Saturday, May 30, 2015

Squatting Dark Lady

'The Dark Lady'
I suppose that ProfessorRoush could be faulted for ignoring many popular roses with my primary focus on Griffith Buck, Ag Canada Roses, Old Garden Roses and Hybrid Rugosas, but I do grow a few roses that are perhaps more widely known and viewed as "modern."  Among those are a few of the David Austin roses, but just a mere few because I find they don't always do well in my climate and I tire of wasting money on them.  Devoted readers know that I really like 'Heritage', and that I persist with 'Golden Celebration', and you may remember that I thought 'Benjamin Britten' was a nice rose until I lost it last year to Rose Rosette.  You may not know that I've failed with about 6 or 8 others.

I also grow an early Austin rose, 'The Dark Lady', on her own roots and she has survived a number of years to produce these big, very-double fragrant blooms for me.  In fact, I once moved her and she came back from a forsaken root, so I have two growing in my garden and both are passable representatives of their clan.  She does not need any preventative maintenance for blackspot in my climate, but I wouldn't call her a vigorous rose, and you can see from the photo at the left that our recent rains have left her a bit bedraggled.  According to one anonymous post at a website, "feeding her bananas" will take care of the weak necks, but I'm a bit skeptical of such an easy fix.

'The Dark Lady', otherwise known as 'AUSbloom', is a shrub rose bred by Austin prior to 1991, and she throws dark magenta-blue flowers of 100 to 140 petals for me, although Austin describes the color as "dark crimson." lists her as having a bloom diameter of 3.25 inches, but many of the flowers in the photo above are around 4 inches in diameter.   She does repeat with several flushes over a season, but I wouldn't call her a continuous bloomer.  The poor woman is described as being 4'X 5', a little wider than she is tall, and I would agree with that unflattering shape description with the exception that she seldom gets more than about 2.5' X 3' for me in a season.  She is moderately cane hardy here, with some dieback each year but usually not to the ground.   Her heritage is a little perplexing; lists here as a cross between 'Mary Rose' and 'Prospero', but Austin's website says she has a R. Rugosa parentage.  The latter, if true, would help explain the hardiness and the somewhat rough matte foliage.  And perhaps the color.

According to the David Austin Roses website,  Austin named 'The Dark Lady' after "the mysterious Dark Lady" of  Shakespeare's sonnets.  In those somewhat heated sonnets, we learn that Shakespeare's mistress had black hair, dun-colored skin, and raven black eyes. In several places, Shakespeare suggests that she wasn't that pretty ("In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes, for they in thee a thousand errors note"), and that she also had bad breath ("And in some perfumes is there more delight, than in the breath that from my mistress reeks").  Always the contrary, cynical professor, I think Austin misnamed this rose because she is a very beautiful rose and her fragrance is strong and sweet.  At least, in my opinion.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Magic Mornings

There is no morning more pleasing for me than to wake up early and find the house silent and cloaked in fog, harsh rays of the rising sun diffused into gentle radiance.  Combine that with the clean air and glistening landscape from a previous evening's rain, and I'm in heaven, or at least as near as I can get with my feet still on soggy ground.

These are magic mornings for me. Magical moments that I steal to watch the world stir and wake, to wait without worry and simply to be.  On most other mornings, I'm fully awake as my feet touch the floor, leaping into my life with jobs to finish and errands to run, lists to complete and chores to get done.   On these mornings, however, I pause, knowing that rain has dampened the urgency of outside work, and wanting to preserve the quiet and peace of a still-resting household.   While Mrs. ProfessorRoush sleeps soundly in the silence, Bella and I slip outside to capture the scenes, small or vast, that wait just a wall away.

On such mystical mornings, if you wait and watch, seek and search, you can pierce the veil and glimpse, if only briefly, the canvas of life beneath the colors.  Hues of blooms and leaves and grass seem brighter, stems and stalks stand surer, and birds sing sweeter as the sun slowly dawns.  On this morning, I found the cheerful buds of 'Betty Boop' bound together by industry, support stays for a small spider's larder.  Raindrops glistened on perfect new leaves, each drop a jewel of a sequined cover, each leaf a dark green factory of life itself.  The tightly woven petals, scarlet and yellow patterned into perfection, pushed back the darkness and reflect the warming sun.  The whole drama, a merry microcosm greeting the greater world in grace and glory.

Soon, I know, the sun will burn back the damp and break the fog's embrace.  Sound and action will pour in with the sunlight and send the silence slinking back to the shadows.  I'll start coffee for Mrs. ProfessorRoush and butter her toast to better our marriage.  But I've had my rest and quiet, my moments of wonder and awe to revitalize my energies and soul.  Another day beckons with jobs and errands and lists and chores.

