Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith (7/14/08)

Before my recent knee surgery, my surgeon, Dr. Torey Botti, suggested I take it easy after the surgery, just wiggling my toes and bending my knee. I assured him my favorite vice was sloth. However, it wasn't always so, when younger, I savored lust and gluttony, but as I've aged, lust's battery has run low. After gluttony lead to a triple by-pass, I didn't want to cardiac-K.O myself with one of those widely-advertised jump-starters. Besides, there are really neat substitutes. If not de facto, then en kardia.

Never big on greed, I've always thought that just making money was boring and that greedy people are dull and drink too much to escape their boredom. Jealousy and envy aren't attractive either because they're the only vices without a reward. Gluttony, greed, lust, sloth all have perks, but for jealousy and envy it's bile as in "it galls me." Elusively powerful, anger's an act of impotence, taking too much energy. Pride or hubris signal that inner dread of insignificance haunting us all.

With sloth you can drop your clothes on the floor right where you took them off. You can put off to tomorrow what you don't want to do today. With age, sloth loomed as an attractive vice, idle work seeming a waste. Slothful gardening husbands one's energy. So what if I want a beautiful garden? Hardy, water-efficient perennials.

I asked Joannie Abbot, the high energy landscaper at Foxglove Landscaping who has done the well-nigh impossible, making gasoline service stations attractive. If there were ever an incongruity, it’s gasoline, steel, and concrete mixed with Shasta daisies, delphiniums, and hollyhocks, an English cottage garden Interstate close on Milton and Butler.

First, she suggested yarrow (Achillea millefloium), named after the mythical Achilles who used it to staunch his soldiers’ wounds. Not only hardy, they’re indestructible in a potpourri of colors, gold, mustard, lemon yellow, reds, and pinks.

Attractive to butterflies and lady bugs, two friends gardeners want in their gardens, they, also, make beautiful displays in the garden and in the house as cut or dried flowers.

Yarrows, as with lots of friends, have to be watched, not because they're going to pilfer the joint, but because they'll take over the garden if not curbed. Like the Energizer Bunny, they just keep going, surviving Flagstaff's inhospitable climate and fierce winters, coming back with a springtime vengeance. Useful as a ground cover and for holding banks from erosion, they spread both by their roots and seed. A word of caution: they might cause skin irritation, so wear long sleeves and gloves.

Russian sage (Peroviska atripilifolia) survives Flagstaff’s winds, cold, and sere with flying colors. Of course, it should. It's a native Afghan. When it comes alive in the spring, it slowly sends up its shoots, beginning as blue-lavender and turning brighter in a splendid, almost neon purple. Spreading readily by seed, it may pop up all over throughout the years. As with yarrow, it grows almost anywhere, but prefers, as with yarrow, a well-drained soil. It grows large so leave plenty of space. Bees love Russian sage so it's wise to put it at some distance from the house, the deck, and the patio.

Next is an ancient from Asia Minor, one of the oldest cultivated plants, the old-timer hollyhock (Alcea rosea,) a triple threat as an annual, biennial, and an oxymoronical short-lived perennial. A prolific self-seeder, it can take over a garden, but that's the price of having a plant that can take care of itself. Hollyhocks come in many colors, red, black, pink, white, and blue. Water-wise with roots clear to China, they attract hummingbirds, are a little messy, but are a slothful gardener's dream. Besides, a slothful gardener has no business objecting to a messy plant, especially if it's beautiful. As with yarrow, they look great in the yard, tall and vibrant, and in the house in vases.

There you have it, a bright, colorful, water-wise garden that requires little attention and is far more winsome than gravel, even Sedona pink. By the way, Dr. Botti was successful, I got my shovel foot back.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith


Anonymous said...

Hi Dana: It would be great if you
would do an ariticle (with photos)
on the noxious weeds that are invading Flagstaff. I see people who have them in their yards as if they are pretty (which they are but....). I'm always tempted to pull them but know the owners might not know they are an invasive species.


Dear Anonymous:

I already have. The title of the article is "From Away" and was posted earlier.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dana,
I have been experimenting with xeric plants that have the reputation of doing well in this area. The local newspaper has a column by Jon Hammond, a Tehachapi native, who has written about the apparent longevity of hollyhocks here in our mountain valley. On his parents property, there have been hollyhock volunteers growing in the same spot for 80 years. Unfortunately, the plants I set out
only last week, hoping for flowers next spring, have fallen prey to hungry burrowing rodents, in spite of the 3 poison bait traps I have put out for the destructive critters. Any suggestions for xeric plants that are not attractive to rodents while providing nectar for butterflies and/or hummingbirds? So far the only ones I have found that fill those requirements are Penstemon Strictus and columbine.