Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hydrangea Heaven

Kansas gardens are living proof that not all hydrangeas are created equal.  I have always been a miserable failure at growing the more common blue or pink Hydrangea macrophylla, countless numbers of which I have purchased, watered, fertilized, protected, cursed and eventually mourned over.  My experiences with the more cold- and drought-resistant panicled hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) have been much more promising, however.  Here in the dry sunny Flint Hills, these large shrubs are dependable focal points for the August garden.
Without a doubt, the most floriferous display in my garden this week is 'Limelight' a fabulous panicled hydrangea that dominates its corner of the garden.  'Limelight' is an introduction from Holland patented in 2002, and it can make an enormous eight foot tall deciduous shrub in the garden, although mine seems to have maxed out at approximately 5 foot tall and wide.  The drought of the past two years seems to have worked in my favor this year, bringing the plant into a display that surpasses any other year.  'Limelight' grows in full sun and on an exposed site for me, completely unprotected from the Kansas climate, and it is cold-hardy to the tips.

'Limelight' Hydrangea
Some of the cone-shaped flower panicles of 'Limelight' are almost a foot long and 6 inches wide. They start out light lime-green and then fade to white and finally gain some pink tones in the fall, and the foliage seems to be resistant to insect and fungal damage here, although the leaves occasionally get a little crisped on the edges by the hot July and August sun.  I only regret that there is only a negligible fragrance and that the shrub is seemingly sterile in its environment, unattractive to bees and other valuable garden residents.

'Pink Diamond'
I grow several other panicled hydrangeas.  'Pink Diamond', pictured to the left and below, was labeled at purchase as a Hydrangea microphylla, but I can't find H. microphylla as a recognized species and online sources list it as H. paniculata.  'Pink Diamond' also provides a good floral display, and individual flowers turn pink quickly at the base of the panicles.  My 'Pink Diamond' shrub is about the same size overall as 'Limelight', and it sits at the opposite end of the same bed, forming white bookends at this time of the year for the other plants in the rest of the bed.
'Pink Diamond'

'Vanilla Strawberry'
H. paniculata 'Vanilla Strawberry' grows almost in the center of the same bed, and this has a much more subtle display than its show-off cousins.  At maturity, it is around four feet tall and wide, a little smaller than the H. paniculata cultivars, perhaps because it grows in the shadow of a towering  'Sweet Autumn Clematis' (seen to the left of the picture below) that also insists on trying to colonize everything within it's reach.  A note of caution is in order about the H. paniculata's:  Wikipedia states that hydrangeas are moderately toxic if eaten, with all parts of the plant containing cyanogenic glycosides.  Human beings sometimes try to smoke H. paniculata leaves, an often fatal action due to cyanide inhalation.  So, kids, don't smoke hydrangeas.

'Vanilla Strawberry' covered by C. paniculata
Although I've previously neglected to mention the garden usefulness of H. paniculata and other hardy hydrangeas as stalwart shrubs in Kansas, I would never leave them out of my next garden.  Right now, I've got high hopes for a yet small 'Pinky Winky' cultivar that I planted two years ago, although it has struggled in the drought and heat of its first two summers.  I'll also disclose that I've failed previously with H. paniculata 'Quick Fire', and with 'H. quercifolia', and 'H. quercifolia 'Little Honey',  but I think the latter native species deserves another try before I give up on it entirely.  It is supposed to have nicely-colored fall foliage that would be a good addition to my October garden.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Perfumed Prairie Sunrise

'Prairie Sunrise'; typical bloom
Have you ever had a rose that begged you to photograph it every time you passed?  One that you couldn't stop photographing even when you try to resist its siren call?  One of my new roses this year is 'Prairie Sunrise', and I think I might have taken at least one photo of every bloom it has developed since this rose grew from a tiny little band.  The latest photograph, of several solitary blooms (see the bottom photo of this entry), was taken on my iPhone this week.  As you can see,  'Prairie Sunrise' is just flat gorgeous, aptly named for the full blooms of pink, orange, and amber tones.  And also aptly named for its resemblance to a prairie sunrise such as the one below that I captured on 6/27/13:

