Summer has always been synonymous with outside to a certain set, but with outdoor seating and hanging out also in vogue for public health, this could be the year that Santa Feans get more out of their patios.

Wendy Wilson, president of the Santa Fe Extension Master Gardeners, says doing so will make outdoor spaces a haven for more than just human companions. One easy way to start, she says, is with a few simple sunflowers.

“It is the number one flower for bringing in butterflies and moths, and what that does is it provides food for the birds’ hatchlings...You just get this wonderful web of plants, and birds and butterflies and bees and all the things we want in our yard,” she says.

Plant sunflower seeds when you can feel the warmth of the soil through your pants as you kneel on it—or, right about now. Most varieties will drop enough seeds to return “volunteers” next year nearby.

Feeling like a bigger commitment? “Your best bet is to install native plants and trees and to make your yard hospitable to insects,” Wilson says. Those could include shrubs such as apache plume, barberry, chamisa or even serviceberry, which is a small tree, perfect for some shade. Wilson also suggests incorporating food along with flowers—a tomato plant next to the agastache and a chile pepper in the shade of the rose bush. It’s not too late to start any of them in early June, especially given this year’s cold spring. (And hummingbirds like the tubal flowers as much or more than the artificial red of a feeder.)

Members Wilson’s group take seriously their mission to provide “current research-based horticultural information to the public through ­education and outreach, promoting horticultural best management practices, sustainability and environmental initiatives‚” from New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service through an annual internship program. They’re also on hand to offer one-on-one advice at “Ask a Master Gardener” tables throughout the spring and summer on Saturday mornings at Newman’s and Payne’s nurseries, the Railyard Farmers Market, the Reunity Farm in Agua Fría and other locations. Though the trained volunteers most often work on community spaces such as parks and historic gardens, they are also increasing the focus on private spaces with the coming launch of a backyard certification program aimed at encouraging native plants and wise water use. A spinoff called Friends of SFMGA helps support new endeavors.

It’s been a tough go for the group, Wilson says, and members are looking forward to caring for neglected plants and each other.

“With COVID last year, just from a physical point of view, a lot of our projects really were kept just barely maintained because we could only have five people working at a time.That is something we are really working to remediate, get things mulched, weeded, plants replaced,” she says. “I think the bigger concern though is we just need to reconnect with each other. It has been very difficult to try to run an organization of gardeners, who just want to have their hands in the soil, by Zoom and email connections. Every time I am out at the projects this spring, people are just so darn excited to be there and talking gardening and doing gardening.”

Not in the mood for getting your hands dirty, but want to get into some plant habitat? Visit the Randall Davey Audubon Center at the end of Upper Canyon Road and take a short stroll through two gardens the group maintains, one focused on native plants and one intended to attract maximum pollinators. On the Southside, check out the cactus demo garden at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds.


Top Ten Perennials for Your Santa Fe Patio

  • Sunflowers
  • Rocky Mountain bee plant
  • Goldenrod
  • Coneflower
  • Asters
  • Yucca
  • Penstemon
  • Switchgrass
  • Bluestem grass
  • Geranium
  • Flax
  • False indigo
  • Yarrow