Thursday, July 26, 2012


A miracle has occurred on the Kansas prairie.  I have, at long last, grown sweet corn in the Flint Hills.  Praise God and pass the butter and salt!

This may not be an earth-shattering accomplishment to many of you from other climes, and perhaps not to many farmers in this area, but I have been completely stymied for years trying to grow edible sweet corn in my own garden.  I have experienced years where I had poor germination (soil too cold?), years where the wind blew the knee-high corn flat before it could tossel, years where the ears didn't fill out (too hot for pollination?), and years where I had decent ear growth, but opened up the shucks to find that I'd raised only a superb crop of earworms.  I've had decent corn stolen at the last minute by raccoons, I've had seedlings mowed down by deer and rabbits, and I've even caught quail scratching and eating the seed as soon as I planted it.  Those are all minor pests compared to earworms in this area.

To borrow and modify for gardening a term currently popular among teenagers and young adults,  have, in summary, I been "corn-blocked" for a decade by wind, drought, earworms, raccoons, rabbits, deer, and birds.  The worst of all are the earworms;  not only do they leave me believing I've had a good crop until I try to harvest it, but earworms as a species are completely disgusting.  I refuse to just cut off the end of an ear full of worms and worm feces and then cook and eat the remainder.

My inability to grow edible corn is all extremely embarassing for me, a descendent of several generations of Indiana farmers.  My long-lost Indiana, where the soil drains better, where the wind is gentler, the rains more frequent, and the mid-summer heat less searing, is tailor-made for corn. You can toss corn down in Southern Indiana on the surface and it will grow and produce.  Heck, it grows as a volunteer annual from year to year if you leave too many kernels in the field.

This year, inexplicably, the Maize God decided to take pity on my efforts and allowed me a decent crop.  Not without some effort on my part, however, effort honed by years of hard-won lessons.  I selected my corn variety carefully, choosing Burpee's 'Honey and Cream' because the package noted that it had "tight silks".  I laid down some soaker hose along the rows and I have religiously watered deep twice a week after germination. I provided plenty of nitrogen fertilizer as the corn stalks rose.  As soon as the silks appeared, I sprayed weekly with cyfluthrin, stopping when the silks were brown, for a total of three applications over late June and early July.  I made sure the electric fence stayed in working order as the ears grew and the signs of deer in the yard became more frequent.

These six ears of merely slightly poisonous corn are just the first of what I hope will be a few nice meals for myself, Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her diminutive clone.   I don't have any innate desire to upset all the diehard organic gardeners out there, but I firmly believe that any residual insecticide that penetrated the husks and survived the printed withdrawal period must surely be less harmful to my health than the earworm poop.  Probably tastes better too.  Anyway, I'm not worried about the insecticide;  I'll just feed the first couple of ears to Mrs. ProfessorRoush and if she doesn't develop tremors, than I can safely dig in.

Remember that scene in "Cast Away" where Tom Hanks starts his first fire on the island and dances around shouting to the sky, "I have made fire"? Well, that's me today. I HAVE GROWN CORN!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Portland's Duchess

I'll show you a rose today that has continually surprised me.  Surprised me because I wasn't expecting much from it and I got these great big, hot pink flowers.  Surprised me because, in general, I'm not a fan of hot pink flowers and yet I like these.  Surprised me because the repeat bloom has been better than I expected. 
That rose is 'Duchess of Portland', a Damask Perpetual that was known prior to 1775 and who gave birth to an entire rose class named after her. This reported hybrid of 'Quatre Saisons' and Rosa gallica officianalis is one of the few reblooming roses  grown in the Western Hemisphere before the China roses and their hybrids took Europe by storm.  Perhaps because of her ancient heritage, 'Duchess of Portland' can be found under many different names, including Portlandica, The Portland Rose, Rosa Paestana,  Rosa damascena portlandica bifera, and Scarlet Four Seasons' Rose.  There was some suspicion that she DID have some 'Slaters Crimson China' in her background, but Internet sources say that any China heritage was disproven through DNA analysis at Claude Bernard University in France. 