'Prairie Sunrise'; first bloom for me
'Prairie Sunrise' is officially an apricot blend Shrub rose bred by Dr. Griffith Buck prior to 1992, but it was not introduced by him. notes that this rose was introduced in 1997 by Sam Kedem Nursery and Garden, the latter a Minnesota-based mail-order nursery that I frequented in years past. Listing the rose as "apricot" doesn't really do justice to the coloring of this very double (50 petals) rose.  In colder weather, I see a lot of pinks and yellows in this rose, while in very hot weeks the blooms are almost amber, with pinkish tones banished to the outer petals.  The large (4 inch) blooms display as singles or in small clusters and are very fragrant, among the most fragrant of the Griffith Buck bred roses.  They are so full as to be quartered when fully open, with an occasional confused golden-orange center.  The bush is healthy, with dark green glossy leaves and the rose develops minimal blackspot.    At maturity, 'Prairie Sunrise' is supposed to be approximately 3 feet tall and wide and winter hardy to Zone 4.  Mine is about 2 feet tall at the end of its first summer.  'Prairie Sunrise' is an offspring of 'Friesia', a Kordes-bred Floribunda, and 'Freckle Face', a 1976 Buck rose.

'Prairie Sunrise'; after a week of cool nights
'Prairie Sunrise' has already won a permanent place in my garden and likely will be a rose I propagate to proliferate across my garden wherever I need a compact shrub rose.  Between the camera-catching blooms and the unbeatable fragrance, you can't go wrong by trying this one, which Sam Kedem described as in the running for the title of Rose of the Century.  I'm going to have to agree with you, Sam.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Best Laid Plans

The best laid plans so often lay an egg, don't they?  Several weeks ago, the hummingbirds arrived to my garden, resulting in a massive increase in the amount of time I spend staring out the window at the feeder, enjoying their grace and acrobatic flight.  My hummingbirds often seem to arrive late in the summer, coinciding with the bloom of the blue sage on the prairie and in my garden, and this year was no exception.  My only regret as I watch the hummingbirds has always been that I don't have the proper long-range camera equipment to get a decent picture.

Wait a minute!  I've got a game camera in my garden that's pretty good at candid photographs of impromptu garden visitors!  Why haven't I trained it on the hummingbird feeder?  I'll bet that I get thousands of great hummingbird pictures in just a few days!  Imagine my excitement as I set up the camera just a few feet away from the feeder below my bedroom window.  Imagine my anticipation as I witnessed (from the window) hummingbird after hummingbird visiting the feeder, right under the "nose" of the camera.

Alas and curses.  My execution of an excellent plan had a few flaws, not the least of which was that a game camera is not made for close-up photography.  I knew that the near focus was probably farther back then I wanted, but I was too lazy to search for the pamphlet to tell me the correct focal length of the lens, so I guessed.  I guessed wrong and placed the camera too close and thus got a number of semi-blurry photographs.

You also likely already have realized that the birds in these pictures are not hummingbirds. It seems that I also experienced the minor problem that hummingbirds don't seem to be either large enough or warm-bodied enough to trigger the game camera.  Despite the frequent visits of hummingbirds to my feeder that I was witnessing with my own eyes, all I captured over two weeks was these repeated visits of American Goldfinches (probably females or males in non-breeding plumage) to my feeder, visits that I never witness in person.  On the chance that this particular question keeps you up at night, you should know that I have decent evidence that the Goldfinches were not just perching on the feeder, but they were occasionally sipping the droplets of feeder juice spilled by tipping the feeder with their weight.  Who knew?

In two weeks, I collected 50 pictures of drab Goldfinches (why couldn't there been at least a few golden-yellow males in breeding plumange) and, finally, a single blurry picture of a Ruby-Throated hummingbird.   The latter was way too late and way too unimpressive for me to get excited about.  All I really gained from this experiment was a good excuse to give to Mrs. ProfessorRoush when I drop a wad of cash on a new digital camera and a big long-range lens.

As a consequence of my failures, I've moved the camera back to other parts of the garden, where it can document more exciting discoveries than the syrup-pirating drab Goldfinches.  The photograph below was taken just before I moved the camera from its original spot and it is remarkable for two reasons;  First, the presence of the coyote, captured at 9:58 a.m. in my garden.  Coyotes are supposed to be primarily nocturnal, a fact that I can confirm since they frequently awaken me by howling at night.  Second, please observe the date and the temperature printed on the photo.  Who has ever heard of Kansas being 63 degrees at 10:00 a.m. on the 8th of August?  Now there's an oddity worth documenting! 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

'Knock Out' Purgatory

I suppose that I should have expected it, should have foreseen the horrors. Once 'Knock Out' became ubiquitous in the suburban landscape of America and moved beyond usefulness to cliché,  I should have known that this paradigm-changing rose was inevitably destined to be even more misused, abused, and perverted; to ultimately be used in manners so hideous as to defy the imagination of gardeners born with a vestige of good taste.

