Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yarrow Expansions

I know that sometimes, as gardeners and as bloggers, we wonder if we're just spouting into the ether and nobody is out there listening, but I can now provide a little evidence to one excellent blogger regarding this existential question.  A recent post by Greggo, of his blog Gardening with Greggo, entitled Yearning for Yarrows had the dual effect on me of inspiring me to add some of the new yarrows to my garden and of making me feel guilty that I was not paying enough attention to this important group of plants.

'Moonshine' Yarrow
I've planted a yarrow or two, mostly in the wrong place, and then left them poorly cared for, so there should be no surprise that I haven't been impressed by Achillea offerings.  I also thought that many of the new introductions appeared washed out or a little too much on the pastel side and I like my garden colors bright and pure.  But then Greggo showed me Achillea filipendulina 'Coronation Gold' and my soul shouted "I WANT IT".  For my own garden, I couldn't find 'Coronation Gold' locally, but I was able to locate an excellent specimen of Achillea millefolium 'Moonshine', pictured at left, which has almost the same bright yellow tint and might even be more drought tolerant.

Achillea millefolium, also known as Western Yarrow, is the native yarrow in Kansas that pops up all over my prairie, but I've only known it in its white native species form (pictured at right). The species is a gray-leafed yarrow, highly resistant to drought and the whims of large prairie rats (i.e. deer), and frankly it fades quickly to a relatively dirty looking white.  Hardy to Zone 3 and 18-24 inches tall, 'Moonshine' reportedly retains the drought tolerance of its forebear and ohh-la-la, hopefully will retain that bright color!  High Country Gardens recommends 'Moonshine' as one of the best garden perennials currently available, and I find that high praise indeed.

Achillea 'Pomegranate'
Looking farther afield, I also found two red A. millefolium yarrows, 'Pomegranate' and 'Red Velvet' that satisfy my longing for blood red flowers.  Here, heading into the July heat, they were on sale and both a little bedraggled by the haphazard care at local box stores, but look as if they'll make it in the long run.  'Pomegranate', pictured at left, is a bit shorter than 'Moonshine', about 15-18 inches tall at maturity, but she's a real stunner next to my new Buck roses.  'Red Velvet' has no blooms at present, but I couldn't resist that duskier red variety at a $1.29/quart price.

'Moonshine' has been around awhile, but 'Pomegranate' is one of the Tutti Fruiti series from Blooms of Bressingham, originally bred in Holland by the Sahin firm.  Looking at the Blooms of Bressingham offerings, I'm glad the local firms carried these two yarrows, because I'm not crazy about many of the others;  again a little too pastel for my liking with the exception, perhaps, of 'Strawberry Seduction'.  I actually have a specimen of 'Strawberry Seduction', planted in a "native" garden plot last year, but I haven't gone searching for it yet to see if it survived the winter amidst the other weeds.

Thanks to Greggo, though, I'm at least exposed now to the possibilities of the new yarrow offerings.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Horticultural Gettysburg

Regular readers of this blog will recall my intention to refrain from mowing the prairie grasses that make up our outer lawn and may also recall Mrs. ProfessorRoush's not-so-subtle resistance to said intention. For new readers, you can catch up here and here.   

While the end to this horticultural civil conflict is nowhere in sight, I am happy to report that the first skirmish has been won by the ecologically-enlightened Native Faction and its allies, and that Mrs. ProfessorRoush has conceded that the particular unmown strip pictured below might possibly have some redeeming qualities. I believe it was the cheery faces of all the Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) peeking above the grass that has temporarily quieted the dogs of war.

Please don't tell She Who Likes Manicured Lawns, but this area, about 15 feet wide by 50 feet long, laying between the driveway and the unbearing fruit trees that I euphemistically call my orchard, was always my secret weapon; my personal Manhattan Project to bring a swift and decisive end to the conflict. This spot was my best hope for a quick victory and it paid off.  I had previously mowed around a few volunteer R. hirta's in this area last year, preserving a couple of 1 foot by 3 foot strips for a few weeks,  and the cute little yellow buttons obviously procreated and self-sowed themselves above and beyond the call of duty for my benefit.  The lesson here, as always, is that overwhelming numbers are often a key component of victory, horticultural or otherwise. 

The tide of battle has also shifted because the Supreme Commander of the Mowing Faction has not yet encountered any snakes on her walks with the dog, nor has there been a noticeable increase in ticks and chiggers along the mown paths.  The Primary Rabbit-and-Snake Chaser has cooperated by keeping any information that reptiles and rodents are present in the demilitarized zones on the down-low.  

