Saturday, August 13, 2022


ProfessorRoush woke up to a quandary this morning, a perplexing puzzle presented to him by the morning sunlight.  To wit, the question was whether he should pull the white-headed weed photographed to the right, or should he leave it be in its self-chosen spot, a fine display of green and white contrasts in the hot summer garden?  There is rarely enough color in a summer garden in Kansas and this single, debatably undesired plant (marked in the picture below by the arrow) is the most noticeable plant in the garden this morning, at least from my bedroom window.  Oh sure, there are a few spots of Russian sage around and a panicle hydrangea or three hanging out in the background, but nothing else so clean and white as this Euphorbia marginata, also known as Snow-On-The-Mountain, although I tend to refer to it as "Snow-In-Summer" before I think and correct myself.

What makes a plant a weed?   Some would say a weed is any plant that is in a place where we don't want it.   Others berate the character, the less-cultured characteristics of the plant or flower.  Always the gentleman, Emerson defined a weed as a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.  Well, I've discovered the virtues of Euphorbia marginata.   It grows practically on every broken piece of ground in the area, and I've often pulled it before, especially when it was smothering or obscuring a plant that I wanted.   However, in certain places, like this spot where I have nothing else growing at present, I  practice tolerance and acceptance, as I've written before, and I will continue to do so in the future.   Snow-On-The Mountain has virtues, and virtues plenty.

Obviously adapted to my climate and thriving in the hottest and driest portions of summer, welcoming E. marginata into my garden is the very definition of minimal gardening.   It's large enough to make a vivid garden display even in a large garden (the books say 12"-40" tall but most here reach 4 feet and sometimes 5 feet).   It's compact, doesn't spread by sucker, well-mannered for its neighbors, flowers for months and it is beautiful in appearance.  Drought-tolerant, insect-free, disease-free and able to stand up to Kansas winds; exactly what else could I ask of it?   Snow-On-The-Mountain is also easy to pull where it's not wanted, the entire root coming up from any ground that isn't so dry as to actually form concrete.

Okay, I will admit that its milky latex-like sap can cause skin irritation in people with less thick hide than mine, but the only irritation I get is the agitation I experience trying to wipe it off my hands onto my jeans.  Cattle won't graze it because of its bitter taste, and it can be poisonous to them when dried as hay, but I have few cattle wandering my garden and, most importantly, deer won't eat this bitter plant either so it's one less plant I have to worry about when the furry rats raid my garden.   It's not edible, its sap may be carcinogenic, and its medicinal uses are few.   Historically it was crushed and made into a liniment and used as an astringent, and to treat leucorrhoea, which involves putting the liniment somewhere that would seem more likely to cause discomfort than healing wouldn't it?  

I'm not personally expecting a bout of leucorrhoea, but since I should always be prepared (even if I wasn't a Boy Scout), and the plant's presence and it's sap doesn't bother me and the deer won't bother it, I'm resolved to leave this clump right where it started, an affirmation of the value of native plants and a positive sign of my evolution as a gardener.   I'll still pull it from my strawberry patch, however!  

Monday, August 8, 2022

Please Don't Eat the Pretty Things

Sorry everyone, ProfessorRoush has been absent from the blog a couple of weeks.  I was deserted by Mrs. ProfessorRoush for the first week after she made some weak excuse about needing to hold grandchildren and then promptly left Bella and I to fend for ourselves.  Last week, missing both her cooking and mere presence, and tired of Bella moping around the house, I tracked Mrs. PR down in the wilds of Alaska, spent a few brief days myself holding the grandchildren while being sick alongside everyone else in the family, and then I dragged her back to Kansas.   

No, we didn't get COVID during 19 hours of travel getting there and another 23 hours returning (and yes, all of us tested negative for the virus), but we did catch what seemed to be a plain old common cold from our germ-growing grandchildren, the traditional route to pneumonia and demise for old folks.  Such is the cycle of life, but my little microbe-factory descendants didn't count on grandpa having a robust immune system bolstered by plenty of sunlight and clean living and I survived to garden again.  

Unfortunately, we spent most of our time in the Alaskan territory either in airplanes or cuddling indoors, my journeys outside limited to one short hike, during which we came across the showy specimen of Amanita muscaria pictured at top, delicious in appearance and full of hallucinogens and toxins too numerous to name.   Potentially deadly but beautiful, the internet tells me that this species is likely safe to nibble on if I wanted a different type of trip, but I'm not tempted in the slightest.  Near the Amanita, I was able to capture the more typical Alaskan lakeshore scene above, just to prove to naysayers that I was certainly out of Kansas.   I was, in fact, hiking in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, on a short trail near the visitor's center. 

In another brief venture outside the plague house, I was quite happy to find a neglected Rugosa growing by the front steps, pictured above, here, and below, undoubtedly 'Scabrosa' and if it wasn't that variety, it's surely a Rugosa worthy of cultivation.  Those deep magenta single blooms are nearly the size of my hand and look at all the healthy deep-green foliage!  Here near a coastline, in cool temperatures, nearly daily rain, and partial shade and a USDA 4A climate, this rose is completely defiant to the elements.   Hardy is as hardy does, or so an Alaskan Forest Gump might say.

Not even the weird insects crawling all over this bloom seem to disturb it, merely, seemingly, just present to carry pollen from flower to flower.  Drawn here, certainly, by the heavy scent of this rugosa or by the enticing color, they are a bit disturbing at first encounter, somewhat revolting to find amid the golden stamens, but they are likely harmless sycophants of the glorious flower.   Heck, I don't blame them a bit for I'm a Rugosa syncophant as well and one that could, shrunk down to the right size, easily get lost in the majesty of a cluster of these blooms.

