Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bye Bye Bye, Boltonia

As I have decided not to regrow a seemingly marvelous particular perennial next year, or at the very least decided to move it out of my sight and out of mind, I believe that I at least owe the plant a parting blog. Oh Boltonia, my lovely, I just couldn't take any more.

I spent the late summer of 2012 driving to and fro near a fabulous specimen of this plant at the parking lot entrance to the KSU gardens.  Shining and thriving in the midst of the drought and 100° temperatures that August, it was unlabeled at the time, but I suspected its identity after running across it here and there in plant catalogues. I had long read about the drought tolerance and hardiness of this perennial, and I decided it was time to give it a try, especially since it was almost the only plant in flower during that fiery August.

Boltonia asteroides, the White Doll's Daisy, or False Aster, is a native perennial to this area of the country and the Eastern United States.   It is an erect plant, with blue-green foliage, growing from 12 to 60 inches tall according to references, and its cheery little daisy-face is always bright and happy just as a daisy-face should be.  Hardy to Zone 3, and blooming at the very best time for it to be noticed in the garden, alone in August and September, it is even listed as "clay tolerant."  What more could I ask for?

Well, I could have asked for it to grow less vigorously.  My Boltonia, planted in 2012 and having its first full season in 2013, became a rampaging monster, 6 feet tall and 4 or 5 feet wide, cascading and smothering every other plant in the vicinity, which included a struggling 'Dragon's Blood' rose and my beloved 'Vanguard'.  This, despite the lack of soil enhancements and without added water. Yes, the flowers are gorgeous close up, but farther away the plant just has the appearance of a white cloud.  And no reference ever suggested that it might need support, although I later learned that the Missouri Botanical Garden suggests cutting it back by 1/3rd in late spring to early summer to reduce plant height. 

Boltonia asteroides is a nice, dependable perennial, but I'm banishing it this year from my garden.  I might still give it a chance to survive among the tall grasses at the periphery of the garden, however. Borrowing lyrics from "Delilah," the classic hit by Tom Jones (a favorite crooner's of my mother's during my childhood),  I could also sing;  "My My My, Boltonia.  Why Why Why, Boltonia?  I could see that plant was no good for me. But I was lost like a slave that no man could free.  Forgive me, Boltonia, I just couldn't take any more." 

Unlike Sir Thomas John Woodward (Jones), though, women probably won't be throwing their hotel keys at me while I sing.  It's a pity, but gardening just has no star quality.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


If this long winter has had a bright spot, it has been inside the house for us, not outside.  Everyone, I'd like to introduce you to Bella, the new daily companion of Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  She's 8 weeks old in these pictures, but we've had her 4 weeks today.  Our recent empty nest syndrome was hitting Mrs. ProfessorRoush hard, but I think we've got it licked now.  Or at least we're being licked to death by our "cure" for the empty nest syndrome.

Bella is the offspring of a beagle mom who was a little loose with the neighborhood boys.  We're not exactly sure who the father is, but he is believed to be a Fox Terrier.  At least that was the theory of the breeders, who thought it was the Fox Terrier because he "was the only male dog in the area of the right size at the time."  As a veterinarian, I'm not so sure that an asymmetric mating is so impossible, and it would be about my luck that the father was a coyote.  Bella's beagle genes seem to be pretty strong here, however so we'll just call her a beagle, leave the paternal component unspoken, and just tell her that Daddy was an interstate trucker.  

On the behavior side, we've gotten pretty lucky.  The first night we brought her home we put her to a crate bed around 9:00 p.m. and she left us alone until 6:00 a.m.  Even better, she's done it about every night since, so she's a lot easier on our sleep patterns than either of our human offspring were.  Potty-training has really gone pretty well with the exception that the cats, Millie and Moose, won't leave us alone and distract Bella every time we take her out.  In the meantime, Mrs. ProfessorRoush is completely besotted, as every new mother should be.   I'm just hoping Bella's daddy really was a Fox Terrier and that I get a decent garden rabbit-chaser in the bargain.  It's the least Bella could do for the money I'm trading for puppy food, toys, and shots. In the meantime, I'll try to resist looking at her and thinking about how many new roses I could have bought instead.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Life Against The Odds

When finally melts incessant snow,
When arctic winds no longer blow,
When I've succumbed to Winter's woe,
I'm rescued by sweet crocus.