I won't try to pretend that all my unmown areas, now all approximately one foot in average height, have anywhere near this degree of accidental beauty, but I'm hoping other forbs seed themselves around by next year to enhance those areas which are currently less floriferous.  In the meantime, the growing grass itself may aid the General of the Native Faction and his allies as the prairie grass develops its usual red and buff coloration in September and October.  I am aware that Mrs. ProfessorRoush likes the autumn colors of the prairie grasses and, as always, accurate information about the weaknesses of your enemy often determines the outcome of the war.  God-willing, an Armistice will soon be signed and freedom to escape the tyranny of a carefully-manicured suburban utopia will belong to myself, the Primary Rabbit-and-Snake chaser, and the collective prairie flora.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Red Cascade

There has long been a rose out there in the world for all those rose folks who search for a groundcover rose or a rose to cover a hillside, and I'm happy to say that I have grown this marvelous rose for years.

In 1976, the great rose-breeder Ralph Moore introduced 'Red Cascade' as a miniature groundcover rose, and that same year the rose was also awarded the ARS Award of Excellence.  'Red Cascade' has since become one of the most versatile roses for the garden, with various rosarians recommending it be used as a groundcover, a climber, or pruned as a shrub.  It blooms, as pictured, in bright red (perhaps with a little touch of orange) sprays of cupped, very double flowers, but I have to admit that the individual one-inch diameter flowers leave me less than inspired when viewed by themselves. This is definitely a rose for the garden, not for the vase. The flowers form almost as hybrid-tea style buds, open cupped and flatten out as they age, but to their credit, the flowers hardly fade from their bright red beginnings.  There is, alas, no fragrance that I can detect, although various sources, most of whom I suspect never saw this rose in person, suggest that it has a light scent.  

'Red Cascade' first bloom 6/05/11

'Red Cascade' is a cross of a seedling (R. Wichurana X 'Floradora') and 'Magic Dragon' (a previous red climber by Moore).  In my Kansas climate, it produces some very long canes, usually running about 6 feet in a season, but occasionally reaching out twelve feet from base.  I grow 'Red Cascade' near the edge of an East-facing limestone landscaping wall, where, true to its name, it can cascade down the wall or spread under the shade of an adjacent red peach tree at will. In that spot, it remains about 8 foot by 5 foot wide and it lifts its blooms about a foot into the air.  Even there, with primarily morning sunshine, it is disease free and never sees any spray or extra water (and darned little fertilizer).  In fact, my 'Red Cascade' has performed as predicted by others and it has rooted twice more in the area where its long canes have arched back in contact with the ground.  I must remember to move one of the rooted starts out into the sun to let it really run free.

At least one forum thread had a participant asking about repeat bloom and you can see pictured at right, the second bloom of this rose starting up again less than three weeks after the picture taken above at full bloom.  It's early in the second bloom, so if I had waited a few days I'd better represent the almost ever-blooming nature of this rose, but I couldn't resist showing it off as it was this morning against the orange native prairie Asclepias.  The three clumps of Asclepias tuberosa all self-seeded around my 'Red Cascade', obviously proving that these plants can think and that they have the artistic sense to display their complimentary color next to a winner of a rose.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Leaves of Three, Should I Grow Thee?

Everyone, please be a little careful looking at the picture on this post;  I don't want to be responsible for anyone breaking out in a rash.  I'm aware that its not polite in open forum to brag, and I'm sure my karma will be affected for days by even posting this blog publicly, but I happen to be one of those lucky gardeners who seems immune to the evil oils of Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).  "Leaves of three, let it be" is not a mnemonic that I've had a lot of personal use for. 

Poison ivy immunity is a gift bestowed, in a genetic way, on about 15% of the human population.  My mother and, I think, my maternal grandparents were all immune, while my father breaks out at a rash at the mere thought of poison ivy, so in this instance, Thank You Mom.  In my garden, I prefer to weed bare-handed, and I pull up random stray poison ivy weedlings, like the one above, frequently with absolutely no ill effects. One summer, as a young boy, I spent a week building a wood fence for my father deep in a pure patch of poison ivy, and for my trouble received about 5-8 little spots of rash by the end of the week.  I'm not even sure if they were poison ivy-induced or were mosquito bites.  I was thus a dangerous friend to have as a child.  Being immune to ivy meant that I could romp at random in the woods and fields near my house without a care in the world about the particular patch of foliage in which I was playing. That also meant that I was accidentally prone to lead more susceptible and less horticulturally aware friends deep into thickets of poison ivy to their detriment.    

There are a number of interesting little factoids available out there about poison ivy along with some pretty bad advice for treating or avoiding the skin lesions. None other than Euell Gibbons, he of Stalking the Wild Asparagus fame, recommended eating poison ivy leaves daily for the month of May to build acquired immunity. Yes, that's right, eating three of the tiny leaves (one leaf with three leaflets) while they were still red in color "every day for the month of May." While snake handlers use mithridatism (the practice of inoculating onesself with small amounts of a poison to build up resistance to it) with some success, Euell was promoting a highly dangerous and unproven method for avoiding poison ivy.  Don't try it, please.

