Friday, May 30, 2014

Beastly Bindweed

If you were ever skeptical of stories that report that bindweed can come up from beneath asphalt, now is the time to lower your cynicism and face the triumphant floral villain.  A few weeks back, the gravel road in front of our house was paved and it is now full of green-bubbling volcanoes of exuberant triangular leaves.  Although my neighbor questioned the policy prior to paving, the paving company and township said that pre-treating the road base with herbicide was not necessary.  They were wrong.  That root system can go down to over 10 feet deep and if the entire root isn't removed, it regenerates from any remaining rhizomes. To top it off, seeds remain viable for up to 50 years in the soil!  Because of the lack of foresight and the tight pockets of the local government, we may now be in for a lifetime of erupting asphalt on our road.  

Bindweed, or Convolvulus arvensis, which is the likely species in this area, grows throughout Kansas, but was native to Eurasia, carried across the Atlantic ocean and west across the prairies by its own version of manifest destiny. Once cultivated as an ornamental and a medicinal herb, it is now a noxious weed in many states and is nearly impossible to eradicate without toxic chemicals.  The plant at the bottom right has been sprayed twice with Roundup and still continues to grow.  We should consider adding nuclear waste to the next spray.  Or we'll have to try flamethrowers or perhaps raw sulfuric acid.  And what do we do about the yet-unerupted masses hiding below the surface like the one to the left?  How do I kill the seedlings before they destroy the road?

Up till now, I've controlled its spread into our yard, and I've fought it in only one of my garden beds (one with imported soil), but it seems to really like the poor clay base of our road.  Or at least the seeds are feeling cramped and trying to find some sunshine.  The patience and strength of those tiny tendrils is mind boggling.
I wish my roses had that excess of vigor.  Or perhaps I don't, because roses that came up through asphalt AND had thorns would be pretty rough on our tires.  Anyway, what's next to test my tolerance?  Kudzu?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Honorine de Brabant

In the near future, I should post a list of roses that survived our harsh -10ºF winter and snows in unscathed fashion, but right now, I'd like to spotlight a rose that surprised me in that regard.  'Honorine de Brabant' is beginning her second full season in my garden and her 2.5 foot tall canes had absolutely no tip dieback or damage this winter.

I previously grew 'Honorine de Brabant' near my back patio, in poorer and more clay-ish soil, and she struggled and died there even though I pampered her as much as possible.  I repurchased and replanted her as a rooted band into a mixed border, in fact into a hole dug in the middle of a large clump of Miscanthus sp. grass that was too big to move and had been previously killed with Roundup.  Here, with 'Charlotte Brownell' and 'Country Dancer' to gossip with, HDB has come into her own.

'Honorine de Brabant' is reported to be a "discovered" Bourbon, by Tanne of France in 1916.  The fat buds seem to promise a rose full of petals but her dainty blooms are merely double and not so full of petals as many Old Garden Roses.  She is, however moderately fragrant, and she remains cupped and displays ample golden stamens around her pistil, a lady of some refinement.  The petals seem fragile and curl at the tips, but they stand up well to heat and wind.  I saw a few blooms from her last year when she was still small, but her rebloom is slow and stingy in my experience here and others report the same thing on  She does have a good last Fall flush, however.  She is a healthy bush, without a trace of blackspot, and I always welcome the unique blooms of a striped rose.  I expect Honorine to top five feet tall and I hope she will retain that vase-like shape seen below on to maturity.  Did I mention that she is one of the minority of roses in my garden this year that had no winter damage?

I love striped roses so much, in fact, that last night I committed a rose faux pas at the "two-for-ten-dollar" sale at Home Depot.  On that particular sale rack, there were a number of wretched potted roses labeled as "Love", but the only two that were blooming had striped blooms, one identical to 'Honorine de Brabant', the other darker magenta stripes and more fully double like 'Variegata di Bologna'.  Both were strongly fragrant and I suspect some commercial grower in Oklahoma was getting rid of excess stock by labeling it with a name more recognized by the general public. I bought and planted both, although they are grafted roses, so I can compare them to my own-root specimens of those varieties.   Not very exciting as activities go, but it keeps me off the streets.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Rainy Day Scanning

