Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Empress of Rose Reads

I have been engaged, this past week, with a wonderful addition to my gardening library, a coffee-table-sized book filled with beautiful pictures and tales of roses such as those that I worship.  The book in question is Empress of the Garden, by noted rosarian G. Michael Shoup of the Antique Rose Emporium and it was evidently "self" published by the Antique Rose Emporium Inc. late in 2012. 

This one is a must have for all my fellow fanatics of old garden roses or "off-the-beaten-path" roses.  For the rest of the world, pagan worshipers of Knock Out and its brethren, just move along please, move along:  There is nothing for thee to see here, and Heaven forbid thee be offended, and forced to gouge out thy eyes if thou wert tempted to stray from the Knock Out altar. 
G. Michael Shoup, of course, is the founder of The Antique Rose Emporium of Brenham, Texas, a garden that I was once blessed to visit with my family.   Mr. Shoup groups the roses of Empress of the Gardens into 19 chapters that are titled according to the "behavior" of the roses within them;  chapters such as "Drama Queens," "Tenacious Tomboys," "Supine Beauties," "Earthy Naturalists," or "Petulant Divas."   Looking at the chapter headings, I was envisioning something different for "Supine Beauties," but the two roses discussed in that chapter, 'Red Cascade' and 'Sea Foam', were still satisfying, if only in a floral manner.   For every rose in the text, Michael describes its  background and characteristics, ending always with some adjectives to describe his imagined personality of the rose.  For 'Red Cascade', for instance, he termed it "engaging, adaptable, exuberant."  For 'Madame Isaac Pereire', she's "petulant, opulent, ravishing."  You get the picture; actually you get lots of pictures, beautiful pictures of the roses and all taken by Shoup. 
Through the pages are sprinkled a thousand sidebars, which turned out to be my favorite parts of the book.  They are lessons all;  how to peg a rose, the history of Bourbon's, a biography of Ralph Moore, and all written in a simple clear prose that kept me enthralled to the end.  In fact, Empress of the Garden is the perfect gift for the rose nut, rosarian in your life, except perhaps for one drawback.  This is a BIG book (12"X12"), meant for display, and it won't fit on your shelves easily, at least if they're like mine.  I'd have preferred a more library-friendly format. 
To this day, I still fondly recall our family vacation sidebar to The Antique Rose Emporium.  My family thought we were only visiting friends in Texas and sight-seeing The Alamo and the Houston Space Complex.  I sprung the Emporium on them on the way home, when they were at their most weary and thus least inclined to resist my passions.  I gained some wonderful pictures from the trip, foremost among them the picture here of my then-very-young daughter standing next to 'Yellow Lady Banks' at the Emporium.  And I gained some roses that still grow here in Kansas, squeezed into the back of the van alongside the suitcases and my children, who were only forced to endure occasional and random thorn attacks for the 8 hours or so it took to get out of Texas, cross Oklahoma, and come sliding up into Kansas.  A small price to pay for the fragrant annual reminders of our trip, wouldn't you agree?  Well, I think so, even if the now-teenager isn't as appreciative or cooperative today as she was when this picture was taken.  What a trooper!   

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Prairie Star?

'Prairie Star' in June, 2012
It is time, I think, to set aside all my grumblings and cursings over the fickle weather impeding the onset of Spring here on the Kansas prairie, and to look instead towards the future bloom of my garden.  One rose that I've briefly touched on before is the beautiful cream-white Griffith Buck rose 'Prairie Star', and while we are waiting for the bloom of new roses in my garden, I feel I should formally introduce her, a debutante coming-out party, if you will.

I've grown 'Prairie Star' since the very start of this current garden, some 14 years ago now.  My neighbors and I, as part of a new development, were able to name the road we live on and we had chosen Prairie Star Drive to commemorate the starry night skies we live under.  It was a quick decision, therefore, when I soon after discovered the existence of a rose named 'Prairie Star', that I purchased and placed her into a new garden bed, where she remains today, surviving the worst of heat, cold and drought that the Kansas climate has thrown at it.