As a plant, poison ivy can be a vine, groundcover, or a shrub.   It is not a true ivy, any more than poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens) is a true oak.  It is related to mango's and cashews, both of which can cause reactions in very susceptible people. The caustic substance produced by the plant is an oil, called urushiol, and there's a lot of information available about the chemistry of the oil if you want to look it up, but I don't see how it's useful to a susceptible gardener to know that the more unsaturated the urushiol molecules are, the greater the bodily reaction invoked.  We don't go around with chemistry sets measuring the number of double bonds to decide if we can safely touch a particular specimen.  
But, setting all that aside, I'm starting to wonder if a well-cared for specimen wouldn't be a nice horticultural accent to my garden.  Just think about it.  If poison ivy was a benign plant, the white berries would be coveted by gardeners, and poison ivy is a completely stunning plant in fall when its leaves turn the most wondrous shade of bright scarlet.  A large specimen would have the dual purpose of punishing burglars and keeping other interlopers out of my garden, providing privacy for me in my garden as effectively as surrounding the garden with a moat.  I think my children are immune, having tested both with a little rub of a leaf in their younger days, but I don't know about my wife.  I don't really want to keep her out of my garden, but I suppose it's an option if she gets too uppity about me not mowing the prairie grasses and forbs this year.   

Friday, June 24, 2011

And Then They Were Gone...

Followers will recall that I blogged about the Killdeer nesting in my yard, and about how I had to mow around the nest for several weeks.  Those four little camouflaged eggs, pictured on the right, sat in the Kansas sunshine for just about 4 weeks total, Mama or Papa Killdeer screaming every time I came near them until suddenly, as I discovered this morning.....gone. 

Rats, I had been hoping to catch the just-hatched babies, but I hadn't checked the nest since Monday and evidently that was enough time for them to disappear into the tall grass about 10 feet away.  I know they are still around somewhere because Mama and Papa both are still trying to lead me away from the edge of the grass.  But the little fluffballs, two of which are pictured below in a nest from a couple of years back, are now hiding in the weeds, trying to get past those awkward teen years and someday nest in my yard themselves. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Daylily Beginnings

Amethyst Art
 Entranced by the beautiful daylilies from Sherry's blog in Florida, I've been anxiously awaiting the start of the main daylily season here.  I have a love-hate relationship with daylilies here in Kansas, but since they're the only reliable blooming thing in the July heat and require little care, I grow a lot of them.  In fact, I probably grow more daylilies than roses, but since daylilies are all orange, I don't know as many of them by name.

Now don't get uppity, you daylily connoisseurs, I understand that there are near whites, purples, spiders, almost reds, corals, and pink daylilies.  At least if you look at them closely.  Just sayin'.
LeeBea Orange Crush
The first of my daylilies have begun to bloom here, so I thought I'd pop some pictures of them up before the main stream hits and I get overwhelmed.  First lining up for pictures is  'Amethyst Art', pictured above, a double lavender-toned daylily I've had for most of forever.

And then there's the spectacle that 'Leebea Orange Crush', a big fragrant orange daylily, makes of itself:

I developed a thing for "spiders" in the past couple of years, so I have a number of them, among which are several plants of 'Crazy Pierre', deep purple 'Frankies Fantasy', and the enormous (9 inch diameter) ruby-toned Stout Medal winner  'All American Chief'.

Crazy Pierre

Frankies Fantasy

All American Chief

'Seductor' is a Red self with big six inch blooms that I really do adore:

Irish Spring
And 'Irish Spring' is a very large, fragrant bright yellow with a slight green tinge that really lights up the garden:

Siloam Double Classic
I grow a number of the Siloam-bred line of daylilies.  'Siloam Double Classic' is a daylily that does well no matter where I divide it up and put it in the garden.

But there are a number of eyed, medium-sized daylilies that I suspect are of the Siloam lines, but I've lost the names:
Unknown Siloam

Unknown, perhaps 'Wild Mustang'?


Summer Dragon
And I grow a few really wild-looking varieties:  Visitors who view 'Summer Dragon' either love it or hate it; there seems to be no middle ground.  Heck, I'm not even sure where I stand on it.

I'll keep the daylily pictures coming as they come on, at least the varieties I can still identify and the exceptionally beautiful ones.  Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sally Homely

I hesitate to take the contrarian view, but I have never been able to understand the high praise given Rosa 'Sally Holmes'.  Okay. Okay.  I'll admit it. Truth be told, I relish taking the contrarian view (I'm not a tenured University Professor for nothing), but in this case I believe my resistance to the Borg Collective is justified.  'Sally Holmes' just isn't a very good rose for the Kansas climate.