During the periodic brief rains yesterday (which didn't amount to anything except running me out of the garden), I collected a few flowers to play with a scanner photograph or two.  I had forgotten over the past couple of years, during times of peak bloom, to try this method, and I had forgotten the lovely effects one can create.   This scan of 'Madame Hardy', taken against the backdrop of one of Mrs. ProfessorRoush's blouses (sssshhh, don't tell her!), is a simple and lovely composition, despite my lack of proper photo editing skills and the rudimentary software I have for doing it.  If you've ever wondered, most of the photographs on this blog are not edited beyond cropping and compressing to be posted.

I was just playing yesterday, and in a bit of a hurry, as you can see from the photo at the left.  Haste makes waste on these scanner photographs and you've got to have everything arranged just so.  Folded petals don't help the image, nor do insects or wet flowers or pollen falling from the stamens.  Still, in this picture, you should be able to find 'Honorine de Brabant', 'Alchymist', 'Variegata di Bologna', 'Allegra', 'Gallicandy', 'Survivor', 'Mountain Music', 'Duchesse de Montibello', 'Alfred de Dalmas', 'Prairie Clogger', and a couple of unknown reds.  I tried to choose the best flowers, but even the flowers I thought were perfect, like the 'Madame Hardy' above, have some rain-browned edges on closeup.  Rats.

Of course, to get rid of the imperfections, one can always move to the more abstract, as in this modification (using the "dents" setting) of another 'Madame Hardy' scan set against a black background.  This one would make a fine stained-glass window, don't you agree?

Or, one could go with an ethereal look.  This almost all white image of 'Madame Hardy' would have been better if I could have figured out a way to get the white background while also pressing down on the flowers to improve focus. Maybe next time.  Oh, and happy Memorial Day, everyone!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Garden Approves

Cope's Gray Treefrog
ProfessorRoush was adding a few "branches" to his bottle tree yesterday and had drilled three new holes, when he noticed some of the drilling shavings were piling up in the crook of a branch atop what appeared to be a weathered wood chip.  I reached over to brush the shavings and wood chip away and at that point the wood chip opened its eyes and glared at me.  Say what you will about the quality of iPhone photographs, it's always nearby and available, which allowed me to immediately snap these pictures of my new four-fingered friend.

Six species of frogs live in the Flint Hills region, and I believe this one to be a Cope's Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) or perhaps the Cope Eastern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor), based on the characteristic enlarged toe pads.   The two species cannot be separated based on external characteristics, but only by analysis of their calls, chromosomal material, or size of their red blood cells.  This frog was already irritated beyond the point of making a sound and it was unlikely to appreciate any attempts to draw blood from it.  My references, such as Joseph Collins' Amphibians & Reptiles in Kansas,  suggest that H. chrysoscelis is the only one reported in Riley County.  These frogs are tolerant of high temperatures and climb to the treetops on warm, humid summer nights.

I don't know what this little guy is trying to say to me.  Frogs were tied with creation myths by early civilizations and worshiped as rainmakers.  There was even an Egyptian frog goddess, Heqet, who represented fertility and was depicted as either woman with a frog's head (yuck!) or a frog on the end of a phallus.  She was present at the birth of Horus and breathed new life into him.  In the Middle Ages, frogs became associated with evil and devil worship, likely from association with the three frogs of Revelations 16:13, "And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet."  I'm going to believe that my frog is beneficial and is waiting to eat any evil spirits attracted by the bottle tree (or mosquitoes, which are the same as evil spirits in my garden).

Oh yes, and, as you can see, I've already changed out the crappy green and clear bottles on my earlier bottle tree rendition.  I ordered two dozen cobalt blue bottles last Monday and then added one of our own and the two bright pink bottles to make 27 bottles.  Looks better, doesn't it?  The mauve roses blooming  in the foreground are Purple Pavement.  The pink bottles?  Well, you can call it further whimsy, but I have a theory that the pink bottles will lure the evil spirits near and the blue bottles will capture them.  Silly, but just as good a reason as any.  It seems to have attracted the frog, anyway.  The Smithsonian, the frog, and I now collectively approve of my bottle tree.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Barden's Crested Damask

The rose season has started here and I should show you the first new rose that I'm excited about.  'Crested Damask' was a 2012 addition that I obtained as a rooted cutting, or band, from Rogue Valley Roses. She isn't much of a bush yet, but the raspberry-bubblegum-pink color you see here is just shouting to be noticed above the foliage around it.   If she were a bigger bush she would stand out clear across my garden. 

