Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Meet Moose and Millie

I'd like to take this pre-Christmas opportunity to introduce you to Miss Millie and her live-in companion Moose.  The pair has settled in nicely over the past month, so I suppose they're going to stay around long enough to let my readers in on their lives.  They are both about 7 months old now and I obtained them from a veterinary student who had promised their original owner that she would try to find a single home for them so that they could stay together.  

Moose is a Maine Coon cat and will likely be a pretty big boy when he's fully grown and muscled in.  He's withdrawn and calm, moving slowly and meowing quietly and sparsely.  His fur is incredibly long and soft, so Mrs. ProfessorRoush spends a lot of time holding him while the very jealous Millie climbs around her legs and shoulders and demands attention.  Despite his much larger stature, Moose is a pussycat (ouch), allowing Millie to have first chance at the soft food and ignoring her as much as he can.  It is Moose that's going to be my mouser; he's already left me two pack rat corpses to admire.  Unlike many rodents trophies, these happily presented rodents still had their heads and tails so I presume that he's not acquired any culinary interest yet in fresh, warm mouse meat.

Millie is a dainty tortoiseshell female, with a mischievous and restless nature.  If a cat ever needed Ritalin, Millie does.  She has a needy personality, constantly rubbing around our legs and making us worry about stepping on her while we walk to the barn.  She will play with a mechanized toy that Mrs. ProfessorRoush brought into the barn, but otherwise, she seems to merely exist to eat her weight in cat food and to aggravate the more stoic Moose.

I'm expecting big things from these two, hoping  that they'll keep the mice and moles away from the barn and garden, which, in turn, should decrease the number of snakes in the area as well.  Hopefully these two cats will leave the prairie birds alone and they'll stay around the donkeys at night for protection from the coyotes.

If you are wondering about their names and how they got more imaginative names than "Big Cat" and "Little Cat", it is because I named them myself instead of letting Mrs. ProfessorRoush and the kids have a say.  Millie just seemed like a "Mildred" and my theory in the seemingly random name is that she may be a reincarnated pioneer soul of the last century.  The other choice for naming Moose was "Bubba", and although he seems a little like a "Bubba", the aliteration of "Moose & Millie" was just too good for me to pass up.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shotgun Gardening

Image from www.flowershell.com
While some conspiracy theorists believe that shadow organizations such as the Illuminati or the New World Order or the American military-industrial complex are heck-bent on taking over our lives, ProfessorRoush has long suspected that "Marketers" are the real shadow organization that will bring about the downfall of civilization.  After all, they've already convinced us to buy bottled tap water at prices exceeding that of our dwindling oil supplies.

As further evidence of my theory, I learned today that an Indiegogo campaign has formed to convince willing fools such as myself to part with money for the promise that a prairie garden can be created by haphazardly firing shotgun shells packed with flower seed into a field.  Several hours ago, if you asked me what I thought "shotgun gardening" was, I'd have envisioned a haphazard assemblage of shrubs, flowers, grasses and plants stuffed hither and yon into the landscape without a specific plan.  I certainly wouldn't have expected that it meant that I could step out on my back porch and, true to VP Joe Biden's recent suggestion, "fire off a couple of rounds" and create a garden. 

Indiegogo, for those unenlightened gardeners who actually spend time in their gardens instead of reading about gardening online, is a site that lets anyone use its "powerful social media tools" to create "campaigns" for "raising money" (the latter a nice euphemism used in lieu of admitting that it helps you find suckers to fleece).  The Shotgun Garden Indiegogo campaign is run from www.flowershell.com, where you can purchase twelve-gauge shotgun shells loaded with twelve different kinds of seeds including peony, poppy, cornflower, daisy and sunflower seeds. 

I have a plethora of experience strewing tons and tons of variously marketed "meadows-in-a-can" around my environment without altering the forb/grass ratio of the native prairie to any appreciable degree, so I'm somewhat skeptical that a few shotgun shells full of flower seed will improve the outcome.  And these are live shells, dangerous in their own right.  What if I mistook Flowershells for rock salt while chasing off the pack of teenage boys who constantly circle my daughter?  "You're no daisy" might not work anymore as a 19th Century throwback insult for those boys.  I certainly can't risk the chance of contributing to their delinquency if their backsides each sprouted a personal poppy field.

No, Indiegogo's efforts are wasted on me because I'm certainly not going to waste my hard-won cash on Flowershells, despite how interesting and tempting they might seem to a bored gardener in winter.  My gardening money is going to have to be wasted the old-fashioned way, attempting to grow meadows from a can.   

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lovely Louise

'Louise Odier', blooming in clusters
Oh, how I miss the roses here, trapped deep in Winter.  I miss the sunshine on their cheery petals and sweet fragrances on every breeze and their fetching colors against the dark green foliage.  I miss the pollen-coated bees busily buzzing around, and the swelling buds, and the first glimpse of each happy bloom. 

This morning, I was thinking how much I miss 'Louise Odier', the classic pink Bourbon bred in 1851.  She, more formally addressed as 'Madame Louise Odier' but properly exhibited only under 'Louise Odier', carries an 8.4 rating by the ARS and she is eligible for "Dowager Queen" in a show if you participate in such momentary breaks with sanity.  A deep pink, double Bourbon of the most refined cupped and quartered form, she often unveils a green button eye as she fully opens her 3 inch flowers.  'Louise Odier' grows in a vase-like shape with thick tall canes and she does have a bit of blackspot in my garden, but she's never completely naked.  She blooms repeatedly over the summer with one of the strongest fragrances of rosedom, a credit to her Bourbon heritage.  I grew her as my first Bourbon and I still love to bury my nose in those first large blooms of summer.  
I've grown 'Louise Odier' for over 20 years in two different gardens, and she will be one of the last roses I surrender when vigor and strength fail me.  She's been hardy most winters in my Zone-5-becoming-6B-garden, but she does suffer in an occasionally cold year and may die back halfway.  I've seen her reach 7 feet at the end of a summer and I've seen her struggle to reach 4 feet, but she always blooms dependably, even if it is in a mid-1800's, I-don't-have-much-foliage-but-look-at-my-big-blooms sort of way.

