Monday, May 13, 2019

Prairie Moon Rising

ProfessorRoush was forced into the mundane chores of garden these past two days on the prairie.  Rapidly growing grass and weeds meant that I spent most of Saturday's 'free time' mowing the lawn and trimming, and most of Sunday's "free time" weeding and planting.  I planted 22 garden pepper plants and 17 tomatoes.  And I also replaced the watermelon and cantaloupe that I planted and previously mentioned in the Showing the Crazy blog entry.  Not surprisingly, the first two didn't make it.  This time I planted 'Sugar Baby' watermelon, 'Ambrosia' and 'Athena' cantaloupes. 

Remember the song "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedance Clearwater Revival?  Lyrics that include "I hear hurricanes a-blowing.  I know the end is coming soon.  I hear the rivers over flowing...There's a bad moon on the rise."  Well, my 'Prairie Moon' peony is rising (upper left), and it's not a bad moon, even though the rain around here has the ground saturated and some folk in town have water in basements again.  'Prairie Moon' is just a beauty, pure white blooms as big as your outstretched hand and healthy bright green smooth foliage.  What's that you say?  The foliage isn't smooth?  Yeah, that's a volunteer hollyhock in front of the peony that I didn't have the heart to root out.  As long as it doesn't smother 'Prairie Moon', I'll let the hollyhock bloom and then grub it out later.   

Speaking of tomato planting, I had the bright idea to plant Mrs. ProfessorRoush's favorite grape-sized tomatoes in the large pots on the back (south) patio this year.   They'll get major sun there if they can stand the heat.  I was hand-digging a hole in the potting soil and the little gray tree frog pictured at the left about gave me a heart-attack, sitting as still as a postage stamp on the edge of the pot.  I almost put my hand right on him!   Here they come again, those sneaky peeping frogs, watching my every move.  Creeps me out, I tell you.

Bella is in the garden with me most days right now, protecting me and making sure the Texas Longhorns don't cross the barbed wire fence.  There is something that just feels right about longhorns on the prairie, isn't there?  Well, may not right to Bella, who seems a little disturbed by these big dumb things in her pasture.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Perplexing Puzzler

ProfessorRoush is not sure what was unique about last winter, but there was a disturbing desertion from the garden this spring, a vexing vacancy of one of my most annually-anticipated arrivals.  Sadly, my 'Mohawk' viburnum did not bloom, nay, it did not even bother to leaf out.  Normally, this corner is one of my favorite early spots in the garden, but not this year.

All the other viburnums in my garden, 'Juddii' (see pictured on the lower left), 'Opulus', 'V. burkwoodii, V. carlesii, 'Roseum',  all these leafed out on schedule, fragrant and full.  But not 'Mohawk'.  Even now, after 'Juddii' has faded and dropped its blooms, settling in for a season of quiet growth, 'Mohawk' remains leafless, a mere twiggy skeleton, conspicuous in its absence.

Viburnum 'Juddii'
But I'm just scratching the surface of this mystery.  Literally, as I scratch the surface gray bark of 'Mohawk',  the inner bark is still green, all the way to its tips.  Will it yet undergo reincarnation?  Can I hope to see it leaf out and live on into next year?  What caused this lack of spring season rebirth?  Was it the extreme drought of last summer?  The subsequent wet fall and winter, drowning in the roots grown deep to keep it alive? Did a late freeze catch it just at its most vulnerable time, leaf and flower buds on the cusp of expansion, only to be frozen in time?

I'm actually leaning toward the latter theory based on the supporting evidence that almost all of my Rose Of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) are also either very slow to leaf this year or partially dead or both.  Several of those have yet to do anything, while a few are leafing out slowly and carefully, as if they were expecting cold weather yet.  These too, are still green beneath their outer bark.  To have a whole genus caught out and damaged by weather doesn't surprise me as much as a single cultivar of a genus, early bloomer though 'Mohawk' may be in relation to its relatives.

Any theories or advice out there among yee gardening Sherlock's of the internet?   Grub out 'Mohawk' and replace it (since I love it too much to do permanently without), facing the inevitable, or hope for self-rejuvenation and a gentle summer?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Lilacs, Plantings, and Peonies

Oh, it's been an eventful weekend here on ProfessorRoush's home place.  Work, work, work, sunup to sundown, soreness to sunburn.  I'm catching up rapidly on the chores, trying to do the massive and minor garden chores alike before it gets too warm to enjoy.

But first, I must announce a tie this year for "First Rose to Bloom".  'Marie Bugnet' (at left) is struggling in my garden, down to a single stem that I'm going to try to layer and root before it goes, but she still managed to sneak in her perennial virginal white claim to "first bloom."  She was given a run for her money, however, by 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup' (above), who managed not one, but two of these delicate pink blooms to greet the sun on the same day.  The final decision was left to the judge, however, like this year's Kentucky Derby, and I've awarded First Bloom to Marie B. again, handicapped as she is by the meager foliage beneath her.

