Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Charlie Brown's Daylilies

I think just about everyone is aware of the iconic cultural image in the Peanut's cartoon strip where Charlie Brown cannot resist trying to kick the football held by Lucy, who pulls it away from him every time.  From now on, when you think of Charlie Brown with footballs, think of me with daylilies.

'Lady Betty Fritz'
 I am well aware that most daylilies are some shade of orange, despite what we want them to be.  Years ago, I read and took to heart the excellent summary of daylily colors by Cassandra Danz in Mrs. Greenthumbs, where she translates daylily color terminology for neophytes from "melon," "peach," and "deep red" to "orange", "light orange", and "looks like orange from a few feet away" respectively.  I don't really mind orange daylilies.  And I do believe that the red daylilies are starting to really look red, and there are some excellent purple daylilies out there, even though they do not stand out well in a dark green border in the garden. But, unlike the 200+ roses in my garden and numerous irises that I can identify on sight, there are very few daylilies I can differentiate.  The whites all look alike, the purples look similar, and I have no hope for the apricot-melon-oranges.

Yet, I cannot resist some naive impulse that allows me to believe the fantastically colored pictures on daylily plant tags.  Yesterday, Hemerocallis 'Lady Betty Fritz', pictured at the upper right, bloomed for the first time in my garden..   Although admittedly it is a first bloom on a small plant, it bears little resemblance to the fantastic coloring on the plant tag, as reproduced to the left, nor to pictures one the web.  Nor to the description on the back of the tag; "flowers ivory with a red eye and double-red gold edge above a green throat."  Now, I don't know about you, but I would call the eye "maroon" or "deep purple-rust", not "red."  And the "double red-gold" edge is barely present.  And there is no ivory that I can see.  I purchased this one at a reputable nursery, so I don't think it is merely mislabeled.  And I don't think that I've misplaced the plant;  it is one of only three new daylilies I've planted this year.  The bloom size WAS very large.  But I can only conclude that daylily describers are all just imaginative Lucy's.

I've been taken in again and again, long enough that I suppose I'm beyond hope for learning the lesson.  At least the local annual Hemerocallis Society sale, where I buy most of my daylilies at cut-rate prices, throws the fans on tables labeled "orange", "yellow" and "pink", and so I'm less likely to be disappointed.  I just need to stay away from catalogues and fanciful plant tags.  Perhaps a local Daylilies Anonymous would be helpful.  Anyone else care to join?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A better KnockOut

All of you know that I pretty much despise the wildly popular 'Knockout' rose, right?  No surprises there for any regular readers.  Well, I'll show you a rose that, if we must have a rose whose primary purpose is to bloom and bloom for landscaping enhancement, has 'Knockout' and its relatives beat to shame.

That rose is 'Champlain', a 1982 Canadian rose of the Explorer series, named to honor the founder of the city of Quebec, and touted everywhere for its continuous flowering habit by everyone who grows it.   In fact, it is the third longest blooming rose of the Canadian releases.  I have two, one in full sun in a long border in the garden proper and a shaded one in my front landscaping near the house that has only a northeast exposure.  The latter also has a tree to its immediate east, so it might see direct sun 4 hours a day in the summer and barely at all in the winter.  Both bloom their heads off, although I have to admit the one in the sun does have a more continuous bloom pattern.

'Champlain' is a healthy rose, free of mildew and almost free of blackspot (I see a little on them in humid August every other year and they lose some lower leaves).  Flowers are bright red (a much better red than vivid pukey off-red 'Knockout'), are 6-7 cm in diameter, and have 30 petals.  There is an occasional white streak to the petals as you can see in the second picture.  'Champlain' is a complex hybrid of a cross between 'R. Kordesii' and 'Max Graff' on one side and a seedling from' Red Dawn' and 'Suzanne' on the other.  It seems to be easy to start from softwood cuttings because that is where my 2nd plant came from.  Hardy to Zone 2, it has never had any dieback here in zone 5.  Canadian climates do have some dieback as noted in Robert Osborne and Beth Pownings Hardy Roses.

In front, part sun 
So how many ways is 'Champlain' better than 'Knockout'?  Let's see, better color, better hardiness in the far northern climes, and likely a more continuous bloom.  I'm actually going to count weeks this year for the 'Double Knockout' and 'Champlain' in my garden to determine the latter once and for all.  'Champlain' has a better shrub form, with thinner canes than the hybrid-tea-like gawky canes of the original 'Knockout'.  But most importantly, both my 'Champlain's have grown to three feet tall and wide and have NEVER been pruned.  Never.  Not a single cut.  Around here, many commercial places trim their 'Knockout' to the ground each year, or at least trim them to keep them within reason because it can get to be a six foot bush when left alone.   'Champlain' seems to reach an "adult" size and then just stop growing.  How cool is that?  Heck, even Martha Stewart approves of it.

