Friday, April 29, 2011

Lilac Weeks

Lilac 'Annabel'
It has been lilac time for about 3 weeks total around the place, with the 7 lilacs that surround my garage pad scenting the air now through the entire garden and other more peripheral lilacs in the garden starting to add  their fragrance.  I take full advantage of the lilac tolerance for the alkaline Flint Hills soil and the blistering Kansas winds.  My lilac year really began a few weeks back with soft-pink Annabel, a S. hyacinthiflora hybrid right next to the steps leading out to the back.  'Annabel' is very lady-like in form and never suckers. 









 
 Lilac 'Maiden's Blush'

The main flush of lilacs then follows, with my S. hyacinthiflora that isn't, 'Maiden's Blush' next. 'Maiden's Blush' should be a blush pink lilac, but looks closer to blue to my eyes, so I'm not sure that my bush was labeled correctly.  It has to be a hybrid of some sort, though, because it flowers much more delicately and prolifically than the species S. vulgaris next to it.














Lilac 'Sensation'
The Syringa vulgaris cultivars are next in line to bloom, with 'Nadezhda', picotee-form 'Sensation', 'Wonderblue', and, of course, 'Yankee Doodle' piping up in the mix.   The S. vulgaris types are all grouped into the "French" lilac category, and it for some reason tickles me that "French" and the species name vulgaris are tied together.  S. vulgaris is native to the Balkans, but the species became connected to the French by the breeder Victor Lemoine, whose over 100 cultivars from the late 1800's and early 1900's are known as  "French Lilacs".










 
Lilac 'Nadzehda'

Nadezhda' is a soft lilac-blue S. vulgaris bred in Russia. The name means "Hope," presumably in Russian or some dialect.  He was bred by Leonid Alekseevitch Kolesnikov, a WWII veteran in the years after the war, supposedly the best of the seedlings from this man who only wanted Moscow to be a peaceful city with streets decorated by lilacs.  'Nadezhda' is very hardy and disease resistant.






Lilac 'Wonderblue'
Soft powder-blue 'Wonderblue', also known as 'Little Boy Blue' is reputed to be the bluest of the lilacs and it certainly is in my garden.  Although it is hard for me to rate the intensity of scent of lilacs, since most of them overwhelm my nose, I'd have to say that 'Wonderblue' is also the strongest and sweetest scented of all my lilacs. I believe 'Wonderblue' has become my favorite.




 




  
Syringa vulgaris 'Yankee Doodle' is one of the darkest purples of all Lilacs and he shares the royal lineage of lilacs bred by Father John Fiala.  Fiala was an eminent scholar and plant breeder who produced a number of lilacs and crabapples and who literally wrote the encyclopedia on both species (Lilacs: The Genus Syringa and Flowering Crabapples: The Genus Malus were both authored by Fiala).  Unfortunately, be forewarned, if you google "Father John Fiala," you have to get past the news stories of a recent Catholic priest of that name who has been accused of rape and other indecencies.  'Yankee Doodle' has single florets of strong substance that persist a long time in the garden, particularly in the Kansas winds.





  
Lilac 'Josee'
Although I have a couple yet to bloom at all, including hybrid lilac 'Tinkerbelle', bringing up the rear right now is the first repeat-blooming lilac 'Josee', a three-way dwarf hybrid of S. meyeri, S. patula, and S. microphylla.  Unfortunately, pale-pink 'Josee', while beautiful, does not really rebloom in my garden.  Yes, you will see a few smaller florets pop up here and there throughout the summer, but they are sporadic and incidental in terms of garden impact, only good to allow the wistful gardener a chance to occasionally sample the scent of April in August.  I suppose that should be reward enough for growing her, but the gardener is ever demanding of his plants.

Trophy Weeding

A posting by Carol on here May Dreams Gardens blog here, suggesting that a dandelion she had pulled was at least a 4-pointer, got me to thinking that gardeners everywhere need a common scoring system to rate their weeding efforts.  After all, the Boone and Crockett Club has been scoring trophy bucks for decades, allowing armed vicious meat-hunters everywhere to compare and brag about the size of their.....uhmmm...antlers, so why shouldn't gardeners be able to compare their weed slaughter from region to region?  Think of the possibilities:  trophy presentations at monthly garden meetings and at national floral shows; record-winning specimens dry-mounted for home or office display; income-potential for gardeners selling weeding rights to prime weed growth areas; competitive teams of weeders vieing for world championships;  professional weeders with big money contracts for advertising endorsements of horticultural products.

Since I claim credit for the full-conception of the idea, I also feel responsible for creating the rating system for measurement.  I would therefore propose the following as the ProfessorRoush Official Weed Demise (PROWD) scoring system for domestic horticultural invaders:
 
A.  # of individual flowers/ flower buds on the weed at the time of soil extrication.
 
B.  Length of the longest point of the root system from soil level to tip, in centimeters.

C.  Overall mass of the weed (soil removed by washing) in avoirdupois ounces (28 grams/ounce).

D. Relative adverse environmental conditions during weed collection awarded from 0-10 points, with recent rain and 70F conditions scoring 0 and dry soil and 110F ambient temperatures receiving a score of 10.  If the gardener is actually dehydrated or suffering sunstroke at the time of weeding, a bonus of 5 points may be added.  If the gardener is actually hospitalized after collection, an additional bonus of 5 points is awarded.

E.  Relative removal completeness, scored on a scale of 0-10 points, with full roots and no breakage receiving a 10 score.  Subtract 2 points for ripping off a tap-rooted specimen at ground level.

F.  Use of mechanical devices for assistance are scored from 0-5 points with (-3) points awarded for rototillers and 5 points awarded if the weed was pulled bare-handed.  A ten-point bonus is awarded if pulled bare-handed and the weed causes contact dermatitis or has thorns.  Another ten-point bonus may be awarded if the weed was gathered in close proximity to a fire-ant nest or bumble-bee colony and the gardener was bitten or stung.