I was still shocked, however, to stumble across the mutilated specimens shown here, these professionally scalped and shaped green rectangles and balls that I fleetingly mistook at first glance for privet or yews.  These, my friends, are not evergreens, yews, privet, or box.  I was horrified to realize that these monstrosities were 'Knock Out' roses, identifiable by the sparse murky red blooms visible at the back of the rectangular-shaped specimen.  For a fleeting moment that recognition caused me to reach for my eyes in a fruitless effort to gouge out the offending images from my soul, but alas, I was too late, my sensibilities pushed over into the abyss, plunging into the bottomless pit of 'Knock Out' purgatory.

What was he or she thinking, this misguided landscaper?  I assume this job was "professionally" done since these misshapen demons lay next to the door and walkway of a large medical center whose working doctors and nurses are not likely to moonlight as hedge-trimming psychopaths. But these blobs were even trimmed "wrong" as hedges; the tops and sides wider than the bottom, shading out the lower leaves and destining them to naked stems and thorns.  Why remove the blooms?  'Knock Out' cycles rapidly enough that spent blooms go unnoticed amid the off-red tapestry of current flowers.  Does no one realize the value of orange rose hips for winter appeal?  Where do we go next to misuse this rose?  'Knock Out' topiary?  A nice 'Knock Out' elephant with a red saddle on its back and a red stripe along its trunk?  A 'Knock Out' clown face with bright red hair?

Please, I beg of you, those who just must plant 'Knock Out', at least give it freedom to still be a rose; to branch stiffly and awkwardly, to bloom a spine-grating red shade and to retain dingy orange hips.  Give it the freedom to be more than another green gumdrop in our landscapes.  We've got enough shrubs that can be shaped at will into your favorite football mascot.  If 'Knock Out' it must be, leave them unfettered and free to grow as they were meant to, as random unshaped colorful masses in our lawns.  Please.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ode to Chiggers

There's a red spot on my tushy, itching like the very devil,
There's another on my hiney, now I'm scratching with my shovel.
Itch and torment on and on, both spots keep on getting bigger,
Weeping, mashing, slapping, slashing, this must be a goldarned chigger.

Experts say they bite and leave, but I'd like a sec to quibble,
All this fuss and pain and scratching can't just be from chigger dribble.
I believe that chigger's head, must be buried deep inside me,
Biting down and clawing round, worse than any doggone dog flea.

Maybe chiggers were the Fire, used to banish Eve from Eden,
Chased us out from Paradise, chiggers on our nether regions.
Followed Moses cross the Red Sea, chiggers biting on our tail,
Puritans' itching, wasn't witching, chiggers all down Historys' trail.

Soap and water does no good, Calamine just dries my skin,
Alcohol is no solution, just won't work on where they've been.
I believe in clear nail polish, thick and shiny on the bump,
Some say it don't make no difference, but it soothes my itching lump.

Pray for frost and spray your poisons, that will knock them chiggers out,
There's no one good way to get them, burn or spray or freeze the louts.
High in Heaven, up on clouds, please God make a place for diggers,
Give us respite from our itching, don't let in those damned old chiggers.

I don't know about where you live, but the chiggers have gotten bad around here this summer.  And yes, I know that the "experts" claim that nail polish won't work, but I, for one, swear by it as a chigger remedy.  If it is only just a placebo, then I'm happy to embrace it, nonetheless.   And how, you might ask, is the blue thistle photo at left related to chiggers?  Well, it's not.  It was just a pretty picture to draw you in.  Happy scratching, friends!


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lichen Enlightment

I'd like to take this moment to confess my doting admiration for one of the simplest symbionts of all that exist on this lovely planet, the lowly but enduring lichens.  Here on the dry Kansas prairie, I had almost forgotten the existence of these composite organisms until I happened on this healthy lichen plantation growing on the north side of the trunk of my young pecan tree.  I do see lichens everyday in Kansas, manifested as ugly black scale on the limestone of the K-State campus buildings, but there is hardly anything to admire about dirty-looking limestone, so please excuse me if I've almost forgotten their more attractive cousins.

Lichens are partnerships of a fungus (the mycobiont) and an algae or cyanobacterium (the photobiont), that grow in some of the most inhospitable environments on Earth; bare rock, arctic tundra, and hot deserts.  They're so tough that they can survive the vacuum and cosmic radiation of space and they will grow in a Martian simulator, suggesting that they will be of use someday as Mankind terraforms Mars.  The fungus surrounds and sometimes penetrates the algal cells, protecting them from dry environments, while the algae are photosynthetic and provide energy and food to the partner.  Cyanobacteria in the cyanolichens serve to fix nitrogen, sharing this important building block with their mutual fungus partner. 

