A Flower is More Than a Flower

Photograph by Carlyn Stewart. Photograph by Carlyn Stewart.
By C.L. Kieffer

When you walk the Los Luceros Historic Site property, the apple orchard is impossible to miss, and many understand the orchard has been here a long time—even if there are no signs to tell them it dates back to the mid-1700s, when it was Sebastian Martin’s ranch. We at New Mexico Historic Sites know that sometimes signs and labels distract from the natural beauty, so we invite guests to dive deeper with guided tours and supplemental reading about the different historic sites throughout the state. However, the interpretation and presentation to guests don’t always come out as we plan when we visit New Mexico’s historic sites.

As I planned the Los Luceros West Garden’s beds this season, I reviewed the list of flowers that Frank Cabot had grown in these beds to convey his vision. I reviewed the historical changes to the gardens to envision what previous owners wanted by way of flow and experience. I restrain myself from planting the vegetables I want, because they are not part of the interpretive plan. But while the West Garden was primarily used for flowers, I think about what would have been planted through time by all the individuals who have called this place home. Their story deserves to be told, too, in addition to the flowers of one specific period.

As the thunder clouds loomed overhead, my brain clouded with questions and self-doubt. Will a child feel free to explore this path I made for them through the blue corn? Am I planting the corn too late? I become critical of the placement of every seed. I exhale. I remind myself that the local farmer I purchased the beans from was excited I planned to plant them at Los Luceros. His story and the stories of the many generations of farmers in Northern New Mexico are the stories the seeds will quietly tell. I remind myself that not every story can be told at once. I remind myself that interpreting with flowers and plants is not sterile and controlled. It’s in nature’s hands, not just mine.

C. L. Kieffer, PhD is the historic preservation and interpretation specialist with New Mexico Historic Sites and adjunct assistant professor (LAT) in the Anthropology Department at the University of New Mexico.