In the meantime, I've got a massive list of accomplishments this weekend.  1) I finished all the bark mulching and weeding of the beds around the house, which involved a total of around 45 bags of mulch in this round. 2) I purchased and planted 13 daylily starts sold yesterday morning at the Farmer's Market by the Flint Hills Daylily Society.  3) I painted our eyesore of a mailbox, much to Mrs. ProfessorRoush's chagrin, since she will have to find something else to express displeasure over.  4) I painted the pasture gate, which was starting to show rust through the previous 20-year-old paint.  5) I opened up 20 or so bales of straw and mulched several lower beds. 6) I planted the gladiola corms you see at the right; a row of multi-color and a row of bright reds to serve as cut flowers later in the season.  7) I weeded the strawberries, onions, peas, and potatoes.  8) I repotted the indoor Christmas Cacti and Easter Lilies. 9) I pruned back several crape myrtles. 10) I mowed the front and back yards. 11) I planted several small shrubs into empty spots.  12) I put Gerbena Daisies into the pots near the garage. 13) I planted two Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurescens’ into two large landscape pots. 14) I filled the bird feeders. 15) I tidied up the garage. 16) I made two trips to box stores to purchase various and sundry needed gardening items including mulch and potting soil. 17) I repaired the vents on the septic bed. 18) I did approximately a seemingly infinite number of "Honey-do" chores for Mrs. ProfessorRoush. 19) Whew...I've forgotten what else. What a weekend!

In other news, I'm very pleased this year with the look of the front landscaping.  Even without blooms at present, there's a fair bit of foliage color visible as you can see at the left, looking from the west to the east across the front.  Ninebark 'Amber Jubilee', Japanese Maple 'Emperor 1', Forsythia 'Golden Tines', Lilac 'Scent and Sensibility', variegated euonymuses (euonymi?)  'Moonshadow' and 'Emerald Gaiety' and many others give some pleasant texture to all the green around them. 

'Scent and Sensibility' dwarf lilac
Speaking of Lilac 'Scent and Sensibility', I'm very happy with this well-behaved addition to the front garden.  Standing at 4 years old and a mature height of 2.5 feet and width of 3.5 feet, 'Scent and Sensibility' is marketed as a "dwarf" lilac and is just coming into major bloom as the Syringa vulgaris types fade out, the former's sweet scent permeating the entire front garden at just the right moment.  I'm very pleased that this 2015 addition to my garden is making her own mark in the landscape.

Last, but not least, in other blooms, my Paeonia suffruticosa Tree Peony continues to survive, a miracle here on the prairie.  Yesterday it had this single yellow bloom and in today's sunshine, it opened up two more.  I mulched around it carefully this weekend, cognizant that last year a garter snake surprised me by peering out of its leaves, just as I was taking a closeup photo of a bloom.  I'm pretty sure the same snake is back, as a couple of branches rustled around when I came close this time as well.  Such a nice peony and I can't enjoy it up close again.  Drat.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Skinking around

My fears were misplaced but not entirely misdirected.  Last Saturday, ProfessorRoush set out to move 26-or-so landscaping concrete blocks that surround his trees and protect them from too-close-string-trimmers and fire-bug neighbors.  Specifically, the blocks of interest were around a Black Gum tree that HAD been damaged by a prairie fire and around a Sugar Maple that was snapped in half during a storm last year, and I wanted to move them to be around two still-living trees which were without even that inadequate means of protection.  Knowing that the blocks had been in place for several years and had likely become the adopted home of a prairie snake or two, I was carefully flipping them over one-by-one, constantly poised to take flight in the event of a slithering serpent.

By approximately block #13 or so, I had become complacent, having encountered only some ant nests and the occasional beetle.  Just as I relaxed, of course, lifting block #15 casually and with no trepidation at all, the slinking skink pictured at the top came flying past my pant legs, causing me to fling the block isideways while briskly backpedaling from the area. 

This is, of course, a Northern Prairie Skink, Eumeces septentrionalis.  I identified it from the from the marvelous text, Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas, by Joseph T. Collins.  I've seen them here before, but not in the numbers that I encountered last Saturday when I found that blocks #15-26 covered a colony of a minimum five adult skinks, some of which just tried to burrow deeper as I disturbed their chilly environs (as you can see by the tail visible in the picture at right.  They are carnivorous reptiles, not amphibians as I originally thought them to be, eating insects and spiders and small lizards as their normal diet. Despite my initial panic when they appear, I always go out of my way to leave them as undisturbed as possible so they can continue to compete in their ecological niche.  After all, a skink in the stones beats a snake in the grass anytime, in my opinion.   God knows, I've got enough of the latter around.     

My Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas is the 1993 third edition, published through funds from the Chickadee Checkoff, a special contribution we can make on our Kansas tax returns that is directed to natural resources in the state.  The text may be authored by Mr. Collins of the Natural History Museum in Lawrence, Kansas, but the wonderful color photographs, a change in the 3rd edition from the previous black and white editions, were contributed by Suzanne L. Collins, she likely an enlisted and long-suffering spouse much like the delightful Mrs. ProfessorRoush is for me.  Where, I ask you, would science sometimes be without a more-or-less-willing spouse content to carry a camera and go through heck and back alongside the focused fool leading the expeditions?


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