Saturday, March 31, 2012

Magnificent Magnolias

Magnolia 'Jane'
I still linger in wonder, sometimes, that I have not only one but three magnolias growing in my Kansas garden.  I associate magnolias so strongly with the true Southern United States, that I simply have trouble accepting these large leathery petals will survive on the Kansas prairie.  If the cold doesn't kill them in the long run, surely the dryness and wind will.  I wasn't much of a gardener at the time, but I don't recall them growing in the zone 5B area of my Indiana childhood, so I never expected them here.  I was only experimenting when I first attempted Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' here, pessimistically expecting only a wasted effort, but it is difficult to argue with success.

'Jane', on the prairie
They're all blooming now, all three of my magnolias, causing me to daydream of dinosaurs and foot-wide dragonflys, coal swamps and pterodactyls.  Something about those large leathery tepals and the deep musky scent evokes a memory from deep in my brainstem, instincts and dreams from times past.  This is one of the early flowers, the Dawn Flowers, as Earth's flora leaped into the sexual reproduction revolution and left the cycads and conifers behind.  Magnolias, evolving before the appearance of bees, were forced to toughen up their carpels into these rigid toothy mounds so the heavy, ungraceful beetles of the time could facilitate pollen transfer.  The glorious center organ of my young 'Jane', pictured above right and as a whole bush to the left, just seems to scream of warmth and dampness and sex, does it not?

Magnolia 'Yellow Bird'

Every year, I hold my breath until my Magnolias bloom, particularly until my baby 'Yellow Bird' (Magnolia acuminata 'Yellow Bird') shows signs of life, always hoping against hope that this year will not be the one I'm taught a painful lesson about the dangers of zonal denial.  Magnolias always burst into bloom naked, with no warning by accompanying leaves that life has begun again.  This year again, 'Yellow Bird' became, for a short time, the focus of my garden, tiny though it is, even prompting Mrs. ProfessorRoush to ask me what the beautiful yellow shrub was in the back garden.  I always know I've got a hit on my hands when it registers on the consciousness of my horticulturally unaware spouse.  I personally thought the yellow hue was a little less bright this year than last, perhaps "washed out" by the extremely wet weather a few days before these buds opened, or perhaps less developed when the rapid onset of heat pushed these flowers into an early Spring.  I was shocked to reread last year's post on the first bloom of 'Yellow Bird', dated April 18th, 2011, knowing all the while the tree has almost finished blooming this year at this end of March.   Again, evidence of an extremely early Spring.

'Yellow Bird' at 2 years

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'
And, as always, Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' was the anchor of the Spring season, opening a couple of weeks back with the first scented bloom of Spring.  It always preempts the stage before the Witch Hazel here, before the tulips, almost before the daffodils.  This year it bloomed only briefly but gloriously, showing the ground with fresh clean white tepals during the strong winds and rains a week past.  Right now, unusually, some tardy buds are blooming again, making sure that this shrub makes its statement in my garden for another year.  A last brief shout before the rapidly developing summer heat makes this Magnolia dream again of dinosaurs past.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mulch Madness

In the midst of "March Madness" but in contrast to the Final Four frenzy of sports fans, ProfessorRoush spent last weekend in a state of Mulch Madness, made more acute this year by the early and compact Spring here in Kansas.

I find the annual Spring Mulch Madness both cathartic and soul-satisfying.   I welcome this activity as a paradigm shift in my gardening year, signaling to me the change from the early days of preparing, improving, and modifying the garden for another year with the later, less participatory period of observing and enjoying the garden's growth and bloom through the Summer.   My garden, a chaotic shamble of winter remnants just a few days earlier, is transformed by The Mulching into a neatened and livable space, an idyllic world without weedy interlopers or uncultivated, raggedy plants. The pampered plants seem happier and somehow more wholesome, like children dressed in their new "back-to-school" clothes.  The garden now looks, and feels, CLEAN, a signal to my gardening soul that I'm free to move on towards Summer maintenance.  I'm past the planting and the pruning, beyond the weeding and the fertilizing.  My nest is empty and the babies are out among the world, growing in the sunshine.

