Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fall and Winter

'John Cabot'
Where to begin?  It's been so long since my last post.  I had the desire, I had the need, but I lacked the final urgency to blog.  There was always something more pressing, more distracting, more immediate.  Excuses aside, by late August, I gave up on the garden and its Japanese Beetles and its drought. I was trying to ignore the actions of some unknown burrowing creature that was attempting to dig half of the garden up and I was disgusted by the lack of blooms and wilting daily along with the flowers.

Renewal, however, is always just around the corner in a garden.  There were always bright spots, refreshing moments like the 'John Cabot' rose (photo above) trying to climb through an old sitting bench near it.  The spray was half eaten away, but it still shone like the entrance to heaven from halfway across the garden.  I rallied in time to purchase a couple of dozen daylily starts at the local sale and gathered the energy to water them enough to keep them alive.   And the irrepressible  crape myrtles bloomed on time and gave way to panicled hydrangeas and late summer shrubs in their due time.

Sweet Gum
By September, we had a deficit of 10 inches of annual rainfall, almost half of the normal total expected.  Then, in a single night, the drought was extinguished by a deluge, parts of Manhattan were temporarily under water, the farm ponds filled and overflowed, and the ground cracks disappeared.  Over the following 2 weeks, three separate rainfalls added another 11 inches to the total, a year's rain in less than a month, and the world was mud.

Fall was nice while it lasted.  My young Sweet Gum, Liquidambar styraciflua (above, left), won my undying gratitude for its glowing orange fall foliage, and the prairie began to greet the sun every morning with its own display of gold and rust (below).  There are many here who believe fall is the best season on the prairie, and I can scarcely find any reason to quibble.

Despite the rejuvenating rain, the garden had little time to respond, as fall was short-lived.  On October 15th, two weeks earlier than any I've seen in 30 years of living here, we got a heavy wet snowfall of 3 inches.  While it made a winter wonderland of the landscape, it was an early finish to the annuals and the sedum and the chrysanthemums.  You can call it "weather," instead of climate change, all you want, but a record-early snowfall of decades, to the garden and to me, suggests that things are getting colder, not warmer.  We've already had 4 separate snowfalls in the last month, another anomaly for my scrapbook.  My unscientific conclusions were also bolstered by the "climate" of last weekend, as we smashed a 110 year old record overnight low for the date.  Maunder minimums, meet the 3rd millennium!  

I'll leave you, here on the 2nd day of December, 2018, with these last two pictures to ponder.  The first, taken at 7:52 a.m last Sunday, was my back garden at the start of a day of incoming climate.  The second, taken just after 11:00 a.m. through the same window, the frozen tundra that was previously my back garden.  That morning, if a mastodon had come lumbering out of the gale-driven snowfall, I wouldn't have batted an eye.  Except for the 4 foot drift on my front sidewalk, which I shoveled away while I composed a spirited few words that might have taken Al Gore's name in vain, most of this snow is already gone, feeding the prairie grass roots deep in the saturated soil.   This year, at least, I won't have to worry about the lack of soil moisture available for the shrubs as the ground freezes and churns.  Climate-change has its own little gifts, I guess.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Welcome Late Bloomers

Magnolia 'Jane' bud
As a comment on my last post, my fellow Kansas blogger Br. Placidus asked if my garden had "burst into bloom like a desert after a storm?" following the recent rains.  Yesterday, as I was mowing, I saw that it was indeed coming alive, new growth perking up here and there, and of course, weeds and more weeds everywhere!  I'm trying to stay ahead of the weeds, but the crabgrass is advancing on a massive front and I'm being flanked and overrun left and right.  There are a few sporadic roses blooming, primarily 'Polar Ice' and 'Iobelle', but many are showing a few buds and suggesting I should have hope for a late September R. rugosa rampage.

Lagerstroemia 'Centennial Spirit'
Oddly though, the plants that are the most visible bloomers right now are plants that I wouldn't have even tried to grow in my garden two decades ago, those I would have been afraid to attempt when I was solidly Zone 5.  The crape myrtles in the garden are all presently blooming profusely, beacons of color spotted around the garden.  In fact, Mrs. ProfessorRoush, peering from the gloom of the house during one of the recent rains, asked me if the bright red plant 80 feet away was a red rose.  Nope, Honey, that's 'Centennial Spirit', which annually reaches around 4-6 feet in my garden (4 feet in this drought year). and then dies back every year.  Thankfully, crape myrtles are one flower that rain doesn't seem to blanch or destroy.

Lagerstroemia 'Tonto'
The other crapes that I have, red and short 'Cherry Dazzle', tall and slender white 'Natchez', a lavender crape myrtle saved from a city bed destined for destruction, and squat purple-pink 'Tonto', are all blooming now as well.  'Tonto', pictured at right, sits as the lone tall plant in a bed of daylilies, anchoring the bed for me and drawing attention away from the weeds among the daylilies at this time of year. 

