Friday, December 25, 2015

Mistgloved Christmas

The garden greets me from a shroud of mist on this quiet Christmas morning and I couldn't ask for more from the world.  Delicately diffused light covers the garden in a blanket of down, softening the harsh lines of winter, cloaking the blemishes of age.  There is stillness in the garden, mist muting the sounds of highway and neighbors, an oasis of rest and silence.  This blessed morn has given me a gift; a gift of oneness and peace with my garden and the world.

Outside, the cold ground meets the mist and coats the earth and plants with frost.  Grass flowers present as delicate sculptures and sparkle with mirth, turning slowly to and fro in the scant wind.  A frozen lilac hides its promise from the wiles of winter, protected within a damp icy blanket and staid among its fellows.

Today's gift of Christmas is the very definition of "hoarfrost," a maladroit moniker for the beauty it reveals.  Hoarfrost has its origins in Middle English and Old Norse from "hoary," something gray or white with age.  Uttering the name, one hears the low ancient mutters behind the name; old, decrepit, tatty, cold.  The synonym "rime" is no improvement, too near its rhymes of grime and crime to suggest any positive enhancement of the dreary winter world.

For future use, I'm going to suggest the word "mistglove" as an improved name for this natural phenomenon.  As I carry no ancient memories of predatory cave bears or saber-toothed tigers, the term "mist" holds only peaceful and comforting connotations, and "glove" amplifies that warm and protective image, making me just a calm and comforted ProfessorRoush on this Christmas morning.  Yes, "mistglove" it shall be.

And a very Merry Christmas to all, mistgloved or not wherever you may be!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Garden's Got Game

Until today, the sometimes dense ProfessorRoush has been under the impression that his garden has gone into hibernation for the cold days ahead.  Because of my "in-while-its-dark," then "home-while-its-dark" work schedule, my garden wanderings have become limited to weekend treks during the few hours of sunshine and tolerable temperatures.  Primarily, I get out into the garden for a few lovely minutes to exercise the portly Bella and make sure the trailer hasn't been stolen.

I was far wrong, however, about my garden being in hibernation.  While the plants may be biding their energy, a check of my game camera shows that there is plenty of game visiting my garden.   At least I can say "my garden's got game" with a straight face now.  In fact, I just realized that the number of larger mammalian bodies moving through the garden is greater now than at any other time of year, even without any attention from humankind.

From October 31st through December 3rd, my game camera has recorded 19 separate periods of invasion by large-furry tailed rats, some occurring over several hours time, with no discernible pattern as to time of the raids.  Early morning, late evening, middle of the night, all random.  On the camera, as shown in some of the photos here, I can distinguish at least 7 individuals, ranging from the beautiful and proud 10-point buck in the first photo, an 8-point buck, a buck with two broken stubs for antlers (left), an unknown number of does numbering at least two (several pictures have pairs), and at least two different fawns.

Interestingly, the ice storm seems to have affected their daily pattern as much as mine.  The only daylight photos of deer that I captured were taken in the days while ice was on the ground.  Perhaps they were desperate for food that wasn't ice-covered, or perhaps they feel safer moving loudly in the daytime than when they are alerting night predators with each ice-cracking step.

My garden's game is even playing games in the darkness.  The photographic evidence suggests that Follow The Leader is pretty popular, and Hide And Seek pick-up games are everywhere.  Look at the photo to the left;  Can you see the fawn standing in the bushes just behind the legs of the doe pictured here?  I'll give you a hint; locate the light-reflecting eye in the bush and then look for the hind legs to the left of it.

The only damage that has occurred to my garden seems to be part of a Purple Smoke Tree toppled by the ice, so I guess I won't get my dander up about damage that I can't find.  The deer can just have what rose rosette disease hasn't already taken and I'll pick up the pieces next spring.  Bella and I can still enjoy the garden, romping around in the sunshine as we did today.  I'll say one thing for sure; for a mildly obese dog, that Beagle-Border Collie mutt can run like a deer!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ice Time

Rosa rugosa 'Hunter'
Ice, what change thou has wrought on the landscape of Eden!  A night of frozen tears, a dawn of day, and earth seems shackled in a skin of glass.  Breath of North, a frozen gale has bowed brave 'Hunter' down, closing pistil and stamen against the will of the bloom.  It's suitors absent, huddled in their hives, the red flower now becomes a jewel, a ruby amidst thorns.  This glowing center of winter's garden pleases under ice but will fade at the next kiss of a warm breeze.