(P.S.  I was so pleased with the photo of Betty Boop that I'm entering it into the Gardening Gone Wild 'Picture This' photo contest.  See the contest at

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Was So Wrong

'Morning Blush'
Some variation of  the title of this post should probably be the title of every other that I write, amateur gardener that I am, but in this case it pertains to my 5/1/12 posting regarding the beautiful rose 'Morning Blush'.  I was unexcited about this rose during its juvenile growing phases, but it has both figuratively and literally grown on me.

Perhaps this is an unusual and stellar year for this rose, given the wet and cold conditions of this spring, but I'm convinced it was one of the stars of my garden this year.  Sandwiched between Barden roses 'Gallicandy' and 'Allegra', my 'Morning Blush' has reached its 6 foot tall promise at maturity, and the canes that I formerly regarded as "floppy" are at least leaning nicely against the neighbors.  I wouldn't call this rose overly floriferous, but it is putting on a decent display as you can see from the photo of the full bush below.

'Morning Blush', mature bush
The blooms make this rose a keeper. The petals are quick thick and seem to be resistant to the ills of the weather.  Even in the damp 10 days proceeding the photo above, the blooms of  Morning Blush are not stained brown by water or botrytis, while 2 doors down, the blossoms of 'Marianne' are a mess.  'Morning Blush', in contrast, looks as fresh as if just from the shower, which, literally, I guess it was. The blooms also stay on the bush for a long time, and the pink fades slightly but never completely disappears.  I am going to stick to my previous assessment of the fragrance as "moderate."

It goes without saying that 'Morning Blush' is fully cane hardy in my climate and she is one of the healthiest roses I've ever seen.  No blackspot, no mildew, and no cane dieback at any time of year.  I don't think I've ever touched her with a pruner.  Those long thick canes are both an asset and her only drawback;  they are stiff and ungainly like a Hybrid Tea, and they tend to sprawl if not supported by neighbors.  At least they aren't thorny.

ProfessorRoush was raised and trained to step up and admit when his is wrong, and, while I admit that I don't think I'm wrong very often, I was wrong about 'Morning Blush'.  This offspring of 'Maiden's Blush' is a beautiful rose and I'm sorry that I doubted her.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jumpin' Jackpot!

I don't want to interrupt the "every other day" flow of blog posts that I have going, but I also couldn't let my good luck go unheralded, so I'm interjecting this particular post for a short time and then we will go back to the flowers tomorrow.

Aside from gardening and my three or four other hobbies, I am most certainly a bibliophile and I have a modest collection of gardening books, 557 at last count by the Home Library app that keeps track of them and keeps me from purchasing duplicates.  Before you start calculating what 557 garden books must have cost, you should know that most were purchased used or discounted, primarily at my favorite home-away-from-home, Half-Price Books.  Once I've parted with the cash, the value doesn't matter anyway since I have little worry about any one other than a peculiarly nerdish burglar breaking in for my gardening book collection.

I was completely thrilled, on a trip yesterday and knowing that Half-Price had a 20% off sale this weekend, to find this like-new copy of Modern Roses 12 at the store, and marked, as you can see on the cover, at $9.99.  Rose-nut that I am, I didn't own a copy until now.  Additionally, as you can see from the receipt at the left, I got it at 20% off, so with Overland Park, Kansas taxes, my final outlay was $8.67.  A rose gardener can't beat that deal with a stick!.
The real shock, after turning the book to its back cover, was finding out that the original price was $99.95!  Half-Price Books was more like 90% Off Books for me this week!

I have no luck winning the Powerball, but I am quite willing to take advantage of a book bargain when I see one, and almost, well nearly almost, as happy.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Strawberry Fields Forever

By posting these photos, I stand in minor danger of turning this blog from a gardening blog into a dog blog, but I couldn't resist sharing these new pictures of Bella.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush took them with her iPad after she returned from helping me pick these strawberries, and slightly blurry as they may be, I thought they were adorable.   Look at those beagle-hungry eyes.  I think Bella would like a strawberry, don't you?

To deflect any criticism about yet another post reflecting the intense love between a gardener and his faithful companion, we will feebly pretend instead that this blog entry is about my triumph over the fickle scarlet-skinned god of the strawberry patch.  Because, really, that's what it is, a bragging post unmitigated by any trace of self-restraint, even while I know deep down that I'm depleting my gardening karma account and probably will soon be punished by a June freeze for my impudence.


Devoted readers of this blog know of my deep, life-long love for strawberries.  You've endured my epic, all-out campaign to get a strawberry patch through the August heat and drought, the bitter winters, and the late spring freezes that define Kansas gardening.  You have suffered through my purchase and erection of a shade house and my defensive measures and counterattacks against marauding deer.  You have bravely endured the whimpers and the whining and the woeful wailing against the cruelties of nature and the Kansas Flint Hills.  I have successfully spared you (till now) my agony during the past 3 weeks of cold, March-like temperatures and rains that have conspired to prolong ripening and increase rotting.

