Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pink Sugar and Red Hearts

Hibiscus syriacus 'Sugar Tip'
If a happy place exists in my arid, almost-August garden, it would have to be near this Rose of Sharon, Hibicus syriacus 'Sugar Tip'.  I know the colors of the photos here are a little muted by the hazy sky within the not-yet-entirely-risen morning sun, but 'Sugar Tip' is a very pleasing blend of cream-tipped matte foliage that frames the clear, pink blossoms, and it is a fantastic focal point when nothing else is blooming nearby.

'Sugar Tip', 2 years planted
'Sugar Tip' is a mere adolescent, present in my garden since 2015, and she also goes by the name of 'American Irene Scott'.  Discovered in 2001 and patented by Spring Hill Nursery, She is touted as a refined Rose of Sharon, reported to have a semi-dwarf habit for shrubs of her type, although she is easily expected to grow 6 feet tall and nearly as wide.  I do find that she is restrained in her habits in my garden, gracious to the shrubs and roses around her, unlike a massive pussy-willow that grows in the same bed.  'Sugar Tip' is a "triple-threat" garden plant, if I can borrow that hardwood term here in baseball season, providing a spectacle in the garden in three seasons as she adds leaves, shows off those delicate, double 2.5 inch flowers, and then self-cleans back to eye-catching foliage in late summer.


Hibiscus syriacus 'Double Red'
If I didn't know better, I would have guessed that 'Sugar Tip'  was a sport of another Hibiscus in my garden, the more mundane 'Double Red'.  Although 'Sugar Tip' is supposed to be a chance seedling, the blossoms of both are identical, light pink and double, 'Double Red' only lacking the cream-tinted edges.

Hibiscus rojo 'Red Heart'
For sheer blossom power right now, however, neither can match Hibiscus rojo 'Red Heart'.  'Red Heart' has much larger blossoms, single-petaled, with the bright red center surrounding a towering yellow pistol group.   Unfortunately, one only notices 'Red Heart' in my garden from the rear of the garden because I placed her on the far side of a bed, hidden from the front by an oak and other shrubs.  She is one of those plants that I notice only when I mow, or when I'm on a full tour of my garden beds.  In her presence, I stop and look at each bloom individually, reveling in the deep soul of each heart.

In the King James Bible, Song of Solomon chapter 2, verse 1, the beloved says "I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys."  In my garden, there are many beloved ladies worthy of being called the "rose of Sharon", each with its own special beauty and charm.  Right now, they all shine, content to bask in the heat of the August sun, supremely confident in their unrivaled glory.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

It Could Be Worse

I just keep telling myself that there are many situations that could be worse than trying to keep a garden alive in Kansas in July.  We've only seen one substantial rain in two months and the temperatures have been hovering near or over 105ºF for a week, but it could be worse.  Lawn grasses have completely dried up and the trees are voluntarily shedding half their leaves, but it could be worse.  Daylilies are yellowing and drying on the ends, despite all the advantages of their fleshy, water-retaining tubers, but it could be worse.  That's daylily 'Beautiful Edging' at the right, not so beautiful at present as it edges my garden bed.
Yesterday, for instance, I was headed into my local Walmart at 10:00 a.m., clawing my way forward through the humid already-102ºF air, when it suddenly occurred to me that it would be worse if I had the job of the Walmart employee who had to round up all the carts.  Imagine the despair you'd feel to spend your day walking to the parking lot in that heat and humidity, bringing back a long line of carts, only to watch them disappear from the front end even as you were pushing them back into the busy store.  That entire job would be an endless, mind-numbing circle of frustration equal to that of Sisyphus ceaselessly rolling the stone uphill only to watch it roll back down.  I say that with every intention of not belittling the efforts of the struggling Walmart cart-person, but in sympathy for them.  

But then again, the cart-person knows exactly what lies ahead and is not endlessly teased with possibilities and relief.  They don't experience rain in the forecast for weeks-on-end, constantly present several days in the future, only to see the rain chances diminish as the appointed day nears. They don't experience what we did last night;  a large storm from the west that dissipates and dies within sight of our gardens, just as it meets the air mass of a large storm north and east that we watched form a few miles away and move away from us.  We received 0.4 inches of rain last night, penetrating only deep enough to nourish the crabgrass, leaving the poor lilac bush pictured here to languish in the oppressive heat.  When thick, succulent lilac leaves start to turn up their heels, you know the drought is bad.  You're from New York and afraid of coming to Kansas and experiencing tornadoes?  We hope to see them for the rain they'll bring in their paths. 

