Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Winnipeg UnWhineing

One of the unrecognized bonuses from growing a number of roses is the frequency of surprises one receives.  I've grown the AgCanada rose 'Winnipeg Parks' for several years, originally purchased solely to add to my hardy roses collection, without any real notice of her.  She never performed well enough to provide any excitement, nor did so poorly that I was terribly tempted to spade prune her.  The latter, of course, is no real recommendation because a rose has to either perform very very poorly for me to give up on it; or alternatively it has to die on its own to rid itself of my tortures. 

This year, however, seems to be a prime one for 'Winnipeg Parks'.  I first noticed that she looked healthier and more floriferous than normal at the K-State Rose Garden early last week.  And then in my own garden she popped out boldly and early this year, refusing to shrink into the scenery, with a bountiful set of flowers in a more brilliant pink than I had yet seen from her.  I don't know if it is a response to the drought last year or the colder winter, or some unknown factor, but like a Derby winning horse, this seems to be her year.

'Winnipeg Parks' is a Parkland Series rose bred by Henry Marshall (or Collicutt?) in 1981 and introduced in 1990.  Her name commemorates the City of Winnipeg Parks and Recreation Department centennial of 1993, which seems to be a trivial event for such a rose, but there you are.  She is officially labeled a deep pink, but her pinkness borders right on red-orange tones, and it has been called both cherry red and raspberry red in some articles (I could agree with the latter).  Whatever the color, it really stands out against the dark green, healthy foliage.  The mildly double blooms open quickly but hold their color reasonably well, fading only slightly before petal drop, and they have but a slight fragrance.  I have not known her to develop hips.  She is a small rose, standing at around 2.5 feet tall at 4 years of age in my garden, spreads a bit wider (at 3.5 feet) and I would not call her vigorous by any means.  I had a previous 'Winnipeg Park's that suffered along for 4 years and finally died after I moved her in an attempt to provide her more sun.  This newer clone seems to be healthier and I must have found the right place for her.  She is hardy to zone 2B and although she was rated very resistant to blackspot in the 1998 Montreal Garden Survey, I've seen her get a moderate amount of fungus here.  Not enough to spray, mind you, but enough to leave her ankles bare by September.

I think 'Winnipeg Parks' is worthy of holding a shrub rose spot in any garden, but she needs to be in the front of the border due to her small stature, and she needs to get plenty of sun to stay healthy.  In the right spot, she repeats often enough during the summer to serve as a bright pinkish-red focal point every month for as long as the warm weather holds.  Although I wouldn't have recommended her in years past, I must conclude that she either blossoms at maturity, or she just has a really good year now and again, a year good enough to justify keeping her around for an occasional special surprise.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lillian Gibson Revival

All right, I can't stand keeping the secret any longer.  ProfessorRoush has a blooming 'Lillian Gibson'.  Yes, I do. I first heard about 'Lillian Gibson' in a post on GardenWeb in the early Summer of 2011, and I learned more about her in this earlier 2009 post from none other than Suzy Verrier, author of Rosa Gallica and Rosa Rugosa.   When Suzy Verrier recommends a rose as "the best climbing rose for harsh climates," I sit up and listen.

'Lillian Gibson'
It seems that 'Lillian Gibson', a Hybrid Blanda introduced in 1938 by Neils Hansen, had fallen from favor and commerce.  At one time, she was, according to Hansen himself  "the sensation at the Sioux Falls Flower Show, June, 1938."  Ms. Verrier initiated a forum post because she had persuaded Bailey Nurseries to offer it again and was alerting others to ask for it so that a minimum offering could be generated.  As the forum thread developed and others searched for it and lamented being unable to find 'Lillian Gibson', one of the most delicious comments I've ever seen on the web was posted near the end of that thread; "The masses of today aren't going to go after great-grandma in flannel PJs when they can have a bimbo in a bikini with silicone, even if it is all just in the power of suggestion."  Wow, modern horticulture summed up in a single sentence.

As it turns out, Bailey Nurseries likely did create some 'Lillian Gibson' plants that year, but they didn't sell well and the remains ended up as "bagged" roses at Home Depot in 2011, where I snagged two of them.  One of those decrepit bagged roses lived, with the result that I now have a 4 foot tall sprawling rose antique in my garden.

