Sunday, September 30, 2012

Arachnophobic Angst

On general principles, I'm a "leave-me-alone-and-I'll-leave-you-alone" kind of gardener (except, of course, when it comes to snakes).  Spiders, insects, newts, and crawly things of all kind get a pass in my garden until they cause me bodily harm or inflict horticultural havoc on my plants.  I haven't, as I recall, used a single dose of insecticide, organic or otherwise, in my perennial garden all year (although I'm not quite so innocent when it comes to my vegetable garden).  You can see the evidence for my benevolence frequently in this blog, since many rose photos hide an insect or two visible only for their protruding legs or antennae. 

But truth be told, the situation is different when it comes to the domestic side of the household.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her diminutive clone have an irrational fear and hatred of spiders in and around the house.  I've been summoned from as far as a mile away by screams emanating from trapped female humans in showers, laundries, and basements.  Sometimes, I can't even hear them but I see the dog startle at the hypersonic pitch.  Consequently, as free as my outer garden perimeter is from insecticides, inside my house there exists a toxic chemical wasteland of armageddic proportions.  If it scuttles, it gets sprayed.  If it hides in corners or along baseboards or in the ceiling, it gets sprayed.  Sometimes I think the spraying commences at the merest extrasensory wisp of a chitinous thought of invasion.  I'm expecting the EPA to declare my house a SuperFund site at their first examination.

I naively thought, with the development of long-acting insecticides promising "year-long" residual activity, that at least my own fears of neurologic side-effects might be alleviated, but alas, after spraying only a couple of months ago, I was recently informed that the spiders have returned.  Not in live form, mind you, but as crinkled skeletal remains. Evidently, dried carcasses with eight appendages are viewed as evidence of a marauding population and mass genocide is immediately implemented.  My feeble attempts to point out that dead spiders are an indication that the toxins are working are for naught.  The Huns are at the Wall.

That's why I feel sorry for the little fellow pictured on this page.  I'm no entomologist (or is it an arachnologist?) so I can't identify this individual other than lumping him as a "house spider who spins webs," but I doubt he intends any mischief other than catching a few random flies above the barbecue.  Unfortunately for him, he chose to set up shop, as you can see at the right above, in the window above our kitchen sink, where Mrs. ProfessorRoush has to stare at him daily as she tries to appreciate the view of the valley towards town.   If he'd asked me, I could have told him that such "in-your-face" politics were not a wise move when there's a madwoman nearby with her finger on the nuclear trigger.  This guy's days are numbered and I'm sure he's going to disappear soon to rest next to Jimmy Hoffa, with only me to mourn him between my bouts of spastic twitches.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Resilience of Life

A month from the cruelty of summer's scorch, a mere six days after the fall equinox, a small rain or two behind us, a cool night or three to lift our spirits, and life begins again in the garden.  Even while I'm attempting emergency resuscitation of my buffalograss, other floral tough guys are showing their resilience; blooming literally, as it were, amidst the devastation of my stressed landscape.

I know that this photo of a 'Charlotte Brownell' bloom was careless, taken with my cell phone instead of a decent camera, hand-held and under artificial light instead of carefully composed, but it is nonetheless representative of hope for my garden's future.  I quickly plucked the discovered bloom from its thorny cradle and sprinted straight for its presentation to Mrs. ProfessorRoush, an old man made young by rebirth and seeking the approval of love again.

I've never experienced a more perfect bloom of 'Charlotte Brownell', each petal smooth and unblemished by insect or sun, kissed with the mild rain that fell yesterday afternoon.  She has struggled in my garden, this offspring of 'Peace', and in the summer heat she shriveled, opening too fast and fading to white before her true beauty could be appreciated.  Only now, can I see her promise.  A year's growth behind her, now in Fall, she moves from awkward childhood into puberty in the blink of an eye, the temperate weather bringing blush to her cheeks and a healthy glow to her center.

And I am reminded how a garden, once verdant, can be so again, reinvigorated by the passage of seasons; ever green, ever growing, and forever hopeful. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Summer Carol

Twas the end times of summer and all through the beds,
Was a sighing of hopethat the Dog Days had fled.

The garden was weeded and mulch was all down,
The rains filled the potholes and   joy did abound.

Baby roses were nestled all snug and secured,
In milk jugs aplenty, their safety assured.

Mrs. ProfessorRoush in her afghan, and I with my shovel, preparing for winter to come to our hovel.

Well, I guess the poetry just falls apart at the mere mention of Mrs. ProfessorRoush. 

What you are glimpsing in the picture to the right is the start of a new bed, with some baby Griffth Buck roses spaced out and covered by my usual milk-jug protectors.  This is how I plant all rose bands these days, hard-won knowledge bought at the feet of many, many dead little roses.  The milk jugs are my catchall protection equipment, providing increased humidity and some shade to the roses through the still-hot and sunny days here, and then later, as Fall wears on, giving them some protection from the cold nights and winds.  I'll gradually cut these down a bit as the roses acclimate to provide them some extra sun and air movement, but I keep a tall collar in place to discourage rabbits and rodents from chewing these greenlings down to their base.  As the temperatures approach freezing at night, I'll substitute glass cloches for the milk jugs to give them some extra protection against the worst of Winter. 

I prefer Fall for planting these days, giving the plants time to develop good roots before Winter.  The quick Kansas Springs give way too soon to Summer's heat, leaving spring-planted shrubs gasping for moisture and support.  Planted here are Quietness, Queen Bee, Chorale, Gentle Persuasion, Prairie Clogger, Prairie Lass, September Song, Silver Shadows, Summer Wind, Paloma Blanca, Survivor, and, as usual for me, an unknown band.  The unknown band is from my trial of a new rooting method this summer.  I immediately forgot what variety I took the cuttings from and, of course, it rooted handily.  Hopefully I can identify it in a few years when it reaches mature bloom.  Or not.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Three-Season Alliums?

