Monday Morning Survey

Compact Pineleaf Penstemon

One of the benefits to having a home office is that I have that little bit of extra time in the morning to survey the yard and check on progress. This morning I was exciting to see that the Compact Pineleaf Penstemon I almost killed last summer had begun to bloom. It’s a scrawny little thing with only a couple of flowers, but I am pleased that I was able to pull it back from the brink.


Also blooming is another Opuntia I planted last summer. I think it’s a Phaecantha, but I’m not completely sure as it was tagged as a Polyacantha at the native plant sale. When the blooms open they are a beautiful pale yellow with orange and gold at the center, although I think they are just as stunning closed in the cool morning shade.

Mustard Greens

The vegetable garden was also looking lovely in the low morning light today. Despite the abnormally early heat wave we’re having (90 plus degrees yesterday) everything seems to be hanging in there. I started spraying the greens with soapy garlic chile water last week and that seems to have curbed the flea beetle damage. I do believe I may need to have some mustard greens for lunch. They’re looking so delectable.

Backyard Habitat

Urban Habitat

Yesterday I took the morning off from construction and demolition to visit a National Wildlife Federation certified habitat garden. This garden is only about 12 or so blocks from where I live, however, it’s like a whole different world. The garden is well established. The major trees and shrubs were planted about 15 years ago, so there is a dense screen of green blocking the views of neighboring houses and muffling the traffic noise. You would have no idea that Central Avenue is only three blocks away. What a contrast to the barren wasteland with tiny nubbins that I’m trying to cultivate.



Yesterday was the sort of day we hardly ever have in Albuquerque: cold, overcast and drizzly. It seemed like it was raining all day, however, we only received 0.04 inches of rain, barely enough to dampen the surface of the ground. Given that I woke up to the classic cloudless New Mexico blue sky this morning, it looks like I’ll be relying on my hose for a little while longer.

Bottom of the Barrel

Rain chain

Yesterday there was a 10% chance of thunderstorms in the forecast so I was almost giddy with delight when the sky became dark and foreboding late in the afternoon. Unfortunately, after delivering about 8 raindrops, the storm hurried away. Thanks to La Nina, it’s been a dry spring here. The average rainfall for Albuquerque is about a half inch per month in March and April. This spring we’ve received only an eighth of an inch since February. That means my five fifty gallon rain barrels are almost empty, with no hope in sight for replenishment. I was planning to sustain my new kitchen garden solely by irrigating with water from the rain barrels. Considering the roof scuppers conduct about 9,000 gallons of water per year off of the roof, that’s not really an unreasonable scheme. However, it looks like this week I will need to make the switch to County water. Of course, now I feel completely justified in purchasing the five additional rain barrels I’ve been planning to install before the rainy season begins. I think I’m becoming a water hoarder.

What not to do

When we moved into our Albuquerque house in 2006, it was easy to live in denial. Seven months of severe drought had rendered the yard a seemingly blank slate. We definitely had not purchased a house with a lawn. Absolutely not. When monsoon season arrived it became more difficult to maintain that state of denial. The Bermuda grass miraculously regenerated, rapidly turning into a thick expanding mat.

August 2006

So, despite reading all sorts of sound advice that advocated converting a traditional landscape to a Xeriscape in stages, choosing small projects that could be accomplished in a single season, I purchased a pickaxe and, in my stubborn way, decided to eradicate all the grass in the front yard as soon as possible. Needless to say, I quickly became known as the insane new neighbor. Each time it rained I had a three or four day window of opportunity as the impenetrable hard packed clay was temporarily rendered into a slippery, but workable, mess. I would work late into the evening chopping out sections of grass and moving around piles of dirt to create a system of swales and berms. Twenty-two months later, I’m still not quite done.

April 2008

There punch line to this story. Due to my involvement with the Xeric Garden Club of Albuquerque, I frequently receive calls and email from folks looking for advice on converting their own yards. And yet here I am a stunning example of what not to do. . .

Auspicious beginnings

Echinocereus coccineus

I’ve been stalking “carrot top” (what, you don’t have pet names for your favorite plants?) for the past week waiting for the blooms. I didn’t think this cactus would survive the first year as a homesteader in my nascent xeric garden. There seemed to be what looked like the beginning stages of rot, to my untrained eye, that emerged during the week between purchase and planting last spring. I figured this would be one of the many plants crossed off my plant inventory list due to “user error.” So, I was quite surprised to see new growth and flower buds emerge this spring. Perhaps it is an auspicious event, signifying that I may just yet get the hang of this gardening thang.