'Lillian Gibson', 2 years old and early in bloom
'Lillian Gibson' is a pink double rose that will grow to 5-10' tall at maturity, a tall shrub or a short climber.  In her second year, she is about 3 foot tall and 6 feet around for me.  This cross of  Rosa Blanda 'Aiton' X Red Star (hybrid tea) was an attempt by Hansen to create a line of thornless roses on the prairie.  There seems to be a little confusion about the actual rose, however, for some proclaim it's strong fragrance and others state that it has little or no fragrance.  I'm in the middle, allowing that she has some fragrance but it isn't overwhelming.  Walter Schowalter believed that there are two different 'Lillian Gibson' being grown, both of which were tall shrubs, hardy, once-blooming, with red winter canes, and without hips.  One, the true 'Lillian Gibson', has a few prickles and the flowers are shell pink.  The other, which Showalter dubbed 'Lillian Gibson Sibling' was completely thornless, a deeper rose color, and not as full.  I believe I've got the true one by this description as mine does have a few prickles and is a beautiful clear pink.  Hansen himself described 'Lillian Gibson' in the 1940 American Rose Annual as "the flowers are large, double, with over forty petals of a beautiful lively rose-pink, about three inches across, and with delightful rich fragrance. The plant, of strong, upright, sturdy growth, is a very abundant bloomer in late June; sparsely thorny on young shoots, with scattered thorns on the old shoots." 

Niels Ebbesen Hansen, whose nickname was the "Burbank of the Plains," was the first head of the horticulture department at South Dakota College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts and served from 1895 until 1937.  He was an intrepid plant explorer and introduced hundreds of varieties of alfalfa, forage grasses, fruits, and roses bred to thrive in the cold, arid conditions of the northern plains.  There is a picture of him here at this site.   Somewhere along the line, most of his rose introductions have been lost, but others live on in the genes of hardy Griffith Buck and Canadian Roses. The losses of those roses are sad for rose lovers on the Plains, but I can understand it if 'Lillian Gibson's sole claim to fame was as the "sensation of the 1938 Sioux Falls Flower Show."  That's sort of like being the Squash Queen in Hog Heaven Falls, Oklahoma.  Thankfully, however, dedicated rosarians like Suzy Verrier keep singing her praises and some remnants of 'Lillian Gibson' will always survive in obscure gardens like mine.  The photo of the full bush above and to the left is today's picture, with only the central bud in each cluster blooming.  I'll update this blog in a few days with a picture of her full bloom.

Update: 06/02/13.  On this date, almost two weeks after she started blooming, I'll declare the bloom cycle of 'Lillian Gibson' at peak; feast your eyes!  Can you say "Wow"!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Trailer Trash Therese

'Therese Bugnet'
I find it odd that I have never blogged about one of first roses I ever grew; a rose that I purchased once and have grown at two different houses and in multiple places at each house.  That almost forgotten rose is the pink Shrub rose 'Therese Bugnet'.

Why have I neglected her for so long in this blog?  I suppose that part of the blame lies in the fact that 'Therese Bugnet' is an uninspiring rose (someone had to say it!).  'Therese Bugnet', in short, is the trailer park trash of the rose world, in my opinion.  Her large (4 inch) medium-pink semidouble to lightly double blooms flatten quickly and are quite untidy, with an occasional white streak in a petal to mar her beauty along with the mussed-up coiffure. She blooms loosely and profusely early in the rose season, and after that initial flush she is remonant, but she blooms in a miserly fashion, never without a bloom, but seldom with more than just a few.  She has a few small small thorns, almost not noticed, but often just enough to prick the unsuspecting.   Her mildly rugose foliage is dull and light matte gray-green, and she has little to no fragrance in my yard to draw the gardener to her, although opinions about her fragrance vary widely across the Internet.   In my first garden she also had a tendency to sucker all over the place, but in my current stony clay soil both bushes have behaved themselves completely.

