Tuesday, February 26, 2013

UnMundane Mundi

If a budding rosarian....interesting phrase...what exactly is a budding rosarian?  Is ProfessorRoush referring to a person who grows roses only to create flowers, rather than one who wants to promote the development of hips (a hip rosarian)?  Surely I am not referring to a rosarian who is asexually reproducing by the formation of outgrowths (buds) from their bodies?  That would be a little too sci-fi-ish even for this old Isaac Asimov fan, although it might be a useful and non-icky  method of procuring spare parts for oneself.  No, I think it can be easily surmised that I'm referring to a "new" rosarian, at "an early developmental stage but showing potential" as "budding" is defined by the Free Online Dictionary.

Let me begin again.  If a new lover of roses whimsically wants to grow a very old rose, they could scarce do better, in my humble opinion, than to grow the old Gallica 'Rosa Mundi'.  I've grown this ancient rose for a decade, this sprawling, running, short-statured clump of a bush, but I've yet to tire of it.  Perhaps it is the matchless freedom of the unique simple blossoms, each one different from another, striped or plain, as it sees fit.  Perhaps it is the understated presence of the bush when it is not in bloom, no more than three feet tall but popping up again and again as it suckers its way across the yard.  It is a stealth invader, masquerading itself within an adjacent viburnum or lilac until it announces its acquisition of territory at bloom time.  Maybe it is the history of this rose that attracts me, bound forever to the memory of a king's mistress.

The birth of 'Rosa Mundi' was not recorded, so ancient a rose that she is only referenced as existing prior to 1581.  It should be exhibited by the name of Rosa gallica versicolor, but it is known by a hundred other names.  The Striped Rose of France.  La Panachée. Provins Oeillet. R. gallica variegata. Fair Rosamond's Rose. Gemengte Rose. Garnet Striped Rose. Polkagrisrose. The "Rosamond" reference is to Rosamond Clifford, one of the mistresses of Henry II, a 12th Century monarch.  Henry's wife, his cousin and the previously-married Eleanor of Aquitaine, must have hated this rose, although stories that Eleanor poisoned Rosamond are dismissed as only legend. The Latin phrase, "rosa mundi", means "rose of the world," and was doubtless chosen instead of "rosa munda" (Latin for "pure rose") as a clear reference that Rosamund, a mistress, had her own worldly failings matched by these rose-splashed white petals. This large, hugely fragrant, semi-double rose bears all these names and the weight of history without complaint, however, growing disease-free for me in the afternoon shade of two tall viburnums to its south.  The oldest and best known of the striped roses, 'Rosa Mundi' is bushy and dense, very hardy and once-blooming, its only failing a tendency to sucker into a thicket if I turn my head for a season. She produces lots of thin canes, and it might be best to occasionally prune back the oldest canes to thin the bush.  'Rosa Mundi' is believed to be a natural sport of Rosa gallica officinalis and recent DNA analysis seems to agree.  She has some decent coloring in the Fall on occasion, and she does set hips, but I wouldn't call the hips ornamental.  They're downright ugly in fact, brown and bland, fading to black

I tried to find out the significance of the year of our Lord 1581 regarding this rose, but my google-foo was weak and it took some time.  Finally, in the Winter 2013 newsletter of the NorthWest Rosarian, and in the Heritage Roses Northwest Spring 2012 letter, I found the re-publication of Jeff Wyckoff's ARS website article, The Trails and Tales of Rosa Mundi, which states that the first reference to a striped rose, presumed to be 'Rosa Mundi', appeared in Mathias de L’Obel’s herbal Plantarum seu stirpium icones in 1581.  I can't find the original article on the web, but if you can read Latin, you can find the original text in the archive of the Missouri Botanical Garden, along with a PDF of the book..  It's simply amazing what information is available on the Web these days, is it not? 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Where've You Been, Baby?

In preparation for Christmas, as per my usual pattern, ProfessorRoush planted an Amaryllis bulb, 'Red Lion', about 2 weeks prior to Thanksgiving.  This year's selection was purchased as a dormant bulb at a local nursery, so one could say that I splurged compared to my usual purchase of the bulbs at Sam's Club or another big box store.  All according to my new resolution to support small nurseries.

