The veil of winter begins to lift from the Land of Enchantment in February, when southern New Mexico’s desert wildflowers and planted gardens start to unleash a palette of vibrant hues. As the season traipses north, peak blooms reach central and northern New Mexico in April and May. Even if cool, windy weather lingers, the occasional pop of wildflowers, bulbs, and other flowering trees brightens the landscape. Here are six places across the state to take in bright blooms this season.
1. Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument, Las Cruces
In years with solid fall and winter rainfall, the Organ Mountains’ western slopes are painted with poppies in March and April. The foothills of Baylor Canyon Pass and the Aguirre Spring area are two accessible places to see the flush of orange, yellow, and, sometimes, white Mexican poppies. A mid-morning walk will get you there just as the poppies are opening their cheery faces to the sun. Though the poppies’ blazing blanket will demand your attention, you might also spot other wildflowers, such as evening primrose, scorpionweed, or desert onion, with its tight bunches of star-like white flowers striped with maroon.
2. Hondo Iris Farm and Gallery
Alice Seely’s love affair with irises began when she was 16 years old. Her grandmother took her to see a hybridized iris, whose ruffly dusky, salmon petals cinched Seely’s 60-year passion for this variety of spring flower. Nearly two decades ago, when Seely and her husband were driving through Kansas, they spotted an iris farm and decided to start one of their own. They opened the gates to their 2.5-acre Hondo Iris Farm in 2002. Set in the lush Hondo Valley, 27 miles west of Ruidoso off US Highway 70, the farm grows around 600 iris varieties. Seely sells different iris varieties each year, usually some 90 types a season—from the maroon and orange top-hatted Supreme Sultan, to the royal purple Titan’s Glory. The farm opens its gates to visitors who want to see the flowers—May is peak bloom—as well as shop; however, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Seely asks visitors this year to make an appointment, arrive in small groups, and wear masks.
3. ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden, Albuquerque
Spring begins to blossom at the ABQ BioPark Botanical Garden in late February, when early seasonal blossoms like yellow daffodils and moody helleborus begin to shoot up. By March, flowering bulbs— tulips, in particular—are enjoying their time in the spotlight. Maria Thomas, curator of plants, says that depending on the year, in March or April the flowering cherries, magnolias, and crab apples will put on a big show. The latter month is prime time to visit for multiple blossoms. “In early April, the entire garden is in complete bloom, even if it’s not the high color of summer,” she says. In the High Desert Rose Garden, the climbing roses are opening and the peonies are exploding. “There’s really something to find everywhere and something different to see around every corner,” Thomas says. Although the indoor spaces—such as the Mediterranean Conservatory—have shuttered during COVID-19 restrictions, the botanical garden grounds have remained relatively open to visitors.
4. Albuquerque Rose Garden
Albuquerque Rose Society volunteers maintain the Duke City’s largest and oldest rose garden. Established in 1962, the garden includes more than 1,200 roses, many of which begin to bloom in late April and early May. Wander the garden paths outside the Tony Hillerman Library to see unusual varieties such as the dark-red hybrid Mr. Lincoln, one of the few roses named after a president; the tiny yellow buds of Lady Banks’ rose, which is native to central and western China; and Harison’s Yellow, a.k.a. the Yellow Rose of Texas. Most of the blooms are spent by June, though a second bloom during high summer (August) is equally spectacular.
5. Santa Fe Botanical Garden
“In March, plants are just waking up in our high-altitude garden,” says head gardener Linda Churchill. If the garden escapes a freeze, visitors will find apricot trees blooming then, as well as several native shrubs such as ‘Panchito’ Manzanita and three-leaf sumac. Their “blooms usually are noted as ‘inconspicuous’ to our human eyes, but they are very important to the early-season pollinators, such as bumblebees,” Churchill says. April is a glorious garden month for flowering trees, including plums, pears, apples, and peaches, whose delicate blossoms also cast fragrance over the paths. Two deep-pink blooming crab apple varieties also catch visitors’ eyes from mid- to late-April. “The garden really begins to flush with flowers in May,” Churchill says. Blue groundcover veronicas and pink thymes carpet the main trail’s edges and run under the feet of the budding roses. Not to be outdone, the native plants join the bloom, with the first penstemons, sundrops, and wild buckwheats dazzling the gardens with bright colors that herald the coming summer.
6. Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, Carlsbad
Beginning in late February, this state park often boasts natural Chihuahuan Desert blooms. Although the wildflowers are more muted than vibrant poppies and colorful bulbs, they’re no less eye-catching against the brown backdrop that marks a New Mexico winter. Living Desert has several hundred varieties of cacti and native plants. By March, the Mexican buckeyes, with their delicate pink flowers, are usually blooming. April brings prickly pear cactus blossoms in shades of coral, yellow, and pink. In May, the desert willows, sages, and penstemons add bursts of color along the mile-long trail that wends through the park to flora and fauna exhibits.
Ashley M. Biggers is a freelance journalist and editor based in Albuquerque. Her writing has appeared in numerous print and digital publications, including CNN Travel, Lonely Planet, and Self.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.