Friday, April 28, 2017

Amorous Intentions

Froggy jumps and Froggy crawls,
the Gardener has disturbed it.
Sluggish blood moves icy limbs,
New Spring has come to stir it.

Turtle tramps and Turtle creeps,
the Gardener has perturbed it.
Passions lift the heavy shell,
no distance can deter it.

That's the way of life and time,
both move on despite our wills.
Love and mating drive our minds,

to chance the danger for the thrills.

My quiet and lonely winter garden came alive two weeks ago with other creatures besides the berserk Bella and her frisbee-throwing owner.  First, there was Mr. Frog, disturbed by my invasion of his daylily patch home and upset that I was spreading grass clippings across his neighborhood.  This Cope's Gray Treefrog was a little slowed by the remaining chill in the air, so he didn't startle me by jumping from between my feet.  He also didn't stay around to watch my activities very long, thankfully, since frogs make me uneasy when they watch me work.   I do like, however, knowing that my garden environment supports these fragile amphibians, even if they are probably munching on the daylilies.  Couldn't they just eat the henbit?

Just one day after meeting the first frog of 2017, I was in my front garden beds when I heard Bella frantically barking in the backyard, a bark that said "Attention! Intruder! Come Kill It!"  Intrigued, I moseyed around the back to find a perturbed painted turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) peering cautiously at a bellicose Bella from underneath its scarred shell.  This turtle was a long way from its aquatic habitat (presumably my pond) and had meandered up and across the tallgrass prairie to the buffalograss of my backyard, a distance of several hundred yards.

Since it is mating season for these lumbering lunkheads, however, there was no mystery about its willingness to climb relative mountains.  As an adult male of my own species, who was once a teenager, I am well aware of the idiotic and dangerous feats one attempts for the possibility of female fraternization.  My first roller coaster ride at 16 years old (I was terrified of them at the time), was initiated at the impromptu invitation of a comely lass of my own age.  I stood in line for the world's tallest coaster and rode it, without a nice hard shell or a scant prayer of survival, yet convinced by testosterone that it was a worthy way to die.

 Ah, love!  It does indeed make the world go round, or at least in my case, it makes the prairie come alive.  I'm willing to indulge a little amore in my garden as long as the snakes don't come lookin' for lovin'.  Adam and Eve aren't the only ones who had fun in the garden but skedaddled when the Serpent showed up.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rosette Roundup

It's time, my friends, to report the results of the Rose Rosette Plague and Massacre of 2017.  I spent the weekend before last culling out the victims and mourning the holes left in the landscape beds, and there are still a couple of very sick individuals to tackle.  This weekend, I had a brief respite from the slaughter of so many innocent roses while I accompanied Mrs. ProfessorRoush on a short day-long journey.

The Newly Departed, dead or ripped from the ground and cast on a funeral pyre:

Prairie Harvest (2)
Double Red Knockout
Freisinger Morgenrote
Rosenstadt Zweibrucken
Carefree Beauty
Improved Blaze
The Fairy
Hot Wonder
Golden Celebration
Alba Odorata X Bracteata
Morning Blush
Charlotte Brownell
Prairie Star
Hawkeye Belle
Queen Bee
Red Moss (2)
Variegata de Bologna
Cardinal de Richelieu
Lady Elsie May
Prairie Sunset
Winter Sunset

These are, mind you, just the roses that were showing Rose Rosette at the end of last year.  I have not kept count, but I've probably lost 50 roses to RRD, or at least 25% of the rose cultivars in my garden.   I have a number of other roses that just failed to return this year, but never showed any signs of Rose Rosette; were they weakened by disease and then finished off in a tough winter?

As far as groups of roses, the Rugosas seem to be the most resistant.  I've only had one, 'Vanguard', definitely affected with RRD, although I'm suspicious of my 'Conrad Ferdinand Meyer' at present (but who could be sure, given its already excessive thorniness?).  Most of my gallicas and albas seem to be resistant to RRD, although hybrids, like 'Morning Blush', are fair game.  The Griffith Buck roses are hopeless.  I've lost most of them, either due to RRD, or due to a combination of subclinical RRD and winter kill.  My remaining Griffith Buck roses are either pretty isolated in distance from the main rose beds, or they are probably living on borrowed time.  For those who are wondering, I don't believe the idea of cutting diseased canes off at their base has ultimately saved any rose and believe me, I tried.  When you see the disease, destroy the plant immediately.

