Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Morning Musings

 Christmas has come at last!  Not soon enough in this discombobulated mid-COVID world or, do you think, too soon and too fast come round again?   ProfessorRoush is between extremes this morning with no clear path to decide.  Christmas, on the one hand, means we're closer to January 1st, closer to saying goodbye to the hell-borne year of 2020, closer to the moment when we vaccinate enough of the population to return to normalcy, or whatever passes for it.  On the other hand, I'm acutely feeling the time-spun wisdom that the years get shorter as we grow older.  Said another way, how did the past year go by so fast and why do the weeks seem to pass quicker every year?

It's a quiet Christmas this year at the ProfessorRoushs', and our Christmas tree is much simpler than in years past. We left off all the ornaments made by the kids and left off the cloth ones handsewn by me with surgical patterns when I was learning to suture back in the days when stegosaurs cut their toes.   Mrs. ProfessorRoush wanted simple white lights and red bulbs this year and who am I to argue?   I know what side my Christmas yeast rolls will be buttered on. Besides, it'll be quicker and easier to take down next week.

It's cold and frozen here, but sunny as all get out.   No gardening in the foreseeable future, but the spring equinox is coming and I'll busy be clearing out beds in a few short weeks, long before the ground thaws.  My sole contribution to the garden is a new mealworm-specific bird feeder I purchased and placed up yesterday.  I've never had mealworms out before but I'm trying to help the bluebirds out as best I can this year.  It didn't take me long to learn that mealworms don't stay put very well when the Kansas winds rock traditional feeders and those gross little dried-up carcasses are pricey.

My friends, I'll leave you after this glance out my back window into a sunny and snow-free Kansas Christmas morning.  Who needs a White Christmas anyway? 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Temporal Disobedience

That's it, ProfessorRoush has had it!  I'm done with the stupid seasonal time change and done with all of the turmoil to which it induces in our biological systems.  Increased automobile accidents, increased heart attacks, increased suicides, it is obvious by the damages they inflict that the idiots we elect to political office have no common sense nor decency and it is time that we, gardeners and farmers, lead a revolt.  There was never a proven worthwhile reason for kicking the clocks back and there are plenty of bad ones.  We should bow to the evidence of unintended consequences and stop this nonsense.  Consider this our Declaration of Temporal Independence and join me!  

I could, in an attempt to wax eloquent, blatently plagerize and slightly modify the lead of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to stir the blood of others to my movement.  To wit, "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for ProfessorRoush to dissolve the political bonds which have forced him to disconnect himself from the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle him, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that he should declare the causes which impels him to the separation."   Well, here it comes. 

Like many of you, since the clocks were turned back by fascist decree on November 1st, I've been waking aimlessly an hour before I actually need to prepare for work and struggling uselessly to keep my eyes open after 7:00 p.m.  I leave now, in the dark, and come home in the dark, comforted not in the most minimal fashion that I'm somehow contributing to the salvation of humanity by conserving any energy or resources.  For weeks, the sun has directly scorched my eyes on my morning commute while endangering those on the road near my thundering carriage.  Now, I barely glimpse the dawn as I transit to fluorescent existence.   Weekdays, I haven't seen my garden in the daylight for months. I've tried, oh how hard I've tried, to reset my cellular clock, pinning my eyelids up in a futile attempt to stay awake past 8:00 p.m., and lounging in bed trying to stay asleep in the mornings.  The ticking clock of my existence is too loud, however, too insistent on following the normal patterns of sun and moon and earth to submit to any mere totalitarian decree. 

This illegal and immoral control on our biological clocks is detrimental not just to ourselves. Think of our pets, our fur children!  Poor Bella, now waking at 5:00 a.m., starving for the food that she gets an hour later in the summer, and coming to me each night barely after supper with her "baby", the stuffed lamb she carries to bed, demanding that I call it an evening and join her in bed, her day over because the sun is down.  Who among you can resist the sleepy eyes of the creature pictured at right, staring at you from the next chair with a soulful plea to turn off the TV and turn in just as the 6:00 news has begun?