'Crested Damask', or ARDmarcrest, is a 2005 introduction from the breeding program of Paul Barden.  This is a once-blooming, very double rose of  about 3.5 inches in diameter that opens in almost-quartered fashion complete with button eye, and blooms in small clusters of 3-5 flowers.  She is a cross of 'Marbree' and 'Crested Jewel'.  I was interested to see 'Marbree' in her pedigree because the first time I saw 'Crested Jewel' in bloom I thought she had a resemblance to 'Rose de Rescht' and  'Rose de Rescht' is a parent of 'Marbree'.  The fragrance is very strong and very old rose.  The bright pink color speaks favorably of itself and pops out from the green foliage around it.  And best of all, the 10 or 12 blossoms that I've seen so far have all been perfectly formed, unmarred by late freezes, winds, or sun.  I've begun to take note of roses of dark color that get baked in my summer heat, and 'Crested Damask' is not among them. 

I haven't needed to spray her nor did I see her get any blackspot last year, but she is still small-statured for me, currently about two feet tall and wide.   Planting her into fall during our third year of drought and placing her under the shade of an adjacent five foot rose probably hasn't helped the growth of 'Crested Damask', but she survived last year's harsh winter without dieback and I can attest to her hardiness in zone 5/6 (whatever last winter was).   I have seen conflicting information on the ultimate height of this rose; helpmefind lists her as a 5'-7' shrub, while Rogue Valley Roses lists her as 2'-3'Paul Barden himself says she is likely to be a 5 foot shrub or more.

If you come by this time of year, look across the garden for a raspberry-pink splash, and then, as you draw closer, don your sunglasses to spare your eyes from her brilliance.  As long as she stays healthy, 'Crested Damask' has a bright [sic] future in my garden.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Queen of the Irises

ProfessorRoush has a favorite iris.  Hand's down, no question about it, a definite favorite.  I grow all colors and types of irises.  I maintain approximately forty different varieties that still survive my neglectful gardening.  I'm partial to the purples like 'Superstition', so deep they are almost black.  I fancy the bright sky blue irises such as 'Full Tide'.  I love the soft pink refined splendor of 'Beverly Sills'.  But it is bicolored and vivacious 'Edith Wolford' that holds my iris heart.

I fought long and hard to obtain 'Edith Wolford'.  Every year at the local iris sale I would rush to her spot in the alphabet first, only to be beaten to the spot by a purse-swinging senior lady or to find that all the divisions had been sold privately before the public sale.  A friend finally took pity on me and set aside a fan for me.  Or, as a second friend pointed out, I acquired 'Edith Wolford' by cheating.  A gardener can only sustain the bruises from heavy handbags and bony elbows a few times before he must take preemptive action to end the abuses.

'Edith Wolford' was a 1984 introduction by the late Ben Hager,and she has received all the top American Iris Society awards including the Dykes Medal of Honor (1993), the highest award given.  Hager was the owner of Melrose Gardens in California, and he also hybridized the above-mentioned 'Beverly Sills' (1985 Dykes Medal of Honor).   'Edith Wolford' is the perfect contrast of soft yellow standards and gentle blue falls.  Her beard is a brighter yellow, a beacon to the insects who would steal her pollen.  She even occasionally reblooms.  'Edith Wolford', however, does not always photograph well since cameras tend to make the soft blue falls more purple than they really are.  For example, the top picture on this page was taken on my "good" Canon camera, and the picture at the right was taken on my iPhone.  Both are a little purple-tinged, although the top picture does more closely capture the quality of the canary-yellow standards.

