September 17, 2017

Gardening in Southwest New Mexico

Moving from a semi tropical climate to a high desert semi arid climate has its adjustments. My husband Guy and I were not sure we wanted to continue with gardening to the extent we had done in Florida, but in the five years we have been here we could not resist learning about the native plants and other compatible arid plants which can be grown with relative ease, that is to say, drought tolerant and deer resistant.

this large volcanic conglomerate rock
 make us easy to find from
 La Avenida De San Lorenzo

Our Solitare Home
  Casas Adobes Subdivision
Mimbres New Mexico

Steps to garden in frontyard

The trick we found in landscaping in this semi arid climate is to frequently water plants for the first two years, oh and we learned the hard way by not doing this. This year was our most vigorous planting and gardening so far with more tending and watering.  

Frontyard Sunflowers
 Sunflowers are a native plant to New Mexico. The wild sunflower has a smaller flower than cultivated sunflowers. We encourage their growth by watering them in the early spring and remove the dead stalks in early winter. The sculpture I created with collected rusted metal, it is in the center of the yard. 

Frontyard Sunflowers and My Rust Sculpture

We get some fierce torrential rain storms with high wind and hail but often these rains will be short.  This summer when the monsoons arrived we had rain almost every day. There is nothing like rain water for the health of the plants; it is like magic.

Garden plants in backyard

Garden plants in frontyard

Our backyard is sloped and the flowers really started growing when we placed rocks in random patterns throughout this slope. These rocks helped slow down the flow of water and snagged the seed so it would stay put and root which in turn helps keep the soil from eroding. Here are a few photographs of some of our many wildflowers.

Thread Leaf Groundsel Bloom

Globe Mallow

Red Cone Flower- Mexican Hat

Purple Verbena

Gone to seed
 We planted four Apache Plumes, which are a natural plant to the region, so watering will not be an issue.  In the spring the Apache Plume gets white flowers that space themselves very nicely like polka dots among the deep green leaves and later it grows purple plumes which are very showy, often the flowers and plumes stay on the bush throughout the spring, summer and into the fall.

Apache Plume Flower
Close up of Apache Plume

Apache Plume in September
Our garden has several varieties of sage, two verities are a blue green color and two are red sages. The red sages are dark green with a red flowers which the humming birds love. Natural plant nectar I believe is healthier than sugar water for humming birds and other insects.

Trident Sage

Red Sage Bloom

Sages in backyard

The bird of paradise and will reseed to form a nice grouping and this plant looks spectacular when it blooms. We have several in the frontyard and Guy marks new ones with a flag along with the other plants we are caring for so we can see them for special watering while they are young. 

Bird of Paradise Bloom

I bought a beaver tail from Wal-Mart which is a cactus I learned about from visiting the gardens in New Mexico State Parks. I like this plant because of its distinct pad pattern and small size.

Beaver Tail Cactus

We were given some large fish hook barrel cactus from a neighbor who needed to remove them and we also found some small ones of different variety in our yard.   I am gathering the seed from the barrels along with other seeds to propagate inside the house in February and then we will plant them in spring after the frost.

Fish Hook Barrel Cactus in Bloom

Fish Hook Barrel Cactus

Small Barrel Cactus in Bloom

In our neighborhood you can see several houses that have spectacular large Ocotillos and they also grow on the mountainside just west of us. The Ocotillos are not cacti but they have thorny branches and beautiful red flowers in the spring. We have two small Ocotillos.

City of Rocks State Park NM

Our nearby mountains west of us have many Sotol plants, which are very noticeable with long bushy spikes in spring though summer, some plants are male and some female. We bought a couple of sotol plants for the yard from Ace this year along with several of our other plants. Ace has an excellent native plant selection in Silver City and the nice thing about the sotol is it does not die after flowering.

Common Sotol - Desert Spoon

This wonderful old Buddleia bush, pictured below, has lilac type flowers which the humming birds and butterflies just love. I prefer the Buddleia to the Lilac bush because of the longevity of the bloom and it is also drought tolerant. We recently planted a small Buddleia in our front yard.

Buddleia - Bloom

Buddleia - Butterfly Bush 

Neighbors let us gather pups from their Parry’s Agave, this is a blue green agave. Now we have a nice grouping of them in the front and backyard.

Parry's Agave Pup

We were quite smitten with the idea of having an Agave Americana because our frontyard is very large on our ¾ acre lot. 

But after careful consideration we decided instead on buying seeds to start a few Whales’ Tongue Agave. The Whales’ Tongue will get as large as the Agave Americana which may reach 3 feet tall by 7 feet wide.

