PERSON OF PLACE
My interest in growing plants started when I was five. My mother set up a little garden plot for me in the backyard where I grew Pansies and Snapdragons. Both sets of grandparents were role models as well, one side growing vegetables and the others growing flowers. A childhood neighbor would bring back exotic seeds from trips and I would attempt to grow them, and sometimes I would have success. Then an interest in landscaping arose when I played with my Hot Wheels in the yard and noticed I needed plants to make it feel more realistic. As I got older, on some of my hikes I noticed how resilient local plants were and became fascinated by the characteristics of plant trunks like the alligator juniper and four-wing salt bush. My interest in plants and landscaping just grew from there.
I’ve been manager of the Santa Ana Native Plants nursery since 2011. The tribe started the nursery around 1991 to raise vegetables starts for the people of the Pueblo. Now we propagate 75% of our plants from seed here, of which 35-40% of those are shrubs. A good amount of the seed we collect ourselves. Our nursery is at the Pueblo and our retail store is in Bernalillo on Hwy 550 near the casino.
We also do a lot of educational activities: after school garden clubs, classes with Santa Fe Indian School and the Institute of American Indian Arts, and work with Master Gardeners from Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia, and Santa Fe counties. I really like the education part of our work! It is important to educate the next generation about native plants and their uses, whether traditional or environmental.
Some of the important things we are doing at the nursery are helping with reclamation grow outs after fires or floods. We work with both the National Park Service and the Forest Service as well as other reclamation companies. For example, we just worked with the Little Bear Fire site near Ruidoso on a trial site to see how well certain plants would repopulate a small area. When working in the reclamation field, you want to make sure you are using the right indigenous plants to the area. There we supplied many trees and shrubs, such as Box Elder and New Mexico Olive and Three Leaf Sumac, and grasses including Indian Rice Grass, Side Oats Gramma, and Little Blue Stem just to name a few.
There are advantages to starting so many plants from seed. We go out and hike as part of our work to collect seeds. One of the seeds we collect is alligator juniper. We go to areas where there might be a lot of bear scat, collect it, clean it, and get the seeds from what the bear has been eating. Because of natural acid scarification in the bear’s stomach, these seeds generally sprout well. It is important to remember when seed collecting not to collect more than 1/3 of those on the plants so they will be able to continue propagating themselves. When collecting, you need to dry the seeds before storing them, preferably in a paper bag. A fun exception is acorns. You may put them in a plastic zip bag and, with their own moisture, they should sprout in about week.