Monday, November 28, 2011

Too Soon For Dreams

Every year I watch the commercial Christmas season creep earlier and earlier and, like all of you, I wonder where the creeping will stop. I hadn't, however, realized until today that the Spring planting season is also slowly moving forward year by year.  A spam email from Thompson and Morgan today, advertising an extension on their Thanksgiving seed sale, opened my eyes to the new reality. 

I dutifully opened the provided link to, an action at least slightly better than the rapid deletion that recent commercial emails from Wayside and High County Gardens have received.  A few brief glances at the website, however, were enough to convince me that I have no enthusiasm to shop for seeds yet.  I haven't moved far enough past the disappointments of this year to even begin to dream of next year's glorious garden yet.

Plant and seed companies need to be more considerate of the delicate condition of North American gardeners right now.  Those of us in the Northern climes are still in that "just-broken-up" phase of our relationships with our garden, fresh from the loss of daily intimate contact and too depressed to think about flirting with the next garden yet, let alone committing to a date with one.  We need some time to let the emotional wounds heal, time to begin to believe again that the next garden could be The One, that perfect garden that we've hoped for and dreamed of all our lives. Twenty-five percent off all seeds for next year just isn't enough to make me put down the chocolate truffles and move off the couch yet. I need a cold winter of rest and the lengthening days after the Winter (Southern) Solstice to heal my drought-stricken, wind-beaten, sun-scalded gardener's soul.

Save your advertising budget, nurseries and growers, for January, when the blizzards are raging, my fingers are frozen, and I've forgotten the doldrums of summer. Spam me again then, when I'm thinking of the gardens of Spring, flush with the beginnings of new love for another gardening year and early romance with the soil. The passing of time alone brings healing and hope, and hope creates gardens. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Stalwart Roses

Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Bird'
If there is a stalwart plant of the autumn garden for the Flint Hills, a prime candidate must be the various cultivars of Hibiscus syriacus, the Rose of Sharon.  Tall and drought-resistent, the Rose of Sharon or Shrub Althea begins to bloom in the heat of summer here and laughs at the worst of autumn.  By no mere coincidence, it is also one of the more "tropical" looking perennials available to grow here.

Hibiscus syriacus 'Rubis'
Hibiscus syriacus is a native to much of Asia, although not to Syria as Linnaeus thought when he named it.  This is group of tall bushy shrubs in white, purples, pinks and reds for the most part, reaching about 6-8 feet in height and four feet in width.  Flowers last for a day on the plant and they are edible, although the thought of eating a flower rarely crosses my mind.  But if you want a "plant and forget shrub" for Kansas, this is the one.This shrub alongside the viburnums, are backbone shrubs for the Flint Hills, hardy far north of my 5B climate and sneering at the worst of both summer and winter.

Hibiscus syriacus 'Double Red'

I grow all six varieties pictured on this page; 'Notwoodtwo' (also known as 'White Chiffon'), 'Red Heart' (with its red center of an otherwise white flower), 'Rubis' and its cousin 'Double Red', 'Paeonyflorus' (or 'Double Pink') and, my favorite, 'Blue Bird', the latter pictured first here, at the top.  It was that light blue of BlueBird that first attracted me to these shrubs, and then I realized the wider variety available.  Recently, as noted on a previous blog, I've also added the large white blooms of 'Diana' (a newer, sterile triploid) to my garden, although it will take her a couple of years to make an impact on my garden. 

Hibiscus syriacus 'White Chiffon'
Hibiscus syriacus 'Paeonyflorus'

Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Bird', in full flower

'Blue Bird' actually blooms a lot earlier than the others, often at the end of June before the summer heat arrives, and it is all the more welcome because of it.

Hibicus syriacus 'Red Heart'

It takes a fairly large garden to place a Rose of Sharon, but if you've got the room, they've got the flowers for your August garden.  Sometimes, these shrubs are the only left blooming in my August garden and they tide me over to the cooler nights of September.  You could say that they keep my heart beating during the August doldrum.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cardinal de Spread-Alot

It has surely been awhile since I featured a rose on my blog.  After I fled my garden in the heat of summer, the roses and I parted company for the year, except for a brief reunion in late September when enough rain came to stimulate a little late blooming.  My collection of pictures, however, has not been nearly exhausted and I'm going to use them to help us scrape through another dull winter in the Flint Hills.