But she is also forgotten because she's so darned healthy and hardy.  She has a fabulous, beautiful early flush of blooms and then I never pay any attention to her until another year rolls around.  I've never sprayed that rugose foliage of  'Therese Bugnet' for blackspot, and she keeps all her leaves right up until fall.  Hardy to Zone 2, she has never exhibited the slightest winterkill in my region.  In fact, while I often find myself thinning dead canes out of other hardy roses each spring, 'Therese Bugnet' needs none of that.  I have two bushes that are 10 years old and I don't believe I've ever taken a lopper or pruner to her.  She is one of the first roses to bloom in the Spring, so despite the imperfect blooms, she is much appreciated at that time of year when gardeners are in the tight grip of groundhog syndrome.  In Fall, the leaves often turn a nice red-burgundy color, unusual among the roses, and her canes are dark red in the Winter to provide some nice color to a drab garden.  Winter, in fact, may be the best season for 'Therese Bugnet'.

'Therese Bugnet' in front of 'Harison's Yellow'
'Therese Bugnet' is a hybrid Rugosa bred by Georges Bugnet in Canada around 1941.  Like her trailer park persona, her actual bloodlines are muddied, since Bugnet used a mixed pollen of 'Betty Bland' and R. hugonis and others for pollen and the seed parent has traces of  R. kamtchatica, R. rugosa, R. macounnii, and R. amblyotis.  She grows between 5 and 7 feet tall in my climate, and her vaselike shape is loose and informal, sprawling over neighbors in a friendly manner.  When I compare what other reviews say about Therese, I feel guilty that I may be a little too hard on her.  Comments on are uniformly positive about 'Therese Bugnet'.  Suzy Verrier, in Rosa Rugosa, says she thought at first that the rose was "overrated", but that it grew on her.   I tend, myself, to prefer her virginally-white and more rugose sister, 'Marie Bugnet'.  And it may be that I am just better at recognizing trailer trash when I see it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

An Enabling Y-Piece

As Readers of this blog know, I'm not in the habit of endorsing commercial products. I'm not affiliated with any company nor do I receive compensation other than personal satisfaction for this blog, but I felt I should pass on some information about a new tool that might benefit many arthritic or disabled gardeners out there.  The pictured item is named a "Push Button Tap Adaptor" and it is available from Gardener's Supply Company  in a "single tap" or "Y tap" configuration and both at a reasonable price (I thought).  This is the link for the adaptors.

I normally place Y-pieces on most of the outside faucets so that I can fill a bucket at the faucet and keep a longer hose attached at the same time, and so that I don't have to turn and turn the handles each time I want the water on or off.  I purchased these "Push Button Adaptors" for the novelty as I am not yet arthritic (as a surgeon, I don't want to jinx things up here), but I also thought this innovation might be somewhat easier on the delicate hands of Mrs. ProfessorRoush, and that it might thus miraculously even lead to a more willing garden helper. You all know how it is, there are a million quick-on tap adapters on the market (five pages of them at, but all involve turning some type of plastic or steel knob which is often very tight and requires some hand strength to turn.  I once, in fact, had an all-metal Y-piece that required a pair of pliers to turn the knobs.  It was a visit from a mildly arthritic friend, however, that alerted me that this simple push-button faucet might be very valuable to gardeners with disabilities or those who are aging less gracefully than others.

This tap adaptor is metal, but my initial impression was that it might not be too sturdy.  The body seemed to be made of that light zinc-like alloy and I was worried about its durability.  I also found out very quickly that I needed to throw away the plastic tap washer it came with and substitute a more supple rubber washer so to be able to tighten it to the point that it didn't leak. Then I learned the simple joy of it.  Push.On. Push. Off. On. Off. OnOffOnOffOnOff...  I've had it two weeks now, with pressure on it the whole time, and it hasn't leaked at all and the buttons push easily with a loud snap.  The water from the hose shuts on and off very fast,  just like I close an electrical switch rather than a water valve.

If you are in need of an easy access faucet, you might want to give this one a try.  Be careful where you buy it because some sites sell the identical unit for up to $20.00 as I discovered during a Web search.  Talk about gouging the unsuspecting!  At the more common price of $7.95 or $11.95 for a one or two tap adaptor respectively, you can hardly go wrong.   In fact, if mine lasts out at least the length of the summer, I'm happy enough with it to pay the $11.95 to replace it on a yearly basis.  It's that handy!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Purple Leaves Me Crabby

Please listen to ProfessorRoush:  you MUST plan your garden carefully rather than submit to the whims of spontaneous plant purchases and spectacular momentary blooms!  Science suggests that in an infinite number of parallel universes, almost anything can happen.  I'm almost sure, therefore, that somewhere out in the gardening universe, there exists a gardener who plans everything on paper, circles and borders and hardscapes each perfectly sized, and that mythical gardener later proceeds to shop for that clump of 'Stella de Oro' or that purple barberry planned to provide just the right size and color blob for each spot on the plan.  It's even conceivable that in one of those infinite parallel universes, there is a ProfessorRoush who plans his gardens before he plants.  In the rest of those infinite gardens, however, there is a crabby ProfessorRoush who planted too many purple-leaved crabapples.

