First Wildflowers!

Sunday, June 1st, 2014
'Poncha Pass Red' sulfur-flower buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum 'Poncha Pass Red') 'Poncha Pass Red' sulfur-flower buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum 'Poncha Pass Red')

The first wildflowers are beginning to bloom on my formerly junked-out industrial property, a miracle to my eyes. First place goes to neon-bright sulfur-flower buckwheat, a mat-forming evergreen in dry grasslands where big sagebrush grows. Its tiny blossoms opened Friday afternoon.

This particular plant comes from High Country Gardens, but its origins are very local. The lovely red color of its seeds caught the eye of HCG founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman, who spotted the parent plants on Poncha Pass, half an hour southwest of where I live.

Salman collected them, grew the plants in his own garden, and then built up enough stock to release them to the trade. These native buckwheats are perfectly happy with my coarse, rocky soil; their brilliant sulphur-yellow flowers draw bees and butterflies as if out of the very air.

Big sagebrush (Artemisia [Seriphidium] tridentata)--the plant is still small, but it's quite aromatic. Big sagebrush (Artemisia [Seriphidium] tridentata)--the plant is still small, but it's quite aromatic.

I planted them three weeks ago near the patch of big sagebrush I'm growing just off the northeast corner of the house. This afternoon, a small native bee zipped around the buckwheat flowers like a northern harrier deliberately quartering a grassland, flying low in a rectangular pattern around the plant, its turns quick and tight as a fighter jet. (It flew way too fast for me to shoot a photo.)

The bee was being territorial, letting me know that those eye-catching yellow flowers and their treasure of nectar and pollen belong to it, not me. I got a kick out of the little insect's pugnaciousness--it was about the size of a ladybug, but very determined to guard its flowers.

It wasn't an accident that the sulphur-flower buckwheats ended up next to the big sagebrush. They look great together, their colors and shapes complimentary, and just as important to me, they're part of the same natural community in the wild. In restoring habitat on my difficult formerly industrial lot, I'm deliberately recreating garden "vignettes" that mimic native habitat.

The incipient dryland meadow with grass and wildflower seedlings popping up. The incipient dryland meadow with grass and wildflower seedlings popping up.

The big sagebrush grow at one edge of the native dryland meadow I seeded in last fall, near wire-thin sprigs of Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum [Oryzopsis] hymenoides), seedling Lewis flax (Linum lewisii), and tiny sprouts of blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis), plus other wildflowers and native grasses in their community.

The meadow plants are still tiny, but in another year or so, I look forward to being able to sit out and smell the turpentine-and-orange-blossom fragrance of the big sagebrush, and watch a hovering, fluttering and buzzing community of pollinators dart from wildflower to wildflower on what previously was an informal industrial dump site.

Species number two to bloom in my personal ecological restoration project opened this afternoon. Along with big sagebrush, this wildflower says "home" to me. Its pale purple blossoms with the faint scent of licorice rise from wet meadows and streamside grasslands like violet mist in late spring and early summer.

Rocky Mountain iris or blue flag, blooms along Ditch Creek by my new house. My second wildflower to bloom: Rocky Mountain iris or blue flag, along Ditch Creek by my new house.

Rocky Mountain iris (Iris missouriensis) was a favorite of Richard's too. A clump we planted just up the creek by Terraphilia, the big house, became a symbol of our efforts to restore this formerly degraded property. Now, thanks to Gary Ludwig, who specializes in propagating local native and heritage plants at Pleasant Avenue Nursery in Buena Vista, I have a new clump blooming along the creek where I can see it from the front deck of Creek House.

That single iris blossom floating on its slender stalk above the green thread of sedges and grasses along the creek reminds me of Richard. I wish he were here to see this last chunk of what he liked to call our "decaying industrial empire" come to life. His smile would bloom along with the Rocky Mountain iris.

Richard Cabe happily examining a wildflower meadow near Crested Butte. Richard Cabe happily immersed in a wildflower meadow near Crested Butte.