'Duchess of Portland' has semi-double blooms (10-16 petals) with a diameter of 4 inches in my 6A climate.  Four inches might not seem like a large bloom size compared to a Hybrid Tea like 'Peace', but the flat shape and the small number of petals puts this rose in a class with 'Altissimo' for standing out in the garden.  There is a strong sweet fragrance to reward any nose that dares to part the golden stamens.  It is also her lipstick-bright pink color that sets this rose apart, almost scalding your eyes if you look at it too long.  Officially, this color is labeled as "red", in the same way that many Old Garden Roses that were really fuchia or pink were labelled  "red", because that was the best red tone in roses available in former centuries.   Personally, I think it is time to stop calling these roses "red."  They're pink, okay, can we just agree to call them that?  I've had two bloom flushes already this summer, with a few sporadic blooms in-between, and I hope yet to see another flush as cooler weather returns in the fall.  The bush is round in form, extending about 3 feet in all directions, very healthy and drought-resistant, and she sets a few orange hips as the season ends.

Some roses just have more history than others, and 'Duchess of Portland' is one of the former group with history to spare.  She is the mother of the entire group of Portland roses, which once numbered in the hundreds but has dwindled to 15-20 commercial varieties.  The origin of the name was from a namesake Duchess of Portland who was a plant collector around 1780.  And yes, she may be old, but she's still very much worth adding to your garden.  Just don't expect her to hide among other roses, because she was bred to stand out.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Yucca Dabble Do!

It has been almost 2 years since I wrote of my attempt to find and then to grow Red Yucca, or Hesperaloe parviflora, here in Kansas. I had first seen this native Texas plant used as a common xeri- landscaping plant in Las Vegas, so I thought I'd give it a try here in dry and windy Kansas. Originally, I purchased three Red Yucca and one yellow-form (Herperaloe parviflora 'Yellow') from High Country Gardens.  The yellow-form Hesperaloe was a larger plant and it bloomed last summer and again this summer, growing slowly but steadily in a protected sunny exposure spot.  In fact, right now, I'm starting to think it is in a spot that's a little too shaded by an adjacent Caryopteris clandonensis.

The small fragile Red Yucca plants, however, really got put to a test in the Flint Hills environment.  All three were planted in a slightly raised bed surrounding a crabapple tree next to my driveway.  This put them directly in one of my worst wind-swept, sun-burnt, winter-cold-exposed beds.  Seriously, the next closest westward wind break for this bed is probably the Rocky Mountains.  As an added bonus, the soil in this bed was originally dull orange subsoil clay.  Daffodils, mums, petunias, you name it, they have all died in this bed.

I'm pleased to report, however, that the  Red Yucca's have done well.  From 4-inch tall plants with 3-4 leaf spikes each,  all three now have a good clump of basal foliage about 12 inches tall, and two of the three bloomed this summer on top of three-foot-tall racemes, as pictured at the left.  The blooms are red outside and yellow inside and are waxy enough to stand up well to the drying winds we've had on the recent hundred-degree days that cause the roses open and shrivel by the end of the day.  And talk about your long-blooming plants! One of my two plants first started blooming at the end of May and still looks as fresh as it did at that time.  I've been holding my breath, thinking that the prairie winds would surely break off the fragile-appearing raceme, but it has so far withstood the worst winds of the summer, including one blast with peak 70-80 mph straight-line winds. The second of my precocious bloomers opened up about two weeks ago and quickly reached the height of its neighbor.
As flowers go, you could safely say that I'm not personally excited by them, and at present this is a mere curosity.  I may change my mind, however, if these plants reach the size and exuberance I saw in Las Vegas.  I haven't seen the hummingbirds that this plant is supposed to attract yet, but I'll give it a few years to make a large mass before I call that part of the experiment a failure.  Till then, other gardeners in the dryer climes of the MidWest might want to give this plant a try.  Heck, as the climate here dries and changes, the native Hesperaloe may make their way to us anyway, becoming weeds in our gardens.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

I Have a Secret

It's a great big Surprise Secret, and by continuing to read this entry, you have to promise that you won't tell Mrs. ProfessorRoush about it.  Because, if She Who Has No Patience finds my secret out, she'll be like a child on a long trip, asking every 5 minutes how long it will be before we reach the destination. 

