Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sprawling Fantin-Latour

The selection of roses for planting is such a fickle action at times.  I sometimes seek out specific roses based on their reputations, while at other times I'm struck by a photograph in a catalogue, or an intriguing hint dropped in another blog.   As a result, there are roses in my garden that I take almost for granted.  Hardly noticed for their temporary beauty, they fill in spaces and trundle on year after year, never causing trouble sufficient to sentence them to elimination by spade, nor causing enough excitement to move them to a more prominent position.

Such a rose, in my garden, is the Centifolia 'Fantin-Latour'.   I obtained her ten or eleven years ago, I believe, from Suzy Verrier's former Royall River Rose Nursery, and she has long been one of the non-remonant roses that border my back patio.  Of unknown provenance, discovered before 1938, she is undeniably beautiful in bloom, a light blush pink with sometimes a green center, and her fragrance is sweet and very strong.  When she is without bloom, however, she's a stiff, rangy shrub that wants to sprawl 4 feet in all directions and stands about 4 feet tall as well.  I would give her better marks for appearance if she was the sole rose at the party, but placed in my garden next to my favorite 'Madame Hardy', she always comes off as a poor second choice for a dance partner.  'Fantin-Latour is less-refined and more loosely arranged in blossom than 'Madame Hardy', she hasn't nearly as tight or shapely legs, and she's much more awkward in appearance.   Her stiff canes are gawky and never clothed with short stems or flowers, completely naked, in essence, from the waist down.  In a Romance novel, 'Madame Hardy' would be the prim and proper Lady of the manor, 'Fantin-Latour' the blushing but willing peasant milkmaid who pleasures the Lord on his daily travels.

I don't intend, by that comparison, any ill will towards peasant milkmaids, many of whom star in my nightly dreams just as 'Fantin-Latour' graces my garden.  'Fantin-Latour' is of hardy stock, whoever her parents were, and she has no winter dieback here in Kansas.  She gets a little minimal fungus occasionally, so I watch her for blackspot a bit when the weather is most humid in order to keep as many leaves covering her angular frame as possible.  The blossoms, cupped and very double, are a little disheveled at times, and they also get a smidgen of botrytis blight in cool wet weather, but in warm dry sun they are the equal of any beautiful rose in my garden.  The biggest positive of 'Fantin-Latour', in my mind, has been the absolute lack of care she needs.  The picture above is from 2008, blooming her head off in late Spring, and the picture at the bottom is from this past summer, halfway through a drought.  Her appearance is almost identical and I haven't taken a pruner to her at all during those years, except to remove a dead cane or two.  No gardener could ask for an easier rose to care for, nor a more beautiful one.  I, for one, will always be able to overlook her wanton desire to sprawl across my garden beds just as long as she is willing to provide an annual burst of fragrant blooms.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Spring Proposal

It is Spring, correct?   Because ProfessorRoush is having a difficult time this morning discerning a difference from the Winter he experienced just a few days ago.  On this, the fourth day past the Spring equinox of 2013, it is currently 27°F in Manhattan, Kansas and the wind is out of due North at 15mph with gusts up to 22mph.  We have, as of last count, 4.6 inches estimated new snow on the ground since 7:00 p.m. yesterday.

Enough for statistics.  Mark Twain, once said there "are three kinds of lies, lies, damn lies, and statistics."  Well, at least most scholars attribute it to Mark Twain; Twain, himself, claimed to be quoting Benjamin Disraeli but the statement cannot be found in Disraeli's private or published works.  So the authorship of this quote may be as misleading as are statistics themselves.  And anyway, Mark Twain was just a pen name for Samuel Clements; why do we attribute quotes to Mark Twain instead of Samuel Clements? Anyone?

Enough for both Mark Twain and statistics.  What the statistics of the daily weather hide is that, as you can plainly see, my little "sun face" on the garage wall looks a little blue at the moment.   And that, as you can see in the picture below, part of the ground in my garden is almost clear and other parts have drifts over a foot tall.  And that, if I take a step outside the door to pick up the Sunday morning paper, I'm liable to freeze solid in my boots.  Of course it would be a minor miracle that the Sunday morning paper has even been delivered.  I always scoff at television meteorologists who stress "wind chill" data to scare their viewers, but the wind chill for me outside right now is in the 10°F range.  The real joke is on me this morning. because I moved my "new" tractor up to the garage in preparation to clear snow this morning.  I'm convinced, however, that if I sit on it and drive it outside right now, the next time my carcass will be discovered is in 10,000 years when some scientist cores into the glacier now forming on my driveway pad.