ProfessorRoush can publicly declare now that it has all been worth it, every drop of sweat, every aching muscle, every curse muttered in the general direction of the unsympathetic earth.   Mrs. ProfessorRoush, Bella, and I harvested 2 or 3 quarts of sweet strawberries over the last week or so, and last night we filled this bowl with another 4 or 5 quarts.  I'm sure there will be a few more quarts to come over the next week.  Not a grand harvest, but they exist and they made it to the reddened finish line.  And I accomplished it all through perseverance, labor, and sheer determination, not to mention the wad of cash I bestowed on the shade house manufacturer.   I refuse to calculate what a $1000 or so total divided by 10-15 quarts of strawberries works out to be on a per quart basis.  Not including, of course, my time and emotional trauma.

Whatever.  These are my strawberries, and, as Bella's twitching nose confirms, they are sweet and they are ripe and mouth-watering.   For one season, for one year, I have grown strawberries!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Despondent Dog

Woeful, she waits.
Outside, her love, ceaselessly puttering.
A glimpse she sees, then gone again,
A wisp, a phantom, endlessly muttering.
Moving through chores as hours march on.
Spraying his poisons into the air,
Pumping and misting with no time to spare.
Fretful, she waits.

Sadly, she waits.
Outside, blue sky and green grass beckon.
Scents, they abound, echos of sound,
Roll across hills and over horizon.
Breezes carry the fury of life.
Sunlight blesses the restless soil,
Earthworms squiggle in endless toil.
Fitful, she waits.

Doleful, she waits.
Outside, out there, is her friend and her love.
Lost to the world, intent and tired,
Her father, her playmate, her gardening other.
Inside she barks as her patience wears thin.
A world to explore, a garden to smell,
A drama to track and a story to tell.
Forlorn, she waits.

At last the door opens.
So joyful is she.
A wag of the tail,
And a few licks for me.
Then out she bounds to the world that awaits.
So happy, she laughs as she dances and shivers,
Short legs are pumping, whiskers aquiver.
Bella, my dog.

Mrs. ProfessorRoush took this photo last Sunday while I was spraying to keep the bagworms out of the evergreens and the worms out of the cherries.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush hates worms in the cherries, and as much as I hate insecticides, I surrendered my garden ethics quickly in the face of spousal demand and potential withdrawal of affections.  Meanwhile Bella has become my steadfast garden companion over the past month of warmer weather and has become extremely attached to me when I'm home.  She's headstrong (I'm referring to Bella right now) and I was afraid she would run away after the first bird or car that appeared, but I slowly trained her to stay within my sight and she is now allowed off leash in the garden while I work.   Bella didn't understand why she couldn't join me within the haze of poison spray this weekend, however.  Nothing looks more dismayed than a beagle separated from the outdoors and her love.

p.s.: and, yes, "aquiver" is a real word.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lilliputian Garden Drama

Just a few evenings ago, ProfessorRoush was madly capturing a few photos with his Nikon, plausibly preserving images of about 30 rose blooms for such purposes as posterity, public lectures, or potential future blog entries.  In full disclosure, however, he was just taking pictures of pretty flowers and enjoying the moment.

As he labeled each photo later, however, he noticed that a number of the blooms had insects or arachnids on them.  As an example, he noticed this tiny spider on shockingly pink 'Duchess of Portland':

For another example, ProfessorRoush had taken this photo of 'Souvenir du President Lincoln' at 6:27 p.m. See the wee spider at the lower left of the bloom?


                                                                                                        Here he is closeup:

                                                  Talk about your itsy-bitsy spiders!

By accident, and with no particular purpose in mind besides flitting madly from flower to flower like a honey bee on fast forward, ProfessorRoush randomly wandered later past the same 'Souvenir du President Lincoln' blossom and took another photograph at almost the same angle.  This one was taken at 6:44 p.m.  Look again at Mr. Spider on the lower left of the bloom.

He doesn't seem to have moved very far, but he appears a little less distinct, doesn't he?  In closeup, you can now discern that he has captured a tiny green insect, one that I would naively call a "leafhopper" but I don't really know the genus.

Whatever the identity of this spider and insect, these photos pretty much sum up the microscopic war hidden within our gardens, don't they?  We lumbering apes think it's just all about color and growth and sex, but we too seldom get a glimpse beyond the veil like this one.  There are likely lots of lessons lurking in this unfolded drama, but ProfessorRoush has gained yet more evidence that a garden can ably manage to protect itself in the absence of synthetic insecticides.

If we could please keep this between us, however, I'd appreciate it.  Some of these roses come inside, hitchhikers and all, and Mrs. ProfessorRoush takes a dim view of even the most microscopic spiders on her kitchen countertops.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Violet Veilchenblau

My first 'Veilchenblau' bloom
Okay all you rose experts, have you seen this one before?  This rose is about 1.5" diameter, blooms in clusters, and is also known as the "Blue Rambler."   Yes, I know, she's not very blue right now, but her red-violet tones fade to violet as she ages.  Her name, 'Veilchenblau', literally translates to "violet-blue".