While seeking information this morning about her provenance, I noted the following entry (attributed to Brent C. Dickerson in The Old Rose Adventurer): "[Dickerson speculates] that this rose was named after the wife or daughter of James Odier, nurseryman of Bellevue, near Paris, who was active at the time 'Louise Odier' [the rose] was introduced. Monsieur Odier was indeed also a rosebreeder, having bred and introduced the early (1849) Hybrid Tea 'Gigantesque'. He may well thus have been the actual breeder of 'Louise Odier', Margottin later purchasing full propagation rights from him."   And thus I was led to place three books by Brent Dickerson on my Amazon wish list for the next time I place an order.  I had never heard of them before, although I was aware of Dickerson, but I can't pass up any book with new information on the history of Old Roses.  I may not be able to enjoy Bourbon roses in winter, but I can imagine their scent on the coldest January day while I'm reading about them.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Corral Complete

It's been quite some time since I updated you on the barn project, but it is essentially finished, minus a little painting of the iron fencing and a well-chosen corral sign.  Yes, yes, I'm aware that most "oil pipe" fence is left to develop a patina of rust here in Kansas, but at the ripe age of fifty-four I am still apt to climb over the fence rather than walk around to a gate, and I don't want to soil my britches.  My initial plan is to happily spend most of my summers sliding in and out of this "man cave," and rust stains are not part of the vision.

The northernmost third of the barn has been reserved for hoofed critters, hence the "corral".  My original intention was to house a couple of bred Angus heifers for the winter and thus gain the benefits of both the miracle of baby calves while also providing to Mrs. ProfessorRoush some nice grass-fed steaks (the latter individual is an unreformed and unapologetic carnivore).  It has, however, been appropriated by the donkeys and a pair of barn cats for the foreseeable future.  The rest of the barn is storage for the "big green" tractor and its various implements, and the small green" lawn tractor, and various gardening implements that otherwise dirty and clutter up the garage.   

There is something both incredibly calming and deeply biblical about having a barn filled with straw bedding, feed, and living creatures.  I imagine that my blood pressure dropped ten points the minute I started feeding animals again every morning and evening.  There is a peace and stillness in the barn (with the exception, of course, of the donkey's braying at the sight of me), that I haven't had in my life for quite some time.  It may be a -10º wind-chilled trek to the barn, as it is this morning, but it's a short one and it does serve to stir the blood every morning.  Inside the barn will be some hungry kittens and some impatient donkeys, waiting on the stupid primate for some decent sustenance.  It took only two days once the barn was opened for the donkeys and cats to learn when feeding time was.  Creatures of habit, each and every living soul here.

So this is where I can be found this winter, lazily sharpening lawn mower blades and hoes and dreaming of Spring.  The barn cats?  I'll introduce them to you later on, I promise.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Party At My Place

Unbeknownst to a sleeping or absent ProfessorRoush, there seems to have been a party, or a series of parties, held in my back yard in the late month of November.  My garden has, it seems, become the combined neighborhood delicatessen, coffeehouse, and social networking place for the wild creatures of field and forest.  I suppose I should be grateful that they aren't egging the house, although I have noticed the damage from the deer equivalent of teenagers making wheel-mark doughnuts in my garden.

 Take a really close look at the picture above, taken November 25th at 5:29 a.m.  This is the Garden Musings equivalent of Disney's "Bambi" tale.  The doe is easy to see, slightly blurry in the center of the picture, but look closely at the lower left corner.  Those little blobs with the glowing eyes are two rabbits who evidently are not bothered by the simultaneous presence of the deer. Click on it if you need to blow it up a little to see them.

And the next night, November 26th at 3:47 a.m., the doe from the night before must have felt outnumbered by the rabbits and subsequently brought a friend for round two. Or several friends.  I've got approximately 25 photos with deer in them exposed over the space of two hours and I have no idea if all the deer are the same as these two or whether the big party was off camera and they were just using this area for a private conversation.

Last, but not certainly least, on the third day, November 27, at 8:43 a.m., the antlered creature pictured above decided to answer the question I posed in a 2012 blog entry.  Here, at last, is the missing and majestic Hart, bounding away in all his masculine glory.   Nice antlers, buddy.

I must make all haste to deploy countermeasures before my rose garden gets eaten down to stubs.  Hhmmmm, where did my bottle of water go?       

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Friend

After a search of his own blog, ProfessorRoush can scarcely believe that he has never even mentioned, let alone featured, the clear pink blossom of one of his favorite Griffith Buck roses, 'Amiga Mia'.  But, there it was, or more properly, there it wasn't, a glaring absence of the rose unlisted in the "labels" section at the bottom of this blog.

'Amiga Mia' is a medium pink Shrub rose bred by Dr. Buck in 1978, making it an early introduction in his group of roses.  It is described as "Seashell pink" on helpmefind.com, and as "light empire rose (RHSCC 48C) with white at the base of the petals" on the Iowa State Buck Roses page.  I simply call this a clear pink; no bluish or orange overtones in this one, a color that will mix well in the garden.

'Amiga Mia' is almost a grandiflora; Hybrid-Tea style blooms occur in clusters of 5-10 and open quickly.  They are double (25-35 petals) and 4 inches in diameter in my garden.  The plant is very healthy, with glossy, dark green, blackspot-resistant foliage.  'Amiga Mia' is an offspring of 'Queen Elizabeth' and 'Prairie Princess'.  She is hardy to Zone 4.

Dr. Buck gave her a catching name, naming her 'Amiga Mia', translating to "friend of mine" after his friend Dorothy Stemler, an eminent rosarian and proprietor  of California-based "Roses of Yesterday and Today".   That nursery still carries 'Amiga Mia', with the description from the current owner of "Griffith Buck had a great friend – one who respected and loved him, as well as his roses. Her name was Dorothy Stemler, and she was my mother."