The view from my southern back window is lightened this morning, the garden itself somehow cleaner and calmed.  In contrast, the front, north-facing windows are opaque with ice, mere light without form in their distance.  Under the weight of solid water, the Sawtooth Oak on the left sighs and spreads, hoping to ease the burden of load.  

I worry for the trees, especially the proud but precarious Redbud to the west.  The favorite of Mrs. ProfessorRoush, a stiff wind could undo it in seconds, cracking it to kindling in a contest of will.  The existing gale already broke the resolve of the garden's photographer, sending him fleeing into the warmth of house, to the fire of hearth. 

There will be no further sticky-fingered tree frogs on my bottle tree, blue cobalt turned death trap for amphibian skin.  Summer is long past, and I pray that whatever moist skinned creatures survived the droughts of August have long burrowed into shelter.

'Carefree Beauty'
'Fru Dagmar Hastrup'
The orange hips of Carefree Beauty are preserved today, cased in glass, but will soon turn brown and shrivel.  So to, the relucent redder rugosa hip of 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup' will dim to dull.  Life in these hips has been stolen by the relentless ice, the seeds yet to spill upon the ground.

The cherub of the peony bed presides over all, calm and quiet, chaste and cool, reminding that this day was anticipated, nay expected, in the course of seasons.  The gardener heeds the stoic stone at last, slowing heartbeat, resting thoughts, reassured that the garden will survive again the orbit of years.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Housebound Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, yes, and outside the wind is howling and the rain is coming down in sheets.  We had planned to visit my son in Colorado today, but a bad forecast and a winter storm watch convinced me that the return trip tomorrow might be a dangerous thing, and so, here we sit, Bella and I, staring out the window into the storm.  The photo to the right is from a happier moment, yesterday, when we took advantage of the last warm day to play in the sun.  Bella likes to hold the frisbee with her paws and doesn't give it up easily after she retrieves it.

Thankfully, my fall garden-related chores are essentially complete.  Hoses are drained and stored, peonies and irises and daylily beds hacked down, and the lawn mower oil has been changed, blades sharpened, and gas preservative run through.    Out the back window, the garden has entered dormancy and has turned to sienna, ocher, and umber, colors that are enhanced when the fall rains come to the prairie as you can see in the garden and distant hills below.   I wish I had not yet cut down the tall native prairie grasses in the foreground (see the bottom picture below), but in the midst of this dry fall I had given up on seeing any moisture and I wanted to stem the incursion of the field mice and rabbits this winter.  And "plant" the seeds of this year's penstemon.

Along with the fall chores of the cultured garden, one of my annual chores is to clean out the eighteen birdhouses that I've placed on the the periphery of the twenty acres I call home.  The trek up and down the property provided a perfect opportunity for me to photograph the house and gardens from the back hill, a clear Kansas sky presiding over the scenery on a gorgeous fall day early in November.  This is an overview that I don't think I've shown on this blog before.  The hill in the foreground falls away to a farm pond, hidden out of the bottom frame of the photo below, and then rises again to the house and barn.  The overall garden looks small from this vantage.

My "bluebird trail" and the Professor-Roush-customized bluebird houses were unusually successful this year, perhaps due to the extra moisture of this past spring.  Thirteen of 18 houses appeared to have fledged bluebirds, containing the thin grass nests characteristic of the species.  Four other houses, all near the woods and pond, contained the deep stick-formed nests of wrens, and one decrepit old commericial house contained only a dead wasp nest.  Thirteen bluebird nests is a PR for this little spot of land, a moment worthy of contemplation and celebration.

