Issue: May 5, 2007

New Mexico verbena in literature - Watering when it is raining


I have a query. For several years, I have been an admirer of Willa Cather, the great American novelist. In one of her books, 'Death Comes For the Archbishop', she describes how Archbishop Latour has an entire hillside planted with native Verbena because of its color.

What verbena cultivar would that be, please? I have done some research on the web, but cannot get a specific answer. So I thought about asking you as the major specialists in New Mexico.

Jennie MacL.
From NMSU website


The verbena in the book about Archbishop Latour is probably a native plant, Verbena wrightii (now properly called (Glandularia bipinnatifida var. ciliata). There are other species of verbena, but this species is a common native wildflower in New Mexico. Its native range includes Santa Fe where the Archbishop would have lived. Many species and cultivars of verbena are readily available in nurseries, but this species of verbena is more difficult to find. However, they are advertised on the websites of several Southwestern nurseries.

It is interesting to consider a garden based on historical and fictional accounts of the Southwest. Verbena is a plant that is attractive and flowers over a long season (spring through summer). There are many other native and historically relevant plants that could be grown in Southwestern gardens. Such plants are usually able to survive on limited precipitation and are good water conservative landscape plants. Besides creating a historical theme garden, they help create a water conservative garden.

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I'm new here, but it seems strange to me that with all the rain we have had recently, people are still watering their landscapes. Aren't they wasting water?


The rains have been inconsistent over the state and even over relatively small geographic areas, so some people may actually need to irrigate. However, people often irrigate without knowing if it is truly needed. If so, they are wasting a limited resource, water.

To determine if water is needed, first let the plants indicate that they need water by their own signs. If leaves are curling, wilting, changing from glossy to dull, or otherwise giving evidence of water deficit, water them. This works best for herbaceous plants. Probing the soil to see how deeply the soil is moistened after a rain is a good technique to see if shrubs and trees have received enough water. Soil should be moist to a depth of 1 to 3 feet depending on the plants growing in that area.

To further conserve water in the home landscape, there are sensors that can be placed in the soil to override automatic irrigation systems when the soil is adequately moist. There are also rain sensors that stop an irrigation cycle if it is raining when irrigation would occur. If these are used properly, water will be saved and the landscape will not suffer. Water conservation is an important responsibility of all Southwestern gardeners.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!