'Sally Holmes' is a cross of floribunda 'Ivory Fashion; and 'Ballerina', bred by Robert Holmes, and introduced in the United Kingdom in 1976.  Rarely, if ever, have I seen a review of this rose that didn't rave over it's hardiness, disease resistance, and prolific blooming.  And its fragrance, color, and ability to be trained to any form.  I'm surprised sometimes after reading the reviews that this rose doesn't dig its own hole and fertilize itself as well., for instance, says about 'Sally Holmes', "the lovely perfume and large, creamy blooms open wide from pink flushed buds make this a very desirable shrub rose. A wonderful rose in the border or as a specimen."  Peter Harkness listed it in his 150 favorite roses. The revered Dorothy Stemler described 'Sally Holmes' as “A show-stopper in our garden - visitors gasp and cross the garden to get a closer look at a rose that has bloom trusses of a size that are truly unbelievable!”   Just look at the list of awards this rose has won:  Royal National Rose Society Trial Ground Certificate 1975, Belfast Certificate Of Merit 1979, Baden Baden Gold Medal 1980, Glasgow Fragrance Award 1993, Portland Gold Medal 1993. 'Sally Holmes' has an ARS rating of 8.9, placing her in the top 1% of all rated roses.  Can all these people really be wrong?

'Sally Holmes' (left), and 'Lady Elsie May' (right)
I believe, however, that 'Sally Holmes' is a poster child for those who promote regional evaluation of roses and publication of those regional ratings. Roy Hennessey would have a conniption over her. I'll allow that she may be a great rose in the mild English climate or Northwest Pacific coast, but she is not worthy for these inland prairie seas. I will admit that the newly-opened apricot buds have a sumptuous color, but that's as far as I will go with this rose.  Just as the picture at upper left shows, once the apricot color bleaches out (and that happens within a day in the Kansas sun), she's just a white rose with temporarily gold stamens.  The white petals suffer from all the aesthetic deficiencies of every other white rose as they age, and the stamens turn dirty brown by the second day. Does anyone reading this really think that the picture at the top, with new blooms next to fading blooms, is characteristic of a great garden display?  I guess I just like to look too closely at the blooms.

Fragrance, at least in Kansas, is mild, perhaps even weak.  The bush itself is coarse and the foliage, while disease resistant, is far from being disease-free. And my first three attempts to overwinter this rose all failed, so I suspect the widely-quoted Zone 5B hardiness attributed to this rose is a stretch.  Look at it in the picture here next to' Lady Elsie May' (a 2005 AARS winner) the latter a shrub rose that I find infinitely better colored, whose blooms don't fade to be hideous, and who is just as disease resistant and has much better winter hardiness in Kansas. Lady Elsie May's ARS rating is 8.6, still respectable, but I believe the fix is in regarding the differences in the rating of  'Sally Holmes' and 'Lady Elsie May'.

I may be biased, but I'm not alone.  Rose breeder Paul Barden says of this rose "Sally Holmes is a bit tender in my climate and sadly succumbed to last winter's wrath but will be replanted in the same spot to repeat the display of so many seasons before."  And there is the key, I believe, to 'Sally Holmes' popularity;  none of us can admit that she really is a terrible rose in Zone 5B, so we keep trying.  As I said, I'm on my fourth 'Sally Holmes'.  I know a local nursery owner who planted a whole "corridor" of these roses as a centerpiece to an area of her garden.  Yes, some of the end ones are shaded, and yes, the rabbits love them, but I think she's getting close to admitting that despite these excuses, Sally hasn't lived up to her expectations.  I grow around 200 different roses, but won't be including 'Sally Holmes' on any list of my favorites nor recommending her to rose lovers here in the Flint Hills.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

OMG, I Did NOT do that!

Well, I've gone and done it now.  Some of you out there probably know what the outcome from my most recent rash action will be, but those who do know what will happen haven't shared that knowledge publicly, at least that I can find.  So I forged ahead, bravely going where no gardener who is willing to admit it has gone before.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegata'
The problem:  I'm tired of ornamental grasses that grow too tall and then flop over the roses in an attempt to smother them.  Yes, it was probably bad placement in the first place, but how was I to know how floppy some, but not all of the grasses, get?  I grow a number of ornamental grasses in my mixed shrub and rose beds and for the most part, I enjoy the extra season of flowering and change they add to my garden in autumn, and enjoy them again in winter as they collect and brave the snows. The Calamagrostis sp, and most of the Panicums mind their manners with a few exceptions, bravely standing up tall and not bothering the next-door neighbors.  But many of the Miscanthus, and Panicums such as 'Dallas Blues', just get too darned big for their own good.

I attempted to move some established clumps of Miscanthus sp. this spring that were poorly placed and I was taught once again how difficult the root system of these grasses are to divide and conquer.  In fact, they conquered me and I gave up.  My second thought was to try cutting them back by half in mid-summer and seeing what effect that would have on their ultimate flowering and size, but I can't find any information about the likely result.  Well, to be honest, everything I've read says NOT to cut them back mid-season.  Since I know that grasses grow from the base, I am skeptical of that advice and I'm wondering what the real harm will be. 

