Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coincidental Catnip

For some time, I had been admiring the drought fortitude of a couple of particular perennial clumps in my peony bed and that of another identical plant in a bed close to a 'Jeanne Lavoie' rose.  These happy-go-lucky plants had a textured medium green foliage that never burns or wilts, and they had began flowering recently, drawing in hundreds of honey bees while providing a nice light-pink (or is it white?) flower for my landscape. 

In a flash of unaccustomed brilliance, I realized this was obviously a plant that adapts well to my Flint Hills weather conditions, and so I resolved last week to divide and propagate it in a few more spots.  Since it was already present in a few spots, in fact, I thought that I had probably already come to that conclusion before, divided it, and then forgot about it.  Old age can be such a bummer.  Seeking to learn again the name of this little pet, however, I consulted my landscape maps in each place that it grew and I came up short.  To the best of my knowledge, I had never placed a plant matching this description anywhere near their locations.

The solution of the mystery, of course, was to acknowledge that I was likely coveting a native Kansas weed, er uh...wildflower, and to turn once again to for identification.  And, as usual, a quick search there informed me that I had been admiring the native Catnip (Nepeta cataria), which grows wild over Kansas and, in fact, over the entire United States.  And as I looked for it more carefully, I realized that this member of the mint family was growing throughout my garden; eight separate clumps, although some had not yet started to bloom. As I compared it to the cultivated forms offered locally in fact, it was obvious that my native form is identical to what I could buy for prices between $3.99 and $12.00 depending on the size of the pot.  Talk about your serendipity!  I should be digging this stuff up and selling it instead of looking to acquire more.  

Catnip, also known as Catswort or Catmint,  has a long history of use with humankind and our feline brethren.  It contains a steam-distillable terpenoid known as nepetalactone that has a slight numbing effect on people and drives cats absolutely bonkers.  In the case of felines, it is believed to mimic a natural cat pheromone to which about 2/3/rds of cats are genetically susceptible.  So, of course, people have used it in teas and poultices and smoked it, and cats have just; well, cats just view it as a self-aphrodisiac and general whoopee-maker and they just make fools out of themselves rolling around and basking in it whenever they can.  Luckily, our personal cat, living outdoors now because I want it to earn its keep in the form of mouse mutilations, seems to be immune to the effects and so my clumps remain standing tall.  Or perhaps my cat just hasn't discovered it yet, since bruising the leaves enhances the drug's effects on cats.  If you have a cat addict, you'll have to remove the plant from your garden because keeping it there is as cruel as drinking alcohol in front of a recovering alcoholic.

One last thought; nepetalactone is reputed to be ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET in the lab but it is supposedly not effective when the plant is rubbed on the skin.  I'm going to try it out because I frankly don't trust those researchers, who are likely just capitalists trying to keep us from using a plentiful and inexpensive alternative to DEET.  Of course, their motive could be to prevent me from being molested by a herd of drug-craving cats, but there are some crosses we all have to bear in the name of science. 

Friday, July 29, 2011


Well, I'll start off year two of my blog by showing you a recent little oopsie that constitutes my biggest garden error; EVER, bar none!  This little mistake was not on the same level as placing a Stella de Oro daylily next to a magenta phlox.  Nor was it quite equivalent to planting Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon' between the stepping stones of a walkway (although that would be a pretty big error).  No, this bonehead move resulted in horticultural murder, mayhem, and genocide in my garden.  I may need to convene a Gardener's War Crime Tribunal to clear up this aftermath and assign blame.

Before I confess, I must, in my defense, state the mitigating circumstances.  It was a hot Saturday.  A very very hot Saturday.  And I had been working in the garden for several hours, and likely was operating under delirium brought on by heat stroke.  And there were several things left to accomplish on my list before I melted away, including mixing up "Over-The-Top" spray to kill some grass invading an heirloom group of irises and my strawberry bed, and I was in a hurry.   So I reached for the Hi-Yield Grass Killer sitting benignly on my killing shelf (as Helen Dillon refers to it), measured out the proper amount, added some sticker-spreader, and sprayed the aforementioned areas.  And with a little left over, decided to also spray some Nut Sedge (Cyperus rotundus) that had surrounded a 'Jean Kenneally' miniature rose and some crabgrass that was romping across an island bed.

Alas, about 45 minutes later it occurred to me suddenly that I had picked up the identically shaped and sized bottle of all-purpose herbicide that I used on the buffalograss this spring. Oops.  A quick check of the label indicated that this herbicide took two hours to become rain-proof, so I made a frantic run for the hoses and quickly washed off what I could.  The only hope that I really had is that in many areas of the strawberry patch I had directed the spray only on plants choked by grass and had not generally sprayed the entire bed.  The end result is that the strawberries mostly survived, I can't bear to show you the irises, and I can only bear to show you the miniature rose.  If you peer closely at the picture at the left, you'll see that the green foliage at the bottom of the picture, taken 3 weeks after the mishap, is a surviving part of the rose.  Thank God this rose was own-root and several years old because it has a chance to recover someday. 