I've filled some of the holes, after an appropriate waiting period, with new roses, primarily Rugosas or OGR's, hoping that they are resistant to RRD.  I just received starts of 'Moje Hammarberg', 'Fimbriata', 'Scabrosa', 'Armide', 'Georges Vibert', and 'Orpheline de Juiliet' from Rogue Valley and planted them today.   I also went on a "sucker" spree last week and transplanted suckers of 'Harison's Yellow', 'Souveneir de Philmon Cochet', and 'Dwarf Pavement' into a number of areas.   I'll probably regret the invasive possibilities of the 5 new clumps of 'Harison's Yellow' if they all live, but not until they get out of hand.  My roses are going to be overwhelmingly yellow and early in a couple of years.

While I was out with Mrs. ProfessorRoush, I acquired the metal rose shown in the photo accompanying this blog entry.  It may be prone to rust (sic), but I'll bet it doesn't become extra thorny nor develop witches broom growths from Rose Rosette Disease.  One way or another, I'm going to have roses in my garden, eh?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Yellow Bird Grows

Well, the forsythia bloom got slaughtered sometime this winter, and my red-flowering peach was a bit of a dud this year, but for some unfathomable reason, the magnolias here all bloomed better than ever, not a hint of winter damage.  I can only conclude that at some critical moment during development, the buds of the former were blasted by a cold night, while the fuzzy plump magnolia buds just kept on ticking.  I know we had one night of -10ºF in December, but it seemed like a mild winter overall.  My roses, however, were also blasted back to the ground, even some of the hardiest.  Somewhere, either the winter dryness of the prairie or some extremely cold night was harder than usual on the plant material.

Anyway, as you can see from the photos, Magnolia 'Yellow Bird' has lifted my spirits for nearly two weeks and she continues to bloom today.  I thank my lucky stars for the day I snatched this up at a local nursery, pricey, but worth every penny for its weight in gold right now.  I'd been holding my breath for weeks, watching and waiting for these buds to shine free.

'Yellow Bird', which started out from a two foot tall twig, is now topping 6 feet tall.  This year her blooms came out before the foliage, so I didn't think she was quite as "showy" as she normally is when these blooms burst from the green foliage background, but she certainly didn't hold back her abundance.  Her appearance isn't helped by the wire cage she lives in, but I'm not about to let the deer damage her.  Someday she can rise above all this.

'Yellow Bird' is scented, but not as heavily as my other shrub magnolias, 'Ann' and 'Jane'.  I would describe the scent as a light citrus-y fragrance.  But, always the cynic, I wonder if I'm imagining it because the bright yellow blossoms remind me of lemons and are nearly as big?

Her bloom began this year around April 10th, opening quite a few at once when we had two warm days in succession as seen on the picture on the left, below.  She opened almost everything, a vast orgasmic display, by four days later when the picture on the right was taken.  People, I'm in love.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sedges and Pussy-toes

Mead's Sedge (Carex meadii)
As he works around the garden, ProfessorRoush always keeps an eye on his areas of native prairie for unusual forbs and for the date of annual blooming of the early forbs.  Right now, while the prairie grass is still low from the spring mowing, I noticed two low-growing grasses shouting for attention.  Well, I thought I noticed two low-growing grasses.  ProfessorRoush was wrong again.   Repeat after me:  grasses are hollow, rushes are round, and sedges have edges.  Each belongs to a different taxonomic family, and even the most amateur botanist (like me) should strive to recognize that they are distinctly different, even more so than Chihuahua's and Great Danes.

The nice little yellow thing above is Mead's Sedge (Carex meadii), which seems to grow everywhere as an understory for prairie grasses.  When it is interspersed with the purple of ground plum (at right), the soft yellow and purple hues make the nicest little microcosm of spring pastels.  Mead's Sedge is a triangular-stemmed sedge named for Samuel Barnum Mead, (1798-1880), a U.S. botanist and physician.  It prefers limestone or chalky soils, which describes my ground in spades (sic).

Field Pussy Toes (Antennaria neglecta)
Every spring, I also see these little fluffy club-like heads pop up, another "grass" that I notice.  Well, this is actually Antennaria neglecta, also known as Field Pussy Toes (as listed at, or Field Cat's Foot (as listed in my copy of Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers).  Of the common names, I think Field Pussy Toes is a much more interesting name, don't you?  Antennaria neglecta is a member of the family Asteraceae with the sunflowers.  I've seen this growing for years among the grass stems and assumed it was a grass, but when you look closer, the bases of these flowers are the white-gray-woolly leaves laying flat on the ground.  It grows in colonies and although it is dioecious (bears male or female flowers on separate plants), each colony is a clone and is either a male or female colony.  The photo at left depicts the male, or staminate, form for those who care about such niceties (yes, I peeked).