The Mulching is one of the bigger annual efforts in my garden from a physical standpoint.  I only use "store-bought" mulch in the beds adjacent to the house and around individual trees, but those are still some pretty substantial beds.  The majority of my garden beds are mulched throughout the year with mown prairie grass clippings from my "lawn", an activity that helps me to feel both environmentally friendly and "organic", as well as moderately frugal.  Yet, I still use approximately 90 bags of hardwood mulch every year in the house beds because I like something more formal and presentable here for home and garden visitors. This year in a single day, I loaded, unloaded, and emptied out 86 bags of mulch, leaving me sore and sunburned, but fulfilled.  I'm admittedly still a few short here and there, but most of the work is done.

There are so many choices in mulchy regards;  generic hardwood, cedar, or cypress?  Colored red, colored black, colored brown, or natural?  Bagged or delivered in bulk?  I'm sure most or all gardeners go through similar choices every year.  Generic hardwood is the thing for me, both because of the lesser cost, renewability, and the rapid breakdown of the material.  I formerly spread cypress mulch exclusively, feeling it more "up-scale," but I always had misgivings relating to the loss of cypress swamps and habitat that cause extinction of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker.  What really made me change, however, was realizing that the cypress mulch broke down extremely slowly and that I had accumulated about 6 inches of caked, inert cypress mulch on top of the beds.  I choose brown hardwood mulch simply because I like the brown against the green plants and brick house.  I employ pre-bagged mulch, although it's slightly more expensive and of less quality than bulk mulch purchased from a local vendor, due to an innate streak of laziness that I disguise as efficiency.  As long as I'm willing to drive on my lawn, I can throw the bags off my trailer within inches of where they'll be used, saving me from untold injuries by an errant, overloaded wheelbarrow, from dumping mulch more by accident than by design, and most importantly, saving me from the labor of wheeling the mulch up and down and around the Flint Hills surrounding the house.

The Mulching, for this year, is over.  My gardening soul is at rest for a time. The Garden is ready, gathering strength and momentum as it rushes towards Summer, clothed in new garments for a new year. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Camping Caterpillars

Yes, I am aware that the gardening year has come early in North America.  And it has discombobulated just about every plant species and human gardener beyond any historical measure.  Now, similarly scrambled, it seems the insects are joining the parade.  Early, Early, Early.

I noticed this weekend that I already had two of these delightful little fuzzy caterpillar nests in a young ornamental cherry tree.  I tend to lump all these creepy, crawling little blights under the term "webworms", but a little research tells me that in my area, in the Spring and in a cherry tree, these are likely Eastern Tent Caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum).  The real webworms, (Hyphantria cunea) occurs in the fall and are less discerning upon which trees they inflict.  Of course, my invasion could be gypsy moths or Forest Tent Caterpillars, but to discern the differences, I'd have to let these barely visible white caterpillars mature a little bit, and I'm not about to do that.  Odds being what they are, for the sake of simplicity, let us just call these Eastern Tent Caterpillars. 

As an interested amateur biologist, I was fascinated to read how their tents are oriented to face the southeast, taking advantage of the strongest rays of the early Spring sun to warm them up in the cooler air.  And as a veterinarian, I was previously unaware that they have been linked to "Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome."  It seems that when pregnant mares are fed the caterpillars, they abort.  No one is sure of the exact pathogenesis, but the causal link is well established.  I'm astonished that the link was even made; I mean, who sits around watching their pregnant mares eat Eastern Tent Caterpillar nests?

Regarding control of these little beasties, I find myself doubtful about the common recommendation to simply tear a hole in the silk to let the birds get at the caterpillars.  What would stop the caterpillars from reforming their "tent", since they reportedly add to its size every day?  I'm therefore sad and embarrassed to admit that I resorted to dousing these babies with a Sevin drench.