There are a couple of lessons here.  First, the old adage about never to "ass-u-me" anything because it makes an ass out of -u and -me applies here.  Just because I knew the bottle shape and size didn't excuse the fact that I should have checked the label.  Second, my practice of writing the concentration in bold marker on the bottle so that I don't have to search the label for it may not, after all, be a good thing.  If I had to go looking for the fine print, I might just have noticed that what I was holding wasn't what it should have been.

I've been thinking about trying to host a monthly "show your garden errors" blog day.  What do you think?  Would a display of public humility either be educational or cathartic for you?  Do you think that all of you out there with perfect gardens would find enough problems and  be willing to disclose them to make it worthwhile?  Or did I just act out the horticultural equivalent of Will Ferrell in the movie "Old School," streaking along by myself and expecting the gang to follow?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

One Year of Mind and Garden

Today, though I can scarce believe it, marks the first-year anniversary of this blog. 

From my first post, an introduction and explanation, to the most recent post Tuesday evening, 227 posts along, my blog is still evolving and changing. It has filled my need to occasionally free-associate and ramble and sometimes rant outside of my normal daily grind, and it has allowed me to explore, a little bit, the new social media outlets and think about applying them to my day job.  It has given me a chance to learn more about gardening and especially about roses, through research and from others.  And it has opened some doors to inward reflection.  I now know more about the passions that exist in my life and have an ever-so-slightly better appreciation of the important things in life from writing about them.

I appreciate, most of all, you readers and regular visitors to Garden Musings.  I've gained friends that I've never met in person and I've learned from each of you through your own observations and comments about my entries.  I've explored new plants and new thoughts because of this blog.  I've learned that sometimes the better part of  being a blogger is simply thinking about what went right or wrong in that most recent garden effort.  On the other side of this electronic divide, I hope you're enjoying a glimpse of Flint Hills gardening and that you can continue to tolerate the lens of humor and irreverent bemusement that I view the world through.  Please feel free to drop me a private line about anything you see that will help me to improve, either my gardening or my writing.  I also hope you realize that Mrs. ProfessorRoush, who is gracefully continuing to evolve into my garden muse, is not so much an onerous gardening cross that I have to bear as she is a loving and supportive companion who at least tolerates my eccentricities and the time I spend away in our garden.

As for the future, I'm content to let it develop as it will.  One thing that life (and gardening in Kansas) surely teaches us over time is that we all need to take it a little less seriously and be able to roll with the seasonal and sometimes tornadic punches.  Somewhat-daily blogging has slowed down my efforts on a second gardening book, but I hope it continues to better my writing and helps me find a unique voice.  Certainly, my grammar is slowly improving and the ideas are stacking up.  

And, anyway, blogging is but a garden of the mind, sometimes budding to bloom, sometimes wilting in the harsh light, but always expressing life in every thought and paragraph.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Charity, Wisdom, and Snooty Gardener-Husbands

Someone said it ages past; "Charity begins at home."  "Charity" in this reference means either its second definition in the free online Webster dictionary, "generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering", or in its fourth definition, "lenient judgment of others."

I'm referring in this instance to charity extended to poor, misguided Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  We were out for a meal the other evening and leaving the fairly new Olive Garden's restaurant together, when she looked down near the sidewalk and stunned me momentarily speechless with the words, "Oh, those are pretty, are those geraniums?" 

She was referring, of course, to the heat-damaged Knock Out roses lining the sidewalk of this new commercial development.  Faded and sun-burnt, but Knock Outs nonetheless.  My regular readers know full well my opinions of Knock Out, but for those who don't, I'd refer you to my earlier blog titled Anti-Knock Out Cultivarist

I was only mildly surprised that she called them geraniums (to give her the benefit of the doubt, they were quite misshapen and discoloured from 10 days of plus-100 temperatures), but I was highly offended that she called them "pretty." Various retorts tumbled around in my brain for awhile, ranging from those which were merely pitying of her tastelessness to the beginnings of a profane rant, but my husbandly instincts thankfully kicked in and slowed my tongue from answers that would have resulted in a myriad of possible spousal sentences ranging from silent pouting to banishment to the couch for upwards of a week.  After all, Mrs. ProfessorRoush and I have been married nigh on 29 years and even a slow-witted, opinionated and socially-untrainable husband will develop some rudimentary survival instincts in that lengthy time period.

I choked back any offending thoughts from coming to the forefront and said only "No Dear, those are Knock Out Roses."  And I resolved, after a little reflection, to maybe give Knock Out a little more credit.  After all, I now have personal proof that there may be a significant portion of the population who thinks that Knock Outs are "pretty."  And for me it is a portion of the population who is both pretty, and pretty nice to have around, so keeping my mouth shut is a tiny price to pay.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mowing Bedlam Revisited

In a post written last March titled Mowing Bedlam, I described how I've completely ceased any extensive maintenance on my iris and daylily beds.  Instead of individually cutting down each iris in nice fans and individually removing the remnants of last year's daylily foliage, I have been simply mowing them off and I thought the results were quite acceptable.  

Well, year two of the experiment on the daylily beds has been complete, and the results, seen at right and pictured from the opposite end of the bed as in my previous post, are just, if I say it myself, gorgeous.  And I've done nothing at all to the bed this year (no fertilizing, watering, or extra mulching) except spend about 10 minutes weeding it.  Not 10 minutes a day or 10 minutes a week, 10 MINUTES THE ENTIRE SUMMER.  It seems that chopping up last years foliage and leaving it behind as mulch is quite sufficient to keep the decent bloom going.