The most surprising bloomer however, is magnolia hybrid 'Jane', one of the 'Little Girl' ‘hybrids developed at the National Arboretum in the mid-1950's by Francis DeVos and William Kosar.  A cross between M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ and M. stellata ‘Rosea’, 'Jane' blooms about two weeks later than M. stellata in my garden, usually profusely in early April and usually just in time to get its petals browned by a late frost.  What most printed sources don't tell you, but I've seen several times, is that 'Jane' will repeat bloom, albeit less prolifically, in the fall. I've seen occasional blooms on my darker-pink 'Ann' as well, although she seems to be lacking them this year.  I did find one forum entry that discussed reblooming of liliacs, and one of the respondents indicated that M. stellata, M. liliiflora, and M. loebneri may rebloom in summer.  Since 'Jane' and 'Ann' are hybrids of the two former species, I guess it makes a little sense to see them rebloom.  Sporadic though they might be, that brief promise of magnolia fragrance in the off-season is a welcome gift from my garden. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

When a Kansas drought ends.... really ends.  If you've been wondering where I've been, I've been in Garden Depression-land, with only time to spare on weekends for watering everything that I didn't want to die.  It has been bad between the drought and the winds that took out several trees in my yard, among them my beloved ornamental Red Peach tree.  The only bright-side of my summer has been that I only mowed once from mid-July to late August.  Dry grass is tolerable when the mowee, i.e. me, doesn't have to sit on a roaring lawn mower for several hours each week.  

Two weeks ago, I happened to look in the local newspaper at the weather snapshot, to find out that, as I suspected, around 12+ inches of rain had fallen in Manhattan this year and we were 10+ inches lower than average.  So we had half our normal rainfall and all of our normal hot July temperatures by the middle of August.  I have been collecting weather radar pictures of storms going north and south of us all summer for the purpose of blogging about it, but couldn't bring myself to include you in my depression.  

And then, surprisingly, it started to rain.  Yes, here, in the Flint Hills!  In the past two weeks, we had several 2-3 inch rains that probably totaled 10 inches so I thought we were back on track, although the paper yesterday said that we were still 6 inches behind normal.  I forgot that annual rainfall is a moving target but at least we were catching up.  Suddenly everything is green again and I've had to mow weekly the past two weekends.
But last night the skies fell in!  From midnight to 6 a.m., the rain overwhelmed all my gauges, including the 5" gauge in the front landscaping on the blue hummingbird pole (2nd picture from top) and the 7.5" gauge in the back of the house at the top right. If you can't tell tell from the pictures, both are filled to their rims.   I have no idea how much rain we really had.  The pots with plugged drainage holes, above and to the left, also filled up to their brims, but at that point they were probably splashing out more droplets than were staying in them.  So your guess is as good as mine.  All this water was dumped into what is known as the "Wildcat Creek Basin," flooding an apartment complex, the town soccer fields, and a shopping center on the west side of Manhattan.  We even made the national NBC news tonight!  And now, some chances of rain are forecast 6 days of the next 7.  Can somebody please control the spigot better?

So, I'll try to blog from time-to-time again, since I have a garden and it seems to be green in places.  But I might get caught up in a whole series of new experiences.  For example, this morning, as I walked from the front yard around the house to the back, I was hearing the sound of a waterfall.  Waterfall>? Wait, what?  And then I realized; my neighbor's pond, which doesn't hold water and has been dry all summer, had filled up and was overflowing around the edge.  I, of course, rushed inside immediately to tell Mrs. ProfessorRoush that I had finally gotten her the garden water feature she's been wanting!
Incidentally, I thought about titling this blog entry, "When it rains, it pours."   Too cliche though, right?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Digging Dry Taters

Fourth of July found ProfessorRoush out digging up some early potatoes.  I only planted 10 potato halves this year, to provide just a hill or two of taste at a time, and Mrs. ProfessorRoush wanted fresh sweet corn and new potatoes for a 4th of July dinner.  I could provide the potatoes, but since I had planned a corn-less garden year, the nearby market had to provide the corn.  Anyway, two plants worth of potatoes later, we had a nice  mess of fresh potatoes to eat.

Yes, I planted only blue potatoes this year.  I'm tired of 'Red Norland' and 'Yukon Gold' around here.  Blue potatoes are supposed to be "healthier" if you listen to all the hype,  but I suspect they're just another potato, a little more starchy and gimmicky than most.  I didn't know until recently that there were different varieties of blue potatoes, from heirlooms to 'Royal Blue' to 'Adirondack Blue', the latter bred and released by a trio of provessors from Cornell University in 2003.  The things you learn while blogging; because it retains color when cooked, the 'Adirondack Blue' variety is used by the Penn State Alumni to sell potato chips in the Penn State colors.   You would think that Cornell wouldn't allow that, Ivy League rivalries being what they are.  Maybe the 'Adirondack Blue' variety is secretly bred to decrease the testosterone of rival football players.  Never put anything past a University professor.