Okay, here it promise you won't tell her now, right?   I HAVE PECANS DEVELOPING ON MY PECAN TREE!  A whole dozen of them in fact.  That may not seem like a big deal to readers in Georgia, but believe me, while these might not actually be the first pecans to develop here in Manhattan, they're probably in the running to be at least honorable mention.  I don't know of a single other pecan tree in town.  Most local nurseries don't stock them.  Until a few years ago, a homeowner would have been told that they didn't grow here and if they did, they wouldn't produce nuts.  Well, nuts to that thought.

My pecan tree, a so-called Carya illinoensis "northern strain," was planted in 2003 and now stands at around 15 feet tall.  Pecan trees are supposed to require pollination from another pecan tree, so I've got another seedling about 50 feet away, and even though it's only 4 feet tall, it must have done the job.  Either that or I'm being fooled and these are the biggest gall wasps anyone has ever seen.  You see, I have to confess, I've never seen a pecan outside of the grocery store plastic bags.  I've never seen one actually growing on a tree.  Does anyone out there know how to tell when they're "ripe"?  Or how to process them?  I've got lots of reading and research ahead of me.

Mrs. ProfessorRoush will be very excited if I can surprise her with some fresh pecans.  She might even have to take back some of the mean things she has said about my gardening abilities.  Yeah, right, and I hear that while global warming is happening here on Earth, the glaciers are growing in Hades.  But an old gardener dream, can't he?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Altissimo Adoration

I'm still going to keep the anticipation level growing for 'Duchess of Portland', because this week I feel that I just have to show you my 'Altissimo'.  He's blooming in a third flush right now, and is quite a standout in his bed.  If a fellow of ruddy complexion does that well in a (garden) bed, then I feel he deserves a little moment of acclamation by an appreciative rosarian.

I grow 'Altissimo' as a shrub, although I know he can be used as a climber in some climates.  He's had a rough go in my garden.  When I was Zone 5B he struggled a bit and died back in the harsh winters, stretching up to 6 feet tall and then freezing down to his knees.  But since I've become Zone 6A (which still sounds a little odd and miraculous to say out loud), he's doing better summer to summer.  I also moved him about the time my climate jump occurred.  From the center of a dry bed where he seemed to sulk from being placed next to some boisterous taller ornamental grasses, I moved him to the sunny south-facing edge of a wetter bed.  He seems to like the sodden clay around his feet better than no moisture at all, or at least he likes the solitude of his placement without the encroachment of neighbors.

'Altissimo', registered as DELmur, is a cardinal red large-flowered climber who may grow to 15 feet tall in warmer climates, but I've only seen him to about 7 feet here.  The single flowers have velvety-textured petals and prominent yellow stamens and range from 4-5 inches in diameter.  Blooms are reported to have a mild clove fragrance, which I unfortunately can't detect.  'Altissimo' blooms in rapid flushes, but is rarely without a few blooms all summer long. The blooms stand out and almost glow against the dark green glossy foliage on a healthy bush with thick, stiff, moderately-thorny canes.  The foliage is fairly healthy, with a little blackspot at the bottom unless some preventatives are applied.  'Altissimo' was bred by Delbard in 1966 from a cross of 'Tenor' and a seedling.  Trimmed as a shrub, I can keep him neatly at around 3-4 feet tall, with a spread almost as broad.  The picture at the left is his third bloom cycle, still a stunning picture in the garden.

'Altissimo' is one of those roses that I think would make an excellent pillar rose if one were so inclined.  If we don't have a reversal from global warming to cooling within the next few years, I may try him that way myself because I hate to keep him chopped down when he could be reaching for the stars.  In the meantime, I can still relish his vivid red blooms at a more controlled height, shining like a beacon to drag visitors towards the back of my garden. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wrong side!

Listen closely, friends.  I'm about to let you in on a little known secret that the gardening "how-to" books never tell you.  We probably all know that some plants bloom more abundantly on their "sunny" side, right?  Well, how many garden experts actually take that thought to the next level and mention that, if we want to see bloom from our windows, we should select plants that bloom "towards us?"  Or, said another way, how often are we told to orient our garden beds so the best blooms will face the house, if it is your purpose to enjoy your garden from the inside?

