Saturday, July 31, 2010

Please Turn Out the Lights

Forget about drought, erosion, and Global Warming. In my opinion the real danger challenging the beauty of the Tallgrass Prairie is of Light Pollution, otherwise known as photopollution or luminous pollution.

A mere 14 years ago, when we first bought the land our current house sits on, just outside the Manhattan city limits, my son and I used to just sit and be amazed at the explosion of stars across the night sky of the prairie.  Beautiful and vibrant, it was and is the most obvious evidence of God's existence available to us. 

These days, the stars are dim in that same sky.  Despite the growth of Manhattan in directions away from us, it seems like the big city lights are growing in number at the exponential rate of a bacterial culture in unlimited fresh media.  That glow of Manhattan, a small city in reality, can now be seen more than 10 miles away on a clear night, interfering with star-gazers, lovers on country roads, and all the other higher aspirations of man. Park lights, University lights, Stadium lights, and Commercial Retail lights stay on to the wee hours of the morning, every morning. There's now a street light shining continuously on almost every corner including minor intersections in unpopulated areas, undoubtedly paid for by our increasingly-limited tax dollars and causing me to wake up in the wee hours thinking dawn has arrived. 

Even worse, I've noticed the indoor proliferation of lights all over my house from the now ubiquitous Light-Emitting Diode (LED) on every appliance large and small.  In our bedroom, a sacred, quiet dark place for this old farm boy, there are still no less than 8 LEDs shining every night in the semi-darkness from the TV, radio, mobile phone, charging cords, and other little electronic devices.  Why, I ask you, does the Visio TV in my bedroom need to have a light that comes ON when I turn the TV off?  I don't care if each LED uses a minuscule small amount of energy, billions of them still have to add up to something.  Most alarmingly, the suppression of melatonin by exposure to light at night has even been suggested as a cause for the higher rates of breast and colorectal cancers in the developed world (Pauley SM, Medical Hypotheses, 2004;63:588).  I don't want my tombstone to say "He Saw The Light And Died."   

I'm happy to debate with wild-eyed Al Gore followers whether Global Warming exists (which I question because I am old enough to remember the doomsday cries of pending Global Cooling in the 70's), but I will concede in an instant that I'd also be happy to do without all the artificial night light if the corresponding drop in energy use would help decrease the chances of Warming. For those who care, there is an International Dark Sky Association (, founded in 1988.

I plead with you to turn off the lights. Let the fireflies and stars take back their dominance in the night. We don't need the light to fend off the evil beasts any longer.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Griffith Buck Roses for the Midwest

With all the hype about and garden center proliferation of the English roses produced by David Austin, I must confess that I'm still not a big fan.  I've grown 'The Dark Lady' and 'Heritage' for a number of years, and the past couple of years I've added 'Mary Rose', 'Windemere', 'Benjamin Britten', 'Golden Celebration', and most recently, 'Lady Emma Hamilton', but I'm not very excited about most of them.  Okay, if I'm stuck in a thumb-screw press, 'Heritage' is a very nice blush pink and 'Golden Celebration', a bright yellow-orange, is probably my favorite performer.  But none of them just strike me as a "Well bust my buttons!" kind of rose.

'Prairie Harvest'
Ask me however, what performs best in my climate and I'd tell you that it's the group of roses bred by the late Dr. Griffith Buck.  Professor Buck was an Iowa State University horticulturist who hybridized about 90 roses varieties, most of which were released to commerce by his wife and daughter after his death in 1991.  Dr. Buck set out to develop roses that were cane-hardy to Zone 4 and which required minimal care in the landscape.  Proof of his success in that regard came from another University program, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Earth-Kind® Rose Program with the naming of the Buck cultivar 'Carefree Beauty' as the 2006 Earth-Kind Rose® of the Year.  I grow a great number of the Buck cultivars, including 'Earthsong', 'Prairie Harvest', 'Prairie Star', 'Applejack', 'Country Dancer', 'Pearlie Mae', 'Polonaise', 'Hawkeye Belle', 'Griff's Red', and 'Winter Sunset' along with 'Carefree Beauty'.   All of these are great roses for my area, most of them cane-hardy and disease-resistant, but I've got to give a special shout out to 'Earthsong', a fuchsia-pink that does well both in my garden and at the KSU Rose Garden, and to 'Prairie Harvest', a light yellow Hybrid Tea that has the most perfect light-green foliage of any rose I grow.

Many of the Buck roses are available from Internet sources such as Heirloom Old Garden Roses (, but you also run across them in the most unlikely places if you know what you're looking for.  I ran across a rare Buck rose, 'Freckles', at a Hy-Vee Grocery Store two hours from home, thought that the name sounded familiar and took a $10.00 chance on it, and ended up with my favorite Buck rose of all.  'Freckles',  is now a three-year old, three foot tall rose in my garden and it has light-pink blooms speckled (as its name suggests) with darker wine spots.  As a single bloom, and as you can see on the right, a rose that comes closer to perfection than any other of the 100+ rose cultivars I grow.   