In back, full sun
Sadly, although it is listed in Ag Canada's Winter-Hardy Roses as having a little fragrance, I can detect none with my middle-aged male nose.

I point out that single drawback solely in hopes that not all of you will choose to grow this nearly-perfect landscape rose.  If 'Champlain' was grown everywhere by everyone, I'm sure that I wouldn't like it nearly as much.  I'm peculiar that way.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Evasive Maneuvers

Well, since Connie at Hartwood Roses has been distracted this week with a resident mockingbird and now a vacant nest, I feel I should gamely (chuckle) follow that theme and show you my own avian close encounter.

Mama Killdeer looks angry!
Again this summer, the long straight lines of my lawn mowing pattern have been interrupted by an intractable Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) who has insisted that her nest be placed in my front lawn in the short grass.  I thought I would avoid the problem this year by leaving a few areas unmowed on the fringes of my mowed prairie grass yard, but evidently the shorter grass is the preferred habitat.  I first spied this little dinosaur remnant staring at me as my mower edged closer and closer.  She is definitely give me a beady-eyed stare.

Killdeer feigning a broken wing amidst the buffalograss
As you get closer to their nests, those of you who know about Killdeer know that they will try to lure you away by pretending that they have a broken wing, hoping the stupid roaring green predator (I mow with a John Deere tractor) will ignore the nest and go after the injured bird.  They have a pitiful cry as well (the "vociferus" species name), just in case the broken wing wasn't enough to lure you in.  If you follow them, they'll stay just far enough ahead to keep you coming on, away from their nest, until they decide that enough is enough and demonstrate that they can fly quite fine, thank you.

If you notice where the little harlot started her dance, you can get a visual treat and see her clutch of (usually) four eggs laid in a small depression in the ground, camouflaged by their shell pattern and surroundings, but without any other protection. Once I find the nest whose position the parent betrayed to me, I give it a wide berth with the mower.  No sense in having smashed eggs or mangled little chicks on my conscience on top of everything else.  And anyway, Killdeer primarily consume insects, including grasshoppers, caterpillars, and other pests.  The more Killdeer I have around, the healthier my garden is.

Killdeer nest on bare ground
Killdeer can have two broods a year, and both the male and the female incubate the eggs and rear the young, so I really don't know if my pictures are of a male or female (I thought it would be rude to lift her tail to check).  In a couple of weeks, these eggs will hatch some chicks who will appear to be composed primarily of legs.  They will leave the nest behind within a couple of days to seek shelter in taller grass, so unless I watch them close, I'll see eggs and then see nothing, just a little tuft of dead grass on the lawn to tell me where they used to be.  Nature waits for no gardener.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buck's Golden Princess

Rosa 'Golden Princess'
Now that we've had a day of sunshine, I can't wait any longer to show you my two-year-old toddling princess from the breeding program of the late Professor Griffith Buck.  So, without further ado; live from the Flint Hills of Kansas and having barely escaped drowning and freezing to death; the slightly rain-damaged blossoms of 'Golden Princess':

'Golden Princess' seems to be a little-known output from Dr. Buck, but I believe she deserves better recognition.  The earliest official description I have from an often copied, old type-written font sheet, is that she is a yellow-blend shrub rose of 1984 vintage.  The current Iowa State extension website describes the rose and its coloring in dry terms as "The large, ovoid-pointed buds of pale aureolin yellow (RHSCC 12D) open to double (30-35 petals), cupped, open. 4-4.5 inch blooms of deeper aureolin yellow (RHSCC 12A) tinted spinel red (RHSCC 54A) on petal edges, and finishing pale spinel red (RHSCC 54C)."  I suppose that if you have a Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart, you could make probably some sense of that cold scientific description, but suffice it to say that the picture at upper right is accurately hued, and the rose is essentially a yellow-cream-golden blend fading to pink and almost red at the edges.  For those who like golden-yellow-peachish-orange blooms such as Peace and Alchymist, this rose is a "must grow." 

'Golden Princess' blooms all summer in clusters of 1-5 and the blooms have a moderate degree of fragrance.  The rose survives here in Zone 5B Kansas with some tip die-back noted both years that I have grown it, but the semi-glossy, dark green foliage is iron clad during the growing season and requires no spray for disease.  Parentage was a little hard to come by, but is listed on the Elko County, Nevada, Rose website and on helpmefind as "Hawkeye Belle (seed) X (Roundelay X Country Music) (pollen).  I don't know how those writers know that, so take that information with a grain of salt.  Regardless, as a shrub, 'Golden Princess' is small, only about 2 feet tall and 1.5 feet wide beginning its third summer for me, so it is perfectly suited for a small garden.  As the only drawback that I can see, it has large tan thorns that are a bit on the wicked side when it comes time for Spring pruning.

