Monthly Archives: February 2015

Bilingual Gardens

Fawn Bell's San Luis Valley garden retreat.

Fawn Bell’s San Luis Valley garden retreat.


It was on a garden tour about fifteen years ago that I first enjoyed the landscape artistry of Fawn Bell. I fell in love with a Fallugia paradoxa (common name Apache plume) she’d planted, and admired the rabbitbush, or chamisa as it is called in Spanish. For the first time, I saw how drought-tolerant plants could be incorporated in a charming cottage-style garden plan. I made a list of ones that I wanted to try in my own garden, and did so.

Imagine my pleasure this month when I learned Bell also wrote poetry. Today I would like to share “Bilingual,” a poem that traces the Earth’s seasonal cycle. It is a sweet reminder of all we gain from nurturing, and how we are all in this together.

Sandra Knauf



Today I noticed how the sun has begun to travel lower in the sky; dusk came before dinner dishes were cleared. Done, the hot hours spent pulling tumbleweed from the gravel drive. Gone, our brilliant bluebirds that swooped the meadow singing all summer the songs I’d taught them. Resident hummingbirds’ incessant buzz of wings and frenzied feedings fall away. Left behind, a few straggler bees, a lazy beetle making its way across flagstones, a praying mantis clinging to the screen door and I, like countless mothers of the earth, dragging the garden hose, persistently tending the fading sunflowers, catmint gone pale, the purple Russian sage hedge, its blooms now receding to lavender. At their peak now the rabbitbrush dominate the garden, bellow in mustard yellow that they have no fear of frost.  Finally, the thirteen-stripe squirrel hides, making its presence known only in freshly dug holes and here and there a missing catmint.

Winter will close down the rest of our activities. Far away an unknown, dark-haired woman will watch after our bluebirds, a senora speaking in singsong cadences of Spanish. She will remark on their long flights and “how the family has grown.”  Our birds will bask on bougainvillea branches, get fat on mole of moths, and please her, saying, “Hola , buenos dias!”  and “Vaya con Dios.” Meanwhile, we are left with a birdhouse full of this year’s poop, silence, and our hope in instinct.

Each spring the little wooden birdhouse my husband put up comes alive with four or five pairs of sprouting wings, chirps of hunger beginning at dawn and the sighs of countless, captured moths. I circle the birdhouse pole and begin my words, annunciating my presence, enunciating strange consonants and vowels of the mother tongue. About mid-April, like an avian jack-in-the-box the first chick thrusts its tiny beak through the wood’s drilled hole, opens its throat, calls out in the barely decipherable English of migrating birds, “Hey, good day” and “Go with God.”


Male and female Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) feeding on the plume-like seeds of Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)}} |Source={{own}} |Author=Amaling |Date=2009/08/23 |Permission= |other_versions=

“Male and female Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) feeding on the plume-like seeds of Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa).” Photo by Amaling, Wikimedia Commons.


About Fawn:

As a young girl growing up outside Nashville I played, rode horses, picked vegetables, and did my chores in gardens that had formerly been the home of the “Dirt Dobber,” an educated horticulturist and gardener whose radio show on gardening was widely heard in the South.  So, I grew up with surrounded by plants.

After studying history of art and architecture I spent my 20’s living in Brazil, Germany, and France where I became intrigued with urban design.  I returned to university studies and took my second degree in Urban Landscape Architecture.  I became a licensed professional, working primarily on large systems, urban design, and master planning.  One day I received a phone call with the question, “Would you design my garden?” I honestly didn’t know the answer. That was not my focus or my training. But that inquiry sent me on a path of designing estates, a Xeriscape demonstration garden, and many residential gardensand a return to the simple joy of communing with and designing with plants.

There are two gardens in my life. My city garden is in an historic district in Colorado Springs. It’s a mix of references to Edwardian era order and plant lover’s  botanical chaos.  Five years ago my husband and I purchased a retreat in the San Luis Valleyand found ourselves surrounded by cacti, rabbitbrush, yucca, blue grama grass, coyotes, pronghorn, deer, elk, birds, lizards, and beetles. We began to rim our little retreat in a slender band of purposefully designed garden. We’ve enjoyed the challenge of gardening in almost pure sand, the extreme winds, freezes, droughts, and blazing western sun. We say good-bye to the plants that have not made it or have been chewed too frequently, and celebrate the beauty of the natives and adaptable species that somehow thrive and bloom despite the odds.