I won't try to pretend that 'Prairie Star' is the best of the Griffith Buck-bred roses I grow, but she is a tried and true survivor here in the Kansas climate.  At maturity, this shrub stands a little over three feet tall and slightly less wide, and she is always clothed in dark green, glossy, disease resistant foliage times.  I never, ever have to spray 'Prairie Star' for blackspot prevention, and she drops very few of her lower leaves even in the worst of summer.  More than that, I can't remember ever having to prune this rose, for she rarely has a dead cane or dieback to contend with.  Introduced in 1975, she has a moderate fragrance (although I cannot detect the green apple tones she is rumored to have)and very voluptuous double form with 50-60 petals per each 3 to 4 inch diameter bloom. 

Where I differ with official reports is that everywhere you look, this rose is described as being pale chrome-yellow, with pink undertones.  Helpmefind.com, Heirloom Old Garden Roses,  Iowa State University, no matter where you look, they all talk about a yellow tint to the blooms.  I have two bushes of 'Prairie Star', purchased from different nurseries (one was, in fact, Heirloom Old Garden Roses), and neither regularly shows any signs of yellow undertones here in Kansas.  Perhaps, in the right light, in the center of the bloom shortly after opening I could acknowledge a hint of a tan, but it disappears quickly in the sun.  I would have described her as white, with pink undertones that increase in cooler weather.  Extremely sensitive to climate changes, in hot weather she'll open and stay a virginal white but she almost rivals 'Maiden's Blush' in pink tones in early Spring and late Fall.   

'Prairie Star' in September, 2012
The drawback to 'Prairie Star', at least in this climate, is that she rarely has a bloom without a blemish of some sort.  These defects can be almost invisible as in the picture above, or quite distracting, as in the picture taken in cooler September weather at the right.  I love the white or blushing purity of the blooms, and she reblooms continuously after a large early flush, but the blemished blooms, worsening in cold wet weather, leave me often disappointed.  I view her as an otherwise ravishing maiden perceived to have a flawed moral character deep down inside.  Her strong suits are rebloom, disease resistance, and form, so as a landscape specimen, she certainly holds her own from a slight distance away.  In an environment where she could be raised without blemish, I predict that she would have no peer, as perfect as you could ever want a rose. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Utterly Ridiculous!

All right, who's responsible?  Snow?  On the 23rd of April?  Unheard of.  I have never seen snow this late in the year in the 24 years I've lived in Kansas.   The latest I can remember was the devastating late snow of April 5th, 2007, the year I now refer to as "the year without flowers."  It is 32°F here this morning, heading for a high of 43° and a low tonight of 25°.

I can only surmise that this is yet another predicted calamity resulting from The Sequester.  It's being blamed for everything else right now, why not this aberrant weather?  The Feds must have furloughed the guy responsible for Global Warming.  If not, then I want that guy fired immediately because he's not fulfilling his promises.  At this rate we're going to slip back from zone 6A to 5B.  According to the Midwest Regional Climate Center we are 13 days past our median last FREEZE of 28°F in Manhattan, 8 days past our median last FROST!  Our 95% frost free date here is May 9th.  Will we be extending that this year?  Will we break the freeze all time record of May 27th, set in 1907?  I'm starting to wonder.

The plants here knew what was coming.   Everything is late to bloom, and I've had little reason to blog.  Unlike 2007, not even my earliest lilac has yet bloomed, but it was only a couple of days away, as was my ornamental Red Peach tree.  But they're not delayed enough.  Tulips in the snow?  I've seen daffodils in the snow several times, but never tulips.  My peaches and apples were blooming this weekend, so I can kiss those crops goodbye.  The star magnolia and 'Ann' and 'Jane' magnolias are in full bloom right now.  Goodbye magnolias.  My 'Yellow Bird' magnolia is still in bud phase, but I don't know if those fuzzy buds are tight enough to stand tonight's freeze. 

I stand here in Kansas, rejected, dejected, and neglected, as the snow continues to fall.  The picture below was taken early this morning at first light.  It has since snowed another inch and it is still coming down.  The prairie grass is completely covered now.   I've got 11 new rose bands currently in transit, with delivery expected on Thursday.

There is a predicted high of 81°F this coming Sunday.  Just in time to roast the just transplanted roses.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Burning Day

Last Saturday was "burning day" for myself and my neighbors, as we took advantage of cool temperatures and the recent rains to "safely" burn the prairie surrounding our homes.

