I’ve been working long hours this week wrapping up a project that’s due soon (cause writers gotta’ eat too). So I haven’t been able to research gardening topics for the blog. I’ve also had some trouble keeping my attention focused on my work task, mostly because birds and deer have been busy stocking up on food and it’s so fun to watch.
Last week, I wrote about nurturing wildlife instead of flowers this time of year. And I have say it has paid off. Some of the grazing is natural. Deer and wild turkeys naturally roam here in winter, but I’ve never had so much fun with winter birds. We’ve got huge flocks that normally fly by now landing in trees and I have to stay really disciplined to keep from pulling out a book or bringing up my Cornell Merlin Bird ID app to identify them.
When I need to get up and stretch, I peek through the windows at the activity, watching the birds and deer and trying to get photos without disturbing them. I thought I’d share a few this week, then try to get my head back on gardening — and the holidays, of course — next week. I’ll also keep my eye out to get a photo of the latest spotting. I believe it’s a sharp-shinned hawk, who’s attracted not so much to our feeder, but to the small birds around it.
I’m excited about Thanksgiving! Any holiday that celebrates harvesting food from a garden, and includes pie and stuffing, is a great holiday. But mostly, I can’t wait to celebrate with family. This year, I decided to make a simple centerpiece for our table from mostly found objects in our garden and yard.
Since the objects would be dried and natural, I wanted to display them in something with the same effect, and have seen lots of photos online using natural boxes. I purchased a platter at a craft show in Albuquerque years ago that we often use for serving, but that works perfect for this year’s centerpiece. It’s a subtle, soft green with herbs etched around the sides. The main color comes from mini-pumpkins.
I’ll admit that I didn’t grow these cute mini-pumpkins, but I really want to try them next year if we have room in our garden. Since they’re smaller, we might be able to get them to ripen in our shorter season; I really would like to try.
I bought the natural stone and brass-looking candle holders last year from CB2, and my daughter and I found the candles at Cost Plus a few weeks ago. We loved the way they look like tree bark. So I had a theme going here; now I could add some truly natural elements from our garden.
I’d been hanging onto branches from our red twig dogwood in the shed for a couple of years now, and needed to use them in another project before Tim makes me throw them out. I love how they add texture and lines to the centerpiece. And as for the plant – it’s gorgeous in winter!
The red berries look like the cranberries or holly berries I’ve seen used in several arrangements online. We can’t grow either of those here, but Tim and I worked hard harvesting rose hips a year ago, and I still had some left after making tea and jelly. The dried hips give a warm red color without looking too much like Christmas – please, I’m not ready for that yet!
The arrangement needed some leaves, but ours all fell fast and hard, and we don’t have giant maples around here. But our creeping mahonia, or Oregon grape holly, has shiny, colorful leaves all year long. I cut a few bunches to add some life to the arrangement.
Finally, I added some ribbon to make it pretty. A little gold dresses up the candle holder and ties it into the gold tablecloth we’ll use for dinner this year. But instead of a big, in-your-face Thanksgiving ribbon, I went with a subtle French theme with a hint of gold, red and the softer green of the plate. It also ties in the new table runner I bought recently. I just wove the ribbon loosely in, around and under the other items.
It might not be the most gorgeous arrangement out there, but it was really satisfying and inexpensive. The only items I bought just for the centerpiece were the two rolls of ribbon. We had or grew everything else! And that makes it something to be thankful for…
Roses are old-fashioned favorites that often remind gardeners of their mothers or grandmothers or of lush gardens in the South, where both water and sun were readily available from nature. But I see fewer roses in gardens now, partly because they’re associated with lots of patience and care, and partly because some of the hybrid roses need more water than a low-water garden can – and should – provide. It’s also strange to picture a tall, hybrid tea rose in the middle of a xeric landscape, although a good landscape designer can always work a small rose garden into your plan if that’s what you desire.