This is my third year with 'Amiga Mia' in this garden (I grew her in my previous town garden), and she is a tireless performer.  She is a chubby elfin rose for me, growing about 3 feet tall at maturity, and she has a round overall form.   I love the bloom color and the constant ample display of her bosoms...oops, I mean blossoms.

I do have two complaints about 'Amiga Mia'.  The first is simply that I can rarely find a perfect, unmarred blossom on her.  More often, they're like the photo at the top of this blog, tempting me to learn photoshop so that I can airbrush out her blemishes, much like the fashion industry does with their flawless human models.  My second complaint is that she opens up too fast.  The middle photo, above, shows the bush with a number of new high-centered blooms on 5/28/13.  The photo at the right shows the bush the next day, with most of those same blooms open, pistils on full display.  No woman of the Victorian era would favor such brashness, so it is good that 'Amiga Mia' is around now, in our more accepting and less prudish society alongside our fascination with the Kardashians and Kendra On Top. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratefully Thankful

ProfessorRoush is fully aware, and mildly abashed, that it has been quite some time since my last rose posting on this blog, but I promise that I'll get to one soon.  The next victim has, in fact, been chosen and is waiting in line.

Today, however, I awoke uncharacteristically grateful and I would be distinctly ungrateful if I ignored the feeling.  I'm not given to displays of random emotion, but I can't shunt aside the contented feeling warming me up on this cold Kansas morning.  I'm grateful for my life and my home and my love with Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  Grateful for my children, now almost grown and gone.  Grateful for the donkey's and the new barn cats and my garden. 

I'm grateful for the plants and life of the prairie.  I'm particularly grateful for the native blue sage that pops up randomly in my garden beds and provides a cooling reflection of the clear summer sky in the doldrums of August.  I'm grateful for the prairie grasses, and for the ample sunshine that makes it all possible.  I'm grateful for the mornings given to my life, fields dewy and golden with the rising furnace.

I'm extremely grateful for the Internet this morning, ready with all the information of the world at my touch-typing fingertips, including the origin of the word grateful.  ProfessorRoush's mind doesn't work in a straight line, often taking bends and u-turns through a maze of thought, and somewhere along this little piece of writing, I began wondering why we say that we are "full of grate."  There is no definition of "grate" in the English language (to sound harshly, to irritate, a frame of metal bars to hold wood) that seems pleasant.  Happily, a short search informed me that "grateful" derived from an obsolete meaning of grate as "pleasing", from the Latin grãtus as in gratitude, and that the first known use of "grateful" was in 1552.  It seems odd that "grateful" would have survived in the English language while "grate" no longer is defined as "pleasing."  It seems odd that I would even wonder about it.

But, strange as it is, I'm also grateful just to wonder about it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bluebird Harvest

While I was harvesting pecans, I was also taking advantage of that beautiful November Saturday to make my Bluebird house rounds.  I would rather do this annual chore now, in the sunshine and mild wind, traipsing up and down the hills through the tall grass, before the world gets cold and breezy again.

I'm pleased to report that 11 of 19 boxes, were occupied by Bluebirds this year, a record for me.   Eight of the eleven were boxes of my own North American Bluebird Society-approved design.  Of course, many of you remember the hatch group that I watched closely this year, raised in this nest (to the right) as it looks now and pictured during their growth period (below to the left).   If you haven't seen them before, this is a pretty typical nest for a bluebird, perhaps even a little on the cushy side.  Eastern Bluebirds are not, by any anthropomorphic comparison, very good architects and they seldom place more than an inch of unorganized grass in the bottom of their boxes, varying a little upon the depth of the box cavity.

Of the other eight boxes, two were completely unoccupied and six were occupied by whatever species in my area fills the entire box, top to bottom, with small twigs (House Wren?)  The latter six boxes were all close to the border of the trees in the draw.  I had placed them along that border but facing the open prairie, thinking that the Bluebirds would like the sites, but the Bluebirds seem to be drawn to boxes out in the middle of the grasses, on fence posts.  Since Bluebirds often start nesting in early February in this area, I presume they've got first choice on most of these boxes and are leaving the boxes around the woods and ponds for others.  I think this year I will move some of the woodline boxes out farther into the fields just to make sure I've got a surplus of Bluebird-approved housing in the area.

I have to be a bit careful, however, of my site selection.  I've found that the donkey's like to rub the boxes left within their reach, often to the point of knocking them down, so I've moved several boxes to the opposite side of the fence from the donkeys or into corners where the little brown asses will have trouble getting at them.  Ding and Dong must not like Bluebirds as much as I do.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pecan Plenty

In the midst of a hectic early November, I almost forgot to collect pecans from my young tree, but after driving over them a few times, I did eventually notice that they had fallen from the tree and were awaiting harvest. 

Of course, my epiphany came when I was rushing around doing other things and so I picked them up as rapidly as possible and filled my pockets.  The ultimate result was this previously picked, pocketed, and photographed pile of perfect pecans placed on ProfessorRoush's kitchen counter.  There are, for those who want to know, 83 pecans in this pile.

Last year, I gathered about a dozen pecans from the tree at harvest, the first year it ever bore fruit.  If my crop proliferates at the rate of 83/12, or 6.92X per year, then next year I should harvest 574 pecans, and the year after I should get 3975 pecans, and then 27500 pecans in 2016, and 190348 pecans in 2017. 

I think I'll stop counting after that since I'll literally be rolling in pecans.  Or I can just start counting pecans by the dump truck load after 2017.  Pecan paradise awaits.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rosette Reckoning

'The Magician' Rose Rosette
I suppose some are wondering why ProfessorRoush has been so quiet for the past 9 days?  I'd like to tell you that I've been on a fabulous vacation to a tropical isle, but truthfully I've just been swamped with lots to do and haven't the extra energy to write.  Well, that, and my gardening depression over what I'm about to show you.