I was struck by this thought recently as I walked around my garden admiring a Rose of Sharon, specifically, Hibicus syriacus 'Rubis'.  I have a number of different Hibicus, placed hither and yon in my garden beds, and it occurred to me that these bushes all bloom much better on the side facing the sun.  Which, in this case, is unfortunately NOT the side that faces the house.  As an example, compare the picture at the right of the paragraph above to the picture at the left of this one.  The two pictures were taken within the time it took me to walk around the bed and snap the shutter twice.  Lots more bloom on the top picture, correct?  Well, this is the side away from my house, facing almost due South (the direction the back of my house faces).  The opposite, or North side, faces the house and has much less bloom, depriving me of the best view of this shrub in the Autumn garden.  A white Hibicus with a similar issue is at the opposite end of this bed (the whole bed parallels the back side of my house).

Of course, this whole problem is moot if we plan to spend lots of time walking around our gardens and viewing them from all angles, as we know that we should.  ProfessorRoush, however, gardens in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  When this shrub holds center stage in my garden, it is always during the hottest days of summer, the dog days, and I generally interact with my garden only between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. during that period.  I prefer to stay indoors and stare at my crispy garden during the remainder of the day.  I would be most appreciative if breeders would select for shrubs that  would bloom most heavily towards the house rather than away from it, whatever that direction might be.   Is that too much to ask?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Well, Bust My Blue Buttons!

I attempt to grow only a few annual plants here in Kansas, with the sole exception an annual small bed of petunias that sits in the completely exposed branching point of my oval driveway.  I have no great love for petunias to confess, it just so happens that they are about the only plant that will provide continual bloom and color in spite of the blustery wind and lack of water at this site, a fact I discovered after years of trying daffodils and tulips and salvias and other species there.  This year, I did experiment with some "companion" annuals in my vegetable garden, marigolds and fennel and dill, in an effort to provide some help with insect control around the brassicas and beans.  But that's the normal extent of my annuals.

I dearly love, however, bright blue flowers, and so I have attempted several times over the last decade to develop a decent stand of blue cornflowers, Centaurea cyanus, or "Bachelor's Buttons" as they are known to the unwashed masses.  I have also failed several times.  I never have understood why;  cornflowers are supposed to like full sun and mildly alkaline soil.  Perhaps I  have just never watered them enough to get them established.

Imagine my delight then, that in this drought-stricken year, when daylilies have deserted me in my hour of need, this miserably hot year is the year that the cornflowers finally grew easily, bloomed spectacularly, and continue to please me as we speak.  How restful the sight of all that beautiful blue.

Any reading you might do about cornflower history will expose all the myths and symbolism represented by this flower.  It is the emblematic flower of a number of human social constructions, from the Swedish "Liberal People's Party" to the Freedom party of Austria, among many others.  It is the national flower of Germany.  To the French it is the symbol of the 1918 Armistice that ended the First World War.  If you wear one in a buttonhole, as prescribed for young men in love, you should just hope that the flower doesn't fade too quickly, a sign that your love is not returned.  I have no idea what it means if it is worn by a young lady and the flower fades.

I, of course, had no idea of the heavy weight laid on the flower by this symbolism.  I only adore the color.  I already know that my climate makes it impossible to grow the similarly-colored Meconopsis grandis, the Blue Poppy.  Do you think that my love for Centaurea is enough to ensure that it blooms for me again in the future, or am I doomed to be "cornflowerless" evermore?


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fine Ferdinand

'Ferdinand Pichard'
Let's see, let's see, what rose do I feature next, what rose do I like the best?  I think it is time for stripes again, so we'll discuss 'Ferdinand Pichard' and leave 'Chapeau de Napoleon' and 'Duchess of Portland' waiting in the wings.

Isn't 'Ferdinand Pichard' a lovely rose?  He's a toddler in my garden, at the beginning of his second summer and after a nice first bloom in the first week of May, he rested, stretched up a bit, and is beginning to bloom again now, two months later.  I'm holding my breath with this rose, having lost him as a baby rose once before.