Let us follow Thoreau's lead and be civilly disobedient; "When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government."  Myself, I'm not waiting any longer for our elected nincompoops to quit quibbling over budgets and battlefields and turn to the important things.  When daylight savings time begins again, on March 14, 2021, I'm staying there, permanently, enjoying the longer evenings and who cares whether it is still dark when I stumble to work?  When November comes again, I am staying on ProfessorRoush Savings Time (PRST), saving my sanity, my heart, and innocent bystanders from the damages wrought by our inept leaders.  I'm going to continue to enjoy the moments of daylight after work and my bosses will just have to get used to seeing me in early and leaving late afternoon during PRST.  Business can either adjust to PRST or do without my monetary contributions to their bottom line, probably better for me and likely unnoticed by them. The evidence that I'm standing with the angels here will be the extension of my life and doubtlessly the gratitude of Ms. Bella, attuned with me to the natural cycle and happy just in our own cocoon.  Who's with Bella and I?  Stop the Madness, Stop the Time Change!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A Time to Read

Ssshhhh...The garden is silent.  There is no life left here above ground, just cold concrete angels that urge you to respect the dignity of life drawn deep into the frozen earth for winter.  Dry grass, perennials become twigs, stone and stick, all that are left of the season past.  Maidens, demurely dressed, dot the garden and dream to be someday embraced by flowers reborn on all sides.  Patient, they wait for stories to grow, for life to spring forth from their pages, reading the future a season away.

In winter, ProfessorRoush's garden reflects his indoor life, reading now the primary entertainment in both locales.  The angelic girl-child and the grown woman pictured here and engrossed in their books are both full-time inhabitants of my garden, weathering and softening as the years roll by.  Neither will respond when you ask the topic of their study, for both live on a time scale beyond our fleeting lives.  They wait, sparely changing as the seasons past, hot and cold, wet and dry as the sun and weather choose.  

Inside, I join them, reading along in a more comfortable setting and weathering and softening in my own time.  Stack of books wait on the nightstand and bookcase for my winter pleasure, each a quiet escape from the weeks between now and spring.  I'm not sure where I'll start, fiction or nonfiction, fancy or facts, but the time for the feel of warm earth in my hands has past and will be replaced with a good solid book, warm and comfortable indoors while the sharp sunshine of a cold day waits outside my window.

In the garden, birds ring the feeders and rabbits hide from hungry hawks.  A cardinal pair picks at the sunflower seeds, meal-worms wait for the bluebirds, and fat fluffy sparrows dart in for seed, a constant stream of greed.  Besides these, the world waits again in frost for the sun to warm, and the remainder of my garden reads and rests with me.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Parfumed Future

I neglected to show you one new rose in ProfessorRoush's garden this year, the Hybrid Rugosa 'Parfum de L'Hay' that I purchased as a baby early this spring.  It seems to have taken pretty well to its spot, so I have great hope for its survival this winter.  It bloomed sparingly this year, however, and my timing was never right to catch a bud coming into full bloom.  

So, you're stuck, at present, with the poor photograph here, just a tease of color and foliage to sustain you until next year, assuming its rugosa genes allow it to survive drought and cold and deer, and that it doesn't develop a case of rose rosette virus before it reaches maturity.   

'Rose à Parfum de l'Hay' is a 1901 introduction by Jules Gravereaux of France.  Even though this is a lousy photo, the bloom itself represents the mature color well, those double petals of carmine red displaying their lighter edges.  She has a strong fragrance and repeated two more times this year in my garden, albeit playing hide and seek with my camera and schedule.  Less mauve and more red than most of the rugosa hybrids, I would guess that she takes her fragrance and color from the 'Général Jacqueminot' grandparent on its mother's side, as it reminds me of that Hybrid Perpetual perhaps more than the pollen R. rugosa rubra parent.  My season-old plant is about 1.5 feet high and has three solid and prickly stems at present.  Before the cold weather moved it, 'Parfume de l'Hay's  foliage was matte medium green, only very mildly rugose, and free of blackspot.  

Suzy Verrier, in her Rosa Rugosa, noted that 'Rose à Parfum de l'Hay' is often confused with the more rugose and deeper colored  'Roseraie de l'Hay', but the appearance of my rose would leave me to believe that I received the right cultivar.  Both were introduced in the same year in France, and both were meant to honor the renowned rose garden in Val-de-Marne, created in 1899 by Gravereaux on the grounds of an Parisian commune dating back to the time of Charlemagne.   Peter Beales included it with the rugosas in his Classic Roses, but noted that its maternal R. damascena x 'Général Jacqueminot' parent confused the classification of the rose.  Me, I'm just happy she's in my garden, carrying the weight of history along with her blooms and giving me hope for her survival.  Now where, do you suppose, that I can find a 'Roseraie de l'Hay' to plant alongside my 'Parfum' next year?

