
deep, dark fruits provide exquisite winter interest in a garden of
fresh snow; birds flock to feast as well. Another wonderful underutilized native is Philadelphus microphylla, littleleaf mockorange.
Growing in part-shade, its graceful branches support a supple leaf
and intoxicating white early summer bloom, akin to a gardenia’s
lure. Its peeling cream and rust bark revealed in winter draw your
attention to its understory placement. Acer ginnala, Amur maple, is
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•Harvest, dry, can, pickle and preserve your season’s
• Compost and feed the soil from homemade kitchen scraps
mixed with carbonaceous materials (shredded cardboard,
egg cartons, newspapers, brown paper bags, straw, fallen
leaves) at a ratio of four parts carbon to one part nitrogen.
•Divide, transplant and plant winter hardy trees, shrubs and
•Decrease watering during cooler temperatures. Deactivate
and drain your irrigation system by mid to late October
before a hard freeze.
•Set up water catchment and/or grey water systems to
harvest precious seasonal moisture.
foliage warrants a place in any landscape demonstrating the beauty
and resilience of our local natives.
Full-sun, well-drained sites can be dressed up with striking, xeric,
hummingbird and butterfly attractors such as Stanleya pinnata,
prince’s plume, and Zauschneria latifolia, hummingbird trumpet.
Penstemons—Rocky Mountain, scarlet bugler, wild pink snapdragon and many more delight with their vivid color, rubbery
leaves and erect stems. Senecio longilobus, threadleaf groundsel,
Zinnia grandiflora, prairie zinnia; and Melampodium leucanthum,
Blackfoot daisy, thrive on very little water, their perky composite
flowers presenting smiling faces of yellow and white. Gaura lindhiemeri, whirling butterflies, has graceful, dainty stems with sweet
white flowers that literally whirl above ground in a circular motion.
The groundcover Antennaria rosea, pussytoes, offers a nice contrast
with silvery grey foliage and straw-like pale pink flowers. Argemone
pleiacantha, white prickly poppy stands above a multi-dimensional
perennial garden with its floppy, fried-egg flower and prickly greygreen leaves. It can easily be over watered and prefers little or no
attention—perfect for those inclined to labor less outside.
tum, bedstraw (or sweet woodruff ); Heuchera pulchella, mountain
coral bells; Penstemon whippleanus, Whipple’s penstemon; Achillea lanulosa, white yarrow; Rudbeckia laciniata, cutleaf Rudbeckia;
and Clematis pseudoalpina, Rocky Mountain clematis. Bedstraw’s
sticky stems cling together, forming a thick groundcover with
sprightly white spring bloom. Clematis climbs around formidable
natural trellis trunks of neighboring evergreens and shows off its
pale blue-white bell-shaped bloom in spring; its fine, cottony seed
head is exquisite throughout winter, peeking out from behind evergreen needles. Vitis arizonica, canyon grape, is a wonderful native
grape producing tart fruits suitable for jelly; its radiant fall red
Enjoy the respite of fall. Languish in the lovely light and absorb the
expansive beauty of northern New Mexico’s striking splendor. You
may find that the diverse species found in our many ecosystems are
a welcome, low-maintenance complement to your outdoor living
spaces—enliven with what’s local!
R A P H A Ë L D ’ A M AT O
208-D La Cueva Road
Glorieta, NM 87535
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