ProfessorRoush knew that it was dry around here, since every lawn-mowing this summer  is essentially a dust storm where I come back in looking, as my daughter said, like I "work in a coal mine."  The lack of serious rain since last Fall has been obvious in the sparse bloom and winter-kill of many plants this spring and summer.  But the garden soil, when I planted this spring, had been moist and workable enough and I had watered these potatoes regularly when they were young.  Digging them out now, however presented me with a different story.  The ground is rock hard, essentially concrete sans gravel.  On the right is one of the holes I dug, complete with a few potatoes that I haven't yet picked up at the top of the photo.  There are monstrous solid dry clods that the fork can't pry loose without extra effort.  Thankfully, I've got soaker hoses running to the tomatoes and melons, but this dirt caused me to give all the shrubs and roses a good deep soaking this Sunday morning.  Three and a half hours later, I think it will all might just survive another week.  A week that is forecast in the high 90ºF's and 100ºF's with no rain in the next 10 days.  We probably won't see rain again until September, so this morning's hand-watering will be likely repeated weekly for awhile.  So much for weekend rest.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Eight Ex-Beetles

ProfessorRoush is NOT, of course, referring to a mythical reunion of Paul, Ringo, George, and any ex-band members who may exist, because if I was, I would have spelled the noun of the title as "Beatles."  Instead, I'm obviously referring to to the barely-visible rear end of the demonic chitinous lout on the lower right side of the white flower here (and not the other long-snouted insect to the left).  Do you see the hiney of the Japanese Beetle in the lower left of the flower?  Look closer.  Click on it to blow up the photo if you need to.  See the bristling patches of white hair along the edges of its abdomen?

I was simultaneously amused and alarmed eight days ago, when, as I visited a local commercial horticultural facility, I overheard a gardening couple asking a store clerk what they could buy to kill Japanese Beetles.  Thus alerted that the blankety-blank beetle season was upon us, I vowed to be ever-diligent over the next few days, and, sure enough, on July 1st I found the first Japanese Beetles of 2018 on 'Snow Pavement', 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup', 'Polareis', and, of course, 'Blanc Double de Coubert'.  The first two victims can be seen at the left, taken moments before I squished them into beetle pulp.  In fact, I found and squished eight beetles on that first evening.  The Ex-Beetles of my garden.

In another more typical picture of the damage that Japanese Beetles can cause to a beautiful bloom, I give you the traumatized bloom of 'Earth Song' that I discovered this morning, seen in the photo at right complete with the Japanese Beetle hiding in the center of the flower (please ignore the Melyrid at the bottom.  I see the latter insects all the time and they don't hurt the flowers).  By the morning of the second day of the 2018 invasion, my total kill is now 14 squished beetles.  Unfortunately, it should have been 15 squished beetles (one male escaped this morning by leaping off the edging brick before I could lower my foot in his direction).

With a little research however, I just tonight discovered that, despite my vaunted prowess as a Japanese Beetle Terminator (Hasta la vista, beetles!), I'm winning a small tactical skirmish, but losing the strategic war.  As if Rose Rosette Disease and Japanese Beetles don't cause enough damage in my garden, the long-nosed brown insect to the left in the first picture above is NOT a harmless flower beetle.  The Internet informs me that it is a Rose Curculio Weevil (Merhynchites bicolor), another flower-eater and civilization destroyer sent to my garden by the demons of hell.  I should be just as diligent handpicking these little snouted monsters as I am the Japanese Beetles, and yet I knew not of their existence prior to this.  It seems to not be enough that I have one beetle enemy, the crunchy critters  have now enlisted allies.  Saints preserve my roses!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Longhorn Landscape

My neighbor, a man who has reached that life era where one has fully cast aside any concern for societal approval or disapproval (of which I approve and concur), was bound and determined this summer to find someone to put Longhorn cattle on our adjacent pastures.  Ding and Dong, our omnipresent donkeys, were initially another one of his compulsions, although now they are a regular stop on the neighborhood sight-seeing tours and a joy to others; several neighbors come by daily to bring them apples and talk to them.  I suspect the Longhorns will eventually just be another stop on the tour of the eccentric mini-ranches at the edge of town.  They already seem to be the focus of a few extra slow-moving cars on our road each weekend.