You'll recall that I also threatened to start mowing off the peonies and let the foliage also lie where it was chewed up by the mower.  Well, you can compare the picture of the partial bed at the left, taken in May, with the picture below of the same area, taken exactly 2 months earlier.  I don't think the peonies look any worse for wear and this was not even a good peony year; a cool wet spring resulted in the loss of  quite a few peony buds to botrytis and it didn't seem to matter if the peonies were massed in this minimally-cared for bed or separated in other beds.   

In fact, the picture above is a decent example of one of the reasons to photograph your beds.  I thought the peony season was wasted this year, but looking back at the pictures, it looks pretty good to me.  The same thing happened with my roses; I believed I had a dismal early rose season because of the wet weather, but the pictures I took of the garden in mass look like it was blooming away with no thought for tomorrow.  Using the camera really does help us see as if we were looking through the eyes of another gardener, one separated from the frost and wind and heat.

 Anyway, all written sources to the contrary, I'm continuing this experiment.  No fertilizer, no extra water, and no extra mulch but the foliage of these perennials back on the ground again this fall.  If these beds stay looking this good, my low-maintenance dreams are realized.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rosa Arkansana

I was giving a talk on hardy roses to a local gardening club recently and one of the members asked me if there were any native roses in Kansas.  To my knowledge, there are two;  invasive and colonizing R. multiflora, and prairie stalwart R. arkansana.

R. arkansana is, in fact, also known as the Prairie Rose and it is native to a large portion of central North America, from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains, and north to Canada.  This once-yearly bloomer ranges in height from one to three feet, although on the native tall-grass prairie of the Flint Hills I seldom see it above the foot mark.  There are 5 heart-shaped petals on this single, medium pink rose, and the center is covered with numerous bright yellow stamens.   According to the Kansas Wildflower site, it has roots that may go down more than 20 feet into the prairie subsoil and it is very drought-resistant.  The species name, arkansana, refers to the Arkansas River of Colorado, not the State of Arkansas.  It is the state flower, however, not of Colorado or Arkansas, but of North Dakota and Iowa.  Very confusing, isn't it?

If it has become evident that no individual identity is sacred or private on the Internet, it is even more evident for our plants.  I knew that this native rose was one of those used in the breeding of the AgCanada Parkland series roses, but during my search for information about R. arkansana, I found a 1976 article about breeding with R. arkansana written by none other than H. H. Marshall of the Morden Research Station.  I've now learned that R. arkansana is a tetraploid, containing 28 chromosomes, and so it is compatible to breed with most of our modern Hybrid Teas and Floribundas, although there are strong interspecies sterility barriers between R. arkansana and cultivated roses and so the F1 generation hybrids are hard to come by.  R. arkansana provides its hardiness to the offspring and it lends an extended blooming period due to adaptations that allow it to bloom after grazing or spring prairie fires.  It is also tolerant of the dry and moderately alkaline soils of the prairie.  To get the initial interspecies crosses, the Canadian program discovered that a few modern roses, such as Floribunda 'Donald Prior', would accept R. arkansana pollen.  The AgCanada releases 'Cuthbert Grant' and 'Adelaide Hoodless' were two of the later generation crosses that had 'Assiniboine' (a first generation cross of 'Donald Prior' and R. arkansana) as an ancestor.  Now I understand why 'Adelaide Hoodless' is essentially a once-blooming rose with a very long (over 6 weeks of bloom) season.  I also have learned that the bright red pigment of 'Adelaide Hoodless' looks a little different from other roses because it carries the pigment "Peonin", absent in most modern hybrids but inherited from R. arkansana.

I know that I've been rambling on about my Native Prairie Rose, but I would be remiss if I did not add in a link to an unbelievable fountain of Internet knowledge, the CybeRose & Bulbs site.  I don't know who is behind it, but I can already tell I'm going to lose hours and hours there. This site that contained the H. H. Marshall article is a treasury of  information on rose breeding and roses, many of them from the American Rose or its Annual and written by the giants of our rose-breeding past;  Basye, Buck, Hansen, Lammerts, Harkness, and de Vries among many others.  There is even a recopy of Luther Burbanks 1914 article, Burbank on the Rose, and  a 1976 article by a then-little-known-breeder, Mr. William J. Radler, titled Blackspot Resistant Roses.  And there is an extensive pictorial catalogue of roses.  Abandon all sense of time, those of ye who enter.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

God Loves Magenta

Well, at least He seems to.  I come to that conclusion because everything in the garden, if left to its own devices, seems to turn back into magenta.  A large portion of wild flowering plants on the prairie also seem to border on shades of magenta.  Unfortunately ProfessorRoush is not that fond of magenta.

Take for example, garden phlox.  I have a pure white form of Phlox paniculata, 'David', that is extremely healthy and vigorous here in Kansas and I have divided it several times in my garden.  My fondness for this plant may have a little to do with the fact that I have an adult son named David, but it also has to do with the fact that this is a very low-maintenance plant for me, needing little more than a haircut each spring.  It is just starting to bloom this year and while I have several pure white clumps blooming on the south side of the house, the north side plant just recently began to bloom as pictured at the right.  The early blooms are magenta, although the remaining 3/4ths of the plant looks like it will bloom the normal white form, albeit a week or so from now.  