In my defense before the court of the WEE (Wild-Eyed Environmentalists), this tree is an ornamental and doesn't produce edible cherries so both the birds and myself are safe.  But them caterpillars are toast!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Working Day

No philosophical rambling yesterday, my friends, no time here to play.  Yesterday was a work day at ProfessorRoush's garden; mulching, weeding, transplanting, dividing, and general all around "leave the gardener aching" day.  Well, okay, there was a little play, since nearly everything I just listed is really playtime for me.  But, all in all, a pleasant and satisfying day of life.

I need to let you in on a big secret, however.  I've got a tool for you to add to your garden armory.  No, not one of those tools that you buy once and then leave hanging in your tool cabinet or shed unused.  This is not toolshed clutter.  This is shear genius of tool creation.

I'd like to introduce you to the Radius Garden Pro Weeder, found online at  I first saw this gardening lifesaver at the annual Manhattan Garden Show, and thought it interesting but a little pricey at $50.00.  Then, fate intervened to send me exactly $50.00 of "mad money" recently and I took it as a sign from the gardening gods that I was destined to own it.

The second big secret is that, while I'm sure it is a nice weeder, weeding is not remotely its best function.  Think of this, those of you with clay soil interspersed with rocks, as a small spade, able to reach down deep between the stones and pry them up.  And more importantly, able to CUT THROUGH THE TOUGHEST MISCANTHUS CLUMP TO DIVIDE IT INTO NICE PLANTABLE PLUGS!  Forget about the team of sweaty muscular young men to lift the grassy clumps and the chainsaws to divide them. This baby let me transplant my Miscanthus, albeit minus a couple of growing years, where it needs to be rather than where I originally planted it.  I'm going to now burn out or Roundup the rest of the clumps.  No need to break my back anymore in a fruitless attempt to move mountains!

It's built extremely tough, with, as you can see on the back, a nice strong spine to prevent bending.  My pictures show a working weeder, dirty and smeared, but it is made of stainless steel and has a rubber molding around a steel core clear to the "O-ring" handle.  I don't know that it needed more than a "D" handle, but the O-ring is workable and comfortable to use.  It comes in several colors for those who care about the color of a gardening tool.  But, most important, there is no bending or breaking this baby. 

The real secret is in the tip.  It's about 2.5 inches wide and its not sharp enough to slice you inadvertently, but it is sharp enough to go easily through the tough clay and small enough to work between stones.  Think about the force on the tip;  a normal spade, with a width of 6-8 inches, distributes my weight along all of that width.  This baby multiplies my force by 3 times at a minimum.  Genius!   It's a pry bar with a handle!  It's a spade for the Flint Hills!  It's a bulb planter with wings!

Consider this just a tip of the gardening hat to a fabulous tool from a gardener who has no connection with the manufacturer nor who gets directly or indirectly paid for this endorsement.  This one will not live solely in your tool collection, but will become a real workhorse in your garden.  And worth every penny just for the savings in Miscanthus plugs.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Blessed Rain

ProfessorRoush was away for a few short days, and during my absence we got bucketfuls of blessed rain here in the Flint Hills.  According to my rain gauges, over 2.5 inches on the ground, and that, my friends, was sufficient to make my clay soil make squishy "sop, suck" sounds at every step.  If taking a short vacation is all that is needed to get sufficient rain, then I surely need to take more vacations.  The back garden looks somehow cleaner, fresher, and ready for Spring.

I did take note of a line of deep furry white-tailed large-hoofed rat prints in the wet soil of two of my rose beds, but beyond the resulting compaction of the soil and some nibbled daylilies, I didn't note any major damage.  I will give them a free pass just this one time.  I see no reason to get Odocoileus-cidal until they actually sample the foliage.   You know, I've never looked up the genus/species of Virginia deer before.  What kind of a name is "Odocoileus" anyway?  According to one website, Odocoileus is from the Greek words odos (tooth) and koilos (hollow).  White-tailed North American deer were given an unfortunate name, don't you think?  It makes me almost feel sorry for them.  Almost.  Until they sample my garden.