The guidelines above should be sufficient to establish records for individual species trophies. However, for comparison between species, the following category should also be assessed:

G. Relative invasiveness or reproductive potential of the species from 0-10 points, with government-recognized invasive species scoring 10, kudzu 25, Chameleon Plant (Houttuynia cordata) 50 and the common dayflower (Commelina communis) rating 100 points. Zero points are awarded for pulling up Lamb's Quarters during a rainstorm.

The competing gardener should note that careful attention to certain details during weed collection may increase total scores. Therefore, it is advisable to attempt to inflate scores by delaying the actual weed collection until the gardener is actually suffering delirium and muscle cramps, but such acts must be officially witnessed and attested to by a friend or spouse who told the gardener repeatedly what idiots they were. 

So, that's it, the ProfessorRoush Official Weed Demise (PROWD) scoring system.  On that scale, the above pictured dandelion collected on 4/22/11 would score 6+27+9+2+10+5= 59 PROWD points, presently a world record dandelion since it is also the only one entered in the official record book.

Additionally, since ProfessorRoush recognizes the deep competitiveness rampant among gardeners that leads some of them to acts of espionage and sabotage at Rose Exhibitions and Dahlia Shows, any claim for a record-setting specimen is disqualified if the gardener has made any attempt to fertilize or use growth stimulants on an individual weed, or to selectively breed weeds for size and invasiveness. Don't bother to deny it, I know some of you out there were already contemplating how to improve your entries.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Iris

Iris 'Rare Edition'
I was excited last night to see the first of my bearded irises blooming.  During my nightly walk around the garden, I spotted a single purple and white bloom shining up from near the growing peony foliage.  Irises really aren't my thing and I have trouble telling many of them apart since I've never really studied them, but I enjoy the color they add to the garden and I've come to appreciate both their bloom season and the nice fragrance many varieties have.  And the fact that they herald the rose season.









 'Rare Edition' is a purple-white Intermediate bearded iris that has always been the earliest of the irises in my garden (not including, of course, the Siberians).  He was hybridized in 1980 by  J. Gatty and stands about 18-20 inches tall in my garden.    








Iris 'Lemon Pop'
There may have been a single bloom yesterday evening, but the iris season isn't wasting any time.   By today, last night's single bloom has turned into a clump sprouting a number of blooms and another clump of 'Rare Edition' is blooming across the garden.  And another early Intermediate iris, 'Lemon Pop' has popped up a couple of blooms on its own.  'Lemon Pop' was a 1989 breeding effort by Lauer and this little shorty (16 inches tall) is scented with the sweetness of heaven.





By next week, the place is going to be packed with irises.  And soon after, the roses will strike and I'll be a happy gardener again. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Time Flies, Peonies Rise

Good gravy, I've been puttering along through Spring, thinking that I have been keeping up pretty well with the garden chores.  I've pruned shrubs and burnt prairie grass, planted onions and potatoes, divided perennials, and even sprayed the apple trees for cedar rust, but I almost missed an important chore.  Gardener's, please don't forget that your peonies need your support!

I've got approximately 40 different peonies (when did that happen?), which constitutes a full crapload of peonies (as opposed to a half crapload).  I don't provide supports for all my peonies, just the taller ones standing alone as specimens in their borders, or the larger ones prone to topple.  Paeonia tenuifolia, low-growing and already in bloom, doesn't need support.  And many of my peonies are confined in a defined area (the "peony bed," what else?) where they can mostly lean on each other.   But, in total, I counted 21 commercial support hoops hanging in my garage this weekend when they should have already been in place hovering over the peonies.  Over the peonies?  Around the peonies would be a better description. Those babies have really shot up over the past two weeks, with many beginning full bud and topping better than 2 feet!


 
So I rushed around yesterday and got the supports in place.  Thank God that I've purchased a number of those commercial hoops that have a hook-catch so you can place them around already established clumps, such as the one shown above.  Other peonies, not quite so tall, are lagging and so they got the "unsnapable" supports that they can grow up through like the one at the right.  And a few peonies are just going to have to do without this year because I used some of the smaller supports for a few "front-and-center" sedums that have a tendency to flop around and look flat in late summer when they should be standing tall and proudly the center of attention. 

It's like a country song.  "Mamas, don't let your peonies grow up to be flop-mops.  Don't feed'em to much or shade them too much, Let'em be beauties and cut flowers and such." (Apologies to Waylon).  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Surprise


As Easter, 2011 finally arrives here in this slow-starting Spring, I've been given a present in the garden to watch over.   A white sport appeared on my 'Sensation' Lilac this year amidst all the deep purple, white-edged blossoms. This year, the Equinox Gods must be rewarding my earlier offerings to the start of Spring.

I appreciate the gift, but I would feel more special about it if a quick search didn't reveal that white sports from 'Sensation' are not especially rare.  There are several pictures of these sports on the Internet, and indeed, a webpage about plant sports by Professor Janna Beckerman from Purdue University's Plant Diagnostic Lab included a white 'Sensation' sport as a common example.




'Sensation' Lilac
'Sensation', for those gardeners who aren't familiar with it, is a popular lilac in commerce and in gardens because of the unique purple and white look to the blossoms that is commonly described as a "picotee."  Picotee is derived from the word "picot," which is a series of small embroidered loops forming an ornamental edging on some ribbon and lace, and the word "picotee" actually is defined as a carnation with pale petals bordered by a darker color.  'Sensation' then, I suppose, should be more accurately described as a reverse picotee.   'Sensation' also has nice heart-shaped foliage, but it is a rather stiff bush, growing 8-10 feet tall and wide, with strong, hearty branches that tend to be a little more sparse than most lilacs. To my amusement, 'Sensation' is labeled at many online nurseries as a "new" introduction, but it is actually an old lilac, introduced in 1938 by Eveleens Maarse.  According to Jennifer Bennett in her 2002 book Lilacs for the Garden, it was a genetic mutant of lavender-colored 'Hugo de Vries' that occurred when the Maarse greenhouse in Holland was forcing lilacs for Christmas. John Fiala, in Lilacs: A Gardener's Encyclopedia, lists it in a section with lilacs of "special and unique color classifications," and describes it as "outstandingly effective and unique."  Alongside the white sports, 'Sensation' has also been known to revert to the plain purple form resembling 'Hugo de Vries'.