Prairie burns, as I've discussed before, are an important factor in prairie maintenance.  Burns act to keep the prairie clear of invasive trees and non-native "weeds", and they increase the quality and protein levels of grassland intended for livestock pasture or hay.   As a consequence, of course, our intrusive government tries to regulate and prevent this useful and quite natural act, particularly during April when the burns are carefully monitored to limit their contribution to ozone pollution in overcrowded cities to the east. For untold millennia, prairie burns occurred as a result of lightning or the actions of Native Americans, but widespread burns today are unusual and it falls to the homeowners to nourish the prairie and to protect humans and human property. 

This year, we burned starting early in the morning.  Night burns can be spectacular, but our quiet morning burn was still beautiful and fretful and frightening, all at once.  Our primary goals are to keep the burns from escaping into town, and to burn our pastures thoroughly without burning our homes and outbuildings and my garden.  Hence, we usually "backburn" the perimeters of our landscaping into the wind, and then set fires to run with the wind to hotly and quickly finish the job.  In that final phase, sometimes it seems like the whole world is on fire.

Based on long experience together, none of my neighbors trust each other with a match in hand, and so burning is coordinated in person and by cell phone and burn tactics are chosen by consensus.  I view my neighbors as crazy arsonists hell bent on roasting my garden, but in their defense, the largest uncontrolled fire in this area occurred as a result of me trying to clear a bed for tulips a decade or so back.  Every year, somebody's pine trees get singed or a burn eats into someone's landscape mulch, but this year it was a perfect burn and there were almost no casualties, except for the accidental burning of four large hay bales owned by a neighbor (his own fault).  

I say almost no casualties, but at approximately 6:50 pm, several hours after the burns died down, our electricity died as well.  Pack rats often infiltrate the ground-hugging transformer boxes and nest there, and the nests will catch fire occasionally and smolder for hours in the boxes before finally taking our electricity with them.  Sure enough, on a neighbor's land, a blackened box was smoldering away and there was a large hole dug underneath one side.  Even in death, pack rats will get their revenge.   

I'll leave you teased with the view above, the blackened hills leading into town after the burn.  You can clearly see both the brush that gets burned and the rocks that litter what I call soil in this area. In about 2-3 weeks, I'll post this view and before's and after's of others, to show you the emerald paradise that burning creates on this Godforsaken land.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Warning for the UnWary

NewsFlash!  Read All About It!  This is a Special Edition of the Garden Musings blog written to you from breezy Kansas.  ProfessorRoush, your renowned gardening investigator, has caught a big box store in the act of practicing horticultural fraud!

Actually, Folks, ProfessorRoush just wants to remind you that sometimes things aren't always what they seem at the big-box gardening centers.  I was at a local vendor today, looking for shelves, not garden plants, but I couldn't resist wandering through the newly arrived shrubs and perennials to see what was available.  'Sky Pencil' hollies are on a wish-list for me, so I was drawn to these 3 foot tall specimens from across the parking lot.  Unfortunately, as you can clearly see in the front container, these specimens were recently transplanted from a one-gallon container into these three gallon containers, presumably so that they could be sold at the $25.00 price, instead of the $6.95 or $12 price that a one-gallon plant would command.  Unaware consumers that buy the other plants lined up behind this corner specimen are paying at least $12 for the 2 extra gallons of mulch.  Quite a steep price for mulch, isn't it?

Please remember, my gardening friends, that it is a good practice to shop only reputable nurseries and even then to occasionally slip plants an inch or two out of their containers to see if the roots have reached the edges of the pot, or, in the other extreme, if the roots are pot-bound and tangled.  Plants like the one above are the worst of both worlds; a pot-bound plant that was recently "planted up" without any effort to free the roots into the new soil. 

I have a feeling these 'Sky Pencil' hollies are never going to grow tall and reach the sky.  They haven't been given the chance.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Marriage and Magnolias

After years of study and accumulated evidence, ProfessorRoush has reached the conclusion that in an infinite number of universes, there are only three possible gardening relationships between spouses.   First, there are those sad couples where neither person gardens but where one grudgingly assumes the duty of pushing a roaring machine across a postage stamp lawn every week from April through October.  Often, such couples ultimately retire to a high-rise apartment with a potted and dehydrated cactus on the balcony.  Second, there are those mythical unions where both spouses share equally in the garden's triumphs and disappointments, planning and working together in perfect harmony.  The only documented example of such a relationship, of course, ended when Eve gave Adam a bite of the apple.   The third marriage, a land where there is an unequal and uneasy union between an avid gardener of vision and a less knowledgeable but still mildly enthusiastic spouse, is the one that most of us navigate, bouncing between the shores of two visions for our garden.   In these ungodly unions, in the interest of marital harmony, the gardening spouse must, at times, be willing set aside his or her grand vision to accommodate some ill-considered whim of the partner. 