So, I did it anyway.  In the upper left, Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegata'  has been sheared off so that the Rose de Rescht at its feet can get some more sun.  Before, as you can see in the middle picture here, its full size even before flowering is an imposing figure next to the roses around it.  And in the picture at the lower right, you can see that I've hacked away at Panicum virginatum 'Dallas Blues' so that it doesn't shade my hard-found new rose 'Lillian Gibson' (the story about that, later).  In fact, a total of 5 other Miscanthus along with these two bad boys got a haircut.

Panicum virginatum 'Dallas Blues'with baby rose
 'Lillian Gibson' at its feet.
So go ahead, those of you who know what is going to happen, feel free to comment and say what an idiot I am and how you would have told me not to do it.  I found that cutting them off was easy to do, about 20 minutes for 7 grass clumps in the evening sun, and I'll do it again in a heartbeat if it isn't too detrimental to the fall display.  I'm hoping they mature shorter and more upright and I don't hurt flowering too much.  Time, as always, will provide me the ultimate answer.  I'll keep you apprised of how the experiment is going.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

KSU's Tillotson Native Plant Garden

To finish off my native wildflower weeks on
Garden Musings, I'll move to one blog subject that I'm planning to return to more frequently as this year goes on.  I feel I should do a better job at alerting readers to the learning opportunities available at the K-State Gardens and the various sub-gardens in the project.  I work only a block away from this fantastic gardening resource, and I have the honor of being allowed to provide some volunteer labor time in the KSU Rose Garden.  So please allow me a small advertisement for a very deserving garden.

The Kansas State University Gardens project is a privately-funded display garden on the campus of KSU that serves as an educational resource and as a learning laboratory for KSU students and the visiting public.  When completed, a 19-acre garden is planned that will show off hardscape and tested ornamental plant material in different aesthetic settings in the Flint Hills environment.

One of the already-existing specialty gardens in the project is the Adaptive/Native Plant Garden which was sponsored by the late John E. Tillotson.  It was redesigned in the past two years by a KSU student under supervision of the Gardens Director and it is a marvelous display of plant material that is found growing in natural areas throughout Kansas and the Great Plains Region.  As you can see from the pictures on this page, native prairie plants can make both a floriferous and cohesive display with a little pre-planning.  Last year, I was stunned when the milkweed bloomed and as you can see from the clump of milkweed around the commemorative garden sign above, those large leaves and big flower heads make a standout display if properly placed.   Amateurs and professionals alike can learn new approaches for commercial or residential landscape design from this garden.  Visit it online at the KSUGardens site or in person on the KSU campus.  And please consider becoming a Friend of the KSU Gardens to support the continued development of the garden.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June Not-Wildflowers

I hope you've been enjoying the series of prairie wildflowers I've added to the blog in the past week or so.  However, I would be remiss if I didn't also illustrate that the wildflowers aren't the only blooms or color on the prairie right now.  Some of the prairie grasses also bloom at this time and there are always forbs with some nice foliage contrast:

These long spires are the flowers of the appropriately-named "June Grass" (Koeleria macrantha).  June Grass is a perennial in the Poas family and grows 18-24 inches tall, pushing these green-white heads above the surrounding Bluestem and Indian Grass during this month, but then they'll be overshadowed later by those taller grasses. Named for a German botanist of the 18th century, Ludwig Koeler, June Grass grows in sporadic tufts over the native prairie grass and blends in with the airy white inflorescence's of PrairieYarrow and Philadelphia Fleabane. 

Another brownly-blooming denizen of the prairie right now is Texas Bluegrass (Poa arachnifera).  This dioecious grass chooses whatever sex of flower it wants to display and gets right down to it in the early summer.  The species name refers to the long white hairs of the spikelets which are said to resemble a spider web.  I don't see the resemblance, myself.
Unfortunately or fortunately, my surrounding prairie is blessed with a nice silvery-foliaged sage that I could also argue should be viewed as a prolific weed.  White Sage (Artemsia ludoviciana) is everywhere, both over the prairie and in my mown prairie lawn, where it stands out with a definite weedy look. I once cultivated a clump in my front landscaping where I thought it would make a nice 2-3 foot foliage contrast plant, only to realize that it spreads quickly by rhizomes and is fairly invasive. The flowers are also not very noticeable in the border, so my advice is to just keep this one on the prairie.  I'm still pulling it up from among the Monarda and roses.  It is also known as sagewort or wormwood, both alternative common names that are closer to the true nature of the plant.  Native Americans used the aromatic leaves of this plant for everything from toilet paper to underarm deodorant to mosquito repellent, so maybe the best use of the plant is to keep pulling it up anyway.
But enough of prairie plants without flowers.  I know that some of you must have been wondering why I hadn't posted pictures of the native prairie echinaceas, but the truth is that they hadn't bloomed until just the past couple of days.  If I have identified the species correctly, this is Black-Sampson Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia).  I'm not a botanist but the other Echinacea in the area, Echinacea pallida, has longer petals and is a little paler-pink to my eyes.  Everyone knows about the pain-reducing compounds in Echinacea,  including the Native Americans who used the plant to treat toothaches, burns and sore throats, but what you may not know is that Echinacea is the Greek word for "hedgehog", transferred to the genus here because of the spiny bracts of the flowers.   The taproot of this drought-resistant plant can grow down 5 to 8 feet, so you can forget about transplanting this one from the prairie into your garden.