For the scientifically-minded, the proper term for the mutation that led to 'Sensation' is a "periclinal chimera," which is a plant composed of cells of two distinct genotypes separated into distinctive zones.  Periclinal chimeras, as opposed to the other categories of chimera (mericlinal, and sectorial chimeras), are important because the mutations are stable and can be vegetatively propagated.  Thornless blackberries are perhaps the best known result from the formation of a periclinal chimera.  In the case of my white 'Sensation' sport then, the white flower genotype tissues have separated to give me a present.

Knowing all that, however, makes my own 'Sensation' sport no less of a miracle to me.  I'm going to watch it, and if it doesn't go through an ugly brown phase as so many white lilacs do when they fade, I'm going to try to propagate it.  Maybe someday I can have a part in releasing a lilac that will be named 'Easter Sensation.'

Friday, April 22, 2011

Buck Mania

Yesterday was what I consider a very good gardening day.  To start off, we got approximately an inch of much-needed rain here in Manhattan last night.  But even better, just before the rain, I received and planted a box of bands from Heirloom, primarily composed of Griffith Buck cultivars:

For those who are used to Grade 1 potted roses, the bands that you receive from most heirloom specialty growers could be perceived as a disappointment, but let us try and remember that what we are buying is primarily the genetic material.  Bands most often come, as you can see below in small pots and are barely rooted cuttings, but the advantages of having your roses grown on their own roots, ungrafted, makes up all the difference.  As rosarians, we can make the growth happen on our own with enough patience, but we can't manufacture 'Ferdinand Pichard' out of 'Easy Does It' or 'Carefree Spirit'.  Expect for them to take a couple of years for these to make a large bush, but with a little protection, they will get there in time and they certainly have a better chance than a BigBox "bagged rose" with its paraffined canes and clipped roots.  Yuck!

In this shipment, I received a number of mostly Griffith Buck cultivars, all planted into the same bed, including 'El Catala', 'Folksinger', Iowa Belle', 'Queen Bee', and 'Bright Melody'.  I'm particularly interested in growing the latter two bright red or reddish-orange cultivars as I've never seen them in person.  I am also received a 'Wonderstripe' from the Heirloom Roses breeding program, a 'Crested Moss' to add to an OGR bed, and I'm going to give 'Ferdinand Pichard' one more chance.  I've purchased and killed that gentleman before, but I'm such a sucker for striped roses that I certainly think he deserves a second chance.  Or is it a third?  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Joy for Lajoie

Of climbing roses, I think my favorite is a diminutive little fille named 'Jeanne Lajoie'.  Those who grow it know that I'm referring to the popular miniature pink climber of perfect form that, at times, has been the highest rose rated by the ARS.  Although my aging memory is suspect, I think she at one time had an overall rating of 9.3.

I have two 'Jeanne Lajoie' specimens, a mature bush that grows on a south facing limestone wall to around 6 feet tall, and a younger specimen planted two years back that is currently at about 4 feet on one side of a copper pergola.  Both are on their own roots and doing well at this time.  Her pink double buds are a perfect pink shade for matching with other plants and they come in continuous clusters to cover her supporting trellises most of the spring and summer. The blooms are a darling miniature hybrid tea form, sufficient to win exhibiting awards, and the dark green leaves do not require spray in my Zone 5B arid climate, although I think she gets a little rose scale against my wall.  She seems to be very winter hardy in Zone 5, and I've seen no dieback at all, although I probably should admit that my south-facing limestone wall is probably more a Zone 6 microclimate.  I would classify her scent as mild, but sweet.

'Jeanne Lajoie' was a 1975 introduction from breeder E. P. Sima.  There seems to be some controversy about whether she was named by Ed Sima after the daughter of one of his wife's friends, or named by the introducer, Ernest Williams of Mini Roses in Dallas Texas, for a daughter of a Texas friend (who legend says exhibited the rose as a young girl and is supposedly now a middle-aged dental hygienist), or whether she was named after a famous French prostitute named Jeanne LaJoie.  The "LaJoie," by the way, translates from the original French to "La Joy" and is pronounced "La Jhwhaaa," but I'll stick with "La Joy" to pronounce.  Regardless of the name's origin, the rose 'Jeanne Lajoie' was a beauty pageant winner right out of the gate, winning an America Rose Society Award of Excellence in 1977.  'Jeanne Lajoie's parentage is a hybrid seeding of 'Casa Blanca' (a white climber) and 'Independence' (an orange-red floribunda) that was crossed with 'Midget' (a red miniature) but somewhere in there, there must have been some pink genes.  I understand she makes a beautiful free-forming shrub as well, but for right now, I'll keep her up against a warm wall until I see how my second specimen fairs in the free flowing air of the open trellis.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Finely Foliaged Fernleaf

A few years back, I was fortunate to have a friend who offered to trade some starts of his treasured fernleaf peony, the species peony Paeonia tenuifolia, for something in my garden.  I had seen and lusted after these peonies in several catalogues, but each time had recoiled against the listed price, often at $50 for a single start.  In contrast, my friend presented me with an enormous clump that I divided immediately and planted as three plants in my own garden and I also gave two away to others.  All three of the ones I kept are expanding and growing in my garden, now three years after planting. Thank God for the beneficence of gardeners!