One rose that I've never blogged about is my (surmised) 'Cardinal de Richelieu'.  CDR is a Gallica attributed to Laffay and dating from 1840, but at least one source has it being bred by Parmentier near that time.  Regardless, he is a low-growing (about 2-3 feet tall) but hardy creature, the worst of the Gallica spreaders in my garden, dancing all over the bed I've placed him into.  I tolerate those bad manners simply because of the prolific, very double, fat blooms and their deep, dark purple color, the darkest of the Gallica roses.  A once-bloomer, over a long period in late May here, I've also found that the flowers stand up to the summer sun and humidity of the Flint Hills pretty well, gaining a little powdery mildew on the leaves occasionally, but never fading too quickly in the sun nor balling up in the worst of wet Springs.  CDR has a strong fragrance, increasing as the petals dry, and very few thorns, so even though it tends to become a thicket, it remains an inviting one.  When it does get a little too aggressive, every two or three years, I appreciate the fact that the lack of thorns doesn't leave me reaching for a shovel to spade-prune it.

I call this my "surmised" 'Cardinal de Richelieu' because my rose is one of my cemetery cuttings, from a local grave whose headstone places the family in the late 1800's.  I could be wrong about its name and provenance, but I don't think so.  It fits the pictures, habit, and growth of that rose to perfection.  If not, then it's another lost Gallica, and a deep purple one at that.

The real Cardinal de Richelieu was Armand Jean du Plessis, a clergyman and French nobleman of the early 1600's, Described as the first "Prime Minister", he was the minister to Louis XIII from 1624 through 1642.  He was also known as the "Red Eminence" and quickly rose to power in the French court.  Richelieu was a dichotomy as a leader, ruthless against the peasants who revolted against taxes levied to pay for the Thirty Year's war, but at the same time, a renowned patron of the  theater and literary wings of the art world in France. I'm not sure how this particular rose came to bear his name, but Cardinal de Richelieu is still an honored patriot of France and the rose 'Cardinal de Richelieu will always have a place in my garden. 

Unless he loses his manners completely.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Red Rain

By a strange coincidence, "Rev" of Red Dirt Roses blog commented on yesterday's post and asked for more pictures of my southern view just as I was examining this morning's Ipicture of the same view with the intention of showing everyone how a little (very little) rain makes the red colors of the bluestem predominate.  We had a little dampness, almost a very wet dew last night:

Unfortunately, this picture just proves to me that I need to dump the iPhone for taking pictures and go back to dragging out the good digital camera, especially in the morning, because I can't hold the phone still enough in the early morning light to keep things from being blurred.  Maybe this picture of this morning's view from my house to the north, in a little better focus, will help show what I was trying to portray:

The most dramatic morning picture I intended, a closeup of a stand of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is, of course, hopelessly out of focus, so I took my thought from yesterday about making these into impressionistic-type photos:

How about that?  Now I'm wondering exactly what the object is about 3/4ths of the way across the picture just above the right end of the grass.  Doesn't look like much on the original, and I saw nothing when I took the picture, but in the modified picture it looks like I caught a raccoon sneaking away.  The same "face" appears when I try to sharpen the focus.  This is almost like one of those UFO pictures where somebody is taking a shot of a transformer junction and notices the saucer hovering nearby.  I wouldn't suspect this was real, except that coming home two nights ago, I definitely startled a pair of raccoons crossing the gravel near this point.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Frosty Morning

We had the first nights of freeze several weeks ago here in the Flint Hills, but the actual frosts have been few and far between.  It takes humidity in the air to condense as a frost and the average humidity hasn't allowed it save for a few delicate mornings.  But now, as the nights grow longer and my hibernation begins, I bless the mornings when the quiet reigns and the sun still promises a warm day at the end of the afternoon.

This picture, taken at dawn a few days ago with my  iphone, is probably not striking enough to attract any real attention by others, but for me, it hints of many marvelous possibilities. The first thing I notice is that, in its original form, the pixels are just coarse enough that if you blow it up, all the garden grasses appear a little blurred as if from in impressionist painting, showing me by example that I need to modify some photographs of my garden creatively this winter and expand my vision.  Gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll are supposed to have been influenced by her poor eyesight. Perhaps blurring the camera can help me with mine.

The moisture of the frost brings out the winter colors of the drying foliage, showing me a little more color in this early morning picture than I had anticipated in my dreary winter landscape.  I need to spend some time thinking about this view.  Since it corresponds to four months of looking out my bedroom window, improving and expanding the interest and structure of the garden could brighten my winter. 

The mowed paths through the drought-shortened unmown prairie now look too rigid, too straight, and too formal to lead me down to my haphazard garden.  Next year I'll mow them with a little less stiffness and with a little more weave.  And I think the trees need to hurry up and grow, as I need height to separate this garden from the prairie around it. 