For the time being, that's about the end of the June-blooming wildflowers here on the prairie, although I noticed that the prairie thistles are just starting to open up.  When they get rolling, I'll come back with their stickery display.  But tomorrow, a special treat for all you native wildflower lovers before Garden Musings moves back on Sunday to my cultivated garden for blogging material!  For one thing, I think it's high time that I told the truth about Sally Holmes so I'm dying to get to that already-conceived post.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wild Petunias

I almost hate to add in something so bourgeois as the picture below into the middle of an upscale series of nice native prairie wildflowers.  I'll also admit that I'm a little ashamed to reveal this hideous mess to my fellow gardening masses, but I feel I have to show you something both wild, and flowery in my garden, even if it's not "native."

This is a small raised bed at the "point" of our circular...eerrhh...teardrop-shaped driveway.  I established the bed years ago solely to give people a little obstacle to make sure they stayed on the blacktop when they entered the circle.  It was originally made of native prairie limestone and a bit taller, until She Who Doesn't Make Use Of RearView Mirrors backed into it while turning around and dented a fender and I realized that I needed to make it short enough to go under the car in case of emergency.  Anyway, I used to plant tulip and daffodil bulbs in this arid, windswept location until the deer and neighbor dogs conspired to destroy them.  Last year, I had planted a single red superpetunia in the bed, a seedling potted at a February garden show by my daughter, and it covered the bed in rapid fashion.  So this year, thinking that petunias were at least the most economical choice for this spot, if admittedly not the most aesthetic, I purchased the yellow petunias and red salvias that you see above (if you look hard enough) in an effort to give it a nice ambiance.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, last year's petunia, now self-seeded and some variation of mauve, has decided to claim the bed for itself.  Stupid me, I was under the impression that petunias were annuals and wouldn't reseed in this northern climate. I guess they are annuals, but the self-seeded plants have already outgrown the headstart given my greenhouse-grown, purchased plants.

Well, it ain't perfect, but if the Petunia From Hell wants to self-seed and help me save my gardening pennies for other things, who am I to stop it?  Until it eats the blacktop, it can thrive here all it wants.  If only the color was something beside mauve.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June Native Wildflowers III

New wildflowers are blooming nearly as fast as I can keep up with them on these days of warmer weather, but before I move on to flowers that just started blooming, I need to show you the white flowers from last week.

I'm afraid that I have to start with a boast about the voluptuous look of Large Beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus), a native prairie bloomer that pops up here and there in single clumps.  I know that the common name doesn't inspire any daydreams, but the species "grandiflorus" name is quite descriptive.  The plump belly of this flower, almost one inch in diameter and 2-3 inches long, makes the popular 'Husker Red' penstemon look anemic by comparison.  Native Americans used the roots of this flower to treat chest pains, so this plant is its own remedy to the swooning gardeners who see it.  It usually doesn't transplant well, but notwithstanding, I had a clump of this in my border for a few years  before it finally petered out.  So, I must learn to enjoy it on the prairie wherever it decides it wants to grow. 

I once had a plant of this Prickly Poppy pop up in the native grass down by the pond, but it never appeared again for me until this year, when it popped up near the road.  Argemone polyanthemos is native to the prairie, but likes disturbed soil so it has become somewhat rare now that the buffalo aren't churning up the tallgrass prairie. The foliage is vicious, but has a beautiful gray-blue-green hue.  The Prickly Poppy  has bright yellow sap that is supposed to be useful to remove warts.  I'd love to figure out how to grow seed for this poppy so that I could keep it going in my garden and perhaps tame it.

Of course, yarrow is everywhere on the prairie, but occurs only in its white form in my vicinity.  This is Western Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), still beautiful, but not quite as colorful as I'd like so I don't invite it into my border.  In fact, I spend a lot of time removing it from my border.  Western Yarrow, however, is a dependable prairie forb during drought years, so I hope that some more colorful yarrow cultivars that I've recently added to my garden have the same trait.

Philadelphia fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) is blooming everywhere in the prairie grass right now and it's tall enough to be visible at long distances.  The flowers are small, but usually perfectly formed white rings around yellow centers. The name comes from an Old English belief that it would kill or repel fleas.

