Monday, September 19, 2016

Retiring to the Garden

I don't think I ever worried about filling up my retirement days. First, I just wanted to read and read, and read some more. However, the view from my reading chair kept beckoning me outside, and I began to spend more and more time in the yard.

The landscaping that came with our little adobe cottage was plain. Big trees and rocks out front; green lawn out back. Some of the trees fell down and some had to be taken out. A few remain and we are thankful for their shade. 

The plain landscaping was little trouble, but I like flowers. So I added some.

And some more...

... and "some" hollyhocks.

Out back, we added a flock of chickens and a plain little shed to house them. That plain little shed was no trouble until the roof started sagging. And we didn't like looking at it from our shady patio.

It only took us a couple of weeks of sweaty summertime work to make a big change to that chicken house. Bill ripped off the saggy roof (to the consternation of the hens who were sitting the chicken house attic nests at the time), and put down new plywood, roofing paper, flashing, and shingles. 

I painted and embellished. 

Windchime/door knocker/flower arrangement

A faux window box, propped up by a broken chair 
that was brought back to life with a little spray paint.

Window box detail, after a week or so: 
The flowers are starting to recover from being transplanted.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Spider is Bigger Than Your Spider

I've been seeing a news story on Facebook and other places about the terror of a New Hampshire family when they found a black widow spider inside a box of organic grapes. The spider caused a big stir in the local and even the national media.

These photos were taken by the Fremont, NH family and published in various places around the Internet

That got me to thinking about how brave we must be to live in New Mexico, where even the plants can grab you and the spiders are not the only creepy-crawlies we must face on a daily basis.

Even the plants can grab you; this one looks pretty
but it wants to hurt you. Trust me. 

For example, I know a lady who knits. She is mild-mannered and kindly, and you would never suspect her of heart-stopping bravery, yet every night when she gets up to go to the bathroom she carries a black light so that she can avoid stepping on the little nocturnal scorpions that scamper across her tile floors.

When we go for walks in the nearby desert, we carry walking sticks to let the rattlesnakes know we are coming. We like to coexist in safety. 

Nobody panics, everyone gets along

Occasionally, we come across a snake who wants as little to do with us as we want to do with him/her. Now, I am a gentle retired librarian and nobody called the press when I met this fellow. We just both went on our way.

Now that I think of it, we live risky lives of constant danger that would send many Eastern folks scurrying right back to the airport. Lots of black widow spiders live on our front porch and in our garage. Those pesky sticky webs of theirs are everywhere. Fox News doesn't seem to care a bit. We just watch where we stick our hands. 

And those bitty old black widows are nothing, compared to our tarantulas. I helped one safely cross the road in front of our house one day. It didn't even make the evening news. 

This tarantula was interfering with traffic on a road near Tucumcari, NM.
That's my sister's shoe he is patting. He chased me across the highway when I took his picture.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Early Mornings in the Garden

Winters were hard back in New Hampshire. We would emerge from the long cold snowy months with a feeling that we really survived something.

Here in New Mexico, June is the month to survive. It's a hard one, the hottest of all the months, with wicked temperatures in the late afternoons.

I never tire of sunrise reflections in the flooded pecan orchard that surrounds us

But the mornings are glorious! I treasure any morning when we don't have errands or obligations of one sort or another--any morning when I can get out into the garden really early to poke around, dig a bit, get everything watered, visit with the chickens, and just appreciate our yard and its mountain views.

This morning, while Bill biked around the city, trying to beat the rising temps, I did all my favorite things out in the garden. Now it's afternoon, 104 degrees outside, and we are doing our best to stay still and stay cool. It's a perfect time to share some early morning photos. 

A late hollyhock bud

Beverly Sills, my first iris success and the inspiration for our trip to the iris farm
and the irises that we brought home from there

Iris Cinque Terre

Iris Nigerian Raspberry

Iris Fiery Temper

One of the girls, concentrating on laying her morning egg
Don't know if this fellow is an albino or if he just molted and is waiting for his color to come back.
There were two like this hopping around the front yard today.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

We Went to the Iris Farm!

I've always wanted to take a trip to the Hondo Iris Farm, located a couple of hours away from Las Cruces in the Hondo Valley of New Mexico. Today we combined a visit there to see the irises in bloom with a picnic on the grounds. Lovely!

We drove to the other side of the Organ Mountains, through the Tularosa Basin, up into the Sacramento Mountains, and through the mountain town of Ruidoso. Along the way we passed a missile base test facility, the White Sands National Monument, the Mescalero Apache Reservation, the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino, the Hubbard Museum of the American West, and the Ruidoso Downs Race Track.

