Friday, May 18, 2018

Bee-careful Out There

Such oblivious creatures, we Homo sapiens, we naked apes of tools and dreams.  We trod through millennia, intent on food, shelter, and water, occasionally motivated to art or to walk on the Sea of Tranquility, yet unknowing of the intricacies of the surrounding world, incapable of recognizing life on different scales than our own.  Civilized human-kind conveniently forgets the constant struggle of life at large.

ProfessorRoush has spent the past few days capturing flower photos, digitally preserving the blooms of 2018, as happy to welcome summer as an otter discovering a brisk stream.  I was seemingly, in fact, entranced this week by honey bees, happy to see them out and about, thrilled to know they haven't all disappeared into extinction.   A noon walk to the K-State Gardens on Thursday brought me green tranquility and the simplicity of the bee above, ensconced on a single bloom of Rosa eglanteria.  Later, I was drawn into the massive bounty of a full-grown and trellised 'William Baffin' and enticed further into the blooming mass (at left)  to capture another industrious worker strutting around its food source.

At home that night, however, I was starkly reminded of the dark side of bee life.  I had just noticed this motionless and soundless bee on 'Polareis' and began to look closer when it suddenly moved beneath the flower, all without wiggling a wing or leg.  Perplexed, I changed my perspective and exposed the true tableau, the bee expired and in the grasp of a victorious crab spider.   It is tempting at such times, to judge the spider as evil, but more correct to recognize merely life as it is, sometimes brutish and quick, unaffected by how we wish it to be.  I suppose the spider has its own reason to exist, just as the bee.  It's just that I like to root for the bee.

This is the real life of my garden.  I think only of flowers and prunings, mulch and plant combinations. To the bee, each flower could be nectar or death, each flight from the hive success or oblivion.  For the spider, each day may bring feast or hunger, no guarantees beneath the sunniest skies.  I've forgotten again the drama beneath, the life of a garden in constant flux, predator after prey, ultimately death for all.

Now reminded, I still am rooting for the bees.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Never Go Away!

'Buckeye Belle' least not when spring has arrived, a spring for which you've waited impatiently over the past 2.5 eons and change.  Trilobites have gone extinct since I first anticipated spring this year.  Then I was gone a mere 5 days and the plant friends that I missed are almost too numerous to count.  No, I at least didn't miss the luscious garnet-to-die-for Paeonia lactiflora ‘Buckeye Belle’ pictured at the upper left, but it was a very close thing.

'Prairie Moon'
Recall please, that I only left on the morning of May 9th, but on that morning, fickle peony 'Prairie Moon' was yet to bloom at all.  Five large buds were on the low-growing plant, just thinking about opening.  Yet, when I returned on May 13th, four out of the five flowers had opened in the 90ºF days and finished, with only one decrepit, ant-invaded, spider-guarded, ragged bloom to mark its passing.  I've waited three years for this immature plant to finally bloom with some mature size, and it was gone before I enjoyed it.

'Scarlett O'Hara'
And then there is 'Scarlett O'Hara', one of my most showy and favorite peonies.  No blooms when I left, but I returned to a fully-bloomed plant with all but three blooms faded from gaudy red-salmon into blush pink or white.  This peony normally takes a couple of weeks to open fully and fade.  What happened?  Spring was delayed by fickle fate and then time and the garden rushed headlong into summer, that's what happened. 

'Buckeye Belle' 05/13/2018
'Buckeye Belle' herself was a close one.  On the 13th, when I came home, she had three large blooms open, with several enormous buds in reserve.  Yesterday evening, the 14th, they had all opened, a soul-quickening sight to behold.  Today, these petals are falling, peak over, fading into another season.