In most years, that 6-weeks-prior-to-Christmas-potting results in some welcome bloom and bright colors just at Christmas, so imagine my surprise this year when the bulb just sat there.  And sat there.  It had a greenish skin color at the top, obviously still viable, but it sat there.  I kept it watered and in full sunlight and still it stubbornly stared at me, reluctantly unwilling to reciprocate with regal red flowers or, for that matter, even stems.  Christmas came and passed without a hint of growth from the bulb. 

Finally, sometime after the New Year, my prima donna bulb decided it was time to come out of dormancy and it teased me over for weeks with the slow development of a sturdy stem.  I added rotating the pot every other day to my chores since the stem kept slanting towards the light.  At three feet tall it decided to put out three buds, just in time to lull me into anticipation of bloom by Valentine's day.  Valentine's day came and went.   And then, on February 15th, it decided that since St Valentine's day was over it could finally come out of hiding to bless us with its presence.  Three large beautiful bright velvety blooms in three days.  On the 17th, as the third bloom opened, we left for Las Vegas.  When we returned on the 21st, all the blooms were sagging, their energy spent, their beauty gone.

I may never know what was so obviously amiss this year.  Perhaps the bulb was weak?  Perhaps the pot too small?  The water or light too slight?  At any rate, at least the birds got to enjoy it through the window; a red beacon of Spring, shining from the sunroom of an empty house for a few scant days.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Little Work and Pleasure

Some of you may be wondering where ProfessorRoush has run off to the past week, and, truth be told, I've been away from the bleak Kansas landscape on a working trip where I  was scheduled to give 7 lectures (dogs, not roses), and a wetlab.  Let's see if you get a clue where I was from the picture at the left:

No?   How about this one?

And the winning answer is:   Las Vegas!   The conference I was speaking at was the Western Veterinary Conference, held annually in Vegas at the Mandalay Bay.  The topmost photo is of the Bellagio Conservatory, whose theme this year is a bright red-colored depiction of a Chinese New Year celebration.  The second picture, of course, is the famous Bellagio fountain at night.   The recently empty-nested Mrs. ProfessorRoush was able to accompany me to Vegas for the first time (I've been 4 times previously), so I felt it necessary to be on my best behavior and show her the sights and, of course, the shopping areas.  It cramped my style a bit, but hey, a good husband should take his wife to Vegas at least once in her lifetime.  While I worked, she shopped and rested, and at night there was fine dining and we were also able to enjoy the free concert given at the conference.  Kenny Loggins was the featured performer this year and gave a fabulous concert, a perfect end to our time in Vegas.

We returned, luckily, just ahead of the snowstorm that is passing through Kansas, so I woke at home this morning to the winter wonderland in the picture at the bottom of this entry.  It is surely a stark change from the brown horizon that I left.  And while I was gone, work on the barn continued, with the roof trusses placed before the snow drifted into the barn this morning.  I'm thinking now that it is going to be a few days before any more work on the barn gets done!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Crocus Clairvoyance

Clairvoyant.  Psychic.  Prescient.  Prophetic.  Absolutely none of those words ever pertain to the grounded, rational, and reasoned ProfessorRoush.  I am often so obtuse to hints by Mrs. ProfessorRoush that she has learned to slowly and carefully spell out her wishes and desires when she wants me to be aware of them.  If she wants to take a drive in the country, she hands me my keys and my coat and says "here, you're going to take me for a drive in the country."  If she wants to have scrambled eggs on Sunday morning, the poor neglected wife says "I'd like to have two scrambled eggs this morning.  Would you cook them for me please?  Not one, not three, just two."  You get the picture.  Some husbands would take offense at being ordered around in such fashion but I accept it as the only proven route for her to penetrate my thick skull short of a frying pan.