Just as I have lost all hope,
When I no longer seem to cope,
When I become a forlorn mope,
I'm rescued by snow crocus.

Deep beneath the snow and ice,
Growing, stretching, green and nice,
My spirit lifted up in trice,
Relieved from gloom by crocus.

Gold and white, soon blooms will come,
And I'll be fine, no longer glum,
Because beneath the snow was some,
Gorgeous, lifting, thriving crocus.

At last the deep snow here in the Flint Hills has melted, though out my window even more currently floats down to a warmer earth where slush and muck are taking hold.  Morning sleet turned to snow now, which becomes needed rain on the pavement.  Here and there, a remnant patch of snow and ice hide from the weather, clinging to the north sides of ditches and trees, surviving only where former drifts were deep and wide.  Today's high 48F, tomorrow's 57F will assure that the snow stays in memory, no threat to return in the foreseeable future.

The snow melt left my garden a swamp, the frozen ground reluctant to imbibe the liquid cold which seeks only a return to earth.  The former dry and tall grasses are bent low and sodden by the weight of the previous ice, soon a decaying mass on the prairie floor.  Shrub branches are barren, rose canes and thorns are exposed, and clematis and sweet pea are ethereal ropes dancing in the wind, torn free from their trellises.  Magnolia pods are tightly held, fruit tree buds are hard as nails, and branches everywhere are brittle and sapless, not yet ready to chance growth.

But in a western bed, beneath the dormant lilacs, I've found the nascent life in my garden.  And I am ever faithful that warmth and sunshine will spread this life from here across the garden and then across the prairie.  These snow crocus soon to flower and welcome the oncoming Spring to Kansas also carry my spirit upward, free again from the bonds of Winter's fury, soaring to sunshine and dreams on golden stamens.  Here now is hope, here relief, here life.        

Sunday, February 16, 2014

No Joy in Snowville

Why, oh why Lord, doest thou test me so?   I discovered today that my last effort at winter gardening has failed.  I am chastened, abashed at my incompetence, unsteady and unwise.  I've lived quite a saga this winter in my meager attempts to develop even a token few blooms.  Way back in late September I planted, with high expectations, several spare pots full of daffodil bulbs and I placed them out around a Redbud tree to let them winter over.  Unfortunately, I placed them near the rock retaining wall at the back door and within a week, every bulb had been removed, presumably by pack rats stocking their winter larder.  As evidence, I later found two partially gnawed bulbs in the crevices in the wall.  I hope the pack rats choked on them. 
In October, I planted the four containers above (and three others), full of daffodil and tulip bulbs, ready to burst into flower at a moment of my clever choosing in the depths of winter.  I was smarter this time and I placed them down in the unheated barn, covered with chicken wire, where they rested through the cold days and nights.  I had hopes of providing them as lottery gifts to our March Extension Master Gardener's potluck. 

In the meantime, I was busy failing to grow Amaryllis for Christmas.  I purchased two 'Red Lion' bulbs at a local nursery on the first of November and began growing them in our sunroom.  They grew slowly and timidly, and ultimately one flowered a single, deep red, and unsatisfying bloom around the 2nd week of January.  So much for Amaryllis at Christmas.  The other bulb never bloomed, but the leaves look healthy enough.  Maybe I can keep them around for another try next year.

In mid-January, I finally remembered the potted bulbs in the barn and pulled them up into the breakfast nook in front of a large window for warmth and light and began waiting.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Finally today, 5 weeks after bringing them inside, upon noticing a few wisps of errant grass coming up in the pots (probably from the hay in the barn near their storage area), I broke down and emptied a pot, only to find the remains of rotted bulbs everywhere.  Woe, oh woe is me.  I promise that I didn't overwater them.  A little moistened potting soil at the beginning was provided.  How could they possibly rot?  Too cold in the barn?