I won't entertain negatives in regards to 'Edith Wolford' in my garden since she grows so well here, but to be fair, other gardeners dismiss her as sickly, sparing of her blooms, slow to grow, and prone to rot.  To those who would be her detractors, I will mangle a quote from the The Hunger Games and suggest, "May your odds with irises be never in your favor." 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Volunteer Opening

Another mystery of my garden was revealed last night when a volunteer peony seedling (sapling? stalk? plant?) opened for the first time.  Until I first noticed this little gem in 2012, growing where it shouldn't be, I was unaware that some peonies would self-seed if they weren't deadheaded.  There were 6 or 8 ancient peonies near the orchard where I was raised, and I never noticed any distant seedlings, but perhaps that was because we mowed around each peony and never gave them a chance.  In contrast, my cypress-mulched and partially shaded front garden must be perfect for peony babies, because I've now got three small new peonies where none was planted.

My natural approach of live-and-let-live for self-seeding plants paid off perfectly this time.   This little girl is presumably a self-cross of 'Kansas' or 'Inspector Lavergne', or a cross of the two, since there are several of each in the bed.  Regardless of the parentage, I'm pleased at the almost bright-red coloration, the prominent yellow stamens, and the semi-double form, and I think I'll keep this one around under an appropriate study name such as 'Roush's Red'.  The blue foliage at the top of the picture, if you're wondering, is a blue-green sedum, 'Strawberries and Cream'. 

If you recognize the foliage of a volunteer plant, and it isn't a weed, don't pull it up.  You just never know the gifts you've been given until you, in turn, give them a chance to shine.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Predictable Poser

ProfessorRoush has spent the last 3 years puzzling over the provenance of a perfect little rose seedling that I found in the shade of 'Hope for Humanity' late one summer.  Praying that I had a new little self-seeded hybrid of my very own, I transplanted it to a new bed where it would get plenty of sun and I waited for it to bloom.

At the end of a full growing season, in 2012, the rose was about 12 inches tall, and still perfectly healthy, but it did not bloom.  It was obviously winter-hardy and had no blackspot.  It had small foliage of 7 leaflets that roughly resembled a R. spinosissima, but the only two R. spinosissima hybrids I've ever grown were 'Harison's Yellow' and 'Stanwell Perpetual'.  'Stanwell Perpetual' had been grown near the birthing site about 6 years ago, but was long dead.  Could this rose be from a surviving root of that rose?  If it was, then why wasn't it blooming?

I waited another year, believing that even a non-remonant rose would bloom at the start of the 2013 season, but the plant still didn't bloom.  By that time, my theory was that I had a seedling of R. arkansana, the wild rose of the local prairies, and I was kicking myself for thinking it could be anything else.  But R. arkansana's foliage in the nearby prairie looked bigger than my rose, and by the end of last season, the rose was 3 feet tall, with long canes and small short prickles everywhere.  Thankfully, it was still completely free of blackspot.  But what was it?

This week, the mystery was solved for me.  The rose has been blooming with these little pink single-flowered blossoms.  I looked at them, looked over my shoulder at the R. eglanteria (R. rubiginosa) growing in another bed, and I confirmed the identity of my seedling as R. rubiginosa by rubbing a few leaves and releasing that nice green apple scent.  Somehow, (a bird?) Shakespeare's Sweetbriar rose had seeded itself 200 feet away from the bed in which it grew. 

I suppose it could still be a hybrid, but I can't tell my rose from the species at present.  We'll confirm it again when hips form.  Mystery solved, but do I really want another monstrous R. eglanteria near a pathway and short of room?  I think not.  It'll have to be moved. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Roses, Bright Future

'South Africa'
As this blog entry is being posted on the evening of 5/19/14, you might just try to picture me out in my garden planting this rose, 'South Africa', because that's where I'm going to be.  Last Thursday, just before Mrs. ProfessorRoush and I left for a three-day weekend trip to visit my son in Colorado, this rose and a few others arrived,  leaving me with the choice of planting new roses out into a predicted two nights of mid-30's temperatures and possible frost, or of placing them on the kitchen table in front of a bright window and hoping they would survive indoors for a few days without me.  Survive indoors, they did.