One of my Zonal Denial efforts last year was to once more obtain and plant, and to overwinter for the first time, 'Veilchenblau', a  Hybrid Multiflora rambler-form rose that was introduced by Johann Schmidt of Germany in 1909.  I first glimpsed 'Veilchenblau' at Wave Hill in 2008, where she was in full bloom on June 18th.  I included her the following year as a "bonus" rose in an order of own-root rose bands, but the rose I received had one root in the grave when it came and died almost immediately after planting in the hot Kansas sun.  Fortunately, good sense took hold as I read about her habits and hardiness, and I put aside my budding infatuation for 'Veilchenblau' and resolved not to try again.  Last year, however,  when I ordered 'Red Intuition' and needed to choose a minimum of three roses to complete the order, I saw her name in the catalog and filled her name in on my team roster.  She may have been chosen last, but I put her in my starting lineup and I've told her to not be a shrinking violet.

'Veilchenblau' at Wave Hill, June, 2008
'Veilchenblau' did overwinter this time, so although she is on R. multiflora roots, I'll forgive her as long as she continues to grow and covers the split rail fence I placed at her back.  She not very tall yet, my 'Veilchenblau', but she is supposed to reach 10-20' in a couple of seasons and be a fairly vigorous rose.  Although the bud above is the first to bloom, there are many clusters of buds on her and three vigorous canes have already sprouted and are approaching two feet high.  I'm hoping that next year she has stretched around the corner of the fence and is touching the two 'Red Cascade' infants that I transplanted recently.  'Veilchenblau' only blooms once a year, but I can forgive her since she is also nearly thornless.  References state that she is hardy to Zone 4b and she proved that to me this past winter, so another year or two and I'll get an idea what the old gal can really do.

In Empress of the Garden, by G. Michael Shoup, 'Veilchenblau' is listed in a section called "The Elegant Climbers", and Shoup writes "A must for the garden, 'Veilchenblau' rarely suckers or spreads by seed. Easy to train and graceful, she blends peacefully into landscapes...her cooling colors settle softly over her foliage like a translucent fog..."  She?  Her?  It is comforting for me to see that even the experts attach gender to individual roses and therefore it may not a sign that I'm missing a marble or four.   Either that, or at least I might have an interesting cell-mate (Shoup) after they come and lock me away.  If you are in the mood for a more gender-neutral but engaging discussion of 'Veilchenblau', read Mac Grisold's essay on her in Roses; A Celebration, edited by Wayne Winterrowd.  Mac calls 'Veilchenblau' her favorite rose, and "beautiful and vulgar," "indecently purple," and "outrageous", but still manages to keep "it" a genderless friend.  Who's fooling who?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Serendipitous Apricot

I was delighted, while walking the mad dog Bella on my evening rounds, to see this bloom of 'Serendipity' standing up tall and begging to be noticed.  I grow few roses that develop a classic high-centered Hybrid-Tea form, but this demure gal is clearly one of them.  Perfect enough for a Victorian, perfect enough for me!

'Serendipity' is a 4 foot tall Shrub rose that is considered to be a Hybrid Tea by some sources.  I understand the confusion now that I've seen her high-centered, double bloom.  Blooms are large (4-4.5 inches) and mostly one to a stem but she also occasionally clusters.  She was introduced by Dr. Griffith Buck in 1978.  Her official color is given on the Iowa State Buck Rose website as "Mars Orange (RHSCC 31 C) over a buttercup yellow (RHSCC 1 6C) base and becoming pale Orient pink (RHSCC 36B) with age."  Translation:  she's mostly apricot and she pales to pink.  I would add that she has more pink tones than orange when she develops in cooler temperatures.

She's been in my garden for two years and she has held her own against the climate, although I wouldn't describe her as vigorous, and she certainly wasn't cane hardy this past winter, growing back from about 6 inches high this spring.  In the garden, I would have said last year that the blooms open rapidly in one or two days to a loosely arranged cupped form, but here in the house she has maintained that high-center bud form for 4 days.  To my nose, she has a moderate to strong, very sweet fragrance.  Some describe her as apple-scented, but I don't.  No blackspot on this one, over the past two seasons.  One nursery states that this rose was previously sold as Mango Blush, a found rose, with a mild fragrance and some repeat.  I don't know if Mango Blush is actually 'Serendipity,' because I think the fragrance is stronger than described and I think 'Serendipity' reblooms more consistently than "some repeat."

