Sunday, September 29, 2013


Mrs. BR Cant has lovely cabbage flowers. Too bad they are only slightly fragrant. It is a lovely fragrance to be sure, but very light.

With the cooler weather, AnneMarie's rose has developed larger flowers, with a wild arrangement of petals, and prolific flowers. Here they are almost blown. I was surprised by the sharp sweet fragrance today, reminiscent of sweet peas. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

sunset at TMHG

Mt. Taylor was looking particularly fine tonight.

pike's peak purple

Penstemon 'Pike's Peak Purple' is blooming again now, and even though it has less flowers than it had in June, it just looks better. I think that it is less heat and water stressed. One of the great things about this penstemon (other than its yummy color and tough constitution) is telling people its name. You can't beat the alliteration. Say it five times fast: Penstemon 'Pike's Peak Purple', Penstemon 'Pike's Peak Purple', Penstemon 'Pike's Peak...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

beans, beans are good for your heart

The first flowers opened on the bush Roma beans today. I feel like parents who are remember what their child looked like as a toddler, and saying it seems like it was only a few weeks ago. But with annuals such as beans, it really was a few weeks ago. In comparison, I have some orchids I bought two years ago, that have just put out a second leaf. No flowers yet.

Here they are today:

Here on 9/1/2013, 3 weeks ago at one week old:

I knew it was a gamble to plant beans the last week of August. The first frost date is at the end of October, and these are supposed to be harvested in 58 days. That's cutting it really close. But if I could get a few tasty Roma beans before the frost it would be worth it, since they can't be bought at the stores here, and I didn't get the old dying shrub out until then. I figured that if I didn't get a harvest, at least I had a cover crop. But seeing growth like this in the garden really is good for my heart, which has been in sore need of coddling lately, so it is worth it.

The kale is coming along as well, but much slower. I hope they are big enough before the cold weather sets in. It's hard to believe that the cold is coming when it is still 80 degrees during the day.

In contrast, I don't know if 3 weeks will be enough to ripen the 'Petite Nigra' fig.

the compost challenge

Compost is not my strength. In fact, you could say that I am mostly a failure at it. When I was a teen in California, we had wire fencing to hold in the piles of organic material that we collected during the season. Then we used shipping pallets to make open bins. I dreaded turning the compost piles, which were smelly and difficult to turn, all the big pieces getting stuck in the fork tines. Nothing ever seemed to happen. We would never make soft fluffy compost to dig into the soil no matter how much compost starter we used, how much it was turned, how much I tried to get the moisture content right, or how much I tried to balance the ratio of carbon to nitrogen. The next year was always just a bigger pile of rough organic waste. The only way we would deal with it was when my father would haul out the old chipper shredder, and shovel the stuff into it, making some finely shredded stuff. I’m sure my hearing was damaged from that, as we had no concept of hearing protection back then.

Here at TMHG, there has been a lot of organic waste to be dealt with in the clearing out of all the old overgrown or dying plants. A lot of this waste is now turning to compost in a landfill somewhere. Very sad. So I have tried to make compost. I ended up with an ever growing pile of clippings, cut up branches, grass clippings - all the usual stuff of organic garden and kitchen waste. I was determined to make compost. I dreamt of soft, fluffy, well rotted material that would make my plants so gleefully happy, that they would grow beyond my wildest dreams. I ended up with a pile of dried plant material.

I figured that it was because of the dry climate. I tried irrigating more, with increasing guilt as the drought wore on. I covered the pile with a plastic tarp which blew around in the wind until I placed firewood on top. My weekends were spent removing the firewood and plastic, then turning chunky piles. There was no change, other than a collection of icky cockroaches living in it, which made my skin crawl. There wasn’t even mold. I dreamt of burning the pile. I placed irrigation sprinklers on top of the pile, under the plastic. No change. In desperation, I sprinkled the pile with high nitrogen fertilizer, then bags of steer manure. I began to suspect that a family of mice were living there, having parties with the cockroaches. The plastic tarp went away.

The late summer monsoons arrived. Finally! Compost here we come! Or not. At least there was a bit of white mold on a few spots. At least turning the compost was good exercise. I made sure my tetanus shot was up-to-date.

