Late November Report from La Posada’s Organic Gardens
Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone and the winter solstice lies just ahead, it may seem as if La Posada’s gardens are done for the year. Well, the weather isgetting colder, and we have experienced several freezes so far. Many plants are now dormant or are in the process of becoming dormant. However, we have not yet experienced a really “hard” freeze (below fifteen degrees), and, believe or not, some cold-hardy plants are still growing slowly or even flowering!—in late November here in USDA Zone 6.
To experience the rich, deep colors of Autumn, along with the miracle of green plants still growing (however slowly) as winter approaches, one needs to take a brief walking tour of the Potager Garden and the nearby Sunken Garden on a mild, sunny, windless afternoon—preferably about 2:00 p.m. Begin by walking back outside through the hotel’s north entrance. Once outside, you will be strolling on the sandstone walkway that curves gently through the Entry Garden. In the narrow garden beds on your left and right, you can see the blue flowers of catmint. We have found that catmint is incredibly heat and cold hardy. Even with mineral rich, salty groundwater and extremely lean, well-drained soils, catmint will just keep on flowering, through the entire growing season and beyond. We admire its ability to thrive in the Colorado Plateau’s extreme conditions. The slightly warmer Autumn nights provided by the hardscape surrounding it and the thermal mass of the hotel itself have (so far) allowed catmint’s flowers to survive the cold.
Having admired the catmint, now take a left through the wrought iron gate into the Rose Garden. Stay straight on the brick pathway and it will take you through the open east-facing turquoise doorway, into the wonders of the protected Sunken Garden. As you move through the Rose Garden into the adjoining Sunken Garden, the deep, rich colors of Autumn surround you. Look to your right, and you will see clusters of dark red rose hips on the tall, sprawling wild rose bushes. Now that they have been frozen a few times, these abundant rose hips are approaching the peak of perfection. Their smooth red skins are now slightly wrinkled and puckered; now is the time to harvest a few cups and to make a delicious rose hip jelly, high in Vitamin C.
The red rose hips are particularly beautiful in Autumn, especially when the leaves have dropped from the bushes, but the yellow leaves of nearby cottonwood trees and quince trees are still lingering. Reds and yellows are the defining colors of the season, of course. Although they rested and did not produce any fruit this year, the elder quince trees on your left seem especially beautiful this year. Their leaves are turning a dark brown yellow color, and we will add some of them to our compost piles once they fall to the ground, leaving the rest as a thick mulch for the trees’ roots.
Having walked through the open door, now you are in the Sunken Garden. The design of this relatively warm, protected garden has ancient roots in the walled “oasis” gardens of the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Spain, via the influence of the Moors. Surely architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter studied these oasis gardens while she was designing the gardens at La Posada, including the remarkable Sunken Garden. This garden is remarkable because the plants love it so much. The historic core of the hotel’s west wing (especially the second floor) and the cinderblock court on the south protect the garden from the Painted Desert’s often strong, dessicating southwest winds. The high walls and hardscape allow this garden to stay relatively warm and moist. These are excellent conditions for plants, especially in the middle desert. In a sense, the Sunken Garden is the heart of La Posada; it is a large outdoor room that weaves together the gardens and the hotel’s many distinct indoor rooms. Thus you will find rosemary bushes still blooming with purplish-blue flowers in the raised beds on the west edge of the Sunken Garden. Rosemary seems to prefer cool temperatures for flowering. If the day is mild, you might see a few honeybees gathering nectar and pollen from these flowers. They are lovers of plants in the mint family like rosemary and lavender.
If you are feeling a bit chilly, take a short walk around the Sunken Garden, and then take a seat for a few brief minutes on the large sandstone slab under the honeysuckle arbor on the garden’s north side. Even in the coldest months of the year, the low angle of the winter sunshine can warm your bones in this special place: La Posada’s warmest outdoor microclimate. We always know that winter is on its way out when the first tiny green leaves appear on the honeysuckle vines above your head, usually in early February. They are followed by the sweet fragrance of yellow and white honeysuckle flowers, whose nectaries always make the honeybees wild with desire.
Having enjoyed the pleasures of the Sunken Garden, now it is time to walk back through the Rose Garden to the Entry Garden’s sandstone slab walkway. Go through the wrought iron gate again and then through another nearby wrought iron gate into the Potager Garden. The beautiful gate into “the Potager” is in the shape of a corn plant. It signifies the fact that this garden is an ornamental, edible kitchen garden. Like the Sunken Garden, the design of the Potager also has roots in antiquity–in the monastery gardens of medieval Europe. This garden is only two years old, so we are still in the process of building rich, living soils in its eight different growing beds.