Are you kidding me? 

This morning's edition of our local paper reprinted an article that caught my attention big time. Caught my attention and made my eyes bug out.  From the Daily Press as written by a Ms. Kathy Van Mulleskom, it was titled Alliums Provide Color For Three Seasons.

Really? Are you kidding me?  I don't know what planetary eden Ms. Mulleskom comes from, but the first two lines of the article stated that (I'm paraphrasing here), "Planting alliums is one way to realize the dream of a garden that's colorful spring through fall."

Now, truth be told, I like alliums in a spring-bulb sort of way.  They're colorful, they're healthy with little care, some varieties are very large and very tall, and they draw butterflies to them like they were made of pure sugar.  My 'Globemaster' alliums, pictured here, draw all the attention in my garden at their peak and Mrs. ProfessorRoush never fails to comment when they're blooming. 

But alliums are, without doubt, a one season plant for Kansas.  Ms. Mulleskom does correctly note that by selecting among the varieties, the bloom season can be extended to six to eight weeks.  She also cheerfully points out that the height of some varieties can be an architectural feature.  But we differ on the value of the second and third season for these marvelous bulbs.  In the article, she says "after bloom, the dried golden brown allium seed heads stand tall amidst lush late season flowers."  They also last "sometimes into winter." 

Let me tell you, whether they are "brown," or "golden brown" by July, neither is a real color for the garden.  Brown is okay on a desert landscape painting or on the Mona Lisa, but in the garden "brown" is the color of death, the Final Color, and it doesn't add anything to the garden palette.  And winter?  I just went out to take a picture of the brown-headed remnants of my alliums and here, in early September, I could find a few remaining allium stems laying on the ground, marking the resting spot of the subterranean bulbs, but there is nothing left of the globes to be picturesque or even present when the snow falls.  Perhaps the Kansas wind has swept them away already.

Mrs. Mulleskom, who is evidently an accomplished gardener and who blogs here, quotes Hans Langeveld of Longfield Gardens as saying "the seed heads (of alliums) are every bit as cool as the flower."   Maybe, just maybe, I'll agree that they are "cool" to myself and to my fellow gardening nerds, but if they're a three-season garden stalwart, then I'm a garden toad.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Choice, My Climate!


The ample rain two weeks ago was enough to green up the buffalograss and provide some much needed relief to the perennials here in Kansas.  It also brought some relief to gardeners here, not from the sweltering heat which continues to stress my garden and its gardener daily, but the rain at least provided a respite from daily watering chores.  And it was enough to entice ProfessorRoush to order some rose bands for Fall planting.  I like to plant own-root roses, even young bands, in the Fall in Kansas as the cooler weather and higher rainfall gives them a better start next year before the heat hits.

I had a great afternoon in the air-conditioned indoors, choosing rose varieties online and planning the layout of a new bed.  Imagine my surprise, however, two days after placing an online order with "Rose Paradise" (not its real name, but I don't want to single out the real nursery), when I received a return email thanking me for my order and informing me that it would be held until next Spring because "Rose Paradise" had ceased shipping to my area for the  Fall.   When I contacted the nursery directly, they explained that it was getting too cold to ship to my area and the roses wouldn't have time to become established before winter.

AHS Heat Zone Map
I suppose it is a positive development that mail-order nurseries have fully taken notice of the USDA Hardiness Zones and are trying to keep horticultural idiots from planting tropical palms in USDA Zone 2 in September, but it is past time for these nurseries to also begin taking note of the AHS Heat-Zone map.  On it, one would find that my portion of Kansas is currently listed as AHS Zone 7, meaning that it has 61-90 days annually where the temperature is above 86oF.   And the current AHS Zone Map was based on data from 1974 through 1995 and has not been updated.  Given the changes of the 2012 revision of the USDA zones, I'm probably now in AHS Zone 8 or 9, with somewhere (I'm guessing) around 120-150 annual days of >86oF highs.  Believe me, please, when I tell you that I've got plenty of time left before Christmas to get new roses established.

Recently, at Walmart, I tried to purchase a fan and had a store employee tell me (on a 102oF day) that they were no longer selling fans because it was getting too cold.  I gave the customer service representative at "Rose Paradise" the same response I gave that misguided Walmart employee, which is to say that after a moment of silence during which I labored mightily to calm myself, I pointed out that it was still plenty warm here and would likely remain so for some time.  Fortunately, in terms of my future purchases from it, the "Rose Paradise" employee cheerfully informed me that they would be glad to go ahead and ship my order, however the roses would not carry their normal guarantee.  Jumping ahead to the end of this story, in my garden on this day there are 9 new roses trying to survive the predicted 99oF high.

My point here is a plea to all mail-order nurseries to give consumers the benefit of the doubt, as long as we don't giggle fiendishly or otherwise exhibit latent plant-icidal tendencies, and let us decide when we want plants delivered.  It would also be nice if the AHS would update their Heat Zone map, and if all nurseries would take a closer look at it, but that is probably too much to expect.  Gardeners know our climates best and, in fact, I have similar issues trying to get nurseries to send me plants in the Spring before my climate gets too hot for planting.  I don't need any extensive guarantee because as long as I receive the plant in good condition, I'm never going to claim a death was the nursery's fault three months later after I've forgotten to water the little seeding.  I know full well who deserves the blame for dead plants in my garden.



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