Saturday, November 24, 2012

Pheasant Phatality

I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce everyone to Mrs. ProfessorRoush's fabulous new Christmas decoration.  Hold on, Hold on.   Before faithful readers jump to the conclusion that their benevolent and gentle gardening grump ProfessorRoush has plotted and committed the murder of one of God's most beautiful wild creatures, I plead with you to read on to the end of this blog entry.  I'm innocent, innocent I tell you!

A little less than two years ago I was coming back from some work in Nebraska and driving south of Lincoln, when, about a half mile away, I saw a large bird land right next to the road ahead of me.  My first thought was "Wow, what a large bird!"  As I got closer, I could see that it was a gorgeous male Ringneck Pheasant in full winter glory, standing tall and....well....cocky.  And just as I came abreast of him, and I was completing my second thought of "Lord that's a beautiful pheasant," he flew up straight into the passenger side mirror of my Jeep, shattering the mirror in an obvious suicide-by-Jeep attempt.  As I braked, shifting my gaze from my shattered side mirror to my rearview mirror where the pheasant was now laying motionless in the middle of the road, my third thought was "Okay, buddy, you broke my mirror and now I'm going to have you stuffed."

I regretted this malicious thought almost immediately, of course, feeling guilt over my vehicular birdslaughter as I backed up and examined the beautiful creature.  I didn't feel that leaving it in the road to be further mangled or moving it to the side to decay was going to help my karma at that point, so I brought it back and delivered it to the care of a fabulous local taxidermy shop, Don Rush's "Sportsman's Taxidermy."  A friend recommended Don and told me, "You're going to drop it off, and then you're going to forget you even left it there, and about 18 months later, Don will suddenly call and tell you that it's done."  And that's exactly what happened today, and that is the story of how Mrs. ProfessorRoush has unenthusiastically gained a new household decoration and why I can deliver a plea of "not guilty" to first degree avianicide.  It cost me only $50 to fix the mirror of the Jeep, but it cost me $246 and some change to worship the beauty of bird from this point forward.

Just gaze a moment at the poorly composed picture to the left and wonder at the palette of colors and patterns of this spectacular bird.  Russets and reds, blues and purples and greens and yellows and greys and golds make a mockery of the finest clothing man can produce.  Ringneck Pheasants are the North American name for the Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), but the bird looks anything but common.  They are a well-known game bird here in the Midwest and consequently I was unaware until now that they are not native to North America, but to Georgia (the country in the Caucasus region), a factoid which has helped to ease my conscience regarding my culpability in the death of a native prairie bird.

Pheasants were introduced to North America as game birds in 1881, and have since naturalized all over the Great Plains, even though they continue to also be bred in captivity and released for hunting.  I'm sure they occasionally visit my garden, and for years there was a male who lived near the beginning of the road that passes by my house, where he would strut each Fall morning as I drove to work.  I sure hope his Nebraskan cousin had procreated before meeting his unfortunate end with my Jeep, because those beautiful genes should not be wasted solely as a reluctant mantelpiece.    


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful Vistas

Looking through a group of photos that I've saved for the blog today, I found in reflecting on my garden year that I'm most grateful not for the closeups of my prized roses, but for the largest and smallest of those living things that exist in my garden.

Living, as I do, just outside the city limits of a major city in Kansas (if the phrases "major city" and "in Kansas" are not mutually exclusive), I occasionally am quite thankful that my garden, lacking large trees, still has vistas that are separate from the chaotic civilization that surrounds it.  For example, the view (above) from the western side of my garden past the formal rose bed on the left and the viburnum bed on the right, was particularly fetching this past October as the 'Tiger Eyes' Sumac began to add red to it's normal yellow palette, and the remaining fuchsia-pink 'Earth Song' kept merrily blooming on.  In a similar fashion, the overall view from another angle towards that same formal rose bed (below) includes my crude handmade gazebo and my vast southern horizon towards town, the city itself hidden from view except for the roofs of a few houses now visible on the horizon.

I'm thankful as well, for things that the smaller life of my garden teach me, learning industriousness from the examples of bees, and patience from the spiders who lie in wait inside some open blossoms.  Without the killing influence of insecticides in my garden, the faunal world inhabiting every plant expands till sometimes, I don't know if I'm bringing flowers or a menagerie in to Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  Unfortunately, she is not as open to the beauty of both as her gardening husband, and so, for my own safety, I must shake out the buds and wash off the leaves before depositing them in the house, destroying the homes of thousands of creatures to keep the peace in my own.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Buds Unborn

According to the calendar, Winter is still a bit over 4 weeks away, but my garden isn't waiting for the coming Soltice.  Already, flowers are only a memory but for the white plumes of ornamental grasses that still dot my garden beds.  My view fom the windows has returned to endless hills of russet and gold, more red as the rains come, returning to drab khaki under the dry sun.