I don't know about you, my fellow gardener, but I much prefer the all-white form pictured at the left, and therefore the "bad" 'David' is going to get ripped out at the roots.  I don't know if this was a mutation of a portion of my plant or simply some wild reseeding going on adjacent to the original plant, but the magenta parts have to go. And soon. Sorry, God, but my view of the Garden of Eden includes the philosophy that white is "good" and magenta is "evil."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hi! We're Here!

Imagine that your doorbell is ringing early on a Sunday morning when you are just trying to start the day quietly and calmly with the newspaper and a little quality time with Mrs. ProfessorRoush (okay, not the actual latter person, but somebody else close to you).  And it turns out to be your persnickety insert here (parents, brother, sister, mother-in-law, cousin etc.) arriving unannounced for their visit several weeks early.  And you haven't cleaned the house or made up their room yet and the yard needs mowed and the dishes are piled in the sink and the dog left you a present on the dining room rug.

Think about all that for a while and you'll have a small inkling of how I felt yesterday when Mrs. ProfessorRoush called to tell me that my new roses had come in and asked me what I wanted her to do with them.  Yipes!  Like many other rose-lovers, I had jumped at the 50% off sale that Heirloom Roses announced a week or two back and I ordered seven rose bands at that time.  Yes, I knew that it was the wrong time of the year to order roses for planting in Kansas.  I was counting on slow order processing in a time of increased demand, and on the promise by Heirloom that "once my order was reviewed by staff, I would receive an updated confirmation with details on the expected shipping date and the official order number."  I planned to follow through on their offer to make adjustments to the shipping date, if necessary, once they informed me of the likely time of arrival. 

There was, however, no followup email confirming the order, and now I've got to figure out how to keep seven baby roses alive indoors (which I'm not very good at) until the +100F heat wave breaks here in Kansas (which may take until the end of August at this rate!).  Planting these greenhouse grown plants outdoors right now would be approximately equivalent to applying a blowtorch to their tender leaves.  I would expect their survival time to be numbered by hours, whether I placed them in shade or in sun and regardless of watering schedule.  So, indoors they are and indoors they'll stay for, at the least, several weeks while the calendar moves closer to the Autumn Solstice. An incredibly sunny window, an old aquarium, and, I'm certain, some chemical fungal preventatives will be required.   On the plus side, these are incredibly vigorous and healthy looking plantlets, perhaps the best that I've ever received by mailorder from any nursery.  Even with that, I'll be lucky if the seven innocent little green creatures aren't seven brown sticks before I get them outdoors.

The names of my new roses, for the interested, are 'Amiga Mia', 'AppleJack', 'Chorale', 'Gentle Persuasion', 'Fruhlingsmorgen', 'Scabrosa', and 'Souv du President Lincoln'.  Yes, I'm still on a Griffith Buck rose kick. Thank God I showed some uncharacteristic restraint and narrowed my initial list down from 25 roses or so to just these seven infants.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush would have been quite unhappy if her entire kitchen cabinet space had been converted into a nursery once again. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Where the Ratibida Grows

Wandering the cow pasture this week, I noticed that a small clump of Ratibida columnifera, also known as Mexican Hat or Prairie Coneflower, has established itself just north of the fence line near my house. Finding Ratibida there was a surprising occurrence in my pasture, though after I thought about it, hardly a mysterious one.  Ratibida columnifera IS native to Riley County Kansas, as is a cousin, Ratibida pinnata (the Gray Coneflower).  The local Prairie Coneflower is, however, supposed to have only yellow-colored rays, as does the longer-rayed Gray Coneflower in this area.  The plants that I found, a small clump about 4-5 feet around, is identical to the species form found farther south, with yellow and red-brown rays dropping down from the disk as you can see pictured at the right.  
Don't lose any sleep over my find though, okay? This clump is a colony, I believe, of a Ratibida that I planted from purchased seed about 8 years ago in my garden beds. I grew it one year and one year only, hoping to see a large gorgeous, drought-resistant plant, but the small flowers and dusky coloring were disappointing so I spade-pruned it and never grew it again. This Prairie Coneflower has had the last laugh, though, because it re-seeded itself away from the controlling gardener's eyes. The newly found group exists in an area about 100 feet from the original planting, where at one time there was a cow watering tank and where the ground was previously chewed up by the cloven-hoofed dunderheads.  The disturbed ground probably gave this perennial plant a beachhead to grow in, and it has likely existed without my knowledge ever since.  At least I believe that to be the explanation because I've never found it growing elsewhere on my own or my neighbor's pastures.

I may have to give this formidable little creature another chance in my garden.  If it can survive in competition with the native prairie, through drought and cold and wind, unaided for a number of years, then it can probably do well in my native wildflower bed.  There, I might learn to appreciate it for what it is;  a survivor.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The DripMaster

I'm proud to announce to gardening civilization that I have joined that adventurous set of gardeners who have created actual irrigation systems all on their own. Yes, I am a newly-minted and self-proclaimed DripMaster. I have taken that first step onto the ever-downward path of water conservation and without so much as an "Obi-Wan" to guide me.  Before you know it, I am sure I'll be buying Birkenstocks and tie-dieing my old gardening shirts.