On the morning of the bluebird-house-cleaning, the back garden was just waking with the sun, long shadows aimed west, and somehow duller, and ready for winter.  Seen here, below, you can see the shoulder-tall height of the native bluestem that I have since mowed off.  I am always torn between leaving them unmown to capture the moisture of the winter snows and to witness the joyous rusty tones they exhibit when wet, but one of the reasons I cut them down is so that the seeds of the forbs among them drop closer, spread only by the whirring mower and hidden in the debris in hopes of increasing their density.  Spring penstemon and fall echinacea are always welcome and appreciated here in my prairie garden.   Now if only next spring would hurry up and come along.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

1!$@%!^ Time to Change

$@%&^#$&% ...time change.... @1!51%$!$% awake....   A pox on all politicians, State and Federal, who persist in messing up our schedules, our lives, and our very cellular metabolisms.

I woke this morning at 4:48 a.m. Standard Time, which was 5:48 a.m. just yesterday, the latter normal for me on my sleep/wake schedule.  I laid still for a few minutes, wondering at the time, but Bella came creeping up the bed to remind me that it was high time to get up and start the day.  Bella doesn't know that nameless bureaucrats have imposed an arbitrary time schedule change, decisions based on an America engaged in the Great War, the War to end all wars, about 6 or 7 wars ago or a hundred years back depending on how you want to count.  Bella doesn't care, it was simply time to get up and potty and eat and play.

The sun didn't know that it was back on standard time either.  The sky was already starting to lighten shortly after I woke, and it rose at 6:54 a.m, an hour earlier than it did yesterday.  The idiots we keep electing don't seem to have the same power over the sun that they do over my life.  Now I'm back to driving into the eastern sun during my morning work commute, endangering cars and walking students, blinded by the glare four times yearly instead of twice.

The bee, above, doesn't know that the time has changed.  It probably only knows that winter is nearby and it needs to grab whatever nectar and pollen it can, while it can, even this aging pollen from this blown blossom of a miniature rose that I know as "Little Yellow Beauty".  I can't find any official record of this rose, but that's how it's labeled in the K-State Rose Garden.  The g'vernment has forgotten to inform this bee and flower that the time changed.  The flower is probably thankful that it doesn't even appear on a government census.

As you know, I try to avoid politics on this blog like the onset of the plague, but, I'll state here and how that I pledge my vote for any candidate, even The Donald or Bernie Sanders, if they're the sole supporter of just staying on one time.  I'm a single issue voter on this one.  Daylight Savings Time would actually be my preference, but I really don't care, either Time is fine.  If, like me, you want this madness to stop, please visit and sign this petition to Congress, or this petition to the White House, or if you're like the rest of America, at least spend time "liking" this idea on Facebook.  Politicians, being the dolts what they are and an election in their future, they'll probably listen to Facebook better than anything else.  Grumbling over, soon back to your regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Shameless Selfies

My trail camera has spent most of the summer in desperate need of attention.  The batteries were beyond dead and I had removed the digital memory card and never replaced it.  After a long, hot summer, who really cares if the garden is being sampled at night?  I had, within the last two weeks, taken the precaution of putting up the chicken wire bindings that protect my tree trunks from deer, and I've spent time doing various and sundry other garden cleanups.

With autumn coming on, however, I felt a need to know who was rambling around my garden at night, and I put the camera back in working order last week.  I've seen no evidence of wildlife damage, at least not on a conscious level, but somehow I felt that something about the garden was different.  I somehow sensed Other. Other in the form of a marauding horde.   Other in the form of hungry visitors.

I didn't have to wait long for evidence.  Dear, oh dear, I've got deer.  Lots of deer, sampling tender rose tips and buds. What I did not expect was the jocular nature of this invasion, the sheer "We're in it for the fun" attitude of this year's table guests.  The first guy above, a handsome stag, seemed to be casting a playful little goofy look for his "selfie", and he was good enough to pose with a full profile on the next night.  Quite a well-antlered boy, don't you think, Ladies?