To borrow from the famous poem "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer, there will be no joy in Snowville this year, because mighty ProfessorRoush has struck out.  Zero for three tries at forcing bulbs this winter.  My only real chance of blooms now are the snow crocus that I planted in the fall, still buried at present beneath the snows.   Perhaps, if I increase my nightly prayers and double my church attendance, there will be a chance I'll see them by May.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Zen Frog In Winter

Amidst the snow and ice of this ceaseless winter, ProfessorRoush needs to calm down and take a lesson from his Totally Zen Frog statue.  I took this picture standing in a snow drift up to my waist, at the end of a long afternoon digging the rest of our driveway clean from the storm that blasted us earlier this week.  Here, only a few feet away from the roses buried in snow, sits the contemplative frog, floating above the snow, untouched by the cold.   He doesn't care about Winter's fury.  He's imagining Spring, full-blown, golden with daffodils, glowing with sunshine.

In my garden, however, Zen Frog seems to be the only one who doesn't care about winter.  Even the ornamental grasses have lost their regal stature, bowed and broken in places from the heavy snow.  Those that remain standing seem mass-less now, shrunken from their previous Fall glory.  They struggle to keep their heads above the snow, straining to survive for winter's swan song.

The annuals and herbaceous perennials have long given up their ghosts.  This Prickly Poppy (Argemone polyanthemos) left only a dessicated and hollow carcass to serve as a grave marker, a spiny brown contrast to the white snow at its waist.   Isn't it an odd contrast that these lifeless remains represent also the hope of the next season, the missing seed from the pods spewed yon and hither to find earth and moisture?

I tried today, in a moment of fancy, to levitate above the snow drift and meditate with the Zen Frog, but I fell back to earth and snow with a crash of reality.  Encased in layers of clothing and caps, water-proofed to the ankles but wet at the knees, I must instead await warmth and sunshine with an impatient heart, for I cannot become stone and wait out the winter.  My lot now is to shovel, swear, and scowl out the windows until Winter fades back and Spring surges forth.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mr. Higgin's Folly

Yes, ProfessorRoush has not blogged for quite some time.  January has frankly been dismal here in the Flint Hills, and I've been leery of planning the return of green and glorious landscapes lest I awaken the wrath of the Winter Gods and precipitate another late April snowstorm.

I was rudely roused, however, from my winter slumber this morning when my local paper printed the January 29th column of the esteemed Washington Post garden columnist, Mr. Adrian Higgins.  Mr. Higgins, normally a sensible and knowledgeable garden writer, titled that column Prune Rosebushes in Winter, a bland and partly inaccurate title that led the reader on to eventually crash blindly into the shores of poor rose advice.  Thankfully, Mr. Higgins rambled over the first half of the article, presumably filling column space, before he got to rose care, else the damage done to Washington's roses could have been much worse.

In his last few paragraphs, Adrian opens the rose-related conversation by stating that "roses are inherently sickly, but the vigor of modern hybrids far outpaces their woes."  Apparently, Mr. Higgins is only acquainted with the inbred, over-pampered, disease-susceptible Hybrid Teas and Floribundas of the 1960's-90's, a time when monstrosities such as 'Tropicana' and 'Chrysler Imperial' ruled the rose world, commercialized and hyped to the point of nausea.  He never mentions the hardier roses that our forefathers grew, nor the disease-resistant, sustainable rose shrubs created over the last two decades by breeding programs such as that of the late Professor Griffth Buck, or test programs such as the Earth-Kind® program of Texas A&M University.

Adrian doubles down on his rose ignorance by recommending the annual pruning of all roses to a "goblet of five or six canes...cut back to 18 inches," making no exceptions for once-blooming Old Garden roses, nor for leaving many modern Hybrid Tea and Floribunda cultivars taller or bushier.  My local newspaper compounded the omission by also deleting the last two paragraphs of the original column, where Mr. Higgins briefly mentions pruning exceptions for  "utilitarian landscape roses" such as Knock Out and larger Ramblers.  I appreciate Adrian's demeaning characterization of Knock Out, but his description of appropriate pruning for these ubiquitous blights will only perpetuate the attempts of home landscapers to turn these shrubs into flowering topiary such as elephants with flowering ears.

Adrian, you did well with your recommendations of pruning for once flowering shrubs, shade trees, and hydrangeas, but please, leave rose-pruning advice to those with a broader view of the rose world.  I retire now, left to cope with my resultant nightmares of hacked down 'Madame Hardy' and 'Variegata di Bologna', butchered in their prime in the refined neighborhoods of Washington D. C. because of your need to fill column inches.  Oh, the horror.


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