Scenery-wise, we traveled from the pecan orchards and chile fields of our own irrigated Mesilla Valley, through bare rocky mountains, along a desert road through ancient lake beds, up through some pine tree mountains, and down through some very barren and dry hills to the place where the Hondo Valley starts.  

Oh, that Hondo Valley! It hit these desert eyes with a big blast of green, just like the oasis it is in a dry land. The waters of the Rio Hondo, Rio Bonito, and Rio Ruidoso meet here and irrigate the grazing fields, orchards, and vegetable farms in that good bottom land. 

After passing by the little villages of Glencoe and San Patricio, we came to Hondo and took the turnoff into the grounds of the Hondo Iris Farm. The pictures below should tell the rest of the story.

There were lots of shade trees, always appreciated by New Mexicans. 
I love the contrasting foliage of these trees. 

Here is the garden--lots of irises, interspersed with lilies, 
some hollyhock seedlings, and peonies. The fragrance was wonderful.

Not such a good shot of the flowers, but we always love the shade!

There were roses, too. 

St. Francis, being dwarfed by a huge iris bloom.

I brought home several potted irises and a peony for our own garden. I loved our peonies back in New Hampshire and somehow never realized that they can be grown here. We also brought home a catalog and I'll be choosing more iris varieties to pick up from the farm in July. 

I guess I have some digging to do to make some beds out back for the new plants. I think our chicken girls will enjoy the view of all those blossoms next year. 

A couple of the irises I brought home: Fiery Temper

Nigerian Raspberry

Monday, May 16, 2016

Making the Backyard Our Own While Conserving Water

Our backyard was just a plain expanse of green grass when we first moved in. 

Since then, we've added the chicken coop and run, some new raised beds, a fence to divide off a section from the dogs, and a border for flowers. 

Because a single seeding of hollyhocks has flourished and self-propagated in our front yard (shown above), I've moved some of the resulting little seedlings out back...

... where they've shot upwards of eight or nine feet, almost overpowering the flamboyant desert bird of paradise trees that are planted nearby--look closely for the yellow and red flowers to the left in the photo above. 

In this planting along the side fence, the bird of paradise looks to be winning the competition. 

Elsewhere in the garden (not shown) there is a blue vitex (Texas lilac) that is co-existing with some other pink hollyhocks. Together, they will make a lovely color combination once the vitex gets taller than the hollyhocks. 

We are so lucky to be surrounded by a pecan orchard that gives us a continual cool green backdrop in the summer.

For the second year now, this sweet apricot-colored native globe mallow has volunteered its blossoms in among the other plants. With very little water and a bit of pruning it will rebloom later in the season. 

And for the very first time, this Beverly Sills iris has bloomed after I moved it to a better spot. For some reason, I've had little success with irises, but this beauty has made me want a field trip to the Hondo Iris Farm near Ruidoso, New Mexico. I hope to bring back a few irises in pots and a catalog to order some more. Ruby colors! Blues! Yellows!

Everything that has been planted so far requires just a minimum of water, a good thing in this desert climate. While the long-range plan is to leave a bit of grass for dog romps, we are slowly reducing the size of the lawn in favor of xeriscape-type (drought-tolerant) plants. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Aguirre Spring in March

I don't know why it always surprises me that a half hour from our house 
we can get so far from civilization.

On the other side of the Organs--the very mountains we see from our house--we can take a windy little road off the empty highway to Aguirre Spring, the only high-country campground in the Las Cruces area.

The road overlooks the vast and empty Tularosa Basin, ancient site of a salt lake and long-ago lush grasslands. 10,000 years ago men hunted bison here. Even in the late 1800s the native grasses grew "as high as a horse's shoulder." Because of drought years and overgrazing, 
the land we now see is mostly desert shrubland. 

The basin is now home to the military's White Sands Missile Range and the White Sands National Monument. If you look very hard at the middle of this photo you will just be able to make out a long thin tongue of white sand, actually gypsum crystals. 

The Aguirre Springs area is known for its wide variety of plant species, such as alligator juniper, gray oak, mountain mahogany and the sotol you see here.

This time of year we go to see the wild Mexican poppies. Depending on the season's rainfall and our timing, we might see entire fields of gold spilling down the sides of the basin.

This photo is for my friend, Helen, who moved away but still reminds me to go and see the poppies.
It was a good morning, fresh and quiet and very, very still.