It's nice when own-root, new roses are already blooming as they arrive, and I was especially excited to see these blooms from 'South Africa', a W. Kordes & Sons floribunda introduced in 2001.  Although the spectacular color of this rose is not in question, everything else about it seems to be up in the air.  The British label it a Floribunda, the American Rose Society calls it a Grandiflora, and it is introduced in South Africa as a Hybrid Tea.  It was introduced by Kordes as 'Golden Beauty', and also carries the registration name of KORberbeni, but I've found other references that say that Kordes et alnever registered the rose.  It won the Gold Standard Rose Trials Gold Standard award in Britain in 2009, and the Golden Price of the City of Glasgow in 2006, so it has a pretty decent following across the pond. 

For the life of me, I can't find anything about why the rose is marketed as 'South Africa' here.  'Golden Beauty' seems intuitive, but there is no explanation that I can find for renaming it as 'South Africa'.  The Kordes & Sons website doesn't even list the rose anymore, on either the German or English versions of the site, and that seems a little odd too.  So, if anyone knows more, please enlighten me.

In the meantime, I've got this one and eight more roses from to plant tonight.  Of the remaining, all are Griffith Buck roses except for 'Edith de Murat', an 1858-era Bourbon.   I couldn't resist another sweet-scented Bourbon.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Wanton Whimsy

Gardeners one and all, please forgive me for the crass display you are witnessing.  I took a long step this past week beyond acceptable garden ornamentation, crashing and burning far past the gates of conventional decorum.  I created, in my unsuspecting garden, as you can plainly see here, a bottle tree.

I've lusted for a bottle tree for years and I still can't explain the urge.  It's like I am a Babtist preacher who keeps coming back to Mardi Gras.   I normally strive to maintain a garden that the general public will likely approve of, even as I push back against pruning conventions to the irritation of those who like their shrubbery carefully clipped and marching in step.  The existence of a bottle tree in my garden is a leap far past the line of whimsy for me, a singular incongruity like a wart on a princess.  I've flirted with whimsy before, bringing yet another rabbit statue into the garden, but until now I've stayed on the safe side, refusing to add figures of gargoyles and peeing little boys.

There are commercial bottle trees available, even an entire company dedicated to their creation, but I had to make my own.  For one thing, I felt the commercial trees were too small, usually under 5 feet tall and seldom holding over twenty bottles.  And they're pricey.  And I was worried about anchorage against the Kansas winds.   A bottle tree that has to be straightened after every storm would be exhausting.  So I created my own, cementing a treated landscape post into the ground so the trunk would be over 6 feet tall. I cut rebar for use as "limbs".  Best of all, I can add to it merely by drilling a hole and adding another limb.  I want lots and lots of bottles.

The King of Bottle Trees, Felder Rushing, who himself has fourteen of them, believes that bottle trees date as far back as men have made glass, from back when the belief arose that spirits could live in bottles and that evil spirits could be captured in them. Rushing also relates, and I agree, that blue-only bottle trees are the best.  Doubt me?  Click here to be convinced by a picture of Rushing's blue tree covered in snow.  Mine would be all cobalt blue already, but Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her friends insist on choosing wine for its taste instead of the pretty bottle it comes in.  Consequently, I have only one blue bottle at the moment, but the Internet may come to the rescue since I can buy a dozen cobalt blue bottles there for a mere $19.99.   I think making an all blue tree will really spruce up the bottle tree and my garden. 

(Get it?  "Spruce up my bottle tree?")


Friday, May 16, 2014

Early Lead for Therese Bugnet

'Therese Bugnet' came out of the gate strong this year, bright and flashy, fast to open.  She's still running well with a terrific display of speed, out-showing every other rose in my garden, but as you can see from the ground around her (photo below), she's starting to fade and drop back.  I think she's going to place in the final rankings of my rose year, but we must wait to see if she can put on a vigorous second and third effort and then keep going right on to the frosty wire in October.  What do you think, a photo finish in Garden Musings this fall so that the judges can deliberate?