The stags have been followed already by doey-eyed does, their long eyelashes so innocent and flirtatious with the camera.  Tail up in the air, this lady is ready to find her a man, yessir, yessir.  Soon enough, there will be little fawns appearing in these pictures, their molecules and atoms composed mostly of reconstituted rosebuds and rose leaves from my garden,  Oh well, que sera sera, we're all just the recycled products of some supernova anyway, or so I'm told.  Anyway, I've got to admit that these selfies beat the heck out of anything the Kardashians have produced.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Life Imperative

Here, at the onset of Autumn, the garden slowly slips from life to death, from ardor to apathy.  Peonies are stiff stalks, brown and cracking with every breeze.  I must remember to remove supports and mow them soon back to dust.  Likewise the daylilies and irises, green at their base but yellow-tipped, bent and beaten by wind and sun and insect, begging, almost eager, to move gently into the cold nights.  These and more have budded and flowered and seeded, the annuals among them filling their need to make new life from old, to be reborn with Spring into the next generation.  Perennials also have prospered, storing summer's sugars in roots and stems for another season, casting seed onto earth, future offspring to watch and treasure, children at their feet.

Some in the garden, however, have not yet satisfied that primal itch, late to the game, slow to the plate.  Roses still bloom, unnatural remonant freaks that never understand there is a time for rest, a time to reflect, and a time for rebirth.  They will soon freeze for their troubles, energy wasted on buds unborn.  Helen's Flowers shine on, reflecting back the months of gathered sun into the heavens, lanky and tall before they finally bow to Winter.  Asters abound, white and blue and purple to reflect the autumn sky and coming snows.  

A few fight forward still, faith given to provenance and strength, rushing to beat deadlines of frost and freeze.  I recently discovered this bedraggled sunflower blooming in a bed near the house.  If it is indeed, as I believe, an ox-eye daisy (Heliopsis helianthoides) or false sunflower, then it has evaded weeding gardener, incessant sun, late-summer drought, and an army of insects to flower now in a hardened clay bed, late but insistent, desperately trying to add its hardy genes to the future.  Stunted, oppressed, and humbled, fighting the nearby daylily for every nutrient atom and molecule of water, still it lifts its face to the heavens, stretching for the ribbon at the race's end.

Ox-eye's are perennials here, so I choose now to leave this one and await its return.  Every gardener plays God in his or her own garden. and the lord of this garden is happy to accept this survivor into the gene pool of his garden.  Such are the beginnings of new species and new promises, these pioneers pushed to the edge of death and pushing back with life.  Such are the lessons of the garden for their gardeners.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

God is the better Gardener

On a recent trip to Colorado for my son's wedding (hurrah for he and the new missus!), we took a side trip to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  In truth, I am normally so cynical to the depths of my soul that most natural wonders that wow others often leave me unimpressed and underwhelmed.  For instance, I find the important Kansas landmark, the World's Largest Ball of Twine, to be less than inspiring, especially considering the desecration of it by many local visitors, but Garden of the Gods was different.  For a simple backyard and frontyard gardener, Garden of the Gods is a humbling experience in what a Greater Power can do with the simple forms of rock and earth.  Don't go by Colorado Springs without stopping there.

Garden of the Gods (GOTG from here on out) is a public park funded by Colorado Springs and the proceeds from its own gift shop, but it entirely free if all you want to do is visit and wander the park.  There's a paved drive that you can take if you're just in the mood to pass through, but you can also bike or hike a number of various paths around the park.  If I lived in the area, I believe it would be a constant weekend outing for me.  It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1971.

The rock formations at GOTG were created by an upheaval along a natural fault during the uplift of the Rocky Mountains.  Native Americans considered it a sacred place, unsurprisingly, and the Ute's, in particular, incorporated it into their creation stories.  Early Spanish and other European explorers began visiting the area in the 16th century.  The public park was created when Charles Eliott Perkins donated 480 acres of land containing part of GOTG to the city in 1909, and William Jackson Palmer later donated his Rock Ledge Ranch which contained the remaining formations.

The primarily sedimentary beds of red, pink and white sandstones were eroded during the Pleistocene Ice Age into the present forms, including "Balanced Rock", a fascinating formation that is now,  stabilized in place by concrete lest it move and crush the adoring public around it. Although it is unlikely to topple over without a major earthquake, I was still a bit nervous driving between these two pillars.

 Although the park is free, don't overlook the very excellent Visitor and Nature Center across from the park entrance.  The center contains many well-done and informative displays about the parks formation, ecology, and history and offers some excellent scenic views for family photos.