Take a close look at the different growing beds. Here is where you can find green plants that are still growing slowly, despite the cold. In one of the four large outer beds, we are growing four kinds of onions. In another large bed we are growing four kinds of gourmet garlic. The green tops of the plants are already visible. The garlic should be ready to harvest in June of next year; Chef John Sharpe will be using these delicious bulbs in the incredible dishes that he and his staff create for our dining pleasure in the world-renowned Turquoise Room. In the Potager Garden, we are weaving together La Posada, the hotel’s gardens, and the Turquoise Room. The result is called “terroir”: the taste of place.
There are other edibles and non-edibles growing in the Potager as winter approaches. You will find small yellow chard plants growing in the large bed that also holds the onions. If they survive the winter (and they should), the yellow chard plants will begin growing more rapidly by mid-January, when the days are long enough at this latitude (35 degrees north) to stimulate plant growth. In one of the smaller interior beds, you will find a few straight lines of a dark red, burgundy lettuce and “Bull’s Blood” beets. These were planted in late October and early November. Along with the chard, these edible, cold-hardy greens should become dishes in the Turquoise Room as winter turns into springtime.
The non-edibles growing in the Potager Garden are called “cover crops,” or “green manure.” Like the edible greens, they are extremely cold hardy, meaning that the seeds can germinate in cool or even cold soils (down to about 50 degrees!) and that the plants can survive ambient temperatures down to at least ten degrees, possibly even lower. Even if the tops get frozen, the roots may survive, allowing the plants to begin growing again in late winter. Cover crops like these (hairy vetch, fenugreek, etc.) are turned back into the soil they are growing in, usually in late springtime, just after they begin flowering. The flowers are beneficial to pollinators like honeybees and butterflies, and the plant parts return and add rich organic matter (biomass) to the soil.
A core philosophy and practice of organic gardening is this: if you take something from the Earth, then you must give something back. This giving back or “returning the gift” is a natural law; it is human knowledge and wisdom that is expressed in indigenous creation stories like the Cherokee story of Selu (4M), or grandmother maize. Corn, amaranth, and other edible, ornamental plants were growing in the Potager last growing season. These plants created a rich, abundant, edible beauty, but they had to use up important soil nutrients to do so. Now we are giving back to the soil with compost and cover crops, to nurture the cycle and to keep the circle revolving. Taking care of the soil is a fundamental practice of sustainability. Cultures that abuse the soil are unsustainable.
Well, we hope that you have enjoyed your brief tour of the Entry Garden, Rose Garden, Sunken Garden, and Potager Garden. You have seen that even as winter approaches, the gardens are still a living, breathing presence, even as everything slows down and begins resting, in preparation for another growing season in 2012. Please come again in other seasons. Mid to late May is my own favorite season in places like the Rose Garden, when the first flush of new roses begins. Like the hotel, the gardens are always changing. In expressing these changes they are part of what indigenous theologian Vine Deloria, Jr., referred to as a “continuing life,” a sacred life.
After almost 54 years of being absent from our gardens the Wrought Iron Wishing Well will be restored to La Posada’s South Lawn today (11/21/11)! The original wishing well was at the center of many photographs taken by tourists from 1930 to 1958, including this young couple on their honeymoon in the 1940s (left image.) In 1958 the wishing well along with most of La Posada’s interior furnishings was loaded in freight cars and taken to Albuquerue for auction. This hand made reproduction wishing well was created by nationally recognized craftsman John Suttman (right image.) It weighs 300 pounds and has handworked iron up to 1 inch thick (it is actually more substantial than the original.)
After sifting through over 8 million reader’s choice votes, La Posada Hotel was listed as one of the top 200 hotels in the United States by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler Magazine. The results of the survey are posted in the November 2011 Traveler edition.
Since an unusually severe cold snap in early October, this Autumn at La Posada has been sunny, warm, and virtually windless. In other words, from a gardener’s point-of-view, absolutely beautiful. As the leaves on the cottonwoods and ash trees turn yellow and fall back to earth, we have been busy harvesting the fruits and vegetables of summer, and planting many bulbs and seeds. The bed within the Potager Garden where Santo Domingo blue corn was growing only two weeks ago is now planted with three kinds of garlic. The other beds in the Potager have recently been planted with yellow chard, “bull’s blood” beets, and red lettuce. All of these plants are cold hardy; they can survive or even grow during winter. Several of them (like the beets and chard) are also ornamental.