Give her a try for a manageable shrub rose of startling beauty.  Did I mention that the best part of this rose may be the just-opening buds?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Little Whitewash

We've now had 6 inches of rain in the past 6 days, the weather has turned cold again, and my  roses, at peak bloom, are drowned and misshapen.  You can stop now, God, and I promise I'll stop complaining about the lack of rain around here for awhile.

But I will take advantage of the lousy weather and lack of decent rose pictures to slip a little gardening tip into the blog.  I've written previously about obtaining some nice glass cloches last January that I was, and am now, immensely proud of.  They served me well through a frigid winter and a cold and unpredictable Spring here in Kansas until a few weeks ago, when the weather hit the 80's.  I found then that some of the new roses were getting a little bit "burnt" in them.  And no wonder, because I found later that a clear glass cloche in my garden, at an ambient air temperature of 81F on noon of a clear sunny day, has an interior temperature, measured by my soil thermometer, of 140F!  Time for the cloches to come off, but the weather has been so variable, and with night temperatures reaching into the 40's, that I really didn't want to keep them off, nor did I want to be running around every day and night covering and uncovering them.

So, when the rose leaves began to fry a little, I got it into my head that I could whitewash the cloches, just like K-State does its glass greenhouses.  I did a quick search around town for some plain old whitewash, thinking that a little "shading" would improve the problem, and came up empty.  So I turned to the Internet, the modern Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and came up with a simply made whitewash formula.  After coating the interior of the cloches with my homemade whitewash, as shown above, the interior temperature on the same sunny day was only 98F, a vast improvement and survivable by the roses, particularly during weeks like this, where the high temperatures have been in the 70's recently, the nights in the 50's, and it has rained for days.

Remember fellow gardeners, cloches are just mobile greenhouses and whitewash does wonders for the plants under the glass.  The formula, cut down to a small, manageable amount, is below:

3 parts hydrated lime
1 part salt
8 parts water

If you substitute the word "cups" for "parts" above, it will make about a half-gallon of whitewash, which goes a long way, so you can cut it down if you need less (that's why I converted the recipe to "parts").    Be careful to mix in small amounts of each ingredient slowly, so that the powdery lime doesn't just clump up and become hard to stir. It was recommended to let it sit overnight, but I used it immediately and it seemed to work well. It's fairly watery when mixed, but remember it is a wash, not a paint.  I did use a paintbrush to slop it on the interior of the glass, though.  So nice to "paint" and not worry about how much I drip on the ground!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Picture This entry for May

My entry to Gardening Gone Wild's Picture This contest for May is below:  The iris 'Victoria Falls,' with its throne revealed after a walk up the velvety-blue corridor and the cellular structure of the cathedral awning above.

Morden Sunrise Glorius

I present to you this morning a rose that I allowed a prime space in my beds, but one that has never been quite satisfying enough for me.  Somewhat rare, I obtained the Canadian rose 'Morden Sunrise' in 2002, just a few years after its 1999 introduction by the Morden Experimental Station.

'Morden Sunrise' is a somewhat-yellow flowered Parkland Rose. Actually, the official description of "yellow flowered" is pityingly inadequate to describe the colors of this rose, and it is the marvelous color of this rose that makes it worthwhile to keep.  In my garden, the blooms vary in all colors of orange and yellow, with an occasional pink blush thrown in.  The orange and pink seem to predominate during cooler spring weather, with yellow more prevalent in the summer doldrums.  The bloom form is uninspiring to me, semidouble, with only 8 petals, produced in clusters of 4-8, and it is mildly fragrant, but the delicate nature of the blooms makes it up.

'Morden Sunrise' stands as a specimen plant in my front landscaping, but, although her bloom is pleasant, it has not quite provided the spectacular show I had hoped for. My main knock against this rose is that it seems to lack a certain amount of vigor. I nursed it for several years, expecting it to either die or get over whatever was holding it back, but its basic nature is unchanged even though this year is the healthiest I've yet seen the rose. It just doesn't do a lot of growing during the season, nor does it bloom so profusely that it will just "wow" the gardener.

'Morden Sunrise' is reportedly hardy to zone 3, but she occasionally has a little tip dieback here in Zone 5b.  The bush has  a vase-like shape and erect stems to about 2.5 feet in my climate.  The foliage is shiny, dark green and very resistant to blackspot and mildew and she doesn't need sprayed.  It was a complex cross of Rosa arkansana, 'Assiniboine', 'Sunsprite', 'White Bouquet', 'Fire King', and 'Prairie Princess', so maybe the problem is that all that heritage was just a little too mixed up. 