Last Saturday, after the leaves finally were blasted off the roses by a cold spell, I used the opportunity of the bare stems to assay my roses for any signs of Rose Rosette disease.  And, of course, I found plenty of possible lesions, on 5 different roses to be specific.  One of the more definitive examples is pictured at the upper right, from a cane on 'The Magician', a recent shrub rose bred by Dr. John Clements.  The red arrow shows the thickened, thorny cane in question, originating from the much smaller branch indicated by the white arrow.

'Darlow's Enigma' Rose Rosette
Other lesions, such as that on 'Darlow's Enigma', pictured at the right, and 'Vanguard', pictured below left were a little less certain, but still highly suggestive.  The fourth and fifth possible victims are unfortunately two Griffith Buck roses, 'Iobelle' and 'September Song'. 

In the positive column, only a single cane was affected on each rose and each one high on the cane at that, and I wacked every one of these diseased canes off at the ground level in hopes that the virus didn't spread to the base.  I would also note that none of these roses are over 3 years old (are they thus more susceptible than established roses?) and that I found no lesions on any of  my Old Garden Roses or my "real" Rugosa Hybrids (I don't really count 'Vanguard' here since its foliage is not very rugose).

'Vanguard' Rose Rosette
On the negative side, two of these newly affected roses were Griffith Buck roses, increasing the affected number of those hybrids to 3/6 in my garden.  Thus 50% of the roses affected so far are Buck roses, although Buck roses do not account for nearly 50% of the roses in my garden.  Are they more susceptible?  Or am I seeing more on Buck hybrids because they constitute a majority of my "modern" rose hybrids; those that are not either Hybrid Rugosa or Old Garden Roses?  I don't know.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Still Life

I am well aware that the few roses in this vase are crumpled and frost damaged and certainly not the best representatives for my gardening skills.  I collected these last few buds from the garden Monday night just before a forecast hard freeze and it occurred to me that I should display their imperfect forms here for some of you who might believe that I don't grow any classic Hybrid Teas at all. 

Any Hybrid Tea roses in my garden have to earn their way in by fragrance, and they can only stay if they will return year after year in Zone 6B with minimal or no winter coddling and without regular fungal sprays.  Thus, I present to you 'Double Delight', 'Tiffany' (on the left) and two buds of 'Chrysler Imperial' (on the right).  I doubt that three more fragrant roses exist in all of the world.  In my garden, but not blooming right now, are also a decrepit 'Garden Party', a struggling 'Pristine', a miserable 'Granada', a scentless 'Touch of Class', two almost-scentless 'Olympiad',  and a mildewed and constantly balled-up, 'La France'.   'Double Delight' and 'Tiffany' are safe from my wrath, and I'll never live in a garden without 'Olympiad', but the rest of these interlopers constantly live at the precipice of spade-pruning.  Indeed, more than once I've expected and wished for  'Garden Party' and 'Pristine' to expire, only to see them send up a measly cane or two just to irritate me.  Some things just don't know when to die on their own.

I've always been particularly fond of 'Double Delight', however.  It is a marginal survivor in my area, but I fell in love with that overpowering sweet scent back in my adolescent rose-growing days before I knew better.  It was sort of like falling for the beautiful high school cheerleader before realizing that keeping her required you to spend all of your hard-earned minimum-wage money and future college funds on jewelry, ice cream, and restaurant meals.  Yes, she was nice to admire and hold and smell, but, darn it, she was still almost more trouble than she was worth.  And that was even without any bouts of fungus disease!  If you weren't a geeky nerd with no other similar female prospects, you'd have gotten rid of her years ago.  In the case of 'Double Delight', yes, it blackspots and it is an ugly garden bush and it throws up lots of double-centered flowers.  I do believe it is more even fragrant on its own roots than it is as a grafted bush, but if I wasn't still a geeky nerd at heart, I'd have shovel-pruned her long ago.  Or maybe not.  Where would I get another rose of that beauty, fungus or not?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ethereal Elegance

Extremely delicate or refined.   Almost as light as air.  Celestial or spiritual.  These definitions of "ethereal" all fit the last rose that shines defiant against the coming Winter in my garden.  Cheerful in spite of frost, embracing the sunlight from dawn to dusk, 'Betty Boop' carries alone the promise of delicate and refined beauty into the cold nights of November.  She may now be clothed in soiled foliage. and her days in warm sun may be numbered, but she blooms still, an angel of charm and elegance in the dying landscape.

I was struck yesterday, on a glorious, warm and bright Saturday afternoon, by the tableau of these bright yellow and red flowers against the now drab buffalograss nearby and the blanched prairie grasses of the distant background.  The individual blooms are stained here and there by the frozen dews, but the chilling nights of the past two weeks have made a porcelain study of the petals and deepened the contrast of yellow center and blushing edges.  While other roses in my garden have balled and browned, 'Betty Boop' still engages the gardener's soul with a passing glimpse, beckoning to close, to come hither and be smitten. 

There are lessons upon lessons here, in this rose, for one and for many.  The values of buoyancy and perkiness while the nearby world stands gloomy and grave.  The strength of fragility and softness in the defiance of certain destruction by the coming storms.  The lure of coy subtlety and refinement over blatant sexuality and wanton display.  The stolen embrace of sunshine and warmth during a fortuitous moment, returned back tenfold to the world in a smile.

Twas 'Betty Boop' who held my heart yesterday, calmed in her graceful hands.     

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Now? Really?

Like many other Texas-borne and -bred organisms, my Texas Red Yucca seems to be befuddled since it was transplanted from its native environment.  I have three plants, purchased on a whim after I saw them blooming in Las Vegas, and I am finding their bloom periods unpredictable at best.