'Buckeye Belle' 05/14/2018

A gardener should never go away during growing season.  In temperate climates the first two weeks of January might be safe, in a really cold year.  Might be safe.  But otherwise, forget it.  The other 50 weeks of the year there are things to be done, plants to check on, and beauty to behold.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Garden of Eden; Complete w/ Snake

What a difference five days can make in a garden!  Mrs. ProfessorRoush and I left for a trip last Wednesday (May 9th), and returned tonight (May 13th).  Before I left, Tuesday night, I took a photo of this Paeonia suffruticosa (Yellow Tree Peony), which had just opened its first bloom of the season that day.  The remnants of that first bloom are visible at about 2:00; tonight the petals of that bloom are already faded and gone, and now every other bloom on the peony is open.   Temperatures went from the 60-70ºF range last week to several days of 90ºF+ this week during our absence.  Wait all season for a brief glimpse of peony heaven, and almost miss it during a five-day trip!

For an added bonus, look closer at the bloom at the 7:00 position in the photo above.  See my little friendly neighborhood garter snake wondering who was disturbing the garden aura?  How about a closeup (at left)?  I had only seen my first snake of the season last Monday as I was cutting down a grass clump and a green snake went racing away too fast for a picture (in its defense, I was racing away in the opposite direction).  Now, already, I've run across my second snake of a still-early season.  Going to be a slithery year, I think.

The entire garden seems to have exploded over these 5 past days, and I think I'll catch up on my blogging and introduce you to the current bloomers at about two day intervals this week.  Tonight, however, I'll leave you with this tantalizing photo of 'Harison's Yellow'.  Before I left, only 5 days ago, not a single bloom was open.  Now, all of them are.  And to think I almost missed it!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

That's It, Nothing Else

I'm afraid that this is all I've got to show for a weekend in the garden.  These two simple photos represent my dual accomplishments for two days, a weekend of miserable weather and attention to a single-minded dog.  In fact, as far as how my garden goes, these are my accomplishments for the whole week, since I worked during each day and I was too ill during most of the week to want to go into the garden in the evening.

The first photo is how I woke up from a nap this afternoon, to a closeup view of my constant pestering pooch, the lovable Bella, at my side, wondering if I'm ever going to rip the Frisbee out of her paws and throw it over the balcony again.  I don't know how long she had stood like this, patiently waiting for me to open my eyes and play.  But, for the four-hundredth time this weekend, I indulged her canine compulsive disorder and tried to muster enthusiasm from lethargy.

The second picture is my Star Magnolia on Saturday morning, shivering in the early morning 40ºF temperatures as they prepared to plunge to the 30's by afternoon and an overnight low of 26ºF.  When I looked at it later, I was surprised at how the marvelous light softened these blooms even in a simple iPhone camera.  I would show you a third photo of how these beautiful blooms looked this morning, but I can't because I wasn't willing to venture into the 40 mph wind gusts to get it.  Truthfully, I don't also don't want to chance anyone jumping off bridges at the desolation.  I'll just leave it by saying that the magnolia, appearing like a heavenly cloud yesterday from my dreary landscape, now appears to be a bare bush adorned with brown tissue paper. Used and disgusting tissue paper.  A few of these, and other magnolia blooms, brighten my kitchen today because I decided to save a few from the cold, knowing that the rest would perish.

My consolation prize is that I was able to write this blog while listening to a tribute on POP TV to Sir Elton John, his greatest hits sung by famous vocalist after vocalist while he is forced to sit in the audience.  I'm singing along to songs from my teens as poor Elton is held captive to his tribute, probably thinking about how the singers are mangling his songs.  I'm mangling them too, the lyrics written on my soul, memories springing forth along with each verse, lifting my spirits at the end of another lousy winter day in the midst of spring.

 "And I guess that's why they call it the blues, time on my hands, should be time spent with you." 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Stop already!

Gracious, ProfessorRoush is tired of winter.  All these poor plants, struggling towards spring, but fighting instead for just enough sun and warmth to stay alive.  Will they make it?  Can they make it to see June?  The real test may have been Friday night, April 6-7th, when we had record lows here.  Record lows for this date of 19ºF, to be exact.

