Sunday, October 25, 2015

Shameless Selfies

My trail camera has spent most of the summer in desperate need of attention.  The batteries were beyond dead and I had removed the digital memory card and never replaced it.  After a long, hot summer, who really cares if the garden is being sampled at night?  I had, within the last two weeks, taken the precaution of putting up the chicken wire bindings that protect my tree trunks from deer, and I've spent time doing various and sundry other garden cleanups.

With autumn coming on, however, I felt a need to know who was rambling around my garden at night, and I put the camera back in working order last week.  I've seen no evidence of wildlife damage, at least not on a conscious level, but somehow I felt that something about the garden was different.  I somehow sensed Other. Other in the form of a marauding horde.   Other in the form of hungry visitors.

I didn't have to wait long for evidence.  Dear, oh dear, I've got deer.  Lots of deer, sampling tender rose tips and buds. What I did not expect was the jocular nature of this invasion, the sheer "We're in it for the fun" attitude of this year's table guests.  The first guy above, a handsome stag, seemed to be casting a playful little goofy look for his "selfie", and he was good enough to pose with a full profile on the next night.  Quite a well-antlered boy, don't you think, Ladies?

The stags have been followed already by doey-eyed does, their long eyelashes so innocent and flirtatious with the camera.  Tail up in the air, this lady is ready to find her a man, yessir, yessir.  Soon enough, there will be little fawns appearing in these pictures, their molecules and atoms composed mostly of reconstituted rosebuds and rose leaves from my garden,  Oh well, que sera sera, we're all just the recycled products of some supernova anyway, or so I'm told.  Anyway, I've got to admit that these selfies beat the heck out of anything the Kardashians have produced.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Life Imperative

Here, at the onset of Autumn, the garden slowly slips from life to death, from ardor to apathy.  Peonies are stiff stalks, brown and cracking with every breeze.  I must remember to remove supports and mow them soon back to dust.  Likewise the daylilies and irises, green at their base but yellow-tipped, bent and beaten by wind and sun and insect, begging, almost eager, to move gently into the cold nights.  These and more have budded and flowered and seeded, the annuals among them filling their need to make new life from old, to be reborn with Spring into the next generation.  Perennials also have prospered, storing summer's sugars in roots and stems for another season, casting seed onto earth, future offspring to watch and treasure, children at their feet.

Some in the garden, however, have not yet satisfied that primal itch, late to the game, slow to the plate.  Roses still bloom, unnatural remonant freaks that never understand there is a time for rest, a time to reflect, and a time for rebirth.  They will soon freeze for their troubles, energy wasted on buds unborn.  Helen's Flowers shine on, reflecting back the months of gathered sun into the heavens, lanky and tall before they finally bow to Winter.  Asters abound, white and blue and purple to reflect the autumn sky and coming snows.  

A few fight forward still, faith given to provenance and strength, rushing to beat deadlines of frost and freeze.  I recently discovered this bedraggled sunflower blooming in a bed near the house.  If it is indeed, as I believe, an ox-eye daisy (Heliopsis helianthoides) or false sunflower, then it has evaded weeding gardener, incessant sun, late-summer drought, and an army of insects to flower now in a hardened clay bed, late but insistent, desperately trying to add its hardy genes to the future.  Stunted, oppressed, and humbled, fighting the nearby daylily for every nutrient atom and molecule of water, still it lifts its face to the heavens, stretching for the ribbon at the race's end.

Ox-eye's are perennials here, so I choose now to leave this one and await its return.  Every gardener plays God in his or her own garden. and the lord of this garden is happy to accept this survivor into the gene pool of his garden.  Such are the beginnings of new species and new promises, these pioneers pushed to the edge of death and pushing back with life.  Such are the lessons of the garden for their gardeners.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

God is the better Gardener

On a recent trip to Colorado for my son's wedding (hurrah for he and the new missus!), we took a side trip to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  In truth, I am normally so cynical to the depths of my soul that most natural wonders that wow others often leave me unimpressed and underwhelmed.  For instance, I find the important Kansas landmark, the World's Largest Ball of Twine, to be less than inspiring, especially considering the desecration of it by many local visitors, but Garden of the Gods was different.  For a simple backyard and frontyard gardener, Garden of the Gods is a humbling experience in what a Greater Power can do with the simple forms of rock and earth.  Don't go by Colorado Springs without stopping there.