Like many great artists and gardeners, I have evolved through a number of creative periods; my bedding plants phase, my daylily extravagance, the iris collection mania, the weeping evergreen saga, and my ornamental grasses affair.  My most notorious fleeting passion, however, was a "purple-leafed tree" period, which resulted in an entire front landscaping dominated by dreary dark-burgundy blobs, all individually beautiful, but collectively presenting a distressing and depressing display.  You all know how it happens.  In early Spring, you are seduced at a local nursery to purchase a 'Royalty' crabapple by the perfectly beautiful pinkish-purple blooms as seen above right.  Those claret, delicately-veined blooms are gorgeous, aren't they?  The fact that the plant will have burgundy leaves throughout the summer only adds to its theoretical interest and garden usefulness.  Price doesn't matter, we must have it!

Unfortunately, those burgundy leaves serve as an uncontrasting backdrop for the burgundy flowers and from over a few feet away, the flowers disappear into the foliage. Witness the tree in full bloom pictured at the left.  Now you've just got a dark, dirgeful blob in the lawn, and you're never sure when the plant is in bloom from a distance.  Deep in your addiction phase, now add in a similar 'Red Baron' crabapple purchased before you've learned your lesson, and a 'Canada Red' Prunus candedensis tree with purple leaves, and a Fraxinus americana 'Rosehill' Ash whose leaves turn burgundy in the Fall, and you've accidentally created a doleful landscape in purples.  Thankfully, a copper-red 'Profusion' crabapple died under my care as an infant tree and the 'Canada Red' has since enlisted the Kansas wind in an assisted-suicide pact, both proof that God exists and is attentive to foolish gardeners. 

A little variety, friends, goes a long way in a garden, and so does a little hard-won wisdom.  We've all done it, and those who missed their purple phase likely just substituted a white phase centered around Bradford Pears or suffered some other colorful catastrophe of their own making.  Although I later succumbed to a minor "shaggy-bark" tree infatuation that caused a smaller area of my landscape to appear as if massive dandruff had afflicted all the trees, I learned a substantial lesson during my burgundy fiasco and have since added maples and oaks, magnolias and sycamores, and cottonwoods and elms to the garden.  Given age and actuarial tables, I may never see the mature outcome of these efforts, but perhaps, someday, my landscape may look more like a planned garden and less like a watercolor scene created by a two-year-old with a penchant for purple.  I still don't have a garden plan, and I'm still subject to spontaneous purchases, but I persevere with the knowledge that time and nature will help correct my mistakes.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cinnamon Spice Girl

Once upon a time, far back in my youth, the "in" crowd followed a pop singing group named the Spice Girls.  ProfessorRoush didn't listen to them, of course, since he wasn't of the "in" crowd, and today I cannot name a single song they recorded for the life of me, but as I am of male persuasion, I can still name the Spice Girls themselves; Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger, and Posh Spice (the latter since married to and bending it like David Beckham).  Let me tell you, though, them Spices weren't nearly as fabulous as is my newest rose, 'Cinnamon Spice'.

In immediate and full disclosure, ProfessorRoush is being a very bad boy this evening.  I shouldn't show you this first picture of 'Cinnamon Spice', I really shouldn't.  I'm afraid that I will be guilty of deepening the addiction of many rose lovers, setting back recoveries that have thus far survived these scant few weeks into Spring.  Yes, I'm aware that a post on this very young rose is completely premature, and that I shouldn't be making any broad statements about her performance yet in the garden.  But she opened up that first bloom and I fell, smitten in a glance.  You might as well fall along with me into the rose abyss.

