Thursday, March 30, 2017

DeForsythiaized Depression

Okay, now it's obvious, Someone is just playing a particularly cruel joke on me.  I think it was just last year, or perhaps the year before when I said out loud that I should plant more forsythia, doubtless in a weak moment brightened as always by their cheery little blooms in the early spring.  Someone, Some Evil One, overheard me.  There must have been hidden microphones about, hard-wired back to the depths of Hell.  Or maybe I was inadvertently included on a wiretap directed at the Trump campaign.

You see, over 6 weeks ago, I cut some forsythia stems to force indoors, an early gift of spring to Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  They leafed out, but never bloomed, a disappointment I chalked up to my poor technique.  Then a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the forsythia were blooming all over town.  Since it's not uncommon for my windswept hillside to be slightly behind the concrete-warmed microenvironment of Manhattan, Kansas, I was not alarmed, just titillated as I awaited the many forsythia of my own garden.

This week, however, it became evident that I have waited in vain.  There will be no forsythia blooms here on the prairie this year, only a very few isolated bits of yellow that are invisible unless you are searching.  Not on 'Spring Glory'.  Not on 'Golden Times'.  Not on my new superbloomer 'Minder', also marketed as "Showoff".   Not even on 'Meadowlark', my favorite, said to be the most cold hardy of all the forsythia.   They are all leafing out, bloom-less and boring.

 Internet sources state that forsythia might not bloom for a number of reasons, including improper pruning, hard winter, or late spring frost. lack of sun, too much nitrogen, or just too darned old.  In medicine, I've come to learn that when there are a number of explanations, it usually means that no one really knows a cause.  In my case, I can eliminate improper pruning (fall instead of spring) because I don't prune my forsythia as a general rule.  They aren't too old because some of these plants were planted last year or the year before and are no where near maturity.  I can eliminate lack of sun because, well, because it's Kansas and they're all planted in full sun.  And we just had the mildest winter overall that I can remember.  I do have a general tendency to fertilize things too much, but a few of my forsythia never get fertilizer, so that is unlikely as well.  I'm attributing this one to the late freeze that I noted in this blog just 17 days ago.

I'm despondent, discouraged, and dejected over my deforsythiaization.  I'm not sure spring even counts without forsythia.  I'll try to console myself with the bright new foliage of 'Golden Times', pictured above, but it is not enough yellow to start to cheer me up.  And "next year" is just too far away.  Curses.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Concrete Leporidae

How many of you, Garden Fanatics, Part-Time Dirt Grubbers or Cutting Garden Aficionados all, would voluntarily choose to host a rabbit in your gardens?  No?  ProfessorRoush suspects that any decent comprehensive poll of gardeners would overwhelmingly demonstrate their lack of  interest in a resident rabbit or two, even accounting for the usual 80% of contacts that either slam the phone down or ask never to be called again, and for the  5-10% who answer in the affirmative in a misbegotten attempt to throw the poll numbers off.  I don't know about you, but my response to any pollster who calls me at mealtimes or during my Sunday afternoon naps (which seems to be the only time these demons call), is to give them the most contrary answers I can think of.  And then to place a curse on all their descendents.

Here's a news flash:  I LOVE RABBITS IN MY GARDEN!  Concrete rabbits, only, to be fair and accurate.  I have a weakness for fairly visible rabbit statues, here, there, and everywhere.  There is hardly a bed in my garden without it's resident rabbit, from the "Gentleman Rabbit" above, who greets visitors at an entrance point to the lower garden, to the "Begging Rabbit" at the left.

One of my favorites, and most recent addition, is the "Long-Eared Rabbit", that I added last year.  He stands in a refurbished bed of peonies and daylilies just off the back deck.  I enjoy him there, but the tall ears make his center of gravity higher and he tends to topple over on really windy days.

I have several "inquisitive" rabbits, sitting on their hind haunches and curious about their surroundings.  The tallest, at the left, is nearly two feet tall and hard to miss.  I inherited that one from my father's garden about 5 years ago.  Nearly as tall is the rabbit who peeks out from under a holly near the front door, always ready to thump out an alarm at the first site of intruders.

There are also a few more basic rabbits hidden here and there.  If I ever host a large garden party again, I might just make finding each rabbit a scavenger hunt for any children at the event.  On second thought, however, encouraging children to run madly around the garden is perhaps not a good plan.

You can even sit on the rabbits in my garden. This rabbit-themed bench sold itself at a single glance, providing a spot to rest and screening the pipe from a buried propane taken as it enters into the house.  The two "legs" of the bench, are crouching rabbits, better seen from the sides than from the front.

Subconsciously and consciously, I hope that my collection of concrete rabbits is viewed by any LIVING representatives of the clan as either a cautionary tale (stay around this garden and the gardener will turn you into stone!) or as a sign that the neighborhood is overcrowded and they should move on.  I'm about done collecting rabbits, however.  I've been able to successfully resist the impulse to purchase several recent rabbit sightings.  Any more hares in my garden and I'm afraid I might start having nightmares.  Even now, sometimes, late at night, I wonder and worry that they'll start breeding and producing more little concrete bunnies in my garden.  I'm not crazy; one can never be too careful around a bunch of rabbits.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Just in Time

Just in time, I got the debris cleared off the asparagus bed today.  See the new white shoot just breaking the soil in the center of the picture?    If I'd waited another two weeks, I'd have broken this shoot and others off as I snipped away at the mass of brown asparagus ferns, delaying our first freshness of the new year.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush likes her asparagus carried straight in from the garden, sprinkled with oil and Parmesan cheese, and then broiled.  I like it however she wants to fix it, that first taste of soil and spring.