Garden of the Gods (GOTG from here on out) is a public park funded by Colorado Springs and the proceeds from its own gift shop, but it entirely free if all you want to do is visit and wander the park.  There's a paved drive that you can take if you're just in the mood to pass through, but you can also bike or hike a number of various paths around the park.  If I lived in the area, I believe it would be a constant weekend outing for me.  It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1971.

The rock formations at GOTG were created by an upheaval along a natural fault during the uplift of the Rocky Mountains.  Native Americans considered it a sacred place, unsurprisingly, and the Ute's, in particular, incorporated it into their creation stories.  Early Spanish and other European explorers began visiting the area in the 16th century.  The public park was created when Charles Eliott Perkins donated 480 acres of land containing part of GOTG to the city in 1909, and William Jackson Palmer later donated his Rock Ledge Ranch which contained the remaining formations.

The primarily sedimentary beds of red, pink and white sandstones were eroded during the Pleistocene Ice Age into the present forms, including "Balanced Rock", a fascinating formation that is now,  stabilized in place by concrete lest it move and crush the adoring public around it. Although it is unlikely to topple over without a major earthquake, I was still a bit nervous driving between these two pillars.

 Although the park is free, don't overlook the very excellent Visitor and Nature Center across from the park entrance.  The center contains many well-done and informative displays about the parks formation, ecology, and history and offers some excellent scenic views for family photos.

Of course, being a gardener, one of the things I found most fascinating about the park was the way that life chooses to cling to every small patch of lousy soil that exists in whatever wind-swept cubbyhole it accumulates in.  Whatever your interest, geology, botany, paleontology (the park has its own resident dinosaur species Theiophytalia kerri), or anthropology (Ute petroglyphs are documented in the park), there is something for everyone in GOTG.  Rock climbing is permitted, for those who are crazy enough to test Death on a daily basis, and even the non-exuberant birders will relish the 130 bird species that exist there.   See it, when you can, and prepare to be amazed.  My mother, who shares my hard-to-impress nature, was practically bouncing off the car windows as we rounded each formation to view the next.  That entertainment alone was sufficient reason for a trip to the park, and the natural formations were just icing on the sedimentary cake.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Neglected Grass

To live in blessed harmony on the Kansas prairie, every gardener must, of necessity, learn to grow and appreciate ornamental grasses, and even rose-crazy ProfessorRoush is no exception.  I have long been an ornamental grass devotee and I grow a number of Panicums, and Calamagrostis, and Miscanthus to fluff up my autumn garden.  I have however, until now, been somewhat neglectful of giving full appreciation to Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' as a garden necessity.

I've had this clump of 'Hameln', and one other, for 5 or 6 years, and I never felt that it deserved the accolades it receives from the sales catalogs. Monrovia raves on it, calling it an "attractive grass highlighted by fluffy, buff-colored plums....terrific contrast among shrubs...foliage turns golden-russet."  My experience is more like that of "Chataine" from Rose City Texas.  On, Chataine wrote "It gets huge--easily 4 feet tall and 5 feet across. It’s a water hog. It self-seeds prodigiously. It grows in ever-widening concentric circles around a dead center. It’s a great hotel for fire ants. It laughed at the grassy weed killer I poured on it. I finally had to dig them all out, and am still recovering from the whole experience."  In the next review on davesgarden, "Kilizod" from MA, put it more bluntly, saying, "I think this grass looks like a weed early in the season."

My clumps were divisions from established clumps at the KSU gardens, gifts gratefully received from the garden director during fall cleanup in the garden.  Admittedly, I give them no extra attention or water, and barely remember some years to throw a little fertilizer on them.  And they responded to such loving care by being fairly unremarkable, a moderately low clump of grass with a few uninteresting fall seedheads.  One clump, in fact, shriveled up in last year's drought and then refused to return this spring.  But this year I finally understood the draw of 'Hameln', or alternatively my 'Hameln' finally decided to quit sulking in the Kansas sun.  Like many of the native prairie grasses, it responded to this year's ample rains by growing to its heralded potential and flowering with unusual abandon.  And I love it. And since the rain nearly drowned out my roses this year, I needed something out there to make up for them.  If it has to be 'Hameln', and not to be roses (get it? "to be or not to be?"  "Hameln?"...chuckle), I guess I can live on that till next year.


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