In all seriousness, 'Therese Bugnet' seldom has a bad year, but I can't remember such a floriferous display or her pinks to be quite so vibrant as I'm seeing now.  Am I being objective, or have I been influenced by a long dark winter, conditioned to fall in love with the first cute, bright beauty to cross my path?  Unlike many of my so-called hardy roses, this harsh winter never touched her.  Her canes remained strong and healthy, no tip dieback at all, even after the late freeze.  And every bud is opening to a perfectly-formed flower.  Even with a ride-along spider (look closely at that first picture), she's gorgeous, from the tips of her petals right down the white streaks to her ovaries and further along the red canes to her roots.  And her foliaged attirement is attractive as well, no trace of disease or insect or frost damage.  It's nice, occasionally, to find a pretty woman in this modern age who also knows how to dress.

I've grown 'Therese Bugnet' almost as long as I've grown roses and I tend to take her for granted most years, knowing that she'll be there, requiring no extra care, blooming slowly along in the background.  After her display this year, I regret that I once called her the trailer trash of the rose world.  She's a tough old gal, and strong women often are less-appreciated because they take care of themselves instead of calling for attention from the gardener by swooning at the first touch of heat or drought.  This year, however, I think it is her time, a time for 'Therese Bugnet' to shine once again and remind her why I fell in love with her those long years ago.     

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Yellow and more Yellow

In contrasting fashion to Picasso and his blue phase of painting during years of depression, ProfessorRoush seems to be going through a yellow phase of uplifted spring spirits.  Everything in my garden (well, except for some blue iris and a very splashy pink 'Therese Bugnet') seems to be yellow at the present, all of them a bright cheery yellow sufficient to join me in a celebration of the coming warm weather.  My yellow celebration really began on Friday last, as my first ever Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) opened up a single bloom just after our rainstorm. The satisfaction of seeing this bloom washed over me like a rainstorm across the prairie.

Tree Peony experts in the audience are laughing, but they don't fathom the difficulties I've transcended to get here.  This is my fourth attempt at a Tree Peony and the fourth year here for this one.  I've lost them to cold and drought and had them toppled by marauding critters and wind.  Growth has been slow, and I thought I'd lost her once, but she is settling in and looks like a survivor.  She is sited in the most protected spot I could give her; walls on the north and west to collect and reflect the sun's warmth, amd open only to the south and east where gales are least likely to topple her.  There is shade in the afternoon and she is protected by chicken wire on all sides, a virtual fortress erected to be impenetrable to man or beast.  Thus, you can understand my elation at getting this far, even though she dropped petals quickly and is now but a memory.

Just finishing up is my prize Magnolia 'Yellow Bird', an exciting bush that I've bragged about before.  It continues to grow and do well, now almost twice the size of when it was planted 4 years ago.  The bloom this year was a delight to see and more prolific than ever.  I can attest now that 'Yellow Bird' must be at least Zone 4 hardy, since that seems to be the degree of winter it has just survived and thrived through.  Rain sometimes dims the brightness of these blooms, but even the soft yellows of a dampened flower are pleasing to the eye.  

The most dependable and brightest yellow on this Kansas prairie comes, as usual, from the chrome-yellow rose, 'Harison's Yellow', just beginning to bloom profusely.  Almost one in every four buds on this rose is now blooming, so it will get better yet, but it's pretty good right now, don't you think?

How long will my yellow phase go on?  Not much longer, I think.  The irises are taking center stage and a whole bunch of pink roses are about to steal the show here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Timid and Demure

On Saturday last, I discovered this tiny retiring flower hidden deep within my climbing 'Jeanne Lajoie'.  Nestled and covered by the new foliage, visible only from inside the pergola on which the climber rests, she is the first blossom from 'Jeanne Lajoie' for the new season.  What a metaphor for the year we're having, this coy little pink jewel hiding and protected within a green-leafed cave.

I've wondered if the climate is ever going to settle down this year; warm, then cool, warmer, then back to freezing.  Yesterday it was 90ºF in Kansas, but there was snow on my son's lawn in the Colorado foothills.  I finally purchased tomato plants on Sunday and then found that I couldn't plant them yet, learning this morning that the lows of the next five nights are all in the low 40's, a temperature that will stunt the tomatoes.   I have full sympathy for the reticence of this quiet pink blossom to cast caution aside and declare that rose time has really arrived. 