I had had enough. There was enough precipitation that my lavenders were rotting, but the compost pile remained the same. I imagined how many garbage bins it would take to get rid of the pile. Then I would have to buy compost and use fossil fuels to transport it to my garden in order to get organic material into the soil. Sigh. Then I thought that if the lavenders were rotting, how could I duplicate those conditions? I would need to bury the compost. I would have to dig a huge hole, put the pile in it, the put the soil back on top. Yes!

But no. Can you imagine digging a hole big enough to put a 5x7x3 foot compost pile in? Not in my backyard. I tried. I ended up trench digging. I dug a trench next to the pile, packed as much organics into it as I could (which ended up being branches and twigs sticking out of it in all directions), which exposed the soil next to it for another trench. Sounds very organized, but it turned out to be rather  haphazard and messy. I watered it well and waited a couple of weeks even during some of the rains. Then I realized that I would have to turn the pile.

Did I get Compost (capital C)? Well not really. But at least there was a hint of rot. I’ve turned the area 3 times now, and it’s getting closer.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

the search for the perfect rose

Iceberg rose in the front courtyard

Since TMHG began, and I had room to investigate larger plants, I have been searching and researching for The Perfect Rose. I'll give you the ending before I hardly begin: there is no such thing.

I started out searching for the perfect rose for my entry courtyard. I'd always dreamed of a garden of white roses, bordered with dark purple lavender. I love that color combination, and I imagined the fragrances intermingling on a warm early summer afternoon or early evening. The courtyard was the place I'd make it, since hopefully the courtyard would keep the fragrances enclosed. So I began looking for fragrant white roses...and if you know me, you know that it's not that simple. It would have to be a white rose, with strong fragrance, which doesn't burn in the hot NM sun, which has a graceful form to the bush, gets tall enough to peek over the top of the 4 foot adobe wall, but doesn't turn into a monster, and which blooms consistently (being the entry garden), and can take a bit of shade. I didn't care how thorny the rose was, which was the only thing that I was flexible about, really. A very tough bill to fill. By the way, I do not like hybrid teas for their stiff and ungainly growth. I think they only look good in a vase.

I could have chosen Blanc Double de Coubert, a rugosa which is said to be tough, reblooming (although maybe not in this climate), with a strong fragrance but a thorny suckering beast, that for some reason I could not smell. I could have chosen Darlow's Enigma, which has small flowers in big clusters, a tough plant that can take shade, and has a fragrance that people say can be smelled from a distance, but very thorny, and very large (tall and wide). I could have chosen Boule de Neige, a white bourbon with a strong fragrance and intermittent bloom, but not terribly floriferous in the ABQ rose garden. I could have chosen Madame Hardy, an old rose with a fantastic once a year performance of luxuriously fragrant flowers. After months of research, I chose...Iceberg, the most commonly planted rose in the world. Sigh. Why? Because nothing beats Iceberg in terms of ability to bloom continuously, even though it may not have the best looking foliage (on the yellow side), or the best form of flowers (I like them) and even though people say that it is almost scentless. I planted six in April and they have bloomed almost continuously since then. I am delighted to say that I am one of the few people who find them wonderfully scented.

Marie Pavie

I'm trying a bunch of different roses in the back yard. I had had disappointing results at Casa Coniglio with Madame Isaac Pereire. She is said to perhaps be THE most fragrant rose ever, and the flowers were indeed beautiful and fragrant, but the flowers came out just as the summer heat began, and the flowers fried. I began searching for the most heat tolerant roses.  One of the first ones that I chose was Marie Pavie. On the rose boards (Garden Web), Marie Pavie is said to be heat tolerant, disease resistant, white with a pink blush when first opening, and with a "wafting" fragrance. I planted her against a west facing wall. Soon after I planted her, the temperatures soared to 100F for weeks. Unbelievably, she took it like a champ, no fried leaves, no sulking, and just put out new growth. Flowers were on the plant when it arrived in the mail, and it has bloomed almost continually with a soft yet rich rose fragrance. Best of all the flowers amazingly did not fry in the blast-furnace heat of the west-facing wall. Flowers They remained pink throughout their life spans. But Marie Pavie has proven to be the best performing rose I have so far. Almost perfect. I would have rather had white flowers. Her main fault: she holds onto the dead brown flowers like a tight fisted parson. Despite that fault, she may be my recommendation for the best rose for this climate.

