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.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rapture of Spain

'Spanish Rhapsody'
Don't you often find that the outer "dress" may not be up to societal expectations, but nonetheless the prettiest lass often lurks beneath the burlap and ashes instead of the velvet and lace?   Isn't that what our folklore and fables tell us?  Well, it's true that 'Spanish Rhapsody' is more plain-clothed than the glossy dark green accoutrement of 'Butterfly Magic', but the matte and lighter green leaves of 'Spanish Rhapsody' are just as healthy as the latter.   And, in the "there-is-no-accounting-for-taste" department,  I'm personally more partial to the individual flower of 'Spanish Rhapsody' than that of 'Butterfly Magic'.  I'd like to say that I try to look beyond the garments at the beauty within, but in this case I guess I'm looking at the beauty above the garb.  The superficial ProfessorRoush.

'Spanish Rhapsody' is a pink blend Shrub rose introduced by Griffith Buck in 1984.  To continue the comparison with 'Butterfly Magic', I'd have to note that the single-stemmed blossoms of 'Spanish Rhapsody' should be fuller, double-cupped, as it were, with 17-25 petals, but she is currently semi-double for me.  Perhaps those blossoms will swell as the plant ages?  The blooms open up quickly to a flatter, loosely displayed form.  She is one of the stippled roses from Dr. Buck, and her colors are a wondrous blend of light red wine, light pink, and yellow, a truly unique rose.  I don't know what it means, but the pistils seem overly large in the bloom of this rose.  Am I perhaps imagining traits that don't exist?   I am sure that 'Spanish Rhapsody' smells better that 'Butterfly Magic', a moderate fruity rose fragrance.  She repeats, but my young bush does not bloom as freely or rebloom as rapidly as 'Butterfly Magic'.

I've only grown 'Spanish Rhapsody' this season, so I can't speak to her winter stamina, but I can say that she is another healthy Buck rose with good blackspot resistance in my garden.  My 3 month old plant is only a foot tall and about 1.5'  around this summer, a little more rotund than tall.  She is listed as a 1976 cross of 'Gingersnap' and 'Sevilliana', and since I'm not familiar with either of the latter roses, I haven't much to add there either.

If, like me, you find a buxom and decorated blossom more comely, then give 'Spanish Rhapsody' a try.  She's not as shiny in the garden, but she has her own charms.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Healthy Butterfly Magic

S'il vous plaît permettez-moi de vous présenter 'Butterfly Magic' me.....Please allow me to introduce you to 'Butterfly Magic', a Griffith Buck rose introduced by Chamblee's Rose Nursery in 2010.  As many are aware, there are 10 "posthumous" Griffith Buck roses which were originally given to friends and later introduced after Dr. Buck's death in 1991.  Their parentage is often unknown, but if they survived in the gardens of friends, as some of them did for years before commercial introduction, we can probably assume that they're pretty disease resistant.

And 'Butterfly Magic' is certainly disease resistant.  Look at that beautiful glossy foliage, here, in August, with no spray whatsoever in a wetter-than-average Kansas summer.  There isn't a spot of blackspot or an insect-damaged leaf on the bush that I can see.  This is the second year for 'Butterfly Magic' in my garden and she hasn't reached her full growth yet, but she was cane hardy here last winter as a tiny rose-tot, and she has grown as much as any rose this year.  I have a 2 year old start of 'Quietness' in the bed next to her, and although I view 'Quietness' as one of Buck's healthier and more vigorous roses, my 'Butterfly Magic' has been growing just as well next to it, and is just as healthy.  It just seems to be a tough year for the roses, with the extra rain and late spring.

'Butterfly Magic' opens up with moderately large 4 inch diameter salmon pink blooms with yellow centers.  The blooms are semi-double, with 12-16 petals, open flat, and have only a very light fragrance to my nose.  They bloom in broad clusters and fade from their homogeneous salmon to a light pink or white, often mottled with spots from moisture.  The yellow stamens and pistils provide wonderful contrast in the new bloom, but fade to brown as the flowers age.  According to Heirloom Roses, the mature size will be 4' X 4', but mine, in its second full season, is only about 2' X 2'.  There is very little available on the Internet or in my rose-themed books about 'Butterfly Magic', and she is not registered or listed in Modern Roses 12, so this is the best I can give you right now.  Chamblee's doesn't list it on their website any longer and the only current source I know of is Heirloom Roses.