The fernleaf peony is a fairly short (1-2 feet tall) herbaceous peony that is by far, the earliest peony to bloom in my garden.  It is blooming today, as seen in the picture above, at a time of year when most of my other peony varieties have not formed buds and some are just barely breaking ground.  Paeonia tenuifolia has crimson flowers (to 3" across) with yellow stamens that rise above some of the most attractive and unusual foliage in the garden.  The foliage is deeply divided and lobed into needle-like, ferny segments, hence the tenuifolia name, which means "slender leaved."  Several varieties and cultivars are on the market, from the single-form of the species that I grow, to a double form known as Paeonia tenuifolia 'Rubra Flora Plena', to a beautiful pink double form not yet commercially available.  The species and associated cultivars seem to be popular peonies in rock gardens.

Paeonia tenuifolia has been known in Europe since at least the 1500's and was described by Linnaeus in 1759.  In reading about this peony, I was interested to see that most sources describe this peony as needing extra water during the year, one source even recommending continually-wet soil, while it seems to be doing well without any extra water in my own garden.  Paeonia tenuifolia is native to the Caucasus Mountains of Russia, as well as areas north of the Black Sea and westward into Romania and Serbia, an area with cold winters and hot, dry summers, so it is actually should be no surprise that it does well here in Kansas.  A description at the Heartland Peony Society website suggested that the usual culprit in this peony's demise is too much humidity, which causes it to succumb to "fungus," so I suspect the recommendation for extra-water is a myth handed down from writer to writer, none of whom actually have attempted themselves to grow the plant in a dry garden.  As a mentor used to tell me, "If I wrote the sky is green in a book chapter, soon the whole world would be repeating that the sky is green." 

I did learn from my reading that Paeonia tenuifolia is supposed to be well-scented, and I'm ashamed to admit that I've never checked it for scent before.  However, after sniffing over my own peony last evening, I can confirm that it has a pleasant light scent, but I wouldn't consider it the assault to my nose that many herbaceous peonies seem to be.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

UnRedBud Sport

Although I earn a living from K-State here in Manhattan, Kansas (not as a gardener), I have been remiss in not blogging more about the KSU Gardens, just right down the street from my work.  In fact, as a volunteer for care of the Ottoway Rose Garden there, I'm in the garden on a weekly basis and I should blog more about this growing botanical display garden and I will occasionally in the future. The KSU Gardens project, if you haven't yet heard about it, is a plan to complete an eventual 19-acre garden that doubles as a public resource to K-State and the surrounding community, and as a teaching laboratory for Horticulture students at the University.  It is funded primarily  by private donation, garden sponsorship, and through the work of a group known as the Friends of the KSU Garden. Phase II of the Garden project has begun, eventually expanding the current garden to double its size and moving some of the plant collections to more permanent homes.




My prompt for today's blog, however, was seeing the blooming tree pictured at the above right last week in the Gardens.  It is a non-commercial redbud sport found locally and given to the Gardens several years back by K-State Professor Emeritus, John Sjo.  It made a stunning display this year, the very light pink of the sport set off against the more normal Eastern redbuds that line the front of the old conservatory as it appears on the left side of the picture below.  The multistemmed nature of the tree makes a nice architecture point during the winter, but its flowers set it off from the garden during Spring.  The Garden's director is talking about cloning and commercially introducing the plant as 'Pink Sjo', which would seem to be an apt name.  I hope it comes to past because I'm drooling over a chance to have an offspring of this tree for my own garden.



Monday, April 18, 2011

Yellow Bird Magnolia

My "most awaited newcomer" has been teasing me for over a week now by performing a slow strip-tease, sepal by sepal, to expose her inner beauty.  And here it is, my much anticipated Magnolia acuminata 'Yellow Bird'.  Isn't she a beaut?  

Last year I attended a seminar at a locally-owned nursery, Blueville Nursery, which offered a 20% discount that night for EMG purchases and this small 3-foot specimen grabbed my eye.  Although a bit pricey, she screamed "but I'm 20% off!" at me and I took her home.  I've been stretching into the Magnolias over the past few years and I'd been looking for a yellow magnolia, perhaps Magnolia acuminata X M. denudata 'Butterflies', to become the third magnolia experiment in my garden.  I'd seen 'Butterflies' at another local nursery as a full-grown specimen and it is impressive when it wasn't frost damaged, but the yellow of 'Butterflies' is much paler than the single bloom that was present on 'Yellow Bird' when I bought it, so 'Yellow Bird' became my girl.

Now that she is blooming, I think 'Yellow Bird' is one of the most aptly-named plants I've ever seen.  Across the garden, even my small specimen looks like there are 8 or 10 canaries perched on the little tree, the 3 1/2 inch flowers exactly the right yellow to stand out from the surroundings.  'Yellow Bird' was bred in 1967 and is a 1981 Brooklyn Botanic Garden introduction that is hardy from zone 5-9.  She seems to have opened a week or two later than both my M. stellata and my 'Jane' magnolia, so I hope that she will give me a reliable bloom here in Zone 5b, unaccompanied by late frost damage in most years that we see on some magnolias here.  Certainly, she has survived her first year here, a dry winter, with "flying colors" (please pardon the pun, couldn't resist).  'Yellow Bird' has a substantial pedigree, descending from a cross between the American native Magnolia acuminata and the Chinese Magnolia lilliflora and then recrossed as an early Brooklynensis, Magnolia 'Evamaria' with M. I. subcordata.  In fact, some sources drop the Magnolia acuminata designation and simply list it as Magnolia x brooklynensis 'Yellow Bird'.  A mongrel she may be, but the intercontinental crosses have resulted in an exceptional and hardy beauty.  