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Carpe Beatitudo

 Surprise blooms, in my estimation, are the best blooms, one of those little moments of life where karma reaches out, taps us on the shoulder, and says "Here, fella, let me bring you a little cheer!"  Not that I particularly need cheering up today, but in the hectic midst of life, I will never turn down a chance for a laugh or to enjoy a sunny moment when they appear.    

Pictured here is, of course, this year's appearance of  Blc Lily Marie Almas 'Sun Bulb' Orange, a Cattleya hybrid that I purchased from Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in years past.  Although I was so inattentive that I didn't see the flower spikes growing, she is right on time, or perhaps just a little early this year.  Last year, I blogged that she gifted me with two flowers on December 1st, and here she is, reincarnated, with 4 flowers this year on November 22nd.  I feel a bit guilty, maybe a little unworthy, that she struggles so mightily each year to gift me such sudden joy, but I will certainly take delight from whence it comes in this lost COVID year.

Lost year.  I suspect that is how history is going to record 2020, and many of my contemporaries will agree.  Our pets have prospered with all the extra home attention, and I suspect that the private vegetable and flower gardens of the world may have been a little better tended and a little less weedy this year, but, for most people, it has been a year of tension and apprehension, fear and fretting.  It has not, for ProfessorRoush, been quite so frightful on that front however.  I've worried for friends and family, but not for myself; there's too much work to be done and I'm far too fatalistic to worry about my own health.  I take precautions, but with my colleagues, I have worked right through this whole mess, missing the crowds of students in hallways, but relishing those few contacts we still have. Arbeit macht Glück, in my case.

'Lily Marie Almas', will be just another chapter in my upcoming memoir, How To Remain Happy and Hopeful During the Apocalypse.  I have a secret, you see, a secret to staying happy, a chart for remaining cheerful, a recipe for rose-colored repose.  It's just this; enjoy the little things and shed the little stings.  From little bits of happiness, we can, each of us, build a great big house of joy to keep the world at bay, bricks of bliss against the gloom.   Said another way, the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," as Shakespeare put it, are no match for the simple practice of welcoming and engaging with every happy moment, not "carpe diem," but rather "carpe beatitudo." Seize happiness my friends, whenever you can.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

My Menagerie

 Sometimes, I wonder what I'm running here on the prairie;  a garden or a zoo?  Just one of my game cameras took over a thousand "snaps" in the past two months.  I'll give you a brief sampling to show you the drama you're probably missing in your own garden, and in the spirit of true suspense, I'll save the most exciting until the last.

Of course, many of the pictures are of ProfessorRoush and deer; of the beautiful Bella sniffing the ground (upper right) and minding anything but her own business, and of the goofy neighbor's dog who uses my yard as a personal toilet (left) almost every day.

I seem to have gained a red squirrel here, frantically gathering pecans and acorns in my yard.  I've never had a squirrel live here before but he's somewhere out there because I had hundreds of pictures of him in this bunch.  I'll have to figure out which tree he's nesting in.

Birds are plentiful in the pictures, including this bluebird sweeping in for a landing and the red house finch, below, who is taking a break in the shade.  There are also pictures of other finches, meadowlarks, and sparrows temporarily on the ground here.

And the smaller wildlife is well represented.  I'll spare you the pictures of the mouse and the chipmunk and the rabbits and the raccoon who come in for candid closeups once in a while.

Nightlife?  Oh, there's plenty around.  It abounds, around, you might say.  I could do without this striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), even if it is just passing through, and then there is this creature below skulking through the night, which I think is a gray fox (Urocyon
).  I saw him much better just this morning at dawn, crossing the yard heading for the hills to my west.  He's been in other views on both cameras periodically all summer.

You wouldn't think that a stationery camera snapping pictures based on motion would be good for anything but occasional still shots, and yet this one captured, at one point, the drama present in most  every garden.  I'll show you the full capture of these pictures, because the time stamps are important.  Here, at 12:13:24 pm on 10/02/2020, is my red squirrel, lower right corner, out playing in the grass as it has a hundred times before:

And then at 12:16:31, we see this hawk sweep in, a fraction of an inch from grabbing the squirrel that is diving for the goldenrod and safety at the edge of the bed.  Are we witnessing the fury of nature?

At 12:16:32, there's the hawk, sitting in the grass.  What does he have clutched in those talons?  Have I seen the last of my red squirrel? 

I only had to wait until the next picture; 12:19:49, and the red squirrel is back out again, doing it's squirrley-things.  I think I'd have waited a little longer, myself, to be sure the hawk was gone.