Anyway, for those rosarians out there who have been thinking of giving her a try, if you like the blooms of 'Westerland' and 'Alchymist', then 'Morden Sunrise' is worth a spot in your garden.  But if you want a rose to draw visitors from the street, she probably won't pull in the bystanders, however beautiful she is.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I was suspicious before, but am now convinced, that the biggest impediment to successful gardening is not drought, or wind, or weeds, or blazing sun.  It is surely the gardener's family and other unnecessary hangers-on.

Allow me to provide a timely pertinent example.  Last night, when my daughter was returned by a shaggy-haired but amiable creature she refers to as her boyfriend, they had driven around so much that she was afraid that he wouldn't have sufficient fuel to make it to a gas station.  Since my daughter's curfew is long after her gardening father is soundly nestled in dreams of formal rose gardens, my wife wisely chose not to awaken me for such a dire need, but she then proceeded to move from the merely inadvisable to the completely unthinkable.  She entered my domain of tools and associated man-stuff and gave my beloved 5-gallon gas can, which contained a couple of errant gallons of gas, to the boyfriend and my daughter to add to his car.

This morning, as we were waking, She Who Steals Gas Cans (Mrs. ProfessorRoush) mentioned to me that she wasn't sure they had put the "lid" back on right.  Sure enough, I went out to find that the first (lower) cap containing the spout was in place, but the upper cap, the one that actually seals the can, was missing.  I located it in the driveway, destroyed from being driven over, as pictured at the right above.

God evidently thinks that it is not enough of a trial that the other inhabitants of my household destroyed a critical part to an heirloom gas can that I have successfully used and cared for over 20 years. It is now evident to me, after an exhaustive search around town, that all gas cans are now sold with a #(*@&$ CARB-complaint nozzle that helps you spill gas all over creation.  "CARB," if you're not aware, stands for "California Air Resources Board," a group who has evidently conspired to create self-venting and self-sealing standards for gas cans that make it impossible to actually get the gas out of the can. So, once again, thank you, California, for taking the lead to screw up and regulate another simple process because of a minor percentage of idiots on the planet.  I had to purchase one of these spouts recently on a kerosene container so I could douse and burn a few cedar stumps.  The "non-spillable" spout leaked so much kerosene everywhere that every time I lit the match to burn a stump, I was unsure if just the stump or also my pants and shoes were going to go up in flames.  It makes for some interesting dance steps for fire-starting, I'll guarantee you.

 So, having already searched the local hardware and big-box stores for a non-CARB-compliant gas can, I spent the morning wandering nomad-like among garage sales, a modern Diogenes searching not for an honest man, but for a gardener-friendly gas can.  I finally gave up and found them for sale on the Internet (GOING FAST!) for $30.00, approximately 5 times the cost of the CARB cans found locally, but worth every penny. I briefly considered sinking my entire retirement fund into hoarding the remaining planetary supply of these essential pieces of plastic, but ultimately I planned to buy three; one to use and two to keep hidden and locked away in the attic.  I figured that, given that I'm 52 years old, at an average 20 years use, if the final can got destroyed after I'm 90 it would be somebody else's turn to fill the lawn mower anyway.  Alas, when I hit the "purchase button" they were "out of stock."  Evidently they did GO FAST!  In the meantime, I can't think of a decent garden use for my old friend, so I've given it an honest burial in the garden, singing "In the Sweet By and By" to it so as to complete a heart-rending ritual known only to modern, middle-aged, gardening fathers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Charming Combinations

I've long been convinced that the best reason for anyone to take photographs of their own gardens is that it allows each gardener to look at the garden through the eyes of another.  My grumbling over weeds and overgrown edging and thrips and blackspot often go away under the camera's lens.  And I'm left occasionally believing I've accidentally done something right.

Last night, the plant combinations were I noticed the most through my viewfinder, some of which were planned and others that were happenstance from squeezing in one new plant next to another.  As a planned combination, I've always liked the juxtaposition of the 'Red Prince' Weigela, the white 'Sir Thomas Lipton' rose, and the yellow-foliaged 'Golden Spirit' smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’) at the end of this bed:

And I think I did okay with the 'Globemaster' Allium in front of shrub rose 'Carefree Sunshine':

I also like both of my accidental combinations of the dark iris in front of orange, red and white rose 'Betty Boop' (right) or next to bright red Papaver bracteatum (below).  Either, at peak bloom, are to die for, don't you think? 

Not everything always works.  The Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki' to the right doesn't really contrast off the 'Emerald Gaiety' Euonymus in front if it (it was a replacement for a failed coralberry).  It will look better, I promise, in a week when the light pink English rose 'Heritage' blooms to the left of it.  The gardener keeps trying.....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Digital Wind

I've been a mite perturbed lately with the quality of some of my posted pictures, worrying that I was having a hard time picking from pictures who all seemed to be a little blurry.  I was beginning to wonder, in fact,  if my autofocus settings had gone out of whack. 

