Garden report: The wildflower show begins…

It’s not shaping up to be a spectacular wildflower year here in our high-desert valley. Not in this year of record drought, when we’ve received just 2.5 inches of precipitation since last September. (That is seriously dry.)

Still, we’ve gotten just enough rain that the wildflowers in our restored native bunchgrass yard are beginning to bloom. (And, I confess: I soaked the yard a couple of times over the past several months, mimicking the wet spring snows that never came.)

This morning, our first calm day after five days of wind, I got out my camera to document what’s blooming so far. (I was inspired by my friend Susan Albert, author of the popular China Bayles mystery series among others–and her project to document every wildflower on her Texas Hill Country place.)

So here’s what’s blooming in our wonderfully wild dryland meadow yard right now:


Ant money lupine (Lupinus pulsillus), a diminutive annual lupine named because the harvester ants, my partners in seed dispersal, gather its fat, pea-like seeds as if they were worth their weight in gold… (In the right background is desert indian paintbrush.)



Blanketflower (Gallairdia pulchella)–this is the yellow kind native to our high desert grasslands, without the broad red stripe ringing the rays of other species.



Claret cup cactus (Echinocereus trigolochidatus), with its fat, water-holding stems in clumps, formidable spines, and cimson flowers so brilliant the petals seem to vibrate.


Golden-smoke (Corydalis aurea), a charming winter annual related to bleeding-heart.


Lewis flax (Linum lewisii), named for Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark. Its flowers only open for one day, but their color is unforgettable.



Sagebrush biscuit-root (Lomatium triternatum), a wild relative of parsnips and carrots whose starchy root was a favored food of area Indians, early settlers, and grizzly bears. (The tiny spider atop the even tinier flowers in the tight cluster is no doubt hunting for tiny flower-sucking insects to eat.)



Rocky Mountain iris (Iris missouriensis), named for the river where Lewis and Clark first spotted the graceful wild iris which bloom in wet meadows like clouds of butterflies.


Desert indian paintbrush (Castilleja integra), with its green flower parts protruding from the neon-red bracts, a blatant advertisement of the nectar within. Hummingbird bodies pick up pollen from one flower as they hover and drink, and carry it to another, thus cross-pollinating the flowers as they feed.


Sidebells penstemon (Penstemon secundiflorus), the earliest of our native beardtongue species to bloom, and also called “orchid penstemon” for that lovely pink-purple color. (Note the tiny native bee crawling into one flower to gather pollen to provision the nest-chambers she will dig in the soil, laying one egg in each and rolling a pollen ball in after the egg for food for the growing young.)



Scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), a diminutive relative of the garden hollyhock. The curious hairs on its leaves cast shade that helps keep the plant from desiccating in hot, dry weather.



And Woods rose (Rosa woodsii), a native wild rose with blush-pink flowers and stems spiny enough to repel even our voraciously browsing mule deer…

This glorious panoply of wildflowers wasn’t visible when we first adopted our formerly weedy, abandoned industrial property. Restoring  the native plant community has taken more than a decade and a fair amount of work, but what a wonder it’s been to see them happily take over as we’ve discouraged the invasive weeds and made space. As the native plants have come back, they’ve invited the return of the hummingbirds and butterflies, the myriad species of native bees that also pollinate the plants in our kitchen garden, increasing our food yields, the bluebirds and swallows and chipmunks and garter snakes… What a joy to see a blighted piece of land literally bloom and return to health as we nurtured the natives’ return!


I’m slowly recovering from a serious bout with respiratory crud (the forest fire smoke smogging our valley from the fires in Arizona makes for technicolor dawns, but does not help my lungs!). Richard continues to ever-so gradually regain energy and brain function, witness his work caulking under one of our sliding glass doors in the photo above, something he wouldn’t have been able to do two months ago–or even two weeks ago.

Tuesday we’ll head back to Denver for his third Avastin infusion, which if his bloodwork looks good, he’ll get Thursday morning. We continue to live with hearts open, knowing the prognosis is grim but still hopeful that he’s recovering from brain cancer…