I apologize about the picture-heavy post, but it is the best glimpse of life out there in the garden that I can give you.  Please try not to spend the next week wondering, as I will, if the squirrel made it to winter and what else may be sneaking around out there in the garden.  

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Obsessive Compulsive Weeding

 There is no rest for the weary or the wicked here in Kansas.  We have had a solid freeze and everything is dry and brown.  Everything, that is, except for these thistles, who have germinated along my roadfront sometime after my last pass through with Roundup.  These thistles who are thriving despite the cool nights, frosts, and downright hard freezes.  I would love to know the exact identity of this thistle of steel, this defy-er of death, whether it be a Spiny Sowthistle (Sonchus asper), Tall Thistle (Cirsium altissimum), Wavy-Leaf Thistle (Cirsium undulatum) or some other thistley interloper, but I'm not about to wait to see it flower to help me identify it.  

I try to keep my roadsides free of weeds, a little obsessive-compulsive gardening that I blame on the majority German portion of my genetic pool.  You can see then, how these little green mounds along the road would vex me, laughing at me every morning on my way to work and giggling behind my Jeep as I return each evening.  If there is one bright side to the dreaded seasonal time-change, it's that I seldom come home in daylight anymore so I was spared the sight of these over the last week.  I was right, you know, in my 2017 post announcing my candidacy for the Presidency based on a campaign promise to abolish the time change.  Based on the results this week, I'd have swept the field in a landslide. 

I'll be spared the sight of these thistles for the winter now, because they are no more.  They may survive snow squalls and nights in the low 20's, but they can't survive this gardener.  This morning I chopped them off, sprayed the stems with 2-4-D, and watched them blow away in the blustery wind.  I suppose Euell Gibbons would claim they are edible and have suggested putting them in my salad, but I know better.  "Edible", in Euell's 1960's back-to-nature context,  does not mean they taste good, it means that you are unlikely to keel over with your face in your plate during dinner.

In the meantime, as you can see from the cloudy skies above my backyard, I'll spend today fighting the winds and hoping for glimpses of sunshine.  I've already mowed down the tall grasses in the back yard and I have hope that the amber and purple smoke trees can hold on to their colorful leaves just a few more weeks.  I might also drive into town and back a few times, just to revel in the clean roadsides and follow the corpses of thistles as they blow across the prairie grass.  What a great fall day here on the prairie!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Houses on Halloween

It was way too pretty a sunny Saturday, yesterday, to spend indoors.  A long week and things that needed doing indoors were conniving to keep ProfessorRoush inside, but around 2:00 the call of the sunshine just grew too strong.  Surely, there must be something to do outside?

Ah, Bluebird house maintenance!  I'm a little early this year running my bluebird trail.  Normally, I'm doing this on a cold day in late November or early December, but I'll take the high 60's and sunshine anytime.  I skipped the bluebird trail last year entirely so it was doubly important that I get out there and clean house, so to speak, this year; clean house after house, after house and after house, twenty-four houses in all spread over my 20 acres and overlooking all the neighbors.  

I always start out loaded down with screwdrivers and wire and nails and wood screws and a hammer and wire cutters, because every year a house will need its roof repaired or the house need to be held tighter against a post.  I've learned, over the years, that paper wasps also like these boxes, some designs more than others (I think my newer house design had less paper wasps this year).  Bluebirds aren't harmed by the wasps but don't like to nest in houses with wasp nests, so I always carefully remove the wasp nests from every home.  I just read today that rubbing a bar of soap on the inner ceiling of the birdhouse will deter the wasps, so I'll have to try that next year. 

Some of my bluebird houses are getting quite old, showing gray weathered wood and splintered sides.  I believe I made the box above more than 10 years ago and from this closeup, you can see the patina and lichens it has accumulated, character and wisdom from the Kansas seasons.  It may look ancient and rundown, but it still housed a nest last year and that's what counts.  

Bluebirds aren't the most fantastic nest architects on the planet, a thin bed of grass is about all they place in the box, but it seems to do the trick.  I was really proud this year of the results of my NABS-approved Roush Bluebird Nestbox; twenty unmistakable bluebird nests, 20 nests in of 24 boxes, a personal best.  Or rather a personal best of my bluebird tenants.  I attribute the increased count to moving some of the boxes that previously attracted wrens to other areas away from the woods.  Two of the four remaining boxes had anemic nests that I didn't count, perhaps occupied a year ago, or perhaps there was trouble during the nest-building.  Who knows?  A snake reaching a box in the summer, a jilted male bluebird without a mate, or another bird attempting to move in.  Maybe next year, with the new porch and straightened shutters of my repairs, some poor lonely male bluebird will have a better chance to attract a mate.  Hope springs eternal in the rusty breast of a bluebird.