In Kansas, Field Pussy Toes have to be differentiated from Parlin's Pussy Toes (Antennaria parlinii).  The latter has leaves that are shinier and have less "hair."   While my Field Pussy-Toes live in environments suggested by their name (i.e. prairie fields), Parlin's Pussy Toes prefer rocky oak-hickory forests and glades.   For those who are interested in having Pussy Toes in their own gardens, Monrovia has a pink form, Antennaria dioica 'Rubra', available for sale.

As I've noted before, each year I try to remember to note the return of the early species to my prairie in my field guides, and for Field Pussy Toes, I've noted their first occurrence anywhere from March 25th to May 4th, with the earlier date from 2012 and the later from 2002.  Field Pussy Toes, like many other species on my prairie, seem to be pushing their growing/flowering period earlier, supporting the global-warming crowd.  On the other hand, I've got 3 dates written down for Mead's Sedge; 4/10/2000, 4/15/2003, and 4/10/2017, and its appearance is not apparently changing over time, supporting the climate-change deniers.  Who knows?  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Life Renewed

ProfessorRoush had prepared a profound plum of gardening philosophy for you to ponder today. However, the accompanying photo, of 'Yellow Bird' Magnolia, newly displaying a perfect yellow hue and partially escaping from its protective cage, is substantially more appropriate to represent the deliverance and rebirth of the season of Passover and Easter today.  Happy Easter 2017, Everyone.

(PS:  For those of both a Christian and Country bent, my brother-in-law introduced me to the song Outskirts of Heaven by Craig Campbell.  Take a listen on this sunny Easter day.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hidey-Holes and Fairy Gardens

Unlike some of my fellow human-kind, ProfessorRoush has never quite bitten on the lure of the supernatural.  Sure, I have always liked a good scary movie, particularly in the company of a younger Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  In those days, she reacted to fright by clinging all the more avidly to my brawny gardening arms.  Scare the current Mrs. ProfessorRoush and she's just as likely to take a swing at you.

The whole gobbledygook of ghosts and goblins and garden gnomes, fairies or elves is not part of my fantasy world, and as much as I liked Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, or even Brendan Fraser as the hero in the modern "Mummy" films, I seldom worry about encountering such creatures in real life.  I normally agree with Rod Serling, host of The Twilight Zone, who said, "There is nothing in the dark that isn't there when the lights are on."  At least that's what I tell myself on dark nights on the Kansas prairie when the wind is howling outside.  And when I'm trying to decide at twilight if the dark lump in my landscape is a known bush or a browsing deer or a Sasquatch.

I briefly reconsidered my thoughts on the other dimensions last weekend, however, when I noticed the little tunnel as pictured above, heading darkly under the roots of a Purple Smoke Tree.  Just for an instant, one can believe that this Hole would be a perfect little entry to Alice's Wonderland, the motivation for any number of fantastic tales.  Shrink me down, and how far would I tumble here before I encountered the Red Queen?  What sort of creatures, do you think, have made this Hole a haven?  Mundane little prairie frogs or mice?  An intrepid little pixie or goblin?  If a leprechaun had popped out of The Hole right as I discovered it, I wouldn't have batted an eye.  Surely, on this prairie, I'm not about to poke The Hole with a stick.  With my luck, it wouldn't be a grouchy gnome that would answer, it would be an unreasonably angry copperhead snake with vengeance on its mind.  

I won't do anything as rash as creating a fairy garden to lure something out of the Hole (the picture at the left is from a friend's garden), but I will watch this Hole for activity, perhaps spreading a few grass clippings on the bare ground so I can detect movement in and out of it.  In the process, I may discover new things about my prairie ecosystem, or I might be permanently perplexed at this prairie perforation, or I might yet discover that I'm just another part of the Matrix and learn something of the unknown worlds beneath our feet.  The mere discovery of this Hole has convinced me that I should at least be more open to the viewpoint of Woody Allen, who stated, "There is no question that there is an unseen world.  The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?"

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Who Wore It Better?

'PrairiFire' Crabapple
ProfessorRoush has a guilty little secret to confess.  Come a little closer, please, I don't want to shout this to the world (looks left, looks right, swivels to look behind, lowers voice).

When I'm waiting somewhere, doctor's office or haircut or oil change, and when I rummage through the  magazines while waiting (I have to read, I can't just sit there), my favorite magazine to read is....People.   As much as I grumble about the cultural devastation wrought by Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and the Kardashians, I still prefer to bide my down time in the tabloid company of the stars.  To my further discredit, I think one of the best recurring themes in People are the "Who wore it better?" pictorials.  In full disclosure, I generally prefer Salma Hayek over Lindsay Lohan in that red evening gown.