But, taking about 80 pictures last night, the culprit was not my camera, but was all around me, spitting and thrusting, zigging and zagging my subjects.  No matter how fast I tried to force the shutter speed by opening the aperture, the wind was foiling my efforts. You want motion as part of your garden ambiance?  You want to capture motion in your photographs?  Come move next to me on the Flint Hills and try a few photos of your garden.

Look closely at the picture above, taken of the bright red rugosa-floribunda cross 'Hunter' in my front landscape bed.  Some branches, especially the stiffer variegated euonymus just behind the rose and a few of the flowers in the center, are perfectly still, while others are being thrown from side to side, just a blur on the photo.  And below, starting to bloom is the miniature climber 'Jeanne Lavoie',  the tied-up canes in the center in focus, while one of the new canes in the foreground is whipping side to side.  

There has been so much wind this Spring that I'm developing a persecution complex.  Several days, driving home from a day of work, I notice that the wind seems calm.  The first thing I do on those days, even before supper, is to grab a camera and rush to the garden, only there to find the wind seems to gust every time I aim the camera in anticipation of a shot. Even when there aren't random gusts, there is a constant steadier wind that has been interfering with my closeups day after day.  What evil lies in the hills and grass, that it can detect my presence in the garden and summon up a breeze to frustrate my photography?

Please, God, give me just a few calm days here in the Springtime during the rose bloom.  I know that August will come inevitably with 100F temperatures and a complete lack of breeze for weeks, but the pictures taken then will often still show motion as the flowers open and quickly dehydrate and shrivel.  I'm just asking for a windless day, say Saturday, when the roses are in peak bloom and the sun is perfect and the wind is still.  Please? 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Floral Turkeys

Peony 'Shirley Temple'
As filler, my local newspaper this week picked up an article on peonies written by Adrian Higgins from The Washington Post, originally titled "Best Peonies for the D.C. area".  It was, of course, retitled here in Manhattan, Kansas since the editors knew I wouldn't care which peony is best for D.C.  Higgins started out his discussion of peony gardening and new peony varieties with the most delightful statements:  "Before any of us were born, plant breeders looked at the Chinese peony and decided that if a variety had many petals, its offspring would look much better with far more....Gardener's describe these gluttonous flowers as fully double.  They're the floral equivalent of turkeys so meaty they can't fly."

I had to chuckle, because truer words were never written.  "Floral equivalent of turkeys so meaty they can't fly," Ha, Ha, Hah.  Mr. Higgins was referring at that point to the peony varieties that we all know, love, and think of as "real" peonies; the ubiquitous 'Sarah Bernhardt', 'Festiva Maxima', 'Felix Crousse', and 'Karl Rosenfield' that seem to be the major offerings at the big box stores and in those little bags of eyed-roots stored in wood shavings near the checkout counters.  It was a rant about how the large very, very double flowers of these peonies take forever to open and stand on such weak stems that they topple over with the first decent rain.  Higgins went on to say that "Gardeners who try to fix a rain-splayed peony bush may as well try to repackage a newly unwrapped dress shirt," provoking yet another giggle from me.  Mr. Higgins then introduces the unknowing reader to Tree peonies and Intersectional peonies and I have no arguments with his comments about the values of either of those advancements in breeding.

But, the main peony season is beginning here in Manhattan, and my first floral turkey, Paeonia lactiflora 'Shirley Temple,' has opened as you can see from the delicious picture above and she was followed quickly by 'Festiva Maxima'.   'Shirley Temple', introduced in 1948, often has a little more blush to the petals, but she's almost entirely creamy in this cold Spring. 'Festiva Maxima', of course, is an ancient and classic peony known to every gardener who aspires to grow peonies.  In deference to Mr. Higgins, I enjoy the easy maintenance and large blossoms and fragrance of  both these varieties and all their cousins in my garden.  I control their floppiness with peony supports placed early during growth and by planting them close enough together that the inner peonies don't have room to flop.  Yes, I have some newer single peonies and one Intersectional peony that seems to be doing well, and a Tree peony that just survived the Kansas winds for the first winter.  But I'll never stop loving or growing the turkeys.