Of course, being a gardener, one of the things I found most fascinating about the park was the way that life chooses to cling to every small patch of lousy soil that exists in whatever wind-swept cubbyhole it accumulates in.  Whatever your interest, geology, botany, paleontology (the park has its own resident dinosaur species Theiophytalia kerri), or anthropology (Ute petroglyphs are documented in the park), there is something for everyone in GOTG.  Rock climbing is permitted, for those who are crazy enough to test Death on a daily basis, and even the non-exuberant birders will relish the 130 bird species that exist there.   See it, when you can, and prepare to be amazed.  My mother, who shares my hard-to-impress nature, was practically bouncing off the car windows as we rounded each formation to view the next.  That entertainment alone was sufficient reason for a trip to the park, and the natural formations were just icing on the sedimentary cake.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Neglected Grass

To live in blessed harmony on the Kansas prairie, every gardener must, of necessity, learn to grow and appreciate ornamental grasses, and even rose-crazy ProfessorRoush is no exception.  I have long been an ornamental grass devotee and I grow a number of Panicums, and Calamagrostis, and Miscanthus to fluff up my autumn garden.  I have however, until now, been somewhat neglectful of giving full appreciation to Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' as a garden necessity.

I've had this clump of 'Hameln', and one other, for 5 or 6 years, and I never felt that it deserved the accolades it receives from the sales catalogs. Monrovia raves on it, calling it an "attractive grass highlighted by fluffy, buff-colored plums....terrific contrast among shrubs...foliage turns golden-russet."  My experience is more like that of "Chataine" from Rose City Texas.  On, Chataine wrote "It gets huge--easily 4 feet tall and 5 feet across. It’s a water hog. It self-seeds prodigiously. It grows in ever-widening concentric circles around a dead center. It’s a great hotel for fire ants. It laughed at the grassy weed killer I poured on it. I finally had to dig them all out, and am still recovering from the whole experience."  In the next review on davesgarden, "Kilizod" from MA, put it more bluntly, saying, "I think this grass looks like a weed early in the season."

My clumps were divisions from established clumps at the KSU gardens, gifts gratefully received from the garden director during fall cleanup in the garden.  Admittedly, I give them no extra attention or water, and barely remember some years to throw a little fertilizer on them.  And they responded to such loving care by being fairly unremarkable, a moderately low clump of grass with a few uninteresting fall seedheads.  One clump, in fact, shriveled up in last year's drought and then refused to return this spring.  But this year I finally understood the draw of 'Hameln', or alternatively my 'Hameln' finally decided to quit sulking in the Kansas sun.  Like many of the native prairie grasses, it responded to this year's ample rains by growing to its heralded potential and flowering with unusual abandon.  And I love it. And since the rain nearly drowned out my roses this year, I needed something out there to make up for them.  If it has to be 'Hameln', and not to be roses (get it? "to be or not to be?"  "Hameln?"...chuckle), I guess I can live on that till next year.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I've Stooped So Low

'Carefree Sunshine'
My ongoing battle against Rose Rosette disease, and the annual Kansas summer scorch, has led to a few casualties over the summer, with a corresponding number of empty spots in my garden.   "Beggars," as they say, "can't be choosers," and consequently when a good friend generously offered me several established 'Sunny Knockouts" that she was planning to discard, I decided to take them for filler.  

'Carefree Sunshine'
I already have a 'Carefree Sunshine', or 'RADsun', in my garden, a lone rose placed in my "peony garden" in the shade of an Oak tree.  It survives, barely, and gets absolutely no care including a lack of pruning.  'Carefree Sunshine', for those who know it, was bred by Bill Radler before 1991, and is a light yellow shrub rose with semi-double blooms that form in clusters.  In my garden, it has reached about 3 X 3 feet in size, and it remains there, shaded almost out of existence, but clinging to its square foot of soil without being a nuisance.  It seems to be reasonably resistant to blackspot and is cane hardy throughout most winters here.  I originally planted it to please SHE-WHO-PREFERS-HER-ROSES-NOT-TO-BE-PINK (Mrs. ProfessorRoush), and despite that knock (sic) against this Knock Out cousin, I would like the rose more if it had more petals and shined a little brighter.