It is a meditative garden of deep quiet, expanses of nature, and a backdrop of  dramatic 14,000’ mountain peaks of the Sangre De Cristo range.  This poem came of my many hours of toil in the garden and sitting, observing and appreciating the spectacular sensory feast that nature providesif we will only pause to witness it.

—T. Fawn Hayes Bell


Fawn Bell Hayes

Fawn Bell






Filed under Garden Writers We Love

Seed Library Update

Isn't it cool how seed packets fit perfectly in the old card catalogues? (Photo by David Woolley)

Old card catalog file turned into new seed library! Brilliant! (Photo by David Woolley)


About two and a half years ago I wrote a post on our first local seed library. It was installed at the public library in Manitou Springs, Colorado by David Woolley and Natalie Seals.

Here’s the replay on what a seed library is, if you haven’t been to one yet:

“. . . it’s a place where you can check out packets of seeds–flowers, vegetables, and herbs—to plant. In return you’re asked to donate seeds from your future harvest; usually twice as many seeds as you checked out. To some, having to harvest seeds may sound intimidating, but it really isn’t difficult. Many seeds, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, radishes, and quite a few species of flowers, are easy to save . . . and one tomato or sunflower can produce enough seeds for many return seed packets. (If you’re still unsure, there is a lot of information online and in books on seed saving.)

What is exciting is that people begin saving and sharing their locally grown (and hopefully organically grown) seeds. It makes for stronger genetic stock that is adapted to local growing conditions. It helps people who can’t afford seeds to grow gardens, and it creates diversity, because if the library is successful many, many people will participate and share. Probably the most exciting aspect is that we can reclaim the power of owning our own seed stock and won’t have to re-purchase seed every year or be dependent on outside companies. There are myriad other benefits, but these are the ones that come to mind first. Viva la backyard farmer!”

Now for the update:

For the last three growing seasons I’ve enjoyed this library. I’ve “checked out” seeds, grew them in my garden, and returned seeds from my own harvests.  I’ve made it a point to return at least triple what I took each year. This year I brought in almost 40 packets of seeds from heirloom tomatoes, snapdragons, calendula, lettuce, hollyhock, Italian flat-leaf parsley, garlic chives, and more. Everything I bring back is organically grown and local, and that makes me feel great about being a part of this.

How’s the library doing? Well, I haven’t been able to have an in-depth talk with Director David Woolley, though I did speak with him briefly after a very well-attended talk on backyard gardening a couple of weeks ago. Woolley said the seed library was doing very well. There were many people coming in and getting seed packets. They were excited to be gardening. “Were there any problems?” I asked. Yes, he said, they are struggling a bit with getting in enough donations. There are too many who take out seeds and don’t bring back donations.

I told him I’d be happy to help, to send a few emails out to seed companies and ask them for donations. He said it was a little more complicated than that with the big seed companies, as you have to fill out paperwork, and show that the seed is going to a nonprofit. (Always, the bureaucracy!) I haven’t been able to connect with him yet to move further on this, but I wanted to get this post out today, to ask readers if perhaps they had connections with any seed companies (or perhaps seed from last year that won’t be used, or home-grown seed) for donations.  I imagine there are a lot of backyard farmers who would love to share.

A gentle reminder to those who might have forgotten to repay this service with a donation—free seed libraries will only work if we all pitch in. I know it can be intimidating, saving seed for the first time, putting them in packets and labeling them, but trust me, it’s easy! And once you do it, it becomes pretty fun.

If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll come and check out the library. You don’t have to live in Manitou Springs as it’s open to the entire region. You don’t even have to have a library or an I.D.! How cool is that?

Check out their website for full details. There’s a wonderful FAQ written by Natalie Seals that details the process.

See you at the library!

—Sandra Knauf

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Filed under DIY, Power to the People