'Cinnamon Spice' is a "Griffith Buck rose," which I placed in quotation marks because she wasn't actually one of Dr. Griffith Buck's original introductions.  The story goes that she was bred by Dr. Buck in 1975 and given to a friend, collected back again by family for preservation after his death, and then introduced into commerce in 2010 by Chamblee's Rose Nursery along with nine other Buck-bred roses of similar background.  I obtained her, however, from Heirloom Roses just a few weeks ago because Chamblee's no longer lists 'Cinnamon Spice' on their website.

'Cinnamon Spice' is a shrub rose said to be from a breeding of 'Carefree Beauty' X 'Piccadilly', and she is supposed to grow 5 foot tall and 4 foot wide at maturity.  My tiny plant is about 8 inches tall and just put forth this first fabulous bloom.  I must apologize for my poor photo here because it does not do justice to her brilliant salmon-pink color, the delicate wine-colored stippling of the petals nor the contrast with her bright yellow stamens.  It also doesn't hint at the fact that this first bloom was as big as my palm (5 inches in diameter; I measured), that there is a moderate sweet fragrance about it, and that every picture I took of her was nearly perfect;  no focusing problems, no insects, nothing.  No other rose I know is that photogenic at first attempt.

I don't know what the future holds for 'Cinnamon Spice' here on the Kansas prairie, but I can tell you that if she survives, she'll easily displace Posh Spice in my heart and soul, and ProfessorRoush might just have a new favorite Buck rose.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Rose Year Begins

'Harison's Yellow'
Finally, Finally, Finally.  The earliest rose in my garden opened yesterday and for once, it was a three way tie.  'Harison's Yellow', 'Therese Bugnet', and 'Austrian Copper' all submitted entries for the contest as the pictures here attest.  All are beautiful in their own way, and especially welcome given the delayed wait by the gardener.

Since protocol demands that there must be a winner for "First Rose of the Year," the question was submitted to the garden judge (me), who  ruled that since the garden contains two specimens of each of these roses and since 'Harison's Yellow' was the only variety to bloom on both bushes, it is the 2013 champion.  "Therese Bugnet' and 'Austrian Copper' both immediately lodged protests regarding the arbitrary nature of the decision, but the judge's ruling stands.

'Therese Bugnet'
'Austrian Copper'

Today was also my birthday, and by happenstance, five new roses arrived by UPS, just in time to join in the celebration.  This was the first time I've ordered from Roses Unlimited in South Carolina, and I have been pleased with their communication and the nice one gallon size of these roses, three of which are already in bud or blooming.   Left to right, in the picture below, they are 'Brook Song', 'Kronprincessin Victoria', 'Prairie Valor', 'Night Song', and 'Madame Ernest Calvat'.  I can already see that 'Madame Ernest Calvat', like her sister 'Mme. Isaac Pereire', wants to sprawl seductively all over her neighbors in the garden, and so immediately after planting her, I tied her up to a nice strong stake.  Lord knows, a firm hand is necessary to keep these two siblings from their wanton natures.

'Brook Song'
The beauty of the group at present, however, is that solitary yellow bloom on 'Brook Song'.  I knew you'd want to see a closeup so I made sure to get her best side.  Not bad for her first bloom, huh?  Isn't she just a sunny little breath of air?

Thank God, the roses have finally arrived.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Yellow Bird Lives

Yes, in answer to a reader's email, my 'Yellow Bird' Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata or Magnolia brooklynensis?)  still lives and bloomed again this year.  I was frightened for the display given our late unexpected snows and freezes this year, and I thought the last snow would knock off all the newly formed buds, but she still bloomed, although later and perhaps not quite as bountifully.  I think I can now attest to the hardiness of this tree here.  In the past three years she has withstood drought (albeit with a little extra water), early frosts, late freezes, and winter low temperatures of -10°F, and she has still grown and bloomed both years.  I think the high winds bother her the most, ripping the leaves a little here and there.

The 3rd picture below is an overall shot of the tree yesterday morning just after sunrise.  The peak bloom is already over as evidenced by the yellow petals on the ground, but some delicate flowers still remain to brighten my day.  Some have also asked why she is enclosed in a wire cage, and my simple answer is that I don't trust the large furry rats (deer) in my area. Those fuzzy plump buds look so inviting, I'm afraid that my baby will be nibbled to sticks if I leave her exposed.  And what they don't eat, the deer like to scour down to raw wood during rutting season.  So, caged she'll be until she gets branches above deer height.  She's grown about a foot each year since I purchased her.