My Saturday chores included an effort to finish trimming the roses near the house for the second time this year.  I had pruned most of them minimally near the end of March, but late freezes in April had blasted the canes of many down to near ground level.  'Jeanne Lajoie' survived at her six foot height, but the canes of her arbor neighbor, 'Zephirine Drouhin', were blackened and dead, similar to several other roses in that border.  Separating and removing dead canes from within foot-high new basal growth is a delicate task, requiring concentration worthy of a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast.  One should always, however, pause respectfully from one's labors in order to admire great beauty.  The lure of a beautiful woman or a perfect flower both similarly affect an aging gardener. 

 My Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "coy" as having a shy or sweetly innocent quality that is often intended to be attractive or to get attention.  I doubt that a better description exists of this early flower of 'Jeanne Lajoie'.  It playfully caught my eye as I was quickly examining the bush looking for dead canes, quietly whispering from within the shaded interior in an effort to be noticed, to be appreciated for the gift of its mere presence.  This is not the first of my roses to bloom.  'Marie Bugnet' led off the parade a few days prior and 'Harrison's Yellow' and 'Therese Bugnet' have since joined the queue. This flower is the first to remind me, however, that full summer is just around the corner, just a few days or weeks farther down the path.   I paused in quiet homage to the demure gem and then moved on, secure in my new knowledge that at least one rose believes that the world is due for another summer.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Impulse and Impact

Oh, ProfessorRoush was a bad boy today.  A very bad boy.  I did the exact thing that every good gardener knows to avoid.  Further, I did it joyfully, happily, and ecstatically, even with full knowledge of the potential mistake that I was making.  I made an impulse buy in the garden center.  At the Home Depot garden center to be exact.   Can you tell what I bought from the photo at the right?

I had ventured forth innocently this afternoon to buy a couple additional cans of Thompson's Water Seal for the concrete patio.  As is my habit in the early days of a new gardening season, I entered Home Depot through the garden center.  I mulled over one of the new "Smooth Touch" thornless roses, but decided to investigate them more before buying any.  I looked for a new S. vulgaris lilac to replace a really ugly forsythia  in the side yard, but I could only find short and squat 'Miss Kim'.  It was then that I noticed a few small trees with this really unusual leaf coloring sitting off to the side.  For the unwashed, this tree, the tree of my dreams, is Fagus sylvatica, the European beech.  And not just any European beech.  No, this is Fagus sylvatica 'Roseo-marginata', also known (incorrectly) as F. sylvatica 'Tricolor'.

I first came across this tree years ago on a family visit to New York City.  I had slipped away for the afternoon to the Bronx with my father and son to visit Wave Hill.  In the midst of that gorgeous public garden, I first fell in love with the dark and brooding Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea) shown to the left, but even then I knew better than to place this dark purple blob in the middle of the prairie.  Later on the tour of Wave Hill, however, I came across the Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor' pictured below and I knew that someday I'd own one.

You would not be wrong to surmise that this tree would be on my bucket list, if I actually had a bucket list.  Yes, I know this is a tree of deep and humid woods and that the tender leaves may burn in the Kansas sun.  Yes, I know that it will do better in partial shade and moist soil and I have neither.  Yes, I know it is slow growing and I likely will not live to see this tree top 30 feet tall.  Who cares?  My $50 impulse buy may not live to see next Spring.  But it is worth every penny to try.

Where to put it?  Where it will be shaded by a Cottonwood?  Down on the flat where the clay is so wet the roses struggle?  High in the front yard where, if it survives, it will be visible for miles around? Imagine.  Just imagine the impact it could have in my garden.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Beware of Boxwoods

