PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Old Gardens

In the last few months, at least three popular magazines have showcased Monticello, Jefferson's Virginia plantation. As someone married to a Virginia boy, I've visited Monticello several times, falling in love with it each time; it's an important part of our nation's history, it's beautiful in it's own right, and the vegetable gardens are an inspiration. But we have a little known piece of history right here in New Mexico, that is equally deserving of a little publicity.

A generation before Jefferson leveled his mountaintop, the first buildings were going up at El Rancho de las Golandrinas here in New Mexico. Just south of Santa Fe, the ranch of the swallows became an important way station, a paraje, along the Camino Real, and today is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Like Monticello, it's a beautiful place to visit, the only living history museum in the state, and the Fall Harvest Festival is one of the best times to go.

Fall blooming chamisa in front of the arbor
 Re-enactors skillfully recreate the day to day activities of Spanish New Mexicans in the early 1700's. Tortillas are baked in hornos, wool is washed with yucca soap, the smithy is full of sound and fury, ladies in sweeping skirts thunder by on silver decked horses. The original buildings of the ranch were restored and the site opened as a museum in 1972. Other historic buildings have been relocated to Las Golandrinas, and add to the fullness of the experience.

the grain mill
Water made Las Golandrinas possible, the springs still flowing today with enough strength to power a grain mill, one of the most fascinating parts of the visit. A smaller mill is new since our last visit, and held the kids in thrall, as wheat dropped onto the mill stone and emerged as flour.

the acequia
the mill pond
 Some of the oldest still functioning acequias, irrigation ditches, are here still carrying water to the mills and the fields where pumpkins, millet and other crops were being harvested.

The grains were prepared as they would have been in the 18th century; enormous round loaves of bread came out of cast iron cauldrons suspended over wood fires. They smelled wonderful, and the men dressed up in soldiers' uniforms were obviously enjoying their lunches.

There are orchards here too, and children lined up to press apples for cider. We had to pull our grandson away from this one, after he enthusiastically began testing the 'samples.' A vineyard offers grapes, and smaller kids got to climb into a little 'foot powered' press. The boy declined, but our granddaughter loved it. No samples of the wine, though.

The cider press

Feeding hungry soldiers

the herbalist
The dye pot

Herbs and native plants were vitally important to the early Spanish, and were used as seasonings, dyes, and medicines. There were a number of activities showing how they were used. Ladies in the hot sun in the church courtyard spun and embroidered, others prepared dyes and dipped wool yarns that dryed to vibrant colors.

In the afternoon, dancers and musicians entertained the crowds with  Spanish folk dances and colorful, twirling costumes, one more example of the unique cultural heritage of New Mexico.

It was a beautiful October day, sunny and breezy, towering trees taking on their autumn colors and giving blessed shade, flowing water never far away. It's easy to see what made New Mexico so attractive to our earliest colonists, and what makes it 'enchanted' even today.

Yarns dyed with cocchineal


  1. Fascinating! I have a niece who has fallen for New Mexico.

  2. Thought it would be dreary after the lushness of Florida, but love it.