'Ferdinand Pichard', cupped form
As many readers are aware, I'm a sucker for stripes, and 'Ferdinand Pichard' is quite a stunner in that regard.  I wouldn't call him magenta and white, unlike 'Variegata di Bologna', ole FP is more pink and red.  Globular blooms are nicely fragrant, double, and about 3 inches in diameter in my garden, and they open to a cupped form within a couple of days after showing color.  The bush is well-foliaged, with matte green leaves that still look very healthy in mid-summer.  He's about 3 foot tall now, in July of his second year on his own roots, and in some areas may grow up to 8 feet with a 4 foot spread,  I don't think I'll see that size here in Kansas but if his growth spurt this summer is any indication, he'll be a tall gentleman none the less.  Reported hardy to Zone 4, 'Ferdinand Pichard' is completely cane-hardy here in Kansas.

'Ferdinand Pichard' was bred by Tanne in 1921, and he originally hails from France.  There is some confusion about his classification. lists FP as a Hybrid Perpetual, while other sources, including the Old Rose authority Graham Thomas, believes he is a Bourbon. The Montreal Botanical Garden listed him as being very resistant to blackspot and mildew in 1998, in agreement with his booming health in my garden.  David Austin lists FP as being one of the finest striped roses.  Personally, if I had a choice between only 'Variegata di Bologna' and 'Ferdinand Pichard' at this point, I'd be hard pressed to decide since the Bourbon-bred scent of VdB is slightly stronger, while 'Ferdinand Pichard's repeat bloom is much more dependable.

Oh, who am I kidding?   'Ferdinand Pichard' wins hands down.  I've never seen more than a single second bloom from VdB after growing it for 10 years here.  'Ferdinand Pichard' has already given me two bloom cycles with decent flushes, and according to one source, "only gets better with age."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Daylily Disappointment

If some of you have been waiting for some daylily pornography from the Flint Hills, I'm afraid that you are just going to have to share disappointment this year with the rest of us.  It has been a bad year for many plants, to say the least, but the daylilies have been hit the worst of all. 

Bed "A", 7/2/11
Just take a peek at this bed as an example.  The picture at the left is from July 2nd, 2011, and the picture at the right below is the same bed, from roughly the same angle, on June 24th, 2012.  Both were about at the point of peak bloom in their respective years.

Bed "A", 6/24/12
We knew it was going to be bad with the Winter and Spring drought here, but I never dreamed that daylilies would struggle, rain or no rain.  Clear back in May, the Master Gardeners in the area were debating whether the foliage loss was due to fungus or drought.  I was on the drought side of the argument and I even broke down and watered once this year.  Looking at these pictures, I think the drought proponents were correct.

Bed "B", 7/2/11
I've actually been trying to hide my daylily failures this year, but I figured it was time to come out of the closet when emails from the local Hemerocallis Society, who put on an exhibition at the town mall every July, were discussing whether or not there were enough blooms to even bother this year.  At least I know that the experts are missing their daylilies too.  Look at my second bed, as photographed last year on the left, and then again, this year on the right, below.

Bed "B", 6/24/12
I may, in a later post, show a few of the daylilies that did make it though summer heat to shine as bright spots, but first I have to edit their pictures through my tears.  Maybe next year, if the daylilies survive, I'll have more to offer.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Greggo's Gasser

According to Mrs. ProfessorRoush and my children, I am almost impossible to buy gifts for.  And they get no argument from me in that regard.  In the first place, I'm a man of few wants.  A little land, a little rain, a few plants, a little rain, a little peace and quiet, a little rain, and a little attention from Mrs. ProfessorRoush are about all I ask for. Anything else I want, I usually either buy before I've expressed the thought that I want it or else it is too expensive to buy and so I reason that I really don't want it.  When asked, I can occasionally come up with a book I'd like to read or a new shovel I need, but nobody seems to like to give a gift when the giftee knows exactly what choices the gifter has.  I would have said its an efficient use of time, but others claim that it isn't any "fun."

My fellow blogger and friend Greggo, however, he really knows the way into the cracks in a gardener's psyche.  This week, I had the honor of an in-person visit from Greggo and his wife to my garden as they happened to be passing through Manhattan.  It is a rare pleasure possible only in this Internet-driven world when two people with so much in common can connect and share experiences like they had known each other for years.  Greggo has read enough of my blog and remembered enough to be able to ask about the outcome of some "trial" plants and to ask to see other plants he was interested in that he knew I grew.  It was a great visit.  Greggo collected seed from my Centaurea macrocephala, so I hope to see it growing in his yard next year.

