Gardening in the High Desert

Transitioning to a new state involves changes and challenges one cannot fully anticipate. There is so much to learn! So, as I’ve written about, I made simple commitments to starting a new garden, and the focus was primarily in digging into my own California history around the power of fast growing morning glories, capable of transforming anything that would support a vine into a place of beauty. Careful daily tending, primarily in guiding vines where I wanted them along various colored yards I’d twined into a wooden fence and faithful watering did the trick. Investing in sturdy turquoise adirondack chairs, placed to advantage under the exquisite desert willow and adding an enchanting cobalt blue bird bath completed the fashioning of a reliable corner of peace and tranquility. Here is the result of my first growing season here in the high desert, about which you may color me both happy and proud.

Desert Willow

Morning Glories

Feeling enormously delighted that this corner emerged, especially in regard to the ever changing delightful morning glories, would it be any surprise to you that I was recently immediately drawn down the street in a neighborhood I was visiting, when I spotted a wall of purple flowers, determined to learn what they were? Imagine my amazement and delight to discover a kindred spirit gardener who had covered the back wall of her garden with morning glories! Mind you, this is not a common sight in this part of New Mexico in my experience.

Minutes later found me opening the front gate to this woman’s garden, marching up to her front door and leaving her a hand written message that I would love to interview her and showcase her garden on my Plant Whatever Brings You Joy blog! As spectacular as her morning glories were, I was entirely captivated by her entire garden, the only one I’ve seen in this part of the state that reflected what I regard as a Santa Fe look that I adore. Her stucco walls, her artistic sensibilities, her playful inclusions all delighted my imagination and eye. So I was thrilled that Charlene texted me a couple of days later and invited me to meet her and to photograph her garden. The following Friday morning we spent an hour and a half together, sharing stories and information about New Mexico gardening and the state in general. She has a rich familial history that traces back to not only pre-statehood, but pre-territory! She shared that she grew up in the countryside, which as a child she did not fully appreciate. She was delighted as a teen to move to Albuquerque, to the Big City. She later raised her children in Valencia County, where I am based, but as they grew to adulthood, she began to long for her early roots, and then impulse inspired her to create this beautiful private garden. I feel incredibly blessed to have met her and to have been invited to share a closer look.

I am utterly enchanted with her abundant use of nopales. This is just inside the front gate. And here is the most amazing thing you need to know. I asked Charlene what kind of stones we were walking on. I could not imagine something so wonderful I’d never discovered before. “I painted them,” she answered! She painted the rocks! What?? Brilliant! Who does this? And what an incredible effect! So now I really love her, right?

Nopales combined with various grasses:

Carefully placed yarrow:

This gate was exquisite. I asked Charlene where she found it. Her response? “My dad and grandfather built that.” #love

Behind this gate, laden with more morning glories entwined with trumpet vine, live two little pooches, ChaCha and Gordo, a pug. Gordo greeted me at this gate on my first visit. So cute.

When I first spotted this morning glory tower, I assumed it was growing out of a hanging pot, and I said to myself, oh how clever. But when Charlene gave me my tour I discovered that, no, the morning glories were actually growing out of the ground, and she had pulled them skyward toward a small metal wheel, where they were happy to entwine. Surprise! Charlene does things as she sees.

Other garden art loveliness that caught my eye:

Mi casa es su casa.

More nopales:

And the ever present morning glories:

What a lovely way to spend a morning with this newly found inspiring creative gardener! I am finding my way into New Mexico gardening with great joy!

Last fascinating note about this adventure. Two days after I conducted this interview/tour I received a text from a neighbor of mine who said, “I just walked by a house on [address, which is not in our neighborhood!] It is really pretty, a Southwest theme. When I saw it I thought of you and could see you introducing yourself. Use your maps and go past [adjacent address].” I laughed so hard and sent him back a copy of the first pic in this post saying, “Was it this one?? I just interviewed her!

Spirit clearly at work here.

Love and gardening blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Buy a copy of my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden on Amazon here. ¡Gracias!

Starting Over

Way way way back when I first started my book publicity business I had an upstairs office in downtown Santa Rosa that looked out back on a courtyard and a parking lot, divided by heavy wire fencing. That was not the view I wanted and I decided to plant morning glories on the fence to transform that view. Those of you who have read my book Plant Whatever Brings You Joy might remember that when I went out to plant seeds I was crestfallen to discover that the dirt at the base of the fence was only one inch deep. Below was parking lot asphalt. Soon I was relaying this to a dear friend on the phone, while looking out the back window. “I would need jackhammers to plant anything back there, Justine!” I lamented. Unbelievably just beyond the fence were several men digging into the asphalt with jackhammers. I got off the phone, scurried down the staircase and spoke with the man in charge of those workers who kindly and miraculously agreed to have them dig holes for me along the fenceline, deep enough to accommodate a small seed, and within a couple of months that fence was transformed into a wall of purple beauty.

Fast forward decades to my current reality in the high desert where the east, south and west of this property is nearly all fashioned into broad patios. Deeper exploration and consideration allowed me to imagine the heretofore unthinkable. I could garden along the wooden fence line between me and my west of me neighbors, which is four inches deep and forty-five feet long. Yes, really. I said, “This is what I’ve been given, and this is what I will make use of.”

