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  • Writer's picturekaydee777

A promise of rainbows: the bluebird of happiness and some prickly babes

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

A Passerina caerulea (Blue grosbeak) visited the birdbath today. He (yes this handsome visitor is the male version) seemed to hang around after drinking, cocking his head from side to side, as if to ensure that we made eye contact. It's the first time I've seen this loveliest of blue birds. I'm especially delighted that the encounter was in the Garden of Earthly Delights.

Though these are migratory birds, and we are currently in the path of a great seasonal songbird migration, research seems to show that the Passerina caerulea breed in this region of the world. I do hope this Mister Blue has a Missus Blue (who is actually a whole lot more tan and not very showy) and eggs somewhere nearby, since they nest all summer, usually raising two broods.

If Mister Blue is a traveling man, then I am glad my efforts to keep the bird baths filled and the garden full of host plants for insects and seed heads are providing a welcome bivouac for winged migrants.

I haven't been observing much from the kitchen window this summer. I tend to keep the curtains closed against the heat and glare of a very fierce sun during the daytime.

Speaking of heat and eyes averted from the outdoors, a parcel of cold-hardy, mostly prickly babes arrived to reinvigorate my "what to do about a pretty and sustainable garden" mental conversations. My parcel might also have been incentivized by an end of season sale at Ethical Desert a Pueblo, Colorado, plant nursery specializing in cold hardy cacti and succulents.

The new roommates have been potted into terracotta pots to acclimate before winter when I plan to do some more xeriscaping or rather use the need to build rockeries as an excuse to go on rock collecting wanders. Since I can no longer find a good cactus potting medium in stores within a 150 mile radius (that war in Ukraine is having strange effects around the world), I am attempting my own mix made up of 1:3:3 perlite, organic potting soil and coarse sand. Fingers crossed it is satisfactory.

I couldn't resist the potato form of Opuntia fragilis - possibly one of the smallest Opuntia - partly for its fat little potato pads but also because it promises very pretty (maybe creamy dreamy green) flowers. Since it seems to form a low and dense mat of around only 12-18 inches high, I'm going to have to plan an elevated site in a rockery.

I find it quite challenging to distinguish between all the siblings in the Echinocereus family, many of whom are native to the region. Trawling through the catalogue, I was sold on the vivid hot Indian pink flowers with white throats promised by Echinocereus rigidissimus which it seems is also often called the Arizona rainbow cactus. This is another rather petite cactus variety, which apparently stands solitary, so my somewhat fuzzy rockery plan is gaining pockets to best accommodate and display these small specimen cacti. More rocks needed. Obviously.

The E.rigidissimus babe which arrived today has exquisite, delicate, almost feathery spines.

This Echinocereus reichenbachii (aka hedgehog cactus) apparently comes from a batch of cacti rescued from a construction site in Pueblo, Colorado.

The species is native to Chihauhauan desert so I'm hoping it will be happy to be rehomed here at a slightly lower elevation and reward me with pretty pink flowers.

I was delighted to find an aloe which offers the curiosity of wooly or hairy green flowers, so, though I only intended to buy cacti, an Aloe tomentosa pup found it's way onto my order. This aloe seems to hail from North Africa/Saudi Arabia/Yemen and looks, at this stage, very like the medicinal Aloe vera. It seems to be cold hardy according to some resources while others say minimum 28 degrees F.

I'm hedging my bets and putting the wooly thing in a pot until next spring. That way, if we do get some real cold nights this winter, I can bring the pup inside. I really want to experience those woolly chartreuse aloe flowers. Anyway I'm still undecided on a final location for this interesting new roommate.

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