Sunday, August 11, 2019

Alaska Times

The Turnagain
Friends, sorry about the long lapse in posting, but ProfessorRoush was away from gardening while visiting family in Alaska and OPSEC is that I not disclose my location during my absence. The photo at the right is our first glimpse of some real Alaskan terrain, at an area known as the Turnagain on Highway 1 south of Anchorage.

Fireweed and Black Spruce
Most specifically, we were visiting the Kenai penisula, home to Seward, Homer, and all manner of small outposts.  ProfessorRoush, the traveler, was well satisfied by the scenery, all of it beautiful as demonstrated by the several examples posted below.

Devil's Club
ProfessorRoush, the naturalist, enjoyed the local fauna and flora, at least that which bothered to show itself.  Everywhere, native Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) was blooming, in meadows and singularly, fields and fields of it surrounding the Black Spruce trees and in open areas.  And I became intimately acquainted with Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus), its scientific name aptly giving warning about this prickly undergrowth of the forest.  Look closely at the prickles on the woody stem...and remember not to brush against them!

I also, fauna wise, saw my first real live hornet nest, complete with the hornets, who themselves were not nearly so monstrously large or vicious as the cartoons suggest.  These pictures, however,  were about as close as I wanted to venture and the hornets still didn't seem to like the clicking of the camera mirror. 

Edge Glacier, Seward, Alaska
In Seward, we hiked to the Exit Glacier, one of more than a dozen glaciers spilling off the vast Harding Icefield, and the blue ice and outflow was everything we could have wished it to be.  Seward, rebuilt since it was wiped clean by a tsunami from the 1964 earthquake, also has a really nice aquarium you should visit if you are ever in the area.

Marsh and Mountains, Highway 1, Alaska
For large fauna sightings, however, I was shut-out.    I will report that we saw plenty of salmon fishermen and other tourists during the trip. However, we didn't see a single moose or bear during the trip, despite being out and about every day, and I only saw one Bald Eagle from a distance.  In fact, it got to be a bit of a joke.  My son claims there are only 9 state troopers in all of the very large Kenai penisula, and I saw three of them on the trip, but no moose.  On the way back north to the Anchorage airport, Mrs. ProfessorRoush and I were scanning all the marshes and flat areas, hoping in the late evening to see some large mammals coming down to feed, and at long last I spied two brown lumps moving over a field along the road and turned in for a better look.  They were buffalo at an Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. I'll not bother you with a picture of the buffalo, but I'll leave you with a beautiful scenic view of Homer, Alaska, and its tourist-haven "Spit" extending into the bay.

Looking out towards "The Spit" at Homer, Alaska

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Butterflies and Digger Wasps

Today was that rare day in a gardener's world when ProfessorRoush awoke knowing that his mundane garden chores (mowing, weeding and watering) could be at least temporarily set aside and a more seasonal chore could be tackled.  The chore du jour, moved into the limelight after tickling the back of my mind for weeks, was to bush-hog the pasture, cutting down the weedier prairie forbs to discourage them from seeding and shading out the grasses.

I was greeted immediately at the door of the barn by  this gorgeous creature, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), a female, happily ensconced on the purple-leafed honeysuckle growing nearby.  Obviously auditioning to be noticed, it flittered around for a second and then landed within reach, posing prettily as my iPhone got closer and closer, fearless and serene. I've seldom seen one that will hold still within my arms reach, but I appreciated its willingness to cooperate for a good photo.

Perhaps it knew what I was about to do and was implanting its own seed in me.  In a butterfly-state-of-mind, I soon ended up leaving a large area of the pasture (photo, left) unmowed in hope that the many large milkweeds in this specific area would feed the Monarch migration that will soon come through.  If you click on the picture, you'll see that almost all of the tall "weeds" are Common Milkweed.  These milkweeds grow here, and not abundantly elsewhere in my pasture, because this is where the dirt was moved during the excavation of the barn over a decade ago.  The disturbed prairie soil in that area has been the home to milkweeds ever since, silent testimony to how long it takes the prairie to heal.  I did see, from the tractor seat, a single Monarch flitting around the area, so I know more will follow.  I'll mow this area later in the fall, after the Monarchs are gone.

Later in the morning, during a mowing break, I was passing through a garden bed, weeding as I often do along the journey from barn to house, when a little movement of earth and an odd sandy hole caught my eye.  Looking closer, I made acquaintance with none other than what I believe to be a Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus).  I've never seen one before, but a little Web research informed me that these are one of God's more useful and fascinating creatures.  The Great Golden Digger Wasp paralyzes the bodies of Orthoptera (grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets) and places them in these ground nests to serve as food for its developing larvae, thus endearing it to the gardener through its slaughter of our common enemies.

Yes Dear Reader, I am aware that at times my gardening blog has a tendency to morph into a naturalist journal, but even while apologizing for such digressions, I also have to point out that this is one of the risks you take when you follow the meanderings of a curious mind.  I pray, sometimes, that these little side journeys enrich your life.  Join me please; preserve all the milkweed you can for the Monarchs and, now that we know what they are, help me protect all the Great Golden Digger Wasps that want to burrow in our gardens.  The butterflies, digging wasps, and I, thank you!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

This Incredible Place

I do not know what changes that retirement, ever more imminent and ever more imagined as my clock winds relentlessly down, will bring to this life, but I was struck tonight, and related to Mrs. ProfessorRoush, that whatever the future holds, I don't think I can ever move from this place, this piece of earth that I know so well.