It passed beyond, my garden, literally in the flower of youth, full of buds and promise, not at all ready for the end of days.  An early, very hard freeze in October caught all these beautiful buds of 'Belinda's Dream' still loafing, lulled by the lingering heat from summer's warm soils.  The night before the freeze, there was the promise of fushia buds clothed in green, the main masses yet to explode. One or two perfect young flowers greeted the last warm night, precocious to the last.  A few days after the cold blew in, all was dropping and brown, changing color and form before my eyes, a green Eden reduced to sticks and crinkly underclothes; an exposed Eve, embarrassed and uncovered.

My garden rests now, slumbering deep in soil, trunk, and branch, waiting for the return of spring and the stirring of sap.  I hope, for my sake and my garden's future, that the Mayans were wrong with their Long Count and that this particular 2012 Winter Soltice is not the apocalyptic b'ak'tun that modern doomsayers proclaim.  The yellow 'Topaz Jewel' at the right, whose delicate yellow ornaments died unborn, deserves to reincarnate again in the coming Spring, a vain attempt to reproduce the beauty of the last.  These beloved roses, it seems to this old gardener, reflect the women of his life, aging with each Winter, but reborn every Spring with vigor and blush and promise.  Beautiful flowers for the gardener to caress and smell and touch and adore, ever young at their heart.   

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Dirty Life

As Fall slips away in concert with my garden duties, I'm desperately trying to tackle a mountain of winter reading material before it engulfs the house and overflows into the forsythia bed.  Alongside my gardening activity, I collect and occasionally read gardening-related material, to the point where my valet is stacked with no less than ten books-in-waiting.

I've tried several off and on, and I continually keep picking up  Brenner and Scanniello's A Rose By Any Name and knocking off a few pages, but my main theme this season seems to be "back-to-the-farm" literature.  I keep picking up and putting down Margaret Roach's And I Shall Have Some Peace There, but I'm having trouble identifying with Margaret's "successful-woman-middle-aged-angst" crisis.  No surprise there, since a puttering older male is probably not her target audience.

I recently finished, however, and enjoyed immensely The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball.  Subtitled "a memoir of farming, food, and love," it chronicles her move from NYC to northern New York with her soon-to-be-husband, an arduous back-to-the-basics to establish a community farm in the North Country.  The book is not so much about the love, since she notes that on most nights they managed only exhaustion and worry, but it's a lot about the farming and food and the localism movement trumpeted these days by the ecological aristocracy. All in all, The Dirty Life is an easy and likable read.  Kimball, by the way, is no shrinking hippified housewife, as the jacket blurb notes that she has a degree from Harvard, and the last I knew, Harvard was not known for its agricultural program.

For me, Kimball's tales of farming with draft horses, primitive balers, maple syrup production, unrepentant swine, nervous chickens, and endless daily work prompted fond recall of times I spent in Amish country.  Thirty years ago, I spent two months on externship as a 4th year veterinary student at a large dairy practice in Wakarusa, Indiana.  Wakarusa, with a population of 1758 in the 2010 census, was even smaller in 1982, a place back then whose local Pizza Hut, the only "eat-out" restaurant for 15 miles, became a hot spot every Friday night for young Mennonite boys and bonneted teenage girls.  Wakarusa was in Elkhart County, one of two northern Indiana counties where the population was predominantly Amish and Mennonite and the veterinary practice I worked in served the small family farms and dairies of the area.  For two months, I lived on and off of those farms, in Amish barns and fields, knee deep at times in dairy muck and at other times holding for dear life to the lead ropes of Draft horses whose backs were taller than my heads.  Two months among good people who lived plainly, by the strength of their arms and the sweat of their brows.  A part of me still longs to be there.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Comte de Chambord

How the heck have I missed making 'Comte de Chambord' a focus of discussion in this blog???   Somewhere, somehow, I've overlooked one of the most dependable roses of my back landscaping border, a pleasure to have and to hold and to smell.  She is one of my favorite roses, prominently displayed out in front of my Kon Tiki statue since 2003, alongside her garden-mate, 'La Reine', whose violet tones she reflects in her blush pink petals as an expression of love.  

'Comte de Chambord' is a pink-blend Portland rose, one of the few of this class that I've been able to find and grow.  She was bred by Robert and Moreau in or around 1858,  a cross of 'Baronne Prevost' and 'Portland Rose'.   'Comte de Chambord' has relatively small blooms in my garden, about 3-4 inches in diameter. but they are very full of petals (50+ petals), and of fragrance, with a sweet, strong aroma.   She's at her most beautiful in Spring and Fall in cooler weather, when the color is medium pink with a trace of blue, but in the midst of Summer she pales to almost white and she wrinkles terribly with the sun.   In fact, I've questioned that I have the right rose for the name because of the small size of the blooms and the paleness in my garden compared to some descriptions of the rose, but I received my specimen from a trustworthy mail-order source.  Once in a while, she'll even show her Damask background and have a bit of a green pip visible at her center.  Sources on the Internet list her as tall, like my specimen, but Peter Beals, in Classic Roses, has her as only 3' X 2' and also lists her introduction later, in 1863.

'Comte de Chambord' is a real garden shrub, with a vase-like shape staying at about 4-5 feet tall in my garden.  I trim about 6 inches off her top every Spring, but that's about all the care she requires; no spraying or fussing with this rose. She is cane-cold hardy in my garden, never exhibiting any winter dieback.  I see about five or six bloom cycles before Winter shuts her off every year.  All in all, a trouble-free and gorgeous rose.