And last, the picture tells me how late in the seasonal path we are.  That point of sunrise is closer and closer to Winter Solstice, and far south of where the Summer sun rose at dawn.  It will be interesting to see where the Solstice sun rises in relationship to my new neighbors house on the ridgeline opposite.  It's just possible that while their encroachment messed up my horizon, they've created a Stonehenge for me to measure the passing of years.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Winter Garden Reading II

The second "relaxed" winter garden reading series that I would introduce to readers is Ann Ripley's excellent mystery series that features another heroine of the gardening world, Louise Eldridge, this time a housewife who actually works a real garden while she snoops around.  The series begins with a book titled simply Mulch, where she is drawn into a murder investigation when body parts turn up in the leaves and clippings she purloined from neighborhood streets on trash day (come on, you do it too!).  The series currently runs to six or seven different murder mysteries, all well-written and interesting. 
I must confess that I liked this series a little better than the Flower Shop Mysteries, even though it seems not to be as popular and you'll probably have to go to Amazon to find it.  And I've read them all.  Louise Eldridge is a grounded woman with a mild-mannered husband, Bill (who just happens to work for a secret agency of he government), and a pair of daughters that grow up through her books.  Louise works out of the home as the host of a television garden show, so her character grows and well throughout the mysteries.  The series starts near Washington DC and then Ms. Eldridge moves to the front range of Colorado, where I believe the author now lives as well.  The sweaty hunks are missing (for the most part) from these novels, and the villains are harder to identify, so this series keeps you reading.  Pick one up, on Amazon, or otherwise wherever you can find it.  I have a copy of one of the books that I purchased at The Strand in New York City.  Where better to find a garden author?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter Gardening Reading

In Winter, my reading about gardening takes the place of my gardening, so I'm already in that phase where I'm accumulating things to read for the winter.  There are times I like serious gardening texts and times that I'd rather vegetate in what is the garden equivalent of a summer read.  You know what I'm talking about; those mostly mindless novels that have a little gardening, a little mystery, and a lot of relaxation.

Along that line, I know of two authors with a plant-focused novel series that other readers might enjoy.   Just last week, I learned of a series of around eight or ten mysteries written by author Kate Collins.  Of course, I just had to find one immediately to see if I liked it and was able to purchase the first book of the series at a local bookstore.  The series is called The Flower Shop Mysteries, so named because the main character, Abby Knight, is the busybody owner of a flower shop, "Bloomers", and is a former flunked-out law student.  Abby is constantly involved in some kind of trouble, and the series seems to be popular since it makes it onto local bookshelves. The first book of the series is titled Mums The Word, and it's a fairly decent tale of a local murder and Ms. Knight's investigation of it.  The other books in the series follow on the first, and all have clever titles like Slay It With Flowers, and Dearly Depotted.  I so love a good pun.

To be frank, I think Mums The Word was an engaging read, but I don't know how many of the rest of the series I'll be reading.   Don't get me wrong, they are good, but they are definitely written for a female market, and (as a middle-aged, hopelessly archaic, male) I'm just not the prime demographic.  In Mums The Word, the villains are easily recognizable, the women are often victims of bad dates and bad men, and there is a gratuitous hunk named Marco who makes several appearances as Abby's rescuer and heartthrob.  Being male, and hoping for a twist in the plot, I kept expecting Marco to turn out to be one of the bad guys, but, no, he just stayed a sweaty, bodice-ripping savior.  Really didn't do much for me since I never could understand the pirate-lusty maiden genera.  Carrying the book around bothered me a little as well, because, as you can see above, the cover is designed a little frilly and pastel-colored for my tastes.  Maybe I can put a plain book cover over the next one?

I thought I had already blogged about the other author, Ann Ripley, whose series I finished long ago, but it turns out that I haven't. I guess I'll make this week a "two-fer" on that front so stay tuned in a couple of days for that review.  And in the dead of winter, when you're staring out the window at a snow-covered landscape, Mums The Word could be just your ticket.  If you are a middle-aged or older female who likes pirate novels.  Hey, come to think of it, Mrs. ProfessorRoush might like this one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Either Fruit or Die, Please?

This weekend I was starting to read Peter Schneider's excellent 2009 book, Right Rose, Right Place, when a great line jumped right out of the text and tweaked my nose. 

Peter had been introducing the main themes of the book (the gist of which is that all roses are not created equally and that we should spend time choosing the roses that will thrive best wherever we want to grow them), when he wrote the striking sentence: "There are two kinds of rose failures; plants that die and plants that won't."  Now, Peter was writing primarily about roses, but for sheer calling a spade "a spade", the concept he expressed can't be beat.