This past Sunday, in the early morning hours before the heat rose high enough to fry bacon on my landscape rocks, I opened the RainDrip Landscape Kit that I had purchased on sale and on a whim a couple of weeks back.  Breathless in my fear of the unknown, I laid out the myriad of "T-connectors" and "pressure-reducing" valves and "1.0 GPH drippers" and  quarter- and half-inch tubing and began to sort through the foreign language of the manual.  Like all "how-to" manuals, this one started with a suggestion to carefully plan the layout of the drip irrigation system on paper beforehand.  At that suggestion of course, like every good do-it-yourselfer, I laughed and tossed away the manual.  Who's got time for planning?
To experiment with drip irrigation, I chose a bed new to my garden this year, one that Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her smaller sidekick had complained was a step "too far"  in my secret plans to take over the yard.  This one currently has a few 'Matrona' sedum divisions and about nine new Griffith Buck roses that are struggling in the Kansas sun.  I've been hand-watering this area all spring and summer, turning aside my usual policy of letting my garden plants live or die on their own in the certain knowledge that it has been way too dry this spring to give the tiny roses a fighting chance.  Knowing that I've got 8 or 10 other roses already ordered to add to this bed, I thought setting it up for irrigation might save this gardener from withering in the coming August alongside the new roses. 
About an hour or so after starting, I had the entire system finished and dripping away, just before the temperature hit the 100F degree mark and I started dripping away alongside it.  The starter kit was quite sufficient to create the system for this small bed and yes, I planned for expansion to the new roses once they are planted.  In fact, the 50 foot main tubing in this kit was enough to start a system in another bed, but I ran out of drip heads before I could finish that one.  The bricks in the picture above are temporary until I can purchase stakes to hold the curves in place.  I think I'll be smart and not bury the thing under mulch until the new roses come in and are planted. And, since I know that you are wondering, No, I did not run drip irrigation to the 'Matrona' sedums in the bed.  I know that they'll do fine on their own without the extra watering and I am, after all, the DripMaster. 

Monday, July 18, 2011


Thank you, Associated Press. I know that I haven't talked about it here, but I've secretly spent the past month or so feeling like a complete gardening failure because of the lack of fruit set on my orchard trees and other fruiting plants.  Strawberries were first, lousy this year in both number and size.  Two cherry trees in my yard bore nothing.  The blackberries were a mediocre crop at best.  And, looking at the peach and apple trees, I've got one apple tree ('Winesap') with about one-third the normal number of apples and my 'Jonathan' and 'Gala' trees are completely apple-less.  And I can count 6 peaches on three trees.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush is quite upset, particularly at the loss of the strawberry crop, and I have caught her sneaking in produce from afar.

I have been trying to assuage my guilt about not harvesting a decent fruit crop by blaming it vociferously on our late frost this spring and the on dry fall and winter of last year. I have been avoiding entry to the part of my garden that includes the orchard. And I've been avoiding talking to other gardeners about their fruit harvests, fearful that I'll be proven inadequate by comparison and laughed at.  I was considering, for a time, wearing a scarlet "G" on my chest, the very symbol of gardening shame. Recently, the gardener's refrain of "it will be better next year or the one after that," has been constantly running through my head.

But this weekend the local paper ran an Associated Press story out of Lawrence, Kansas, and there it was in black and white; "A few days of subzero weather in late February has decimated the fruit tree crops in northeast Kansas, sharply reducing the apples, peaches...."   Ahhh, thank you Experts. near and far, for making it all better for the amateurs. They've officially blamed my lack of fruit on a phenomenon called "winter kill," below-zero temperatures that destroy the developing ovaries.  More importantly, I now know that everyone around here is in the same boat and we are all now free to commiserate and moan and gnash our teeth together, rather than hiding the knowledge of our insufficiencies in the closet with the family's eccentric Aunt and the funny Uncle. 

In the same article, the Experts blamed the strawberry loss on a different mechanism; a cool and wet spring followed by a sudden heat that scorched them just as they were ripening fruit.  Me, I don't care why it happened anymore, I just care that something or somebody other than the garden caretaker was to blame.  And I can tell Mrs. ProfessorRoush that it wasn't my fault and show her the article.  She'll believe that, won't she?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Honoring Hollyhocks

I went to bed last night to the sight and sound of lightning and thunder from a storm 30 miles to the west.  We didn't get any rain from it. I awoke this morning at 5:45 a.m. to the same western lightning and thunder and hurried outside to put some inorganic fertilizer (I sue me) on a few new pet roses. And then I ran into town to fertilize the K-State Rose Garden.  All the time wondering when the lightning, now easily within my horizon, was going to stop me in my tracks.  I had to worry about the lightning, but I needn't have worried about getting rain.  We didn't get rain. The radar showed it raining on us but nothing was reaching the ground;  I guess it was boiling off  in the early morning heat.  The storms just fizzled out in the face of the  104F temp predicted today.  It is going to be a long week of  plus-100 temperatures in the garden.

