Monday, April 25, 2016

Shredded Former Garden

My initial inclination was to title this blog entry "Oh Hail No!" but I'm having a little trouble maintaining the required tone of humor today.  Feel free to join me in a simple soul-cleansing wail because I'm at a loss for words.  Following the example of the recently deceased Prince, perhaps I should just refer to this as "The Garden Formerly Known as ProfessorRoush's."

For those easily depressed by gardening disaster, this is your fair warning to move on to the next post.  For the rest of you, those curious souls unable to avoid gawking at car wrecks or fascinated by visits to Civil War battlefields, you can keep viewing this photo-heavy post, but I would caution you to have a barf bag at hand.  Feel free to "click" on any picture you want to enlarge.

We had a little storm here last night.  When I say a little storm, I am, of course, channeling our British cousins to understate a meteorological apocalypse that included a near miss by a possible tornado, a deluge of 4.2 inches in 2 hours, and about an inch of hail the size of marbles.  The photo at the right is a shot of my back patio during the storm, all while the radio weatherman was telling me to take cover.  It's illuminated by the porch light and it's dim and poorly exposed, but if you can see the ice on the ground you've grasped the obvious.

For a little better glimpse of this catastrophe, the proverbial plague of biblical hail, these two photos of the left and right sides of my front walkway, just after the storm, may be more illuminating.

I woke up this morning to a lot of damage.  There was no real structural damage to the house, but the garden has seen better days.  Just yesterday morning, I was admiring this 'Blue Angle' hosta placed right next to the front door; it was perfect then, not a bit of slug damage.  Look at it now.

This 'Globemaster' allium was getting ready to bloom.  I suppose it still might, but I'm betting it won't reach the glory I was expecting.

The Orientpet lily to the left was the picture of health yesterday.  Today it appears to have been through a meat grinder.  Still, it fared better than the Asiatic lily whose photo is at the top of this blog.

I had scores of irises starting to bloom.  I suppose they might still, but one wonders what kind of display I'll have from these.

This was a Sedum.  'Strawberries and Cream' to be exact.  "Was" is the active verb here.

When a tough daylily like 'Alabama Jubilee' gets shredded like this, well, you know you've had a storm.

And these were some gorgeous purple and white petunias that I planted just yesterday.  If I didn't know that, I couldn't even tell you what they were.

I tried to tell Mrs. ProfessorRoush that the remaining cherries would be larger and sweeter since these were pruned away early in the season.  She was neither amused nor consoled.

I'll leave you now, contemplating this abstract artform as it was created in my front buffalograss.  This is not a view of the Appalachians from space.  This is thatch, floated up from the roots of the buffalograss and deposited in waves on an almost level surface by the 4+ inches of rain.  I suppose I should be thankful that the torrential rain has cleared out the thatch for me and I have only to rake it up now.  I am most assuredly NOT thankful, however.  The magnolias were interrupted this year by the late freezes.  Now the irises, daylilies and alliums by this storm.  What's next?  The roses get hit by a meteorite shower?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tulip Trysts

A recent post by Carol, at May Dreams Garden, reminded ProfessorRoush that he previously started a draft blog entry on the species tulips in his landscape, the few colorful little clumps that add very little to my overall garden ambiance, but which mean so much to me as they sneak back into the garden each year.

Species tulips, you see, are one of my garden guilty pleasures, a little niche of my garden that others seldom discover, visible and yet hidden behind the more blatant garden performers.  In my garden, alternatively Zone 5 or Zone 6 depending on the whims of weather and weather maps, a few species tulips return reliably, while large and showy Dutch tulips return in annually diminishing numbers until they finally just don't return at all.  

