Sunday, September 17, 2023

A Walk Down The Road with Bella

Tall Goldenrod
(warning:  picture and link heavy)  Every once in a while, ProfessorRoush decides that Bella needs to lose a little weight and we embark on a program to walk nightly down the paved area of the road, about 1.25 miles total in a down-and-back walk.  This week, as we walked, Bella was willing to impatiently wait as I snapped photos of any blooming flowers along the roadside.

So consider this a short tour of the ditches alongside the road.  Of course, this time of year, Goldenrod is everywhere.  My plant identification is suspect as always, especially here given the number of native Goldenrods, but I believe the photos above and left are of Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima, although it could be Canadian Goldenrod, the former being a subspecies of the latter.

Snow-On-The-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata, is nearing the end of its bloom cycle, and not nearly as prominent in the landscape as previously this season.

Of course, Blue Sage, or Salvia azurea, one of my favorite wildflowers, is blooming everywhere now.  I thought this specimen looks a bit more faded then most.  It is also known as Pitcher's Sage, in honor of Dr. Zina Pitcher, a US Army surgeon and botanist.

Sunflowers, the state flower of Kansas, are still represented by the Common Sunflower,
Heliathus annuus
.   I'm not anywhere near certain of the species name for this specimen, and I wouldn't have a clue at all without the marvelous website.

There is a lot of White Sage, Artemsia ludoviciana. on the walk, everywhere in the adjacent prairie, its hairy-gray leaves befitting a plant adapted to drought and grazing.

Another white flowering plant,
Brickellia eupatoriopiodes, or False Boneset, is likewise a very frequent visitor to these hills, blooming in the worst of drought and leaving behind an interesting winter skeleton.  It's taproot is said to reach 16 feet in depth when necessary.

Nearly last, but certainly not least, clumps of the the most "garden-worthy" of the prairie plants, Dotted Gayfeather, Liatris punctata, "dots" the prairie with low light purple spires.  Butterflies love this plant, and often are above it in a swarm.     

Wax Goldenweed
A new Plant ID for me was Wax Goldenweed. Grindelia papposa, or at least I think that's what it is.  The plant is in the Sunflower family and is an annual named for David Hieronymus Grindel (1777-1836) a German botanist.  Livestock reportedly don't like it and I'll have to watch for it in the pastures to see if they avoid it.

And that is a walk down my late-September road everyone.   Not as literary-worthy as Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, but its none-the-less my own little "Walk Down the Road with Bella."

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Dazzle Days

These August and September days in Kansas are what ProfessorRoush has always referred to as the "doldrums."   The hot, dreary, drought-ey days of the year when, most years, the garden dries up before it has a chance to really display the colors of fall and not much is blooming or growing.   Days when I badly neglect the garden and frankly don't care if it rains because I'm tired of the weekly care and mowing.   The only time the garden and I see each other right now are every few days when I carry water to a few young roses just to keep them alive until dormancy.  Everything else can wait as the heat dies away and a little rain returns.  Tonight and tomorrow, we have the first chances predicted for rain in weeks, so I'm hopeful and prayerful that its thirst gets quenched.   It probably won't matter to the prairie grass right now, which has recognized the changing season and is drying and storing nutrients for next year. 

Gardeners always seem to ask "what's blooming now?" of each other, and I'll confess that the only truly bright spot in my garden right now is this superb (in my opinion) combination of dwarf crape myrtle 'Cherry Dazzle®' and the 'Heavenly Blue' morning glory that I let self-seed everywhere.  At least, I think it's still 'Heavenly Blue" because it has seeded itself and in-bred so many years that it might just be the wild variety by now.   If you were to see my landscape around the house now, I'd only ask you to please don't criticize me for the rampant vines everywhere, but to wait until morning to pass judgement.  They look like heck at midday but they're a sight for sleepy eyes to behold in the morning!