It could be worse.  In July, in a Kansas garden, I just keep telling myself ,"it could be worse."   At least I don't want to trade places with the cart-person at Walmart yet.  And I've got a great thriving stand of crabgrass.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

For the Bees, You See

Today, I'll show you why, in photos instead of my usual wordy rambling, that I handpick the Japanese beetles off my roses. All the photos are taken the same lovely morning.

No insecticides in my garden on anything that blooms.  I eliminated the bagworms by removing the junipers.  I'm letting the melyridaes make minimal and merry damage on whatever they want.  And I'll put up with momentarily holding a few squirming Japanese beetles in my palm to hear the music of the bees in my garden.    How could anyone possibly take a chance on hurting these wholly-innocent and innocently-beautiful creatures?  Here, Mr. Bumble is visiting delicious 'Snow Pavement'.

And here, another bee almost covers the private parts of this delicately-veined 'Applejack'.  

Fru Dagmar Hastrup' entertains and feeds this street urchin.  Look at that perfectly formed bloom against fabulous foliage here in the middle of summer and scorching sun.

Fru's short, nearby gentleman friend, 'Charles Albanel' allows another bumble deep into his double petals.  Charles doesn't make as many hips as Fru Dagmar, but he shows off more while he's in flower.

Okay, it's not a rose, it's a Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Bird', to be exact.  But it also has its part in feeding the bees in my garden.

One more of 'Snow Pavement'.  I'm going to write about 'Snow Pavement' more soon, as she is reaching her mature height and presentation in my garden..  In the meantime, I'll leave you with her soft pink blooms while you contemplate how you're helping the bee species in your garden.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Stalking Beetle Sign

Slowly and stealthly, the sly hunter stalks his prey beneath the searing sun.  He knows this foe, has studied its habits, sought out its secrets.  Bare hands and intellect his only, but most lethal weapons, sufficient for the moment.  Each perforated petal, each sullied sepal, mere arrows pellucidly pointing to the presence of another plump Popillia. The beast hides at night, beneath flowers folded for shelter.  At morning, the target is torpid, stuporous and stuffed by the night's chill and previous evening meal, difficult to find, but easily caught and easily dispatched.   But as the sun rises, so the creature is ever more foolhardy, warming to feast and fornicate, flinging frass over flower.  Brazenly breeding without heed to predator or voyeur in the daylight, it lives to eat, procreate, and preferentially die at the hands of the ancient hunter, the latter ever more determined, ever more skilled, at beetle genocide.

ProfessorRoush has spent several days now, morning and evening, examining the garden flower by flower, foliage by foliage, as intent to his purpose and unaware of its ultimate futility as Custer at the Little Big Horn.  After my initial discovery of the beetle re-invasion, I found more of the insects that very evening, lots more, and I've found a few every day since.  During the past few days, the beetle numbers are dwindling, and yet, my skill at finding them seems to improve every hour.  I subsequently feel responsible to pass on my hard-earned hunting skills.

Initially, I concentrated on the beetles lounging without care in the center of my flowers, swiping them into the palm of my bare hand even, as disgusting as it sounds, while they were paired in flagrante delicto.  As quickly as I could, I then dropped them onto the stones edging my garden beds and gleefully stomped them into beetle pulp.   I know it sounds barbaric, but I have to truthfully state that the crunch of a beetle shell brings a smile to my face every time, a brief moment of insectopathic glee.

But I have learned, as all great hunters before me, to stalk the dwindling prey less by sight and more by stealth.  I recognized quickly that beetles were often hiding beneath petals that had holes chewed in them.  Look at the perforated flower at the upper left.  A slight change in elevation and angle to the view of the same flower at the right, and voila, one finds the culprit hiding in the shade, easily collected and dispatched.  And I've given up beetle crunching, time-consuming and ultimately, probably, detrimental to my Karma, in favor of the time-tested method of knocking them into a cup of soapy water, to drown in silence.

I've also learned to read "sign," a polite hunting term that refers to the technique of following the   poop trail of a prey animal to its lair.  The droppings of an insect are more properly known as "frass," and Japanese Beetles leave more then their fair share behind, wallowing, eating and fornicating with glee right in the midst of it, like chitinous pigs at the county fair.  At the lower right of the picture of Blanc Double de Coubert on the left, you can see frass on the petal there. Where there is frass, there are beetles.  I have also decided that it is much more sanitary to sweep the frass along with the beetle into the soapy water of a cup, rather than into my hand.        

For the time-being, those are the best lessons for beetle-genocide that my vast experience can pass on.  I suppose I could erect a wall that reaches above their flight paths, perhaps even cover it in solar panels, but then I'd be making a social statement rather than a gardening one.  Good luck to everyone in your own beetle battles.

