Wednesday, January 30, 2013

David Thompson Lives (For Now)

It is a poorly-kept secret that our Government officials, soon after being elected or appointed, quickly learn to use Friday as a day to dump bad news on the unsuspecting public.  Few of us, the over-taxed serfs, take notice of anything except family and fun on Friday nights and weekends.  The goal is to divulge the bad news Friday after the newspapers have been written and then hope that it'll be forgotten by Monday.  Following that example, I'm going to use the dead of winter to finally discuss 'David Thompson' in Garden Musings.  Maybe that way someone, somewhere will still find him worthwhile to grow.

'David Thompson' is one of the Explorer Series Collection of roses.  It was released by Agriculture Canada in 1979 and bred by Dr. Felicitas Svejda.  Named after a famous British-Canadian fur trader, 'David Thompson' is officially a medium red Hybrid Rugosa rose that repeats occasionally throughout the summer.  My mature, 11 year old specimen has never grown lower than three feet tall nor higher than four feet tall, and it has is 3-4 feet in width as well, a rotund aging specimen much like the local gardener.  The leaves are strongly rugose, and the flowers open quickly to flat semi-double disorganized disks with golden stamens.  'David Thompson is thought to be the result of an open pollination between 'Schneezwerg' and 'Fru Dagmar Hartopp'. 

I thoroughly hate this rose.  It holds a prominent spot in my back landscape bed and I have regretted placing it there from that first summer at this house.   Why, you ask, do I hate 'David Thompson'?  Let me count the ways.  First, the official description of medium red really means, in similar fashion to other roses described as medium red, that it is really a lousy shade of glaring bluish-pink that clashes with the clear pink tones of 'Carefree Beauty' to the west and the pale pink of 'Fantin Latour' to the east (see the photo below).  Second, the frequent white-streak added to the petals only make them look less refined. Third, even though a relatively small Rugosa, it is a thorny vicious beast, grabbing me every time I dare to shortcut across the bed within its reach.  Fourth, although it doesn't sucker far, it does sucker, slowly expanding the width of the clump and threatening to take more lebensraum than it deserves.  Fifth, the flat flowers are as uninspiring in form as they are in color, and they bring to mind a teenager's messy bedroom-nest, a phenomenon that I hoped to have left behind by this stage in life.  Sixth, although described as being "strongly fragrant", it has only mild, if any fragrance, to my personal sniffer.  All of that, and one more thing; the petals crumple quickly in the extreme heat of August, like fried pink potato chips.

'Carefree Beauty', left, and 'David Thompson', right
After reading my previous not-high praise, your second question must surely be, "why don't you spade-prune him if you hate him so much?"   To my constant chagrin, I must, in fairness, disclose that "David Thompson" remains so carefree and healthy that I have not yet become disgusted enough to take that final act, even though I annually reconsider that decision during the first bloom period.  'David Thompson' needs no extra water, no fertilizer, will almost always have a bloom or two somewhere, and he is bone-cold hardy down to USDA Zone 2.  He blooms almost incessantly, although never prolifically after the first flush.  It never has blackspot or mildew or insect damage.  My only hope is that he succumbs to a good infection of Rose Rosette disease.

I did have a good laugh while researching this rose.  A comment from "Monika" on the listing for 'David Thompson' states it is an "ugly Rugosa thing establishing its sucking roots in my garden only because I mistook it for 'Henry Kelsey', but hey, it blooms!"  Monika, whoever and wherever you are, I think that sums up my feelings on 'David Thompson' perfectly!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Winter's Prayer

Deep in ground where Cold Ones dwell,
The garden goes to rest, so weary
Green Life dormant, tranced by spell
Of glacial Winter, damp and dreary.

Rootlets dream of golden days,
Rain trickling down the pores of earth,
Buds sleep soft in frozen slumber,
Biding strength til their rebirth.

Demeter's hoary breath to mourn
Persephones loss to Hades forewarns,
The time of death, the time of ice,
Has come by now to poach the price,
Of life grown in warm Summer's day,
Vital and verdant put away,
By Fall the stocks of sugars stored,
To yield in Spring their sweet reward.

Like the garden, stills the gardener,
Waiting for the time of bloom,
Aching bones and crying sinew,
Wallowing in depths of gloom.

Gardener's also dream of sunshine,
Warm days, wet springs, gentle mist,
Serves to keep the growers lifeline,
Thoughts of days of Summer's bliss.