While I was at the KSU garden this morning, in between dodging the lightning, I had to admire the wisdom of a real gardener, one with a degree in horticulture to add to his experience, who planted the small island bed in the center of the parking lot.  It is filled with hollyhocks and flanked by low airy grasses on the edges. There is no water to this bed (pictured at right) other than the meager July rains and what can be hand-carried to it, but here it is, happy and healthy and the hollyhocks beginning to bloom.  The bloom above is a closeup of one of those single hollyhock blooms, beautiful in its simplicity, intricate in its color shading.  And the grasses around the bed are framing it well, transitioning to the taller hollyhocks.

A variation on that theme was a corner bed in the same parking area, pictured at left, daylilies planted at the feet of the hollyhocks and taller grasses to the fenceline, but no less water-wise or harder to maintain then the island bed pictured above.  I believe there are a number of lessons to take to heart here;  1) Choose the plant for the site.  2) The plants our grandmothers grew still have a lot going for them.  3) Step outside normal landscaping plants and practices when you can. 4) Visit your local botanical garden or University garden or the garden of a professional as often as you can because they are full of ideas.  5) Get a degree in horticulture if you really want to garden...because I'm quite impressed at the brilliance of this hollyhock plan and I would probably have never thought about it, amateur that I am.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pet Daylily

In the midst of Garden Blogger's Bloom Day at May Dreams Garden, I will add a photo of my favorite daylily, 'Beautiful Edgings'.

At first glance, 'Beautiful Edgings' is just another cream daylily, but a closeup look at this one will reveal its beauty;  ruffled edges blushing pink, a diamond-glittered surface, and a perfect large blossom.  'Beautiful Edgings' is a diploid, released by Copenhaver in 1989. And awards?  You name it and 'Beautiful Edgings' has won it; Honorable Mention, 1999; Award of Merit, 2002; President's Cup, 2002; Lenington Award, 2006.   Although the Award of Merit is the most prestigious listed here, I would highlight the Lenington Award which is given to daylilies that grow well over a wide geographic area. 

I grow 'Beautiful Edgings' in a prominent spot right at the "edge" of my front walkway and I wait for her bloom every year to tell me the daylily season has hit the half-way mark.  Sometimes, when the air is not so hot around her, the colors in the blossom are more vibrant, but I'll take what I can get in this July heat.  'Beautiful Edgings' reblooms and is semi-evergreen, if you live in a zone where you care about the growth habit.  I don't because all daylilies are dormants in Kansas for all intents and purposes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Plea for Peas

I don't know how many other gardeners have tried the old-fashioned fragrant sweet peas in their gardens, but if you haven't, consider this a plea for trying these lost lovelies.  To experience the fragrance of one of the hundred-year-old varieties like 'Painted Lady', is to experience Shangri-La, Nirvana (not the band), Vahalla, Eden, and Heaven, all wrapped into one.

'Royal Family Crimson' Sweet Pea
This year I'm growing 'Royal Family Crimson', a lipstick-red variety with a bit less fragrance than some of the older types, but with more "wow" power in the garden.  I chose them from the Select Seeds website after reading that they were bred for heat-resistance and were perfect for cutting, so they seemed to be worth a shot in my hot Kansas garden.  Indeed, they are living up to that reputation because the picture at the right was taken this morning, after a number of days of plus-100 heat in the past two weeks.  My previously grown sweet peas would have given up on blooming and started drying on the vine by now.  I have grown a number of different varieties over the years, from the old-fashioned 'Cupani's Original' to pure white 'Royal Wedding', to pink and red-striped 'American Crimson'.  'Painted Lady' is one of the oldest cultivars, very fragrant, and is widely available and she is one of my favorites.

Mixed varieties of Sweet Peas.
For the uninitiated, fragrant sweet peas, or Lathyrus odoratus, are a different species than  perennial garden sweet peas (Lathyrus latifolius; similar in form but not fragrant), and are a different genus altogether then the sweet peas we grow to eat (Pisum sativum) .  In fact, Lathyrus odoratus are considered poisonous.  For that reason, even though I know intellectually that they won't cross-pollinate, I don't grow them near consumable sweet peas from which I save seed.  I simply don't want to chance finding out I'm wrong when Mrs. ProfessorRoush whips up a nice batch of creamed peas for me.

The ancestors to the modern fragrant sweet pea varieties arrived in England in 1699, sent with or sent by a Sicilian monk named Cupani.  Directed breeding started in the 1880's by a Scotsman named Eckford. They became very successful commercially, especially with the discovery of the large-flowered Spencer types, so named because they occurred as a natural mutation in the gardens of the Earl of Spencer. They were all the rage in the early 20th century when whole flower shows were commonly devoted exclusively to sweet peas, but in the past few decades the number of gardeners who grow them seems to have faded away.   As soon as I discovered them, however, they became one of Mrs. ProfessorRoush's favorite flowers (and mine as well).