My surprise of the morning occurred as a cosmic echo of my "Imposterous!" post of a few days ago.  Gazing over my wet garden, I noticed, right in front of me and just next to the walkway, that my Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) bush had bright pink blooms.  Wait!  Bright pink blooms?  Bayberry blooms in small white almost inconspicuous flowers, and I grow it primarily in the event that  "come the revolution"(as my father says), I'll be the only Kansan for miles with a source of candle wax.  In this case, there was a 7 foot high volunteer Redbud growing at the edge of my 6 foot tall Bayberry and I've missed it entirely until now.  Until it bloomed.  It is going to be almost a shame to cut this brave and intrepid tree out, but it is in entirely the wrong place.  Sorry, little tree.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Way Ahead & Far Behind

It's madness.  Complete and undisguised madness.  My garden, and its gardener, are a full two weeks ahead of the normal cycle here.  In most years, I avoid starting the Spring cleanup of my garden beds until "Spring Break" here in the Little Apple.  The appearance of small green sprouts at that time often coincides with a little time off work and allows me some uninterrupted efforts at making my muscles sore and my garden tidy.  Often, at this date, the crocus and daffodils will just be poking up and I'll be noticing the first early weed children.  And the beginning of vegetable garden planting?  I'm normally a traditional Saint Patrick's Day planter, looking forward each year to the 17th not for drinking spirits, but for immersing my soul in the soil and thenceforth communing with the peas and seed potatoes.

This year the garden is pushing me out into the fast lane against my will.  Because the roses are leafing out and most of the Spring bulbs are blooming, I've been forced to begin cleanup earlier than ever.  I hate, I really hate, trimming off baby rose leaves once they've opened.  It does not bother me to trim the roses when the leaf buds are still tightly bound, but chopping off that shiny, unblackspotted green infant foliage is more than I can bear.  On Tuesday this week, I panicked and decided it all had to be done at once before my cleanup efforts resulting in trampling all the bulbs underfoot. So, I cleaned, and trimmed roses, and moved roses, and trimmed irises, and just generally gussied up the garden.

I moved, at last, a large 'Josee' lilac that was in the wrong place by first yanking it out by the roots with a rope and my Jeep, and then placing it into a distant site vacated inexplicably by a black currant bush.  The black currant had done well for several years, but this Spring it was not just suddenly and nearly dead, it was really most sincerely dead.  I cut off my coy, non-fruiting bittersweet couple ('Hercules' and 'Diana') in hopes of replacing them with a vine that would add another dimension to the garden beyond merely being a tall green tower.  I'm thinking perhaps of a clematis for the site.  And vegetable planting?  Oh yes, I admit, I planted peas and bib lettuce and broccoli and potatoes and onions a full 10 days before my normal planting time.  I blame the latter impatiences on my fellow Master Gardeners, all of whom were boasting about planting peas at our bimonthly meeting last week.

The forsythia watched all this activity while in full bloom, and the daffodils were already entering their twilight period, and we all knew it had to be done.  According to my historical notes going back to 2004, this early warmth is not unprecedented (2009 and 2005 were similarly early), but this is certainly earlier than the median year. I'm caught up, for now, on these garden chores, yet still far behind readying the Martin houses and spreading mulch and a multitude of other duties.  For now, however, I'm left hoping that Winter does not amuse itself by returning with a late fit of sadistic snow. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Center Stage

Despite the forsythia in full bloom, my Dutch crocuses already showing signs of age, and the daffodils cheerily throwing everything into yellow, the star of my garden yesterday was my 'Sunglow' apricot tree, in full bloom at least 10 days earlier than I've noted in the past.  These delicate blooms are completely intoxicating in fragrance, and delightfully lacy to touch.

 The tree, in full glory, stands alone in bloom right now, and the blue Kansas sky contrasts the blush pink blossoms to perfection, don't you think?

I was not the only living creature mesmerized by 'Sunglow' yesterday.  I saw at least three different insects visiting the blossoms yesterday; a "moth", a "sweat bee", and a "fly" as seen below.  I don't know if these are all actually pollinating the flowers, but they all seem to be trying for a taste of the nectar.  Certainly, whatever insects have hatched or woken up from winter for miles around are probably at or heading for this tree. I'm terrible at insect identification so I haven't the slightest idea of the species involved, but the moths seem the most frequent and persistent visitor to the tree.  I can only hope that at least one of these creatures is enabling the procreation of these gorgeous flowers.  Such beauty shouldn't exist merely to go to empty waste.