 The Whales Tongue Agave thrives in our high elevation and can handle our cold and occasional wet winters better than the Americana Agave and best of all, it has no pups.

Parry's Agave

I do not have a photograph of the Whales Tongue Agave to show you but it is supposed to look like a huge Parry's Agave.

I am attracted to the blue gray plants because it is contrast to the green and dusky green Juniper bushes. There is variety when it comes to the desert blue green plants and I have encouraged these plants to grow in the garden by watering them.

Thread leaf Groundsel

Winterfat, White Sage

I bought a round sink from Habitat for Humanity Re Store in Silver City to make a lovely bird bath for the  birds, bugs and furry critters in our yard

A water source for the critters; a round sink to which
we added a rock in the center so small lizards ect would not drown
 and we also placed branches around it for perches

Sand Aster Flowers - Tohoka Daisy
growing around the birdbath

Guy was planning on weed whacking earlier this summer but he decided to wait for the plants to seed and we are now enjoying watching gold finches eating the seeds from the leggy wild flowers waving in the wind.

Goldfinch eating wildflower seeds

One of our favorite plants in the yard is the Desert Broom, it looks like a topiary expert clipped it into perfectly round bushes. In late summer it blooms with tight little yellow flowers which the birds and insects love. To keep its lovely shape and manage its size Guy cuts it down before spring.

Desert Brooms in bloom

Desert Brooms

Soon Guy will start cutting back on the grasses and also when the Datura goes to seed and starts to die these will also be cut to the ground. Our three Datura, also known as Moon Flowers are very large; one is about 3 feet tall by 7 feet wide.

Datura Inoxia - Moon Flowers

Moon Flower Bloom

There are too many novel wildflower plants and grasses to name. Guy uprooted and removed tumble weeds and some grasses and a few other problem plants several times this year. In the winter it is a good idea to water at least once a month, but we may have a wet winter like last year then this will not be an issue.

Guy working in yard

The plants this year grew so fast it was hard to keep up with tending them. We had many new types of flowers and other plants. Below are two Mullens; these plants are as soft as they look. 

Mullen in Bloom

Blue Green Mullen

We have several varieties of grasses. Two types are used 
locally in seeding lawns.

Indian Ricegrass

Indian Ricegrass seed head 
pattern looks like fireworks

Guy cutting grass with a sthye

Guy will weed wack the yard before the grasses dry out too this winter.  Gardening like this is more labor intensive than mowing a yard but it helps with erosion and conserves water.   Best of all is the sharing of the bounty the plants provide with the bugs, birds and bunnies and an occasional group of deer which are frequent visitors to our yard. 

Praying Mantis

Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Cotton Tail Rabbit

Visiting Mule Deer
The beauty of our garden brings us so much joy and as an artist I have many wonderful subjects for paintings. Plein Air means outdoor paintings from life. Posted below are a few paintings I created; views from my garden.

Barrel in Winter
Plein Air Oil Painting
10" X 8"

Mountain Wildflowers
Plein Air Oil Painting
6.5" X  7"

Digging in Garden
Studio Casein Painting
7" X 6.5"

Thread Leaf Groundsel with Desert Brooms
Plein Air Casein Painting
7" X 6.5"

I want to give a special thank you to all our neighbors who generously provided us with plants and cuttings.

Here is an update on my last post Gardening in Southwest New Mexico.

We bought a backyard Community pool for the neighborhood

 birds from Silver City ReStore which supports Habitat for Humanity. The pool is a big hit with the birds and they visit several times a day, particularly in the morning, all at once to wash and drink and then fly away. Now that the birdbaths are freezing in the morning so when Guy gets up he puts hot water in the birdbaths to thaw the ice. We are enjoying having so many birds visit our yard and the birds in our yard will make great subjects for many paintings and drawings.

For many years in Florida I had a large aviary with small birds in it; which of course Guy built for me. I liked to spend time with the birds and I did many sketches while visiting with them after tending to their needs. 

Sketching from life keeps an artist quick and makes one observe the essence of the subject. 

 Flower Painting in the Wild by James Gurney. I would like to recommend his videos which are informative and enjoyable.

Flower Painting in the Wild Trailer  

James Gurney's website and blog has helpful painting information.

Many People probably remember James Gurney best as the creator of Dinotopia. My Millennial Daughter says he is a hero among her friends for his Dinotopia Series because most of them remember growing up loving these books.

Suggested Reading: Common Southwestern Native Plants
by Jack L. Carter, Martha Carter and Donna Stevens

Whales’ Tongue Agave Seeds were bought from Seed Man,
we will plant our seeds in the house in February.