'Serendipity' may not be my first choice of a Griffith Buck rose to grow, but she's not a terrible rose either, and she has a great Hybrid Tea form for cutting.  I'd tell you that her apricot color is unmatched, but I know better because there are several Griffith Buck roses with better orangey tones. 'Serendipity' is said to be a cross of two seedlings; (Western Sun × Carefree Beauty) X (Apricot Nectar × Prairie Princess).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Columbine Collage

I do not recall ever blogging about my columbines, my beautiful beloved columbines, but I won't miss the opportunity now as they bloom out their season.  Some of you who are familiar with their favored habitat may even be surprised that they survive here in the annual Kansas drought and heat, but what they lack in fortitude, they seem to make up with proliferation.  In fact, I think they self-seed better on bare dry ground then they do in mulched and shady areas.  Wherever they seed, I smile and think about blue skies and happy children.

I assume my columbines are some form of Aquilegia vulgaris, but I've had a number of cultivars in my garden over the years and the entire Aquilegia clan is notoriously self-fertilizing.  The dark blue columbines at left, for instance, might have had some genetic influence from a named double-flowered cultivar, 'Black Barrow', that I once had.  Columbines are no trouble at all, however.  They cheerfully self-seed around my northern exposure, in the partially shaded beds on the north side of the house, and I simply weed out the colors that I don't like and root out the clumps that spring up in the wrong locations.  I'm partial to whites and blues, as you can see, and the occasional wine-purple flower is also allowed to grow uninhibited.  But it is the blues, the rare bright-sky-blue flowers, that I favor the most.

I do have an occasional maintenance issue with "Granny's Bonnet", as these are sometimes called.  Here on the prairie, they often become infested with "columbine leafminers" (Phytomyza sp.), a fly larvae that lives and lays eggs in the leaves, leaving unsightly trails behind as they migrate and feed.  The  Internet provides scant useful advice regarding control of these pests, with one prominent page suggesting only to ignore them or to pick off diseased leaves.  If I followed the latter advice, I'd only be left with a bunch of completely defoliated columbines by early June.  Similarly, I ignore written suggestions to cut them to the ground and start over.  Older sources suggest the use of DDT, a chemical that likely would do the job, but which I suspect is a bit difficult to obtain these days.   Occasionally, I've resorted to spraying with less lethal insecticides or even to tossing down some of the commercial fertilizer which contains systemic insecticide, all in an effort to keep the leaves unblemished and healthy.  Other years, as some of these photos this year demonstrate, I let the leafminers alone to do what leafminers must do.

Columbine folklore is rife with tales of love, attraction, and betrayal.  Columbines were held to be sacred to Venus, but were often associated with folly and cuckoldry.  At one time, giving a woman a bouquet of columbines was an insult since they were only presented to women suspected of loose morals.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush, however, thinks they are fabulous little flowers and takes no umbrage to my growing them near our main entrance,

Aquilegia belongs to the Ranunculus family and many sources say the entire plant is poisonous, including the seeds.  Of course, the skeptical gardening professor scoffs at the warnings about its toxicity, warnings that seem to mirror those of many, many other plants, and I wonder if it actually toxic at all, particularly when Wikipedia tells me that a dose of 3000 mg/kg is not fatal in mice.  

While skeptical, however, I'm not an idiot and I most assuredly won't use myself as a test subject.  It is said that Native American men crushed the seeds and rubbed them into their hands because the scent was so pleasing it was thought to attract a mate.  Perhaps Mrs. ProfessorRoush would appreciate the gift of a new fragrant soap if she believed it would rekindle the marital fires?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Beautiful Beginnngs

The rose year here in Kansas has begun, and almost every Old Garden Rose and Rugosa is showing at least a bloom or two to heighten my anticipation.  It's going to be a banner year of riotous color here, as it seems all my peonies, irises, and roses, with a few mere exceptions, are going to bloom at the same time.   'Marie Bugnet', 'Harison's Yellow', and 'Therese Bugnet' have already peaked and begun their slide from the limelight and I'm sad about that.  But still to come are the highly-anticipated newcomers, all those new roses who will be introducing themselves to me for the first time.

Today, in fact, I gathered in the first bloom on 'Centrifolia Variegata' and I'm smitten, entranced, enthralled, and simply instantly and deeply in love with this demure lass.  She is foreign-born, a legal immigrant to America that I obtained from a Canadian nursery last year, but I'll excuse her use of "eh?" and "loonie", and her love of Poutine if she keeps blooming like this.  Don't you think her gentle stripes of cream and light pink are just the jam buster of perfection?   This is the rose that I hoped 'Leda' would be.  My one concern is that the fragrance of 'Centrifolia Variegata' is supposed to be strong, but I was underwhelmed by the bouquet of this first blossom.

