The High Plains west of Pueblo with Pikes Peak under storm clouds in the background (that's true shortgrass prairie, buffalograss with a cholla "overstory").

Spring Signs

The High Plains west of Pueblo with Pikes Peak under storm clouds in the background (that's true shortgrass prairie, buffalograss with a cholla "overstory"). The High Plains west of Pueblo with Pikes Peak under storm clouds in the background (that’s true shortgrass prairie, buffalograss with a sparse cholla “overstory”).

I drove home last night into a howling winter wind, tacking upwind over the edge of the high plains from Pueblo, and then winding into the wind through Bighorn Sheep Canyon, “swimming” upstream through the waves of air to my home valley.

I had spent the day at the Western Landscape Symposium, absorbing talks on all things gardening in our beautiful but challenging high-desert/plains steppe region.

Panayoti Kelaidis, Curator of Plants for the Denver Botanic Gardens and one of our region’s “plant gods,” opened the symposium with a look at the diverse forms and environments we in southern Colorado have to draw on, and stressed the importance of evoking nature and wildness as inspiration.

That's Gluttonous in the photo, a newly emerged eastern Black Swallowtail who starred in an essay I wrote for Thoreau's Legacy, an anthology responding to global warming. That’s Gluttonous, an eastern Black Swallowtail, who grew up in my former kitchen garden.

Which was a wonderful segue to my talk (thanks, Panayoti!), Learning Community in the Garden, on the ways plants experience the world and the relationships they form with microbes in the soil, pollinators and grazers around them, and how gardeners can build on that web plants weave to grow and design beautiful and restorative landscapes.

Inspiration and lessons from my own formerly blighted industrial property. Inspiration and lessons from my own place.

I mentioned the Habitat Hero project and our vision of growing a network of habitat to sustain songbirds and pollinators in yards, gardens, parks and working lands throughout the Rocky Mountain region and beyond.

The audience was enthusiastic and full of questions. People stopped me afterwards to say how inspired they were. Sweet!

I also got to hang out with two of the region’s stellar native plant growers, Bill Adams of Sunscapes Rare Plant Nursery, and Jeff Otterberg of Wild Things.

A tour of Jeff’s greenhouses had me itching to take plants home—those rows of tiny penstemons, desert four o’clocks, desert zinnia, and other wildflowers, and the round and spiny cacti of all sorts were all tempting. I was so busy ogling his 30,000 baby plants, I forgot to shoot any photos.

Van Clothier, New Mexico’s guru of stream restoration and water harvesting, showed great photos of projects to restore natural wetlands and capture storm water runoff, solving erosion and sedimentation issues while recharging groundwater. (The slide show on his site is worth a look.)

We also heard from garden photographer and journalist Charles Mann, fruit tree and shrub propagator Scott Skogerboe of Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery, and edibles enthusiast and horticultural entomologist Carol O’Meara.

Heading up the canyon in the wind last night.... Heading up the canyon in the wind last night….

After the symposium, I left Pueblo eager for spring, despite the weather.

Which is why I spent time today searching for spring signs in my bare, brown and wind-blasted landscape. The gusts that scoured the remaining snow from my side yard also scoured away the protective mulch, and I’m afraid, the native grass and wildflower seeds I spread last fall.

Wildflower seedlings! Wildflower seedlings!

In the courtyard on the west side of the house though, the mulch is still intact. I poked under the tangle, and was thrilled to see tiny wildflower cotyledons poking up. I can’t identify them yet, but I know they’re not tumbleweed or kochia, the invasive annual weeds that colonized the site before.

Flower buds--a bit frost-nipped--on the Indian plum Flower buds–a bit frost-nipped–on the Indian plum

Along the creek (dry right now due to our late-winter drought), buds are swelling on the skunkbrush sumac (Rhus trilobata) and Indian plum (Prunus americana).

The reddish pigment on these new golden currant (Ribes aureum) leaves probably protects them from UV damage. The reddish pigment on these new golden currant leaves probably protects them from UV damage.

And the golden currant (Ribes aureum) is putting out tiny reddish leaves.

Those signs of spring are heartening, reminding me that the plants that have known this landscape for millennia are tough and resilient. Their buds and tiny leaves lift my spirits, a sign that life thrives through hard times as well as good ones.

And brings with it beauty and joy—ours if we take the time to look.

From my Rocky Mountain Garden Survival Guide Remembering why we garden….

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