Please God, protect my garden from late freezes right now.  I saw some color in the buds of peaches and cherries yesterday, so the rest of the orchard and fruits cannot be far behind.  Temperatures in the 80's all this week and forecast to stay in the 70's all next week, so the closer we get to April, the more serene I'll be.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Form Foundations

I'm still several weeks away from rose blooms here in the Flint Hills (unless the recent high 70's temperatures persist), but I'm already aching in my bones to see the new roses.  I believe there is no facet of gardening that pleases me more than the first bloom of a rose I've never seen before, on my own little patch of ground.

'Gallicandy', Barden Gallica
And this year, it will be mostly the Paul Barden roses that are new to bloom for me.  I planted several of them in the Fall of 2010.  Last year, only 'Jeri Jennings', the sole remonant rose of the group, bloomed.  They are all now 3 foot tall roses at just past their first birthday, and, looking closely at them recently, I concluded that all are healthy here in Kansas with no winter dieback.  Since the foliage has yet to come on, I took special notice of the forms of the bushes, the "foundation for building" which only heightened my anticipation of the blooms to come.  I think 'Gallicandy', a pink Gallica, has the best vase-like bush form, exhibiting lots of long straight canes from a single source.

'Allegra', Barden Gallica
'Marianne', Barden Gallica
Light pink 'Allegra' (left), and peach-colored 'Marianne' (right) have fewer canes at this stage, but still seem to have good vase-like bush form and supple canes.  'Marianne's canes, in particular, have a nice reddish Winter color.  I almost lost her early last year when her single band/cane was broken off by early Spring winds, but true to the advantages of own-root roses, she sprouted back up and now looks as healthy as the rest of the group, none the worst for wind-shear.
'Morning Blush', Alba
Compare and contrast these vase-like Barden Gallica's with the more asymmetric and stiff-caned form of 'Morning Blush', a 1980's Alba bred by Rolf Sievers that I planted among the Barden's.  I'm definitely growing this one for the white double blooms lightly touched in pink, not for the bush shape!  Right now, it is sprawling everywhere and the large canes are reminiscent of 'Fantin Latour' a Centrifolia rose I grow.  I think this one will need a little more annual trimming than its Gallica neighbors.

Looking forward to a great rose 2012!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Techno-Teasing Trauma

I was out running errands around town yesterday and, entering a large home improvement box store that will remain unnamed, I was captured, as usual, to look over the entry display of various bagged up bulbs and perennials. As a general rule, I try to avoid spending any time in front of those racks because I know that most of these plants and bulbs will be dehydrated with little chance of survival and also because they are very common perennials and thus below the standards a real gardener should hold for themselves. Since I'm not a real gardener, however, I nearly always leave with a bag of something or other. Talk about your impulse purchases.

Anyway, today, it was a bag of Tigridia, the tiger flower, that caught my eye. Having never seen them before, and seeing that they were promoted as "Sun Lovers" (see the package below), my first thoughts were a) "That would be good for a novelty," and b) "I wonder if they are hardy here?" The packaging didn't list a USDA hardiness zone, but it did have one of those wonders of modern convenience, a QR Code, pictured here at the right. And I, being ProfessorRoush and of an early technologic bent, have just such a code-reading app on my Smart Phone.  Go ahead, try it out.  It works on the screen too. 

So there are the Tigridia, on sale at Home Depot, and here you are, the technically-proficient and thoroughly modern gardener.   The package QR Code links you for more information to the Longwood Gardens website. And what do you find? The message" spring bulbs coming soon." To quote the Peanut's character, Charlie Brown, "Aaarrrgggh!"
HELLO! STOP TEASING ME WITH YOUR PROMISES OF KNOWLEDGE!  It's already Spring, almost past it, in many parts of the country.  I'm a poor, uneducated common gardener just looking for help.  Do you think it is about time to post the necessary information up?  Why put the QR code on the packaging if it is not even active yet?