'Rosa centrifolia variegata' goes by many aliases, among which are Belle des Jardins, Belle Vilageois, Dometil Beccard, and Cottage Maid.  She may also be sold as Village Maid, but some believe that Village Maid is a Gallica of earlier origin.  'Centrifolia variegata' was bred by Jean Pierre Vibert of France in 1839, and even as a first-year bush for me, she just survived one of the driest, coldest winters we've had recently, a winter that knocked established Rugosas back to the ground.  Her very double 2" blossoms open into cupped forms and then quarter or flatten in some instances to display a nice little button center.  My year old bush is about 2.5 feet tall, but I gave her ample space to reach her 4' to 6' foot potential.  Her foliage shows a Gallica heritage, and is rough, matte, and medium-green in color.  There was no blackspot here last season.

Whatever name she goes by, 'Centrifolia Variegata' is striped and everyone knows my weakness for striped roses of any flavor.  They capture the heart of ProfessorRoush like a Canuck loves beavertails.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bursting with Promise

No, this is not a photograph of a psychedelic alien landscape from a light-lifetime away, nor is it a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I promise that neither Gene Wilder nor Johnny Depp is going to pop up from those hairy green pillows and sing to you.  And for those who were young adults in the 70's, you should not worry that this is a flashback from an old LSD trip.  This candy-colored scene is brought to us by way of a 1956 single-flowered peony introduction by Falk-Glassock, the aptly named 'Scarlet O'Hara'.

I'm not intentionally trying to imitate Bob Guccione, but these are, in fact, parts...from one of my earliest and most favorite peonies.  And what a brazen display Ms. O'Hara is giving us!  She has erected bright red walls to enclose and protect the participants in today's drama.  Inside the scarlet petals, tall golden stamens loaded with pollen are crowded around the shockingly-pink stigmas atop each pistil, a beacon to beckon the bachelors forward.  The swollen pistils beneath the stigmas are already soiled, basking in the afterglow, their hairy buxom surfaces dusted with the golden packages of chromosomes.  I'm not even going to mention the presence of the white foam at the base of the pistils.   But can't you feel the excitement in this photo, the promise of new seed forming and new life beginning?

'Scarlet O'Hara' is a peony that should be in everyone's garden, She stands right now about 3 feet tall, and wide, a crimson beacon shining across my garden.  There is no other scarlet red flower blooming right now for me, and certainly nothing to match the size and vivacity of these 6 inch diameter blossoms.  The photo of the whole plant at the right displays the usual poor reproduction of red tones by a digital camera and it doesn't adequately communicate the true brilliance of color of this peony, but it does give you an idea of the impact of these flowers in a landscape otherwise filled only with green Spring foliage, the blues and golds of irises and the white clusters of a few remaining viburnum blossoms.

Perhaps a  recent wide-angle view of my "peony bed" will emphasize the importance of 'Scarlet O'Hara in the garden.  There she is, at the top of the photo, glowing ahead of the hundreds of bulging buds of other peonies, all aching to follow her lead and explode into 2015.  'Scarlett' O'Hara' exposes promise for us on a microscopic level; the promise that reproduction will always go on, au naturel and without shame for appearance or wantonness.  The other peonies of this bed show their own macroscopic promise of a massive display a year in the making, a spectacular future fireworks created from sunshine and rain and chlorophyll.  Over it all, a concrete cherub urges the peonies to turn their bacchanalia into a more quiet party, to turn a pretentious display into a coordinated and respectful celebration.  Behind the camera, ProfessorRoush, garden voyeur extraordinaire, breathlessly awaits the chorus to come.      

Promise within and promise without.  Of countless such moments, a garden made.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cynical Composting

Some years back, ProfessorRoush ran across some compostable water bottles at a Starbucks in Seattle and, because of the skepticism deeply embedded in my academic soul, I thought it would be a neat idea to try to bring them back in my luggage and test their compost-worthiness at home.  Unfortunately, the TSA must have deemed the empty bottles in my checked bags as a potential terrorist threat because the bottles were not in my suitcase upon my arrival at home.

I was more fortunate last year when I ran into these certified compostable cups at a pizza parlor in Fort Collins, and I was able to ultimately get them into my 65 gallon Lifetime tumbling compost bin by sneaking them home in my car past the marijuana-alert sentries on the Kansas border.

These Eco-Product® cold cups are, as printed on the cups, certified by the BPI, or Biodegradable Products Institute, to be compostable in a municipal or commercial composting facility.  The BPI is a "multi-stakeholder association of key individuals and groups from government, industry and academia"....that tests products by written ATSM standards and certifies them.  I should reveal here that whenever I see the popular buzzword "stakeholder" these days, my cynical hackles are immediately raised and my blood pressure rises.  Materials tested by the BPI must include the ability to "biodegrade at a rate comparable to yard trimmings, food scraps and other compostable materials, such as kraft paper bags," and they must "disintegrate, so that no large plastic fragments remain to be screened out."