 And, no, I don't speak French, but Google Translate is a marvelous thing.  Given the pace of technology, I assume we're only a few years away from a Star Trek-like Universal Translator.  What a marvelous world we live in.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Morning Serenity

At last, we're blessed here by a cool morning, a hint and promise that autumn will soon return.  The cool air tightly hugs the rolling contours of the Flint Hills, mist implying mystery, humid air dissolved to fog, dew droplets draped over the prairie.

The view above is to my west, a view that greeted Bella and I this morning as the sun rose and the clear blue sky broke into radiant pinks and yellows.  Just across the road, the prairie begins, seemingly endless to the horizon, evidence of man's touch only in the stripes of mown hay and the distant aquatic totem pole that supplies water to us and the hordes to the south.
If you're wondering about the stone in the foreground, prominently placed at the beginning of my neighbor's driveway, this closeup may satisfy your curiosity.  My neighbor has some deep connection with the old Lee Marvin movie, Paint Your Wagon, and the inscription is from the movie.  I like what he's done with this bed, the 'Tiger Eye' sumac, low sedums in the foreground and tall ornamental grasses behind, but I don't think he is yet aware of how tall the 'Tiger Eye' will get or how much they'll spread into the surrounding buffalo grass.   Mrs. ProfessorRoush believes that my neighbor spends more time working in this bed than I do on my entire garden, forty times this size.  He's changed the "perennial" planting almost every year in a search for the perfect combination.

The donkeys, Ding and Dong, were also out, begging for treats across the fence.  Bella and the donkeys are wary acquaintances, but prefer to maintain a nodding acknowledgement at limb's length, content to send unsubtle warnings that closer contact is unwelcome.  I'm torn about keeping the donkeys over another winter.  I adore their unique personalities, but I am fretful over their safety and comfort on the prairie in the lean, cold months.    

Bella loves these morning walks around the yard, patrolling the perimeter and searching for intruders, mammalian or insect, harmless or evil.  The heavy morning dew destroyed the stealth of this morning's scouting survey, our course conspicuous across the sopping wet grass.  But the tracks are telling, meandering Dog and lumbering Man, moving forward in the same direction and with the same purpose, checking the cave environs and beginning the new day ahead, together.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Black Diamond Blush

Orange may be the new black, but ProfessorRoush believes black will always remain in style, nonetheless.  Women never go wrong with a simple basic black dress and pearls, and well-turned out gentlemen seldom look out of place in black suits and white shirts.  In contrast, black tulips and dark roses and chocolate zinnias are novelties craved by many gardeners, but I've never jumped on that bandwagon, myself.  Does black really ever belong in the garden?

I was excited, however, late in the season last year, when I found a number of Black Diamond Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) at the local Home Depot.  I had never seen or heard of these varieties before.   Crapemyrtles as a rule are only marginally hardy here, but I couldn't resist that dark foliage as an accent plant.  Several varieties were available, but I didn't like the combination of red flowers and dark foliage on 'Best Red' , nor the off-red shading of slightly lighter 'Crimson Red'.  I chose to try out 'Blush', a white-flowered variety that is technically a very light pink, but looked primarily white in the parking lot.

This spring, it was killed back to the ground (as were the rest of my crapemyrtles), but I left the spot untouched and, sure enough, in late May, a single dark stem arose that I babied and protected throughout the past few months until it began to bloom.  And here it is, stunning at last, the earliest of my crapemyrtles to bloom and the most noticeable.  Tell me, what do you think? An entire forest of Black Diamond 'Blush' might resemble a scene from a Tim Burton movie, but I'm pretty happy with it as an accent plant.  With a little more global warming, perhaps it won't kill back to the ground and I'll be able to see it get a little larger and more prominent each year.  Happily, it seems to be both drought-tolerant and able to withstand wet spring feet, and it has been unbothered by pests, both six- and four-legged in form.