Some garden experts and writers have written that Yellow Bird's flowers do not display well since they appear after the foliage, but I much prefer this arrangement to the "blooming on naked stems" look of my other magnolias. Blooming after the leaves open  protects the blooms from the late frosts!  The glossy yellow-green leaves of 'Yellow Bird' set off the flowers to perfection, in my opinion, and the experts will just have to suffer with the knowledge that they are wrong. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Here It Comes, Weather Ready or Not

I suppose, as you can see from the forecast for the next few days, that we are finally leaving winter behind here in Kansas.  Ninety-one degrees, that's 91°F(!) predicted for tomorrow.  It is a wonder to me, sometimes, that I can grow anything at all here in the Flint Hills as I look at the temperature fluctuations that my poor plants undergo.  Just for grins, I checked back over the past 43 odd days at the official data to the first of April to see how many days that the maximum temperature hit 70°F or above here.  In the past 43 days, there were 10 days at 70° or above, with five of those days very early in April, from April 5-9th.  On April 10th, the maximum temperature was 35°, a 38 degree difference in highs in 24 hours.  On the 13th and 14th, we were back to the 70's and then on April 18th, the high was 39° again.  On April 21st, there was a single day of 70°F, snow on April 23rd, and then on May 7th and 8th it was 76° and 77°, dropping back a little bit into the 60's before our current warm spell.   
So, out there somewhere in my garden, I've got a bunch of new little rose plants that have barely seen the 70° mark in weeks, that haven't had to develop much in the way of a root system, and now they've got to survive at least a solid week in the 80's and even 90's.  And, although the drought is easing here, there are a bunch of already-stressed mature plants who will be whipsawed further by the temperatures and wind.  I guess ProfessorRoush is going to be doing some watering, whether he likes it or not.
I'll remind my readers that on April 23rd, 20 short days ago, at 9:10 a.m., my garden looked like this:

And now the temperature is going to be 91°F tomorrow?  I'll put those temperature fluctuations up against any other spot in the country, maybe in the world.  It is no wonder that the commercial horticultural test plots in Kansas City are so popular;  as one K-State horticulturist is fond of saying, "the big nurseries know if it performs well here, it will perform well anywhere in the United States."  Listen up, all you mail-order nurseries, now you know why I want plants sent sooner than your Zone-conditioned schedules, in order to get new babies acclimated before the hot weather hits.  So don't give me any grief the next time I want band roses a month ahead of when you want to send them.  You know who you are.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Vervain Epiphany

Some areas of my Kansas roadside have burst into bloom with one of the most noticeable wildflowers to be found here in early Spring.  This is Rose Verbena, Glandularia canadensis, also known as Rose Vervain.  I first noticed it two days ago on an eroding hillside just around the corner from my house.  It also grows sparsely in my pastures, although perhaps not so noticeable amidst the growing prairie grasses.  Rose Verbena grows about a foot tall here, and my reading tells me that each plant lives only 2-3 years. 

Plants like this sometimes make me wonder what kind of a gardening idiot I really am.  There are a number of Verbena hybrids in commerce that were derived using this very species, a species that literally volunteers to grow in my climate, and yet I don't have any of the hybrids in my garden.  Those finely-lobed gray-green leaves are tailor-created for the dry, hot Kansas summers.  Here I am, staring at proof positive that these plants will likely grow well amidst the Kansas sunshine and the occasional droughts, and yet none has appealed to me enough for purchase. 

Oh no, like other gardeners, I spend a significant percentage of my time and effort growing magnolias and crape myrtles, both at the northern ends of their hardiness zone.  There haven't been wild magnolias and crape myrtles here since before the last Ice Age.  I've got two thriving clumps of Texas Red Yucca, which I've only seen wild in Texas or as landscaping in Las Vegas.  I pamper witch hazel in dry full sun and Salvia gauranitica two full hardiness zones north of it's limits.  It could be worse;  at least I long ago gave up trying to grow azaleas in Kansas sun.

Hybrids of Monarda, Catmint, and Babtisia, each related to native prairie species, all grow dependably in my garden.  My tallest trees are native Cottonwoods, transplanted from wild seedlings.  Redbuds are distributed several places in my garden, healthy and happy after they appeared as weeds in flower beds and were transplanted to more acceptable areas.   I think my morning lesson to myself is to ease back on the fight against Nature and "go along to get along". 