Keep in mind that all three plants are the same age and size and they are cited about two feet apart in the same bed under the same tree.  Last year, two clumps bloomed, the center one starting in June and the south-most one in July, both continuing through September.  This year, the center clump didn't bloom at all.  The clump to the north end bloomed alone in June and has made a nice display all summer.  A closeup photo of the very long-lasting waxy flowers from that raceme is on the left, below.  Most recently, just a few days ago and after our first freeze here, I noticed two foot-high flower spikes growing on the southern-most clump as pictured to the above right.  Say what?  What possible natural signal would have enticed this plant to start blooming now? 

Talk about your messed up biologic cycles.  Land sakes, it must be more evidence of Global Warming!   Somebody please, quick, alert Al Gore!  He'll surely take action; at least, maybe, if you can pull him away from the millions he made selling his TV network to Al-Jazeera.

It will, at the very least, be interesting to see how the winter weather affects this raceme.  Will it shrivel up and turn brown and die?  Or will the waxy coating protect it from the frigid North winds and the dehydrating bright winter sun?  Will this stalk perhaps make it to March and then bloom in April, giving me 6 full months of bloom from a single stalk of flowers? 

No way could I get that lucky.  I'm predicting either a) a mouse will find these succulent stems delightful as a Christmas meal, or b) that the stress of the flowering stalk forming in late fall and into winter will result in the death of the plant, while its more intelligent neighbors bide their time and survive.  Or both.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I Want It!

ProfessorRoush doesn't often post pictures taken outside his own garden, but I can't resist posting this iPhone photo of a Halloween display that I encountered yesterday at a local horticulture proprietor.  Forget the Halloween paraphernalia, look at the garden table!  I took one look at this table, stained cement at about the perfect height for either "real" garden work like potting or for just display and ornaments, and I almost walked out the door with it despite the almost $400 price.  Shades of impulse buys, somebody purchase this thing before it lures me back!

I've never, ever, thought about a table in the middle of my garden, but somewhere in ProfessorRoush Fantasy Garden Land, this table, with its Griffon-style legs, stands adorned in Spring with forced pots of bulbs hidden among blooming wisteria vines.  There is a fat calico-furred feline soaking up the early Spring sunrays and lazily watching a torpid bumblebee lumbering near.  The view changes again in Summer, and I see the legs adorned in Jackmanii wisteria and a fragrant pink pillar rose draped over it along the back, butterflies floating slowly from bloom to bloom on placid early morning air currents.  I see this very table in September, arrayed with ornamental gourds and pumpkins, surrounded on the sides and back by tall 'Northwind' and Miscanthus 'Gracillimus' grasses.  What garden paradise can I create here with this eye-level cement muse?

Alas, while these beautiful vistas beckon, I can't escape from the realities of the Flint Hills.  I know that potted bulbs would be quickly swept off the bench by the Kansas winds of April, and the wisteria would likely refuse to bloom.  The fragrant pillar rose would rake across the table in Summer, scraping any contents to the ground in an instant.  The clematis would be wilting in the hot summer sun, particularly where it contacted the boiling concrete.  The colorful pumpkins and gourds of autumn would be whisked off to Missouri on the back of a thunderstorm while the grasses stood as silent guards around the cement tomb of summer's hopes.

Hey, look again at that picture.  It might not work out in my garden, but I think it would look great in yours!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Misty Magic

I believe ProfessorRoush has mentioned it before, but the monotone beige of the autumn Flint Hills comes completely alive when rain or mist dampens the tall grasses.  Without moisture, the grasses are an uninspiring shaggy carpet of light browns and tans, some perhaps rarely displaying a dusky red undertone.  If the heavens bestow a mild drizzle, however, or perhaps engulf the land beneath a damp cold mist, the prairie becomes a sea of fall colors, reds, golds and yellows woven into a tapestry of summer's bountiful growth.

I came back from a day trip to Nebraska last evening, fighting mist and fog over the last thirty miles of backroads, to find my little corner of prairie transformed into a quiet paradise of colored foliage studded with clear aqueous gemstones.  The mist imposed a sense of isolation and dampened all sounds from the adjacent roads and city as well as raising a veil to screen out the view of other houses on my horizon, leaving my garden as an oasis within Eden.  Some might label the silent misty cloak as an ominous warning of apocalypse, but I felt only peace and calm draped across the land.

The evening mist also provided me a victory of sorts.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush finally conceded that the unmown prairie grass on the rear-facing slope behind the house might have some redeeming qualities beyond her fears of a snake-infested meadow.  I made sure to get a firm verbal commitment of support for my laissez faire approach to the landscape, but I prudently decided not to push my luck with a request for her surrender in writing. Mrs. ProfessorRoush was, in fact, madly snapping close-up photos of the grasses, presumably with the goal of adding them to her already voluminous Facebook page.  In unusual fashion, she was even squatting at eye level with the foliage, capturing a much broader and more artistic view of my meager gardening efforts than she normally strives for.  Oh my, vindication and validation are such sweet wines to the gardener's palette!

My own quick Iphone capture in the growing dusk resulted in the photo displayed above.  There was barely enough light left to trigger the digital pixels, but I found that I liked the blurring effect that the dim light added to the mist.  This is the Kansas prairie, untouched and unsullied by man, carrying all these harvest hues now exposed into winter.  I slept soundly on the prismatic prairie last night, wrapped in a silent blanket of inner peace, separated and protected by a misty curtain against the waves of civilization.    

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Old Daisy, Old Friend

I'm far off my gardening track here, but I've been spending time with an old friend and thought I should introduce him to the rest of you.  I haven't seen him in years, decades actually, until recently, but he was a companion as tried and true blue as I ever had, and I noticed a few weeks back that the years haven't been kind to him.  Like many of us in our late 40's and 50's, he's become worn and dented in spots, squeaking here and there, missing some original parts, and he seems a little short of breath.  I write, of course, about my childhood BB gun, a Daisy Model 99 Target Model.  It's been banished to the basement for far too many years and I decided it might appreciate a little sprucing up and tender loving care in return for providing some of the best days of my childhood.