I've got a number of plants that I wish would die, and my usual modus operandi in such cases is to neglect the plant until it succumbs to disease and pestilence.  Sometimes, though, I've chosen the plant so well for Kansas that I simply can't neglect it enough to kill it, no matter how dry the summer or cold the winter.

The particular plant on my mind this morning is my ugly and hopeless bittersweet plant, pictured from this morning at the upper right and to the left.  This is one of those dual sex plantings (bittersweet is a diecious plant) that I purchased with both a male (Celastrus scandens 'Hercules') and female (Celastrus scandens 'Diana') vine potted together by the nursery.  I planted them next to each other on a large wire cylinder so they could climb high and provide me with the females beautiful orange and red fruits as Fall came.

But this pair has been nothing but trouble since it was planted seven years past.  They are healthy to a fault, and they survive sub-zero winters, triple-digit summers, flood and drought with impunity.  They quickly overwhelmed the trellis, which I've had to strengthen twice previously as it was bent down by strong winds. Again, now, it is bowed to the East at about the 5 foot level from a storm that occurred in August.  Even worse, even though both vines have survived and had a typical flowering period each of the past five Springs, the plants have never set fruit.  Not a single orange kernel.  Perhaps they don't like each other and have chosen to be celibate, or perhaps the nursery sold me two male plants instead of a mixed-sex pair.  I'm discounting the possibility that they could both be female plants because wild bittersweet occurs in the woods nearby and even if these are refined and gracious cultivars, they surely would be desperate enough by now to dally with the local peasants.  In any circumstance, there's no debauchery happening in my garden and I'm tired of it.  In my view, a garden should be all about sex and procreation and 'Hercules' and 'Diana' aren't contributing to the party.

I'm done waiting on them. Since they won't either fruit or die, I'm spade-pruning them.  Well, in truth, I think I'll move them down onto the barbed wire fence in the pasture, where they can challenge the prairie for dominance or let the grasses beat them.  Maybe a little adversity will scare them into trying to reproduce themselves in a Darwinian last-ditch effort.  I don't care.  I guess you could say that I'm bitter about the failure, but anticipating the sweetness that a nice Clematis will add to that site.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Luck for a Buck (or Nine)

Yesterday I took Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her younger clone on a shopping trip.  After dropping them off into a sucking money whirlpool known to human females as a "mall", I bided my afternoon visiting the bookstore (which means more garden book reviews to come later), and browsing aimlessly at various harmless home improvement stores. 

Not expecting to find any outdoor plants for sale here late in November, I was nonetheless pleased to discover the last remnants of summer's bounty at Lowes, which consisted of several 2 gallon specimens of 'Diana' Althea (Hibiscus syriacus 'Diana'), and a number of gallon containers of variegated sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium 'River Mist').  It was surprising enough that both plants seemed to be in somewhat survivable shape this late in the season, but of more immediate importance was the fact that the 'Diana' was marked down from $16.98 to $3.00, and the 'River Mist' were all $1.00, down from $7.98.  Needless to say, there will soon be a 'Diana' planted somewhere in my beds, and a half dozen 'River Mist' edging some taller grasses.  Even if only half of the latter make it through the winter to come, I couldn't miss the price of those 'Mist', now could I? 

I either just got a heck of a bargain or else I just wasted a whole $9 and had to dig a bunch of worthless holes in my garden beds.  I'll let you know next Spring.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

October into November

One sure aspect of gardening is that we come more and more, over time, to appreciate plants that dependably put on a show.  Take for example, my 'October Glory' maple, highlighted against our first dusting of snow of the coming Kansas winter.  It has otherwise been a pretty dismal fall display here in Kansas.  The drought and summer heat combined to make most of the fall foliage sparse, fleeting, and of hue subdued.  At this time, the leaves of almost all my other trees are down, dry and crispy, blown here and there by the Kansas winds.  But here, even in this subpar Iphone photo taken at the break of dawn, stands 'October Glory', now glorious deeply into November, holding onto its leaves and glowing like a burning flame on the prairie.

In fact, looking around the garden this morning, only four trees are still holding onto leaves.  Other than 'October Glory', a paperbark maple and a swamp oak both cling to dry, ugly brown leaves.  But I'm further intrigued by the fact that one of my three Cottonwoods, a volunteer specimen that I transplanted to a useful spot, is still holding on to some gorgeous yellow leaves while the other two have long been reduced to nakedness.  I'll have to watch this one over a few years, to see if this color and foliage longevity repeat.  If I'm very, very lucky, maybe there is a 'November Sunshine' Cottonwood in the future of the gardening world.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...