I will resolve this year to try a few Verbena hybrids.  Most are marketed in my area as half-hardy annuals, and they grow a little short for the scale of my garden, but perhaps I haven't given them a fair chance.  There are a number listed as worthy of growing in Kansas in the Prairie Star Lists.  Perhaps one will prove to be a dependable short-lived perennial to worship at the feet of my roses.  If not, perhaps our native Glandularia canadensis can be enticed into my garden.  I wouldn't mind the bright pink, and besides, one never knows when one might need a galactagogue or entheogen ready to harvest from the garden.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What A Robin Blue Babe!

On upcurved wing, I scoured the wind,
So high above the earth midst stars.
Deep blue hues from clearest sky,
Stolen, carried back to earth.
Hidden deep, I kept them warm,
My russet breast a mother's cloak.
A nest of twigs, a watchful eye,
Sheltered in a dark blue spruce. 
Soon to live, quick to grow,
Feathery sprouts on naked wings. 
Hatchlings learn to flap and leap,
Then soaring, back to deep blue sky.
The picture of American Robin eggs on the left was taken deep inside my Wichita Blue Spruce. I thought the spruce was a surprising home for a robin, but it made good sense in afterthought.  What other plant could host a nest as protected from the wind, rain, and harsh sun and so hidden from predators? The nest was totally invisible until I got too close with pruning shears and Mother Robin exploded into flight.  Perched on top of the gazebo, she scolded me while I took pictures, chasing me from the garden with a sharp tongue until she was sure I wouldn't return.

In these days of Internet miracles, with the complete knowledge of Mankind available at a mere whisper of beckoning electrons, I was not surprised that posing "Why are robins eggs blue?" to, would result in the return of some information.  I'm happy to report, however, that this particular mystery remains mostly unsolved even by minds of a species that has proven the existence of the Higg's Boson. We do know that most birds contain pigment glands that deposit colors on the egg during passage through the oviduct, and we know that robin eggs contain biliverdin, a blue-green breakdown product of heme and a powerful antioxidant.  Various theories for egg coloration in general include camouflage, protection from solar radiation, or as an aid in egg identification by Mama. It has been noted that healthier female robins may have bluer eggs which may have some selective effects on the species.  Like everything else Darwin-related, that means that the blue color may just be all about procreation.  One 2010 study in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology by Philina English and Robert Montgomerie suggests that male robins invest twice as much energy to help feed nestlings when the eggs are more colorful.  Can't you just picture it?  Somewhere, sometime, male robins must sit around drinking beer and saying "Hey, get a load of the blue eggs under that chick over there! Wowsa!" 
But why blue? The actual reason, for this particular bird species to have this particular blue color otherwise described as Hex triplet #00CCCC, or sRGB color "0, 204, 204" or commonly as "Robin Egg Blue," is still unknown.  And I, for one, pray God that it remains unknowable because I like a little mystery to remain in my world.   

Sunday, May 5, 2013


I've had it!  Or rather I haven't had it.  I'm fed up with the cold weather and the damp wind.  If Spring won't come to Kansas, then I'm just going to have to fake it.  So I will. Welcome to Spring in Kansas!

The pictured lonely plant is a 'Declaration' lilac I bought already in bloom almost a week ago, a Sunday present to myself for the simple occasion of sub-Seasonal Depression.  What, you've never heard of "sub-Seasonal Depression"?   That's a near-terminal condition that occurs whenever a gardener is disappointed by the late arrival of Springtime bloom.  It's a depression born of desperation from viewing the detrimental effects of snowfall on lilac blooms.  Believe me, it's not pretty.

But I digress.  After a few days of pulling the car into the garage and dodging the plants I have stashed there to wait out the cold spell, it finally occurred to me that I shouldn't let these beautiful purple, aromatic blooms go to waste.  To paraphrase Bart Simpson, "DUH."   So I translocated the lilac to our sunroom, a place where I'd probably never try to keep it going year round, but where it seems quite content to wait out the remaining cold spell while the planted lilacs near the driveway shrivel up to resemble brown tissue paper.