I see that Monrovia has recommended 'Yellow Bird' paired with 'Blue Moon' Wisteria macrostachya.  As one of my wisterias is beginning blooming at another part of the garden, I can imagine how the blue-purple wisteria would climb up into 'Yellow Bird' and capture your soul.  I'm not about to chance this specimen to the choking vines of wisteria, though, so perhaps I'll have to justify another specimen in the garden somewhere.  Unlike the description on one website which stated that the flowers appear after the leaves and so can be lost amid them, , my 'Yellow Bird' has blooms only at this time, and the leaves are just beginning to open.  The same website also stated that it doesn't like dry conditions, that it likes acid soils, and that it might live only 8-10 years, so I hope that site is wrong on these latter counts as well.  Time will reveal the truth.

'Yellow Bird' is supposed to grow 35-40 feet fall and 25 feet wide at maturity, so I can't imagine what a specimen she is going to make in my garden when she reaches full growth.  She is labeled as a fast grower, so if I have some luck and practice good nutrition, and exercise, I might have a chance to live to see this tree fully grown someday, a little gem elevated into eye-popping maturity.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Peachy Red

For me, warnings of the onset of Spring are manifest in the witch hazels, the daffodils, the minor bulbs, and the redbuds, but I finally feel Spring each year in my heart when my ornamental Double-flowering Red Peach (Prunus persica 'Rubroplena') blooms.

The red-blooming peach was introduced to Europe in 1840.  I first saw one over a decade ago when I saw one planted in a display garden at a local nursery (Lee Creek Garden).  A few years later I stumbled across a small 3 foot specimen at Lowes for the outrageous price of $50.00 and, of course, purchased it immediately and planted it in a prominent landscape spot.  Today, it stands about 12 feet tall and 10 feet across, blooming only for a short time, but, Oh what a display it makes!  Every year, it has made a good excuse to get my daughter to pose with her Italian Greyhound in front of it during bloom; the blooming of the growing teenager a foreground to the blooming and growing of the tree over a decade.

My 'Rubroplena' started to bloom just 2 days ago and was fully open last night.  Although Internet references report that this tree is "long-blooming" for 2 weeks, I've always found the blooms fleeting and with the wind of last night's onrushing storm already knocking off blossoms to the ground, I quickly snapped this year's picture.  Blown up, it is just blurry enough that you can see the wind was moving it even during the photo, but for overall landscape value, this tree is a peach.

I've learned that in purchasing 'Rubroplena', I may have purchased the plainest red peach on the market and that there are other named varieties out there.  'Late Red' sounds like a good one for those in Zone 6 or higher to avoid late freezes, and 'Red Baron' is a double-blooming variety that is supposed to also provide edible peaches, unlike my 'Rubroplena' whose peaches are small, hard, and bitter.  Even harder to resist is finding that there is a weeping double red flowering peach tree on the market, but again, it is only recommended for Zone 6 or above so I think I can resist the temptation to throw money and plant tissue down the drain in a fruitless effort.  I fear I'm about to begin a search, however, for a commercial source of a cultivar named 'Versicolor', which supposedly bears semi-double white and red-striped flowers on the same tree.  Zone-hardiness doesn't count when a quest of such beauty commences.

For those who would like to try 'Rubroplena', it seems to be perfectly hardy here in Zone 5B and it has never missed a bloom despite freeze or frost.  Calling it "red" is really a bit of a stretch as I would have called it more of a deep pink, but there is no reason to disparage the blooms for our color mischaracterizations.  Leaf curl doesn't seem to affect it, at least to a noticeable degree, and thus I don't spray this tree when I spray "the eating" peaches.  I have trimmed it only to shape the tree and keep it from rubbing against the house.  If it has a drawback, it is that the hard fruits drop off in late fall and early spring and may be a bit dangerous to foot traffic if placed near a walkway.  I ignore the fruits entirely, but it is possible the birds enjoy them because I now have another 'Rubroplena' that sprouted on its own over 200 feet from the first.  Of course, I kept the gift from the sky and planted another garden bed around it. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Gardening Infection

A Gardenweb.com posting yesterday tickled my fancy bone and started me down a memory path thinking about forks taken and not taken.  A GardenWeb member from the UK named "campanula" wrote about her online search for small gardening tools for a granddaughter and, noting that she herself had come late to gardening, asked "how many of you have handed gardening skills on to your children?"  She then made the statement that jumped straight into my brain; "It seems the gardening infection can strike at any time or any age, but, no time wasting for this coming generation, who will have a trowel in her hands as soon as they can hold one."

"The Gardening Infection."  What a delightful way of phrasing the desire that all gardeners have for their children.  I have a son and daughter, both now nearly fully grown and currently non-gardeners, but both dabbled in the garden with me when they were younger, and I have hope that they will return to it when they need that piece (or peace?) in their lives.  Some of my favorite pictures, taken candidly by my stealthy wife, are of my daughter picking beans with me in the garden and wearing goggles to protect her almost 4 year old eyes from flying gnats.  The smile on her face alone evokes the moment for me.  Not the greatest quality, taken with an early digital camera, and the beans are showing the wear and tear of insect damage (and where did all the weedy grass come from?), but the grainy pictures are eternally precious to me nonetheless. 

Like Campanula, I came late to gardening, having only some amusement at a father who fussed over flowers and vegetables, and as a result of my teen self viewing the garden merely as a source of hot sweaty labor tasks imposed by that father.  As a child, I hoed, mowed, and occasionally wrestled with a monstrous tiller that had all the ergonomics of a cement block (for more on "The Tiller", see my book), and I would have bet good money during my late teens, and lost, against finding myself a gardener now. I must have been exposed long enough to become "infected by gardening," however.  Either that or the latent genes of my farming grandparents came through.

