Sunday, March 4, 2018

Spring Insanity

ProfessorRoush is on a fool's errand, a foolhardy full court press, plunging beneath the alternating waves of winter and spring to create emerald legumes from ecru.  I never plant peas before March 15th, long habit acquired in the climate of my youth, strictly followed and enforced by the wisdom of generations of my ancestors.  Peas and potatoes on the Ides of March.  A day reserved for celebration of the full moon, settlement of past debts, and slaying Emperors in the Senate. 

This year however, I'm listening to the experts and I planted peas on March 3rd.  According to the Kansas State Extension, garden peas are best planted just after the soil turns 40º, and I'd seen bulletins indicating the soil was already that warm.  Knowing that my main pea problem for years has been poor germination and weather that turns hot far too rapidly in Kansas, I resolved to follow science and cast aside superstition just this once.  I whipped out my trusty, long-suffering soil thermometer and plodded to the garden in the midst of a brisk wind yesterday, to find the soil already 45º and rising.  I'm pretty sure it was still frozen solid just last week, but I nonetheless planted both 'Little Marvel' and 'Early Perfection'.  Besides, this year the full moon was on March 1st, a so-labeled worm moon welcoming earthworms back from their deep underground slumber, and although science may lead me astray from my hallowed farming roots, as long as the moon cycle follows along, I might as well take a chance, right?

So, into the cold ground went the peas.  If science is wrong, I've wasted $2.88 and I'll have to replant in late March.  But I can hardly do worse than my usual pea harvest.  It is a bit strange to be planting peas early this year, particularly because every other indicator I have says that spring will be late.  There are no peonies pushing through the crust at all yet, no snow crocus blooming, and the forsythia buds are still tight in contrast to years that I've seen them bloom as early as March 6th.

In other news, despite the northbound gale sweeping across the prairies, I welcomed the 70º temps that accompanied it and I cleared the debris out of the landscape beds in the north-facing front of the house, able to pile dead perennials and leaves and load them up as long as I stayed in the wind shadow of the house.   In the process, in a change of temperament, I blessed, just this once, the rabbit that has plagued my garden all winter, The entire front landscaping, under the perennial debris, is covered with rabbit feces, an unexpected beneficial repayment for non-intentionally feeding the long-eared rodent with twigs and bark all winter.   The mementos this rabbit left behind are almost worth the bare stems and damaged shrubs.

Last of all, I trimmed my first rose of the season yesterday, this 'Heritage' that so brightens my day with continual bloom and pink elegance.  With each careful cut of the pruners, I felt younger, brighter, and more hopeful, winter melting to warm spring in my veins.  What a wonderful feeling to feel the dirt and do some good honest labor for a few hours, awakening old muscles and senses to earthy joy.     

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Deer Gardens

The intrepid Bella jumped from our bed and ran into the sunroom yesterday around 6:45 a.m. and started barking madly.  When I crawled out bleary-eyed but prepared to defend home against marauder or monster, I found her perched on the back of the couch, back and nose and tail straight as an arrow pointing to the danger.  How does a beagle/border collie learn to point?  Beats me.

How many deer do you see in the photo above?  Two?  Three?  Look carefully.   As you can see at the right, there were actually four deer around (okay, there were only three in the first picture).   The large bush that the nearest deer is so avidly feeding upon is my two year old Salix caprea ‘Curly Locks’, the white French Pussy Willow.  I hope it left a few buds for ProfessorRoush to enjoy next month, once winter breaks from its current ice-locked cycle.  I'm tired of winter.

Tired too of the posers, those deer who try to justify their garden meals by allowing me a still picture of their exquisite form.  Just go away, girls.  Go have your spring fawns and leave my garden alone.  To be truthful, I don't think they do that much damage, and my really juicy shrubs, such as most of the magnolias and my ain't-Red HorseChestnut, are behind fencing anyway.  Man learns to adapt from the incursions of nature, even though adapting means that I view my garden in winter through that same wire fencing.