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why'd it have to be snakes?

One thing about it for sure; there are certainly snakes on the Flint Hills prairie.  As a general rule, I don't mind snakes, but I don't appreciate it when they fail to calmly announce their presence in my vicinity.  In my garden, they have a tendency to appear suddenly near my ankles. During the next few seconds after these encounters, when I’ve spontaneously broken the Olympic and World Records for the high jump, with my legs churning frantically to gain traction from the air, and while the snake is making all haste to head in an opposite direction, I realize what I’ve seen and ascertain whether or not it was a real threat and start becoming curious about it instead of scared. At heart, I'm a collector and cataloguer and I like to know what species share my garden with me.

The snakes in my vicinity are a gregarious group, and luckily, although there are a number of poisonous snakes listed as possibly present in my area, in ten years of living here I've only seen (or heard) the non-poisonous ones.  I worry about rattlesnakes alot, though, particularly since a great local reference, Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas by Joseph T. Collins, makes a point of saying that "No one should rely on any rattlesnake to warn them by rattling, since many rattlesnakes never rattle until stepped on or otherwise molested."  Thanks a whole lot, Joseph, I've slept well ever since hearing that information.

The beauty pictured at the right is a Common Garter Snake that I found when I was moving a rose bush.  This cheeky fellow was biting at my shovel as I attempted to get underneath the bush.  He later apologized and became a frequent bystander as I did other gardening chores, slithering up to give his unsolicited opinion as I watered, mulched, or weeded.  I finally learned not to jump in panic if I saw orange and movement in my peripheral vision and the snake did his part by never again biting at my shovel.   I believe the same snake lived in the garden for three years, although I don't know where he takes his winter vacations to, but this season I've only seen offspring, so the patriarch may have moved on where his opinions were more valued. 

August Doldrums

Here in the Flint Hills, my gardening efforts dwindle off in July and August as the sun and heat build and chase me inside. The garden doesn't die off during this period, it just carries on without the gardener for a period of time while the gardener swallows the bitter pill of survival instinct and chooses wisely to remain indoors. Somewhere out there, however, beyond the window panes, the garden blooms madly on without me. Daylilies are a popular plant here, and an excellent choice they are for Kansas. They start to bloom just as the gardener begins to wilt in early July and they remain at full force throughout July and into August in most years, carrying the garden through the long hot summer days. My gardening efforts for the past few weeks of 95+ degree temperatures have been confined to weekly mowing duties, quick darts out in the early morning hours to keep the crabgrass from becoming a groundcover in the garden beds, and an occasional watering expedition where I consume more water trying to keep myself hydrated than I ultimately sprinkle onto the young plants. I've watched from the windows as the daylilies have thrived and bloomed and sent their masses of yellow, orange and red hues across the yard. Some garden authors, such as the titillating Cassandra Danz, have noted that most daylilies described as peach, apricot, and cantaloupe still look mostly orange from a distance, but my garden has been saved from orange monotony because of my weakness for purple, white, and red daylilies. At the annual Flint Hills Daylily Society sale, I've made it a habit to avoid the "orange" tables and seek out the spiders, the reblooming pinks, large whites, and the true red self daylilies. Rather than an orange blend, I try to optimistically believe that my daylily beds are a tapestry of colors for a connoisseur’s palate.

Now, as August is closing in, the daylilies are starting to fade. Some will go on, but the continuing solo blossoms of 'Happy Returns' and 'Stella de Oros' just don't have the impact that the full choir of Hemerocallis in mass provides in July. The foliage will dry up, the scapes will become brittle, and the seed pods of some varieties will rupture and spill onto the ground. And I will miss their cheerfulness for another year.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

To My Readers; The Beginning

I owe an explanation to readers who have found this blog and are wondering what on earth ever possessed me to begin it:

Once upon a time there was a poor, young (in spirit) veterinary surgeon who gardened and also had a hankering to write and so he wrote about the subject that fueled his passions and occupied his leisure time: Gardening. And lo, this gardening writer lived, gardened and wrote in the Flint Hills of Kansas and he was mightily tested and tried by the land, sun and sky, and he had many weather events and dead plants to write about such as the snow-covered lilacs on the picture to the right. So eventually there came a book, whimsically titled "Garden Musings: Essays on Gardening and Life from the Kansas Flint Hills." And the book was published by and it was available on and and he believed that it was good. And the readers and friends of the writer laughed with him and laughed at him and for a time he found contentment in his trials. But the writing lacked pictures to go along with the text and the writer missed interacting with his readers and so, on the sixth day, he created THE BLOG so that he might illustrate his thoughts with his own photos and that he might gain feedback far and wide from the critics.

For those who enjoy this blog, the book that started it all can be sampled and ordered from, where you also may directly contact me for autographed copies if desired. I'm fast in the midst of a 2nd book, at present titled More Garden Musings, so watch for it to be published in early 2011.

Happy Gardening to all: ProfessorRoush 7/28/10


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