My latest personal sojourn into such a gardening quagmire came last weekend, begun in an ill-considered moment when I asked Mrs. ProfessorRoush if she'd like to accompany me to one of our favorite local nurseries.  Presumably I was feeling a weak moment of the guilty pleasure of a weekend spent alone in the garden, and Mrs. ProfessorRoush was missing human contact, even if such contact occurred only in the presence of a sweaty, dirty, and sore older gentleman.  My punishment came quickly upon arrival at the nursery, where the only visible bloom was from a group of Magnolia 'Ann' and it was announced loudly that I had to purchase one immediately, regardless of my whining protests and the squeak and groans that occurred during the act of prying apart my wallet to purchase the $70.00 extravagance.

As background information, it is important to note that I had long ago considered and rejected the feminine wiles of  'Ann' for several reasons, not the least of which is that my garden already contains her lighter-pink sibling 'Jane', purchased for far less at $10 several years back.  I really don't need the sisterly rivalry to disrupt the ambiance of my garden.  Another deterrent to her purchase was that, although I am fond of magnolias, they are still reluctant participants in my garden regardless of the best efforts of global warming trends.  The more hardy magnolias will bloom occasionally here, but the blooms seldom last long in the strong prairie winds and they are sometimes caught out naked in a late freeze.  Finally, I had no inkling of where to possibly fit 'Ann' into my garden, although I freely admit that such a consideration has never stopped me before.  Thus, I grumbled and gritted my teeth, but Mrs. ProfessorRoush twisted my arm, and home we came with a pot-bound and prematurely blooming 'Ann'.

I have since planted 'Ann' in a site where she is destined to be the centerpiece of a new bed, a burgundy-colored beacon to explore deeper into the garden.  Anticipating a few days of gentle rain and mild temperatures, I lovingly teased out the root ball and fought my way into the anaerobic clay to bed her down, and I've now had two days to fondle her thick petals and inhale her thick musty fragrance.  Tonight, of course, the unpredictable Kansas weather is rolling back the clock with a predicted record low of 28°F and possible snow flurries on the 10th of April.  Tomorrow night there is a similar forecast.  There were evenings, in my younger gardening days, when such a prediction would have sent me scurrying around the garden with armloads of blankets to cover tender plants but I am long past such foolishness.   I have instead bid 'Ann' a reluctant goodbye and cast her fate to the Gods.

Next time, I have vowed to swallow my guilt, stay home, and divide a daylily or three.  Such an action may not provide any traction towards marital harmony, but at least my wallet will be more thick.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lightning Fast App

This afternoon, after a day and a half of strenous garden work, ProfessorRoush quit working and took a number of photos to convince himself, and all of you, that Spring was beginning in Kansas.  I was sidetracked, however, by the quick appearance of a small storm with a negligible offering of rainwater, but a little bit of lightning and thunder.

Many of you will remember how excited I was last year to accidentally capture a lightning bolt while I was taking prairie-storm pictures (if not, it's HERE).  Least year's photo was indeed fortuitous, and at the same time it was likely the end of an era, for this year, there is a new app for iPhone that will  capture lightning, fireworks, gunshot flares, and other flashing phenomena.  You see, folks, some genius has taken the luck right out of it and now everyone will have their own lightning pictures.

I read about the app, called iLightningCam, a couple of weeks ago and the wait since for a thunderstorm has been near unbearable.  Just a few moments ago, as the sky darkened and the flashes began, out I went onto the covered porch to see if it worked...and within 5 minutes, I had the picture above, a bolt of lightning flashing over my slowly greening and newly cleaned south garden beds.  Lightning pictures are now idiot-proof and I have the evidence.