I did notice, last weekend, the damage shown on the base of this Hibicus syriacus ‘America Irene Scott’, which sits right beside the Pussy Willow.  At the time, I attributed it to a hungry rabbit or rodent, but now I'm wondering.  Is it time to defend more fervently against all enemies, hopping rodents or doey-eyed villains alike?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Rose Rustlers

Surfing Amazon at the end of last year (okay, looking for ways to spend Christmas money on Amazon), I was surprised and excited to find this recent (2017) publication by Greg Grant and William Welch.  I clicked it straight into my shopping cart and ordered it, anticipating an interesting history of rose rustling from the perspectives of the rustlers themselves.  Something preferably as enjoyable as one of my favorite reads, the 1989 page-turner In Search of Lost Roses, by Thomas Christopher.  Has it really been nearly 30 years since the latter was written?

What I got, in The Rose Rustlers, was indeed an interesting historical outlook on the criminal rose enterprises of Texans that lead ultimately to the foundation of the Antique Rose Emporium, but after the first couple of chapters, it was not quite the engaging read I was looking for.  I suppose I'm just being too picky, and I'm biased by my preference for gardening essays that are more about the philosophy and lifestyle of gardening than the practice of gardening.  The quality of the photographs and detail of the book were fabulous, but it was a struggle to get all the way through.  The book did start out well, with chapters on Noted Rose Rustlers, Bill Welch himself, The Texas Rose Rustler organization, and the Antique Rose Emporium, but then it bogged down, for me, into a number of chapters on the favorite roses of the authors and their rose gardens themselves.  These would have been okay if the roses were unknown to me, but many are old friends and I didn't learn much in the remainder of the book that was helpful.  Particularly not much in light of my need to stay with Rugosas here on my home ground while I fight the losing battle against Rose Rosette Disease.

Spend money, if you want, on this book for the great photography, numerous examples of roses in the landscape, or the history behind the movement of rose rustling.  But if you want a nice fireside read, one more difficult to put down and be distracted away from, then pick up a copy of In Search of Lost Roses instead.  Sorry, but as I'm happy to disclose, my favorite gardening books are still mostly essays;  Thomas Christopher as mentioned, Michael Pollan (Second Nature), Henry Mitchell (any of his works), Sydney Eddison (A Passion for Daylilies), Mirabel Osler (A Breath from Elsewhere), Allen Lacy, or Beverley Nichols.  These are the classics that keep me thinking of spring gardens while in winter's grasp.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Fake Blogs in Winter

There is, in my mind, no sustaining solace in the drab brown of a Flint Hills' winter.  Oh, I could ramble about for a few paragraphs extolling the virtues of the subtle hues of amber and gold and taupe in my winter landscape, but then that would be "Fake Blogging."  Just as "Fake News" has joined the lexicon of our political debates, "Fake Blogs" should be called for what they are; ill-conceived attempts to paint pictures that don't really exist.  Fake blogs wax eloquent the delicate beauties of bark when there are no flowers or foliage to distinguish one ice-laden tree from another.  Fake blogs discuss the delicate dancing of grasses as a blizzard bears down and smothers the garden.  Fake blogs pretend that browsing glossy garden catalogs is a suitable substitute for the feel of warm earth in your hands. 

I wait in January, interminably it seems, for the smallest, briefest indication that Spring is coming.  A flash of blue from a bluebird, a hint of green in the rushes, and my heart beats faster and my spirits lift.  Difficult to find, those moments, as Yoda would say.  When the snow melts, there is a brief period on the prairie when the grasses have enough remaining moisture to display their mahogany and umber undertones.  Then dry in a twinkling, the rolling hills of brown stretch to the horizon, dead grasses blending individual hues to a bland carpet of boring.  Life is color, death is drab.

Last week, when the weather teased me with warm sunshine and clear air, I strolled during lunch to the K-State Gardens, seeking signs of Spring.  I wanted only a brief glimpse of a timid peony breaking through the ground, or the slightest sight of  a subterranean squill squeezing through the frozen crust.  My desires, like a foundering ship against the shore, dashed by the dry remnants of dead perennials, the only bright spot, Bittersweet, both in name and in spirit, as pictured above.  Russet sumac berries failed to break the brown monotony and puce coralberries merely blended into the bleakness.  I left, back to work in walled confines, to wait further, sullen and sad.

Thank God, in such moments, for Bittersweet and Fake Blogs. 


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