I've always felt with some guilt that I was slightly remiss in not making my children do more gardening with me.  I occasionally offered both children the chance for their own rows in the garden and they both mowed occasionally, but, in truth, I didn't want to see them do "menial" tasks or to hear me complain, after they worked in the hot sun, that they had wiped out half a row of corn with the hoe or pulled the peppers up instead of the weeds.  So I don't know if they'll become garden infected, but I occasionally see hope.  Just the other night, when we found my neighbor's horses had escaped into our back yard, my daughter hollered "I see them, they're by the honeysuckle."  I couldn't help but take heart that she knows still where the honeysuckle lives.  And I've seen signs that my son will only need a place of his own, like I did, before the infection becomes a terminal illness.   

So thank you, Campanula, for fertilizing my hope.  Gertrude Jekyll once said "The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies," and I hope she was right, whether the gardening seed is genetic or infectious or learned.  In the end, I wish nothing better for my children than that they someday know the simple elegance of good soil, the wonder of growing life, and the quiet strength of time spent in the garden with God.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Iris Perfection

The longer I garden, the more I appreciate and propagate Iris pallida 'Variegata' throughout my garden.  I've got a clump or two in almost every bed already, and I'm thinking about trying its effect in a single massed area, a shrine to spiky leaves of gold and green.

I obtained this iris somewhat by accident in 1999, not knowing then the treasure that I had purchased, but thinking the variegated leaves would stand out nicely against a darker green background. I'm sure I purchased it by its alternate name 'Aurea Variegata'; a name more descriptive of the creamy golden stripes. If you grow this iris though, you know that the variegation is only the beginning of the possibilities it offers.  A gardener should never place this iris against an oppressing opaque background.  The real gift is hidden until one views it placed in an elevated circumstance, at eye level, where the sun can shine behind those gorgeous spring leaves.  The picture at left, taken yesterday evening as the sun was fading, is only a small sampling of the beauty of the backlit foliage.

I'm ashamed to admit that I've never taken a picture of the light blue flower with its lilac tones and yellow beard, but I'll make sure to correct that this year.  Then again, this is not some fabulous modern hybrid with striking colors screaming "look at me."  No, this iris hides behind its plain appearance during bloom, holding the unsuspecting gardener at arms length.  It belongs, as I said, at eye level though.  If you don't examine this flower closely, you may never realize that it is deliciously scented with what I would describe as a sweet licorice odor.  "Sweet Iris" is another name for Iris pallida that perhaps fits better to those who know it for its fragrance.  A classic triple gardening threat, Iris pallida variegata; wonderfully scented, beautiful form as an accent, and the ability to pop out and be a specimen plant if placed correctly.

The names given this species seem to be as endless as its origins.  While searching out the native range of this plant, I came across references to it as a Mediterranean native, a native of the Southern Alps, and yet another article that referred to it as the "Dalmation Iris", so named because it is native to the Dalmatia province of Croatia.  In truth, this Zone 4 hardy plant is so easy to grow and undemanding of soil and water, that it has probably naturalized most everywhere that man and beast have taken it.  It is cultivated as a source of orris root, the essential oils extracted from the rhizome by drying, grinding, rewetting the powder, and distilling.  Said to smell like violets, orris root extract is also described as having a flavor identical to raspberries.

As for me, I ain't eatin' it, but I'm happy to view it morning and evening and sample its perfume during the brief season of flowers.  And I'll grow Iris pallida 'Variegata' forever in my garden.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Redbud Ruminations

A native Spring stalwart, the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) began to bloom here in the Flint Hills just yesterday.  I was beginning to be afraid this day might not arrive this year, it felt so late, but I was fretting under a false assumption.

See, this is why you keep records.  As I've written before and as a general rule, I'm pretty terrible about keeping records, but redbud first bloom dates are perhaps my one exception to the rule.  And I thought this year was pretty late, now the second week of April, for the redbuds to start blooming.  But a check of my notes informs me that I'm not only wrong, I'm dead wrong.  In six of the past 8 years, the redbud outside our laundry window first bloomed from 4/10 to 4/24.  In the "unordinary" years 2007 and 2009, the weather was askew and things were obviously out of whack.  In 2007, my redbud bloomed early on 3/31/07 after a warm Spring, but then we got hit by the terrible black freeze of mid-April so the redbud was perhaps the only thing that did bloom that spring.  And in 2009, we had 3 inches of snow and sleet on March 28th, and according to my notes, my redbud didn't bloom at all that year, probably due to that late storm damage.  Of course, it's possible that I've slipped into this parallel Universe from one where my memory is correct and redbud trees do bloom earlier in Kansas, but since the written records correspond to this current Universe, how would I know?  How many redbuds can dance on the head of a pin?   

I'm always jumping the garden gun and starting Spring yard work a mite early, so the key lesson here is probably to learn some patience.  I should rejoice, I guess, that my redbud has waited till now to bloom, because it probably means we've had a normal pace of spring and the garden will be better for it.  But I should also confess that I'm not especially fond of redbud trees.  I've never been able to cozy up and embrace the fuchsia-pink color of the native redbuds, so I use them as an indicator of the beginning of the garden season and when to have put the crabgrass preventer on the lawn, but I don't crave their color as I do my red peach tree.  Perhaps I should have chosen one of the named cultivars such as 'Forest Pansy' or 'Pinkbud'?  

 After seeing a stunning example from another local gardener, I will admit that I started a redbud grove beneath a cottonwood tree using several volunteer redbuds to make an understory group at the back of my garden.  And I know some of you are asking why, if I'm not partial to redbud trees, I have one growing as a specimen tree right outside our laundry room window and back door, but the reason for that contradiction is simple.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush loves redbud trees.  And so I planted it, the first tree beside the new house, where she'll get the most pleasure out of it.  Take it from me, fellow husband-gardeners, redbud trees do not have a "manly" color, but planting that tree in your garden will pay dividends every year. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life Lessons

Yesterday was an absolutely great Spring gardening day in Kansas.  Well, almost, except for the sustained 20 mph winds with gusts to 40 that set in by mid-afternoon.  But otherwise it was everything a gardener could ask for, although some might argue that it would be nice to give plants, and the unacclimated gardener, a day in the 70F or 80F range before we go from the 60's to 92F, as it was yesterday.  Straight from winter to summer as usual.