The iLightningCam app is inexpensive (disclaimer;  I get no sales revenue from mentioning it), works on both iPhone 4 & 5, and is simple to use.  There is a trial Lite free version as well.  It claims to use the iPhone light sensor to set off the camera, but I theorize that it is running a continuous loop of video and just capturing some set of frames that were taken just before a spike of light notifies it that there has been a flash.  At least that's what I believe the "15fps" in the upper left corner of my screen indicates.

Once I get over my initial excitement with the app, I'm going to try to get more artistic with garden lightning combination photos, but for now, I'm still a kid in the candy store; a kid with the gift of magic bestowed by an iPhone genius named Florian Stiassny.  As my Jeep tire cover says, "Life is Good."

Monday, April 1, 2013

Farewell to Brittany

Winter IS ending just as ProfessorRoush's endurance is waning, but Spring is accompanied this year by a heavy heart here in the Flint Hills.  I regret to report that the chief Rabbit and Snake Chaser of my garden, our aged Brittany Spaniel, has passed on to greener hills and sunnier skies than yet exist here on April's rolling prairies.

"Brittany" was 14 years old and her strength had been fading for some time, but her young spirit  never left.  From the start, when we brought her home as a small puppy while we were building the house, she was a free spirit, running for the hills whenever she was let off a leash. She would head straight for the golf course on my south fence line and on towards town, greeting the first golfers she saw, and then running on to the next hole to be petted by the next foursome.  She became a known and regular visitor at the golf course club house.  Finally, it became a game;  she would slip past one or the other of us and disappear over the nearest hill.  Several hours later, the golf course supervisor would call us to tell us they had caught Brittany and tied her up at the cart house and we would make a quick trip to bring back a happy, tired, and often extremely muddy dog.

These impromptu escapes continued on a regular basis until one summer, not so long ago, when she jerked the retractable leash right from Mrs. ProfessorRoush's hand, disappeared, and never reached the golf course.  We searched high and low for a week, walking the pastures and golf course, and had sorrowfully concluded that she had met a bad end or been adopted by someone in town.  One afternoon, though, there returned a thinner, scratched up, and dehydrated Brittany, followed by our neighbor who had found her hidden down in a ravine, the leash tangled up in brush where she at least had access to a small spring and a little shade to fend off the hot July days of her adventure.  After that, she stayed closer to home, content to roam between the house and cow pond, or to go with Mrs. ProfessorRoush to a nearby 50 acre dog-park.

Her health had been good over these 14 years, with only two little scares   At 8 years old she got into a little rat poison somewhere and developed a large sublingual hematoma, but recovered quickly.  At 10 years old, on Thanksgiving day, she came out of her kennel one morning and fainted right in front of her veterinarian owner.  A few tests and a few hours later, I had diagnosed and surgically removed a 10 lb spleen filled with marginal lymphoma ( a benign form of lymphocytic cancer) and she recovered once again and never looked back.

Recently, however, we noticed that she had begun to lose appetite, energy and weight, all quickly and simultaneously.  I've been first a veterinarian and later a veterinary surgeon for 30 years now, long enough to know what I'd find if I went looking, and sure enough, she had a different type of cancer, spread all through her lungs and liver and past a treatable stage.  All we could do was make her comfortable and pray for a few warm days to enjoy with her while we could.  She still wanted to be free, not kenneled, so we allowed her out every day to roam around the yard where she would pick a warm spot in the grass to lie down and watch the prairie come to life around her.  She collapsed at the dog park on Easter Sunday with Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her diminutive clone and I helped her pass quietly there, lying in the warm Spring sun and held by the girls.

One last story; I'm sure some of you are wondering about a veterinarian who came to name his Brittany Spaniel "Brittany".  That moniker can be blamed on my children, who were experts at unimaginative names for our pets.  During their childhood, we've had a cat named "Dane" (named by my then-4-year-old son because his grandparents had a dog named Dane and "he didn't know many animal names"), a brown cat named "Hershey", and a calico cat named "Patches".   Their crowning attempt at original naming, our beloved "Brittany", now rests near "Hershey" in my garden, in a spot where I had, in knowing preparation, fought my way down through the loose rock into the deep clay last week.  I'll let the faithful readers of Garden Musings know what rose I plant on that spot later on this summer.

(P.S.  I forgot about my daughter's current Italian Greyhound.  Named "Italee").


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