Daisy Model 99 target airgun, scarred, rusted, and missing the peep sight and the stock medallion.

Stock closeup, missing medallion
It seems horrible now, in these ecologically-minded times, to speak of it, but this old Daisy and I are responsible for deaths of hundreds of birds in the late 1960's.  "Murderer!"  "Genocidal Maniac!"  I hear now the accusations of my adult conscience, even while my child-like subconscious tries to console me. "They were only sparrows."  "None of them were on the Endangered List."  In my defense, the slaughter was carried out with my mother's urging and support, an excuse that seems a little lame after Anthony Perkin's portrayal of Norman Bates has become such a classic and well-known movie character.  You see, our farmhouse was surrounded by mature Silver Maples, thick shelter where hundreds of sparrows roosted every night, and Mom hated them and she hated the bird poop on the walkways and patios, the never-ending stream of goop coming from the trees.   Mom's solution was to provide her eight year old son with a BB gun, an infinite supply of  BB's, and a clear order not to shoot at the windows of the house or barns.  Today she'd probably be locked up for contributing to the delinquency of a child just for providing the gun.

The medallion is back!  And how nice the natural stock looks!
So shoot we did, the innocent rifle, and I, the killer ape-child, for hours on end.   Like many young boys of that era, I was, for a time, John Wayne and Davy Crockett and Teddy Roosevelt, all rolled up into the body of a skinny child of single-digit age.  Today's children know the mayhem of video games and exploding zombies.  I knew only the thrill of the hunt and the fleeting guilt inspired by the dead sparrow at my feet.  My poorly-developed accuracy was not really much of a threat to any given individual bird, but the Law of Averages eventually provided a substantial body count for my mother to praise.  I wasn't malicious either and I never shot at friends or pets or cars.   Contrary to the fears of MAIG mayors and hand-wringing psychologists, neither my BB gun nor my love of Bugs Bunny cartoons made me into a serial killer or homicidal maniac.  To my knowledge, the only lasting effect from the carnage is that I feel guilty every time I hear the classic hymn "His Eye Is On The Sparrow."

Much better!
 Anyway, over the past few weeks I've cleaned up the rust, sanded and stained the stock, put on a new peep sight, and replaced the inner seals on my old pal, and it now shoots as good as new.  I've got a little work left to do on the bluing.  You would think that it would be hard to find parts for a 30 year old airgun, but true to the Internet's function of connecting people with similar interests, I've found there are a number of individuals who specialize in these old rifles.  One phone call to Baker Airguns in Ohio and, after personal attention from the owner, I had the proper parts and a manual and the tools to do a bit of minor gunsmithing.  It's shiny now, and functional, and whole again, and if I can't fix up my own body as well as I did this airgun, at least I can pretend to be young at heart with it.  I promise that I will only shoot paper targets with it from here on out. 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Ding and Dong

Everyone, I'd like you to meet Ding (on the right) and Dong (on the left).  They've come up for a treat, a bit of apple or carrot will do if you're packing some, but if your pockets are empty they'll demand that you run up to the house for some tasty donkey morsels.

I seem to have "inherited" this pair of donkeys by way of a neighbor.  They came from a friend of my  neighbor and enjoyed an extended vacation on our joint pastures this summer.  Their owner happened to mention that he was tired of them and would be happy to give them away if we wanted them.  They're friendly and kind of fun to have around, so we're trying them out for the winter.  If nothing else, they have been a source of entertainment in the middle of the night when they decide to bray and wake up the neighborhood.

Now, it's true that I'm a veterinarian by trade, and in my early pre-surgical specialty years I treated all manner of domestic animals, but horses have never been my thing.  That stems from being bucked off an insufferable Shetland during my first ride at age 7.  I've never rode a horse since and don't trust any of them.  Donkeys, however, are quite sociable animals; you can't have just one donkey because a single donkey will die of loneliness.  Two will thrive together and this pair are as gentle as lambs; well, except when they nip at my fingers while grabbing a piece of apple.  They're both around 20 years old, late middle-aged as it were. Ding is a female and Dong is a male.  You can remember which is which if you remember that my bawdy neighbor calls the male Long Dong for a reason that I can't elaborate for you on a PG-13 blog.

Their previous owner just left them alone to fend for themselves on the prairie the past few years, not even worrying about how they'd get water, but I'm going to make a place for them in the new barn and put a tank in with a warmer.  Besides the quiet companionship and the excuse to slip away from Mrs. ProfessorRoush, I'm looking on this pair as a factory of sorts.  Donkeys, you see, have the lovable habit of pooping in the same place each time, creating a handy pile for the occasional rose fanatic to gather easily.  Already, down in my pasture, is a gold mine growing day by day.  Yes, I think the donkeys and I are going to get along just fine.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Forgotten Surprises

If there are, perhaps, any blessings at all to old age and fading memory, one must consider that life is often lightened by the sudden reminders of lost memories.  I had such a moment yesterday, during my "First Frost Chores" day, when the Crocus sp. pictured here decided to jump up and down to capture my attention.  What a delightful surprise to find such an elfin white beauty peeping up from among the columbines, just as one is mourning the loss of so many of summer's flowers.  On a Gulliver to Lilliput level, that bright orange pollen sprinkled on the translucent white background leaves me spellbound.

I hadn't the slightest idea where I obtained these, when I planted them, or how long they'd been there beyond a vague recollection of thinking they would be a nice addition to my autumn garden.  They are not native in Kansas, however, so I'm choosing to blame my memory rather than proclaim a botanical miracle.    In fact, when I first saw them, Crocus autumnale leapt into my mind as the most likely identification, probably because of the connection of autumn and autumnale within my rudimentary garden-gained Latin.  I knew of another autumn blooming crocus, Crocus sativus, but I was betting on ProfessorRoush's scientific peculiarities, and I felt that I would have been more likely to plant C. autumnale, the source of the poly-ploid-inducing botanical agent colchicine, rather than C. sativus, the source of cooking saffron.  In other words, my curious mind would likely chose a mutative toxin over a cooking spice for my garden.   I was thinking, of course, of how fun it would be to make a few of my own tetraploid daylilies.