'Carefree Sunshine'
'Sunny Knock Out', or 'RADsunny', is a different rose than RADsun, a paler yellow, and single (4-8 petals).  Also bred by Radler, it was introduced by Conard-Pyle in 2008, a yellow addition to the Knock Out rose family.   I chose three plants from my friend, which are now planted in several prominent spots in my garden, spots that I will probably regret if both the roses, and I, survive the winter to come.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate my friend's generosity, I just don't want to admit that I've sunk to such depths of despair.  

I am consoled by the thought that these roses, like many of the Knock Out family, are probably overly susceptible to Rose Rosette and will succumb to that decrepit virus, so that someday I will be as likely to find a Dodo in my garden as a 'Sunny Knockout'.  Just yesterday, dropping my daughter at her apartment, I noticed that one of three fully grown 'Knock Out' roses outside her front steps was badly infected with Rose Rosette and likely to spread to all the others that adorn her entire apartment complex.   Given my usual fortune, my new 'Sunny Knock Out' bushes will likely survive however, and thrive to brighten Mrs. ProfessorRoush's days for years to come, while I loathe their presence every time I pass them.  Such is the plight of the desperate gardener.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sugar Tip Rose (of Sharon)

Wow, ten days since my last post?  Time flies when my attention drifts and life runs quickly.  My wandering affections for the garden were jerked back in line yesterday as I was mowing, however, by a glimpse of this little bush, a beauty shyly screaming for attention against the prairie backdrop.  Stopped the mower short, I did, and jumped off just as quickly to snap an iPhone picture or three.

This is Rose of Sharon 'America Irene Scott', otherwise known in the nursery trade as Sugar Tip®.    I bought her at a big box store this spring as a filler for the center of a new bed.  I was actually a little reluctant to purchase her, not because of cost or condition, but because I rarely like the flower colors that are commercially available with variegated foliage in many species.  One of my many pet peeves (which should be distinguished from the peeved pets that are my patients) is that breeders so often ruin a great flower trying to "improve" it by adding variegated foliage.  I was also afraid that the pink tones of Sugar Tip® would be a bit pale and uninspiring.  I brought her home, nonetheless, hoping that the deer would leave her alone despite her appetizing appearance.

I was, I now think, flat wrong this time to cynically doubt the marketing savvy of the horticultural world.  She's a small bush at the end of her first summer, only 2.5 feet tall and a little more slender, but Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip® is blooming her young limbs off, and the double blooms are sufficiently pink to perfectly complement the green and cream foliage.  I can't wait to see her in full bloom at her mature stature of 8 feet X 6 feet.  The petal color is of that demure, embarrassed pink tone best seen in the early spring in roses such as 'Maiden's Blush', otherwise known as 'Cuisse de Nymphe'.   The French should market this variegated Althea as  'Cuisse de Nymphe Dans la Dentelle';  "Thigh of a Nymph in Lace".  Qui, Mon Ami?

'America Irene Scott' was patented (US PP20579 P2) in 2009 by Spring Meadow Nursery Inc.  Hardy to -20F, 'America Irene Scott' was discovered, according to the patent, in a controlled outdoors nursery by Sharon Gerlt of Independence Missouri in 2001 as a natural branch mutation of 'Lady Stanley'.  I was, unfortunately, unable to learn more about Ms. Gerlt or why she named the plant 'America Irene Scott', but The Plant Hunter, a blog by Tim Wood of Spring Meadow Nursery, indicates that Ms. Gerlt may be an "amateur plants-person."   If she is indeed an amateur, she has a great eye for plants.

Please, Lord, make me as lucky in my own garden.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Watermelon Wednesday

Plank. Plunk.  Plink. Tink. Thunk.  Thuuuunk.  Treading carefully and repeatedly bending at my waist in the massive maze of vines, I channeled my gardening ancestors and plunked each globe-ulacious fruit, listening carefully for the deep base note that signifies maturity.  Of the most contralto, dullest-toned specimens, I examined each vine for drying of the opposite ancillary tendril and carefully rolled each large melon over to examine the extent of the bleaching or yellowing of the ground contact area.  Finally, offering an unwhispered prayer to the melon gods and dancing the melon-growers boogie, I chose what I believed to be the most ripe, the most worthy specimen, hefted it onto my shoulders, and began the long climb up the hill to the kitchen.