I know its moods; its sunny overbearing exuberance, its threatening and yet beautiful summer storms, its winter icy blizzards, its fall foliage kaleidoscope, and even its few cloudy, dreary days.  I can sense the rains coming hours away and predict when the officially-predicted storms will go around us.  I curse, sometimes, at the fickle nature of this land, like the thousands before who washed up on these prairies, but I love her always.

This morning started with the wall cloud pictured here, moving over us far earlier than the weatherpersons had predicted, delivering just enough moisture to wet the grass and suspend my mowing, but not enough to drive me in.  I puttered, I weeded, I fertilized, damp throughout, but happy in the garden.  The periodic clouds later afternoon became a drizzle, and then a smidgen of wetness, not enough to grace the ground deeply, but carrying some badly needed cooler temperatures.

Then, late evening, as I was passing through the kitchen, I noticed the setting sun and golden skies in the clearing west shining into the drizzle continuing to the east and thought to myself, "that means there is likely a rainbow to the south."

Wow.  I mean, wow was there ever a rainbow!  The most glorious double rainbow I've ever seen started just at the next hill south and arced completely over the house to the northeast, enveloping my house and world in wonderment.  The first photo above shows the view at the north corner of the garage, the photo at the left follows the rainbow as it rounded the south corner of the house, heading towards the neighborhoods of Manhattan.

I'll leave you here tonight, at the southwest caress of the rainbow onto the prairie.  You can click, if you wish, on the perfect iPhone panorama below of the complete double rainbow and enlarge it to full glory.  Stare in awe as long as you like, just as I did on first sight of it.  This rainbow tonight has welcomed the sunshine back to the prairie, chased the heat of summer from the Flint Hills, and reminded ProfessorRoush that life is more beautiful and precious with the passing of each moment.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Noel, how am I doing?

A few weeks back, I read a blog post of Noel Kingsbury's titled "Mind the Gap," a very interesting read about the evolution toward ever-increasing plant density in garden design.  Kingsbury, whose blog I follow and whom I believe is one of the best of current garden writers and researchers, tries at least, to stick to some science-proven basics in gardening.  I find that his blog entries often break through the dry and compacted surface of homespun garden wisdom to provide some fresh nourishment to garden practices.

In his blog, Noel was sharing the results of a seven-year experiment in planting density published in the April 2019 Plantsman. and he related how "delighted at how little time I spent on this (weeding), only a few minutes per plot per year."  Despite the naturalistic planting methods he was investigating, he was able to conclude that, unlike previous widely-held gardener expectations, the plots did not become a monoculture of a dominant plant; "no one species took over."  At least in Herefordshire, about as far from my Kansas environment, in terms of sunshine and moisture, as a garden can probably get.

As a gardener, ProfessorRoush is by no means so focused on a garden design plan or even a logical planting sequence as the eminent Mr. Kingsbury, but my inner farm-boy hates to see bare ground.  So my front landscape is essentially a hodgepodge of crowded plants developed over a period of now almost 18 years.  I started out with some nicely spaced plants, but my gardening has evolved and the plants in the border have undergone an intense Darwinian thinning.  When something dies, or gets crowded out, I replace it or remove it with something else, with the result of a dizzying mess of plants that I very rarely need to weed and only then usually with a quick tug at an errant solitary stem as I pass by.

The photo at the top of this blog was taken just this morning facing east at sunrise, and in a quick glance, you can take in blooming 'David' phlox, three varieties of daylilies, some bright red Monarda, and a white oriental lily.  Faded away are the Paeonia tenuifolia and Iris, and waiting in the wings you can discern some garden sedum biding time until fall.  Like Noel's experimental plot, I simply clear the dead foliage every spring and weed every third week for a few minutes.

Another view 7/13/2019
The second photo above shows the same area from a slightly different viewpoint taken in late May, with voluptuous herbaceous peonies, iris, and globe aliums predominant, while more subtle yellows are added in the background by the variegated foliage of Forsythia 'Fiesta' and Euonymous 'Moonshadow'.

Another perspective of the bed, taken recently from the front, shows the opposite end of this bed, which I fully admit is mostly a morass of Knautia macedonia that is successfully outcompeting most of the daylilies and irises of this area and pushing the red Monarda to the edges of the Knautia empire.  Next year, I need to remember to thin back the volunteer Knautia seedlings.  I certainly don't want to eliminate it; Knautia macedonia was one of the first plants I sought out that was specifically recommended for the brutal Kansas climate and it survives the droughts that have killed off other groundcovers in the area.

Turning around from the previous perspective, facing west, the opposite bed is a mass of Orienpet lilies, and daylilies, with a rose or two thrown in.  There is also a pair of barely visible panicled Hydrangea up against the garage here, planted just last year and yet to reach full growth.  Some asters to the left are overgrown this year and yet to bloom.

So my obvious question now is, "Noel, how am I doing?"  Aside from perhaps allowing the Knautia to self-seed a little too exuberantly (in defense of its neighboring plants, it seems to have been over-stimulated this year by the excess rain), am I approaching the new crowded-planting conception? Is there anything else you think I can crowd in here?


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