One day you're talking about baseball, summer, the slow growth of grasses, and all things leisurely, and the next (or so it seems) the UNM Lobos are winning (winning!) their first football game of the season, the grasses are exploding into bloom, and you're frantically shouting, "Slow down! Everybody just slow down!"
|Licorice mint (Agastache rupestris) in the upper foreground; in the central bed, blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) and angelita daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis); across the path, sand lovegrass (Eragrostis trichodes).|
Well, honestly, not quite that last bit. While I've basked in summer, I am ready to be done with 95°F temperatures and looking forward to the sleepy, satisfied warmth of a New Mexico autumn; I'm eager to move on and enjoy sunshine again. But the grasses have definitely exploded (and the Lobos have definitely won!).* The grasses may even have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
They've been an experiment this year: an attempt to create less of a traditional "layered" look in my small garden and to aim for something more airy, open, western, and outdoors-y; a look that focuses on texture as much as color and that plays enthusiastically with light. Overall I'm beginning to be pleased, though the rule of planting in threes should probably be broken for sand lovegrass.
I actually find myself looking forward to winter because of that grass. Winter is my least favorite season—the remnant of too much time in Vermont spent aching in every cold, damp joint for every single one of those eleven frigid months a year. Even in milder New Mexico, hedging myself against winter is still a chore. The garden is one of my biggest safeguards, intended to be a place of light and enjoyment in the dormant season.
Light is the key.
The patio and the Adirondack chair sit on the north side of the garden, looking south. As the sun begins to lower again it is starting to side-light the grasses; when winter comes it will light them from behind and within.
|The angelitas could bloom into December.|
I can't tell you how happy I am about that. It's ridiculous how happy I am about that. Because of grass. Not even specially hybridized ornamental grass, but the same kinds of plain ol' grasses that grow wild in just about every open space in the state. Most grasses are generous, I think. They make lovely, gracious vehicles for other things: like the way that silky thread grass gives shape to the wind so beautifully, or a bluegrass lawn invites cool, barefoot walking on sultry evenings. The blue grama and sand lovegrass will magnify limited winter sunlight exuberantly. They will make it sparkle as it scatters off every tiny seed; they will burnish it until it glows golden as it passes through their dry wintry leaves.
I've brought some lovegrass bloom stalks inside the house as a "bouquet" and have been surprised at how fragrant they are. Outside I'm not even aware of it, but inside, the sharp, sunny smell of green hay is unmistakable. Maybe that's what's drawn more small butterflies to my garden this summer, even in another year of drought.
|A fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) on Jupiter's beard (Centranthus ruber)|
While the adults need nectar, the larvae of many skippers eat grass leaves. For lawn owners they can be a pest, as the caterpillars' feasts can leave brown, dead patches. Looking at the bank of sand lovegrass, I say, "Chow down, guys. Help me out."
A little generosity seems to be in order.
* But then, the Lobos have won one game in each of the last three years, too.