The 'Cherry Dazzle®', also known as Gamad 1 (U.S. Plant Patent #16,917) is another matter entirely.   Most of the spring and summer I spend worrying that it has survived or isn't doing well, and then here in late August it is the shining red star of the garden.   Right outside my bedroom window, it catches my eye alongside the sunrise every morning, and I'm happy that it has its own spotlight moment.   'Cherry Dazzle®', if you're looking for a low-growing crape, grows consistently 2-2.5 feet tall here in Kansas each year, although described as 3-5 feet height at maturity elsewhere.   Introduced and named  by Professor Michael Dirr in 2006, it seems to be healthy and cold-hardy here, returning reliably from its roots each spring, and its leaves in most climates are reported to be burgundy-red in the fall.   Here, I recall they unfortunately seem to go straight from green to brown and fall off.   Incidentally, check out that link to Dr. Dirr, a University of Georgia horticulturist who has the distinction of his own Wikipedia page!

The busy bumblebee pictured above and at the left has no time for the dazzle of 'Cherry Dazzle®', intent only on darting in and out of the 'Heavenly Blue' blossoms for their nectar.  Taking these photos, I had to wait as it dived in each flower head first, brazenly showing only its backside until it bumbled backward and flew to the next.  I wonder, as I often do, what the bee sees?  The actual vivid colors of both, the shapes of the flowers, the contrast between the two, or something else, with its advanced bee senses, that I can't even fathom?   One way or another, arriving just as I began to photograph the plant, he/she didn't care about the gardener who was clicking the oblong black thing furiously at them as they went from one blossom to the next.  For me, the combination of both plants is incredibly soul-satisfying and I'm not sure if I really prefer the "heavenly" shade of blue or the dazzling cherry-red, but it's clear what the bee prefers.  One thing I am sure of is that I need to remember that the morning glory is not only important to me, but to the ecological health of my garden.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Hot, Tired, and Nearly Over It

The 8 days of 100ºF+ heat we just had were not kind to ProfessorRoush's garden, drying the yard, crisping young plants with adolescent roots, and just generally beginning the seasonal change from green to ochre and brown. Still, there are bright and beautiful spots in the garden, and after a summer of weekly mowing, I cannot say that I'm unhappy that the grass is going dormant. With fall comes more leisure time outside and far more pleasant temperatures to enjoy it.  

I know that I've spoken of Sweet Autumn Clematis any number of times, but today, when the garden is a baked quiche of worn-out plants, she grabbed my attention first visually and then, as I came closer, olfactorily, sensuously dragging me to her by the sweetest of scents.  Clematis terniflora is a changeling, a glorious prankster, and I have a love-hate relationship with her constant attempts to stray into the beds of other plants in the garden, and her ability to hide both pack-rats and weeds inside her ample growth.  This beautiful specimen, climbing charmingly up into the gazebo to caress the bell at its entrance, hides a volunteer rough dogwood beneath its skirts, a dogwood that I've tried multiple times to trim out, missing a piece each time, a series of floral charges repelled, but still the enemy reforms and strikes when my diligence wanes. 

Late August here is also the period when the crape myrtles are the stars of the garden, and although I've mentioned 'Tonto' previously, I don't believe I have ever fully let you appreciate him in bloom. 'Tonto', or more properly Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei 'Tonto', has been a resident in my garden since we moved to the prairie.   Initially he grew on a hillside, tall amongst purple-leaved honeysuckle, but when that hillside was excavated for my "barn," he was moved to anchor one end of a daylily bed.  The daylilies around him long ago quit blooming, and they look pretty bedraggled right now, but 'Tonto' is just reaching his prime; a normal 5 feet tall here in my Kansas garden, with healthy foliage and delicate flowers that defy the burning sun.