As icing on the cake, Greggo came bearing gifts as well!  In my basement window right now are the potted starts of a sedum he had gathered during his travels and was kind enough to share with me.  They will eventually become Greggo's Sedum in my garden.  The sneaky devil one-upped that nice gesture however, with his gift of the gas-can pictured here.  An antique Eagle-brand can with "The Gasser" printed boldly on its side.  Just feast your eyes on it, a real, honest-to-god, non-leaking, non-California compliant can to replace the precious one that my daughter and her boyfriend destroyed and that I wrote about earlier here.  To me, it was like giving a gift of gold bullion, a gift of pure friendship, a delicious combination of knowing that I could fill a gas tank without the "no-spill" spout spilling gasoline over everything in a 10 foot radius, and also knowing that I am being a little bit defiant to our political masters.  Take that, you meddling bureaucrats, I've got an old-style gas can again!  That Greggo, he sure knows the science of gifting.  Thanks again, Greggo!

I've already filled it and filled up the lawnmower with it, but between gas trips, it will stay hidden, safe from Mrs. ProfessorRoush and the thieving children.  I know how they are; they see a good tool or gas can and too soon it is gone, spirited away never to be seen by the gardener again.  Just ask my Dad about his favorite green-dipped adjustable wrench that he hasn't seen for the almost 30 years since it relocated itself to my tool box.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I am fully aware that in my advocacy for the Griffith Buck roses, I often veer dangerously close to being mistaken for a mouth-foaming, rabid animal, or else, in this zombie-crazed era, a Koolaid-drinking zombie.  Yes, for the record, I am a rabid supporter of Dr. Buck's rose program.  His career work breeding and selecting roses in my general region and with no extra winter-care or pesticides has benefited every rose-lover in the MidWest.  Those principles certainly resulted in a number of beautiful and healthy roses for the Kansas climate.

To be brutally honest, though, there are a few Buck roses that I am a little less enthusiastic about, and 'Folksinger' is one of those at present.  'Folksinger' is a yellow-blend shrub bred by Dr. Buck in 1985.  On paper, I should be absolutely crazy about this rose, which is a cross of 'Carefree Beauty' (one of the best roses to grow in Kansas) and 'Sunsprite' (long my favorite yellow Floribunda and a very fragrant one). I agree that  'Folksinger' is fragrant, but to my nose it is a step down from the award-winning  'Sunsprite'.   The initial color of the double flower is actually a peachy-orangey tone that I really like in roses, but on the downside, it fades quickly.  In fact, that rapid fade touches on my biggest complaint about 'Folksinger'; the Hybrid-tea style buds look great and then often, before I can enjoy the bloom, it opens up quickly and fades to off-white (see the bloom at the right, only one day older than the same bloom at the upper left).  I guess I have a second complaint as well; I initially thought that it repeated quickly as a very young own-root rose, but this year I feel the repeat of this rose is fairly slow; both 'Queen Bee' and 'Bright Melody' in the same bed have bloomed three times while 'Folksinger' is just coming into a second wave of bloom.

The bush is about 3 foot tall and round in its second full Summer here in my Kansas garden, just short of its mature expected height of 4 feet, and I do have to be honest and admit that the foliage is a perfect glossy medium-green and very healthy.  No fungal sprays or insecticide needed here.  It is fully hardy in my garden and is reported to do well down to Zone 4 winters without protection. 

'Folksinger' is certainly a rose that I will keep growing, and perhaps it just needs to make it to maturity to win over my heart.  Then again, maybe it is the climate change and the heat this year that the rose is not just responding to.  I may find I like it better in cooler Fall.  Or perhaps next Spring.  Or perhaps the Spring after that.  Dr. Buck could not have been wrong.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Other Front

Well, at least the other side of my front bed.  In contrast to the yellow border that comprises the right side of my front landscaping, the left side (as you view it) is mostly a succession of reds.  The view recently, in late June is certainly red and green as shown below, the red provided by the second blooms of roses 'Champlain' and 'Hunter' in the background, and Monarda 'Jacob Cline' in the mid-picture, self-seeding madly.  If the picture was large enough, you could see a burgundy Knautia macedonica sticking out behind 'Hunter'.  The picture is clear enough, however, to probably discern the light blue native Salvia in front, Salvia azurea, that I also allow to self-seed anywhere it wants.

