Sanctuary of delight
”A garden should make you feel you've entered privileged space -- a place not just set apart but reverberant -- and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.” Michael Pollen in Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education (1991)
In spite of the unrelenting, triple digit, record breaking heat, there are currently some bits of poetry happening in the garden narrative.
The North American native wildflower Ratibida columnifera (Prairie coneflower or Mexican hat) is in full flower under the mesquite tree, where it gets afternoon shade. Full sun does not always mean full sun in the Chihuahuan desert.
I find many things do better with a degree of afternoon shade, such as offered by the dappled shade of the sprawling mesquite grove on the western edge and the cottonwood which presides over the northwest corner. For the rest I’m going to have to engineer respite, or invite the true desert hardiness of cactus and agave into the unshaded spaces..
These Ratibida columnifera were grown from seed which I collected in the Lincoln National Forest in the autumn of 2018. The area where they came from was burned (along with over 200 houses) in one of the early fires of this year’s devastating fire season in New Mexico. I am on a mission to collect seed of different variations of colour in these Alice-In-Wonderland wildflower curiosities. I know a place where there are yellow ones blooming….shhh….I know a place…
Meanwhile, in the outback cactus garden, a vibrancy of neon yellow Opuntia ellisiana bloom opened.
The flowers last only a day but are very attractive to bees during that time. Then they close to become a squishy looking, puckered mass of folded peachy brown coloured petals. Next thing you know there’s a tuna fruit which will turn a lovely dark red.
These prickly pear fruit are edible but not super tasty in my experience, better for juicing with other flavors, or making jam, again increasing flavour with lemon and sugar. The colour they bring is jewel bright. The (lack of) taste is a great disappointment for one who has had the Eastern Cape prickly pears, chilled after being purchased on the side of the Kowie road. In the old country.
This is often called the spineless prickly pear. It does, however, have glochids which can be pesky. Several times a year I (carefully) harvest pads from these cactus for a nopal vegetable dish. When I’m feeling up to removing the glochid filled eyes. The texture is slimy, like okra. Not to everyone’s taste but nopal has been a native food of the region for hundreds of years. I find it makes a good base ingredient, with garlic, onions and spices, for a vegetable stew over rice or savory pancakes.
I have a few more clumps of these particular opuntia, not yet flowering, at the front entrance, all nurtured from a box of pads picked up free from the sidewalk at a neighbourhood yard sale in 2020. My desert vegetable garden from the castaways of another paridigm.
The longer I live in the desert, the more I come to appreciate the exquisite fragility and beauty of cactus flowers. They are psychedelic flashes of brief, brilliant colour floating above dastardly spines, spikes and glochids, like the proverbial lotus rising above the mud. Most often cactus blooms last a very short time (a day, or a night), sometimes have a heavenly perfume, and are much loved by pollinators various. All of which set the scene enchantment.
Another yellow flower which lasts only a day, the yellow hemerocallis (day lilly), is blooming. Other colours won’t be far behind. These flowers are also edible. I toss the buds with olive oil and spices various, then oven roast them (they could be grilled but who is lighting an outdoor fire right now, with wildfires burning all around?).
Yes, I do feel a little bit of a monster for gobbling up the buds before they open. I do it anyway. Homesteading (and the food chain) is like that. Every good story has a monster element woven through. For every beauty, it’s beast. The power dynamics of enchantment.
Speaking of psychedelic colours, the first (self seeded) zinnia of the season opened. Of course it is hot pink! I welcome the seasonal return of the bright colours of zinnias in the garden. Living where zinnias thrive is such a gift.
Out front the birds and the bees are living it up in the solar array of sunflowers which screen the porch this time of year. All of the sunflowers this year were self/bird seeded.
It was not always like this. When the hacienda and I first met, the streetview was very different.
A privileged space indeed: this desert.
A sanctuary of delight.
This time around.
”… Flowers on the hillside blooming crazy
Crickets talking back and forth in rhyme
Blue river running slow and lazy
I could stay with you forever and never realize the time…” Bob Dylan