Sunday, July 24, 2016

Transplanting Your Roots

One of the things that Mars and I like the most about New Mexico – our ultimate retirement location – is that it is not Connecticut.  Now by that I DO NOT mean the whining and griping about taxes-taxes-taxes and spendthrift stare government spending trope –  “I had a good job, lived in a nice house in a great town, our kids had great educations, great community – it is time to retire, this place sucks, I’m leaving!”  We actually still like it here.

What we do mean is that the whole look and feel of New Mexico is so different – the natural light, the colors, the landscape, the food, the art, the people.   It “spoke to us” the first time that we went there 24 years ago, and its call has just gotten louder every year since.  Santa Fe, New Mexico calls itself “The City Different”.  And at this our point in lives, different is good.

But we’re not going to totally start from scratch when we relocate out there.  Some of the things that currently give us joy and comfort in Wethersfield Connecticut are coming with us.

Like for example, our garden – or part of it anyway. What I am thinking of is blending together several of the flora that actually belong in the “Land of Enchantment [and Not Much Rain]” with some of the perennial plants that have become mainstays or recent faves in our New England yard, most of which were chosen for being native to this area.   

And, if that part of my plan fails – or maybe in addition to it– I might like to include plants that were discovered by, and named after one of our town’s many historical notables.  Fortunately all of the plants in this third category are indigenous to the land we are going to, and not the one from which we are coming – which at least partially explains why no one in our village seems to have them or even know anything about them.

The NM native plants will obviously be the easy part – help from our gardening daughter-in-law and son who live in Santa Fe plus suggestions from local nurseries will handle that part of the equation.

The replication of part of our current backyard in the dry, barren environment might be a little trickier.  Some, like our Wethersfield hollyhocks whose seeds came originally from our d-in-l’s Santa Fe garden, should be easy.  Likewise our “Maximillian” Sunflowers from the same source.   

Others like the Hosta that we have spread along several of our border gardens; Brown-eyed Susan, Coneflowers, and Daisies (Mars’ favorites); False Dragonhead (which I was told by its original grower was a Cardinal Plant); Bee Balm; and, our most-recent, most-liked plants – Gooseneck loosestrife and Teasel may not be so straight forward.

At least one online New Mexican nursery/landscaper features Susans, and Coneflowers.  But their Hosta comes with the caveat “does best in partial shade to full shade”, which may prove to be a bigger challenge out west where stately shadow producing Elm and Oak trees do not exactly litter the landscape.  When our own shade producers in Wethersfield bit the dust we were quickly left with a Hosta bed that looked more like Frito Taco Chips than flowers.  Not the southwestern look we would be hoping for.

As for the sun-lovers, according to, New Mexicans refer to their local species of Bee Balm  (Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia) “as Oregano de la Sierra, or Oregano of the Mountain.”  New England varieties apparently have sweet flowers while the NM strain has a “hot and spicy bite” – something desert southwest bees have adapted to, and we spice-wimp easterners will probably evolve to also.  Or starve.

Monarda is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family.  So is False Dragonhead.  That gives me hope that I will continue to see that pinkish, "snapdragon-like" flowers adding color to the tan New Mexico backdrop.


Several daisies including Oxeye, Blackfoot and Tidytips are listed among the wildflowers in the website.  And New Mexico State University classifies the Oxeye as a “Class A Noxious Weed” – so the problem with Daisies, like with False Dragonheads, may be not in growing them but in containing their growth – which is something I am used to with the many invasive plants that we have encouraged to share our current yard with us.


Speaking of which – Gooseneck loosestrife is described as “ not native to North America but has adapted well to most zones in the United States… an extremely tolerant plant whose only complaint is dry soil.” ( “Plants establish easily in a rain garden and perform best in moist to wet soils. They don’t tolerate extreme heat or soils that stay dry for extended periods. In cooler climates plants perform well in full sun locations, while they’ll prefer some afternoon shade in southern regions.” ( This may become our special project, along with…

…Teasel, which according to NMSU is a Class B species [noxious weed]…limited to portions of the state. In areas with severe infestations, management should be designed to contain the infestation and stop any further spread.”

I fear that the Gooseneck loosestrife, whose purple cousin is a Class A weed felon, and Teasel may not be available at my friendly neighborhood NM nursery and both may require ingenuity and perhaps even illegality to get them into our Santa Fe backyard.  And then the loosestrife would probably get up and leave in search of “moist to wet soils”.  That’s what these invasive plants do if you don’t keep your eyes on them.


Then there’s option 3 – plants identified and named after former Wethersfield resident Charles Wight, born here in October 29, 1811, and graduated from Yale as a Phi Beta Kappa in 1835.  For the next 30 years Wright lived and worked in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, teaching and surveying the boundary between the United States and Mexico – and discovering and documenting plants.  He then began 11 years of botanical exploration in Cuba in 1856 – dying in Wethersfield in 1885, of a heart ailment dating back to his years in the Caribbean island nation.  

Several plants including Datura wrightii, the genus Carlowrightia (wrightworts), and Wrights fishhook – a grey flycatcher bird (Empidonax wrightii) – a snake, Wrights dwarf boa – and one elementary school were all named in his honor.  Other than the educational institution, none of these flora or fauna can be found in or near his former hometown.


I have long been attracted to the charms of the Datura flower having first seen varieties of it on Mars and my trip to the Mediterranean Island of Malta in 1997 where the plant grows wild on the main archipelago and its companion island Gozo.  Then Mars and I came across a garden of night-blooming Datura, at a beachside condo on Emerald Isle, North Carolina – south of the Outer Banks (SOBX on your bumper sticker).  We also have come across a diurnal-blooming type of the flower in our walks around our daughter-in-law and son’s Santa Fe neighborhood.

Its presence in all of our favorite places, the way it looks, and its reputation for creating mystical clarity as well as causing painful deaths makes it almost fatally attractive to me – like a femme fatale in a noir mystery.  Plus with the hometown connection – I just gotta have it, no matter what.

Datura wrightii grows throughout the Verde Valley and other areas of Arizona between 1,000 and 7,000 feet elevation.  And, according to a “Flickr” posting, “A huge plant, covered with a dozen big white blossoms, was growing on the curb beside Cerrillos Road, inches from the maddening Santa Fe traffic.”

I think we will be able to get one.  And possibly other Charles Wright non-Wethersfield-Wethersfield plants also.

It makes it easier to plant your roots in a new location if you can bring a little of your own history with you.

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