The 'Matrona' sedum pictured above from the snow of April 1st is pretty tough, and I actually loved the foliage color against the twinkling snow.  I think the sedum was actually laughing at the icy hands of winter.  The Scilla siberica in the upper left of the picture was not quite as happy to be shivering outdoors, however.  Every time I look at this picture, I feel sorry for it.

I suppose, as well, that the Paeonia tenuifolia here, delicate though it appears, will be able to withstand the brief cold spells.  Given that they are several weeks behind their normal appearance, however, I'm going to hazard a guess that they are global warming deniers.  They don't suffer from having political opinions interfere with their logic, they simply recognize that this spring is a quite a bit later than the last few.  And I'm sure they miss the company of the redbud trees and the forsythia, neither of which has bloomed here yet.  The lilacs, frozen in time, have had buds at the ends of those fleshy branches for weeks, yet they won't advance.  And the magnolias are half open, dark purple buds showing on "Ann", with no hope of showing us more yet. 

And somewhere in the basement windows, are the four potted Rugosa roses that arrived from Heirloom Roses ready to plant on April 2nd.  With luck, they'll survive the dry house and decreased sunlight long enough for the weather to turn.  The same day they arrived, I also received three bare root roses from Edmund's.  Those poor stiff green souls are already in the garden, each planted, buried under a mound of soil, and then covered with a blanket of double burlap for insulation.  Another few days in the darkness, with the promise of temperatures in the 80's mid-week, and I'll begin to uncover them bit by bit.  Teens to 80's in one week is an unkind blow by any measure.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Burning It Down

ProfessorRoush came home early from work yesterday, malice in his soul and arson in his heart.  I spent half last fall and winter trying to poison the pack rats living next to my back patio, but I knew I'd lost the battle when the trails under the juniper stayed fresh even in the latest snowfall.  Yesterday, I took advantage of temperatures in the high 50's to, once and for all, evict my unwanted tenants from their filthy homes.  A little gasoline, a little barely-controlled blaze, and I successfully burned up this 10-year-old spruce and juniper without also lighting the nearby prairie remnants on fire.  It was, at times, a close thing, and just as the fire really began to blaze, a west wind decided to turn from a gentle breeze to an arctic gale.  Thankfully, years of experience have taught me the hard lessons of where to place the hose water down to avoid catastrophe.

Why risk a fire, you ask?  Because I wasn't about to wade into the juniper and begin trying to trim it back branch by branch towards the center, never knowing when a pack rat might decide to hide in my pant legs.  As it was, the spruce went up in flame first and then, as the lower juniper began to burn well, a single very pregnant pack rat emerged about 4 feet away and moved off into the landscape.  How she made it out, I'll never know, because the nest was fully on fire by that time, and the ground tunnel that I found later in the center of the nest ashes must have been pretty warm by the time she made her break for safety.  I made sure to tell Mrs. ProfessorRoush to keep the garage and barn locked up tight for a few days, and I hope the hawks got her before she found a new home (the pack rat of course, not Mrs. ProfessorRoush). 

Now, I can just grab a saw, cut the main branches and stump down, and plant something else here that won't draw the rats.  Safely cut it down now, with no worries for large-toothed invaders taking the short pathway up to my waist.  If, that is, the weather ever turns nice.  We have snow predicted for tomorrow, highs in the 30's and lows in the twenties along with it, and an overnight of 22ºF predicted later this week.  I went outside today and covered my baby peas, so recently planted, with straw, so they would escape the worst of the freeze (I hope).  Nothing much, though, that I can do for the daffodils shown here, now in full bloom and facing the worst with a sunny disposition.  I don't have much hope for them, planted in full sun on the south side of the house, but I will keep a little hope alive for the daffodils on the north side of the house, which are just in the process of budding. 

When you live in Kansas, you only show your poker hand in a few clumps of daffodils at a time.

Friday, March 23, 2018

At last, daffodils!