I placed the new cups pictured in the top photo into my tumbling compost bin on 5/26/2014, along with mature compost and grass clippings.  You can see immediately above this paragraph several periodic photos taken over last summer, a time span when numerous additions of kitchen scraps, grass clippings, other organic materials, and water were composted in the pile alongside these cups.  The cups did not disintegrate, as you can see, although they flattened and tore, probably from the repeated tumbling alongside wet and heavy clumps of compost.  The organic materials in the bin repeatedly became decent, black homogeneous compost with which any gardener would be happy.

This week, almost 11 months after the start of the experiment, I again opened the compost bin and found the cups as photographed yesterday and shown at right.  Now, in fairness, I should note that the BPI website states clearly that these products are not meant for home compost piles, but only for "well-managed municipal and commercial facilities."  Home composters "typically do not generate the temperatures needed to assure rapid biodegradation of this new class of materials. For this reason, claims are limited to larger facilities."

That's all well and good, friends, and I can accept that ProfessorRoush is likely a terrible composter, but shouldn't we at least expect that now, 11 months later, the ink would faded and illegible?

Furthermore, and while I'm on a rant, what exactly constitutes an "acceptable municipal facility?"  Does my local county recycling facility, which routinely composts leaves and other materials, qualify?  It isn't listed at the website printed on the cups, nor is any other facility within 50 miles of me.  How many of these cups would actually make it into a "well-managed commercial facility" anyway, rather than just being tossed into the restaurant waste cans with all the other debris and taken to the usual county shredding facilities?  How much more energy and chemical processing is involved in making these cups over the standard red plastic cups that we love to make so much fun of?  Which is more likely to be recycled and have the least long-term environmental impact?  Is this merely more marketing misinformation to muddle the minds of the masses?

I can't help thinking that while compostable cups make us all feel good, this whole certification system seems designed just to keep us from noticing the man behind the curtain while we slurp the Koolaid of environmental ecstasy.  It is only a matter of time before we'll hear offers for a free carton of these cups with every thousand carbon credits we purchase.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Snakes, Rats, Rain, and Thunder

Mindful of President Bush's somewhat premature declaration of victory in Iraq over a decade back, I'm not ready to declare victory against the pack rats, but I'm winning.  My current casualty count is up to eight pack rats with the addition of a nice plump peanut-butter loving rodent this morning.

However, during my disposal of said carcass from the battlefield, I glanced down to find this quite docile little cutie trying to hide next to the rocks.  There's no size scale to the picture below, so you probably can't tell that he was only about a foot long .  If he was contemplating swallowing the nearby pack rat carcass whole, then I'll give him credit for courage because that would be quite a feat for a pencil-thin snake.

This is a ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus), probably a southern ringneck (D. p. punctatus).  It lives almost everywhere in the United States, but is nocturnal and seldom seen because it spends most of it's time hidden under rocks, logs, or debris during the day.  I've seen exactly three in my lifetime.  This one, another little 4 inch long baby that was under a stepping stone that I moved last week, and the third, another small one seen about 8 years back when I lifted a stone.  Are my two recent sightings a coincidence or a sign of increasing population density?  Gracious, perhaps it was caused by global warming!

In Kansas, a long-term mark-recapture study of snakes was performed by naturalist Henry Sheldon Fitch (1909-2009), the former Superintendent of the University of Kansas Natural History Reservation.   Professor Fitch estimated that ringneck snakes commonly exist at densities greater than 700-1800 per hectare (2.47 acres) in this area, suggesting that on my 20 acres there are likely over 6000 of these little guys slithering around.  Thank God that I'm no longer scared of snakes, partially desensitized after a zillion encounters with them here on the prairie.  Ringneck snakes are both predator and prey in this ecosystem, and mildly venomous due the presence of a Duvernoy's gland behind their eye, but of no danger to humans. They eat earthworms, slugs, amphibians, lizards, and other small snakes during their nightly forages.  If you want to know more about how many snakes are likely living in my backyard, you can read Professor Fitch's paper, Population Structure and Biomass of Some Common Snakes in Central North America  online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  Just don't tell me about it because I'm probably better off if I don't know the actual numbers of other snake species around me.

I wish now that I would have reached down and given this little guy a nudge (with a stick of course), because the dull brown top of his body hides a beautiful yellow underbelly that they expose when touched.  On second thought, however, maybe I'll just keep from forming a habit of poking snakes.  With 6000 of them around, you never know what they might dream up together as a form of revenge.

One final thought; the drought seems to be ending here today.  At noon today we had a year-to-date total of 5 inches of rain, with a deficit-to-date of 2.95 inches.  But it rained buckets all afternoon and the local news at 9:00 said an official total of 3.65 inches fell today in Manhattan and it is still raining tonight.  Even better, there are chances of rain (good chances!) for 6 of the next 7 days.  It will take about that much to refill the groundwater reservoirs here, so you won't hear me complaining until the day I need to start building an ark; or until the pack rats and snakes float into the house, whichever comes first.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pack Rat War; The Second Front

Okay, okay.  I'll end your suspense over the two unaccounted pack rat deaths that I claimed in my last post.

