Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fall and Winter

'John Cabot'
Where to begin?  It's been so long since my last post.  I had the desire, I had the need, but I lacked the final urgency to blog.  There was always something more pressing, more distracting, more immediate.  Excuses aside, by late August, I gave up on the garden and its Japanese Beetles and its drought. I was trying to ignore the actions of some unknown burrowing creature that was attempting to dig half of the garden up and I was disgusted by the lack of blooms and wilting daily along with the flowers.

Renewal, however, is always just around the corner in a garden.  There were always bright spots, refreshing moments like the 'John Cabot' rose (photo above) trying to climb through an old sitting bench near it.  The spray was half eaten away, but it still shone like the entrance to heaven from halfway across the garden.  I rallied in time to purchase a couple of dozen daylily starts at the local sale and gathered the energy to water them enough to keep them alive.   And the irrepressible  crape myrtles bloomed on time and gave way to panicled hydrangeas and late summer shrubs in their due time.

Sweet Gum
By September, we had a deficit of 10 inches of annual rainfall, almost half of the normal total expected.  Then, in a single night, the drought was extinguished by a deluge, parts of Manhattan were temporarily under water, the farm ponds filled and overflowed, and the ground cracks disappeared.  Over the following 2 weeks, three separate rainfalls added another 11 inches to the total, a year's rain in less than a month, and the world was mud.

Fall was nice while it lasted.  My young Sweet Gum, Liquidambar styraciflua (above, left), won my undying gratitude for its glowing orange fall foliage, and the prairie began to greet the sun every morning with its own display of gold and rust (below).  There are many here who believe fall is the best season on the prairie, and I can scarcely find any reason to quibble.

Despite the rejuvenating rain, the garden had little time to respond, as fall was short-lived.  On October 15th, two weeks earlier than any I've seen in 30 years of living here, we got a heavy wet snowfall of 3 inches.  While it made a winter wonderland of the landscape, it was an early finish to the annuals and the sedum and the chrysanthemums.  You can call it "weather," instead of climate change, all you want, but a record-early snowfall of decades, to the garden and to me, suggests that things are getting colder, not warmer.  We've already had 4 separate snowfalls in the last month, another anomaly for my scrapbook.  My unscientific conclusions were also bolstered by the "climate" of last weekend, as we smashed a 110 year old record overnight low for the date.  Maunder minimums, meet the 3rd millennium!  

I'll leave you, here on the 2nd day of December, 2018, with these last two pictures to ponder.  The first, taken at 7:52 a.m last Sunday, was my back garden at the start of a day of incoming climate.  The second, taken just after 11:00 a.m. through the same window, the frozen tundra that was previously my back garden.  That morning, if a mastodon had come lumbering out of the gale-driven snowfall, I wouldn't have batted an eye.  Except for the 4 foot drift on my front sidewalk, which I shoveled away while I composed a spirited few words that might have taken Al Gore's name in vain, most of this snow is already gone, feeding the prairie grass roots deep in the saturated soil.   This year, at least, I won't have to worry about the lack of soil moisture available for the shrubs as the ground freezes and churns.  Climate-change has its own little gifts, I guess.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Welcome Late Bloomers

Magnolia 'Jane' bud
As a comment on my last post, my fellow Kansas blogger Br. Placidus asked if my garden had "burst into bloom like a desert after a storm?" following the recent rains.  Yesterday, as I was mowing, I saw that it was indeed coming alive, new growth perking up here and there, and of course, weeds and more weeds everywhere!  I'm trying to stay ahead of the weeds, but the crabgrass is advancing on a massive front and I'm being flanked and overrun left and right.  There are a few sporadic roses blooming, primarily 'Polar Ice' and 'Iobelle', but many are showing a few buds and suggesting I should have hope for a late September R. rugosa rampage.

Lagerstroemia 'Centennial Spirit'
Oddly though, the plants that are the most visible bloomers right now are plants that I wouldn't have even tried to grow in my garden two decades ago, those I would have been afraid to attempt when I was solidly Zone 5.  The crape myrtles in the garden are all presently blooming profusely, beacons of color spotted around the garden.  In fact, Mrs. ProfessorRoush, peering from the gloom of the house during one of the recent rains, asked me if the bright red plant 80 feet away was a red rose.  Nope, Honey, that's 'Centennial Spirit', which annually reaches around 4-6 feet in my garden (4 feet in this drought year). and then dies back every year.  Thankfully, crape myrtles are one flower that rain doesn't seem to blanch or destroy.

Lagerstroemia 'Tonto'
The other crapes that I have, red and short 'Cherry Dazzle', tall and slender white 'Natchez', a lavender crape myrtle saved from a city bed destined for destruction, and squat purple-pink 'Tonto', are all blooming now as well.  'Tonto', pictured at right, sits as the lone tall plant in a bed of daylilies, anchoring the bed for me and drawing attention away from the weeds among the daylilies at this time of year. 