I should also confess that ProfessorRoush was (and is) one of those weird kids who was often found reading a random volume of a paper and ink concoction formerly known as an encyclopedia.  My parents once owned an entire set of a 1964 edition, purchased by my mother from one of the sweet, clean, predatory college students who used to travel the country each summer taking money off of  doting mothers of budding science and space travel nerds.  Today, I frequently satisfy that urge to explore new worlds with a Wikipedia search, clicking from subject to subject in a seemingly endless journey.  Lichens are certainly a fertile search muse for some fascinating hours of Wiki-diving.  For example, I learned that Swiss scientist Simon Schwendener was the first to discover the symbiotic nature of lichens (in the year 1867).  I also found out that lichens reproduce by the dispersal of diaspores (which contain both algal and fungal cells), and that there are three types of diaspores;  soredia, isidia, and what are essentially just dry lichen fragments that blow around in the wind.  If by chance you are not yet fascinated by these organisms, it might thrill you to know that there are experts in Lichenometry, experts who can determine the age of exposed surfaces based on the size of lichen thalli and who regularly measure glacial retreat in global warming studies.  Wouldn't we all love to have that job so that we could easily pick up girls at a cocktail party?  One more factoid for the medical marijuana crowd;  certain species of lichens contain olivetol, a substance also found in the cannabis plant where it is a precursor for the production of THC.  Lichen brownies, anyone?

I'll stop here with the satisfaction that I know more today than I did yesterday.  Even though it's possible that I could have continued my existence without ever learning more about lichens, it is probable that we owe lichens our very lives for their actions of converting rock to soil, thus allowing plant life to flourish on Earth, and ultimately enriching the lives of gardeners.  Oh, and by the way, lichens don't hurt your trees.

Try to say "Swiss scientist Simon Schwendener searched soredia in the Seven Seas" three times fast.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Trojans and Carrots

ProfessorRoush was lucky enough last week to happen across a paperback copy of How Carrots Won The Trojan War, by Rebecca Rupp, and my TV viewing has suffered ever since.  It grabbed me from the start, as I was just browsing in the bookstore, and it is the first nonfiction garden-related book all summer that has monopolized my free time.

This 2011 nonfiction work is a well-researched and referenced series of chapters about 20 common vegetables (although some are technically fruits).  The history of each garden plant is revealed, from the first human use of the native species through its introduction into Western Culture, and along the way there are fascinating stories about how each plant was viewed in different eras and how it may (or may not) have influenced history.  As an example, she relates that the introduction of beans as a protein-rich food source coincides with population growth at the end of the Dark Age and later she ties the early success of the Burpee Seed Company to an enormous cabbage variety.

Most importantly, this is not a dry scholarly tome, but a very readable and interesting presentation of history related to food production.  Gardeners will like it, history buffs will be fascinated, and foodies will compare ancient cooking techniques to modern fare.  Of course, the reader's attention is frequently captured and held because the early uses of most of these plants are related to their aphrodisiac (asparagus or celery) or pharmaceutical value (beans and beets).  It's a sure-fire marketing technique;  tie anything to sex or drugs, and someone, somewhere is sure to get interested in a hurry.  Trojans and carrots, by the way, are not related by some pre-Modern sex-education demonstration (think about it), but because Agamemnon's warriors supposedly ate purple carrots to "bind up their bowels" while they were concealed in the Trojan Horse awaiting entry into Troy.  That's yet another marketing technique;  human toilet habits are almost as fascinating to some, particularly the aged, as sex and drugs are to the young.

 I haven't read other works by Ms. Rupp.  I found that she is primarily a childrens and nonfiction writer, but a couple of her earlier works (Red Oaks and Black Birches, published in 1990 and Blue Corn and Square Tomatoes, published in 1987) also sound quite intriguing to this old gardener.  I'm going to have to check the local library for a copy of each.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gee Whiz, That's Incredible!

Help, ProfessorRoush has a problem!  No, not that problem. No, not that problem either.  My current problem centers around that fact that I have two new Griffith Buck roses that I can't tell apart for love or money.  'Gee Whiz'!  That's 'Incredible', you say?   Yes, those are the two roses,  'Gee Whiz' and 'Incredible'.  I know perfectly well what they were labeled when I received them from Heirloom Roses and I've got them accurately mapped out.   I just can't believe that these two roses are so similar.