Here in Kansas, sweet peas are simple to grow and are planted in the early spring, just a little earlier then eating peas are planted.  I'm told that gardeners in milder climates should plant them in October for spring bloom, but I can testify that the seed and seedlings won't survive a Kansas winter.  I've found that mine germinate better if they are soaked for a full day before planting.  They love a spot in the sun that drains well but is constantly moist, and appreciate a little compost and extra fertilizer.  Most varieties grow as vines about 6 feet tall (although dwarf bush types are available), and so they must be provided with a trellis or fence to climb.  Mine do well with a steel cattle panel placed next to the seed line as they emerge, and I grow them in the vegetable garden currently, although in times past I have planted them beneath the shrub roses and let them climb among the branches.  If you want to keep the fragrant flowers blooming longer, dead-heading has to be done as each bloom fades.  The heirloom varieties all come true to seed if planted separately, and I keep the best varieties from year to year whenever I remember to save the seed.

I'm fairly sensitive to the strong fragrances of some plants.  I don't like, for instance, to eat in a room with even a single cloying blossom of an Oriental Lily.  But fragrant sweet peas, just as strong but not as intrusive, slip slowly into your awareness like a warm wife coming to bed late on a cold winter night.  And they are every bit as enjoyable as the latter.  Well almost, anyway.  Try a few sweet peas, wherever you can obtain them, and I promise that your sweetie will make you grow them evermore.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Buck Roses

One of my greatest pleasures in gardening is when I get to view the first bloom of a new rose or another plant; some prize that I've never viewed before even if the plant itself has grown in gardens since Cro Magnum  man first came back tired from a hunt and asked his frumpy cave-spouse if the wild blackberries were ripe yet. 

This summer, my pleasure has been enhanced by the first blooms of a set of Griffith Buck roses from Heirloom that I planted in the early Spring.  In the running for "most beautiful rose of the year," I'm going to have to place 'IoBelle' front and center.  This beautiful bi-colored rose is a hybrid tea, released by Dr. Buck in 1962, and this picture is one of the first full-sized blooms I've gotten from the still-tiny plant.  There seems to be a little confusion on the Internet over the name.  The Iowa State University websites list the plant as 'Iobelle', I purchased it as 'Iowa Belle' from Heirloom Roses, and HelpMeFind lists it as 'Iowa Belle', with the registration name of 'Iobelle'. Since Dr. Buck worked for Iowa State, I'm going to have to go with 'Iobelle' as my official reference. 

The most surprising of the new roses to me has been 'Folksinger', a 1985 yellow-blend shrub rose. I wasn't sure I would like the color of this rose when I decided to purchase it, but I've really been awestruck by the beauty of the bloom and by the quick-repeating nature of the bush.

'Queen Bee'
 I added a pair of red roses to my order this Spring, and both have performed to my expectations and beyond.  'Queen Bee' is a nice darkish-red 1984 release from Dr. Buck with high-centered and very full blooms that age a bit lighter. I'm more impressed, though, by 'Bright Melody', another 1984 shrub that blooms in bright red clusters and holds its blooms amazingly well in my summer heat.  The two pictures here are of the same flowers (well, two of them at least) taken a week apart, hardly faded despite the harsh sun.  One of the few reservations I have about many of the Buck roses are that they tend to open quickly and disappear soon, but 'Bright Melody' retains its form well over time. 

'Bright Melody' 07/10/11

'Bright Melody' 07/03/11

So there you have it, the latest rose acquisitions to bloom in my garden.  What, I wonder, will be next?  There are still several once-blooming roses out there yet to bloom for me as well as a couple of (new-to-me) Old Garden Roses.  The anticipation has me all a-prickle.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peaceful Polliwog Placement

Those readers who have followed my blog for some time will recognize the whimsical Totally Zen Frog that I purchased covertly last January and snuck into the garden without the prior approval of Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  

Mr. Frog spent the winter perched on the cement bench in my rose garden, as I had originally placed him, but he has always looked slightly out of place there; perhaps  he was a little chagrined to be in such a raucous floral setting.  That placement also made him a bit stealthy since it was easy for the observers eye to view him a part of the cement bench and focus instead on the roses around him, hiding him in plain sight, as it were.  In that fashion, it took Mrs. ProfessorRoush several weeks to notice that he hadn't previously been part of the scenery, so it accomplished my purpose.

But I've always felt that he deserved a more center stage spot, so recently I made him a prominent spot especially in the center of a long border, slightly elevated above ground level and sitting on his own stone throne.  Here, in a central position at the "front" of the garden, he is at once more noticeable and also seems to set the quiet tone I desire for the rest of the garden.  Here, I can almost visualize him humming a quiet meditative tune or opening his eyes in slight anger that my garden activites are disturbing him. I had thoughts of creating a larger, similar natural seat for myself, facing him, from which I could sit and enjoy the garden and commune with him.  Alas, however, I'm afraid to brave the ridicule and questioning that will follow the creation of another stone throne, so I decided to leave the frog alone in his meditation time for now. 

If Mr. Frog has anything profound to pass on about gardening or life, I'll be sure to let you know.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sustainable Rose

It seems to have been a long time since I blogged about a current reading, but I've been skipping among several gardening books and catching up on my fiction as well.  The summer heat is setting in and I'm beginning to do less and less in the garden during the weekend afternoons, but I do relish the chance to pick up my garden reading.  I seem to do most of my garden reading in two seasons, at the height of summer and in the dead of winter,  but I suppose that makes some logical sense. 