There was a little bit of sleight of hand in the introduction of the Black Diamond series.  A little bit more research led me to the information that this commercially-offered series is the same as the Ebony series bred by Dr. Cecil Pounders and registered with the U.S. National Arboretum in 2013.  Black Diamond 'Blush' is the same plant as 'Ebony Glow'.  The breeding background of these plants are detailed in the HortScience article linked above.

Now, I think I'll watch for the new purple-flowered 2015 introduction, 'Purely Purple'.  The black foliage and purple flower combination of this new crape seems tailor made for a K-State oriented garden bed, don't you agree?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Orangeish is the New Red

'Maria Stern'
I suppose that those who come here for the roses have been bored to tears over the last few weeks at all the daylily posts.  To some degree, ProfessorRoush agrees with you.  Daylilies are okay, I don't want to make their aficionados mad at me, but daylilies themselves get tired of hanging around for more than a day, and they come at the wrong time of the year, in the hot summer when I don't want to get out among them.  If they bloomed at a more civil time of year, say early Spring or in the cool of Autumn, I'd appreciate them even more than I already do.

But, the truth is, that the roses haven't done well enough for me to introduce new rose after new rose on the blog this year.  My new little ones have stayed little and struggled in swampy clay with all the early rain, and older roses have generally also not elicited any excitement from me.  I've lost several to Rose Rosette again, and I'm tired of watching healthy roses get too many thorns and witches broom and then start to fade.  As a consequence, I've taken a bit of a break in rose enthusiasm lately, letting the petals, as it were, fall as they may.

'Gentle Persuasion'
I'll try to keep your sap flowing, however, by showing you a few wonders that are managing to bring me fleeting joy even in the midst of my angst.  I lost one bush of 'Maria Stern' (above right) this year, but the older bush keeps struggling on, sending up a cane and bud here or there to keep me hopeful.  'Maria Stern' is just not a vigorous rose for me here on the prairie, but at least it hasn't choked on the dust of summer.  I love the color of the blooms and can't give up on it, however

Above, left, is my second start of 'Gentle Persuasion', and at least this one seems to be holding its own.  'Gentle Persuasion' is a yellow blend shrub rose introduced by Dr. Buck in 1984.  It glows both yellow and pink in my garden, and reblooms reliably, and it does seem to have gotten some disease resistance from its 'Carefree Beauty' parent.  I'm thankful for that because the other parent, 'Oregold' never did well in my garden and I gave up on it.  Right now, that's about the extent of anything I can say about 'Gentle Persuasion', however, except to add that those gorgeous blossoms have plenty of charm.

'Sunbonnet Sue'
I'm most hopeful this year for 'Sunbonnet Sue', another addition this year to my garden from the legacy of Griffith Buck.  I'm actually quite thrilled, so far, with this rose, for form, for strong fragrance, and for the gentle shading of deeper color at the center to lighter pinks and yellows at the edges.  It seems to have a little more staying power of blossom form than many Buck roses, holding that shape over several days before finally looking frazzled.  Also introduced in 1984, 'Sunbonnet Sue' is an entirely different cross than 'Gentle Persuasion', the former a cross of 'Gold Dot' and 'Malaguena', and I'm not certain yet of its disease resistance or vigor.  Time will tell.

As far as the blog title today goes, of course, it's a takeoff from the current hit show Orange is the New Black, about which I'm just as happy to attest that I've never watched.  ProfessorRoush is pretty good about keeping away from most time-killing television series, although on the other hand I'm a sucker for good movies.  Since there are no black roses, however, just really dark red and purple roses, I had to really stretch to get the "orange" in, didn't I?  Similarly is a stretch to lump the pink and yellow blend of 'Sunbonnet Sue' into the rare realm of orange roses, but I view the scope of my literary license as a broad one. So 'Sue' me.


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