'Royalty' Crabapple
Today, working all day in the garden, I was honored to be in the presence of three finely jeweled leading figures, my trio of crabapples, all decked out at once at the peak of their bloom.  Obviously vying for my affections, all three were posing the "Which of us is wearing it better?" question straight up.  So I thought I'd bring them here, to ask your help.  What do you think, who wore it better?

Was it 'PrairiFire', pictured at the upper right, with her prolific blooms destined to form oodles of 1/2 inch fruits for winter?  This 'PrairiFire' was planted in back in 2009 near the vegetable garden in one of the most continually moist spots in my garden and seems to be doing well here.   She is relatively fast-growing and the bees were very busy today tending to all her lady parts.  She has been a fickle lass for me, however.  I dallied with several other 'PrairiFire' in the past before this one and lost them all to drought or cold or prairie fire or  pure gardening incompetence.  'PrairiFire' is a little too high maintenance here in Kansas where the prairie fires can snuff her out in an instant.

'Red Baron' Crabapple
Or perhaps is it 'Royalty', adjacent to my front driveway, who shows off the best?  'Royalty', pictured at left above, is a 2001 planting, has a somewhat rotund overall form, and I often complain that she hides her purple-red blossoms within the wine-cast foliage; a pretty maid in purple sackcloth.  She has been a slow grower, but is stalwart and dependable in her own way, sort of a Carrie Amelia Moore Nation of crabapples.

And then there is Monsieur 'Red Baron', displayed at the bottom right, a suave gentleman, but yet another of the poor choices of burgundy foliage that I planted during my "wine foliage" period.  He is a 2002 vintage and is planted out near the road.  Tall and slender, 'Red Baron' seems as embarrassed to have his deeply dark red flowers as I am in admitting that I read People.  

Oh forget it, my introductions to each have probably swayed you towards my personal choice, 'PrairiFire', so I'm just tallying another biased poll like all the pollsters in the last Presidential election.  I, myself, undoubtedly prefer 'PrairiFire', even if she is a little high-maintenance, for her brighter blossoms and for the fact that she never produces suckers, chaste in contrast to the other two older crabapples who are prolific sucker-makers (sucker-ers?).  'PrairiFire', in my garden, is the strawberry-blond Julia Roberts of Pretty Woman, wearing it best, year after year.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

TIL: Hedge Shear Epiphany

TIL, for those gardeners who are not yet hip to Reddit, is shorthand for "Today I Learned" in millennial-ese.  ProfessorRoush was introduced to Reddit by his two millennial children, but I still need an internet Urban Slang Dictionary on standby every time that I venture into a new subreddit.

Anyway, TIL (actually I discovered on my own) something about the hedge shears pictured to the right.  I was using them to chop down some of my thickest Miscanthus clumps; you all know the massive monsters that I'm talking about, resistant to chopping, too slow to cut with a knife and too thick for easy trimming.  Some grasses fall easily to my battery-operated electric shears, but these demons have stems as large as 1/2" diameter, and are tougher than nails to cut with pruners.

To cut these mutants down to size, the best way I'd previously found was to insert the blades of the hedge shears around a section of grass, and then to slam the handles together once, twice, thrice, and more, over again and again with all my might.  It takes a lot of strength and energy to fell several large clumps this way, but I know of no better alternative; all my electric pruners simply clog up and stop on the thick stems.  A chain saw might do it, but I've never tried one, for the simple reason that I hate the loud, noisy, stinking things.

I've always wondered, however, about the reason for the wavy edge on one side of the blade (look closely at the left blade on the photos) of my manual hedge trimmers.  The only internet sources I could find that described it suggested that the wavy design "grips branches for solid cutting."   What I discovered today, however, is that if I pulled back sharply just as I closed the blades, the shears slice through the thick grass in MUCH easier fashion, like scissors on steroids.  Wow, what an epiphany!

This leaves me, once more, wishing I had a horticultural education so that someone would have taught me the correct way to use these shears sometime before my 57th birthday.  In fact, however,  now I wonder if the trick is taught anywhere.  I consulted Jeff Taylor's Tools of the Earth, and found nothing other than the repeated idea that the serrations hold the branches for cutting. Likewise, William Bryan Logan's The Tool Book discussed the wavy edge as an improvement for holding twigs, but left out this little technique of slicing.

So, for those of you who use this type of hedge shear to trim back your heavy grass clumps, give this technique a shot.  For the first time ever, I'm actually looking forward to cutting down Miscanthus.  I'll have to wait for next year, though, because the work went fast today.   I'm done cutting back grass in my own garden, and I'm not enthused enough to go find another garden and cut down some more right now.  I'm thrilled, not crazy.


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