It was therefore with some surprise that a mere two days after my Winter Nadir post,  I found these glorious expressions of life on a walk across my otherwise brown and winter-worn landscape.  These brave new sproutlings are, of course, snow crocus (Crocus chrysanthus), otherwise hereafter known to my soul as the gentle gift of a benevolent God.  The perfect golden-yellow heads brushed on the reverse with a deep-purple brown have popped up even before the frost-bitten leaves that will sustain their beauty, but up they are, here, there, and increasingly everywhere.  Even more uplifting are the orange centers as they open, shining like a beacon of onrushing Spring. 

I was sibylline not once, but twice regarding the snow crocus this year.  In the past, I had just a few small clumps of these early yellow beauties, probably sown from a $2.00 bag of 5 at a big-box store at some unremembered time.  I've always enjoyed them when they appeared, but never felt they were extraordinary.  But last summer I somehow knew, 6 months before the onset of winter and then in the midst of scorching drought, I somehow knew that this year I would desperately need to see these foretellers of sunny days and soft rains, more desperately and deeper than previous years.  I ordered and planted over 100 of these cute little creatures, concentrating them on a spot where I'd know to look for them in Spring, and massed so that they wouldn't disappear into the sea of brown I currently refer to as a garden.  And up they have now come, each individual adding to a display that I hope by next week can be seen from more than a few feet away.

On the arid Kansas prairie, Siberian Squill and daffodils do return in dependable fashion, but they won't bloom for a few weeks yet.  Other early bulbs, such as Snowdrops, bloom as annuals or at best short-lived perennials, but fade away and disappear within several years unless carefully pampered.  Larger crocus, the Dutch crocus for example, return each year but usually are torn to bits by the winds before I can appreciate them.  It is only these little bold explorers that I can count on, that I did count on this year, to pull me from hibernation to life.  Although the view out my window still looks as bleak as the picture below, I know now that somewhere, amidst the brown grasses and mulch, life stirs again.  Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Snow Crocus.

Monday, February 11, 2013

In Defense of Garden Cats

As a gardening veterinarian, I feel obligated to defend our feline friends against the recent onslaught of poor publicity directed towards them.  I'm referring of course, to news reports that stem from a January 29, 2013 article by Scott Loss, et al in Nature Communications, titled "The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States".

As a scientist, I'd love to tell you that I carefully examined the data collection methods and statistics presented in the paper, but Nature Communications is one of those journals who publish manuscripts, usually for a fee,  from authors (who are themselves required to publish or perish from their respective academic jobs) and then Nature Communications turns around and charges everyone else to read those articles, with no kick-back to the authors or the source of research funds for the study.  I believe the for-profit-motivated proliferation of such firms is largely responsible for most of the hastily-completed and poorly-controlled bad science being published today.  Although I am at the mercy of this Professor-prostituting racket myself, I refuse to pay good money for publishers to make profits off what should be globally-available information, so I have read only the original abstract and seen other data second-hand in news reports. 

