A path with a heart
Updated: May 3, 2022
Working in the cool morning hours today, moving a recently collected pile of stones around, making pockets to plant some new drought tolerant perennials outback.
I had not realized the shape which had formed until I stood back to photograph the result of the morning’s labouring. It was totally accidental: just evolved that way. Tricameral.
A Caesalpinia gilliesii aka Desert Bird Of Paradise (no relative of Strelitzia various) went in first, in the corner of the bed where the wall rises. To make a slightly elevated planting pocket, following the wall height, I built the pocket up with the biggest rocks to hold the soil. Chamber number one.
This South American (Argentina and Paraguay I believe) small tree/shrub has beautiful showy yellow and red flowers, pretty big brown legume seed pods (toxic) and lovely feathery leaves to make dappled shade for an understory in time. Once established, it is super tolerant of heat and drought. The Caesalpinia gilliesii out front, always the first to bloom in spring, is currently covered in buds, just beginning to open.
The south facing front sidewalk, the first area where I introduced desert adapted, drought tolerant plants a few years back, spring of 2019, I am thinking, gets almost no supplemental water, apart from an occasional bucket of grey water.
When I shower, I stand in a plastic tub to collect some (most) of the water. However, I don’t often shower because I either swim in the lake or river, soak in a mineral hotsprings or wash important bits in a bowl with a cloth as I learned to do in the Thar desert in India.
In order to recycle my laundry water, I use no soap in my everyday washes, and a tiny portable twin tub washing machine, made, I think, for the recreational vehicle or tiny home lifestyle.
All this water conserving is so that I can put my household water allocation into the earth surrounding the hacienda, to create lush greenness and food like this front potato and onion patch (above) with an edging of wildly successful self (or bird) sown sunflowers, sweet scented wild petunias and Shasta daisies.
Next to go into the back path-with-a-heart space was a Euphorbia antisyphilitica for its vertical linear interest. I toyed with trying to find a local Ephedra for this space, but fell in love with this euphorbia at Sierra Vista Growers plant nursery last week. It got a little disheveled in transplanting from the pot. Euphorbia isn’t a particularly easy plant species to handle with those brittle, milky, toxic sap filled twigs and all. Hopefully this new garden roommate will settle into its characteristic upright form.
Sources differ about cold hardiness of this quirky botanical being. It might be hardy to 15 or maybe 20 degrees, as the sign at the plant nursery had it, so might need some protection for those odd nights when temperatures go really low. I plan to give it more pretty pebbles as they come home with me, to warm the earth around it in winter and cool the earth and conserve moisture in summer.
This Chihuahuan desert native plant (but perhaps further south than me because of the potential cold un-hardiness) is coated with a wax as a protective adaptation against dessication. Just a bit further south from me, it has apparently long been custom to to harvest the wax for candles by boiling the plant. Hence it’s common name of Candelilla amongst some people. Chamber number 2 was thus created.
A grey leafed, highly fragrant Santolina chamaecyparissus went in on the other side. Chamber number three.
I am learning that Mediterranean native plants are likely to do well in Chihuahuan desert low water conditions and alkaline rocky soils. For this teaching, gratitude and huge thanks for always enlightened input and great plant suggestions from the Last Emperor way over there in a tiny, cold and damp, very flat country which probably couldn’t be further from my gardening environment.
I realize that, with the Apache Gold variety of yarrow, planted a few weeks ago just behind the bird bath, there’s potentially a lot of yellow flowering going on in this area of the garden, which is often viewed from inside the see through house. With the front and back glass doorways being aligned, and the room in between being doorless, there are sightlines all the way from the front porch out to the back fence.
I have a plan for more purple however. A little later in the season the purple Iris Germanica (aka Bearded Iris) from the front will need subdivision. Some of those will go in a semi circle behind the euphorbia antisyphilitica and hopefully bloom brilliantly in the center of that arched space in the view from inside the house.
I also believe that what I transplanted this morning, from a pot to under the Caesalpinia gilliesii is Nectaroscordum siculum also known a Mediterranean Bells or Bulgarian Honey Garlic. It has a flower of exquisite beauty. However my bulb supply company has proven unreliable (see last month’s post about Azure Alliums flowering white and actually being something else.) I await the blooms before I say with any certainty who has been transplanted today in this respect.
Meanwhile the xeric rattlesnake garden on the east side of the driveway (my main entry into the property) is growing with a Fallugia Paradoxaca (often called Apache Plume), Echinops Ritro (globe thistle) and Eryngium Alpinum (sea holly) alongside two spikey plants of slightly dubious identity, acquired a few weeks back from a local nursery.
This area is slightly challenging and might not be super successful. The eastern boundary wall of tin shades it early, then reflects heat most dramatically and blindingly late in the day. Quite a challenge. Ericameria nauseosa,(rabbitbrush) Tribulus terrestris (goatshead thorns), Sphaeralcea ambigua (desert globe mallow) and tufty grass had been growing here completely unnurtured up to this point.
Last autumn I planted a Chilopsis (Desert Willow) here which seems to be recovering from winter dormancy. Looking forward to the fragrant flowers.
Right now, I realize my gardening style is somewhat Hawaiian: making enclosures of rocks to protect and direct water, and contain compostable debris, for new roots and shoots to thrive, is common when gardening on lava. Hence all the circles.
When (if) we get rain it comes as a sudden monsoon deluge. Any bare or uncontained earth is easily swooped up in a flood and rushes off downtown in an attempt to get to the river. Yes, it’s a town built on a series arroyos**, a hotsprings swampy seep, and riverine flood plane. The latter two are geologically below the site of the hacienda. I garden with the arroyo in mind. One manages and directs arroyo water flow with rocks.
Of course I need more rocks. And old bones. And rusted old stuff. And tree limbs. More desert detritus for the path with a heart garden. Yes please!
**arroyo is the local term for a steep sided gully carved out of a desert landscape by water erosion. This geological phenomenon is known as a donga or udonga as I first learned it, in Southern Africa.