'Comte de Chambord' is the mother of 'Gertrude Jekyll', the first of the English roses, but none other than Paul Barden says he prefers the mother to the offspring, and I agree.  'Comte de Chambord' is a fine rose for the garden, and I recommend adding her to yours as one of the best ambassadors of the Portland class.   And by the way, I'm amiss in calling 'Comte' a she.  No less tha Jeri Jennings noted in a Gardenweb post that 'Le Comte' would be a gentleman, while a female would be 'Le Comtesse'.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Color Among the Viburnums

Viburnum juddii
When a cold, blasting wind took the leaves off of most of the trees in my garden, my autumn color melted from the sky to the ground, leaving mere remnants of color dotted around my landscape.  Fortunately, I have a number of viburnums in my garden beds, each of which now had to carry more than its burden of beauty to make up for brown grasses and leafless deciduous shrubs.

Viburnums, some of them anyway, are two- and sometimes three-season plants for my garden, providing some nice bloom and fragrance for the Spring garden, and then either some leaf color or colorful fruits in the Fall.  When I speak of color, of course, I'm not speaking of the forthright crimson of an 'Olympiad' rose, the blazing orange of an October pumpkin, or even the bright red of a burning bush, but more the muted purple of a  Viburnum juddii like the one at the upper right, or even the brighter red of the 'Roseum' Viburnum opulus at the left. 

Viburnum burkwoodii

My favorite of the "colorful" viburnums, at least in this unusually dry year, is the Viburnum burkwoodii that occupies a center spot in my border.  This guy is turning red leaf by leaf, and right now looks like a winter holly with the spotted red against the dark green background.

A similar mottled pattern, with more yellow tones, is exhibited by Viburnum fragrans "Mohawk", seen at left.  This viburnum is more of a "Joseph's Coat" plant, with a rainbow of greens, oranges, yellows, and reds (and browns) found on the same bush.  Not as pretty to me as the V. burkwoodii, but the Spring fragrance in 'Mohawk' makes up for what it may lack in the Fall. 


The ugly sisters of the group are a few "Fall-challenged" viburnums, such as the 'Synnestvedt' Viburnum dentatum at the right.  'Synnestvedt' is trying to turn yellow, but doing a poor job of it, losing leaves as fast as they turn.  I also have eight or ten other viburnum cultivars and species, but many have already dropped their leaves and are ready to face the winter naked and spindly.  If we turn out to have a bad winter, these, of course, will be the brainiacs of the bunch, placing their faith in hardened buds that will swell with the coming of Spring.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

No Change in 2017!

Every year, at the beginning of November, I envy all of my garden plants, but never has my envy of their chlorophyllic leaves been greener than it is this year.  However rough their Spring began with a lion's roar of departing winter or the lamb's bleat of April; however tough their Summer swelter and that ever unexpected cruel first frost, my plants have not had to sit through months of electioneering drivel and sky-high promises.  They've not had to hope for change, nor do they find themselves with their backs against a fiscal cliff.   Yes, some plants, somewhere, have withstood a late season hurricane or a summer's drought, but they're all better off than their gardeners are here in early November.  For our plants rest in blissful slumber on and after that first weekend of November, oblivious to man's futile desire to rearrange the cosmos for commercial gain. 

I speak, of course, of the dreaded seasonal time change, that heartless manipulation of our biological clocks by totalitarian government fiat. It struck me this morning, waking to my regular internal clock but at a time far too early to begin the day, that my plants are the lucky ones.  They don't listen to a distant master and open their blooms while the world waits in darkness.  They don't mind that their evenings have been cut short so that they drive to work in daylight.  The green life goes on, oblivious to all but the regular rhythms of the sun, as certain as the ground beneath their roots.

Every year I joust at the windmills of Daylight Savings and its reversal.  But this year I'm no longer complacent in my temporal misery.   I begin my campaign for the Presidency today, with a single slogan, "No Change in 2017!"  ProfessorRoush's 2016 campaign will not dillydally with foreign affairs, nor with monetary policy.  I'll not speak of building walls to keep out foreign plants, nor of surplus harvest distributions.  I'm an old man, wise enough to know better than to trifle with the goals and aspirations of determined female gardeners.  But I WILL stand steadfast against the continual upheaval of our daily routine and ask only for the votes of the millions who are rising at their regular schedule and finding the stores and businesses still closed, their televisions still offering  infomercials.  If the Green Party or the Libertarians are smart, they steal this issue from me and make it their own.  I predict a landslide victory.

It's for the children, you know.  It's for my plant children, who I can no longer tend in the evenings because the sun falls before I leave work.  It's for the human children walking to school, who are at risk now four times a year as I drive down a long hill into the blinding morning sun first in late September, and then again in November after the time change, reversing the dangerous pattern again in Spring.  And it's for my children, my blessed half-clones, who deserve at least to have their sleep patterns undisturbed while they pay off the bills my generation has generated.  No Change in 2017!


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