And enough, by the way, of whining by the global warming crowd.  Take notice, I'm not going to listen to any such decrepit creatures for a few days, and maybe not until August.  I've been suspicious of their sincerity ever since they started talking about "climate change" instead of "global warming" anyway.  It is pretty tough to convince me that we're in the midst of global warming when this year's real Spring is over a month behind last year, whatever the calendar may say. I propose here and now that we do away with calendars and equinoxes and go back to "Earth-centric" time.  Copernicus was a heretic and a lawyer and his opinions should have been more suspect even in his own time.  How about if all gardening folk agree that it's not Spring until the daffodils bloom, wherever you are?  Heck, we have time zones whose strict interpretations are enforced by our Federal government, why not "Spring Zones"?  They'd just run north and south instead of east to west, so that's no big deal, especially to those gardeners who never know what direction they're facing and plant sunflowers on the north sides of their houses.  And for those of you who live in USDA Zones so hot that daffodils don't thrive, who cares when Spring is for you?  It's always just Spring or Summer for you.  You can say that it's Spring when you can't fry an egg on the sidewalk and Summer when you can.  Here in the Flint Hills, ProfessorRoush is not celebrating Spring until he sees a yellow daffodil in his garden!   Which is evidently going to be awhile yet.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Old Plants And Old Landscapes

A marketing email from K. Van Bourgondien with the subject line "Do you know how old YOUR plants are" caught my eye the other day.  The email continued with a discussion of antique or heritage flowers available from this large mail order source, but my mind had already tripped down another garden path before I read the body of the email.  I was immediately thinking "how old is this or that individual plant in my garden?"

At this point, after thinking about it for awhile, I'm not sure how I would, or should, answer that question.  My garden, from when I began to think of it as a garden, began with the construction of the house and is now 14 years old, give or take a month or two.  But because I've been adding a bed or two each year to the "garden", some plants are much younger than others.  The house landscaping was first, and so there are hollies on the north side of the house that will be 14 years old come this May.  The back patio came a year later, and thus 'Madame Hardy' and 'Marie Bugnet' are 13 years old.  There are 'New Hampshire Gold' forsythia to the West that are also 13 years old and who are unlikely to get much older because I've tired of them and they are not the showiest varieties available.  Farther down the garden, there are plants of every age, right down to the one week old 'Madame Hardy' sucker that I just detached from the original and replanted down into another bed.  And there are some garden plants on this land that I planted before it "was" a garden.  Several years before building, I planted, and lost, and planted again a few fruit trees down on the western hillside.  In a similar fashion, there are asparagus roots in the vegetable garden that date back to 1996. 

There are, of course, other ways of looking at plant age.  I would argue that an open-pollinated heirloom Sweet Pea, 'Painted Lady', for instance, is only as old as the seed that I saved from last year.  Identical as the flowers look, there is still variation in the genetic makeup from vine to vine.  But in our current "Era Of The Garden Clones," how old  should I really consider my week-old sucker of 'Madame Hardy'?  Barely rooted, it is a "division" of my 13 year old, purchased original plant.  It is also the same exact living continuation of  the rose first introduced in 1832 by Monsieur Hardy himself.  That 'Maiden's Blush' in my garden dates back before 1400, before the North American Continent that I live on was known to my forefathers.  Many plants, if not most, don't slip into senescence as animals do.  Pando, a clonal colony of Quaking Aspen in south-central Utah, is believed to be the oldest living thing on earth at an estimated age of 80,000 years.  When the same genes continue year after year, century after century, how old do we say our cloned cultivars are? 

And I'm leaving out the plants of the prairie that surround my garden.  The Big Bluestem that populates the Flint Hills prairie, and the False Indigo that brighten it, I know that each clump started from individual wind-blown seeds, but how long ago?  How long does a clump of drought-resistant Little Bluestem live? Are there grasses on my land that have survived climate changes and prairie fires and tornadoes for thousands of years?  Were some of those same grasses grazed by Mammoths? How would I know?  How long will my pampered 'Northwind' Panicum clumps survive after me?