I puttered in my garden doing a lot of the odd chores that need done this time of year.  A little transplanting, a little more trimming, a little early weeding, a little watering of new plants.  I edged some planned future beds with landscaping stone, laying out the shape of the beds in my usual haphazard arrangement.  I took note of the continued increase in the Magnolia stellata flowers and the opening of my first lilac to bloom, 'Annabel'.  And, checking that wondrous source, the Internet, I discovered that the leading edge of the Purple Martin migration had been sighted in this region two days previously and so I placed out my Purple Martin houses.  Twenty minutes later, five Martins and a bunch of sparrows were duking it out for the housing.  It is astonishing how quickly the Martins, which I had not yet this year seen in evidence, detected the house.  Where did they come from?

I also participated in a Faculty-Senior student softball game late in the afternoon.  I probably hadn't touched a softball for almost 40 years, but I was lucky and got on base my first time at bat with an anemic hit.  The next batter up hit a ground ball to shortstop and, sprinting slowly to second base, the buried instincts of my 12-year-old self assessed the situation and commanded the 51-year-old body to SLIDE.  And slide, I did: not the face-first slide of a manic Pete Rose, but still an impressive feet-first slide that brought me to second base before the ball.

At that instant I had, for me, an astonishing epiphany and I learned a couple of important life lessons right there on 2nd base.  First, that the instincts and training of a 12-year-old are still buried deep all these years later and that they will surface when called upon, albeit with a less supple and higher-body-fat frame to command.  Second, I learned that the instincts and training of a 12-year-old do not include the likelihood of the presence of car keys in one's back pocket when a slide is attempted, having had no experience at that time with driving anything more powerful than a bicycle or lawnmower.  I now have an egg-sized bruise on my gluteus maximus that hurts while I sit and type this blog.  It would have been nice if some 51-year-old wisdom would have given me the foresight to move the keys to the front pocket. At least it wasn't my cell phone.

It is the same in the garden.  The 12-year-old inside us knows instinctively which weeds to pull and how to grasp them to get them up roots and all.  The 51-year-old knows to wear gloves for the stickery ones and knows that the first sunny Spring day in the 90's is not the time to stay out in the sun all day in the garden.  Well, it should be that way most of the time.  Excuse me while I go find some aloe vera.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Perfect Blush

When a gardener comes to me and asks for a continual-blooming, hardy white or off-white rose, the first rose that comes to my mind is the Canadian rose 'Morden Blush'.  This white/blushed-pink rose has provided color in my landscape for over 10 years, and although it blooms in the shadow of a taller Zephirine Drouhin, it still manages to never be out of flower during what passes for spring, summer, and fall in the Flint Hills.



'Morden Blush' was introduced by Collicut in 1988 as one of the Parkland Series bred at the Morden Research Station in Manitoba.  According to one report, she has been voted as the favorite Canadian shrub rose by the Canadian Rose Society, but I cannot find a reliable source to confirm that award.  One Internet site describes 'Morden Blush' as "shy," and I believe that an apt adjective for her.  'Morden Blush' stays well-refined, perhaps 3 feet high and 2.5 feet wide in my garden, unlike her rampant Explorer series cousins.  Both her blush pink color and her soft scent add to her demure allure.


 Despite her non-vigorous nature however, she is completely hardy, with no die-back here in Zone 5b and she is reportedly hardy to Zone 3 with some tip-kill there. She is heat-tolerant as well, blooming and keeping good flower form throughout the worst of the Kansas summers and several writers suggested she is tolerant of MidWestern alkaline soil.  She blooms as vigorously as any rose I grow.  The very double blooms come 5 or so to a cluster, and open white with a pink center, fading to an ivory pink as they age. They repeat continually here Kansas and are listed at 12.3 weeks of annual bloom by Ogilvie and Arnold, the most prolific of the Morden group.  I view this rose as a "cutting rose" and she lasts well sitting in a vase on the kitchen table.

The only deficit I can ascribe to this rose is that her glossy deep green foliage is moderately prone to blackspot in my garden.  I don't know if it is because she grows in the shadow of taller Zephirine and Prairie Joy and surrounded by daylilies, or if it just her nature to be easily diseased, but I use this rose as a blackspot indicator for my garden and start spraying my few susceptible roses when I see "Morden Blush' begin to lose her hemline.  In fact, she is susceptible enough to blackspot that she'll sometimes can end up completely naked in my garden by Fall if I don't keep an eye on her, hardly a proper finish for such a coy beauty.    

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A-Pear-antly Popular

As I drove to work this morning down from the highest point in Manhattan (a small hill called "Top of the World" overlooking the river valley the city sets in), I was suddenly struck by a vista of endless white trees sticking up over and around the roofs of all the houses.  Manhattan in Spring, it seems, is a monoculture sea of spring-flowering trees that makes it appear as if the very city itself was drowning in a tub of foamy soap bubbles.

I blame this sensory overload on the local landscapers, professional and amateur, who were planting 'Bradford' pear trees (Pyrus calleryana) ad infinitum twenty years back, and who, when Bradfords proved too weak for the Kansas winds, turned to the stronger 'Chanticleer' pear trees, or 'Snowdrift' and "Spring Snow' crabapples. You would think that in an area where Eastern Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) grow as a native understory tree there might be more use made of them in the landscape.  You would think that landscapers could choose randomly from a number of KSU-recommended crabapples, many of which happen to be something other than white (such as pink 'PrairieFire' or magenta 'Radiant').  There are pink-flowering ornamental peach trees, pink cherry trees, scarlet Hawthorns, dogwoods, and even a few purplish or yellow Magnolias that will survive here.  In contrast, I know of only a few tree-size Magnolias that survive in town, all of them white.