Setting aside that minor rant, Loss's paper estimates, not from their own research but by an analysis of other published studies measuring kill rates in urban and rural environments, and by using other various extrapolations and predictions of cat, bird, and small mammal populations, that "free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually."  In other words, these authors take a whole bunch of assumptions, apply specific data sets to broader populations, and come up with some numbers that could be off by orders of magnitude if their assumptions are in error.  Not to mention any possibility of bias from authors who are all either employed by the Migratory Bird Center of the Smithsonian, or the Division of Migratory Birds of the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service.  Personally, I'd like to see a little more research about unanticipated impacts before we see a massive Federal program created from taxpayer money to trap, neuter, and relocate cats.
I'm willing, however to set those concerns aside and allow for the fact that domestic cats may kill around 3 billion birds and 20 billion small mammals annually.  I don't believe it, but if I accept the premise, then my response is still, "so what?"   And for the cats, "Good on ya!"   Twenty billion dead mice means twenty billion less roses that have canes chewed away, twenty billion less rats eating seed from my bird feeders and corn from my garden, and twenty billion less snakes in my garden that would have proliferated to eat the mice if the cats didn't.   I'm sorry about the birds, but folks, that's the nature of a Darwinist environment.  There's a whole lot of killing going on out there in nature.  If the majority of those 3 billion birds are starlings and urban pigeons, then I'm not really very alarmed.  Millions of cats die annually as well, killed by cars and coyotes and domestic dogs and human psychopaths.   Yes, I am aware that cats have been responsible for the extinction of specific island bird species.  So have snakes, and both predators were introduced to those islands by Man, blundering around in our usual stupid fashion.  Man, in fact, has been responsible for the extinction of many more species than the domestic cat, so perhaps we should talk about limiting our own numbers before we throw stones at the cats.  Put a new predator in an environment where the prey don't have time to adapt before they are eliminated, and extinction happens.  Ask just about any species group, including some native human populations.
Regardless, my personal experiences are directly opposed to the findings of the Loss study.  I have a cat in my garden, a calico named "Patches" by my imaginative children, who is a most efficient mouser.  I find almost daily presents of prairie mice remains on my doorstep, but I never once have seen that cat catch a bird nor have I found the organic remnants of such an attack.  Even the fat little ground-dwelling quail endemic to this area seem to be able to escape the clutches of my supposedly super-lethal cat.  I'm left, therefore, in a quandary, wondering where exactly the evidence of the slaughter is?  And in the meantime, I'm searching for a couple of more cats to live in an under-construction barn.  I would, personally, rather find more mouse parts strewn around the barn floor than find the snakes that would otherwise be hunting for the mice, so if it comes to a choice between having barn pigeons and having cats, the barn pigeons are just going to have to toughen up.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Winter Nadir

Friends, ProfessorRoush has reached, at last, his Winter Nadir.  I've had it.  I've spent far more time than I can spare discussing the subtle beauty of peeling bark on bare trees.  I've sung rhapsodies to the grandeur of evergreens blanketed by virgin snow.  I've waxed eloquent over the sturdiness and form of ornamental grasses and I've proclaimed the glories of statues and trellises that form the bones of my garden.  There is only so much comfort a gardener can manufacture for himself in the depths of winter and I'm leaking hope like a garden hose run over with a lawnmower.

"Bones of my garden";  that's a pretty good description of what lies just outside the windows of my frost-bound prison.  I see only the bland, tan landscape of the Kansas Flint Hills surrounding the garden's skeleton, flesh ripped away from the carcass by a carnivorous winter and blown away to distant lands.  Left behind are twiggy blobs of roses and dried clematis, sinew clinging desperately to the backbones against the northern wind.  Tattered low remnants of iris, withered daylily, and brittle sedum litter the soil.   Here and there stand a few lonely statues, joints around which the garden revolves in summer, now reduced to frozen arthritic slumber.  Between the bones of the garden lie the paths, circulation routes around the garden's body, as dry and brown now as the plants they used to serve.

I've lost my way amidst the fog and sleet.  I need desperately to feel the pulse and flow of life beginning again from the frozen ground.  Photos of past summers, like these, provide no condolences, only grief and despair for lost gardens and lost time.  I have no remaining faith that my garden will ever again appear green and verdant, lush and bountiful.  It seems impossible that the garden can fill again with so many flowers and so much life.  My soul is with the garden, frozen in place, withdrawn to a timeless and lifeless plane, shrunk down to a dry kernel of memory.

I must, I know, endure.  I search the garden endlessly for signs of life, the first stirring of snow crocus, the first tip of a green daffodil.  I amble stooped over the garden beds, at times on hands and knees, pulling back the mulch in the search for the promise of tomorrow.  I watch the peony bed most closely, diligent scrutiny in the sure knowledge that life will first beat there again, if anywhere life remains.  Wispy and ethereal crocus and tulips and daffodils may indeed be the vanguards of warmer winds, scouts following the retreat of winter.  Yet still, it is the impossible extravagance of the peonies, buxom and luscious in youth and vitality, that herald the Spring for me, reclothing the old bones of the garden and gardener once more in bountiful flesh and leafy skin.  Hold tight yet the remnants of courage, for peonies shall surely return to save us.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Montebello's Duchesse

It is with more than a little surprise that a recent post on GardenWeb.com reminded me that I've never blogged about one of my favorite Old Garden Roses, the Gallica 'Duchesse de Montebello'.  The sheer delinquency of my neglect bothers me deeply and is a worrisome sign of my aging.