This episode proves, however, why you should keep good garden records and why the mysteries of senior memory loss are so frustrating.  While I have no trouble recalling the scientific names and blooming characteristics of a pair of obscure autumn-blooming crocuses, I was wrong on both counts and my written notes inform me that I planted Crocus speciosus at these exact spots in 2004.  C. speciosus is a light lilac crocus native to Turkey that does, in fact, match the appearance of these delicately veined blooms better than the fictitious crocuses of my memory.  This light specimen is probably the white cultivar 'Albus'.   The Latin, speciosus, means "showy" or "beautiful", and yes, I suppose it is. 

Somewhere in the back of my mind, and contrary to my written notes, I still have an inkling that there are a few pink C. autumnale planted at the west corner of my house.  They may have been shaded out by larger surrounding plants, but I'm going to look for them soon, if only to prove to myself that my memory isn't totally slipping into oblivion.  On the other hand, if these are the surprises that my fifth decade brings, then I'm really looking forward to my nineties when the minute-to-minute astonishments of discovering again the existence of airplanes, computers, and television will really keep things exciting.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fall's First Frost

Gardeners, I give you....Frost.  These are the sights that greeted the risen sun in my garden this morning; frost on the persicaria, frost on the buffalograss and frost to the horizon.  Yesterday's weather was supposed to be drizzly and cold, with a predicted high of 45F, but the particular weatherperson who made that prediction was a little bit wrong.  A little bit wrong like the engineer who said the Titanic was unsinkable. We actually had snow flurries most of yesterday morning, melting as fast as the flakes hit the ground, but snow nonetheless.  And yesterday afternoon, the high reached only 37F, eight degrees off the prediction and cooling already as I came home from work.  Couple that with a clear, cloudless night and this morning's thermometer showed 30F when I rose.

What does it mean, this first frost of Fall?  The hoarfrost was not a surprise and actually right on time, inevitable and almost obedient to the average frost date, October 15th, for this part of Kansas.  I've been waiting patiently for this day.  To ProfessorRoush, it meant that I could finally chop off the errant foxtail grasses who were trying to push that last seed out before winter and that I could safely start to prepare the lawn mower for spring; drain the oil, change the filters, and clean the deck.  It meant that I could proceed with planting those daffodil bulbs that have been biding time in the garage for the past few weeks.  It meant that I could mow off the peonies, and move some infant volunteer redbuds from an unwanted spot to their secret garden rendezvous.  It provided the impetus to gather the ornamental gourds and the birdhouse gourds from the vegetable garden and move them to a drying place.  All these things and more I accomplished today, on a beautiful, bright, crisp Saturday afternoon.

The first frost also brings death and sorrow.  The end of the roses draws nigh, buds caught napping by winter's cold breath.  Some, rescued by the shears, will yet open indoors, but many will blacken and wilt, unborn.  The leaves on maples and oaks previously dawdled, slowly changing from dark green to light, but now they will rush into color, pulling the precious sugar back to their roots.  I can almost hear them change now, murmuring in my subconscious, unseen brushes of reds and yellows and browns  working their magic minute to minute.  Blue-toned buffalograss turns tan and hibernates, waiting beneath the earth for summer's warm rays.  Now only straw protects earth from the footprints of the beasts, and the beasts eat the dead grass, the carbon of life's recent fires.  The garden withdraws beneath the earth and the gardener retreats inside.  We plan, and then we await last frost, the last gasp of winter.  In the river of time, we know that last frost will come again just as surely as did the first frost this morning.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Silver Shadows Anniversary

'Silver Shadows'
The appropriate topic I've picked for tonight, in an effort to interrupt my extended absence from blogging and my concentration on the more serious aspects of life, is a brief introduction for a brave young rose that is steadfastly blooming in defiance of the cooler temperatures moving in on my Flint Hills environment.

That brave rose is a Griffith Buck rose introduced in 1984, a beauty aptly named 'Silver Shadows'.   She is another of my new own-root children this year and so far this summer I've been pleased by her performance.  'Silver Shadows' is officially a mauve or mauve blend Hybrid Tea of classic double form and carrying 3" blossoms with a nice moderate fragrance of citrus overtones.  Now, in early autumn, I can see the mauve tones more clearly, but at the height of summer, this rose was a definite bridal silver, never bleaching to white no matter how hot the sun shone down on it. 

My 'Silver Shadows' only made it to about 18 inches tall this summer, but at maturity, I've read that she should reach four feet tall and she has an ARS garden rating of 7.2.  She managed to thrill me with about 4 bloom flushes during her first summer, with the latest flush the most full of the season so far (15 blooms on her small frame today!) and she is pretty healthy, with a little blackspot amounting to about 25% of the leaves at the end of the season.  As a mauve, she never gets as blue as the Buck rose 'Blue Skies', but she's much healthier than 'Blue Skies' in my garden and her bridal silver tones are unique in the rose world.

In the opening to this blog entry, when I mentioned that 'Silver Shadows' was an appropriate topic for tonight, I was alluding to the fact that tomorrow is my 31st wedding anniversary; the 31st anniversary of the day that Mrs. ProfessorRoush took a bold step down the aisle toward a rosy future with this eccentric blogging gardener.  As near as my failing memory allows, I think the roses at our wedding were white and pink, but Sweetie, I promise here and now that I'll still grow 'Silver Shadows' for our 50th.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shutdown Absurdity

Friends, in his own opinion, ProfessorRoush has done an exceptional job at Garden Musings, avoiding any mention of politics here over the now 3+ years I've blogged.  Only those who know my tendency to rant over seemingly minute issues can fathom what a struggle that has been, but I'm going to make an exception today.  The dam has broken.  The die is cast.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  The....oh, you know what I mean.