When the season first began however, in March, it was only the Red Peach tree showing color, with a few minor daffodils sticking their yellow heads out as shown below.  It is always stunning to me how sparse is the March look of this bed, and how bountiful it is in June.

It then moves on to "first bloom" in April, the red of the roses and the burgundy of 'Wine and Roses' Weigela mixing in a monochromatic theme. Okay, maybe there are a few blue and purple irises and yellow rose Morden Sunrise mixing up the foreground.

Then later, in May, the line of peonies in front pops out even while the roses are still blooming (below).  The peonies add pink and light pink and red (the latter from peony 'Kansas') into the mixture.  And oh, how those deep purple irises show up!  'Wine and Roses' has faded to a burgundy blog in the center.

As the peonies fade, by early June, this garden again (below) goes back to just roses as shown in the first picture above.  The view from the opposite side, in late June, looking out from the front door, is still mostly red and green, but here you can see the stepping stones that are hidden by the lush front display.  There is no hint yet of the white 'David' phlox in the foreground, blooming now only a week after this last picture was taken.  I'll show the phlox and the fall look at the sedums in this bed in a later picture.  All have their season to shine, each and every plant.  Another season, passing away into next year's promises.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Katydid Quandary

What is the Katydid doing?
It really is not fair;  the depth and   numbers of challenges presented daily to organic gardeners (or to those, like myself, who strive to garden organically but run screaming for the pesticides when minor nuisances become invasions).  It is hard enough to know the important facts of growing even one plant to full glory, let alone the knowledge necessary to supervise the growth of hundreds of species in the average medium-size garden.  Soil pH requirements and lighting requirements, common pests and fungal diseases, cultivar differences and watering preferences; sometimes I think it would be easier to get a PhD in Physics than to become an authority on, say, Sweet Corn.  In fact, since I've failed to grow ear-worm-less Sweet Corn on multiple occasions, perhaps I should give Physics a shot.  I can't do any worse.

Just take, for example, the questions evoked by finding the above insect on your 'Prairie Harvest' rose, as I did recently.   The knowledgeable gardeners among you may identify it as some sort of Katydid, or, if you're from the British Isles, a Bushcricket.  But is it friend or foe?  Predator or flower glutton? If I leave it there, on the rose, will it consume the rose and then make lots of little katydids to devour the rest of my roses?  Alternatively, if I leave it there, on the rose, will it reward me by consuming the first scouts of the Japanese Beetles that I expect will reach my garden shortly?  From my contacts with Katydids in childhood, I think they're harmless to myself and perhaps to plants, but I simply don't know enough.

And quick simple research, it seems, even in these days of instant information, isn't enough to do anything more than cloud the issue. To answer the question I've posed, I think one would need to be an entomologist with a lifetime spent specifically in research regarding this insect family. Even then there might not be a definitive answer.  Katydids are in the family Tettigoniidae, which contains more than 6400 species.  They are closely related to crickets, and the diet of some of them includes leaves, flowers, bark and seeds, but many speces are exclusively predatory on insects or snails.  Some are considered pests by commercial crop growers according to one source, but that source doesn't mention which crops are affected.  You can find lots of information about the wierd oral sex practices of the Katydids, but there is little written about their effects on garden plants. Is this yet another example of human voyeurism distracting us from the real issues at hand?  It does me little good, and only leaves me feeling inadequate, to know that the Tuberous Bushcricket (Platycleis affinis) has the largest testicles in proportion to body mass (14%) of any recorded animal.

Which leaves me with what to do about my little friend here?  I don't know.  If it was on another rose than my beloved 'Prairie Harvest', for instance if it was on 'Sally Holmes' or perhaps on 'Knockout', I might worry about it less.  I suppose as long as I find only one or two Katydids, I'll turn the other flower bud and allow them a chance to prove themselves.  A few thousand Katydids would, however, overwhelm my good nature in the way that one Hun is seen as an interesting visitor, while a few thousand Huns is a marauding horde.  Perhaps alongside that thought lies the answer; a properly maintained organic garden should display a balance: a little of this, and a little of that, but never too many of a hungry-looking contingent of Huns.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sweet Charlotte

'Charlotte Brownell' in hot June (6/12/12)
Every once in a while, I stumble upon a rose that I may not have been specifically searching for, but yet once I find it, I MUST grow it.  There seems to be a list in the back of my head of roses that I'd like to have, but they are secondary to the primary roses that I really want.  The roses that I really WANT, I just find online and order as the whim and finances strike me. 

