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Wildflowers may thrive by default, but you can help them along

Exquisite wildflowers are blooming by default in the flourishing native blue gramma grass around my home here, with its stunning view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The default is all mine, not nature's.

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Nature is generous, with a prodigious amount of seeds in the easily opened pods. Earlier in the summer I was bound to my typewriter and unable to weed the grass of unidentified native plants.

Consequently, beautiful and unexpected flora had its opportunity to grow. Three kinds of wild daisies took advantage of the situation: delicate calliopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria),m yellow flowers with red banding; firewheel (Gaillardia aristata),m large red petals with yellow tips; and prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnarts),m larger petals with conelike centers.

Santa Fe phlox (Phlox nana),m with its dusky-rose petals in the typical garden phlox shape, and Verbena bipinnatifida,m low plants with lilac flowers that match the shades of the mountains at sunset, are also thriving.

Cultivation of native plants from seeds, seedlings, and plants is becoming more popular each year, according to Gail Haggard of Plants of the Southwest, which has a store here in Santa Fe and a nursery in Cerrillos, 20 miles south of town.

For very appropriate reasons, the plants adjust to the extremes of cold, elevation, powderful sun, lack of water, and poor, alkaline soil, all factors in this otherwise enchanted state of New Mexico.

Such plants, Ms. Haggard says, are important from an environmental standpoint. They are water-conserving, low in maintenance, and helpful in controlling erosion and establishing windbreaks.

However, one must also remember that these plants are not drought-tolerant. After planting, the gardener must water generously for the first season. In addition, of course, he should generally follow the accepted rules of planting. There is one exception. Do not put fertilizer in the planting holes, because the chances are it will burn the roots.

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By the second year, watering will be minimal.

If you planting wildflower seeds, you will have a better opportunity for success, according to my own experience, if you prepare the soil and rake the seeds gently into the ground. A light mulch should be chosen and, according to Gerald Chacon, an agricultural extension agent here, hay is one of the better choices, although a finem sawdust can be used as well. Should you use hay, the emphasis is on fine.m

If the seeds do not germinate the first year, and if they are protected by the soil, the chances are that they will develop the next year.

The harmony of native plants in the right surrounding is a joy to artists and craftspeople, including Niki Threlkeld, a botanical illustrator who lives in Santa Fe but spends part of each year in Alaska. Her illustrations add a touch of charm to the catalog of Plants of the Southwest.

You can write to the nursery in Cerrillos, N.M. 87010, or the store at 1570 Pacheco Street, Santa Fe, N.M. 87501.

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