Winter 2012 Gardens Report
The gardens are dark and silent now, especially at night:
the depths of winter have settled into the Little Colorado River Valley. Now is
the season for the gardens and their gardeners to rest, as we store and
conserve energy for the advent of spring 2012 and the beginning of (we hope)
another long and prosperous growing season. Accordingly, my assistant gardener
and fellow jardinero Manuel Contreras has “retired” for the off season. Manuel
spent several weeks in late November and early December dead-heading flowering
plants like hollyhocks and globe mallow, cleaning up leaves, and building
compost piles. Hotel Manager Dan Lutzick helped us to haul a heavy truckload of
free horse and steer manure from a nearby corral; we added it to the compost
piles as a heat-generating “inoculant.” Once sufficiently decomposed, the
finished compost will return vital soil nutrients to cultivated areas within
the gardens. Composting is essential to the organic approach to gardening.
Manuel, believe it or not, is 70 years old, and his
relatively brief wintertime repose will be well deserved. He is, without a
doubt, the hardest working man at La Posada. As is his custom, Manuel will
return to full time work in the gardens on March 1, 2012, having gone to
Durango, Mexico, for a few weeks to visit friends and relatives, including his
mother, who is nearly 90 years old.
As for yours truly, I will also be resting a bit during this
cold period between the winter solstice and Valentine’s Day. However, there are
still some important tasks to be accomplished, so I am doing them. The depths
of winter are actually the best time for both pruning and planning. Most shrubs
and trees are dormant by now, meaning that I can make sharp, careful pruning
cuts on live wood without causing “bleeding” (flowing sap) from the “wounds.”
Pruning, especially of fruit trees, is one of my favorite
gardening chores. Pruning is especially pleasurable on sunny, windless days,
when the work often becomes almost meditative.
It is easy to get lost in the work. Lately I have been focusing my
pruning upon La Posada’s many fruit trees, both young and old. The oldest trees
are quinces. Like apples and pears, they belong to the Rose family of plants.
We have several quinces growing in the area just east of the Sunken Garden, and
north of the Ballroom. These quinces are elders; they are heirloom fruit trees
that connect us directly to La Posada’s creator, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter,
who included several quinces on her planting palette for the grounds. She
likely did so because the quince is an edible, ornamental species that the
Spanish brought with them to Mexico and the Southwest. As such, the quinces are
part of La Posada’s creation story. Because of their age (at least 80), I
approach the pruning of La Posada’s quinces with great care and respect. In
fact, until this winter I had not done any pruning on them for about six or
seven years (according to my garden journals, which begin in January 2001).
This year I decided to remove as much dead wood from the
quinces as I can, along with some “water sprouts” and root suckers (live wood),
which steal vital energy from these old trees. With any luck, and perhaps with
a bit of skill—having to do with the timing of watering and fertilizing—these
antique but still healthy trees will provide another abundant crop of beautiful
yellow quince fruits for Chef John Sharpe and The Turquoise Room. We usually
get a good crop about every other year. Last year there were none. To
paraphrase William Carlos Williams, “so much depends” on the absence of late
spring frosts–which can kill the delicate white flowers—and on the presence of
honeybees, who pollinate the flowers, creating the fruits. Although April
frosts took away last year’s potential fruits, we did have a small crop of apples,
peaches, and grapes.
Well, it may be barely winter, but the first signs of
springtime may not be all that far off. In mild winters we have seen the first
crocus flowers and the first leaves on the honeysuckle vines in the Sunken
Garden by the last week of January. In colder winters, the first signs of
spring may not be visible until late February. Like the rooms in the hotel, each
year is different, and yet there are some things that we’ve come to anticipate
and to expect.
Happy New Year! We hope to see you outside
in the gardens in 2012.
Patrick Pynes, Gardens Manager