Tonto' is one of several mildew resistant hybrids developed by the National Arboretum.   Each of the 25 released varieties was named to honor American Indian tribes, and although I feared that the Arboretum had slipped and named this one after the sidekick of the Lone Ranger, the only "Tonto" that I had ever heard of in my naïve, isolated little life, a little research revealed that the Tontos were an early tribe originating in the Payson, Arizona region, and are now known as the Tonto Apache.  Now satisfied as to the origin of the name of the crape myrtle introduction, while now somewhat unsatisfied of the origin of the name of the TV and fictional character, I can only say that 'Tonto' is a persistent and strong warrior in my garden and I'm happy this Apache is healthy here.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

My Old Friends

My old friend, I recall
The times we had, hanging on my wall
I wouldn't trade them for gold
'Cause they laugh and they cry me
Somehow sanctify me
They're woven in the stories I have told
                                My Old Friend; Tim McGraw

This 2004 Tim McGraw release, from the album Live Like You Were Dying, has been stuck in my head all afternoon, a so-called "ear worm" placed there by Mrs. ProfessorRoush after she had the utter audacity this morning to suggest that I trash my gardening shoes "because they stink up the closet."   

Setting aside the fact that the afore-mentioned closet is by the door to the garage, and that this is only one of two sets of my shoes in the closet, how could she possibly determine that they smell sufficiently bad as to be singled out to smell worse than the 45 pairs of her sandals, running shoes, exercise shoes, winter boots, and various others that share the closet?   Okay, okay, if you pick them up and smell  closely, there's a faint smell of mold or rot, but you practically have to be nose deep in them to detect it.  C'mon man, if you haven't been washed since the summer of '20, you might smell a little gamey too.

Mrs. ProfessorRoush isn't counting the emotional tie we (the shoes and I) have from the shared miles, the complete support of each other through rain and prairie fire, and the tons of earth and stone shoveled, nor does she value the ways a good shoe eventually mirror and mold the feet they protect.   These shoes started out identical to the 4 other pairs waiting in the wings (they're my go-to Amazon order for shoes), but the latter can never replace the memories.   Every torn stitch is a story told, and every scuff a battle fought and won.  They simply can't be replaced, not by newer, shinier shoes and not by the 2nd pair of my shoes in the closet, these made-for-the-garden waterproof clogs purchased 10 years ago on a whim and which hurt my heels if I wear them more than 5 minutes.

There are some topics, and some totems, that the wife of a gardener should just know to leave alone.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush should recognize that she has no more say over the condition of my garden shoes than over my choice of hoe or whether or not I'm going to spray weeds this weekend.   Silence and tolerance are called for here, not aspersion or defamation of a defenseless pair of beloved shoes.  With patience, eventually, they'll disintegrate, molecule by molecule, just like her gardening husband.  In the meantime, both shoes and ProfessorRoush can be washed, and although neither will look new, they won't look or smell any worse than this old set of Mrs. PR's sandals, will they now?  Birkenstocks, Smirkenstocks.

What will she go on to next, if I were to give in and replace these old friends?  My favorite gardening jeans with the hole in one knee?  My gardening cap? Tread lightly wife, for some bonds are simply stronger than marital ties.  The old sneakers fit me so well I don't even have to untie and retie them, I just slip into them now.  And this hat, well, it's just the perfect tightness to not fly away in the Kansas wind.  In the end, nothing should be feared more than a gardener with a good farm hat, comfortable shoes, and a shovel. 

McGraw's song lyrics, by the way, always leave me a little sad and angry anyway, so the continual replay of them in my head isn't helping the wounds heal today.  This song has always reminded me of a childhood friend, one who ran over the woods and farm with me from first grade through high school, and who died in his 40's due to complications from the Crohn's Disease he fought his whole life, shortly after this song was released.  I'm sorry, my friend, that I didn't see you as often as we aged, nor did I try enough to help carry your pain.  I pray now your pains have been washed away like the dirt from these shoes.  "From dirt, to dirt," is not as comforting to a old gardener, as it might seem, particularly when his shoes have been questioned.


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