I wasn't aware of Adrian Higgins before, since the "Post" isn't a common newspaper for viewing in Kansas, but after looking over a few of his articles, I'm going to be reading more.  Several of the articles I've already browsed contain just the right amount of cynical sarcasm to match the late Henry Mitchell, one of my favorite garden writers.  As an example, an article on Sarah Palin's fence was just perfect, and another gem, comparing the modern rose to "a matinee idol with too many demands and chemical dependencies" was just the ticket to tickle my fancy. Catching up on his many articles, though, is going to cut into my blogging for awhile.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Baffin Baffled

'William Baffin'
 In many ways, I have been both surprised and baffled by the popularity of the Canadian climbing rose 'William Baffin'.  'William Baffin' was an early (1983) introduction in the Explorer series from Ag Canada.  He is a monster of a hot-pink rose, growing from 7-9 feet tall in Canada and a little bit taller here.  Although Ag Canada describes the clusters of blooms as medium red, he is more hot pink to my eyes (byuck!), with random white streaks occasionally marring the base of the petals. I'm a "double" rose guy, and I'm not very excited by the semi-double average of 20 petals for William. There is nothing particularly unique about it to recommend the bloom, and the rose has no fragrance to speak of.  Left to its own devices, 'William Baffin' will make an impenetrable thicket of long thorny canes and it will punish any rosarian who tries to tie it up, not a surprising habit for a rose derived from the viscous R. kordesii on one side and a pollen parent derived from 'Red Dawn' X 'Suzanne'.     Oh yeah, and it suckers like there is no tomorrow.

'William Baffin' at KSU Rose Garden
But, on the other hand, hardy climbers are difficult to find for Midwestern and Northern locations and I also have to admit that 'William Baffin' blooms like a fiend.  Many "modern" roses sold locally as climbers are prone to dying back to the ground every winter in the Flint Hills, and there is frankly little reason to have a climber that doesn't cover its trellis until the end of the season.  Salmon-pink 'America' and dark red 'Don Juan' are much recommended here, are prone to winter dieback almost every year, and I never see them blooming as more than about  three-foot shrubs.  Popular 'Fourth of July' occasionally makes 5 feet at the KSU Rose Garden and blooms well, but it's also prone to blackspot there.  So, there is one reliable winter-hardy red climber in common use, 'Improved Blaze', and I have high hopes for the newer 'Crimson Sky', but as you can see in the picture at the left, taken last weekend, 'William Baffin' is a sure bet as a spectacular climber with absolutely no winter dieback at the KSU Garden.  I grow William at home as a shrub rose in the center of a group of other Old Garden and Hardy roses, and you can barely put a finger between the blooms of my specimen, as shown below:

'William Baffin' grown as a shrub rose
Disease resistance is good, and I never spray 'William Baffin', either at the KSU Rose Garden, or at home.

So, if you're wanting a display to be seen across a football field, I'm all for recommending 'William Baffin', but please don't expect much up close and personal with this rose.  He'll take a couple of years to get going, but when he comes out of that awkward adolescent phase, nothing will stand in his way towards providing a great spring show.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blogger's Bloom Day, May 2011

I don't often participate in Garden Blogger's Bloom Day from May Dreams Garden, but in the midst of a very cold, dreary Sunday, what better way to pass the afternoon than to show some glimpses of my garden and the brightness blooming outside.  Recognize that it's too cold and windy outside today, so these pictures were taken yesterday, but they're still blooming today, all the same.

For some reason, I tend to take and display more closeups of flowers, so consider this a rare look at part of my landscaping;  the back patio, blooming with, from foreground to background, 'Jeanne Lavoie', 'Zepherine Drouhin', 'Morden Blush', 'Prairie Joy', 'Carefree Beauty', and 'David Thompson'.  A little later, 'Fantin Latour' and 'Madame Hardy' should join the picture.  The blue/white flowers at the top are irises.  Click on it if you want to enlarge things. 

I think 'Carefree Beauty' deserves a closeup of its floriferousness, don't you?

'Morden Centennial' and deep red 'Hope for Humanity' are providing some color elsewhere in the border.

Of course, I love roses, but I'm not all about them.  The irises in this mixed iris-daylily bed are starting to bloom.  The red splotch at the center top of the picture is another rose, though; Rugosa cross 'Robusta'. 

Elsewhere, clematis 'Jackmanii' is trying to grow up a trellis near my gazebo, and some blue columbines are putting on a show in the front landscaping.

So, 'Rise-N-Shine' gardeners, the weather in Kansas may be cold, but there be flowers out there! Not pictured yet are the peonies, and a host of other clematis and irises and......

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sir Thomas Lipton

As large shrub roses go, I believe that 'Sir Thomas Lipton' has gotten the short end of the stick and I'd like to apologize to its Scottish gentleman namesake for listening to the lack of hype regarding this rose.

The real Sir Thomas Lipton (1848-1931) was a Scotsman who was a persistent America's Cup challenger and who founded the Lipton Tea Company.  'Sir Thomas Lipton', the rose, is a hybrid rugosa introduced in 1900 by Van Fleet, he of 'New Dawn' fame. It was product of a cross between R. rugosa alba and the lovely Polyantha ‘Clotilde Soupert’.  My specimen is about 6 years old now and approximately 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide, blooming profusely with fragrant, pure white double flowers that are about 2.5 to 3 inches in diameter.  The foliage is rugose, medium green, and wrinkled as fits the heritage of this rose, and it requires no fungal spray here in Kansas summers, nor does it seem to be bothered by any insects.  A Missouri website says it may need crown protection in St. Louis, but I highly doubt it.  I've never seen any winter dieback here in Manhattan, Kansas, and it also has survived an ice storm unscathed that broke off and flattened large portions of other roses, so I've got a little faith in this rose. At least one source says it's hardy to Zone 3 and I believe it.