I don't know the answers to these questions, and metaphysical subjects are too exhausting right now for this winter-weakened gardener.  I'm just going to pretend that my one week old sucker from Madame Hardy is a baby, and I'm going to baby it until it blooms true and strong.  And I think that those 'New Hampshire Gold' forsythia are far too old and need to go quietly into that gentle night, helped along by my gardening Dr. Kevorkian look-alike. I'm also going to believe that somewhere out there in the Flint Hills, there is a healthy clump of  Big Bluestem which is secure and happy that it no longer gets regularly squashed under the hoof of a Mastodon.  Just because it makes me happy to think about it. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Scilla siberica
ProfessorRoush is haunted today.  Haunted by a 1971 top-twenty song by Carly Simon on the album of the same name.  Do you remember it?  Outside today, in a static landscape held hostage by the last gasps of winter chill, the lyrics played over and over in my head, Carly's syrupy tones warming the damp air around me.  Anticipation is said to have been written by Ms. Simon during her wait for a date with the formerly-named Cat Stevens, who is now called Yusuf Islam, although he was born Steven Demetre Georgiou.  Whatever the name of her date, Ms. Simon missed her calling because instead of pining over a wandering minstrel, she could have been writing for Spring-hungry gardeners.  Look at the beginning lyrics:

"We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I'm really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day."

Rose 'American Pillar'

Is that not a perfect description of the gardener's thoughts in late Winter?  Visualizing the garden, not brown and stiff and dreary here at the end of Cold Days, but green and glorious in the coming Summer?  When I walked through my garden today, I wasn't really there most of the time.  I wasn't really talking to those naked rose canes, nor were my finger's caressing the soft bud of that magnolia.   I saw only the rose that will bloom here tomorrow, only the sweet-perfumed magnolia that will soon welcome the warm rains. 

'Mohawk' viburnum
And the repeating chorus of the old hit song keeps bringing us back to the present:

"Anticipation, anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting"

Sedum 'Matrona'

Why, Scilla siberica, are you keeping me waiting?  It's time to open those pale blue buds and color the old gray mulch with the reflection of the sky.  Come on, Viburnum fragrans 'Mohawk', come blow me away yet another year with that otherworldly sweet fragrance.  Daffodils, bring forth the sunshine that hides in your heart and release Spring with your joyful trumpets!


Sometimes, I wonder that old gardeners bother to enter their gardens at all during the dark months.  I know, right now, the glorious tulip that will bloom in this spot.   I know that from these tiny thick green leaves, a magnificent Sedum 'Matrona' will bloom to close the door on the Fall garden.  I know...I know...and yet I must see it again.  Or, as Carly put it: 
 "And tomorrow we might not be together
I'm no prophet, Lord I don't know nature's way
So I'll try to see into your eyes right now
And stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days." 

  Thank you, Ms. Simon.  These are indeed the good old days.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Paradigm Rose Shift

I have not entirely neglected my garden reading this Winter, but I must confess that I've struggled at times to keep a high interest level in the books that I chose to read (more on that in a later blog).  I did, however, recently pick up a copy of an older rose tome by noted rosarian, Rayford Reddell, titled A Year In The Life Of A Rose, and written in the ancient times of 1996.  My second-hand volume, by the way, seems to be autographed by the author, and thus well worth the marked-down $2.50 price.

Mostly, this short book reminded me exactly how much rose gardening has changed within two short decades.  Mr. Reddell wrote the book in a time when the AARS program reigned supreme in the rose world, annually introducing beautiful but finicky princesses who often weren't worth the trouble of growing.  He wrote at a time when Jackson & Perkins and Week's Roses were thriving and turning out promising new varieties by the dozens every year.  I expected, and was not disappointed, to find suggestions and advice based more on the classical formulas for growing good show roses, advice aimed at production of massive Hybrid Tea blooms grown in blessed coastal or southern climates.  There were many prunning and spraying and fertilizing instructions that were used 20 years ago when the modern shrub rose class was still in infancy, but few suggestions for environmental consideration or organic care.

I respect Mr. Reddell's expertise and knowledge without question, but I did not agree with his recommended rose choices and, given my Kansas climate, I'm sure he would understand.  The chapter entitled "The Future For Roses" did predict the growth of the shrub rose class and the trend for breeding disease resistant roses, but Reddell proclaimed 'Carefree Delight', in my opinion a real yawner of a shrub rose, to be the "quintessential Landscape rose."  I don't think so, Mr. Reddell.  And then he goes on to worship at the roots of 'Scentimental', the wine and white streaked 1997 AARS winner.  Every reader here knows my love for striped roses, and yes, I do grow 'Scentimental', but the rose struggles mightily to survive for me and every year I consider uprooting and composting it.  The blossoms are nice, but I'm not sentimental about 'Scentimental' at all. 