Last night, I was at a Riley County Extension Board meeting and the local Horticultural agent reported that he and the Ag agent had recently seen a new "weed", Tragia sp. and had visited the plant experts at K-State to identify it.  Now, Tragia, also known as NoseBurn,  is not new, since two species have been reported in Kansas, but it's fairly rare and I hadn't seen it before either.  In fact, it's not described at www.kswildflower.org, my go-to Kansas native plant site.

So I pulled out my trusty I-phone and went to http://plants.usda.gov/, where, to my surprise, I received the following message:

My Fellow Gardeners, that is way beyond absolutely ridiculous. It tells me clearly that the bureaucrats are playing games.  I'm in a fortunate place in my life, not old enough for Social Security or Medicare, not directly dependent on the Federal government for income, and not planning any trips presently to a National Park.  So I've been personally unaffected by the "Shutdown" and as long as the military and senior citizens get paid, I have enough of a Libertarian streak that I'm happy for the respite from government.   I was a little aggravated yesterday over the news of shutdown of the WWII memorial; I mean, the place is for walking around, do we have to barricade it off?  But to shut down a running informational website?  I understand that the information may not be immediately updated, but I'm sure that I can manage without the absolute latest information on a botanical specimen.  I suppose someone might offer the feeble explanation that no one is around to make sure Server #2115 doesn't overheat and subsequently burn down Washington, but the USDA Plants database isn't the only thing on those servers and I suspect those computer technicians are on the "critical" list of personnel anyway.

Recognize that I'm not pointing a specific finger here.  Blame the Democratic Senators, blame the Tea Party if you want, but they are all representing the people who elected them and we got what we asked for;  stalemate, which is almost as good as not having a government.  Shutting the USDA Plants database down, however, is nothing but a political ploy.  A pox on both their Houses.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Silent Muse

Rosa 'Belinda's Dream'
When the writer's muse grows silent,
When dams bar long the stream of words,
the wisp of thought, the lilting voice,
the lure of prose and syntax choice,
What then stirs the pen to motion?
What then moves the soul to sing?

There are times when dreams fall mute,
There are times when plans unborn, 
endless paper, stark and vacant,
endless hours, waste so blatant,
How to start the torrent flowing?
How to keep the river running?

One starts searching deep inside,
One feels urging, surging meme,
and boosts it over dikes and walls,
and nurtures it through storms and squalls,
Why relentless moves the id?
Why the need, the itch to birth?

I must seek within the canyons,
I must listen to the voices,
look for sparks to strike the passion,
look for mood and there to fashion, 
Where and when and what to spew?
Where and how and why the word?

ProfessorRoush is working past a little writer's block tonight, hoping that a different pattern will stir up a few ideas from the depths of psyche.  The primary rule of breaking writer's block is to start writing.  Obviously, tonight that resulted in a poem with an odd cadence and rhyming sequence, during which I had a little fun with the What, Where, When, Why and How's of journalistic dogma.  Hopefully, a new week and cooler Fall nights will bring inspiration and release.  Meanwhile, a mildly misshapen 'Belinda's Dream' fits my mood, I think, pretty well. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Prairie Valor

'Prairie Valor'
Dr. Griffith Buck chose some fabulous descriptive names for his roses, but I think he outdid himself while bestowing an identity on one of his later creations, the deep red rose 'Prairie Valor'.  The Iowa State Buck website only describes 'Prairie Valor' as a medium red shrub rose, of the color Indian lake (RHSCC 59B).  I don't know what that really means, but the 59B group comprises those hues that are near ruby-red and "ruby red" fits the rose really well.  Most importantly, this rose touches something that most roses don't.   'Prairie Valor' elicits, at least in me, a visceral response whose presence I find hard to explain.  My first bloom from this rose evoked a deep down, gut-moving feeling of awe, and the feeling reoccurs each time a new bloom opens.  What I believe Dr. Buck felt in this rose was exactly that; the sense of bravery transmitted by the presence of purple undertones among the ruby shades.   'Prairie Valor' hides a Knight's heart beneath its velvet petals.

'Prairie Valor' was introduced in 1984 and bears those ruby red blooms as large (4.5") fully double flowers, often in clusters.  The first photo here, above at right, best reproduces the true color tones of this rose as I perceive them.  Each petal develops a whiter edge as it ages and  flowers repeat consistently in flushes over the summer.  In addition to the rare color, the fragrance of Prairie Valor also sets it apart from many other roses in my garden.  'Prairie Valor' has a deep, musky, almost masculine fragrance that buries itself deep in your nostrils.  I've written tongue-in-cheek about the gender of different roses, but I'm not joking when I say that 'Prairie Valor' can only be male, from its color and presentation, to its scent.

The bush is moderately healthy, about 4 foot tall and 3 foot wide in typical Hybrid-Tea gangly form, and this year, the first in my garden, it developed mild blackspot.  I would guess that only about 25% of the leaves have been affected thus far, however, and it continues to bloom freely.  I do not know yet how winter hardy it will prove, but I did see an Internet note from Appalachia that suggested that winter damage is possible.  I also saw a note that said the cultivar is a blackspot magnet in North Carolina.  Who can say?  Time in the guise of a couple of full years of growth will tell me what I need to know.

Somewhere, deep down inside, I know that 'Prairie Valor' is probably not the healthiest of the Griffith Buck roses, but I already know that I'm going to give it a little extra attention in my garden.  I'm willing to trade off a little additional care, on occasion, for any bloom that stirs my blood like 'Prairie Valor', however much a hands-off rosarian I strive to be.  I know, deep inside, that it must advantage any garden of this world, however fertile the soil and mild the climate in which it is based, to bear the soul of a medieval Knight in its heart.


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