I've since found out that Tigridia pavonia is only hardy to Zone 8, and further more, is short-lived, each flower blooming only for a day.  Wonderful.  I just purchased an annual daylily. Of a truly ugly magenta coloration.  Just what I wanted.
Well, such runs the disappointments of our gardening lot.  Doomed forever to take a $6.98 chance on twenty dehydrated, decrepit bulbs that I now find will, in fact, likely not survive winter in my Zone 6 climate.  Tigridia  is noted on one website to grow in Olathe, Kansas and Lincoln, Nebraska, if, like dahlias, you are industrious enough (or crazy enough) to dig them up every fall and replant every Spring.

I don't grow Dahlias for just that reason.  As I've noted many times, digging and replanting bulbs in my stone ridden soil is a Sisyphean recipe for a broken back and a broken gardening spirit.  But I will try to enjoy the Tigridia for this summer, fleeting as they may be.  Those few flowers, at least, whose bulbs survive their dessicated state in my drought-stricken Kansas soil long enough to grow and bloom.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I don't know what chronic gardening issues exist in anyone else's particulars, but one repeated Spring chore in my garden is the search for spys, mimics, or imposters that attempt to escape my wrath by camouflage within a beloved plant.  There are, in my landscape, certain weedy vines who attempt to hide out for awhile here and there, but it is the Rough-Leafed Dogwood (Cornus drummondii) that is the bane of my roses and other shrubs.

The Rough-Leaf Dogwood is ubiquitous in the Flint Hills, sometimes forming large thickets sufficient to keep people out and provide shelter for lots of different fauna.  Spread everywhere by birds, it seems to take a particular liking to sprouting in the shade of a large shrub, as you can see at the right.  It then grows happily up through that shrub, to become visible during the growing season only as it reaches eye level and only then to a very discerning eye that is examining the foliage instead of the roses. 

I've found, instead of looking for it during the growing season, that the time to search and destroy this interloper is right now, early Spring before the Time of Leafing Out, when the stems can be discerned by the light grey color and different texture from the shrubs around it. You can see, on the left in the closeup, that the reddish stems of  'Carefree Beauty' are clearly different than the dogwood stems on the right hand side, allowing me the chance to then search out and nip the marauder at its base.  Usually that close cut suffices to kill the dogwood without resorting to herbicide on the cut stump, but if the latter nuclear option becomes necessary, I follow the example of President Harry Truman and use those ultimate weapons judiciously.

The only real difficulty in this exercise is finding the unauthorized growth in other shrubs with stems that resemble more closely the Rough-Leaf Dogwood.  I once had a clump grow in a Mockorange bush for what I estimated was three years before I surgically excised it.

Anyway, take it from me and look now, in this lull time of warming weather and bashful foliage and weed out the weedy shrubs before they get a foothold.  Your roses will thank you come Summer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Told Ya!

I tried to tell them, didn't I?  But, no, up those crocuses popped, unable to restrain themselves in the sunlight and warm wind, heedless of the cold weather surely yet to come.

And here they are, one mere day later, twenty-four hours older and a phloem's death wiser, shivering in the hail and snow remnants of last night.  The cold rains started at 11:00 p.m. yesterday and intermittently spent themselves until 1:00 a.m., leaving a different world to view this morning.  Our dog barked continually from midnight to 1:00, probably telling the crocus, in dog language, that they were getting just deserts. Gelato Crocus, anyone?

I wish they'd waited, like the daffodils.  I saw the first hint of color on a daffodil bud this morning, but those little yellow fluffs seem to be staying tight in their beds so far.  Proving once again that, Kansas daffodils have a higher survival IQ than most of the other Spring flowers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Too Early

During the start of spring cleaning my garden, I wandered around with a camera on Saturday and took note of the first of the 2012 blooms.  Plants are sprouting everywhere, popping up here and opening tender leaves there.  And it is far too early to consider we've seen the last of Winter.