'Little Beauty'
Such a species tulip is Tulipa hageri 'Little Beauty', photographed at left, a  4-6 inch tall dwarf (or to be politically correct height-challenged), fuchsia flower with a slate- or cornflower blue star-shaped  center inside a narrow white zone.  A daytime lover, 'Little Beauty' can be enjoyed only in the sunshine because she opens up her flowers every morning and closes them every evening, an exhibitionist by day and shy at night.  She is supposed to naturalize well, but mine seems to have confined themselves to a single clump, her survival in Kansas perhaps dependent on some combination of light, moisture and soil unique to that spot in my landscape.  
Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha
A similar "one-bunch" species tulip for me is Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha, the "Lady Tulip", originally thought to be native to the Middle East, but some more recent authorities believe it to be native to Spain.  Many T. clusiana are red and white, but my variety, 'Cynthia' is a subdued red and yellow blend, brighter if the springtime has been cloudier on average.  A little taller than 'Little Beauty', about 8 inches in my garden, the buds are also larger and longer and they also are shy to display their beauty at night or on rainy days.  To search for mine, you need to go to the westernmost point of my front landscape, where they return year after year to greet the afternoon sun.

If you're in search of a similar guilty garden pleasure, I'd recommend planting both or either of these little ladies in an out-of-the-way place of your garden.  You all know what I'm talking about; a spot with a gardening "no-tell-motel" sort of feel, away from the beaten path, a seedy spot where you can sneak away and enjoy some brief illicit pleasure, just you and them.  The best meeting times between gardener and species tulip are always, as one would expect, in the middle of the day, a gardening nooner of sorts.  Mea culpa, with these little Sirens in my garden, I can easily be be accused by a careful observer of slipping home more often at noon for a couple of weeks each April.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush thinks the frequent visits are for her company, but you can keep a secret, can't you?   

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The First Rose

When, oh Lord, did the first rose bloom?
Bright and shining 'neath a cloudy sky?
Stolen sunrays captured live,
Emerald green brushed deep inside.
Golden stamen columns round,
Over saffron pistils mound.

How and why did the first rose bloom?
Was it raindrop's sweet caress?
Sunshine, laughter coalesced,
Warmth and loam joined in success.
Graceful petals slow unfold,
Scent released from newspun gold.

Who was it saw the first rose bloom?
Felt the joy of world renewed?
First Man chose a rose to woo,
First Woman, love and home ensued.
Rose be blest, God's will be done,
Endowed to man by blazing sun.

Harison's Yellow, my first rose of 2016, opened two days ago beneath a rainy sky, the end of our lack of moisture and my drought of roses after a long winter.  I did not yet expect to find gold in this confused garden, this garden askew from whipsaw fluctuations of temperature and frost, but there it was, right where I knew it should be.  The coming of this captured sunshine was foretold by tulip and iris and forsythia, trumpets heralding the triumphant return of a favorite child.  I'm pleased for once, at rest again, patient now for the return of life, anticipating the joy of friendships renewed.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Prairie Rapunzel

This blog entry, to many readers, will seem silly.  Pedestrian, pathetic, tired, and trite.  Let me assure you that, however bromidic and banal you see these digitized yellow gems, they represent the song of my soul, the apex of my gardening prowess.  For in my garden I, ProfessorRoush, have a living, blooming tree peony.  For this, I have slaved, suffered, and labored, entrenched and focused on the path to garden nirvana, heedless of setbacks and temporary defeat.  This lemony chrome beauty, this shining yellow, is the reward of my persistence, six years of toil for six immaculate blooms.  Triumphant, the gardener basks in their glowing glory, satiated and content in this moment of recompense.

I know, I understand, that many of you live in climates where tree peonies grown as carefree as dandelions.  You've stuck a desiccated, decrepit, cheap Big-Box tree peony in the ground and forgotten about it until it astonished the neighbors.  Not here, my friends, not here in Kansas.  Until this success of mine, I knew of one living, thriving tree peony in town.  One.  There are loads of Stella de Oro daylilies, purple barberries, junipers, and Knock Out roses around town, but tree peonies are as rare as a mild Kansas day.  The only more rare gardening plant in this vicinity would be a clump of Meconopsis.

