Fall planting of Monet's Garden mix plus mache (corn salad), overwintered under row covers and now ready to eat.

Loving-my-own-earth Days

Fall planting of Monet's Garden mix plus mache (corn salad), overwintered under row covers and now ready to eat. Fall planting of Monet’s Garden mix plus mache (corn salad), overwintered under row covers and now ready to eat.

Yesterday, I planted spring and early summer seeds in my kitchen garden: Wasabi arugula (yes, it is really spicy!), Pixie cabbage, Bright Lights chard as colorful as its name, Paris Market mix (piquant and flavorful greens and herbs including chervil with its licorice overtones), Monet’s Garden mesclun (the lovely ruffled lettuces in reds and greens in the photo), Five Variety Mix (beautiful heritage lettuces including the aptly named speckled troutback), Regiment spinach, All-Season Blend broccoli, Baby Ball and golden beets, and Trieste bulbling fennel.

All come from Renee’s Garden Seeds, a pioneer in bringing flavorful, beautiful and easy-to-grow varieties to home gardeners. Seedswoman Renee Shepherd was passionate about local food and home gardening long before the locavore movement made both trendy, and is now working to source her seeds from organic growers. Thanks to Renee, I grow a bounteous kitchen garden and share that earth-healthy harvest with friends and neighbors.

A native Mammalaria or nipple cactus hiding in the blue grama grass, its rosy flower buds growing fat. A native Mammalaria or nipple cactus hiding among the curling leaves of the blue grama grass.

Today I spent much of the day sitting in my front yard, “pronghorning” my native dryland meadow. (The second half of that blog post explains my spring grassland-cleanup methods.) I don’t mow my mountain prairie, a tufted expanse of bunchgrasses and wildflowers.

Instead, once a year I cut it back and hand-rake it to remove the fine dead grass leaves and wildflower stalks. Stalks with seeds go to whatever patch of my formerly blighted industrial property is currently in need of revegetation. The curling dead grass leaves get placed around the yard as nesting material for house finches, mountain bluebirds and other songbirds.

Bright spring green Rocky Mountain penstemon leaves with red edges. Bright spring green Rocky Mountain penstemon leaves with red edges.

The gift of the time I spend up close and personal with the native grassland Richard and I so carefully restored on this difficult site is in seeing spring appear. Here at 7,000 feet elevation, nights are still wintry, dropping into the teens and low twenties, and spring showers are likely to come rattling sleet or dropping wet flakes of snow.

Green is never abundant in this high-desert climate. Which makes it all the more cheering to cut back dead flower stalks and find new spring leaves sheltering close to the sun-warmed soil like these Rocky Mountain penstemon (Penstemon strictus).

The silky hairs on pasque flower leaves trap heat and slow air movement, helping this early-spring plant modify still-wintry conditions. The silky hairs on pasque flower leaves trap heat and slow air movement, helping this early-spring plant modify still-wintry conditions.

Or pasque flower, the grassland rival to crocus with its blowsy purple flowers blooming while most other mountain prairie plants think it’s still winter. Or the tiny burgundy-colored leaves of wholeleaf indian paintbrush (Castilleja integra), the ferny rosettes of scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) or the wavy-edged leaves of blanketflower (Gallairdia aristata). Or the soft new green leaves of big sagebrush (Seriphidium tridentatum), the shrub whose characteristic turpentine and orange blossom pungency marks the part of the West I call home.

Big sagebrush, Seriphidium tridentum, the indicator shrub for the landscapes I call home. Big sagebrush, Seriphidium tridentum, the indicator shrub for the landscapes I call home.

Sitting in my native grassland yard as I comb my fingers through the bunches of fine grasses and snap last year’s seed stalks from the wildflowers gives me the opportunity to observe the community of plants and their flying, crawling, burrowing and grazing partners in detail. That close attention is a kind of love, a way of honoring these resilient lives with whom I share this particular plot of ground.

It’s my love-my-own-earth Day observance, a reminder of the annual miracle of life renewing itself, no matter killing drought, horrific bombings, accidental plant explosions or other tragedies. When I uncover the new green of spring, my heart sings along with the warbling house finches. When I smell moist soil and the unmistakeable fragrance of spring sagebrush, I am reminded that life is resilient, bursting to be. And I am glad to be here, part of it.

*****

Troweling wet concrete after one wall of the foundation is filled. Troweling wet concrete after one foundation wall is filled.

Down at the other end of the block, the concrete trucks lined up on Friday, our first good-weather day in a week, to pour my stem walls. The foundation for my little house is now in place! Next up, back-filling around those stem walls, and then excavating for the garage/studio foundation. Step by step, a house takes shape.

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