As it happens I brought a lot of seeds with me from California. I augmented my stash with four kinds of morning glory seeds from a big box store, put my judgments and whinging behind me and shifted to a creative whimsical mindset that this was not only possible, I had done it before–incredibly under worse circumstances. I put in my seeds. As luck would have it, I had brought with me from my California garden some wrought iron border fencing, that “just happened” to fit into the chosen allotted space. They had something to climb on! Knowing they would need something once they reached the top I strung twine and various colored wool yarns from the metal border to the tops of the wooden fencing along which I was planting. Perfect. Fortunately, as they gradually emerged from the earth, they thought so, too! They are off and running. This is the fun part where they seem to grow inches overnight!

This particular fencing is built in sections. Two panels over I decided to put in nasturtium, which, happily, has now also begun to grow. No flowers yet!

What is not lost on me as I begin to claim and improve and be creative with the blessings I have been given in the high desert, is that I am largely working from seed. Given that Plant Whatever Brings You Joy: Blessed Wisdom from the Garden is, in its entirety, a book based on metaphors from the garden [indeed, the working title for my book was Metaphors from the Garden!] is that if there were ever a time to be beginning a new garden from seeds, now would be that time. And so I am. It is both humble and humbling. It is also inspiring and enlivening. I am not, much as I am tempted, going into a nursery and buying ready made plants. I’d have to put them in pots, for starters. That does little to connect me with this new earth I am exploring, digesting, adapting to and learning about. Putting a teeny tiny seed in the ground and watching the miracle of a seed transforming itself into beauty and food is a far more important life exercise for me in this moment. I walked away from a garden I had developed over a fifteen year period. It has been shared literally with thousands of people over that decade and a half. I am, in so many ways, Starting Over.

Mind you, I did buy a bunch of petunias when I first got here, in winter, and left them in their original pot, which I placed in a big basket and kept them in the house until the weather changed. I took the time to harden them and then left them outside. I was rewarded with not only their stunning beauty, but also not one but two amazing opportunities to catch on video hummingbird moths visiting them! (I will feature those in an upcoming post!)

I also early on purchased a jasmine, now in a pot and doing well, and a breath of heaven, which was one of my very favorite plants in my California gardens, living in a very large pot. I could not resist buying a small one and planting in a pot. Those two plants along with one geranium and a few pansies are my entire collection of potted plants at the moment and they have served as soul and heart comfort as I get my grounding here in the desert.

Oh, hold on. There is one more. My daughter bought me a desert willow on Mother’s Day! So, yes, there is that. It was the bridge from familiar plants that comforted me to the leap to desert plants that thrilled me. There is one very established one that hangs over the wooden fence from the neighbor’s yard. Lucky me, as 3/4 of the tree is over here, not over there. I have pruned it and talked to it and I may or may not have watered it a wee bit while she is away at work, and the result is that it is the most nourished most beautiful I’ve seen since arriving. I simply love it. So I’m happy and grateful to have one of my own in a large pot on the eastern patio. Very.

Gardens in New Mexico cannot be separated or viewed apart from the overhead skies. Here’s one from this week. Stunning.

I do hope you will join me in this high desert adventure. I am learning so much, particularly about the birds who live and pass through here. I am grateful to have the many longtime subscribers to this blog and I look forward to your comments!

Love and garden blessings from the high desert of New Mexico!


Postscript, because I know some of you are wondering: this village is 4800 feet high!

Happy Valentine’s Day–from the high desert!

Dearest followers of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, when I wrote my last post from Northern California in all honesty there was nowhere on my conscious Bingo card that imagined my next post would be written from my new home in the high desert of New Mexico. But here we are! Border Collie Nana, tortie Coco and I made the journey down the entire length of California, crossing Arizona into northern New Mexico and headed south. And here we are in our new home. This post is to give you a visual overview of some of what we have seen and experienced.

Incredibly, the first part of our journey here, south of Albuquerque, unexpectedly included days spent at lodging where every morning more than fifty sandhill cranes flew in and spent the daylight hours nearby. They were absolutely Buddha like and their presence marked a memorable entry into high desert country.

Nana and I took early morning walks together into landscapes heretofore never seen. Nana always insisted we walk far enough to visit a family of five cows. Temps were freezing, but they were always outside near the fence where we walked.

Our walks meant we were seeing plants that were completely new to us. Here’s a beauty, whose name I still do not know.

After weeks of searching for a new home, giving us the opportunity to explore the area, ever refining what felt right, I at last found a home I knew we could settle into in New Mexico.

I could not imagine an environment more different from our years in Northern California. And certainly I did not anticipate last week’s dumping of snow, which Nana was thrilled to play in! And, yes, that is pampas grass just over the fence!

Here’s the view out my new office window:

One more amazing New Mexico sunset. The sky here is open and available and continually magically offering unlimited configurations to enjoy and appreciate.

From here it would appear that the scope of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy blog will expand. I am meeting fascinating people who are doing research into land erosion control and water preservation whom I want to interview. I also met a woman who helped two different communities create community gardens whom I want to showcase as inspiration. And my explorations have led me to a lovely man and his wife who have a honey apple farm! He has over 150 bee hives and numerous kinds of apples he sells on his property. I will introduce you to all these new people in my life and will share my learning curve and adventures. I am looking forward to sharing the journey with you! Please feel free to share any special New Mexico stories!

Love and gardening adventures,
Kathryn xoxo

This is called coyote fencing. I love it.

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