I say, "at last," like they were incredibly, irresponsibly late, drowsy, dilatory delinquents holding up progress, because I've been waiting and waiting, wondering if they were ever going to bloom.  I think I'm getting impatient in my old age.

After checking my notes, this spring IS a week or so behind the spring of 2012, and perhaps 2 weeks behind the springs of 2016 and 2017, BUT it's on a par with the opening dates of daffodils in 2006, 2008, 2014, and 2015.  So, my mid-winter melancholy is mildly misplaced, since the "climate" here seems to be within normal fluctuation.  Perhaps the two most recent springs have thrown my inner clock off, winding me up to be disappointed by frost and arctic blasts.  Or perhaps I'm getting impatient in my old age.

My Abeliophyllum distichum ‘Roseum’, my pink forsythia, is blooming well now, but it is a full two weeks behind the March 5th day of 2016 that I noted as a "peak" day for it that spring.  No yellow forsythias are blooming here yet, also seemingly late, although some buds are showing a little color on those plants.  I suppose I should be merely hoping for any bloom at all, since I noted in 2017 that no forsythia bloomed last spring, due likely to either a very cold spell in the winter or a really hard freeze at opening.  Where forsythia is concerned, perhaps I should just be thankful to see any yellow cheerfulness before June's daylilites and I should not be so impatient in my old age.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Spring Insanity

ProfessorRoush is on a fool's errand, a foolhardy full court press, plunging beneath the alternating waves of winter and spring to create emerald legumes from ecru.  I never plant peas before March 15th, long habit acquired in the climate of my youth, strictly followed and enforced by the wisdom of generations of my ancestors.  Peas and potatoes on the Ides of March.  A day reserved for celebration of the full moon, settlement of past debts, and slaying Emperors in the Senate. 

This year however, I'm listening to the experts and I planted peas on March 3rd.  According to the Kansas State Extension, garden peas are best planted just after the soil turns 40º, and I'd seen bulletins indicating the soil was already that warm.  Knowing that my main pea problem for years has been poor germination and weather that turns hot far too rapidly in Kansas, I resolved to follow science and cast aside superstition just this once.  I whipped out my trusty, long-suffering soil thermometer and plodded to the garden in the midst of a brisk wind yesterday, to find the soil already 45º and rising.  I'm pretty sure it was still frozen solid just last week, but I nonetheless planted both 'Little Marvel' and 'Early Perfection'.  Besides, this year the full moon was on March 1st, a so-labeled worm moon welcoming earthworms back from their deep underground slumber, and although science may lead me astray from my hallowed farming roots, as long as the moon cycle follows along, I might as well take a chance, right?

So, into the cold ground went the peas.  If science is wrong, I've wasted $2.88 and I'll have to replant in late March.  But I can hardly do worse than my usual pea harvest.  It is a bit strange to be planting peas early this year, particularly because every other indicator I have says that spring will be late.  There are no peonies pushing through the crust at all yet, no snow crocus blooming, and the forsythia buds are still tight in contrast to years that I've seen them bloom as early as March 6th.

In other news, despite the northbound gale sweeping across the prairies, I welcomed the 70º temps that accompanied it and I cleared the debris out of the landscape beds in the north-facing front of the house, able to pile dead perennials and leaves and load them up as long as I stayed in the wind shadow of the house.   In the process, in a change of temperament, I blessed, just this once, the rabbit that has plagued my garden all winter, The entire front landscaping, under the perennial debris, is covered with rabbit feces, an unexpected beneficial repayment for non-intentionally feeding the long-eared rodent with twigs and bark all winter.   The mementos this rabbit left behind are almost worth the bare stems and damaged shrubs.

Last of all, I trimmed my first rose of the season yesterday, this 'Heritage' that so brightens my day with continual bloom and pink elegance.  With each careful cut of the pruners, I felt younger, brighter, and more hopeful, winter melting to warm spring in my veins.  What a wonderful feeling to feel the dirt and do some good honest labor for a few hours, awakening old muscles and senses to earthy joy.     