To grow this particular Paeonia suffruticosa on the prairie, I've resorted to extreme measures.  Ridiculous, absurd, laughable, ludicrous, you provide the adverb, I've done it in pursuit of this yellow zebra.  The wind, the relentless prairie wind, is my sworn enemy.  Its allies are the intermittent drought, scorching August sun, and nibbling pack rats of my environment.  Although the photographs above are beautiful, the reality of my peony is far less spectacular.  It grows in solitary confinement, placed and viewed behind rows of chicken wire for protection from chewing winter rodent, rampaging deer, and clumsy dog.  It exists in a sheltered spot, shielded from hot afternoon sun by the house and from frigid North winds by a landscape wall of sun-warmed stone.  It is allotted extra helpings of mulch in the spring and frequent water in the summer.

This Rapunzel of my garden, this captured golden beauty, exists and blooms only for me.   There is no waiting prince to rescue her.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush has not noticed its 6 perfect blossoms.  She may have noticed, in deepest winter, that I have a chicken wire cage around a brown stick.  It is sad, somehow, that such a canvas of perfection can only be seen behind the ugliness of wire and steel, but like the endangered captive animals that adorn our zoos, its survival depends on protection and relentless commitment.   And love.  A love  whose name we dare not speak.  The love of a gardener for his tree peony, his princess, forever confined against the ravishes of the prairie.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


There was a repeated melody on the old television show Hee Haw whose refrain went "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."  Well, I can  now sing that melody to "If it weren't for distractions, I'd get some real work done."

You see, last Saturday was a day filled with distractions from my gardening goals.  In the midst of achieving my primary objective, putting out the 56 or so bags of landscaping mulch that I had purchased, I was pulled off task by a seemingly endless stream of diversions.  First, there was this gorgeous clump of wildflowers (above left) surrounded by still dormant prairie grass.  The native flower in question is Sisyrinchium campestre, also known as "White-eyed Grass", a member of the lily family.  It occurs all over this prairie, although perhaps in less striking clumps in most places.  Oddly, you may find the species under the name "Prairie Blue-eyed Grass", although the "eye" or center is yellow and the flower petals are definitely pure white in this area.

Another momentary interruption from task was my sighting of the first yellow sulphur butterflies of the season, floating over the prairie sea from island to island of this plant displayed at right, the Ground-Plum Milk-Vetch (Astragalus crassicarpus).  You'll have to imagine the butterflies, because although I spent 30 minutes trying to get one fleeting photo of these flitting ground-plum fans, I was unable to produce even a single blurry yellow blog of them on an image.  The majority of the butterflies that day were yellow, although there were also a few white sulphurs.  Astragalus crassicarpus is a legume and supposedly an ancient food source, although it holds no major claim to human food chains today.  My minor nibbles of the "berries" suggest to me that a better description of the plant is that it is perhaps edible, but not palatable. 

While unsuccessfully searching for still butterflies, and before returning to mulching, I came across this hideous nest of Eastern Tent Caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) in my 15 year old 'Royalty' crabapple tree.  I hate those nasty caterpillars with passion rivaled only by my disdain for pack rats.  Immediately upon spotting this budding metropolis of leaf-consuming spineless larva, I froze to avoid alerting them.  I slowly and quietly reached to my back-pocket for pruners, in fear that the creeping crawlers might startle and move a few micrometers in an effort to get away.  There, I grasped and smoothly produced my Felcos (slow is smooth and smooth is fast as in the best traditions of gunfighting), and I removed the offending branch from my eyesight, grinding it into the grass under my heel some distance away from the crab tree. Wild Bill Hickok, himself, would have been proud of my resolve and lethality. 

My quest of mulching completion was then further delayed for another half-hour while I examined every tree in the immediate vicinity of the house and dispatched two more disgusting nests in similar fashion.  The 'Royalty' crab survived the necessary amputation and will live to display its sickeningly muddy-purple blossoms yet another season.  'Royalty' is not a crabapple that I'd recommend to other gardeners.  While some texts describe the tree as "particularly loaded with dazzle...covered in such rich, deep-pink flowers that it will literally stop traffic,"  I would describe the tree as a dull-purple blob with dull pink-purple blossoms framed by dull purple leaves and not worth any substantial cost outlay.  Not my favorite crabtree, but I'm still not willing to throw it to the non-mercies of the Tent Caterpillar.