It has been too cold, at least on the weekends when I've been free, to do much of the spring work in my garden, and yet today it simply got too hot.  The local weather app tells me that it is 92ºF here at 5:00 on Sunday afternoon and ProfessorRoush is not yet conditioned to working in heat, so I lasted about half a day in the garden.  I cleared the asparagus bed,  replanted the strawberry bed, put some gladiolus bulbs down, and moved a half dozen fragrant sweet pea plants from their cozy inside surroundings to the cruel world.  I was just starting to cut down some ornamental grasses when the warmth and a rising wind forced me back indoors. The rest of the week is cooler, thankfully, back to springtime instead of summer.  On the plus side, the temperatures for the next 10 days range from highs of 53º to 73º and lows from 57º to 37º, so hopefully, this 'Jane' Magnolia flower, just opening up today, won't get damaged and the rest of the 8' shrub should bloom without a hassle.

Since I've shown you 'Jane', I should give you a followup on my poor Magnolia stellata, bouncing back from the 20º arctic blast of last week.  Yes, the crinkled brown blooms distract from the newer perfect blush-white petals, but there are enough of the latter to waft the damp musky scent around its vicinity.  The fragrances of these two Magnolias are quite different, 'Star' gifting me with the scent of Mesozoic swamp, a deep and thick odor that is not quite sweet but not unpleasant, and 'Jane' emitting a light and definitely sweet fragrance with just the slightest hint of cinnamon.  Of the two, I'm drawn more to earthy 'Star', for some reason that likely rests in my animal brain more than my intellect.  'Jane' is just entice me for another sniff.  'Star' says "hey there, Sailor, wanna sit on the sofa and mess around?", while 'Jane' says "I think I'd like to go get some ice cream tonight."

I was excited today to see that the Martin scouts have returned!  This year, I have been ashamed to say, I never even took down the houses for winter, but now I'm glad they are already up, two weeks before the April 1st date that I usually bring them out of the barn.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tropical Surprises

I don't want to forget to relate that while I was communing with the art of tropical gardening during my time at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, I also learned a bit, ever the student thirsty for knowledge.  For one thing, I was fascinated by these large seed pods hanging from a trellis in the orchid room.  What were they, mangoes?  Some form of papaya?  There was no botanical marker that I could find at the base of the small tree they came from, so I finally had to search out a Marie Selby docent for the identification.

These, my friends are cocoa pods, just starting to ripen with the delicious seeds that will eventually become my favorite candies. I had seen them before, growing almost wild in Granada, but I had never seen them ripen.  Here, at last, is a reason to have a winter home in Florida; chocolate ready to pick off the tree!  Well, perhaps some processing would be involved, but still!   What will they think of next, vanilla from orchids?

Another surprise botanical treat on my visit was the finding, first, of bananas growing on an actual banana tree.  This bunch of bananas was badly beaten and broken down, but all the same they looked like they would someday be nourishing.  I was tempted to pick a fruit to compare tastes with the store-bought variety, but one never knows, these days, when a surveillance camera can be lurking and I don't need Homeland Security to open yet another file about me.

My largest botanical wonderment greeted me, however, from an adjacent tree; this incredible display of a banana flower ready to open and be fertilized so that the crown of ovaries above could bear fruit.  What a prehistoric feeling one gets while staring at this 8 inch long and plump blatant display of pure sexual reproduction brazenly free and open to the tropical air.  One glances behind oneself at a first glimpse and would not be surprised to see a Velocirapter creeping up to make a Mesozoic meal of modern man. What I'd give to be there now, a week later to see the flower open in all its musky splendor.

I had no idea, all these years of eating bananas, of the mechanics of the process.  Flower heavy and fecund, ovaries patiently presented for fertilization.  Once the world hits on a good pattern, it never lets go, eh?    

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Told Them So

I tried to warn them. I really did.  You heard me just a week or so back, right here on this blog.  "Hush little darlings" I said, "Go back to slumber, it's too early."  Well, see them now, regretting their decision to open up quite so early.  Mother Nature strikes once more.  Now that I think about it, I believe I have taken a picture of daffodils covered by a little snow every year I have lived here. The impatient little devils!

I was hopelessly praying that my Magnolia stellata would hold off, but alas, this latest cold spell and bit of snow hit just when its display was at its peak.  I so wish I had taken a picture of the shrub yesterday before the blossoms browned and withered, if only for bragging rights.

Even worse, the musky scent is gone, vanished, without a trace from the flowers reduced to brown tissue.

I can only still hope that the few remaining unopened buds of the Magnolia keep their beauty and their fragrance hidden until better days appear.