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Deer Gardens

The intrepid Bella jumped from our bed and ran into the sunroom yesterday around 6:45 a.m. and started barking madly.  When I crawled out bleary-eyed but prepared to defend home against marauder or monster, I found her perched on the back of the couch, back and nose and tail straight as an arrow pointing to the danger.  How does a beagle/border collie learn to point?  Beats me.

How many deer do you see in the photo above?  Two?  Three?  Look carefully.   As you can see at the right, there were actually four deer around (okay, there were only three in the first picture).   The large bush that the nearest deer is so avidly feeding upon is my two year old Salix caprea ‘Curly Locks’, the white French Pussy Willow.  I hope it left a few buds for ProfessorRoush to enjoy next month, once winter breaks from its current ice-locked cycle.  I'm tired of winter.

Tired too of the posers, those deer who try to justify their garden meals by allowing me a still picture of their exquisite form.  Just go away, girls.  Go have your spring fawns and leave my garden alone.  To be truthful, I don't think they do that much damage, and my really juicy shrubs, such as most of the magnolias and my ain't-Red HorseChestnut, are behind fencing anyway.  Man learns to adapt from the incursions of nature, even though adapting means that I view my garden in winter through that same wire fencing.

I did notice, last weekend, the damage shown on the base of this Hibicus syriacus ‘America Irene Scott’, which sits right beside the Pussy Willow.  At the time, I attributed it to a hungry rabbit or rodent, but now I'm wondering.  Is it time to defend more fervently against all enemies, hopping rodents or doey-eyed villains alike?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Rose Rustlers

Surfing Amazon at the end of last year (okay, looking for ways to spend Christmas money on Amazon), I was surprised and excited to find this recent (2017) publication by Greg Grant and William Welch.  I clicked it straight into my shopping cart and ordered it, anticipating an interesting history of rose rustling from the perspectives of the rustlers themselves.  Something preferably as enjoyable as one of my favorite reads, the 1989 page-turner In Search of Lost Roses, by Thomas Christopher.  Has it really been nearly 30 years since the latter was written?

What I got, in The Rose Rustlers, was indeed an interesting historical outlook on the criminal rose enterprises of Texans that lead ultimately to the foundation of the Antique Rose Emporium, but after the first couple of chapters, it was not quite the engaging read I was looking for.  I suppose I'm just being too picky, and I'm biased by my preference for gardening essays that are more about the philosophy and lifestyle of gardening than the practice of gardening.  The quality of the photographs and detail of the book were fabulous, but it was a struggle to get all the way through.  The book did start out well, with chapters on Noted Rose Rustlers, Bill Welch himself, The Texas Rose Rustler organization, and the Antique Rose Emporium, but then it bogged down, for me, into a number of chapters on the favorite roses of the authors and their rose gardens themselves.  These would have been okay if the roses were unknown to me, but many are old friends and I didn't learn much in the remainder of the book that was helpful.  Particularly not much in light of my need to stay with Rugosas here on my home ground while I fight the losing battle against Rose Rosette Disease.

Spend money, if you want, on this book for the great photography, numerous examples of roses in the landscape, or the history behind the movement of rose rustling.  But if you want a nice fireside read, one more difficult to put down and be distracted away from, then pick up a copy of In Search of Lost Roses instead.  Sorry, but as I'm happy to disclose, my favorite gardening books are still mostly essays;  Thomas Christopher as mentioned, Michael Pollan (Second Nature), Henry Mitchell (any of his works), Sydney Eddison (A Passion for Daylilies), Mirabel Osler (A Breath from Elsewhere), Allen Lacy, or Beverley Nichols.  These are the classics that keep me thinking of spring gardens while in winter's grasp.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Fake Blogs in Winter