'Declaration' is a 2006 release from the National Arboretum breeding programs, a purple-red bloomer to join bluish 'Old Glory', and white 'Betsy Ross' as the members of the "U.S Flag" group of lilacs from the Arboretum.  Both 'Old Glory' and 'Declaration' are the selected progeny of a 1978 cross of  Syringa hyacinthiflora ‘Sweet Charity’ and S. ×hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’.    'Declaration' is a vase-shaped shrub  that will grow to approximately 8 feet tall and bears purple single florets on thyrses up to 30 cm long.  Like other Arboretum releases, 'Declaration' is not patented, and so it may be propagated and freely sold. 

But all of that is just "book-learn'n'", and not really important.  What is important is the heavenly perfume that now spreads over the house from our sunroom into the living room and kitchen.  What is important are the deep purple-red blooms that brighten up my currently-sunless sunroom.  What is important is the lift in my spirits and the contented smile on the face of Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  Based on visual evidence in my household, I believe that Da Vinci must have painted the Mona Lisa while she gazed on a purple lilac in the midst of an otherwise late and boring Spring.  It's the smile of the cure for sub-Seasonal Depression.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sweet Smell of Spring

'Mohawk' Viburnum
Ask yourself, dear Reader, what is it that trumpets full-blown Spring for you?  Do you stir at the first sight of snow crocus?  Don your garden clogs at the glimpse of yellow forsythia and blooming redbuds?  Rejoice at the sight of cheerful daffodils and deep red tulips?  Instead of polls about politicians and social issues, ProfessorRoush would like to see CNN run a poll to determine the jumpoff point of Spring for the gardening public.  I might actually care about that result.

I suppose I react to all of the aforementioned signs, but the concept of Spring doesn't really rise up and excite me until the first fragrant viburnums bloom, as they are now beginning to bloom in my garden.  When I see those floral white snowballs open, when I suddenly run across a sweet current of air, that's when I really know Spring has arrived.  I know it is Spring when my nose tilts to the air and I begin chasing scent across the garden to its source, almost always leading me to a viburnum.

'Mohawk' bush form
'Mohawk' Viburnum has long been one of my favorite shrubs.  It exists in my garden in my "peony" bed, next to a wisteria and the path around the southeast corner.  'Mohawk' is a cross of V. x burkwoodii (itself a cross of V. utile and V. carlesii)  back to V. carlesii, and it has the distinction of being released into commerce by The United States Arboretum in 1966.  My current 'Mohawk' is about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, but I had a previous specimen that reached 8 feet in all directions.  When 'Mohawk' is blooming, I can never pass by it without a moment of deep inhalation and intoxication in silent reverence to the fragrance.  To imagine Heaven, one must only stand downwind from 'Mohawk', close our eyes, and inhale deeply.

I also grow the Judd Viburnum (V. juddii, a cross of V. carlesii and v. bitchiuense), first introduced around 1920 by William Judd of the Arnold Arboretum, the Burkwood Viburnum "species" plant often seen labeled as V. burkwoodii (but really a cross of V. utile and V. carlesii), and I grow the species V. carlesii (which is later and not yet in bloom here).  All are extremely fragrant, with burkwoodii a little larger and more aggressive in my garden than juddii.  The blooms are impossible for me to tell apart without knowing the bush of origin.

Viburnum burkwoodii
Of the three viburnums currently in bloom, I prefer the bouquet of 'Mohawk'.  It is less sickly sweet than Juddii or burkwoodii and it gently bathes my nasal passages in pleasure rather than assaults my schnoz with a wall of overpowering scent.  'Mohawk', to my uneducated nose, has more musky tones, which sound a note of deep calm in the fragrance, and it has a hint of vanilla that appeals to me, vanilla lover that I am.  Juddii is also great, but almost too sweet for me to stand there and inhale long lest I overdose and collapse, and burkwoodii has some licorice undertones that I'm not as thrilled about as I am about the vanilla of 'Mohawk'. 

In this week of yet another hard frost, another strong positive of these viburnums is readily apparent as well.  I have not, for a single moment, contemplated them needing any covering or protection because their tough blossoms need none.  The waxy petals shrug off frosts and simply resume blooming as soon as the air temperatures catch back up to the calendar.  Here, as one gardener suggested to me, on this 83rd day of February in the Kansas Flint Hills.



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