#FOTD: Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Cleome serrulata)

Like a lot of us still in quarantine, I’ve been trying to get out for walks throughout the day. I walk early in the morning, which is a great time to snap pictures of some of our local wildflowers. Today’s post is the second in what I’m going to optimistically call a series for Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge, featuring some of the native flora in my rural Flagstaff neighborhood. Today’s entry is our native cleome, Cleome serrulata, also called Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Like the sacred datura (Datura wrightii) I featured in my last #FOTD post, this plant is both beautiful and kinda ugly. The plant itself is scraggly, but up close or massed in a field, it’s stunning. They sprout in random places in my garden, and I usually let them stay, because they’re low maintenance, the flowers are lovely, and the bees love ’em (Hey, it says so right in the name. Do you think they’d call it Rocky Mountain BEE Plant if the bees hated it? Would plant people lie to you?).

This year I have a few growing in my pumpkin patch. They look wonderfully rustic alongside the pumpkin vines and sunflowers. Some years they form huge masses in open fields around here. I’ve been thinking about gathering seed and sowing it in my pasture, so I can have my own pink and purple field.

#FOTD: Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

I’ve been snapping photos for  Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge for the last two weeks or so, but I keep forgetting about a key step in the process: posting them. D’oh! On the upside: that means I have a backlog that should net me at least a few days of quick and easy posts, which is a good thing, because life is a little, um, *full* right now.

Today’s flower is a wildflower/weed (depends on your perspective) here in Flagstaff. Datura wrightii or sacred datura is a member of the nightshade family, quite poisonous, drought tolerant, a hallucinogenic, almost impossible to kill–and both beautiful and ugly. As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve struggled every year to keep a garden alive in the middle of a volcano field at 7000′ elevation, I’ve learned to appreciate plants that grow and bring a little beauty without much fuss and without becoming Purina Grasshopper Chow (don’t get me started on the grasshoppers up here in my little mountain paradise. Seriously, don’t. I’m trying to cut down on my use of profanity.).

Grasshoppers don’t bother datura. Nothing bothers datura–except maybe the occasional genius who decides they want a free hallucinogen and instead gets a taxpayer-funded slab at the county morgue. That hasn’t been an issue around here–at least not as far as I know, and I’d probably notice a corpse in my flower garden. Knowing me, I’d probably trip over it and land face-first in the datura.

Pro tip of the day: don’t eat the datura.

Anyway, I’ve developed quite a fondness for this plant. The leaves are ugly as heck, but the flowers… oh, the flowers. They bloom at night and are still open in the early morning, which is when I snapped this picture. Pollinators love them too, typically sphinx/hummingbird moths but also bees during the few hours when the bees are out and the flowers are open. Look in the top blossom, and you’ll see a happy little honeybee. Here’s another picture of him. Isn’t he cute?

Those of you who are gardeners will know that sphinx moth larvae have another name: tomato hornworm. Plant some datura, and you’ll have a great solution to your hornworm problem. First, the hornworms seem to prefer datura to tomatoes, so it’s a good trap crop. Second, if you find a hornworm pillaging your future marinara, you can relocate him to your datura. He survives to become a super cool sphinx moth, and your tomatoes survive to decorate your pasta. Everybody wins!

#FOTD: Nymphaea ‘Perry’s Almost Black’

To get me back in the habit of noticing the beauty that surrounds me, I’m trying Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge. I won’t really post every day, but when something pretty is blooming, I’ll share. This is the first water lily I bought for our pond, ‘Perry’s Almost Black.’ It’s a hardy one–it’s survived three Flagstaff winters and come back bigger every spring. I took this picture with my iPhone around mid-morning, so the sun washed out some of the color. It’s actually quite a bit darker than it looks, though certainly not “almost black” (people who name cultivars lie almost as much as politicians).

What’s blooming in your garden this week?

O is for Outside (#AtoZChallenge)

O2020After four weeks of quarantine, I’ve learned a bit about what helps keep me mentally healthy in lockdown, and exactly none of it is a surprise: adequate sleep, nutritious food (apparently woman does not live by Doritos alone, though heaven knows I’ve tried), meaningful work, exercise, and fresh air. Spring in Flagstaff is wind season, so getting outside without being blown into the next ZIP code is challenging. Usually the best opportunity is before nine AM, which is why I’ve been outside gardening at 7 AM. Yes, I know that is sick and wrong, but one does what one must.