I've already shown you a picture of the yellow Missouri Evening Primrose, but the white Showy Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is just as delicately beautiful.  Like the yellow species, however, the delicate look of the flowers of Showy Evening Primrose belie the aggressive nature of this plant.  It self-seeds in my borders, where I treat it as a welcome visitor at times, but I also give it no mercy if it pops up where I don't want it, like in the vegetable garden.  You have to walk the garden in the late evening or early morning to enjoy these flowers that close and hide from the heat of the day.

The Prairie Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum), pictured at the right, is one of those seedlings that I've learned to recognize as it pops up and then avoid with the glyphosate nozzle.  It tends to like the moister areas of my garden beds, but it seems to be randomly distributed in small numbers over the prairie. In fact, it is a good thing that it occurs more rarely than, for instance, the Western Yarrow, because Prairie Larkspur is poisonous in moderate quantity to cattle when eaten either fresh or dried in prairie hay.


There are, of course, other blooms and foliage contrasts on the prairie, but I'll leave those for a post later in the week.  Hope everyone is enjoying my tour of the prairie forbs. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Light from the Edge of the World

Although we've been talking about buffalograss and native wildflowers, I can't resist taking a day out to show you a sky shot.  Taken west, at sunset, from my front door Friday night.  I appreciated the "flashlight" beam from God, pointing out the leading edge of the oncoming storm that evening, but I was quite chagrined when the storm dissipated on my very doorstep with only a few random drops on the cement.  Similarly, Saturday night and Sunday were 80% chances for rain and I watched a storm moving in from Salina that should have gotten here around 1 a.m.    This morning, no rain and the chances had dropped to 40%.  We got about one-tenth of an inch around 9 a.m. and then nothing else.  Looks like the spigot is turning off for our usual summer drought here.

I gave up and watered the tomatoes and the new roses today.  I had thought there was still enough moisture in the ground, but yesterday I planted a 'New Dawn' and the soil was dry from the surface to the bottom of the hole.  More wildflowers tomorrow.....

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Buffalograss III

So, for the person who wants to own one, what have I learned about caring for buffalograss lawns?  Who should have one?  How do you keep the weeds out?  What problems may develop?  What about watering?

As I've stated before, buffalograss is a low-maintenance grass, but not a no-maintenance grass.  When I first put it in, I followed instructions to wait until the average daily temperature was above 80F, I planted it in the correct concentration and then mulched it sparsely with straw to help conserve the moisture, and I kept it watered well.  The result was a thinly-covered piece of ground around the house that filled in pretty well by the end of the summer, but also developed more than a few weeds.  I controlled these by regular mowing in the first two years, but I didn't apply any extra water or fertilizer to the lawn.

By the third year, there were areas of the lawn that were unhappy and became sparse.  I wasn't able to find symptoms of disease as the cause, but resorted to applying a little fertilizer and watering these areas and even a dense-head like I am could tell that the grass loved the extra treatment.  So I've settled now into providing a nice bit of high-nitrogen fertilizer in early June, after the grass has greened and is growing well, at about half the rate recommended for a fescue lawn.  That seems to encourage it to keep a very dense, even turf appearance and helps it to be just a little more green.  And in the height of summer here, late July and early August, if we've gone several weeks without rain and the temperatures have been over 100F, then I have been known to give the front yard a little watering every other week or so. That keeps it from going entirely dormant and it will green up again quickly when the September rains hit.  Usually the right time to water is about when every one else in town is watering on a nightly basis and my co-workers begin complaining about their water bills.

Weed control is another aspect of buffalograss care that can't be neglected.  There are commercial herbicides that are labeled for use on buffalograss during the growing season, but I haven't used them.  Instead, I've been happy with a program of applying Barricade crabgrass preventer at the recommended time in early spring.  To control growing weeds, you can either burn the buffalograss each spring (see below), or you can spot-treat any weeds that green up (dandelions and other broad-leaf weeds) while the buffalograss remains dormant.  As long as you are sure the buffalograss is still dormant, you can use about any herbicide necessary, including Roundup.  Once the buffalograss greens up, I simply hand pull weeds or keep them mowed down.   As far as insect problems on buffalograss, I've never seen any.  My neighbor occasionally treats his buffalograss areas for what he was told was some chinch bug damage, but I'm not sure whether he actually has chinch bug troubles or whether it was just an excuse to sell him some insecticide.  He has a different variety ('Cody') than I do ('Tatanka') so it is also possible that I'm just too cynical about plant store representatives and  'Cody' is simply more susceptible to cinch bugs than 'Tatanka'.