I avoided this rose for years on the basis of Suzy Verrier's description in her Rugosa bible, Rosa Rugosa. She writes "Unfortunately, this poor representative of the rugosa hybrids is widely available....'Sir Thomas Lipton' is ungraceful and rigid in its growth and has the nastiest thorns imaginable...rare repeat blooms."  Wow, Suzy, give it to us straight, don't beat around the bush!  Many other writers also suggest that any repeat bloom is sporadic and not noticeable, however, I would disagree since my specimen seems to keep blooming throughout the season, not perhaps with the abundance of the first spring bloom, but with an acceptable repeat that never leaves the bush without a few flowers. This rose may be a perfect example of one who performs differently for rosarians in various climates. Sources also argue about the fragrance of this rose, with some saying it has a strong fragrance and others saying it has no fragrance at all; I would call it moderate, a "3" if an average Bourbon, say 'Variegata de Bologna' is a "5".  Ms. Verrier is right on target about the thorns though;  this rose would make a formidable security hedge.    

I do find it interesting that it is often compared with 'Blanc Double de Coubert', the classic white double rugosa, and favorably.  Peter Beales, in Classic Roses, says that 'Sir Thomas Lipton' is "Not unlike 'Blanc Double de Coubert' in many ways, including colour, but with a few more petals in the flowers," That is high praise when you consider that a few pages previously he describes 'Blanc' as "one of the outstanding Rugosa hybrids."   So, in the end, it seems that 'Sir Thomas Lipton' is a rose you'll either love or hate, but I've found it worth a try as long as you're ready to shovel prune it if it isn't suited by your climate.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

(Ain't) Red Horse Chestnut

Consider this blog both a warning to the unwary enthusiastic gardener who is gullible enough to believe everything written about a plant, and as a plea to someone knowledgeable to please confirm that I at least got what I purchased(?).

Early in the last decade, I began to covet the pictures and descriptions of the Red Horse Chestnut (Aesculus carnea 'Briottii'), and decided that I must have one for my very own. I was probably mis-led by Wayside Garden's usual flowery description and embellished photography, but I was sure that this was a perfect tree for my landscape. If memory serves, I failed once with a bare-root specimen planted in Spring, but I was able to obtain a specimen planted at Thanksgiving in 2004 that has survived despite numerous prunings by roaming deer, who seem to love the early spring leaves as they unfold. These days, I keep it surrounded by wire in the early spring, as you can see in the picture below right, to deter the deer.

'Briotii' is the best known cultivar of the Red Horse Chestnut, also known as the "Ruby Red Horse Chestnut", and at maturity, it is supposed to make a rounded tree of 25-35 feet tall and in diameter. It is also supposed to be resistant to drought, heat and wind once established, and that, at least, seems to be true. However, the spring flowers are variously described as "rose-red" or "ruby-red", or "deep red" depending on where you read about them, but if they are really supposed to be red, then I've got a mislabeled cultivar. As you can see from the picture at the upper left, I think it would be generous to call these blooms pink. I might even argue that they are really a blush cream with pink overtones. I will admit that last year's pictures look a little more pink than this year's, so there may be some environmental effect on the bloom color. I suppose I should be satisfied with the pretty flowering of the plant, but I can't get past that I purchased it from a nursery with pictures showing a dark red bloom.

So, do I, or do I not, have the 'Briotti' that I intended to purchase? It certainly is not the Common Horse Chestnut which is undoubtedly more creamy yellow in bloom. And it seems to be similar to the 'Briotti' that I once saw in the Denver Botanical Gardens. I must learn to be satisfied with the "devil I have" rather than what I dreamed of. I just wanted to warn the rest of you not to expect more than you're getting.

For the sake of a good education, it's a horse chestnut if it is a Eurasian species, but North American species are "buckeyes". Since I grew up with native Buckeye trees in Indiana and had to deal with the pompous Buckeye's of Ohio State, I'm a little more comfortable with that term than with horse chestnut. I'm still not entirely sure, in fact, whether it should be "Horse Chestnut" or "Horsechestnut." I've also learned that British children play a game called "conkers" with horse chestnuts where the horse chestnut is on a string (a conker) and players take turns trying to break each other's conker by swinging at it. It's unethical, by the way, to harden your conker by baking it in vinegar or otherwise altering it. Alas, the game evidently cannot be played with buckeyes.  I was not taught it growing up in Indiana and Hoosiers can't play games with onomatopoeic names anyway. Too bad, because I missed out on competing in the World Conker championship (yes, there is one, and Ray Kellock and Wendy Bradford were the 2010 Men's and Women's champions). Never fear, fellow Hoosiers, the game is presently dying off because of growing Nannystate worries that children may be injured from conker shards during the game and because of concerns for participating nut-allergy sufferers.

