Rand B. Lee is a garden writer, lecturer, and design consultant who has lived and worked in northern New Mexico since 1987. His great-grandfather was a New Mexico Territory circuit judge in the 1880's whose bailiwick extended from Bernalillo to Taos. Rand is a regular contributor to national gardening magazines such as The American Gardener, and he is the author of one book, Pleasures of the Cottage Garden, originally published in 1998 by Friedman/Fairfax.
Pleasures of the Cottage Garden can be purchased through Amazon. If you click on the photograph located to the right, the link will take you there!
While you're there, take a look at what people are saying about it! If you love flowers and gardening, or are looking to create your own garden retreat, this is the perfect book to inspire you.
The Beautiful Dianthus
The genus Dianthus contains over 300 species of annuals, biennials, and (often evergreen) subshrubs grown for their pointed, narrowish, green to grey green to blue-green leaves and single-stemmed to clustered, five- to many-petaled, single, semidouble, or double blossoms, which appear anywhere from spring through summer and are frequently sweetly scented. The genus includes flowers known variously as cottage pinks, China pinks, maiden pinks, clove pinks, rockery pinks, carnations, clusterhead pinks, sweet williams, or sweet johns (depending on the species). Dianthuses (the proper plural, though it is seldom used, the barbarism "dianthus" being employed by the lazy-brained for both singular and plural) are native to Europe and Northern Asia to Japan and Siberian Alaska, so the various species and the cultivars derived from them run the gamut of soil types, hardiness, and exposures. Most of them prefer well-drained soil on the neutral to alkaline side and a spot that does not collect moisture during the winter.
I fell in love with dianthuses because of my teenage infatuation with the Middle Ages. I found out that carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) were once thought to be a cure for plague; that our color-word "pink" is derived from a common English name for the dianthus, species of which often bloom in that color; and that dianthuses were called "pinks" in the first place because the petal-edges of most species are jagged, as though they had been trimmed with pinking shears!
The genus is out of fashion in the U.S.A. at the moment, except in cottage gardens and among rockery fanatics; and numerous named varieties of dianthus available in Europe and Britain are unavailable over here, which makes me gnash my teeth and rend my garments every time I peruse an English gardening catalogue. But I warn you: once you start collecting these little treasures, you will not be able to stop.
DRY AS A BONE
(from The American Cottage Gardener, July, 1996 Issue)
Santa Fe has not been this dry in over a hundred years, and the meteorologists are saying that, not counting a shower or two, it may not rain significantly until November at the earliest. We are used to dryness, of course; our normal annual rainfall is something close to 15 inches. But periodically Mother Nature decides we have gotten complacent. The winds shift, and we are left dry as a bone.
Human memory is very short, so such droughts shock us, make us feel that the end of the world has come. The native plants, however, have long memories. You can see it in their small, feathery, leathery, or furry grey-green or silver leaves. You can see it in their spines, which they have developed both to reduce surface area against excessive transpiration and to keep off thirst-maddened animals. You can see it in their seeds, which often have very hard coats, and can lie in the ground for years waiting for the right conditions under which to sprout. You can see it in their taproots, which send their snouts probing to unimaginable depths in search of moisture. And ou can see it in the brevity and prolificity of their blossom. All this is evidence that in our region, cyclic drought has been the rule, not the exception, for millennia. It has been dry here for so long that only the hardiest mutants have survived to shed their pollen at my feet.
What does a cottage gardener do when his pansies shrivel in full shade; when a newly planted lavender, unmulched, turns to a dead stick; when his established knautias flop like cooked asparagus from noon till evening? I’ll tell you what he does. He rants and raves, then faces the fact that he lives in the high desert and that, this year, non-xeric plants are a luxury he cannot afford. So he (1) digs up the water guzzlers to mail to friends up north; (2) buys lots of little dryland penstemons, prairie zinnias, desert primroses, and dog hyssops; (3) puts out a daily dish of water for the poor parched wild birds; and (4) spends the rest of the drought growing soil, not flowers.
After all, even in a drought, we can mulch. Even in a drought, we can dig in compost. Even in a drought, we can make compost — in the shade, or under cover, or in garbage cans. And the more we build our soil, the better able it will be to retain moisture when the rains finally come again. As they inevitably will.