And this apricot will certainly not be a producer this year.  There is a reason that Kansas is not a major exporter of apricots and you are witnessing it.

Still, however, the apricot blossoms and snow make a really nice photo composition, don't they?  Click on the closeup photo of the apricot blossoms and blow it up in all its splendor.  Wow, what subtle pastel colors!

And then there are the Scilla and the Siberian iris, peeking sky blue and purple out above their snowy feet.  Good gracious, can we just start spring over again?

I say again, "Garden, go back to sleep".  There will be time later for all this foolishness.  Let sleeping gnomes lie.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Photo Heavy)

I find it surprising that I've blogged now for a blue million years and haven't ever mentioned Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.  My parents have a vacation home just south of Sarasota, and so I visit Selby Botanical on almost an annual basis, an oasis of peace for me amid the tumult of vacation.  In fact, I was just there in late February, a planned break from the Kansas winter even though in the 5 days I was in Florida it was only a few degrees warmer there than Kansas.  If you've never been to Selby, it's well worth a couple of hours and the $20 admission to stroll the gardens, and even worth the extra $5 to tour the Selby Mansion on the grounds if you're into such domestic arrangements.  First and foremost, of course, one should appreciate orchids, the centerpiece of the Selby indoor conservatory.

I, myself, have always been a little partial to the blue or purple vandas.  I don't know why, I just am.

In the orchid house, these large containers "spilling" with a cascade of orchids make a fabulously creative display.

Even here at Selby, one cannot seem to escape the abominations of social media.  This "selfie stop", as declared by the sign, is a popular place for photos;  in fact I had to wait around for 5 minutes to get a picture of it without people around.  At least it hasn't been discovered, to my knowledge, by the Kardashians as yet.  Thank god the "K's" don't seem to be gardeners.

The larger grounds at Selby are fantastic.  Here, at a fork in the path, the bamboos grow taller than trees.

And, surprising to me, this arid succulent display does quite well here in a tropical climate.

I seem to spend a lot of my Selby time admiring the garden ornaments as much as the flora, however.  This little mushroom/toad house/fairy home drew me back again and again.

There are water features in several areas, but none worked better for me than this waterfall.  I played with exposure for softening the falls, but the real art was hiding in the little water nymph beneath the ferns.

Another statue, this "Mayan" figurine, called to me from its hidden grotto back in the orchid house.
This year I visited on a cloudy day, but the diffused light made for some marvelous photography at times.  These dark salvias made a nice photo for me against the storm in the distance, while changing the exposure really made them pop from the background.  Several visitors seemed to think these were lavender, but I kept my know-it-all trap shut.  No reason to spoil their enjoyment.

A low-lying swampy pool near the mansion, however, gave me what I thought was the best photo of the day;  a water lily to rival Monet for sheer beauty.

So, if you get near Sarasota, Florida, go ahead and feel free to drop the family off at the Ringling Bros. Circus Museum and go over to where the fun really exists;  at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Seeds of a Revisionist Garden

In my "revisionist" gardening mode, for the first time in years, I am attempting some indoor seed-starts.  Normally, I'm a dismal failure at indoor propagation, failing both at getting the seeds to sprout (I tend to keep the soil too moist), and in the hardening-off transition to the outdoors.  It is the latter failure that I most dread.  I occasionally get some decent seedlings going of this or that plant, only to see them crash and burn outside because I put them in too much sun and then forget to water them.  I actually feel pity for most seedlings placed in my hands.

I was spurred into action by a colorful rack of organic seeds at the Selby Botanic Gardens last week (more on that soon), when I came across an open-bred zucchini named 'Dark Star', which listed its attributes as drought-tolerant and open habit.  Dare I hope that it might also be a little more resistant to my ubiquitious squash bugs?  With nothing to lose, I purchased a package, transported it into flyover country, and planted half the packet (10/20 seeds) last Saturday.  This morning, lo and behold, there be zucchini seedlings here!

Somewhere, I've missed the zucchini breeding revolution that resulted in 'Dark Star'.   Bred by Bill Reynolds and Donna Ferguson of Eel River Farms, and released by Seeds of Change in 2007, 'Dark Star' is a less variable selection of 'Black Eel', the latter a cross of 'Black Beauty' and 'Raven'.   Really, it's quite a story and you can read about it at the Organic Seed Alliance.  Truthfully, however, knowing nothing of the story behind it, it was the seed packet that lured me to an impulse purchase.

I also have an itch this year to do a better job at growing flowering sweet peas than my previous efforts.  Rather than just throwing them into the cold March ground, praying that the rabbits leave them to grow, and then hoping they flower before the hot Kansas sun fries them into oblivion, I chose to try to start them indoors.  Hopefully, that will give them about a month's head start over normal growing conditions and I can likely transplant them within just a couple of weeks into a much nicer, manure-enriched bed than my regular alkaline clay-pot soil .  I just hope my new seed setup, in a direct southern window supplemented by a pair of daylight-frequency LED spots, is up to the task.

Oh, and if you liked the term "revisionist gardening," stay tuned because I might just copyright it and continue to write in that mode.  It comes from a deep place in my gardening soul right now.


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