All this and many more yet un-disclosed diversions, and I managed only to empty and spread approximately 30 bags of mulch before exhaustion and larval caterpillar hatred took their toll.  Still, as you can see in the photo below, I think the front landscaping looks better with its new makeup foundation base, ready for the finishing touches of rose rouge and dark green holly eyeliner as the season rolls along.  A garden, as a woman, can certainly be naturally beautiful, but a little foundation and highlighting nearly always help improve the allure.  With the exception, of course, of Mrs. ProfessorRoush, perennially perfect in complexion and grace. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ever Just Get Tired of Something?

ProfessorRoush does.  He gets tired of winter.  He gets tired of the peak of summer heat.  He gets tired of mowing grass.  He gets tired of drought.  He gets tired of frosts on the fruit trees.  He gets tired of resurfacing blacktop.  He gets tired of cleaning the garage.  He gets tired of home maintenance.  He really gets tired of large furry white-tailed rats invading his garden and smaller naked-tail pack rats invading his shrubs.

He also occasionally gets tired of a particular plant, and this weekend's victim was this short hedge of Buxus microphylla koreana 'Wintergreen' that I had planted in the center curve of the circular driveway.  I planted it initially to partially hide cars parked in the driveway in front of the house.  If I had a more mystical side, I'd say that it served as a feng shui improvement to divert bad energy flow from my front door.  It's been a love-hate relationship from the outset.

Before planting them, I was ignorant of boxwoods, save for my extreme desire to surround myself with broad-leaf evergreens instead of conifers, the latter being a magnet for bagworms in this area.  I didn't know then, but soon learned, that they smell like unneutered male cat pee over vast portions of the year.  I didn't understand that a medium hedge would break up the view of the prairie from the house. I was unaware that in a very bad winter in Kansas, boxwoods could sustain snow damage and look terrible for most of a spring season.   I didn't even suspect in my naive state that the pack rats that would soon consider me a particularly benevolent god for erecting safe shelter as a base for their nefarious car and lawn mower wire-eating activities.    

So, this spring, tired of my boxwood pack rat condominiums, I resolved to eliminate them.  Yesterday, I took advantage of the prediction for strong spring winds and I used the tractor and bush-hog to mow them all off at ground level.  That took a satisfying 15 minutes and it only took another half-hour or so to load and remove two cart-loads of debris.  It's not perfectly clean yet, but I'm hoping the Kansas wind completes the job before Mrs. ProfessorRoush takes issue with my work.  I can feel her somewhere inside, trying to find something fault with the effort anyway, because she was merely lukewarm to the idea of savaging the hedge in the first place.

But the house, in my opinion, looks much better now.  In tactical terms, I now have a clear field of fire to defend against pack rat invaders. The prairie to my north view can serve as a guide to all the summer storm clouds that want to slide over the Flint Hills.   Passing cars will also have a much clearer view of the flowering trees and spring peonies and the summer Orientpet lilies and roses that dot my front landscape beds.  Thankfully, given the natural inclination of Kansas landscape plants to die, it is fairly simple to give them a nudge and correct gardening mistakes, I'm not sure what a Feng Shui practitioner would say, but ProfessorRoush feels much better.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Spring Returns

Remember this photo of my 'Annabelle' lilac, covered in snow a scant twelve days ago?  Remember my whining about how spring was canceled this year?  Remember my ridiculous suggestion to give up all gardening hope?  Well, please excuse my pouting and pessimism.  Kindly overlook my oblivious and obnoxious crying over spilled milk.  Try your very best to forget my fitful fantasies of failure.  Spring was not vanquished, but briefly delayed.  Winter was not victor, but fleeing bully.  The resilience of time and life has yet taken the field and won the day, fray behind and glory restored.
'Annabelle' went on through snow to beauty, blooms galore, battle-tested.  That's her, at upper right and left, proudly adorned in flowerly spendor.   She shines right now, a fragrant beacon in my landscape, the belle of the ball.  Not a single blossom shows damage, not a single stem was broken.  Nothing but shy pink and delicate lilac shows in each perfect petal.  A soft orb of scent, she dominates in every direction, albeit farther downwind than upwind.  She seized her moment of spring glory, determined not to surrender this year to mediocrity.  I applaud and appreciate her tenacity, the hidden strength among her branching limbs, the subtle brawn of her delicate blossoms.