Texas Longhorn(s), as the breed is properly known, are descendants of the first cattle brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus and Spanish colonists.  Having learned and repeated that, ProfessorRoush is not even going to contemplate how politically incorrect some might regard that sentence.  It's history, live with it.  Longhorns are extremely suited to drought conditions, and thus have some advantages here over the Angus and other European crossbreeds common to the Flint Hills.    I suspect the matronly horns of several of the cows in this picture are also quite useful to protect their calves from the packs of coyotes that run this area of the Flint Hills every night.

It is probably just an aspect of my academic streak, but I was fascinated to learn that the Texas Longhorn was almost extinct in the late 1920's, saved by the US Forest Service's establishment of a remnant herd in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.  Just like the buffalo, their lease on life has been revised by the increased desire for leaner beef by fickle humans, and by these species ability to thrive in the Plains without man's intervention.  Just like the Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) blooming profusely despite this summer's drought in the foreground of the middle photo, above, these Longhorns are doing fine without any worry from me.  In fact, the two, Longhorns and Butterfly Weed, seem to belong together in my greater landscape, don't you think?   

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Awfully Flashy, Indeed

I did not, as I suggested recently, have to wait for my 'Heavenly Flight of Angels' daylily for the "next flashy daylily to come along."  In fact, two days later, it was the semi-awfully, but coincidentally named Hemerocallis 'Awfully Flashy' that captured my instant attention as I took Bella out for her morning wee.

Yes, despite my recent daylily mis-identification,  I'm pretty sure that this is 'Awfully Flashy', because it matches the spot on my plant map and, more importantly, because it matches the internet pictures I can find.  'Awfully Flashy' was a 1979 introduction by Monette and is described as a semi-evergreen diploid with 6.5" blooms of lavender pink blend and a green throat.

I stated my opinion that this daylily was named "semi-awfully" for a couple of reasons.  First, I couldn't resist the pun.  Second, while 'Awfully Flashy' may be flashy, it is certainly not awful. In fact, I'd argue strongly for it as a beauty.  'Fancily Flashy' would have been a better name.   I know that it is not the most modern over-bred, spectacular daylily available, but since I buy the majority of my daylilies as cheap divisions at plant sales, it's about as fancy as I grow.  The upper petals are deep pink, in fact almost fuchsia-pink, compared to the lower petals and they have a prominent lighter midrib and ruffled edges.  Best of all, that green throat has a sweet fragrance.  I'm always surprised by fragrant daylilies, as are undoubtedly some of you, because for some reason daylilies don't draw anyone to sniff them.  Perhaps we are simply put off by the prominent stamens in our way.  Perhaps we feel subconsciously improper sticking our nose in the daylily's business.  Regardless, put away your inhibitions and sample the fragrance of 'Awfully Flashy'.

Although I didn't know it, or have forgotten it, it is evidently "a thing," among daylily fanatics, to write short stories which use as many names of real daylilies as possible.  Maybe this winter, when I have more time, I'll give it a shot, but I'm not going to attempt it now, in the heat of summer, when new daylilies are opening for my pleasure with each new dawn.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Here's Why (Weather)

Given my post yesterday, some may have thought I was kidding about the weather here.  So, as further evidence, I give you these photos; taken last night around 8:30 p.m.   No rain was predicted, yet this front came sweeping in from our northwest and caught us by surprise.

A few minutes later, you can see that the main wall of the front is going to sweep just to our north (again!) and that the sun is now shining in the direct west. 

On the plus side, as the front went by, the setting sun and the back side of the wall combined on the southeast side of the house into a startling mix of perfect pastel color.

And finished off with a double rainbow to our direct south as the sun set.  Can't ask for more than that.

Except, of course, rain.  We got a sprinkle, enough to make the pavement look wet.  And that was all she wrote.  Wamego, the next proper town east, had a bit of a blow, with a few trees down.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Weather Wierdness

I'm normally "ProfessorRoush Proud" that I've become something of a weather guru to Mrs. ProfessorRoush and her friends.  So many years of reading the Kansas sky, smelling the air, and viewing the radar patterns have made me and those around me reasonably confident and comfortable that I can reliably predict the immediate weather patterns and their severity better than the internet or evening newscasts.   I frequently get calls or texts on summer evenings asking me if a friend should take shelter from a dark sky or whether they can go safely to sleep, ample evidence that my meteorological mastery has indeed been recognized by others in my circle. 

Not this year, though.   This morning, Mrs. ProfessorRoush texted me as she was beginning a trail walk with a friend to ask me if it was safe to go despite the dark northern sky.  A quick check of the radar and a look at the movement of the pattern and I told her to go ahead and take a hike.  You can see Manhattan in the screen capture at the right, 8:30 a.m., just at the southern edge of a storm that was moving straight east to west and just to our north.  Mind you, the hourly weather forecast for this zip code showed no rain chances here at all until evening. 