And one last tip; buffalograss loves to be burnt annually.  When you think about it, that's hardly surprising since it evolved in the face of the frequent prehistoric burns that kept the prairie free of trees.  I believe that the removal of the dead understuff helps the grass to thicken up and it seems to green it up faster as well.  And the weeds that have started to grow simply hate being burnt and they disappear, never to be seen again.  Perhaps the positive effect on the buffalograss is merely a result of wiping out the competition, but I prefer to think that it is thanking me for recognizing its true nature and history.  Because buffalograss has a soul that you will recognize if you take it for your own.  As Todd Rundgren sang, "Like buffalograss, you crawled across my heart, oh like buffalograss wrapped yourself around my heart."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Striking Serendipity

For a brief interlude from alternating my buffalograss manifesto and some native wildflower pictures, but in line with the Native Prairie Weeks theme I've started, I thought I'd squeeze in a little serendipitous combination that is starting to "pop" out in my garden.  The picture below is a young start of a variegated 'Fiesta' Forsythia (Forsythia  x intermedia 'Fiesta), that has had its space invaded by a self-seeded Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).  I started the 'Fiesta' a summer ago as a cutting from another larger specimen and I had placed it on the end of a row of lilacs, intending it to become a summer focal point against the dark green foliage of the lilacs.  I guess that stirring the soil exposed long-buried seeds and the Asclepias won the rapid dash to the finish line.  Over time, the 'Fiesta will be taller than the Asclepias and the latter will become an accent to the former, reversing the current imbalance in height.  Regardless, I don't think I could have picked a better plant to bloom and compliment the light yellow foliage and variegation of the 'Fiesta'.  Sometimes, maybe all the time, Nature knows best.

But doesn't it make you wonder?  That it would coincidentally be Asclepias, named for the Roman god of medicine and surgery (Asclepius) by Linnaeus himself, that would so often grace the garden of a surgeon?  Or that this combination, chosen for its pleasurable appearance by and presumably to God,  also is pleasing to we mere mortals who can only admire the genius of the natural world?

Friday, June 10, 2011

June Native Wildflowers II

Oh dear, a potential obstacle has developed that might affect my plans to leave areas of the yard unmown so that I can "cultivate" the native prairie forbs this year.  I was walking the back garden last night with Mrs. ProfessorRoush and the Primary Rabbit- and Snake-chaser, when Mrs. ProfessorRoush suddenly realized that I have been merely cutting paths through the back yard and was planning to allow most of the native prairie grass to grow for the summer.  She was, to put it mildly, neither impressed by my ecological correctness nor amused when I tried to change the subject by getting her to notice a new rose.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush seems to care less about the potential for beautiful prairie wildflowers than she does about increasing her potential for encountering snakes, mice, chiggers, ticks, and other natural creatures.  So, enjoy the pictures below, because I don't know how long I'm going to be able to let these plants bloom!

A yellow wildflower that is just now coming into bloom are my stalwart Black-eyed Susan's (Rudbeckia hirta) that self-seed through my back patio bed and over the prairie.  In fact, the pictured flower just opened and is the first of many to come this year.  I have a few of these every year, and they bloom dependably through July, but seem sometimes to get a little mildew and the stems and leaves are eaten occasionally by an unidentified insect pest. These cheery little guys seem to be more prevalent than normal this year.  I can understand the cause in the patio bed since I haven't yet mulched that bed this year, trying to encourage growth of the self-seeders, but I can't explain why they're increased on the prairie. 

The delicate, but drought-resistant, Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) is always a welcome sight, as is the related white form of the Showy Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa).  These almost translucent flowers open at sunset and close by mid-morning, so the best time for viewing them is while dew still coats the grass.  They face upwards when they first open, allowing themselves to be pollinated by a night-flying moth, and then turn their faces downwards after pollination, hanging their heads in apparent embarrassment after the sex act has occurred.  I guess the flowers at the right were still virgins.

The not-so-delicate Buffalo Bur (Solanum rostratum) will grab you with it's prickly leaves and spiny calyces (burrs) if you aren't watching out carefully.  This nightshade family member, also known as "Kansas Thistle," thrives on disturbed ground and is extremely drought-resistant and an aggressive self-seeder.  At maturity, the main stem breaks off and the dry bush is blown around the prairie like a tumbleweed, scattering seed as it goes.

The strangely named Goat's Beard (Tragopogon dubius) is eaten by grazers and the mature seed-head resembles a giant dandelion showing a large white ball of plumed seeds.   The edible roots of Goat's Beard are reported to taste like parsnip or oysters (do those taste alike?) and the plant contains a milky latex sap that was chewed as gum by our prairie ancestors. 

Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria) is another oddly named prairie forb that comes in both white and yellow flowers.  We consider it a Kansas native, although the species is actually native to Eurasia.  The individual blooms are a natural artwork of color and form when examined closely.
I think I've identified most of these forbs correctly so far in the last two posts, but I lose some confidence on the myriad of small yellow composite-form flowers that inhabit the prairie.  One of those blooming right now is (I think) properly named Prairie Groundself (Packera plattensis).  If I've got the name of this one wrong, I'm sorry.   This one can be poisonous to cattle, but is rarely consumed in enough quantity to cause a clinical problem.
And somewhere out there amongst the prairie grass, the Killdeer eggs are still incubating in the Kansas sun:


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