Mrs. B R Cant

I am also trying Mrs. BR Cant, a tea rose. I chose her because she is described as being incredibly heat tolerant, very fragrant (of raspberries!), flowers have a "cabbage" form, and she is a fairly large bush (I wanted to fill a space in front of a wall). She is described as "silvery pink." She might not be hardy in this climate, but what's life without a little risk? Since she was planted this spring, she put on slow but steady growth, and in the last few weeks put out a couple of monster 3 foot canes with large thorns (GO Mrs. BR Cant!).

Mrs. BR Cant, first year

Mrs. BR Cant, long pedicel
She has steadily pumped out flowers, which do fry a bit in the heat and...which are almost scentless to me. I have learned that not all people can smell tea roses. I have also learned that scent is very subjective, and some roses are described by HelpMeFind as "mild to strong fragrance" perhaps for that very reason. Some roses produce fragrance only when certain qualities are met: more in pots or more in the ground, air temperatures, acid or alkaline soil, water quality, humidity, etc. Some produce fragrance only after they have been established for a few years. Whatever the case,  while I find the flowers of Mrs. BR Cant beautiful, they are lacking the the scent department...although today, on a warm afternoon, and after 4 inches of rain this week, the above bloom does smell like raspberries...faintly.


I'm trying William Shakespeare 2000 (who I affectionately call "billy") because he is said to tolerate heat, be floriferous, and because I love the color and form of the flowers in the photos. The plants arrived from High Country roses, with flowers that may be the most heart-stoppingly beautiful roses that I'd ever seen and a delicious fragrance. Then they promptly wilted. The whole plant collapsed. They recovered after some TLC, and went into a richly prepared bed. They have grown maybe 1 inch. In the sun, the leaves yellow. Most of the summer, the two little plants put out flower after flower on 1/4" stems, so the plants are still 6 inches tall. Flowers fry after a day in the sun. The jury is still out. I'll see what happens next year. I'm thinking of replacing them with Souvenir de la Malmaison (AKA Queen of Beauty and Fragrance, but is .... light pink).

AnneMarie's rose
My friend Anne Marie gave me rooted cuttings of a couple of roses from her mother's yard in Louisiana. Her mother got cuttings from her aunt, who in turn got them from her great-great-grandmother. There, they call them Bourbon roses and are thought to have originated around 1848. She gave me a red and a pink. I brought them into the garage last winter since I do not know how hardy they are, and they languished there. The red one died. The pink produced a few small flowers in the early spring, and the plant looked miserable. Tired of looking at such a miserable thing, I planted it out in the yard, where it took off like gangbusters.

Anne Marie's rose, in the ground

Flowers became darker, and more star-shaped, lasting a couple of days with a light sharp sweet-pea fragrance, in great umbels of sequentially flowering buds. They stayed 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Although cut flowers fade after a few days, the cut stems grow roots in the water. Anne Marie says this plant can take over an entire yard. We'll see if it survives the winter.

Anne Marie's Red

Anne Marie's rose, winter in a pot

I first said that there is no such thing as the perfect rose. I don't know if that's the case, but I'm still looking. Someone posted this question on Garden Web, "Your MOST Perfect Rose." What I learned from this is that maybe there is such a thing, but like life itself, discovering it is a personal journey since that rose is different for each person. Each person appreciates different color, size, form. There are different sensitivities to fragrance. The roses grow differently in different locations, even from the nursery to the garden and even in different areas of the garden. Each individual has to find their perfect rose on their own. I'm going to try Madame Isaac Pereire again.

TMHG lesson: don't overwater the lavender

Overwater the lavender and you'll get faster growth, but then you'll get this: rotted roots and a dead plant. The rose bush might love it, but not the lavender.

kale week 3

Red Winter kale, week 3 from seed being planted. Last week I planted the seedlings out into the raised bed, just as the true leaves were emerging. After an unusual week of rain, the kale is happily growing. Now 2" tall. Woo-hoo.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