One recent text that I'm finishing, though, is The Sustainable Rose Garden, a 2010 Newbury Books publication edited by Pat Shanley, Peter Kukielski, and Gene Waering.  The book is a collection of essays (sometimes supplemented by a poem or short note), and it is beautifully illustrated.  All the essays are directed at some aspect of breeding or growing disease-resistant roses, or at practices in rose culture that utilize less synthetic fertilizers and artificial chemicals. 

The essays will not all be useful for all readers (chapters on Tea Roses, for instance, won't help rosarians who live in Zone 5, such as myself), but there are ideas to be gleamed from most all the writings.  The big bonuses though, are essays by well-known rosarians and rose hybridizers, such as Stephen Scanniello, Viru Viraraghavan, Jeri Jennings, and Jeff Wyckoff.  There is a whole lot of information here, including a great description of the EarthKind program where I learned that there is a small EarthKind trial going on right here in Kansas.

The highlight of the book for me, however, was a chapter written by William J. Radler, the Radler of 'Knock Out®' rose fame, titled Talking About My Work With Roses.  It is essentially a history of his interest in roses, his breeding program, and a listing and description of his current introductions.  It is fascinating, for instance that he does not leave the testing of blackspot resistance up to the whims of a particular summer's weather, but describes how he collects diseased leaves early in the season, drys and powderizes them, and then sprays it over the rose garden wetting down all the leaves;  in essence creating a worse-case scenario of disease to test his seedings.  I learned a number of interesting facts, including the revelation that the original 'Knock Out' took 11 years to get to market, while his shortest time of a rose to market has been 7 years.  And I learned how 'Knock Out' got its name.  The list and description of the currently-introduced Radler roses is informative, telling us which ones were sports from others or were genetically different seedlings from similar crossings.  And there are numerous tidbits and advice from Mr. Radler about dealing with horticultural mistakes, companion plantings, and tips for using roses in the design of the garden. 

It is comforting to know that William Radler, with six employees who help with the rose research and development, views his biggest challenge as "keeping ahead of the weeds."  Sound familiar?  I guess we don't need a lifetime of dedication to roses, a degree in landscape architecture, or recognition, fame and fortune to share some of the basic challenges of gardening;  we just need a kinship with the soil.      

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Excogitating Echinacea

I noticed this morning that Sherry, of  If only sweat were irrigation also blogged on echinacea, but she had the good sense and grace to stay with those echinaceas whose appearance closely resembles the appearance of my native species

Echinacea 'Tomato Soup'
I've been exploring, with some unease I might note, various other recently-released echinacea cultivars in my garden, and I'm starting to view the results now.  I'm prone to like the oranges and reds, but I'm not very fond of the pinks and whites and greens.  I had previously tried all white 'White Swan' several times, but I hadn't been able to overwinter it yet and it really just looks too much like a Shasta Daisy to be worth the trouble to keep trying.  My favorite, so far, is the bright orange-red 'Tomato Soup' cultivar, which is right now happily enjoying the Kansas Sun with over 20 flowers on one clump.  I must have found the right place for that one and I am planning to add some other 'Tomato Soup' plants soon, because I really love that red-orange tone.

Echinacea 'Aloha'
I've also tried a couple of others recently, with the yellow-tan 'Aloha' making a decent first bloom in my garden.  I like this one, just the right color to offset the blue Russian sage next to it.  I have high hopes for 'Hot Summer', but that one is a new one for me this year and it hasn't bloomed yet. 

Echinacea 'Hot Papaya'
I am, of course, very picky about the echinacea cultivars I choose.  I really can't even bear to look at many of the new cultivars that have been introduced from nurseries far and wide.  Very double "poofy" echinacea such as 'Pink Double Delight' are no delight for me and remind me of a highly manicured French poodle.  The lime green 'Green Jewel' leaves an acid taste in my mouth.  Why breeed for a green flower on an already green plant? 'Marmalade', or 'Coconut Lime'? Or 'Meringue' or 'Coral Reef'? 'Fatal Attraction' would surely be the death of me!
  Please, no more of the off-line colors, my stomach can't stand it.   I WOULD like to find an easy source for 'Tiki Torch' as I believe I could use that orange in my garden, and I will admit to trying out 'Hot Papaya' last year (pictured at right), which is as far as I'll go in trying the new doubles.  Not sure yet whether I'm very excited about this one, but I'll let it live a year or two yet.   As far as purplish 'After Midnight' goes, we'll have to see.

For the rest of us, it's important to note that most of the new Echinacea have come from only four modern breeders.  In 1968, Ronald McGregor suggested that interspecies crosses were possible, but it was Jim Ault of the Chicago Botanic Garden who put that theory into practice in the late 1990's crossing Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea paradoxa, Echinacea angustifoloia and others.  Ault is responsible for most of the breakthrough colors.  Richard Saul of Saul Nursery in Georgia created the Big Sky series with Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea paradoxa crosses.  Dan Heims of Terra Nova is hard on their heels.   Arie Blom of the Dutch nursery AB-Cultivars is responsible for many of the anemone double-flowered forms, for those who like them (I'm not in that group).
As for the future, who can tell.  Right now I'm content to view the explosion of new garden varieties and either turn up my nose at them or bury my nose in a new, and often fragrant, bright blossom.


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