Hermes fly with rapid haste
To fetch Spring's maiden for embrace,
The time of growth, the time of life,
Must surely come to ease the strife,
Of frozen Winter, running down,
The sands of Time revolving round,
March the lion, April's tears,
Come May, come June, come back this year.

Deep in ground, where Cold Ones dwell,
The garden waits, and rests and sleeps,
Buds and tendrils wait to swell,
And grow and bloom and ever leap.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Breakneck Barnraising

ProfessorRoush knows almost nothing about building large structures or even Lego houses, but if there's one thing I do know about construction, it is that cement walls get built fast.  A week ago on Friday, there was only a big dirt hole and a foundation when they suddenly began setting up concrete forms for the walls. 

By Monday, the forms were up and the walls had been poured.  It was not impressive to look at since, to me, it just looked like a giant steel fish tank from the top and sides. 

On Wednesday, the forms were down and I was beginning to see the building it would become.  The small door on the left is a walk-in entrance, and the three large openings to the front are garage-bay doors.  All of the latter are going to be manually-operated since I'll probably just open them once on any given work day and I don't feel like robbing the planet for the materials and energy consumed by three more garage door openers.

Yesterday, they poured the floor for the 35' X 20' space and they laid the foundation drains and filled in the back.  Now it just needs a roof to be a functional shelter for the new tractor and implements.

Eventually, the front and about half of the sides gets bricked like the house. You may notice the pipe standing up against the far (north) wall.  There are 4 of these spaced around that third bay and their purpose is to anchor some gates, fencing, and cattle feeding troughs to separate it off from the rest of the space.  This spring, I'll connect that area with the pasture and then, by early Autumn, there are a couple of bred, tame, Angus heifers in my future.  After thirty years of apartment living or backyard horticulture, ProfessorRoush needs some Zen time with a couple of quiet, loving, 800 lb pets.  Stay tuned this fall and we'll have a naming contest for my new girls.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Shockingly Old News

BLAAWH!  BLAAWH! BLAAWH!  I'd like to interrupt my previously scheduled programming with the following terrible news bulletin:  In response to my flippant comment yesterday about the seeming recent dearth of mail-order catalogues and my hope that I wouldn't hear of any new nursery closings, a kind reader has informed me that I have missed the demise of one of my favorite xeriscapic plant sources, David Salmon's High Country Gardens.

Since a quick panicked search of the Internet has shown this to be yesterday's (or at least last November's) news, most of you probably already know about it and may be resigned to it.  I don't know how I missed it, but I do now realize why I haven't seen a catalogue yet this year from High Country Gardens instead of the seemingly monthly catalogues I used to get.  I have that feeling people get when they go out to feed the cats and suddenly realize that they haven't seen them around for a week or so.

All may not yet be completely lost, I pray. The High Country Gardens company website states that mail order may still continue for at least the 2013 season, but it sounds like the retail stores have closed and the company is reorganizing.  Still quite a shock to me, though.  I had recently seen and enjoyed David Salmon as the featured speaker at the Kansas State Master Gardener's Conference and I had been planning a High Country order this spring derived from notes I made during Salmon's presentation.  Where now, am I going to get new Agastache, Gaillardia and Salvia?

I'm afraid, friends, that this is going to get worse before it gets better.  I've seen it occurring in the specialty rose mail-order businesses and to some of the large mail-order nurseries, but I never expected it with a company I thought was as popular as High Country Gardens.  I'm a little worried now that the weekly emails I've been getting from K. Van Bourgondien and others are not just overexuberant marketing, but may be, in fact, a cry for help.  All I can do is make a plea for all of us to help out your favorite speciality nurseries by placing any size order you can afford, and soon.  Walmart and Home Depot may be inexpensive and convenient, people, but they're not going to offer 'Madame Hardy', or for that matter, Agastache 'Desert Sunrise'.  Gardening is going to be a poorer hobby if High Country Gardens does cease business, but it will be unbearable if we're ultimately restricted to purple barberries, 'Stella de Oro' daylilies, and boring junipers because of our shortsighted pocketbooks and lack of effort. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Caution, Barn Ahead!

Pipevine Swallowtail on Purple-leaf Honeysuckle
So, has the anticipation built enough yet?  I've stayed away from my blog because it is too cold here to even think about gardening.  The world is not  imposing any gardening musings on me either, since I've only received two seed and bulb catalogues in the mail this year.  Is the lack of catalogues a sign of the garden economy?  Next, will I hear that more mail order nurseries are cutting back or out of business?  I hope not.