It's been so long since I've grown vegetables or annuals from seed, that I had forgotten how fast it is. Especially compared to the orchids which I've been mostly focused on. These kale seedlings are a week old. I remember being excited if there was 1/4" of root growth on an orchid in a week.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Once the aspens were cleared from TMHG, one of the first things that I decided to plant were apple trees. This motivation may have been from my daily apple (Jazz is our current favorite). I think I’ve also been hanging on to the idea of apple trees since I was inspired by Rick’s response to my “Single Plant Challenge”  in 2008. At Casa Coniglio, I didn’t have room for a single apple tree, partly due to space and partly due to design. Here at TMHG, I found space for FOUR apple trees, a veritable apple orchard. I could have figured out ways to plant more, but for design and aesthetic reasons, I wanted apple trees of a certain size and for my design that would mean exactly four trees. When I decided to plant apple trees, little did I know what a can of worms I was opening.  My conclusion: research before you buy.

I had decided that I wanted semi-dwarf trees, because they would fill the space, shade the house, would be picturesque, and allow me to do some gardening below them. I didn’t want a collection of little trees, and I couldn’t work espaliered trees into my garden design. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, but the research to confirm this conclusion was complex. Apple trees are grafted on to a rootstock, which are the roots of a specific variety that has the characteristic of controlling the size of the tree, from full size (about 30 feet), to miniature (about 6 feet at maturity). It does this by controlling the vigor of the tree, but also has characteristics such as hardiness, adaptability to soil conditions, wind resistance, and contributes to the top growth characteristics such as pest and disease resistance, precocity (how early after planting a tree produces fruit), yield, even size of fruit. The most dwarfing of the rootstocks have very brittle roots and the tress require staking for all of their lives or risk being blown over on a windy day, but allow more trees (and more varieties) to be planted in a space, and also cause the trees to start producing quickly (a few years instead of 5 or more years). Many sources that I read suggested planting the more dwarfing rootstocks in the home orchard because of the benefits. But then I read on the Trees of Antiquity website that summer pruning can have the advantages of keeping a tree small, produce fruit earlier, and have a larger and stronger root system. The most common semi-dwarf rootstock is the MM111, which I learned reduces the tree height to about 70%,  is the most adaptable rootstock, and also the most drought tolerant (very important here in NM), but has some drawbacks such as suckering, and producing burr knots (adventitious roots) which can cause problems with tree health. Given the poor gravelly soils of my garden, the high winds and my desire for a tree of some size, I chose to get trees with MM111 rootstock for the more stable and extensive root structure and drought tolerance. Research before you buy.

Then I had to decide on what apple varieties to get. I quickly realized that the fruit I could get in the stores are not necessarily what I can or should get as trees. Some fruit (such as my favorites, Jazz and Envy), are patented varieties that can’t be obtained as trees. Some trees won’t produce or even live if the climate isn’t the right type for them. I went on an apple tasting spree, searching out all the apples at the grocery stores, the co-op and farmer’s markets. The largest apple orchard in NM was wiped out by mudslides or something, so that wasn’t helpful, and the apple orchards in NM are mostly actually in a different zone than I live, but I could look at what they grow. I quickly discovered that I was very picky about my apples. The same variety in the grocery store was highly variable. For example, the Fuji’s that I had in California were delightful, but the ones that I had here were bland. I hated the mushiness of Braeburn and Gala (they seem crisp but to me, a weird crispness that is really mushiness). Don’t even talk to me about Red Delicious. Golden Delicious was boring, although I heard that home-grown and ripened fruit is truly delicious. I loved the taste of McIntosh. I loved the Fiesta, Envy, Jazz  and Jonagold. The Co-op had Arkansas Black, which was sweet and very hard, but not a flavor that thrilled me. Empire was okay but with a strange wine-like flavor. Enterprise got the thumbs-down from the hubby. Honeycrisp was okay, but one-dimensional. Granny Smith was not right for my uses. Mutsu was delicious, with a honey-like flavor but soft and kind-of rubbery. Pink Lady made my teeth hurt and gave me cramps because they are so tart. I kept a log of my apple tasting.

I also discovered that Fuji’s had susceptibility to fireblight, so did Gala’s which are also susceptible to just about everything else, McIntosh is not appropriate for this climate. Fiesta, Envy and Jazz are patented and thus not available as trees. Jonagold is very fireblight susceptible (which freaks me out since I had problems with this before). Arkansas Black would be a good tree for this climate since it is heat tolerant (which brought up another level of complexity). Empire and Enterprise might work if they tasted better. Granny Smith might grow well here. Mutsu is susceptible to many diseases. Pink Lady would grow here but not worth the dental pain.