Within an hour, however, we had a pretty stiff downpour on the east side of town, so I knew the west side was getting pummeled.  And look at the radar.  At 9:30 a.m., these patterns were moving stiffly to the northeast.  The previous rain stayed put but moved a little east to touch us, and then a large storm formed south and west of Manhattan and headed directly our way.  None of the lower pattern was even a wisp of color an hour prior.  And, while it was currently sprinkling outside, the internet weather still showed no rain until tonight.

Mrs. ProfessorRoush was not pleased with me.  When I texted and told her there was more coming, she said "I wish you would have looked when I asked."  I think, I think, she just might have believed me when I told her that I had, but she also might suspect that I wouldn't be above a quiet chuckle, sitting in my nice dry office, wondering if her hairdo got drenched.  I'll vow here and now in print, however, that I know better than to pull a little prank at the whims of the Kansas weather.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Splitting the Pot

As a cheap son-of-a-gun frugal individual, ProfessorRoush was not entirely unhappy when the pot containing the  'Heavenly Flight of Angels' daylily that I was purchasing split down one side as I lifted it to carry it to the sales counter.  Yes, it served me with fair notice that the plant was pot-bound, but I also knew I could divide the $10, one-gallon plant and get two decently size plants for the price of one.  I also just couldn't, at any price, resist the combo of a 7" inch yellow spider daylily with white ruffled edges and a fragrance described, in tongue-in-cheek fashion, as "heavenly."   Everyone thinks they're a comedian these days.

And pot-bound it was, in spades.  I normally would divide a plant like this with an old serrated kitchen knife that I purloined from Mrs. ProfessorRoush for just such occasions, or sometimes, as I face a perhaps less dense clump, with simply a garden spade, but in this case I was not going to let pass the opportunity to try out the serrated side of the new Hori Hori hanging right there on my belt.  A few quick strokes of the 6 inch blade and I proved yet another use for the knife and saved myself a trip to the shed for my previous implement of destruction.  I might even surprise Mrs. ProfessorRoush and return the kitchen knife.  

We've been having some blast furnace 100º weather here, hot and sunny, but the beautiful blue skies that accompany the horrid temperatures keep my complaint levels down.  Mama House Sparrow also does not seem to have any complaints, incubating these pretty little eggs in the cool dense shade of our 'Ann' magnolia shrub, about 3 feet off the ground.  I startled the attentive incubatee Mom with my early morning weeding today, but she had returned to the nest the next time I checked, so all is well.

'Ed Brown' (not 'Cream Magic')
I'm actually welcoming the warm temperatures, for once, because we are beginning daylily season and I'd like something to go right this year.  The first few are blooming here now, and I took great pleasure in seeing this beautiful daylily open yesterday, for Father's Day.  My notes tell me it is Hemerocallis 'Cream Magic', although I can't find a picture on the Internet to visually compare it (see addendum below for correction).  The description, however, does match the official "cream flushed pink with greenish cream throat" description, so I'm reasonably certain this is the 1980 cultivar from Lenington-G.  'Cream Magic' is blooming with the 'Stella de Oro's' and a couple of other nondescript cultivars, so she's the "cream" of the ball right now.   Until the next flashy daylily comes along.  Such as my two new clumps of 'Heavenly Flight of Angels'.

Addendum 2018-06-19:  The daylily that I thought was 'Cream Magic', is actually 'Ed Brown', according to the latter's label at the K-State Garden, where I purchased my start and where it was blooming today when I also saw the real 'Cream Magic' blooming.  So much for interpreting written descriptions without photographs.  To straighten out my daylily maps at home is an impossible task.  The real 'Cream Magic' is pictured here, to the left, for Internet prosperity.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Elm Excogitation

I took a walk today, a "noon constitutional" as it might have been termed in another more gracious age.  I took a walk and strode in a single instant from complacency to sorrow, contentment to loss.  From sunlight into the shade of a massive American elm was only a few steps for a man, but a mile for my mindset.

As gardeners we all, I'm sure, know of the previously ubiquitous American Elm and the disastrous impact of Dutch Elm disease on the species.  Intellectually, we understand that the American Elm (Elmus americana) was a valued tree in the landscapes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, so-called "tabernacles of the air."  Viscerally, however, gardeners of my age have no memories of a cool picnic under the elms or the spreading chestnuts of history.  Our blood does not stir from loss of such things as we've never experienced.