I always find it difficult to determine when watermelons are ripe.  Cantaloupes are easy, falling from the vine into your arms as they ripen, but watermelon selection is an art, a fine skill known only to a few, with secret gestures and a separate language to enhance its mystery.  A single solitary melon, alone in a garden, is a time-bomb with no clock, a conundrum complicated by lack of peers for comparison.  A covey of Citrullus sp, nay a horde of them, presents an easier path, a symphony of notes out of which one need only pick the bassoon from the clarinets and trumpets.  A solid yellow bottom on a melon is as indicative of readiness as the scarlet hindquarters of a mandrill and suggests similar ripeness.

I cheated this year, planting two 'Crimson Sweet' seedlings from a local market rather than growing my melons from heirloom seed and nursing them through their infancy.  Perhaps because of that shortcut, or more likely because of the steady rains this year, I've got a melon patch that is overtaking the garden, smothering first a 'Brandywine' tomato, then the jalapenos and salsa peppers, and now engaging the main body of the tomato army.   The massive leaves hide over a dozen melons, with six of the latter as large or larger than this first 36 lb giant.  Thirty-six pounds of dead water weight that I carried in a single rush up the hillside to deposit, the provider home from a successful hunt.

Cleaving it, divulging its secrets, I presented Mrs. ProfessorRoush with the reddest, sweetest, most watery treat known to mankind, a praiseworthy pepo portending pleasure.  The perfect mesocarp and endocarp exposed, we have gorged for days on this single specimen, groaning in gloom at the thought of tonnes of melons yet to cross our palates as September saunters on.   Others, friends who will soon avert their eyes and cross the street to avoid us, will benefit from the bounty as we become oversatiated and tired of the taste of melon.  Only the coming frosts will save them, and us, from overfrequent urination and sugary slumber.  Only thoughts of coming winter remind us, and them, to treasure this nectar while we can, to celebrate liquid lushness in the waning days of summer.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blue, Who Are You?

At this time of year, I always welcome our native Blue Sage (Salvia azurea), with open arms.  It has self-sown itself from the prairie into my garden beds, and I strive to remember what it looks like as a seedling so that I can enjoy it in full August maturity.  That sky blue hue, as I've noted before, just fills up my soul with peace.

If only I could remember to cut it back in early July so that it would "bush up" and wouldn't get so tall and sprawlacious.  This photo of a Blue Sage clump, taken at the very front of my landscaping, shows how it eventually succumbs to gravity and sprawls from the raised bed to the buffalo grass below, brushing my legs or lawnmower each time I go by.  Blue sage also goes by the name of Pitcher sage, to honor Dr. Zina Pitcher, a U.S. Army surgeon and botanist.  A botanical alias, S. pitcheri, seems to be the same plant.   The roots can extend into the prairie 6-8 feet.

I received a blue surprise this afternoon, however, in the form of an unknown blue flower in the same bed.  This slightly-lighter-blue sage with fern-like leaves popped up in the center of the bed.  At present, it is about 3 foot high and wide and just starting to bloom.  I'm surprised that I didn't think it was a weed and pull it out earlier.  I do vaguely remember seeing the foliage last month, thinking it looked like ragweed but unsure, and making a conscious decision to let it bloom so that I could identify it.

Look closely at that finely cut foliage with what surely looks like a sage flower starting to bloom among it.  I quickly snatched these two iPhone photos today so that I could spread word of this wonder to the world.   But what sage is it?  I spent two hours tonight searching for other possible salvias in the region.  I searched the USDA plants database and came up empty for anything that should be in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, or Nebraska.  My local wildflower books didn't help.  In desperation, I broke off a piece of the plant and placed it on the scanner bed, to get a better look at the structure of the foliage (see below), and to upload it to others for identification.  I even assigned it a study name, Salvia azurea roushii, just in case it was a previously undescribed species and this was my designated fifteen minutes of fame.