ProfessorRoush would like to call down a pox on all those garden authorities who have advocated various winter hardy boxwoods to be excellent landscaping plants.  A further pox on the "Big Box" stores who sell the cheapest boxwoods available and thus limit the selection of available cultivars to us.  Boxwoods are everywhere these days.  Southern Living, for instance, has an 18 page internet extravaganza on boxwoods as "the backbone of Southern gardens for centuries".   Boxwoods for landscaping.  Boxwoods as the perfect container plants. Trim and tidy boxwoods. Lavender and boxwood gardens.   Boxwood...BS, I say!
I jumped onto the boxwood welcome wagon a number of years ago when I grew tired of mustache landscaping with junipers and arborvitaes.  In Kansas, those two conifer stalwarts are plagued annually by bagworms, leaving the gardener only a choice between marathon hand-picking sessions or toxic wastelands.  During the landscaping of a new home, I went with less traditional choices for my front entry; large-leaved evergreens such as hollies and boxwoods.
I was so enamored by the survival of my first boxwoods that when it came time to screen the wind near my front door and outline the circular driveway (or, if you prefer, to slow and divert the feng shui flow of qi in the area), I chose to buy 12 inexpensive Buxus microphylla koreana 'Wintergreen' plants to create a hedge.  I will admit openly that the effort has created a really functional low-maintenance hedge over the years, at times a bit winter-damaged as I've noted previously, but a very nice screen as pictured above.
Functional, yes , but undesirable.  You see, the one thing that most boxwood advocates fail to disclose is that boxwoods, at certain times of the year, smell like....well, they smell like cat urine.  Unneutered male cat piss to be exact.  If you realize the source of that stench around your house comes from the boxwoods, then search terms such as "boxwood" and "cat piss" will turn up any number of entrys about the problem, ranging from how it will diminish the sale value of your home, to sources where the authors claim to like the odor, claiming "it reminds me of happy hours spent in wonderful European gardens, surrounded by brilliant flowers, the hum of bees and the redolence of boxwood."   I'm sad to confirm that if you park your car in my circular driveway right now, the odor as you step outside the car will not remind you of happy hours in European gardens.  Until I read that the stench should have been expected, I thought my cats were using the area as a toilet.
Adding insult to injury, however is not beyond the reach of the most diabolical garden authorities.  One D. C. Winston, author of an EHow article I found titled "How to find a boxwood that doesn't smell like cat urine," is a prime example. The advice given in the article?  Avoid the Buxus sempervirens cultivars because they are have the strongest "acrid" odor.  Seek out the species Buxus microphylla.  Mr. Winston specifically recommended 'Wintergreen'.  Ain't that a hoot?
Take it from me,  don't plant boxwoods by your front door. Ever.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Charred Satisfaction

Yesterday was Prairie Burn Day for my neighbors and I.  We waited till very late to burn the prairie this year compared with previous years, all the better to suppress invasive sumacs and other brush plants which are now fully leafed out and more susceptible to fire.  In fact, the burn went slowly because of a lack of wind and all the green grass underneath last winter's detritus.  There were no casualties this year, not even to any of our electrical boxes or minor outbuildings.  Most of my prairie is presently characterized by blackened earth punctuated by smoldering piles of donkey poo.

Burn Day's are communal and family events.  My wife and daughter both participated, tolerating my constant direction about water stream and fire spreading technique as they complained incessantly about spider webs and the possibility of giant female-eating ticks.  Burning Day also allows me to burn my garden debris piles in relative safety (surreptitiously photographed by my wife in the upper right picture) and they are a chance to burn out pack rat nests which accumulate in the woods around the pond.

This year, I took advantage of the occasion to check on the health of my son's Scotch Pine, shown here next to my daughter.  It was a gift from some well-meaning foresters at his elementary school some 17 or 18 years ago, a tiny seeding that I planted near the pond in hopes that it would be isolated and escape the rampant Scotch Pine disease in the area.  Its stands now almost 20 feet tall and healthy as an evergreen ox.

During every burn, I learn more about the prairie and my little portion of it.  This year my daughter found and rescued this little turtle crawling in the grass about 50 feet from the pond and wanted to keep it.  She was less excited when I told her it wasn't a box turtle but a snapping turtle searching for water.  We left it down by the pond, safe from the prairie fire sweeping in its direction.  I can't count all the rabbit and pack rat sightings of the week.

I rest now, content to let the passage of a few days clothe these burnt hills in emerald green.  In the picture below, you can see the blackened prairie to the north of my house, and the green hills of K-States Beef Unit, burned three weeks ago, beyond.  Soon the entire horizon will look like those hills, a sea of green grass ready once again for the summer passage of ghostly prairie schooners.    


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