Monday, July 22, 2013

A Masterful Gardener in Santa Fe

Sam Hitt's home in Santa Fe
America is full of "Master Gardeners" (a clever term that was purloined by the Extension Service for their trained volunteers--most of whom have a good mastery of basic gardening. But then there are people like Sam Hitt--who have truly mastered a wide range of garden styles and whose gardens are truly cutting edge. Here you can catch a glimpse of the front of Sam's amazing garden in front of his home in Santa Fe--a city in the midst of a severe drought where water rates are just about the highest in the country.

A closer look...
You can see the tubes where Sam has even had to use drip for his xeric plants!

Mammillaria geminispina along pathway
Not everything at Sam's is hardy: here you can see a truly breathtaking specimen of a Mammillaria, which I neglected to get a proper name for: this resides in the greenhouse for the winter!
Penstemon ambiguus
I envied his husky clump of Phlox penstemon (Penstemon ambiguus) which I find less than permanent in my garden. This is native around Santa Fe and is obviously at home here...

Sam is technically retired, but I am quite sure that his garden is a full time job: he sells greens and specializes in unusual edibles. His "farm" part of the garden is scattered among the xeric gardens--making for a great deal of interest and contrast as you walk around: this is a lollapalooza of a garden!

Sam pointing out some treasures
Here Sam is pointing out some xeric treasure to us in one of the many rock gardens...

One of Pete Hitt's stone troughs
Sam's son, Peter Hitt, creates spectacular troughs out of solid stone by cutting them himself. Here is a small example planted to Hens and Chicks.

TMore views of the xeric rock gardens
Troughs are often integrated into the garden, as it is above...

More veggie gardens
There was scarcely a weed anywhere (I picked one or two to show my helpfulness) and everything was neat as a pin...

Brand new garden area 
Sam had just cleared and prepared a large new area for veggies this last year since my last visit: it is truly pristine...that's a new greenhouse too!

The xeric rock gardens
Another view of a xeric rock garden: he had many penstemons and buckwheats I'd not seen before, and all manner of native steppe gems that are very challenging in my home garden. This would be  garden to see in April and May!

Cut flowers and greens
More veggies interspersed with some daylilies and other ornamentals: Sam lives in the middle of gorgeous, hilly, pinon juniper country--Santa Fe rocks!

Xeric rock gardens from another angle
Yet another view of the xeric rock gardens..

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (sort of)
More veggies...

Leaf veggies protected from critters
Sam has a devil of a time with quail and thrashers--two very destructive birds: he has great stories about these and his garden....He's had to go to great strengths to protect certain veggie beds.

More goodies
We are living in a moment when sophisticated greens are very popular: Sam has done much of the R. and D. for these in Santa Fe: I ask him if he minds that other growers copy him. He tells me he is thrilled! This is one generous dude...

Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrots) are havens for beneficial insects (and great cut flowers)
He has one wicked little secret: he has found a huge market for self sown carrots: when these "Queen Anne's Lace" bloom, they are avidly sought after as cut flowers...he would grow them any way because they are living magnets for beneficial insects.

I love the way Sam intermixes ornamentals and food plants throughout this garden: it's so real!

Vibrant coors on hens and chicks
The hens and chicks kept wonderful color in his special greenhouse (usually this time of year they bleach out): he has an outstanding assortment.

Don't ask me their names please: they were choice, just leave it at that!

Christmas trees of yore (including two magnificent Serbian spruce)
He and his family have had living Christmas trees for years: these are all former Christmas trees forming a bit of a forest. I was thrilled to see the two large specimens of Serbian Spruce (Picea omorica). Sam has these on drip--but even so I was amazed they grew so well in what is (after all) northerly Chihuahuan desert/steppe...

Compost teamaker
He had many depressing stories to tell about the many regulations that are making small operations like his harder and harder to operate. Even the compost tea has to have special containers and "federal oversite"!

Admiring Pseudolithos in full bloom
Here Sam is showing off a very challenging, tiny succulent from South Africa (Pseudolithos) with tiny mahogany red flowers. That's Maia Sampson Michael, who hosted us this past weekend: she and I have known each other since first grade!
Tender succulent container
Masterful gardeners grow all manner of plants, like these tender succulents!

Rock collection (for future container gardens...)

Sam and his son Pete do quite a business in container plants: here are lots of varied rocks and bones for future container gardens, I reckon!

Rock Spiraea  from the Grand Canyon
Sam collected seed of Petrophytum caespitosum (rock spiraea) near the Grand Canyon--which is growing in one of his wonderful walls just as it would in nature (he just scattered seed here)

Agave parryi
This is the only one of many agaves Sam grew that survived a viciously cold winter: he has propagated from this for years--I suspect we should publicize this super hardy clone of Agave parryi. Methinks this could bloom next year....

Leaf Amaranth: surprise success story
Sam was delighted to discover that there was a large market for leafy Amaranth--which can be used in salads as well as a summer potherb. He expects his competition to catch on to this quickly--I wish our local groceries would too!

Closeup of Amaranth

I just love these colors and textures!
One last glimpse of these fresh veggies: what a wonderful combination! Delicious greens and rare succulents and native plants, all grown to perfection!

Berlandiera growing wild
And wouldn't you know, here and there around his property there were massive clumps of Chocolate flower growing wild: I found these accidental wildlings as appealing as his wealth of "deliberate" plants--he's attempted to keep his fields wild as possible--and they are full of treasures like this. The chocolate smell, by the way, was quite overwhelming the morning we were there--what a wonderful fragrance to remind me of a great Gardener....and did I mention that Sam is well known in Santa Fe politics for his bold environmental stands and clear articulation of common sense? He's one of my heros--and I shall have to return to his garden in high spring (on a slightly overcast day) to do it more justice. As it is, Jan Fahs managed to get lots of great pictures anyway, despite the hot sun and advanced season...


  1. You say he has been propagating from that Agave parryi for years, where might one get ahold of a pup?

  2. Sam sells at the Santa Fe farmer's market. I suspect he might occasionally sell through a local garden center. I didn't see any at his nursery this visit, but will keep a lookout for you! They had a disastrous winter a few years ago and lost most agaves--so this one is significant.

  3. Panayoti, I enjoyed seeing a garden where the original purpose is practiced. Namely ... growing food. The ornamental and xeric plants are great too. I especially love the house. The construction makes it appear that no fire fighter would have to risk his life attempting to save it. Adobe and metal do not burn!


  4. Edible gardens are growing in popularity in the UK, there are several books detailing how to combine edibles into gardens, most of these revolve around more lush jungle gardens. It is amazing to see one combined with a succulent garden.
    That semp collection is stunning.


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