'Incredible' is pictured above and to the left.  Although it is registered simply as 'Incredible',  it is also known as 'That's Incredible'.  She is a yellow blend shrub rose bred by Dr. Buck in 1984. The listing for 'Incredible' lists her as a yellow and pink blend, also stippled, with occasional repeat. 'Incredible' is an offspring of 'Gingersnap' and 'Sevilliana'. The Iowa State Buck Rose Website states that 'Incredible' should be double, 25-30 petals, with 4-4.5 inch blooms of barium yellow streaked with vermilion. The blooms are born in grandiflora-type clusters on a 3-4.5 foot plant.

'Gee Whiz'
'Gee Whiz', pictured to the right and below, is also a yellow blend shrub rose bred by Dr. Buck in 1984. He is officially described as having stippled orange and yellow petals, with a double (17-25 petal) bloom form and occasional repeat.  Also an offspring of 'Gingersnap' and 'Sevilliana', at maturity (my bush is only a few months old), he should be 2.5-3 feet tall, slightly shorter than his sister. The Iowa State Buck Rose website listing for this rose states that the blooms are also borne in clusters but are slightly smaller than 'Incredible', at 3-4 inches diameter.

'Gee Whiz'
Confused yet?  I assure you that I am and I've got them growing side by side in my garden.  Both bushes are identical so far in growth and bloom rate, both have dark green leaves that start out with copper tones, and they are equally blackspot resistant.   The blooms of both roses open quickly and fade a bit lighter, but so far, I think 'Gee Whiz' retains slightly more orange tones than 'Incredible'.  I'd hate to hang my hat on that, though.  So, apart from counting petals or waiting to see if the ultimate size of the bushes are different, I guess I'm going to have to trust Heirloom Roses that they sent me two different roses.  And also trust that Dr. Buck, in the later years of his career, wasn't playing a joke that would live on long after him.  I wish there was a record available, straight from the professor's mouth as it were, that tells us why he released two such similar roses in the same year.  Perhaps, like me, Griffith Buck just loved stippled and striped roses and couldn't bear to shovel prune one of these beautiful creations into oblivion.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Guilt Trip

I tell you, it's enough to give a guy a complex.  ProfessorRoush spent the early summer thinking that the two-year drought had eased, only to watch June and July turn completely dry in this area.  I can't count the number of storm fronts that I've seen split and go north and south of us, or watched as they came in from the west and petered out at the edge of the Flint Hills.  By Sunday, July 28th, this area was 2 inches below our normal July average, 4.92 inches (22.8%) below average for the year.  Tuttle Creek Reservoir, just north of Manhattan, was at a record low elevation of 1074.49 feet.  I was beginning to feel like a pioneer Kansan of the late 1930's, praying for rain,  not for the crops, but so that the six-year-olds can see water fall from the sky.

Then, last Monday morning, July 29th, I started north at 4:30 a.m. for a business trip to Omaha Nebraska.  It began to sprinkle on me when I was 10 miles north of Manhattan and it rained all the way to Omaha (3 hours drive).  According to the paper, by 7 a.m. Monday morning, it had rained 0.98 inches in Manhattan.  By Tuesday at 7 a.m. it had rained another 2.1 inches.  On Wednesday and Thursday there was minimal rain, but Thursday night there was another 1.89 inches.   I came home Friday night to a 5 inch rain gauge by my vegetable garden that had overflowed.  No more deficit presently for 2013. We now have a surplus of 1.85 inches for the year-to-date.

I'm now feeling a little guilty for not leaving town sooner.  We rarely get Spring-quantity rains here in July and August, and if I'd been here watching the storms, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have rained in any measurable quantity.  Others may have recognized my odd recent power over the weather as well.  I texted a friend late Tuesday, saying "Evidently, all I had to do was leave town," and he replied "well, you can come back now, we're drowning."

The result of all this rain in my garden is a previously dormant lawn that now needs mowed, some very happy roses, and the rising dominance of the fungi.  The large one pictured above, and the others sprouts shown here, have popped up in the location that I usually see them, an unusually damp spot along my "viburnum" bed where the grasses are always a bit greener.  I fantasize that it must be the site of an old buffalo wallow.  Or perhaps there is a subterranean spring lurking just below the surface here;  a "dowser" witched out the spot last year and told me I should drive a well there.  I'd have been more impressed by his abilities if the grass where he was standing wasn't emerald green while the grass 10 feet away was as brown and dry as a paper grocery sack.

I'm now afraid that if the weather turns dry again, I'm going to wake up to neighbors with torches and pitchforks ready to run me out of town.  If so, I plan to use this blog as an emergency beacon, so please monitor it closely over the next few months and be ready to rescue me from the lynching townsfolk.  Or just give me a quick ride out of the area.


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