I don't have anything particularly against planting white-flowering trees.  My rebellious nature kicks in when white is the only choice and when the planted trees all bloom white and simultaneously.  Landscape architects are seemingly as bad in this regard as they are in using purple barberry and 'Stella de Oro' daylilies to excess.  Have they no imagination?

In my own yard, I could actually use a few more white-flowering trees.  I've got a 'Royalty' purple-pink crab, a pink 'Red Barron' crab, a 'PrairieFire' crab, a red peach, a Scarlet Hawthorne, and a bright yellow Magnolia (to be featured in a few days) that all are blooming now or will bloom soon.  My only currently-blooming white trees are an honest-to-god fruiting apricot tree and a Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata).  Neither of the latter really matter as white trees because orchard trees don't count and the Magnolia stellata is still too short to see.  Maybe someday I'll fall into lockstep with the herd, but for now, I'm just going to keep being a pink blight on the white horizon.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Puschkinia Perfume

I bless the good  fortune, ten years now in the past, that allowed me to find and  try a few bulbs of Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica, commonly known as Striped Squill.  I am always partial to the sky-blue Scilla sp. family and I am always on the lookout for species bulbs that will survive the wind and wayward Kansas Spring.  These minor bulbs (as Elizabeth Lawrence referred to them) are a match made in the heavens for my garden.

Puschkinia  are small bulbs of the hyacinth family that one website claims have been "gardened" since 1808, but I'm sure that must be the Western history of gardening with these Turkish natives.  Growing only 6 inches tall, a decent-sized clump at a distance looks primarily like a white ground-hugging blob, but up close, the beauty of these little guys is striking.  It took several years for this bulb to "grow" on me since I started with such a small clump,  but they have begun to spread on their own through the bed I planted them in, and they've now earned a permanent place in my garden.  VanBloem lists them as being hardy to USDA Zone 7-8, but they've survived and spread 10 years in my Zone 5 garden.  They also come in a completely white form, but these are harder to find and are probably undistinguished in terms of garden impact.  I've had enough lately of pure white mutant forms of otherwise spectacular flowers.

I didn't know until yesterday that they were also scented, but if you lay on the ground and bury your nose in the clump, they have a very sweet, but not overpowering scent.  I am personally put off by the strong odor of so-called Dutch Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) up close, and can't eat with a Dutch Hyacinth or Oriental Lily smelling up  the room,  but I appreciate the more delicate scents of these hyacinth-relations.  I suppose you could also cut these somewhat waxy flowers and raise them up to your nose rather than  flatten yourself down to their level to sample their aroma, but then, that would be cheating and would deprive you of experiencing another world, a little world, where these flowers are the gardening universe of their surroundings.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Poisonous Compost?

It is not often that I get to combine the job that earns my living (veterinary medicine) with my interest that consumes the excess cash (gardening), but I happened on a connection recently in a post on Gardenweb.com.  That post was from someone who had been told and who believed that their dog had been poisoned by eating compost.

I was a little chagrined to hear about this toxicity in a random post on the Internet, but I'll be the first to admit that my general veterinary education lies far in the past and, as a surgeon, I haven't followed advancements in veterinary toxicology for the past 25 years.  I felt a little better when I found my internist colleagues were also unaware of it.  A little quick research tells me that, indeed, there have been some reports of dogs eating compost and suffering toxic effects, even though some of those reports are undoubtedly of  "garbage gut," or diet-induced gastroenteritis, cases rather than actual toxic effects. Compost toxicity is, however, listed as such on the petpoisonhelpline.com website.

Knowledge is power, so I'll repeat here what I've found. Toxic effects from compost are variably suggested to be due to mycotoxins (toxins produced by fungal organisms), or to clostridial toxins (bacteria that may grow when meat or dairy products have been added to the compost).  Meat, eggs, and dairy products, of course, have no place in your compost pile anyway.  To me, that means that most of the compost I produce from leaves and grass, particularly if aerated properly, should be safe if one of the bonehead Labradors owned by my neighbor accidentally gets into it.

Symptoms of poisoning could include agitation, increased temperature, panting, drooling, and vomiting, and severe cases could progress to incoordination, tremors, and seizures. Since many dogs I encounter pant and drool incessantly, those aren't very helpful unless other symptoms are present. There is no specific antidote.  Inducing vomiting or gastric lavage in cases of known ingestion should help decrease toxicity.  Supportive care such as procedures to decrease body temperature, IV fluids, and anti-seizure medications may be necessary in severe cases.

For prevention, toxicologists suggest that in concert with eliminating the use of meat and dairy products in your compost, the pile should be fenced off from pets and wildlife.  My personal compost pile does sit within the electric fence that protects my vegetable garden, but I'm under no illusions that it will keep out my Brittany Spaniel, who has been known to chase rabbits through the fence more than once, let alone the neighbor's dogs who don't seem to have enough total neurons to spare any for pain perception.  And what do I (or we collectively) do about the compost that we heap annually around every old rose in our gardens?

I remain a little bit skeptical, knowing by education that the gastrointestinal system of dogs is designed for them to consume a vast array of foods that would cause a billy goat to puke, and knowing by experience that they seem to suffer little ill effects from eating delicacies that range from ancient dead rabbits to raw soil and on to cow poop. Compost toxicity in dogs probably has occurred rarely, but it also ranks with those normal unavoidable risks that occur in life, like drinking from a garden hose or touching undisinfected shopping carts, both of which seem to be freaking out the general population these days. I wouldn't rush my dog, however, to a veterinarian for a quick stomach pump just because I saw it digging in the compost pile for a vole. 

In a similar vein, it did concern me a little during my research to find that a gardener in England had died from aspergillosis (a respiratory fungal infection) started by exposure in his compost pile, but I'm also not about to start wearing a face mask (as suggested in the article) when I turn my compost.  What would the neighbors think?  Somewhere the fear has to be contained by reason.

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