On this 96ºF sunny day, however, I ambled to the K-State Gardens and, passing under the massive canopy of its surviving and much-pampered American Elm, was instantly struck by the stark drop in temperature and stress I experienced.  If it wasn't 20 degrees cooler under the tree than in the sun, then I'm a mange-ridden gopher.  I understand now, acutely and intimately, what civilization lost when DED was "accidentally" introduced through the hubris of man.  The K-State Gardens elm was planted in 1930, is currently 60' tall, and requires $1000 injections to prevent Dutch Elm every 2.5 years.  While it seems presently healthy, I'm not encouraged for its long-term survival, knowing that administrators and politicians inevitably appropriate every possible dollar for their own pet projects and needs. 

In our callous daily existences, we don't often emotionally feel the tragic loss of a unique species of rainforest frog, or the potential extinction of a subspecies of rhinoceros, but you CAN come to K-State and experience with me the last years of the American Elm.  Echoing and borrowing the sentiment from an excellent essay by astrophysist Dr. Adam Frank that I read this week, I would say that the Earth will survive, but the Elm may not.  The Anthropocene HAS arrived and we should perhaps better start to contemplate that our time is measured, just as the elm's.   

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Cutting Edge

ProfessorRoush is not an innovator.  He has not, does not, nor will not ever claim to be an early adopter of technology.  Yes, in the early 1980's I took to computers like a duck to water, but as a moderately dexterous manual typist (and "Kelly Girl" for approximately 2 days before I found more manly employment), computers were simply a convenience and a logical next step to a logic-inclined mind.  And so it is that it has taken me all these years of gardening to purchase am actual Hori Hori, a so-called Japanese gardening knife.

My garden knife itch has been half-formed for years, curiosity capturing the crusty gardener's conscious thought, but took full force this spring, and I began a search for a proper Hori Hori knife.  Locally, there was little to satisfy my thirst, only plastic-handled half-creations or mass-produced garden butter-knives to be found.  On-line, of course, the possibilities became endless as I sorted through sheaths and steel alloys and sharpnesses.  I became self-educated on tangs and enraptured by rivets.  Heft and handles were considered with heavy import.

Ultimately, I chose the Truly Garden Hori Hori knife for $26.38, although this design looked similar to many others (Duluth Trading, LifeWell etc) which are all likely of Chinese manufacture.  Comprised of 420 stainless steel, it has a full tang for strength, hardwood handle, and three rivets (many have two) for strength.  It is marked both in inches and millimeters, has a curved surface for easy plunging into soil or enemy, and has both a sharp edge (very sharp, as advertised) and a saw-toothed edge.  It came with a massive leather sheath and a free diamond sharpener, bonuses that seemed worth the extra few dollars above the $19.99 nylon-sheathed offerings.

My only question now is, "What took me so long?"   In just a few weeks, it has become my constant gardening companion, constantly sheathed at my side like a sword on a Crusader.  Plunge it into the soil next to the weed, even into my rocky soil,and a simple twist of the sharp edge towards the weed stem delivers most of the root into your hands.  The curved surface has made it useful as a planting tool for transplants.  I've used it as a short machete on thistles, to saw small limbs, prune new shrubs and to cut packages and twine and cable ties at abandon.  I haven't yet needed the measurement markings, but I suppose they will save me a walk to the barn the next time I have a need to measure something in the neighborhood of 6 inches long.  Its weight and balance are perfect, solid strength symbiotically matched to exquisite sharpness.  My only complaint is that, as a lefty, I'd like the sharp side and the saw-toothed side reversed.  

I was picky about my choice of a Hori Hori because I was thinking of a provenance, a hand-me-down designed to reach future generations.  I can already tell, however, that this one won't be passed down in mint condition, but with that wonderful patina of use that proclaims its real value.  The heirloom will have to be my other garden knife, a rose pruning knife with a rosewood handle, also of full tang and three rivets.  I purchased it years ago and it has gone unused beyond occasional covetous fondling and oiling.  It never became the rose grafting knife that I intended, I suppose because my hands and gardening are more suited to dirt stabbing than fine pruning. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Pleasant Surprises

Occasionally, we turn a corner of life, and there, there it is, genial and gracious as if it were always there waiting for us.  Soul-thirsty, bone-weary, all exchanged in a single instant for joy and wonder. 

So it was for me this afternoon, trudging along in the hot sun, the lawn mowed, the pots watered, taking a few last moments in the garden for chores that had been neglected far too long.  Loppers in one hand, a bottle of stump-kill in the other, I was intently peering into the depths of every hedge, fighting and losing my never-ending battle against errant shrubs; the rough dogwood, redbuds, and mulberry that spring up unbidden everywhere I turn the soil. 

There it was today, this year's first regal Asiatic Lily, blood red and calm between the cool shade of a towering 'Sir Thomas Lipton' and a viburnum. This is my first lily to bloom each year, harbinger of a flood of Asiatics, Orientals, and Orientpets to come, but always welcome in its own way, vibrant and fresh in the shadows.  Am I amiss to assign voluptuousness to the rich burgundy depths of its bloom, sultry and alluring and eager?