In the end, however, I simply proved that the entire world should be happy that I became a veterinarian and not a botanist.  I simply spent two hours being an idiot.  Finally, examining the stem of the specimen I scanned, I realized that it didn't have the characteristic mint-like, squared-off stem that it should have as a sage.  So back I went outside, and on closer examination, found what should have been obvious to me at first glance.  This IS a Salvia azurea, growing up through the middle of an Ambrosia, probably Western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), my very common garden nemesis.   I let grow, just this one time, almost to maturity, and it rewarded me by wasting my evening.  Oh well, sometimes that's how the life of an amateur botanist goes.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Heliopsis Summer Nights

At long last, a Heliantheae that I can live with.  I once thought that Helianthus maximilliana was the answer to my drought-stricken, Kansas sunflower-like dreams, and I sought them out wherever I ventured.  I've grown, and still grow Helianthus maximilliana 'Lemon Yellow' and 'Santa Fe', but they tend to out-compete anything in their vicinity, smothering less aggressive plants.  I keep eliminating clumps and moving them elsewhere.  One of my latest attempts to use them in the garden was to create an ornamental grass + H. maximilliana bed, in the mistaken notion that the ornamental grass clumps could hold their own amongst the H. maximilliana.  Boy, was I ever wrong.

Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Nights’, in contrast, is a much better-behaved garden guest, lending its dark green foliage as backdrop in the early summer, and then livening up the action in Autumn with bright yellow daisy faces and maroon stems.   My 'Summer Nights' seems to be pest-free and at maturity stands about 3 foot tall and 3 feet around.  It is a good perennial for a medium-sized border, and it is creating a good display with the ornamental grasses behind it.  It slouches a little but doesn't spread, a model of grace and good intentions.

If only they had named it something besides the unfortunate 'Summer Nights'.  Every time I look at it, I'm reminded of the song "Summer Nights", from the movie Grease, which leads my hyperactive mind to the vocalists of the song, Olivia Newton John and John Travolta.  I can agree, like other boys who were teenagers in the '70's, that Olivia Newton John has a certain appeal, but I've never been a John Travolta fan.  So I see the plant and I end up with John Travolta singing in my head for a few hours, over and over.  Thus, I always am impressed at first glance by this plant but walk away with a slightly sour expression that the plant doesn't deserve.  "Summer dreams, ripped at the seams, but oh, those 'Summer Nights'!"  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Cantaloupe Planting with Benefits

This blog entry is absolutely not about what you think it is.  Well, okay, it may be about what you think it is, but as a blog with G-rated intentions and only mildly titillating innuendo, whatever you read into it is your own doing.  Freudians should stop here and look elsewhere for entertainment. Contemplative philosophers may pause and ponder the cantaloupe photo.  I'll come back to it later.

Everyone is familiar with the late-Generation-X concept of "friends with benefits," correct?  In full disclosure, ProfessorRoush. an old and simple gardener, has no personal knowledge of the practice, which was invented far after my college years when I was long captured in the caring embrace of Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  I may strain occasionally under her tightly wound Victorian petals, I may stare open-mouthed at the voluptuous displays of a 'Madame Hardy' or a 'Maiden's Blush', but any benefits derived from such floral distractions are strictly limited to home gardening.

I do, however, practice "cantaloupe planting with benefits," a concept that I have perfected and can enthusiastically recommend to other older male gardeners.  Cantaloupes, which I consider malodorous and disgusting fruits, grow effortlessly here in Kansas, requiring little more than a few early rains to establish them, protection from box turtles, and hot August days to mature them.  They spread and proliferate with spheroidal abandon, first green and silent, then golden and lethal.  The odor of a fully ripe muskmelon has been known to drive me out of a room.  You may wonder, then, why I grow them every year and give them more than their fair share of my garden efforts?

Simply stated, Mrs. ProfessorRoush loves them.  She joyfully reaps the annual results of my labor, gorging for days and weeks solely on the shimmering stinking flesh and sugary essence.  And over the years, I've discovered that such spousal satiation enhances the possibility of future companionable benefits that are more useful to an older gardener. You all know what I'm talking about.  Appetizing meals. Clean bedsheets.  Offers to rake the sidewalks.  Other rare perks.  Call it what you like, muskmelon mania or muskmelon mind-melting, but don't mock the power of the melon. Follow my lead, boys, plant a few muskmelons for your cantaloupe-crazed spouse and the benefits extend far beyond what you can get from friends.  


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