One of our favorite edible ornamentals — Hopi red amaranth — is just now being harvested from the Potager. The stunning burgundy flower heads hold hundreds or even thousands of tiny black seeds. Many of these seeds will become high protein amaranth flour to be used in The Turquoise Room. Many others will be saved for next year’s plantings. A domesticated pigweed, amaranth was a sacred and staple food of the Aztecs. Along with other beautiful and edible ornamentals like rosemary and lavender, amaranth loves growing here in the Painted Desert. The heat, sunshine, and relatively cool nights of the Little Colorado River Valley seem to make this remarkable but somewhat obscure plant very happy to live here.
Soak up the warm Autumn sun and enjoy the rich colors of harvest time, a truly special season in La Posada’s organic gardens.
Patrick Pynes, Ph.D.
64th Annual Christmas Parade, November 19th
Winslow’s Christmas parade is the largest in the state and it is sponsored by the Winslow Chamber of Commerce. Last year’s parade had over 80 entries including multiple marching bands, equestrian units, floats, color guards, hot rods and VIP cars. The parade starts at 1 pm and will pass directly in front of La Posada. From 10 am to 12 am children can visit Santa at the Hubble Trading Post Visitor’s Center located 8 blocks west of the hotel. Vendors from all over Northern Arizona will liner the parade route selling handmade arts and crafts and a wide selection of food. This is an excellent holiday event for the whole family. Call 928-289-2434 for more info.
On Monday 10/10/11 we had a visit from photographer Catherine Karnow. She is shooting a story about La Posada for Smithsonian Magazine. In this image she is working with a couple of children who are interacting with Dan Lutzick’s sculpture in the Sculpture Hall.
Join us for a book signing by author Lisa Heidinger for “Arizona 100 Years Grand” at La Posada Hotel on Tuesday, September 13, at La Posada Hotel gift shop from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The book includes a page for Winslow and images of the famous Standing On The Corner Park along with images and stories a places and people across the state.
So far September is being very good for La Posada’s several acres of gardens. July and August were a challenge for the gardens and gardeners. We received virtually no rain in both July and August, and the average temperature for the month of August was the highest in Winslow’s recorded history. In addition, many of the plants on the hotel’s south side turned brown, as they tried to adjust to the high mineral content of the water in our new irrigation well. But, with the recent soaking rains, the gardens are feeling refreshed and happy again.
Just as the rains began, we had a bird expert from Northern Arizona University conduct a survey of the birds that use our garden oasis as vital habitat. The survey counted at least twenty different species, including warblers, vireos, and finches. We really enjoy seeing and hearing these birds in the gardens. Especially visible are the house sparrows who are feasting on the heirloom sunflower seeds in the Potager Garden (just east of the camel). As summer turns into fall, we will begin harvesting any remaining sunflower seeds, along with ears of blue corn and the flowering tops of Hopi red amaranth. Before the first frosts of October, we will be planting cold-tolerant chard and kale where the sunflowers are now growing, along with cover crops (ryegrass, etc.), to help conserve and improve the soil.
As summer fades and the yellow flowers of perennial Maximillian sunflowers begin blooming, enjoy La Posada’s gardens and pajaritos (the birds).
P. Pynes, Gardens Manager
Winslow Arts Trust and Old Trails Museum present territorial town and ecological history exhibits and program
The Old Trails Museum and Winslow Arts Trust unveil a new photography exhibit, Territorial Town: Winslow, Arizona, from 1880 to Statehood, on Saturday, September 10, at La Posada Hotel, located at 303 East 2nd Street. The exhibit is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, and will be on display through early 2012.
The exhibit shares its title with the Old Trail Museum’s 2012 historical calendar, available for purchase at the end of September. Both the exhibit and calendar explore Winslow’s Territorial history, from the plotting of the townsite through the granting of Arizona statehood, and give a visual sense of what it was like for the city’s earliest residents.
The Old Trails Museum’s exhibit, Women of Winslow, will re-open that same Saturday at the Winslow Visitors Center/ Hubbell Trading Post, where it will be on display through early 2012. Both exhibit openings are part of the Winslow Historical Society’s Second Saturdays in Winslow series, which will explore Winslow’s diverse history over the next year in celebration of Arizona’s State Centennial on February 14, 2012.
Also on Saturday, September 10, the Winslow Arts Trust will host a talk and book signing by NAU Journalism Professor Peter Friederici from 2 to 3 p.m. Friederici will discuss What Has Passed and What Remains: Oral Histories of Northern Arizona’s Changing Landscape, the project that spawned the book and interactive kiosk of the same name. The kiosk features photographs, artifacts, and video of the oral history interviewees, and will be on display at La Posada through early 2012.