What is the world coming to when protective equipment is required for a simple game of conkers?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Papaver bracteatum

One of my most-awaited plants began to bloom this year on May 9th.  In the 10 years it has grown in my garden, it has bloomed three times on my birthday, May 16th, so it is a bit early this year, but welcome nonetheless. 

Years ago, I purchased a poppy labeled as the Red Himalayan poppy and also as Papaver bracteatum at a local store on the promise that the red of this poppy would be as bright as advertised.  And I believe it has fulfilled that promise with stunning success, although the plant was obviously mislabeled.  Papaver bracteatum is the scientific name for the Iranian poppy, not the Red Himalayan poppy, so one of the two names must be wrong and I choose to believe it was the common name printed on the label that was incorrect.

Papaver bracteatum is a perennial poppy with large bright red flowers up to 8 inches (20 cm) across on stiff stalks up to 3 1/2 feet high here in Kansas Zone 5B.  It has deep purpleish-black "sex" parts in the center and a prominent black spot near the base of the petals. I'll admit that in growth form and habit, I could have been sold an Oriental poppy under two false names and I might not know the difference. Papaver bracteatum was one of the species that the perennial Oriental poppies were derived from and it is similar in plant and flower form to the latter anyway.  If mine is a plain old Oriental, it's the brightest red and has the largest flowers I've ever seen.

The species has been used commercially to produce thebaine, which can be converted to codeine and semi-synthetic opiates, but it does not contain  morphine or other alkaloids.  According to Wikipedia, the Office of Management and Budget under  President Richard Nixon proposed domestic cultivation of P. bracteatum in the early 1970's as an alternative source of opiates to decrease the pressure for illegal opium poppy crops and heroin production.  However, for once, the US government wisely realized that substituting one source of drug misuse for another was not perhaps the best of choices and withdrew the recommendation.

All I can say in that regard is that this has not been an easy plant to reproduce for me, either from seed or by division. I had two plants at one time from a division of the original, but any competition for space, say, a rampant daylily, can eventually snuff this little gem out.  I guard the original plant with all my meager gardening abilities.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fast Times on the Prairie

Things are happening incredibly fast in the garden right now.  The cool temperatures of the past few weeks followed by the 80's and 90's of the past 5 days seems to be condensing the spring blooming season, along with throwing off the timing I expect.  The peonies, irises, and roses all look like they are going to hit peak bloom at the same time and I may quite possibly float away on the essence of colorful paradise I'm going to have by next week.

Rosa 'Jeri Jennings'
But, today seems to be a day for first things and I wanted to show two prize new plants that are blooming for the first time in my garden.  The first of the Rogue Valley roses that I planted last fall has opened, if just barely, and I present, for your pleasure, 'Jeri Jennings', a beautiful Hybrid Musk rose bred by Paul Barden in 2007.  She survived an unusually harsh Zone 5 winter and looks healthy, if small.  I absolutely love the yellow-orange tones that are reminiscent to me of 'Alchymist'.  I haven't yet sampled her fabled scent, but I'll put nose to ground soon and check that out as well.

Peony 'Prairie Moon'
Last year, I spent months eyeing a herbaceous peony at a local nursery, and finally surrendered my yearnings to what I initially thought was a high price and purchased and planted it.  'Prairie Moon'. a 1959 cross of  P. ‘Laura Magnuson’ x P. ‘Archangel’ is not a new peony to commerce, but it is new to my garden.  This thing was blooming its head off last year when I first saw it and the creamy single blooms lit up the area of the garden center, standing out from the other peonies there.  Both because of the "prairie" in its name, the spectacular display, and the fact that it was introduced in 1959, the year of my birth, made it a no-brainer for my garden.  And here it is, blooming now for about 5 days, the first of the peonies (other than species P. tenuifolia) to show up in my garden.

Peony 'Scarlet O'Hara'
A final welcome visitor, however, is the large single peony 'Scarlet O'Hara', who opened for the first time this morning, although it is her second year blooming in my garden.  Gaze on that intricate yellow center for a moment, carpels and pink-tipped stigma, accented by the large scarlet petals, and I promise you, you can get lost in the bloom.  The picture at right doesn't do justice to the fact that the blooms are as big as your hand, and they're on a tall, 3-foot peony, so the garden display of this peony when it gets going is unequaled.

Fare well all, Bliss is soon to come. 


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