 I also hereby apologize for my previous aspersions against Blanc Double de Coubert and her beetle magnetism.  I've since found beetles on 7 individual roses, and so, while Blanc remains the beetle champion, she's not the only one to blame for luring them into my garden.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Blanc & Beetles

ProfessorRoush's cardiovascular health was tested this morning as I had a bit of a shock while enjoying my garden.  I went out for a "spot check" of things and got excited about how many blooms were being visited by bees, and then I saw this bloom, of Blanc Double de Coubert, that wasn't being visited by a bee.  Instead, I found the first Japanese Beetle of the season (in fact, the first of the last two years since I didn't see any here in 2016).  

Curses.  A brief panic ensued and then I settled down and looked the bush over closely, finding around 6-7 beetles in all, lounging in the blooms, creating holes in the petals and depositing frass all over those virgin white blossoms.  I took great pleasure in knocking all of them into the ground and grinding them into the hard prairie clay.

Those who have read my past statements about Blanc Double de Coubert are aware that she is far from my favorite rose, and not even my favorite white Rugosa.  In the past,  I've found it nearly impossible to get a perfect picture of her; petals are always browned by rain or dew, blossoms don't last long in the Kansas sun, and the bush is just generally a mess, as you can see in today's impromptu photo at the left.  She's short and squat and has been a prima donna in my garden, demanding close supervision and extra care unbecoming of a Rugosa.  And now, to top it off, she is the Japanese Beetle Magnet of my garden.  Today, out of about 30-35 roses currently in bloom, along with some early Rose-of-Sharon and among scads of blooming daylilies and hollyhocks, she was the only plant with Japanese Beetles on it.  The only one, and believe me, I scrutinized every other bush in my garden for signs of a second stealth attack.  Why Blanc?  Something about the degree of whiteness that is attractive while nearly-as-white Sir Thomas Lipton (also blooming and without beetles) isn't?  Something about the fragrance that is different from all the other roses in my garden?  All in all, this is just another reason for me to really not like this rose.

I will remain vigilant for the next few weeks and make sure to watch this rose and others for any further Japanese Beetle mischief.  I'm trying very hard to keep these blasted bugs from establishing a breeding colony in my back yard and I may have to go back to the traps I previously employed.  Squeezed between beetles and rosette disease is a hard place for a rose gardener to keep his chin up.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sky Worship

I'm sure that many, especially those who reside near the coasts or mountains rather than "flyover states," may not understand my self-enforced and barely-borne tolerance of the trials and tribulations stemming from gardening in the Kansas climate.  Certainly my parents, from rich- and fertile-soiled Indiana, have occasionally expressed their lack of appreciation of the charms of Kansas.  I feel, therefore, obligated to show you a few photos that I've taken just in the past two weeks, lest you think that ProfessorRoush is entirely crazy.  For starters, this is a panorama of the view to my east a few mornings back as I was taking Bella out for an early stroll:

How could I possibly ask for a better greeting and start to my day?  Such sunrises are not at all unusual, pink clouds chased by warm sunshine until the entire sky glows.

A night or two later, it was this double rainbow that appeared, to my south, rain in the distance chased away by the setting western sun.  I've seen double rainbows on two occasions in the last month, and it has only rained twice all month!
Sometimes, it seems as if Mrs. ProfessorRoush tries to rouse me off the couch every evening at sunset, wanting me to take a "real" photo of a sunset instead of using an iPhone.  I actually often complain about how frequently my restful postprandial lethargy is interrupted by her enthusiastic worship of the sky.  I haven't yet mentioned the existence of Tengrism to her, for fear that she may forsake her Christian background to join others in formal worship of the Eternal Blue Sky.  The photo below is a wider panorama taken slightly before the photo at the left.

There are also those mornings where the beauty of the day stems from atmospheric turmoil more than the beneficent touch of the sun.  A few days ago, there was an entirely different appearance to the same morning view of the northeastern sky that I showed you in the first photo on this page.  A little past 5 a.m. Central, the rising sun and distant sky was a backdrop to these very low, fast-moving wisps of cloud.  This time-lapse is taken over about 15 seconds as I tried to hold the camera still.  There was no rain or moisture, just these strange clouds moving opposite the high altitude flow.  

Of course, what I've left out of all these pictures is the almost constant sunshine and moderately cloud-free days of this climate.  Manhattan, Kansas may not have one of the most sunny climates in the world, but officially we are around 240 days of sunshine a year, less then I would estimate (I figured it was over 300), but about 60 days more than Indiana/Ohio/Wisconsin where I've previously lived.  The picture below was taken Friday, June 30th, as I wrote this blog entry, when I realized that I haven't archived pictures of the "normal" sky, just the stormy scenes.  So, at random, this is yesterday, 3:00 p.m., taken right outside my front door, and you can consider it a "normal" Kansas sky.   Maybe those "Tengrists" aren't too far out  on a spritual limb after all.


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