I know, my Darlings (speaking to the daffodils now), that you're far past ready to stick up your heads and get growing. Like the early worm for the migrating birds, however, you're just going to get yourselves hurt.  Yes, we've seen a lot of days in the 60's and 70's, and I know it was above 60 and sunny for the last trio of days, but the weatherperson tells us it will then get cold again.  Highs in the 50's, lows in the 30's for the rest of the week.      

Wasting my breath, aren't I?  I've got about as good a chance of the bulbs listening to me as I do getting Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her diminutive clone to follow my lead.  Look at the first beautiful blooms that are out already.  I found my first Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) up and starting to bloom this weekend, glorious in its breathtaking blue reflection of the Kansas sky. 

And, popping up among the roses, a bright cheerful Iris reticulata to contrast its dark blue and yellow against the brown grass mulch.

Worst of all, for me, is the fact that a number of roses are beginning to leaf out, just like the 'Ballerina' at the right.  Too fast.  Too fast, my dancing beauty, because your thin canes and tender leaves are just going to be left shivering in the wind.

A prayer, please, for those who are about to get slammed with a late freeze.  You know it's coming.  I know it's coming.  We can forecast it.  The plants can only carry the history of climate in their genes.  So many cold days followed by so many warming days and they think it's time to bloom.  Well, my Loves, not this year do the old patterns work.  Be slow this year.  Be patient this year.  Listen not to the warm sunlight.  Listen not to the warming southern winds. This is Kansas, not Florida.  Hell's demons spend their Spring Break on our prairies. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

My Cheatin' Hands

I almost didn't.  Despite a predicted temperature of 63F, the wind was howling cold from the North all day yesterday, and inside the house it was warm and cozy.  The wind may howl like the dickens outside my doors, but the clamor only serves to comfort me since it can't reach indoors.  And, if you're wondering where I've been from blogging, I was deep inside the third book of The Hunger Games series, engrossed in the struggle for independence of the rebels led by Katniss, the Mockingjay.  For those who haven't yet indulged, I can only say that my daughter recommended them to me approximately 12 days ago and I've been nose deep in the drama ever since.  If you're going to start them, read fast, because the movie comes out in a couple of weeks.

So, I almost didn't go outside to work in the garden this weekend.  Mind you, I'm aching for the opportunity, embittered for lack of exercise and lack of green surroundings, but it took everything I had to leave the cozy confines of hearth and couch and attempt to stand upright against a 40 mph wind.  Guilt finally won out over sloth and so I closed the book and bundled up in multiple layers of clothing, planning to shed them as I warmed.  After some consideration, I decided to work first clearing the South bed, behind the house, where I'd have some shelter from the worst of the gale. 

And it was there, clearing the crackly remnants of Brown-eyed Susans and the limp dead daylily leaves, that I learned to harness, rather than fight, the power of the wind in my garden.  I realized quite quickly that all I had to do was pull up the dead leaves, toss them up a few feet into the air, and they were gone evermore, whisked away by the brisk wind into the next county. Well, at least they disappeared into the taller prairie grass of my pasture, sure to add their rotting remains over time to the richness of the prairie.  I never got out my Sheetbarrow, nor even a basket, just some trimming tools and thick gloves and the ground was cleared of debris faster than it took to think about it.  I did spend a few minutes looking to the West and wondering if we were going to get a sprinkle or a little snow, as you can see by the picture above.  But, a few snips here and there on the shrub roses, and my back patio bed was ready for the Spring. 

Some of you, I know, will consider this a clear act of garden cheating.  I didn't sweat, I didn't get sore from lugging heavy piles of debris around the yard, and I accomplished the job in about 1/3rd the normal time. I would venture to argue, on my lazy behalf, that I executed a brilliant display of defiance, laughing in the face of the wind, harnessing it to do my bidding.  The only people who could possible differ with that conclusion might be my neighbors, who, I suppose, could have a clump or two of dead daylily leaves resting around their shrubs this morning. More likely, all that debris is somewhere in Missouri by now.

And anyway, as the country songs say, it ain't cheatin' till you're caught.


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