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.


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