The text was most fascinating to me for what it didn't predict;  the breeding of Knock Out and the subsequent disintegration of the commercial rose world that we knew in 1996.  There is a section in the book titled "Roses by Zones,"  In it, Mr. Reddell picks a well-known rosarian in every USDA Zone to glean local advice from, and, by chance, for Zone 4B he chose to repeat advice from Bill Radler, the breeder of 'Knock Out'.  This was Radler pre-Knock Out, discussing winter protection and fertilizer choices in Wisconsin.  Not a word about the revolution to come. 

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn defined the concept of  a "paradigm shift", postulating that scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a "series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions" replacing one world view with another.  Within the Rose World, there have been at least 3 paradigm shifts, first with the introduction to the West of the "China Stud roses," then the breeding of the first Hybrid Tea in 1867, and more recently, with the rise of disease resistant shrub roses, like Knock Out, that bloom madly and healthy in our landscapes in a very un-rose-like manner.  A Year In The Life Of A Rose illustrates that 'Knock Out 'was the catalyst for a classic paradigm shift, a change unforeseen by the arguably foremost expert of the field in his time, only five years before the paradigm shift to disease resistant landscape roses began.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Slow Changes

My apologies for leaving Garden Musings alone so long.  ProfessorRoush has been in a gardening funk of major proportions, accompanied, I assume, by many of my Zone 6 and lower friends.  My garden is incorporating the local signs of Spring at a snail's pace, with the warm days of yesterday faded into the cold afternoon of today. And likewise it's Gardener has also been absent-without-permission, unable to get excited even at the daily opening and closing of his snow crocus.

The garden is completely static, unable to rouse itself from winter at the recent pace for Kansas.  As I review my notes of years past, this Spring seems to be "normal" and I would predict the redbuds and forsythia bloom at the end of the month, with daffodils in early April, unlike last year when we had redbuds and daffodils in full bloom by now, and iris and Scilla had already graced my presence.  This year, the redbuds and forsythia are still tightly closed.  Scilla hasn't appeared above ground and the daffodils are barely peaking up in places.  ProfessorRoush only hopes that all this means a wet Spring to break the drought and shortened weeks of furnace temperatures in July and August.

I  blame the semi-annual Time Change, of course, for the combined sloth of my garden and myself, as most of my regular readers would expect.  Just this past week, around Monday, I had finally adjusted to the Fall change, sleeping in at long last several days this week until 6:00 instead of waking to frozen darkness at 5:00 a.m. As a consequence, this morning I awoke after the time change at 6:45, which on a normal work day will make me late. So now I have to readjust to life awakening in darkness again, although the extra hour at night in the garden might start to be useful. Daylight Savings Time also seems to have brought a return to the cold. Yesterday we had rain and +60F. Today, we have rain,+35F, and gale winds from the north, with snow forecast this afternoon and evening.  When, oh when, will Spring come again?

Construction on "The Barn" continues, with a roof in place, but no doors.  I did briefly rouse myself yesterday during the warm hours to fill bird feeders, pick up trash in the yard, and water a few cloched baby roses, but my only real garden progress was the planting of a daylily start from my parent's farm.  I chose this division in December from among about thirty others because it looked vigorous and strong (my father has no idea which one it is).  It has proved its vitality, because tucked away in a unheated garage in a black garbage bag for 2 months it grew over a foot of pale yellow foliage in the darkness, and so it was far overdue for planting.  With my luck and looking at the vigor of this daylily, I probably chose a clump of ugly orange 'Kwanso' to transplant.  I had plenty of that already!

Perhaps I should begin a campaign to hurry Spring along by planning some garden changes.  I need, for instance, to revise the pictured corner of my landscaping (right), which was originally a triangle of purple- and yellow-needled evergreens in front of the bluish "dwarf" spruce at the corner. Over 13 years, Juniper 'Old Gold' has overgrown and covered the plum-winter-needled Juniper horizontalis 'Youngstown Andorra' , and it threatens to move on to the adjacent roses.  Additionally, I think it has become home for several critters, as evidenced by the trails leading under it, and it needs to go.  What to replace it with?  The only danger here, as every gardener will recognize, is that I allow my Winter's despair to influence ill-advised changes in the overall garden by, for instance, inspiring me to rip out this healthy sunny border in favor of a doomed shade garden, or a 1 acre pond, or a 75 foot long pondless waterfall   Moderation is the key to garden planning by restless gardeners in Winter.


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