So then there were issues of heat tolerance. Picking season (I didn’t want all my apples to ripen at the same time, or did I?). Pollination (I had to have a late pollination season since we get late frosts). Keeping time (some fruits only last a week or two after they ripen, others can last months). Cooking quality (I make Tarte Tatin, so I wanted at least one apple for cooking). Disease resistance (mildew can get bad here, and from what I read, we can get fireblight, and then there’s rust, scab, not to mention insect disease). Fortunately with four apple trees I didn’t need to worry about triploid trees which can not pollinate themselves or other trees. I also didn’t need to worry about winter chill requirements since we get plenty of that. If I wanted to make it even more complex there are also issues of fruit color, blossom color, tree habit, vigor, how heavily they crop or if they bear in alternate years, if the fruit browns after being goes on and on.

Then I realized that I also didn’t want an apple that I could just get at the grocery store, but if I was going to go through the effort of growing them, I should get something really special.

So after all this, here is what I decided upon, none of which are apples that I’ve actually tasted yet, mind you. Some compromises had to be made and I've noted them below. Goldrush I purchased from Stark Bro's, and the rest I purchased from Trees of Antiquity. Trees of Antiquity uses MM111 rootstock on all of their trees. Stark Bro's uses either MM111 or another (that I can't remember) that produces a larger tree than MM111. They don't allow you to choose, and they don't tell you which one you get.  Another great website is Orange Pippin, which is also a great resource. They have lots of different rootstocks available. A good resource for growing fruit in New Mexico is the New Mexico State University extension on-line.

Calville Blanc d'Hiver photo from Trees of Antiquity

1. Calville Blanc d’Hiver.
This is the first apple I decided upon. Depite being susceptible to mildew, and being a light bearer, and described as having ugly fruit, this variety is considered the classic variety for Tarte Tatin. I also read that it needs a lot of sun, and I have plenty of that here. It is said the be developed in the 1600’s in france and was planted in Versailles. Which is not the same climate as here. But I read in multiple places that it is an amazing cooking apple. And I wanted amazing. At least it blooms late.

Goldrush photo from Stark Bros.

2. Goldrush.
This is the second apple I decided upon. There are many things to recommend this modern apple (1990’s), many people describing it as the best apple they have ever tasted. It is supposed to be similar to Golden Delicious, but having more of a tart side. It keeps well (6 months?!), is good for both fresh eating and cooking, has good disease resistance (to fireblight and mildew) and blooms late. Ripening is late too.

Ashmead's Kernal photo from Trees of Antiquity

3. Ashmead’s Kernal.
This is an English apple that originated in the 1700’s, one of the few apples from Europe that did well also in the new world. It is called, the “ugly apple” or “the potato apple” due to the russeting. It is also said to be pear flavored and described by some to have “too much flavor.” Perfect. Also late blooming and stores well.

Tydeman's Late Orange photo from Trees of Antiquity

4. Tydeman’s Late Orange.
Cox’s Orange Pippin is an English apple that is said by many on the web or in books to have the best flavor of any apple, but is also rather susceptible to disease, and requires a cool moist climate - like the UK. Clearly not the apple for my climate. But Tydeman’s Late Orange is one of Cox’s descendants which is said to be easy to grow, resistant to diseases, late blooming, and with a similar flavor. It originated in the early 1900’s. This is the variety which I have the most uncertainty about, in growth, flavor and texture, but I’m excited to try it. If things go badly, I can take it out and plant an Arkansas Black, or Enterprise, or Roxbury Russett.

So far in their first season, Calville Blanc d’Hiver has been growing slowly, the lower branches growing much more vigorously than the top (this seems to be the case for almost all of the trees). No mildew yet (knock on wood).  Goldrush has been growing like gangbusters, and has put on something like 4 feet of growth. Ashmead’s Kernal is growing slowly, only about 4-6 inches on the top and up to 12 inches on the lower branches. Tydeman’s came with an abundance of very low branches, which were pruned off, but it seems to want to make most of its growth there, rather than from the top. It started slowly and now is starting to put on some spindly growth.

 Another few years and maybe I’ll be able to taste them!