Sometime in late January, I noticed that my John Deere tractor (which I had thought was safely housed in the barn adjacent to the donkey stall) seemed to be sprouting wisps of hay around it.  Hay that I initially thought was just stray debris from carrying bales around it while feeding the donkeys. At one point, however, I chanced to lift the hood off the tractor and found the entire engine compartment stuffed with hay, and bits of donkey food, and rat droppings, and, most irritating of all, blocks of unchewed rat poison that I had placed in the barn this fall to guard against such an occurrence.

Further investigation revealed that there was a pack rat midden growing beneath a mower deck against the wall, and that my tractor was merely a forward position for the pack rat duo who had evidently made my barn their home.  I also realized, as I began to clean out the engine, that a lot of wiring had been chewed bare by the pack rats in their quest for food.  Revenge fueled by anger became my quest.  If they wanted to be fed, then so be it.  I banished the donkey's from the barn, sealed it, and placed out a more enticing table of D-Con pellets mixed with peanut butter.  The initial offering, two entire trays of poison, disappeared in the first night.  Three days later, no more food was disappearing.  At that point, I celebrated my partial victory, kept the barn sealed (sorry, donkeys), and awaited warmer weather.

Recently, I reentered the battlefield, cleared all the debris from the tractor by hand, coated the bare wires with electrical tape, replaced several wiring connectors, and then, with a hose running nearby and several fire extinguishers at hand, I started the tractor quickly and moved it from the barn for a more further cleaning.  Once the tractor was safe, albeit jury-rigged, I backed it into the barn and moved equipment around until I could lift the mower deck off the midden and destroy it.  I found the pair of pack rats at the center, long dead, and I unceremoniously tossed them out into the prairie.

In retrospect, I should have recognized that something was out of hand when I first noticed these cute footprints in the dust on the seat of my tractor.  The brazen little thieves obviously had no concerns about leaving evidence behind that would enable me to track their crime spree.

And, for those now wondering if it was wise for me to throw rat carcasses full of poison onto the prairie, you should know that I had no problems with pack rats in my tractor last year when I had two wonderful cats living in the barn during the winter.  Two wonderful cats that were  likely casualties of the coyotes that roam the prairie at night.  The same coyotes that might just possibly chew on a rat carcass or two if they came across them.  In unconditional war, one uses every weapon available to win.

Friday, May 1, 2015

ProfessorRoush 6, Pack Rats 0

Among my spring chores, one of the nagging little tasks that I kept putting off was the formulation of a siege and eventual frontal attack on a pair of pack rat middens that have encroached across the neutral zone onto my garden.  In particular, the evil pack rat empire has practically destroyed my beloved 'Red Cascade', pictured at right from last year, and I could no ignore the necessity of the mission.  Thus, I carefully planned, and then executed a  temporarily successful campaign.   Believe me, JFK was much less subtle in dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis than I was in my blitzkrieg on the midden.

I began first by surrounding the middens with baited traps since I wanted to eliminate the rats before attacking their castle.  There is, for your information, actually a better mouse trap that the world should be beating a path to.  Those traps, in both mouse and rat sizes are the TomCat Secure Kill Rat Traps, which are easy to set without endangering your own fingers.  In full disclosure, I have received no payback from TomCat, but I'm still endorsing them   The score, in three nights; ProfessorRoush 4, Pack Rats 0.

In a second wave two nights later, I marshaled my tools of assault and began the sacking of Pack Rat Troy. I first used loppers to remove the camouflage that hid the nest so well (left, above).  Now you can see the midden more clearly (photo to the right), and you can see where most of last year's hardwood mulch from the bed has been moved.

I then pulled, raked, and swept all this structure from around and among the rose, cutting canes further down as each layer came off, until I was left with a clean and very much shortened miniature climber (photo to the left).  I'm hopeful that a little sunlight and water and fertilizer will restore this rose soon to its former glory.  As a trophy of war, I also transplanted two self-rooted starts of 'Red Cascade' from near this pile to another part of the garden, an activity that might not have occurred if I had not been provoked into action.  Silver linings and all that.

I know this whole activity seems somewhat cruel to those who hold Nature innocent and feel that its activities should be held beyond human interference, but other innocent bystanders had fallen in harm's way, innocents such as this young nearby hosta that was providing the fresh greens of the pack rat diet.  I couldn't stand by while the rights of neighboring living creatures were eaten away.

Oh, and if you're wondering if I can count and don't know the difference between the casualty rate I claimed in this blog's title versus in the text (6 vs 4), tune in again in a couple of days and I'll tell you how two other pack rat villains met a recent demise in my garden.


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