'Duchesse de Montebello' was bred by Jean Laffay in 1824, and is variously referred to as a Hybrid China or a Hybrid Gallica.  Whatever her breeding, this etheral, exquisite, once-blooming pink double rose is one of the upper hoi oligoi, a regal lady of the rose world, comfortable associating in snooty company such as the beautiful 'Madame Hardy'.  She is, in simpler modern terms, a Supermodel of the rose world.  She opens from rounded buds into a quartered and sometimes cupped form that usually has a greenish-white pip at the center.  Her hue in my garden seems to depend on the temperature, with deeper pinks seen in cold weather as evidenced by the difference in the blooms pictured on this page.  'Duchesse de Montebello has a strong sweet fragrance and has a minimally thorny nature.  Her overall form, both flower and the vase-shaped bush, is delicate, but she is very hardy in my 6A climate (the Swedish Rose society recommends her for Sweden!)  and she is free of blackspot and mildew without spraying. 

At maturity in my garden, 'Duchesse de Montebello' stands 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide this year.  She did get up to 6 feet previously, but I severely pruned her two years back and she has behaved herself since.  I will tell you that I've noticed some tendency to roam as she has aged, recently finding a couple of nearby-suckered daughters growing at her feet like illegitimate offspring from a seven-year-itch inspired dalliance.  I have not reprimanded her for her promiscuity, but merely transplanted the daughters across the garden, spreading the wealth, as it were.

'Duchesse de Montebello' is so good that she has been used in the breeding programs of several rosarians, among which are David Austin and Paul Barden.  I have previously written that Paul Barden has mated her with  'St Swithins' to breed 'Allegra' and 'Abraham Darby' to breed 'Marianne'.  Paul Barden writes  that her ability to pass on genes that result in remonant offspring suggests that she is, in fact, a result of a Gallica cross with China or Noisette blood, as some have suggested.  Whatever her heritage, this is a rose I can recommend to anyone who looks to add a classic Old Garden Rose to their gardens.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Lost Rose

Saturday, on Gardenweb.com, I learned that the great rosarian Peter Beales had passed on to a more perfect garden on January 26, 2013, at the age of 76.  There are few, I'm sure, in the group of gardeners who love roses or follow rose breeding, that are unaware of Mr. Beales and his legacy of roses.  Born on July 22, 1936, he started out early on a path that would lead to a lifetime working with roses, first as an apprentice at LeGrice Roses and then serving as manager of  Hillings Rose Nursery in Surrey, working under the guidance of Graham Stuart Thomas and later succeeding Mr. Thomas as Foreman of Roses.  In 1968, he formed Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk, a firm still in existence and found online at www.classicroses.co.uk.  He started exhibiting at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 1971 and won 19 Gold medals during his lifetime, the last just in May of 2012.  He twice won the  RHS Lawrence Medal for the best exhibit of the year at an RHS show, and served as president of the Royal National Rose Society in 2003. 

Helpmefind.com lists 23 roses bred or discovered by Peter Beales and another 42 roses bred or discovered by his daughter Amanda, who continues to run the business with her brother Richard.  I'm sad to admit that not a single one of these roses has made it across the Pond to my garden, at least under their British names, but I'll make an effort to purchase at least one for his legacy in my garden.  Where Mr. Beales had his greatest influence on American rosarians, however, lies in the prolific output of his pen.  Helpmefind.com lists 9 books on roses authored by Peter Beales.  I have copies in my library of the 1992 edition of Roses (1985, Henry Holt), and the 1997 edition of Classic Roses (1985, Henry Holt).  Both are classics of the field and I refer to them often for authoritative information on old roses.  As a simple testament to Peter Beales' influence in the world of roses, if you look on Amazon at Peter's author page, and then move over to the side where it lists other authors with books purchased by people who have bought Peter's books, that list reads like a Who's Who of rosedom;  Clair Martin, Stephen Scanniello, William Welch, Thomas Christopher, David Austin, Graham Stuart Thomas and Liz Druitt, among many others.  During a search on Amazon, I learned of his third classic work, Twentieth Century Roses (1988), which I must find a copy of and  soon.  Later works that I'd never before glimpsed, including A Passion for Roses (2004) and Visions of Roses (1996), also look interesting.   Mr. Beales' obituaries also list a 2008 autobiography, Rose Petals and Muddy Footprints, that I can't find for sale anywhere right now, but which I'll keep an eye out for in the future.