We returned yesterday, my reluctant empty-armed bride and I, transported from the 60's of Alaska to a 101ºF day of early August in Kansas and, arriving home, were immediately greeted by this spectacular clump of Naked Ladies Surprise Lilies right out front in their full bare-stemmed glory.   It was so hot that I was afraid that Mrs. ProfessorRoush might want to join in their carefree display so I ushered her into the house before she created any kind of neighborhood gossip.  Anyway, now you know what I've been doing these past two weeks, busy from sunup to sundown, from sneezes and sniffles to nose-wipes to naked ladies.   It's been a good two weeks here in my world.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Beatles Out, Bumbles In

'Snow Pavement'
As ProfessorRoush toured the garden this morning, in the cool beginning of another scorching day, his heart was lightened and his spirits were raised, for the Japanese Beetles were gone.  Gone entirely, without a remnant beetle or frass pile to be found.  I wish that I could claim victory was due to my spraying efforts two weeks back, but even one day post-spray the beetles were everywhere, bulbous and fornicating among the flowers.  I suspect that it's simply the cycle of seasons, the vile creatures have bred and laid eggs and are now gone until July of next year.  

'Foxi Pavement'
In their place, in seeming celebration of their lack of competitors, were bumblebees, healthy and fat and carrying loaded pollen sacks everywhere I looked.   Some of the rugosas, relieved of their beetle battles, were beginning to bloom again, scruffy, crinkled Rugosa blooms to be sure, but beetle-less blooms none-the-less.

'Foxi Pavement'
The bumblebees were on nearly every blossom of  'Snow Pavement' (above, right) and 'Foxi Pavement', above (left) and 'Dwarf Pavement' (below left).   Sometimes they frenetically fought over the blossoms, two or even three bumblebees colliding in their corybantic search for pollen (right).  

'Dwarf Pavement'
This moment, this smidgeon of summer, is why you need to grow the Pavement series rugosas.  Never mind that 'Dwarf Pavement' spreads like it is hellbent on world domination.   Never mind that the blooms of many Rugosa Hybrids wrinkle and fade quickly in the hot sun.   Pavement roses are here now, blooming now while little else dares, present in the moment, while even the daylilies are waning in their defiance of summer's peak.   They're providing food and color and fragrance as the rest of the world wilts without moisture.  Three bumblebee's in the photo at the left all give a "thumb's up" to Rugosas in summer!

'Snow Pavement'
Look at that healthy foliage around the delicate blooms of 'Snow Pavement' (right).  I don't spray for rust or blackspot or mildew, but those rough leaves are spotless and eternal.  They're not chewed to shreds, and the rose slugs and leaf cutters leave them alone.   They just sit out there in the garden, in the middle of 100ºF temps and without moisture for the past month, blooming away for the bees and for me.  They may not be fussy Hybrid Teas, shy and elusive in endless virginal glory, and they may not be Bourbons, spilling over with exquisite fragrance and grace, but they are perfect and beautiful and I welcome their languid lascivious display and their 2nd and 3rd and 4th bloom cycles each and every summer.  Don't you feel the same?

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Pears Ahoy!

One secret of ProfessorRoush's garden is that there is an orchard, a decrepit excuse for an orchard anyway, that I'm not very proud of and don't discuss much.  I started it early after we built the house and placed it just below the crest of a south- and east-facing hillside, sloping down to a "draw" in hopes of sparing it from late freezes and the worst winds.   That plan would have worked pretty well, except that this is Kansas and I neglected to plan for the myriad of other threats they would face.  Since establishment, they've faced fire and freeze and drought and deer and what remains today is a pitiful remnant of the original dozen trees planted and a few replacements that followed.  My education in orchard farming has been "fruitless" and nonproductive, and today I have perhaps 3 healthy mature trees, one or two dwarf survivors, and a bunch of always-on-their-last-legs sticks that keep a leaf or two to tease me. 

It's not my fault, I promise.  My pyromaniac neighbors are responsible for the demise of several promising saplings. Despite protection within stone circles of bare earth, several near the boundary fence lines were regularly scorched by the annual prairie burns and simply gave up their efforts to survive.  Rutting deer have killed several by scarring the trunks during antler growth.  Of 4 apple trees, two were lost to fire and, although I have a love for 'Jonathan' apples in pies, the cedar rust here annually consumes my 'Jonathan', preventative spray or none.  The 4th apple tree, a 'Honeycrisp', has never borne fruit and I don't know why.  I've also learned that peaches of any kind are impossible here, the blooms destroyed by frosts every year, bearing any fruit at all only one year in five.  And that 5th year will be the one in which I neglected to spray them for peach leaf curl and worms.  Worst of all, perhaps, I completely underestimated the competition for water and nutrients from the prairie native grass, even when I kept it mowed beneath the trees.  Consequently, I gave up maintenance of the orchard and any spraying routine several years ago.

Imagine my surprise, then when I mowed around the remaining trees last week and found this 19-year-old 'Bartlett' pear (Pyrus communis) was loaded with fruit, the first time ever since it was planted in 2003.  I don't know why it's never had fruit, although I will admit I planted another pear in 2011 that, although it struggles, might have actually just bloomed and cross-pollinated with my 'Bartlett for the first time.   Here they are, regardless, healthy and growing, and completely organic since I haven't sprayed so much as dormant oil here for years. 

I'm going to monitor the heck out of these until harvest now, because I do like an occasional ripe pear, although I'm sure I'm setting myself up for frustration again.   If they survive the Japanese beetles which are munching nearby on the grape vines, and if the raccoons don't come in and eat them all before I realize they're ripe, and if the birds and worms don't ruin them, maybe, just maybe, I might have a tasty bite of pear this year before winter sets in.  Hope springs eternally from a gardener's heart.


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