Many shrub-size roses fit in nicely with the look and purpose of a low-water garden. So you can have the scent and many other features of roses, as long as you’re willing to choose the right type of rose. Here are a few to consider:
Species roses. A species rose is basically a wild rose. Several species roses have grown to adapt to drought and other extreme conditions. I have several in my rose garden area, and I know one of them is a Wood’s rose (Rosa Woodsii). It can grow to at least 10 feet and has beautiful pink flowers, followed by hips all fall and winter, which the birds love. Another is a shorter, shrub-style rose that I believe is the Prairie rose (Rosa blanda), with pink flowers that fade to white in the center. The other has deep red flowers. Both have in common large, plentiful thorns and bunches of two-inch flowers in late spring.
Native roses. In New Mexico and other Southwestern states, the Arizona Rosewood (Vauquelina californica), which resembles an evergreen oleander in its foliage and shape, or the Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxica) both have delicate white flowers that resemble roses. The native plants have adapted to the Southwest and attract bees.
Shrubs and groundcovers. Some hybrid roses have been adapted to grow as smaller shrubs and groundcovers. They’ll use less water and take up less space in the landscape. In general, they need less care than other rose types, but have long bloom periods.
In fact, species, native and certain shrub or groundcover roses are all typically easier to care for and relatively disease free. Just give them mostly sun and prune according to recommendations once in early spring. You don’t have to continuously dead-head blooms, and they have adapted to lower water and the changing conditions of high deserts and mountains, so having them in your garden is more water wise. But there are a few disadvantages. The species roses are wild, which means they can sprout new canes or offshoots. The yellow one in our garden has gotten too thick and large, and will need serious pruning next spring; it’s sort of taken over the area and is shading some other plants too much.
Another disadvantage is that if you love to cut long rose stems to use the blooms in flower arrangements, you won’t enjoy these varieties as much as hybrid tea roses; their stems are typically shorter. However, if you want to walk or sit next to them in your garden and stop to smell them, or simply enjoy the beauty of the plant and blooms, you can have your roses and save water too!
Our rock garden has a few native roses. We decided to try harvesting some rose hips this fall to see what we could do with them. The rose hip is the fruit left behind after a rose has faded, and one of these bushes was perfect for harvesting the fruit. We could tell because several critters had already been around the bush doing the same.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a good photo of the bush in bloom, and it was a little unruly when we moved in, having not been pruned the previous year while the place was on the market. I gave it a little haircut, but didn’t want to do too much too late in the season. It will get a deeper prune this year!
Rose hips pack a punch of vitamin C, so we didn’t want them to go to waste. We read up on when to harvest (about a week after the first frost) and waited until a nice day. It ended up taking us a few nice days, a few buckets and a step stool. We never got them all, but as you’ll see later, we have more than we could ever use.
First up, jelly. Because it’s sweet, that’s why. We had to pick through and clean off the hips. We found a recipe online and after some trial and error, managed to get enough good liquid out of our boiled hips. They were so pretty and smelled really good while boiling.
The good news is that the jelly set and we like the taste. We’ve given a few jars away and kept the rest for us. It’s a little tart, but otherwise good. And I love the color. Somehow, I feel less guilty eating buttered toast when I spread the rose hip jelly on it.
The next attempt was tea. I thought the tea would be a healthy, caffeine-free drink for winter afternoons and evenings. I have not had as much luck with the tea, however. Most recipes say to boil berries for 15 minutes and then crush, steep and strain the contents. Or, you can crush the berries in a food processor and steep them in a tea sock (making sure not to let seeds or hairs from the hips through). But I’ve found that even after steeping for 10 minutes, the tea has little flavor. And after too much time, tea is no longer hot! I’m trying to figure out if I’m doing it wrong (so likely…) or if some of the berries were old, hanging out on the bush since last year.
I’ll keep experimenting with the tea, maybe adding more crushed berries next time. We’ve got plenty left to use, so many in fact, that when I needed a quick arrangement around the holidays…why not? I threw some of the rose hips into a hurricane vase with some decorative rocks, and it’s still out on a small table in our sun room.
With some good late winter pruning, I hope to improve the yield on both native roses and we’ll see how we do with next year’s crop. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the flowers, which appear with no supplemental watering.