I have been forced to brave the cold however to plan and keep track of my huge winter project.  I previously wrote about the home farm sale and my trip back home to gain some tools, but one of the biggest tools is yet to make it to Kansas;  a small tractor with all the trimmings for cutting pasture and garden cultivation!  And before it can come, I've got to have storage space built, so I've finally begun construction of an outbuilding/toolshed/barn which will house the tractor, implements, lawn mowers, hoses, and all the other gardening paraphernalia that Mrs. ProfessorRoush blames for dirtying up her garage.  In short, I'm building a big gardener's playhouse and being banished to it.

In my area, outbuildings have to match the design and roof line of the house according to the local homeowner's agreement, so, to limit the amount of brick I have to buy and to decrease the visibility of the structure, I decided to bury it in the hillside just east of the house, pictured above and below, with the 3-bay entrance facing the pasture.  This hillside was too steep to mow, and years ago I planted it with a dozen seedlings of purple-leaf honeysuckle, which spread rapidly to adequately cover the rocky hillside and provides me plenty of pleasurable perfume each spring.

One day, a couple of weeks back, it was an overgrown mass of honeysuckle, lifeless in winter, and infested with pack rats and snakes.  The next day it was a hole in the ground, exposing the rocky soil profile to the world as I noted in my last post.

So, goodbye to the honeysuckle, hello to the barn!  Well, at least temporarily adios to the honeysuckle because although I've never heard her mention it before, Mrs. ProfessorRoush has made me promise to replant "her" beloved honeysuckle that she now claims she enjoys so much.  I agreed in principle to keep some of the honeysuckle, but primarily for the benefit of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies and not at all due to the wailings and tongue-lashing from Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  Tomorrow or the next day, I'll show you the walls that have gone up this week.  One good thing about concrete walls;  they go up fast!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rocky Rumblings

So where, Dear ProfessorRoush, have you been?  My email has been ringing whilst my blog has been quiet for over a week, but yet never fear, back again, I am.

I confess that I have taken a short January break, toppled over by the dual effects of a moderately-severe gastrointestinal flu that sapped my energy for a few days and by an attack of the mid-winter doldrums. Even the winter catalogues seem slow in coming this year and my gardening enthusiasm is at the apogee of annual orbit in my soul.   January, you are so cruel and hard, and my spirit is so weak and desolate without the sunshine.

I have been forced into a winter project, however, to pick up my spirits, and I got rid of the flu by passing it on to poor Mrs. ProfessorRoush, who I then nursed for another few days just as lovingly as she had nursed me earlier.  Married life does occasionally justify its trials by providing a little comfort in the form of a cool cloth and a soothing voice while you are draped limply over a toilet.

But you're wondering about the winter project?  Well, I'll keep you in suspense for a day or two, but I will teasingly reveal, for now, that it involves digging.  The picture is a current cross-section of my soil profile from surface to approximately 8 feet deep, provided here in order to gain your eternal sympathy.  You thought I've been kidding about the rocky nature of Kansas soil, didn't you? Well, here it is, about 6 inches of nice organic soil, followed by 4 feet or so of mixed clay and flint rock, followed by a foot or two of dark brown clay with a little less rock, then a foot of red anaerobic clay without rock, then chalk, then limestone.  They don't call it the Flint Hills for nothing.

Now imagine digging through this dry nut-sprinkled mud pie.  Your shovel, no matter how hard you jump on it, penetrates no more than three to four inches until it reaches rock.  Or imagine that you are a root, a baby rootlet reaching deep to stretch your tender fingers between the sharp shards of flint. Ouch!  See the roots, just short of half-way down the image?  Those are from purple-leaf honeysuckle bushes, the most recent inhabitants of this particular bit of soil.

In a few days I'll reveal my new project in it's entirety, but for now, content yourself with thanking your lucky stars that you only have to contend with sticky Georgia clay, humus-poor Florida sand, or perfect Kentucky loam.  Or we could both concentrate on the perfection of that clear blue Kansas sky taken early this morning, peeking from the top of the picture here.  Ain't it pretty?


