When I lived in wintery places like Portland and Flagstaff, I loved crocuses, because they bloomed so early and brought a little color to the drab late winter landscape. Hang on a little longer, they seemed to say. Sunshine and light are coming. That seems an apt message for this time of year and these times we live in. Hang on, y’all. Sunshine and light are coming.
We live only a mile or so from the Tucson Botanical Garden, and we decided to check it out during Winter Break. We had to cancel our Winter Break travel plans due to the Microbe that Must not be Named, so we are exploring our new city instead (outside only, masked and socially distanced). According to the audio tour:
This shady barrio (neighborhood) garden came to life with the help of local Mexican-American gardeners and honors the distinctive gardens and yards found in Tucson’s Mexican-American neighborhoods… the distinctive decorative style featur[es] ‘found objects,’ family mementos and whimsical use of recycled materials.https://tucsonbotanical.org/tours/nuestro-jardin-audio-tour/
The barrio garden is a wonderful example of human creativity and the human impulse to create beauty with whatever is on hand. I’m not Mexican-American, but I grew up in a family that made due with what we had. My parents lived through the Depression, so making due and avoiding waste was ingrained in them, and we didn’t have much money when I was a kid. My dad didn’t seem to care much about beauty, but my mother did, and she found ways to create it no matter how bad things were. I think she would have appreciated the Coke can flower and the other handmade items in this picture for their beauty and ingenuity and the spirit of determination behind them, the stubborn refusal to knuckle under to scarcity and hardship. I know I do.
When I lived in Flagstaff, I left plants and flowers standing after frost kill, because they provided wildlife habitat and protection for the crown of the plant (and because I was lazy). I’m not a winter person, but I learned to look closely to appreciate the textures of flower heads and stalks in the snow.
Like a lot of us still in quarantine, I’ve been trying to get out for walks throughout the day. I walk early in the morning, which is a great time to snap pictures of some of our local wildflowers. Today’s post is the second in what I’m going to optimistically call a series for Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge, featuring some of the native flora in my rural Flagstaff neighborhood. Today’s entry is our native cleome, Cleome serrulata, also called Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Like the sacred datura (Datura wrightii) I featured in my last #FOTD post, this plant is both beautiful and kinda ugly. The plant itself is scraggly, but up close or massed in a field, it’s stunning. They sprout in random places in my garden, and I usually let them stay, because they’re low maintenance, the flowers are lovely, and the bees love ’em (Hey, it says so right in the name. Do you think they’d call it Rocky Mountain BEE Plant if the bees hated it? Would plant people lie to you?).
This year I have a few growing in my pumpkin patch. They look wonderfully rustic alongside the pumpkin vines and sunflowers. Some years they form huge masses in open fields around here. I’ve been thinking about gathering seed and sowing it in my pasture, so I can have my own pink and purple field.
I’ve been snapping photos for Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge for the last two weeks or so, but I keep forgetting about a key step in the process: posting them. D’oh! On the upside: that means I have a backlog that should net me at least a few days of quick and easy posts, which is a good thing, because life is a little, um, *full* right now.
Today’s flower is a wildflower/weed (depends on your perspective) here in Flagstaff. Datura wrightii or sacred datura is a member of the nightshade family, quite poisonous, drought tolerant, a hallucinogenic, almost impossible to kill–and both beautiful and ugly. As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve struggled every year to keep a garden alive in the middle of a volcano field at 7000′ elevation, I’ve learned to appreciate plants that grow and bring a little beauty without much fuss and without becoming Purina Grasshopper Chow (don’t get me started on the grasshoppers up here in my little mountain paradise. Seriously, don’t. I’m trying to cut down on my use of profanity.).
Grasshoppers don’t bother datura. Nothing bothers datura–except maybe the occasional genius who decides they want a free hallucinogen and instead gets a taxpayer-funded slab at the county morgue. That hasn’t been an issue around here–at least not as far as I know, and I’d probably notice a corpse in my flower garden. Knowing me, I’d probably trip over it and land face-first in the datura.
Pro tip of the day: don’t eat the datura.
Anyway, I’ve developed quite a fondness for this plant. The leaves are ugly as heck, but the flowers… oh, the flowers. They bloom at night and are still open in the early morning, which is when I snapped this picture. Pollinators love them too, typically sphinx/hummingbird moths but also bees during the few hours when the bees are out and the flowers are open. Look in the top blossom, and you’ll see a happy little honeybee. Here’s another picture of him. Isn’t he cute?
Those of you who are gardeners will know that sphinx moth larvae have another name: tomato hornworm. Plant some datura, and you’ll have a great solution to your hornworm problem. First, the hornworms seem to prefer datura to tomatoes, so it’s a good trap crop. Second, if you find a hornworm pillaging your future marinara, you can relocate him to your datura. He survives to become a super cool sphinx moth, and your tomatoes survive to decorate your pasta. Everybody wins!
To get me back in the habit of noticing the beauty that surrounds me, I’m trying Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge. I won’t really post every day, but when something pretty is blooming, I’ll share. This is the first water lily I bought for our pond, ‘Perry’s Almost Black.’ It’s a hardy one–it’s survived three Flagstaff winters and come back bigger every spring. I took this picture with my iPhone around mid-morning, so the sun washed out some of the color. It’s actually quite a bit darker than it looks, though certainly not “almost black” (people who name cultivars lie almost as much as politicians).
What’s blooming in your garden this week?
After four weeks of quarantine, I’ve learned a bit about what helps keep me mentally healthy in lockdown, and exactly none of it is a surprise: adequate sleep, nutritious food (apparently woman does not live by Doritos alone, though heaven knows I’ve tried), meaningful work, exercise, and fresh air. Spring in Flagstaff is wind season, so getting outside without being blown into the next ZIP code is challenging. Usually the best opportunity is before nine AM, which is why I’ve been outside gardening at 7 AM. Yes, I know that is sick and wrong, but one does what one must.
I could write a long, not-so-eloquent essay on the beauty of nature and the spirituality of watching the garden come back to life after its winter sleep, but really, that’s been done way too many times by writers way more talented than I am. Instead, I’ll post a few pictures to share the beauty of my surroundings with you. It’s still early spring here, so there’s nothing too dramatic happening outside (except for the occasional gale-force winds), but the beauty is in the details.
In my last post, I talked about how life in quarantine is like seeing the world through a macro lens. Here’s what my macro lens (OK, the macro lens on my Nikon glorified point and shoot) captured over the weekend:
In twenty or thirty years, when the young ‘uns ask me how we survived being stuck at home for so long, I’ll tell them I looked for beauty in the small things all around me.