The most surprising bloomer however, is magnolia hybrid 'Jane', one of the 'Little Girl' ‘hybrids developed at the National Arboretum in the mid-1950's by Francis DeVos and William Kosar.  A cross between M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ and M. stellata ‘Rosea’, 'Jane' blooms about two weeks later than M. stellata in my garden, usually profusely in early April and usually just in time to get its petals browned by a late frost.  What most printed sources don't tell you, but I've seen several times, is that 'Jane' will repeat bloom, albeit less prolifically, in the fall. I've seen occasional blooms on my darker-pink 'Ann' as well, although she seems to be lacking them this year.  I did find one forum entry that discussed reblooming of liliacs, and one of the respondents indicated that M. stellata, M. liliiflora, and M. loebneri may rebloom in summer.  Since 'Jane' and 'Ann' are hybrids of the two former species, I guess it makes a little sense to see them rebloom.  Sporadic though they might be, that brief promise of magnolia fragrance in the off-season is a welcome gift from my garden. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

When a Kansas drought ends.... really ends.  If you've been wondering where I've been, I've been in Garden Depression-land, with only time to spare on weekends for watering everything that I didn't want to die.  It has been bad between the drought and the winds that took out several trees in my yard, among them my beloved ornamental Red Peach tree.  The only bright-side of my summer has been that I only mowed once from mid-July to late August.  Dry grass is tolerable when the mowee, i.e. me, doesn't have to sit on a roaring lawn mower for several hours each week.  

Two weeks ago, I happened to look in the local newspaper at the weather snapshot, to find out that, as I suspected, around 12+ inches of rain had fallen in Manhattan this year and we were 10+ inches lower than average.  So we had half our normal rainfall and all of our normal hot July temperatures by the middle of August.  I have been collecting weather radar pictures of storms going north and south of us all summer for the purpose of blogging about it, but couldn't bring myself to include you in my depression.  

And then, surprisingly, it started to rain.  Yes, here, in the Flint Hills!  In the past two weeks, we had several 2-3 inch rains that probably totaled 10 inches so I thought we were back on track, although the paper yesterday said that we were still 6 inches behind normal.  I forgot that annual rainfall is a moving target but at least we were catching up.  Suddenly everything is green again and I've had to mow weekly the past two weekends.
But last night the skies fell in!  From midnight to 6 a.m., the rain overwhelmed all my gauges, including the 5" gauge in the front landscaping on the blue hummingbird pole (2nd picture from top) and the 7.5" gauge in the back of the house at the top right. If you can't tell tell from the pictures, both are filled to their rims.   I have no idea how much rain we really had.  The pots with plugged drainage holes, above and to the left, also filled up to their brims, but at that point they were probably splashing out more droplets than were staying in them.  So your guess is as good as mine.  All this water was dumped into what is known as the "Wildcat Creek Basin," flooding an apartment complex, the town soccer fields, and a shopping center on the west side of Manhattan.  We even made the national NBC news tonight!  And now, some chances of rain are forecast 6 days of the next 7.  Can somebody please control the spigot better?

So, I'll try to blog from time-to-time again, since I have a garden and it seems to be green in places.  But I might get caught up in a whole series of new experiences.  For example, this morning, as I walked from the front yard around the house to the back, I was hearing the sound of a waterfall.  Waterfall>? Wait, what?  And then I realized; my neighbor's pond, which doesn't hold water and has been dry all summer, had filled up and was overflowing around the edge.  I, of course, rushed inside immediately to tell Mrs. ProfessorRoush that I had finally gotten her the garden water feature she's been wanting!
Incidentally, I thought about titling this blog entry, "When it rains, it pours."   Too cliche though, right?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Digging Dry Taters

Fourth of July found ProfessorRoush out digging up some early potatoes.  I only planted 10 potato halves this year, to provide just a hill or two of taste at a time, and Mrs. ProfessorRoush wanted fresh sweet corn and new potatoes for a 4th of July dinner.  I could provide the potatoes, but since I had planned a corn-less garden year, the nearby market had to provide the corn.  Anyway, two plants worth of potatoes later, we had a nice  mess of fresh potatoes to eat.

Yes, I planted only blue potatoes this year.  I'm tired of 'Red Norland' and 'Yukon Gold' around here.  Blue potatoes are supposed to be "healthier" if you listen to all the hype,  but I suspect they're just another potato, a little more starchy and gimmicky than most.  I didn't know until recently that there were different varieties of blue potatoes, from heirlooms to 'Royal Blue' to 'Adirondack Blue', the latter bred and released by a trio of provessors from Cornell University in 2003.  The things you learn while blogging; because it retains color when cooked, the 'Adirondack Blue' variety is used by the Penn State Alumni to sell potato chips in the Penn State colors.   You would think that Cornell wouldn't allow that, Ivy League rivalries being what they are.  Maybe the 'Adirondack Blue' variety is secretly bred to decrease the testosterone of rival football players.  Never put anything past a University professor.

ProfessorRoush knew that it was dry around here, since every lawn-mowing this summer  is essentially a dust storm where I come back in looking, as my daughter said, like I "work in a coal mine."  The lack of serious rain since last Fall has been obvious in the sparse bloom and winter-kill of many plants this spring and summer.  But the garden soil, when I planted this spring, had been moist and workable enough and I had watered these potatoes regularly when they were young.  Digging them out now, however presented me with a different story.  The ground is rock hard, essentially concrete sans gravel.  On the right is one of the holes I dug, complete with a few potatoes that I haven't yet picked up at the top of the photo.  There are monstrous solid dry clods that the fork can't pry loose without extra effort.  Thankfully, I've got soaker hoses running to the tomatoes and melons, but this dirt caused me to give all the shrubs and roses a good deep soaking this Sunday morning.  Three and a half hours later, I think it will all might just survive another week.  A week that is forecast in the high 90ºF's and 100ºF's with no rain in the next 10 days.  We probably won't see rain again until September, so this morning's hand-watering will be likely repeated weekly for awhile.  So much for weekend rest.


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