There is, in my mind, no sustaining solace in the drab brown of a Flint Hills' winter.  Oh, I could ramble about for a few paragraphs extolling the virtues of the subtle hues of amber and gold and taupe in my winter landscape, but then that would be "Fake Blogging."  Just as "Fake News" has joined the lexicon of our political debates, "Fake Blogs" should be called for what they are; ill-conceived attempts to paint pictures that don't really exist.  Fake blogs wax eloquent the delicate beauties of bark when there are no flowers or foliage to distinguish one ice-laden tree from another.  Fake blogs discuss the delicate dancing of grasses as a blizzard bears down and smothers the garden.  Fake blogs pretend that browsing glossy garden catalogs is a suitable substitute for the feel of warm earth in your hands. 

I wait in January, interminably it seems, for the smallest, briefest indication that Spring is coming.  A flash of blue from a bluebird, a hint of green in the rushes, and my heart beats faster and my spirits lift.  Difficult to find, those moments, as Yoda would say.  When the snow melts, there is a brief period on the prairie when the grasses have enough remaining moisture to display their mahogany and umber undertones.  Then dry in a twinkling, the rolling hills of brown stretch to the horizon, dead grasses blending individual hues to a bland carpet of boring.  Life is color, death is drab.

Last week, when the weather teased me with warm sunshine and clear air, I strolled during lunch to the K-State Gardens, seeking signs of Spring.  I wanted only a brief glimpse of a timid peony breaking through the ground, or the slightest sight of  a subterranean squill squeezing through the frozen crust.  My desires, like a foundering ship against the shore, dashed by the dry remnants of dead perennials, the only bright spot, Bittersweet, both in name and in spirit, as pictured above.  Russet sumac berries failed to break the brown monotony and puce coralberries merely blended into the bleakness.  I left, back to work in walled confines, to wait further, sullen and sad.

Thank God, in such moments, for Bittersweet and Fake Blogs. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Particular Animals

ProfessorRoush took advantage of a mid-January warm spell yesterday to put out and mount the new bluebird houses that I made after my "check-and-clean-the-nests" weekend in November.  I haven't blogged about it, but I needed to replace several older bluebird houses after my inspection and I went a little crazier than normal and had made eight new bluebird houses (per the Roush NABS-approved plans) in a single 3-hour span on the weekend of  Thanksgiving.  And yesterday, knowing that Eastern Bluebirds normally start looking for suitable nest lodgings in February in this area, I thought I'd better be getting the new birdhouses up for the early arrivals while the weather was nice.

I found, however, that the bluebirds are already back (if in fact they ever left) and they were thumbing their noses at the new houses, in effect saying to me, "we don't need no new stinking houses!"  On my back hill, I ran into this pair (which I have denoted by arrows if you click on the photo or look closely), clustering around one of my older, more run-down houses, and I was most delighted to see them.  As I took this single photo from a distance, they decided I was close enough and they flew away, ahead of me, to the next house on the fence line, so I'm quite sure they've been checking out the neighborhood and already have a good idea of property values and proximity to water and food sources.  This Mrs. Bluebird seems to be pretty happy with the home that her male picked out.  Maybe "new" isn't as appealing to bluebirds as weather-beaten and old?  Maybe they don't like the smell of new cedar?  There's no accounting for taste, especially when it comes to the nest-warmer of the couple.

I continued to place out new houses and reposition some older houses on my walk.  I have probably overbuilt the neighborhood, since bluebird pairs don't like to nest within sight of others, but I want every azure visitor to my 20 acres to have a home, even if some end up being homes for wrens.  At least the carefully-sized entrances seem to keep the ubiquitous sparrows out. 

While traipsing around the bottoms, I also needed to check on the donkeys, who hadn't been seen in several very cold days, and I found them to be fine.  I was amused that this hay bale, deposited in the bottom for their eating convenience and for better nutrition than the dry prairie grass, seems to be hollowed out, the better preserved grass on the inside eaten first.  Who would have thought that donkeys, as well as bluebirds, could be so particular about their homes and food?  Certainly not their gardening landlord.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...