On that secondary list, for an extended time, was the cream and pink Brownell rose 'Charlotte Brownell'.  I finally found her as one of those horrid, bagged $3 roses at Home Depot, but that didn't detour me from taking her home and giving her some extra care.  I already have tried, lost, and tried again another Brownell rose, 'Maria Stern', and I thought that 'Charlotte Brownell' might make a good addition to my collection from this family of hardy-bred hybrid-tea like roses.  I'm sure that I once read that 'Charlotte Brownell' has an impeccable pedigree, a seedling descended from 'Peace', but now that I'm trying to find it, I can't confirm that information in an authorative source anywhere.  Rats.

'Charlotte Brownell' in cooler Spring weather (5/13/12)
'Charlotte Brownell' was bred by Herbert Brownell, the younger son of famed rose-hybridizer Walter Brownell, as a member of a group of roses that the Brownell's called the "subzero" roses, bred for hardniess in northern climates.  The sub-zero roses  were Hybrid-Tea type roses that were supposed to be hardy without protection to -15F, and they include roses such as 'Lily Pons', 'Curly Pink', red 'Arctic Flame', orange 'Maria Stern', yellow 'Helen Hayes', lavendar 'Senior Prom', and the namesake,  'Dr Brownell'.  Walter Brownell used R. wichurana to improve the health and winter-hardiness of roses in the 1930's and 40's, and his son Herbert continued his work after his death in 1957, culminating in 'Charlotte Brownell' and 'Maria Stern'.  There is a good summary of the Brownell family legacy on the Internet by author Dan Russo.

'Charlotte Brownell' is a yellow-blend hybrid tea with large flowers, up to 4 inches in diameter, complete with the creamiest white/light yellow centers and pink-tinged, ruffled edges.  The color of the bloom seems to vary with temperature, becoming more pale in hot weather, but with deeper yellow and pinks in cooler weather.  Flowers are double, with 35-40 petals, and open quickly.  The bush has little or no blackspot here in Kansas, but my bargain-basement grafted rose does carry rose-mosaic virus.  Except for the virus, she has glossy dark-green leaves and strong but sparse thorns and she is about 2.5 feet tall at 2 years of age in my garden.  No winter protection seems necessary here in Zone 6A. 

Just try to think of 'Charlotte Brownell' as a more hardy 'Peace' rose and you might find a place for her in your garden.  She also gets a lot less blackspot than 'Peace' does in my garden.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bist du verrückt?

...Which means, "Are you crazy?" in German, according to Babelfish.  That premier internet translator gives me the exact same phrase for "are you nuts?," which I thought would be slightly different, but I guess the English context affects the translation.  "Are you walnuts?" and "Are you pecans?" DO result in a different German phrase so I conclude that "Bist du verrückt?" is the correct question to ask of a befuddled plant.

Digressions aside, the question here is "Why is my 'Yellow Bird' Magnolia reblooming in the middle of Summer?"  The bloom pictured at upper left in a photo taken yesterday is a sunbleached and heat-burnt, but partially open bloom, one of two that I noticed forming a couple of days ago.  'Yellow Bird' bloomed at its usual time this year in my garden, in April, and it is not supposed to be a rebloomer by half. 

Poor thing, it must have been completely confused by the two decent rains we had around 10 days ago.  After a long Fall, Winter and Spring of drought, something in the plant said "Hey, I didn't bloom enough, and there's water to spare now, so therefore it must be Spring again."  A very odd thing, as plant hormones go, isn't it?  There are also seed pods forming on the plant at the same time.  And buds for next year.

We'll just have chalk it up to another strange weather phenomenon in Kansas. Or to alien invasion. Take your pick.  Both make about as much sense to me in a garden where my autumn asters, goldenrods, and Rose of Sharons are all now in bloom, at least a full month early.  What's next?  Witch Hazel in August?  Bring it on.


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