I paused, overcome, in honor of pure beauty in its prime.  A phone photo to capture the scene, a moment of awe, and, refreshed, I moved on to less glorious things, a larger garden ever waiting for the touch of its gardener.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ann Endt

'Ann Endt'
It is high time, I think, that ProfessorRoush shows you a rose new in his garden.  My garden where every new rose has to be a Rose Rosette resistant Old Garden Rose or a Rugosa.  At present, the rugosa newcomer 'Ann Endt' is on deck, and she will suffice, I think, for a rose-related post today.

I obtained 'Ann Endt' from Heirloom Roses last year and she bided her time growing a little bit and basking in the summer heat.  This year she is still a small plant, about a foot high and little more than that in diameter.  Because her mature size is supposed to be anywhere from 3.5 to 6.5 feet, I'm expecting much more growth from her this year.

But she IS blooming, her continuous single (5 petal) blooms feathery against the Kansas winds, and so she's our favorite at the moment.  Last year she bloomed, as a seedling, sporadically for me, teasing me with only a few blooms before disappearing for the winter, but in my garden and full sun, she is pretty close to a real red, with not much blue in the mix.  Each bloom has, as you can see, prominent yellow stamens that sand out against the almost-red background.   'Ann Endt' is officially a dark red or magenta Hybrid Rugosa rose, discovered by rosarian Nancy Steen in New Zealand prior to 1978.  There are those experts who believe she is the same rose as a Rosa foliolosa x Rosa rugosa cross made by Phillipe Vilmorin in the 1800's.  Her buds are long, held above soft green, matte, mildly rugose and very healthy foliage.  No blackspot on this rose!  Her listed hardiness is Zone 2A, and she came through a really tough, dry winter for me with no protection, so I will choose to believe her reputation for drought and winter resistance.  There is supposed to be a cinnamon fragrance attributed to her R. foliolosa parent, but I have yet to really sample it. 

Named after a famous New Zealand rosarian, Nancy Steen wrote about her discovery of 'Ann Endt' in a 1966 book, The Charm of Old Roses.   I hadn't run across this book yet, but I have ordered a used copy from Amazon and hope to review it for you soon. I have seen a quote from the book stating that the rose is also shade-tolerant, relating that "Even the partial shade of a tall purple birch does not seem to affect its free-flowering habit."   She is also supposed to produce hips, a trait that I enjoy in roses and will take as an advantage.  Suzy Verrier, expert on all things rugosa, wrote in Rosa Rugosa that this is "an interesting hybrid of R. Rugosa", but "neither widespread nor well-documented."  Verrier herself did not provide a picture of the rose.  ProfessorRoush didn't find much else written about 'Ann Endt', but maybe this blog will serve to help others find and grow this tough rose. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Can You See Me Now?

In my garden, after all these years, I'm reasonably sure that 99% of what lives there won't kill me.  It took ProfessorRoush all these years of jumping at the first sight of a slithering serpent or running madly away from the minuscule movements of a measly mouse to finally cultivate calmness in the face of garden calamity.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush thinks I have lost my fear of snakes entirely, but in truth, although I still react with the instincts of a chimpanzee and want to scream and throw feces at them, I have simply restrained my response to reaching a safe distance in a reasonable period of time rather than at full panicked gallop.

Thus it was that this morning, while picking strawberries on my hands and knees, I didn't react at all when there was a rustling beneath the strawberry leaves and movement a few inches away from my hand.  I didn't, in fact, even move my hand away.  I had just picked strawberries from all over the area in question, so I figured that if it was finally time to encounter a scared and biting copperhead, it was just my turn.  In actuality it was something else entirely.  Can you find it in the picture at the upper right?

How about this one?  Can you make out the tiny furry ear in the center of the picture at left?  Both the diminutive creature at the center of the first picture and the non-moving ear in the second are a pair of baby rabbits who were concealed in a small depression in the center of my strawberry patch.  I imagine Mama Rabbit must have thought, "what a great place to put my babies, here in all this foliage where no one can find them.  And only 20 feet from a few nice rows of peas and garden bean seedlings"  Which also explains what happened to a row of my just-sprouted peas that disappeared one night last week.

Well, as much as I have plans to kill or trap the several adult rabbits that are eating my hosta and small shrubs presently around the house, I'll just leave these two babies alone.  They aren't bothering the strawberries (as evidenced by my harvest today, pictured at the right), and they already lost their best chance at causing me a heart attack, so they can stay.  At least until next year when they're fully grown and eating the baby roses and asian lilies.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Where Are The Butterflies!!?