From his obituary on the  website of The Telegraph, I picked up this most interesting story;  "Once, while visiting Jersey to give a lecture, Beales was passing a garden when he spied a peach-coloured “Gardenia”, an old climbing variety bred in America in 1899 which had been thought lost. He knocked at the door and, getting no reply, turned back. But one of the rare rose’s shoots had caught on his trousers, and when he got home he successfully propagated it — one of many varieties he managed to save from extinction."   Yeah, right.  So there you have it;  Peter Beales, extraordinary rosarian, author, nurseryman, father....and, just like the rest of us, not above stooping to a little discrete rose rustling for the greater good of mankind.  A rosarian after my own heart.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Generous Gardeners

If you've spent any quality time among gardening people, you know that they come from all walks of life and exist in all spices and flavors.  Even after several years of association with a much varied group of Extension Master Gardeners, I would be hard-pressed to name five common traits among the various personalities.  I believe, however, that I have identified one characteristic that all gardeners seem to have in common; generosity.  Whether we're digging up starts of daylilies for a passing stranger, handing out flower seeds at garden shows, or just plain sharing our knowledge of our hobby, gardeners are generous to a fault.  Well, to be completely honest, except in those few occasions where we've got a new plant that no one else is growing.  In that case a little one-up-man-ship is certainly excusable as a very human failing.

I was the recipient of grand gardening generosity recently when I received a surprise package from a reader just after Christmas containing two marvelous DVD's.  Knowing of my rose passions, this thoughtful individual sent me a DVD of Louise Mitchell's 2012 documentary of the preservation of the roses in Sacramento's Historic Rose Garden,  and what appears to be a bootleg copy of Roger Phillip's 1993 six-part series for the BBC titled "Quest for the Rose."

I've enjoyed both immensely, initially diving quickly into the Cemetery Rose documentary, for a fascinating story of the collision of passion and opportunity among old rose lovers.  Lately, however, I've spent time again and again with Roger Phillips on his travels.  That six-part documentary is not only great entertainment, it's highly educational, and a perfect companion to Phillip's book of the same name.  With his friend and coauthor, Martyn Rix, popping in and out of the series, Roger Phillips travels the world following the development of modern roses, from the first 35 million year old rose fossils found in Colorado, to Turkey, to China, to France, to Britain, and to America.  Along the way he visits Josephine's Malmaison and Alcatraz, he has a British museum expert write the word "rose" in the scrawl of ancient Babylonia, and he follows Petrie to the monasteries of China, traveling in cars, boats, bikes, and on foot.  We meet rosarians who are all old friends to us through their writings: Graham Stuart Thomas, Peter Beales, Fred Boutin, Miriam Wilkins, Ellen Willmott, and Clair Matin, among others.  To hear the real voices of these people, several now dead, strikes me as deeply as listening to John Kennedy's inaugural or Neil Armstrong's first moon steps.  Phillips, himself, comes off as one of those eccentric rose fanatics we're all familiar with, inseparable from a really hideous orange pair of reading glasses, and bounding up mountains in France in search of a wild rose whose location is known only from notes in a 100 year old book.  The scene of an ecstatic Roger Phillips dropping to his knees on a steep hillside to sniff a wild R. gallica will be with me forever.

I can't thank my benefactor enough for my Christmas gift, this entertainment that has sustained me through the winter, but as you have probably noticed, I am keeping the source unnamed here lest he/she be hounded by hordes of salivating rose lovers seeking copies of their own.  I have, however, in gratitude,  passed on a copy of Phillip's series to another rose nut, another link in the chain of a passion passed on from enthusiast to fanatic, zealot to fellow addict.


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