By Meredith Hughes
“Earth Day? It’s every day,” said Tom Boldt, semi-fabled tree man. “Plant a tree and cool the earth.” Which is what Boldt did, starting about 12 years ago at the end of July, on the one ag acre property he and his wife bought after leaving Santa Cruz. High up in the sandhills, the place is home to over 150 low-water/sustainable trees and shrubs, Boldt reckons, including at least 30 oaks. “First thing when we arrived was to handle a vast sea of goatherds.” One plant can extend as far as six to eight feet in diameter. And masses of the lovely, lavender silver leaf nightshade, too, greeted the couple. “It’s nothing but rhizomes, all visible,” pointed out Boldt.
Twenty years a painter/restorer of old wood houses, having bagged the notion of buying a house in Santa Cruz, Boldt and his teacher-wife, Amy, scuba-dived their way around the Caribbean, Bora Bora, Tahiti, Hawaii and Mexico on the down payment money they would not be using in California. Corrales popped up, as it often does when the right people come looking, and here the Boldts are. Fruit trees mostly on the north side of the property, along with a smallish fenced in vegetable garden, and oaks/maples/pine… So many oaks, so little time.
One of his go-to nurseries is Trees That Please in Los Lunas, which unsurprisingly specializes in trees native to New Mexico, as well as Plants of the Southwest on North Fourth. And Boldt never is happier than when he hauls home an ailing tree for cheap, and hovers over it, bringing it back to good health.
About those oaks — a few are evergreen, most are deciduous. Escarpment oak is long-lived tree is among the few broad-leafed evergreens seen in this area. According to 505outside.com “Quercus virginiana var. fusiformis (also known as Quercus fusiformis) is an excellent choice for a focal point in a small space or as part of a mixed planting for privacy or wind protection. Rough, dark brown bark and a gnarled form add to the character of this plant.”
Boldt’s list of deciduous oaks includes Texas red oak, Shumard, Chisos, Gambel, Wavyleaf, Vasey, Sandpaper oak, Mexican blue oak and Chinquapin, aka Chinkapin. Chinkapin is a drought-hardy oak that produces sweet, low-in-tannin acorns, and thrives in full sun. The Gambel oak, found throughout the Grand Canyon, as well as Chez Boldt, has leaves favored by deer, and also produces acorns enticing to squirrels. William Gambel, a 19th century naturalist from Philadelphia, collected assorted species in Santa Fe at age 18, including that of the oak. Gambel's quail, Callipepla gambelii, was his find in California.
Honey locusts and maples, too, are prized by Boldt, as are berry-bearing trees such as the serviceberry, also known as shadbush, shadwood or shadblow, or sarvisberry, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum, wild-plum or chuckley pear, “a genus of about 20 species of deciduous-leaved shrubs and small trees in the rose family,” as Wikipedia put it. Boldt thinks the berries resemble those of blueberry plants, and he and his birds enjoy them.
The twisty baby honey locust is a favorite, its limbs twisty indeed, a shrub which loves sand, hot sun, and can indeed be grown in a pot, though Boldt has not chosen that option. The smallish Shantung maple, oddly, likes shade, but also provides it, and its red leaves in fall resemble those of the Japanese maple. One nursery sweetly described the Shantung as “a happy tree enjoying life wherever it is placed.”
And pines! The familiar Austrian pine, which seems utterly at home in the high desert, as well as the politically utterly incorrectly dubbed “Fat Albert”spruce, Picea pungens, known for its short, wide stature. Also its blue needles. It’s a drought and deer-tolerant tree. The Bosnian pine may be another fine bet as it comes originally from mountainous areas and produces unusual blueish cones.
Another piney favorate is Vanderwolf’s Pyramid Limber Pine, indeed shaped like a pyramid, with “fine, long, dark, twisted, silvery, blue-green needles displayed on dense branches.” In and among the trees and shrubs are appropriate ground covers, including Color guard yucca, beaked yucca, and the very arid-loving Panchito manzanita, a low-growing evergreen. Along with multiple penstemons. And the mini “lawns.” Small spaces where blue grama and buffalo grass commingle. Nearby, a sandy space for horseshoes, pétanque, and/or bocce. Also oldish dogs snoozing in the shade.
Fruit trees? Boldt admits he finally turned to late-blooming fruit trees in order to head off the danger of the area’s often killing late frosts. “As late as possible!” His orchard includes Warren pear, Seckel pear, Golden delicious apple, honey crisp apple, gala apple, Satsuma plum, Santa Rosa plum, Stanley plum, contender peach, moorheim apricot, meteor and north star sour cherry, among the list.
Fruit and fruit-bearing trees get the most water, along with the vegetables, and Boldt tends to go easy on many of his other plantings. As he put it, “I tend to starve the trees a little bit.” The entire acre is laced with surface drip irrigation, which does the job.
No wonder word fairly quickly went out around the village that the Boldt guy, an accomplished potter since he did his BFA at the University of Illinois/Champaign, did in fact know trees/shrubs/and ground cover, knew them in a sandhill way, and people connected with the Corrales Garden Tour wanted his acre on their roster. He, on the other hand, has been fine with the notion of waiting —no tour underway in 2020 or 2021, thanks to the pandemic. Because he wants his flock to be taller, maybe fuller, before it goes on display.
Meanwhile, potter as well as a native tree landscaper/irrigator and pruner, Boldt muses on what might have been had he focused on metal sculpting instead of pot throwing. His garden is filled with amusing, sometimes mobile metal critters. And the pottery business is becoming more and more costly as the price of packing and shipping his larger products soars. “A $70 item shipped for $35?”
Plus, pre-COVID, he was working on a major pottery order to fill, comprised of large and small plates, among other dining items, and he left a line of plates on a shelf to dry, or cure. On re-entering his studio he noticed what appeared to be bites taken out of the edges of the carefully crafted plates. Mice bites, apparently.
He took care of the problem, of course. And continues to contemplate metal. And, he is for hire if you need a planting consult, assistance with pruning or irrigation, even construction assistance. He can be reached by calling 433-8780. Meantime, keep in mind during this month of Earth Days the power of trees to absorb carbon dioxide, that cause climate change; to clean the air we breathe by removing particulate matter; to give homes to critters; to cool us down by providing shade; and, as forests, to remove pollutants from rainfall.