I could write a long, not-so-eloquent essay on the beauty of nature and the spirituality of watching the garden come back to life after its winter sleep, but really, that’s been done way too many times by writers way more talented than I am. Instead, I’ll post a few pictures to share the beauty of my surroundings with you. It’s still early spring here, so there’s nothing too dramatic happening outside (except for the occasional gale-force winds), but the beauty is in the details.

In my last post, I talked about how life in quarantine is like seeing the world through a macro lens. Here’s what my macro lens (OK, the macro lens on my Nikon glorified point and shoot) captured over the weekend:

Apple blossoms

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Peach blossoms

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Daffodils

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In twenty or thirty years, when the young ‘uns ask me how we survived being stuck at home for so long, I’ll tell them I looked for beauty in the small things all around me.

G is for Gardening (#AtoZChallenge)

G2020 I guess that last post should have been named, F is for Failure, because after that post, I failed the A to Z Challenge. I am now a day behind, and judging by the number of items on my to-do list for this week (and it’s already Thursday–WTF??), I will be several days behind very soon. I’m going to come back to that thought in a moment.

First, though, I want to say a few words about my other favorite activity besides writing: gardening. For those who don’t know, I live in a volcano field in a high desert, 7000′ above sea level. My soil is clay covered with about a foot of red cinders from the last volcanic eruption a few hundred years ago. Each May, we are invaded with swarms of locusts (a/k/a grasshoppers) that would make an Old Testament prophet proud. The wind howls all spring, and winter temps drop below 0 at least once a year. And I am crazy enough to try to grow plants here.

This exercise in frustration has taught me a few things:

Determination. Well, that didn’t work. What can we do differently when we try again? (This describes 6 years of trying to grow roses in this hellscape)

Tolerance for imperfection. Plants will not look like they did in the nursery catalog when they grow here. Apple blossoms will be frozen off long before fruit can set. The first tomato will ripen the day before the first frost. Etc.

Prioritization. Spring is wind season here in the San Francisco Volcano Field (look it up – it’s really called that. I live in a volcano field with an actual name). So when we have a few nanoseconds that are not windy–and I’m not at work–I drop everything to run outside and weed or plant something. (Digression alert! Have you ever realized that gardening is mostly about pulling out some plants and putting in others that grow less well than the ones you pulled out?) Whatever else I am doing can wait till the wind starts blowing, which it will do 5 minutes after I get outside. If it’s a calm spring day, nothing is more important than gardening. Nothing. Tie a tourniquet above that arterial bleed and wait till I’ve planted this rose bush that will get eaten by grasshoppers next month and freeze to death next winter. Can’t you see I’m busy?

Well, now, it so happens that determination, tolerance for imperfection, and prioritization are pretty dang good life lessons, especially for us writers. And I am demonstrating all three of them in my approach to the A-Z Challenge.

Yesterday I demonstrated prioritization. Work was hectic, I had writing to do, I had to pick up groceries, and I was exhausted. I inspected my to-do list, said something like, “Oh, hell no,” and started moving stuff to other days. One of the things that got moved was my daily A-Z Challenge post, because it was a lower priority than a) earning a living, b) feeding my family, c) editing my short story (it’s about a haunted ranch house that hasn’t been redecorated since the late 1980s. Mauve is terrifying. Terrifying, I tell you), and d) preserving my sanity. So I embraced my inner Def Leppard (or Elsa, for those of you with kids under 10) and Let It Go.

Today I’m demonstrating determination. So I missed a day? I can still do the challenge, still press on. And of course I’m demonstrating tolerance for imperfection. So I missed a day? BFD. Is it going to matter in a year? Is an agent going to decide not to sign me because I wrote about G on H day?

Nah.

We are all doing the best we can, struggling along with too much to do and not enough time–and now we’re doing it in quarantine, with the fear of a potentially-deadly illness looming over us. So today’s discovery in my A-Z coronazoic journey is this: prioritize ruthlessly to focus on what’s most important, and cut yourself some slack when you can’t do it all. And if the sun is shining and the wind ain’t blowing, get out in the garden!

Bonus for those of you who like plants and are willing to tolerate me showing off a bit: garden pictures!

Before – when we bought our house in 2014

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After – last spring

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Fall 2018

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If you want to see more garden pictures or read about my gardening adventures, you can stop by my other blog, Gardening With Altitude and Attitude. It’s on hiatus for now, so I can focus on my fiction writing and this blog (see? prioritization!) but you may find some of the old posts mildly entertaining.