Others too have fought their way back.  A brief glance at my side patio and the scene becomes a spring party.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush's favorite tree, a redbud, dominates the scene, a manly pink physique lording over its lesser neighbors.  'Annabelle' hides behind his trunk in this photo, pink bubbles peaking out on either side.  Behind and left a cherry tree, 'Northwind' is clothed in the promise of fruit.  Bees prefer the cherry to 'Annabelle', a poor choice in the gardeners eye, but the latter judges with binocular rather than compound vision and with vulgar appreciation for fragrance rather than subtle judgment of sugary goodness. The bee knows best its business and I know nothing of hunger for cherry nectar.

Spring, it seems, was not lost, but was merely misplaced, astray from the straight path forward.  It returns now, two steps forward, one back, the patience of the gardener teased with the promise of sunshine.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

White Profusion at Large

(Klaxon sounds) We interrupt your previously scheduled Garden Musings literary ramble for this special bulletin.  As you plan this year's garden, please be on the lookout at your local gardening center for this spectacular plant, Buddleia davidii 'White Profusion', wanted for exceptional garden performance by many gardeners over most of the continental United States.  This individual plant has been known to return and bloom reliably for 15 years, in a Kansas garden of all places, and its blooms exude a delicate fragrance that lures man and butterfly alike.  Standing 6 feet tall at mature height, 'White Profusion' withstands the worst of drought, wind, hail and searing sun, continually blooming in defiance at the elements. It has no known pests and is rarely accompanied by fungus or other
diseases in Kansas.

'White Profusion' has been known to associate with a number of vividly colored butterflies, including the Monarch butterfly and various fritillaries.  Aside from its more colorful butterfly collaborators, 'White Profusion' has also been known to consort with the Snowberry Clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis), seen below at the right.  Also known as the "flying lobster" or "hummingbird moth", the Snowberry Clearwing moth may be found poking around the blooms (get it?  "poking around"?) in search of a handout.  Often mistaken for a bumblebee because of its yellow and black coloration, invisible "clear" wings, and haphazard flight pattern, the Snowberry Clearwing moth has a long, curled proboscis that is very useful for sampling the delights of a butterfly bush.  Thankfully for my landscape, the Snowberry Clearwing is not one of several Clearwing moths that are wood-boring pests for a number of native trees and stone fruit trees, although their larvae do feed on honeysuckle, cherry, plum, and viburnum.  Also, in similar thankful meme, 'White Profusion' has shown no tendency to spread or reseed in the landscape, and may be an improvement over Buddleias that are considered noxious weeds in many parts of the United States.

In other news, ProfessorRoush has officially declared 'White Profusion' the best butterfly bush he has ever grown.  Out of approximately 15 cultivars, some of which expired long ago to either cold or drought or neglect, this is the most dependable survivor here in a Zone 5 climate prone to inappropriate and random late freezes and snows.  The photo at the left shows the bush early in bloom last year, with only a small percentage of the number of blooms that eventually covered it.  'White Profusion' is well named, because blooms are exceptionally profuse, stay creamy-white despite rain and sunburn, and each individual panicle of flowers can reach 12 inches in length.  Blooming starts at the base of the panicles and new panicles are continually produced as older flowers fade.  Flower panicles are held erect at the tip of the deciduous stems, requiring only an early spring scalp back to live tissue or even to the ground to allow room for the growth of new stems. 

Repeating;  Be on the lookout for 'White Profusion', a butterfly bush of uncommon value.  We return you now to your regularly scheduling Garden Musings.


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