ProfessorRoush tries to be a good gardener, and a gracious host of garden fauna, but once in a while he is incredibly oblivious to the obvious and dense to the details.  I've been so focused on catching up with spring--weeding, trimming, spreading 80+ bags of mulch, watering and weeding again--that I've been focused on the ground and the work and missing the big picture.  Well, to be accurate, I've missed the fact that the big picture is missing something.

 As my 'Blizzard' Mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii 'Blizzard') began to bloom, however, it finally dawned on me that I haven't seen a single butterfly yet.  Not a skipper, not a fritillary, not a hairstreak, none, on any flower yet this year.  My 'Blizzard' is usually covered with them while it blooms.  Let alone a Painted Lady on the 'Blizzard', like the beauty above that I photographed in 2012, I haven't seen any butterflies at all this year.   My 'Blizzard' is in full bloom as captured two days ago in the photograph at the left and there is not a single butterfly on it. 

What's going on?  As I think back, my alliums have all bloomed and past, and yet I saw no butterflies like this Painted Lady pictured on the 'Globemaster' allium at right, again from 2012.  Honeysuckle, roses, Knautia macedonia, all are blooming now without their usual halo of winged angels.  It's not like I've been puffing the insecticides around this year.  I use a little in the vegetable garden when I'm desperate, but I haven't broke open the carbaryl dust on the potatoes yet this year, and I don't use it in the rest of the garden ever.

Frankly, I'm more than a little worried.  I knew we had a rough winter, dry and cold, because  I lost a number of roses and more than a few long-established shrubs.  But was it really that dry and cold?  We have fallen deeper into drought this spring, with every storm passing just to our east or north, like this one I captured on radar from 2 nights ago, slipping to the east without raining here.  There have been no ground-soaking rains since last September and already the temperatures are climbing to the 100's (today the temperature hit 102ºF in my garden).   My front lawn is beginning to dry up and looks like the browning turf of late July or early August instead of the usual lush green of late May.   Are the timing or sequences of butterfly and bloom off?  My allium and mockoranges bloomed together in 2012, yet this year the alliums bloomed and faded a week before the mockorange opened the first blossom.  Has any of this environmental variability affected the butterflies?  Am I to witness no joyous fritting about of a fritillary this entire year?

Is anyone else missing their butterflies? 

I'll let you know if, and when they arrive here.  Until then, I'm at a loss to know if this is a variation of normal, or an omen of the world's end.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Crane Fly Interlude

When ProfessorRoush spots an unusual insect in the garden, some chitinous-shelled life form beyond his ken, he takes note of it.  When it's on a rose plant, and particularly on a rose bloom, he moves into panic mode (or as close to it as he ever gets), and he looks it up as soon as possible. 

This week, in the garden, the unusual insect was this six legged, winged creepy-crawler that I believe I've correctly identified as the adult form of a "crane fly," Family Tipulidae,  known colloquially in England as a "daddy long-legs," or in other quarters, as a "mosquito hawk."  I first spied him on a bloom of 'Snow Pavement' as I was searching for the first appearance of Japanese Beetles, and then saw a second one nearby on the foliage of "Foxi Pavement."   A quick check of Internet sources tells me that it has no relation to the eight-legged monsters that I knew as granddaddy long-legs that infested the tents of my childhood, seemingly reconstituting themselves inside tents stored for decades between uses.  I also found that its diet does NOT include mosquitoes.  In fact the adults, which only live to procreate during a life-cycle span of 2 weeks, normally don't eat during that period at all.  They can reportedly copulate for up to 2 hours (who actually watches and times such things?), which would be pretty neat but would also make me pretty hungry, so unfortunately I'd conclude that the extended pleasure is not worth trading for the stomach cramps.

So what are they and what kind of fresh H-E-double toothpicks are they starting in my garden?  First, I learned quickly that these little morsels won't damage the rose blooms, much to my relief since I have few left to damage.  It may be the larvae, known as leatherjackets, that I have to worry about, if any.  The larvae live in the top layers of the soil and feed primarily on decaying organic matter, although they sometimes also feed on the roots, root hairs, and crowns of crops, stunting growth or killing the plants.  Bloody heck, in 1935 the little buggers invaded Lord's Cricket Ground in London, caused dead patches on the wicket, and the pitch exhibited unusual spin through the season.  What a balls up!
I've decided to leave them alone, as crane flies are also likely important in the soil ecosystem, improving microbial activity and recycling oganic material and because they serve as prey for other predatory insects and spiders, perhaps providing a food source to keep them alive long enough to consume other, more rose-harmful insects later.  I don't think I can blame them for the loss of so many roses to Rose Rosette Disease, and they're so much more dainty and delicate than the blundering Japanese Beetles I was expecting.  I'll consider the crane flies as my guests until they start tracking up the carpet or leaving the toilets unflushed.


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