Friday, January 4, 2013

A Ruby in the Rough

In a quick, winter-boredom-induced search for roses on which to report, I have identified several Canadian roses that I have yet to mention in this blog.  I intend to rectify this oversight over the next few weeks, and I believe I'll start first with the unusual petals of  'Morden Ruby'.

'Morden Ruby' is a Parkland Series Canadian rose bred by Dr. Henry Marshall in 1964 and introduced in 1977.  It forms a small, well-behaved pink-blend shrub that has occasional repeat bloom throughout the summer.  The 3" diameter cluster-flowered blooms open quickly from ruby-red buds and are fully double with an old-rose form, but they have little or no fragrance.  My twelve-year-old multi-stemmed specimen stays about 3 feet tall and four foot wide and has required absolutely no trimming.  In fact, the bush is certainly not vigorous, but neither does it seem to have much disease or cane dieback, so I can't remember needing to attend to it at all for the past 5-6 years.  The leaves are matte green and fairly blackspot resistant, and the stems turn reddish-brown in winter. Several references mention hips, but I have not seen an appreciable fruit on my bush.  If 'Morden Ruby' has a fault, it is that I rarely notice him unless I make a specific effort to visit it.  This is not a rose that will make an impact in your garden when viewed from afar.

I'm not one to belabor a point (okay, I am, but I'm ignoring all evidence to the contrary), but 'Morden Ruby' would be a little-noticed shrub except for the beautiful and unusual deeper red stippling of the petals that you can see in the picture at the upper left.  I came across a comment in Swedish about this rose that google-translated to "freckles on the cheek", and that phrase describes the bloom nicely.  This is a rose to view up close and personal, where you can examine the perfection of each petal.  He is a pretty thornless rose in character, so you can also get that upclose view easily without danger your life and limb.  A cross of a seedling and the floribunda 'Fire King', 'Morden Ruby' is said to be a sister plant to 'Adelaide Hoodless'.   I believe the stippling may be the result of the R. arkansana heritage of this rose.  Reported to be fully hardy to Zone 2b, I haven't seen any dieback at all here in Kansas since I got the rose established here.

One reference stated that 'Morden Ruby' is a good rose that should be more widely grown, and I agree with that statement, but unfortunately, it will never have the garden impact of Knock Out.  Of course, 'Morden Ruby' has its own internal beauty, but since when has the world taken notice of that?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Cherubim Blessing

As a Christmas gift to myself, Mrs. ProfessorRoush had encouraged me to bring back a new garden statue from Indiana while I rented a moving van to retrieve items from the farm.  At first appearance, that may seem a long distance to go for a cement statue,  but just south of where I grew up is a large statue nursery, with great prices.  It is the site of the nude and voluptuous "Eve" that I wrote about in my Garden Musings book, and over the years we had shopped it on occasion, purchasing small items when the mood struck.  At Thanksgiving, the missus and I together had noticed this adorable cherub, and we were in agreement that it enhance the theme of my garden and provide a nice focal point.  And here it stands now in my garden, 700 miles and six weeks later.

The theme of my garden? I like to think of it as a reading garden, a quiet garden for contemplation and knowledge acquisition, combining my dual loves of the garden and the written word.  My ideal garden structure is not the construction of a simple greenhouse or potting shed, it is of a comfortable, cool, and well-lighted structure in which to read and write amidst of my garden.  Somewhere there, in that vision of personal paradise, I hope to spend my golden days, engaged in the quiet study and worship of life on this prairie. 

I knew enough to call my new statue a "cherub," and I thought the "shushing" gesture was cute, but I was really unaware just how well this particular little cherub would fit my garden. I had little previous knowledge of cherubs except that they are depicted as fat little infants with wings.  I was woefully ignorant of a vast amount of religious symbolism and myth, for cherubim are not simply angelic infants floating in heaven, they are the second of nine orders of celestial angels in Christian theology, the personal attendants of God who hold in themselves the special gift of wisdom.  This little stone angel with a finger to its lips fits my garden far better than I ever dreamed.

I've introduced you before to one of my other "reading garden" statues, my Aga Marsala, holding her book high among the roses.  But while writing this blog entry, to my shock, I realized I've never shown you the first of my readers, the angelic reading statue (pictured now at left) that was a birthday gift from Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her diminutive clone many years back.  Little they knew at the time that they were gifting me a garden theme and a focus for my days to come.  It is a little scary for an old man to realize how transparent he is to the females in his life.  An open garden book, perhaps?


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