PS:  I found that the links to the Roush NABS-approved Bluebird Nestbox don't work in the original post as linked above, so I placed them on a separate page here in the blog.  Look at the top for the "Bluebird House/Presentations" tab!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pleasing Prairie Fall

Gracious, 4 weeks, almost 5 since ProfessorRoush blogged?  Yes, I've been busy, but it is not labor that has kept me from the blog.  I've simply lacked the muse, lacked the mood to just sit down and pour out my thoughts.  I haven't, however, been absent from the garden, a drained hose there, a peony support removed there, rain gauges put away (for the most part) and the last mowing done.  

Tomorrow, it's supposed to snow and freeze down into the teens, so the last delicate 'Heritage' rose above is blooming in vain, no pollinators around to attract, just Mrs. ProfessorRoush to please.  I'll bring it and others indoors today, a few last desperate moments in a vase to grace us before, as former Vice-President Biden called it this week, a "dark winter."

I'm thankful now, I am, for all the plants I have planted for fall accents over the years, and for the prairie itself.  My back yard is as alive with color in the fall as in the spring, although the tableau goes from pinks and yellows in spring to umbers and tans in fall.  Now, with any wet weather, the tall grass prairie lights up with red, grasses full of flame into winter.  Big bluestem and little bluestem lift up my landscape and carry the beauty of summer into winter.

In the center of the photograph above, and pictured closeup at left, you can see the yellow beacon of Amsonia hubrichtii, the 'Arkansas Blue Star'.  I planted it decades ago as a trial plant, a low-maintenance plant for the prairie, never realizing how many seasons of joy it will bring.  Small bright blue flowers in the summer, feathery trouble-free foliage for backdrop, and then this bright yellow ball into fall, shining as if it has stored the sunshine of summer and reflecting it back in the face of winter. Pest-free, the only trouble it has ever given me is it that it has a tendency to spread by seed, but it is easily recognized and eradicated wherever it pops up.

I've waited several years for this Black Gum tree, Nyssa sylvatica, to begin to grow and show the potential of its species.  From a $10, foot-tall seedling, it has made it in a dozen years into an 8 foot tall, drought-resistant sapling.  This year was the first chance I've gotten to see it turn red enough to pick out from across the garden, a mere promise of what I hope it will display in another dozen.  I've had to trim the lower branches to be able to mow around it, and I probably slowed the growth of the tree as I did so, but I'm willing to be patient for its full fall foliage impact even if it takes the rest of my lifetime.

That being said, I'm going to cut this blog short today:  I just noticed how small and vulnerable this trunk looks and I'm going to run out right now, into the cold damp morning, and get some fencing around it before the young bucks come around and rub the bark off.  If there is one thing a Kansas gardener learns, it's preemptive fencing!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sedum Seasons and Blog Trauma

So, if you think this blog entry looks messed up, you're correct.  Google Blogger made a "new" blog interface and it took me hours to figure out how to wrap text around photos...and it still ain't easy.  And I can't figure out now how to just left align the fourth paragraph.  I can center it, right align it, and justify it, but can't left align it.  Who makes a text editor so bad it won't do that?  And now, if you click on a photo to enlarge it, you can't get back to the post by "esc".  Google needs to fire its Blogger staff because it probably, based on the feedback I've seen, just ruined this portion of the business.  Time will tell if I can stay here or need to start over.

ProfessorRoush surrendered his garden to the fates yesterday.  It is time, past time, that cold weather comes in and puts a stop to this madness, the tangles of Knautia macedonia, morning glory vines, and stiff daylily stems, the decaying leaves of summer clinging desperately to the trees, and the creeping crabgrass trying vainly to slip past the gardener.  I've grown tired of 2020 and dream of renewal, of the clean slate of snow and the crisp air of winter.  My garden remains only in spirit and the color of a few futile sedums, vainly trying to seek the last rays of a dim sun.

These sedums, two among many, caught my eye yesterday while mowing, a shorter bright pink foreground Sedum spectabile 'Brilliant' against the backdrop of a taller sedum that I have on my garden map as Sedum telephium 'Arthur Branch'.  Although the latter lacks the reddish-leaves characteristic of the variety, I don't doubt its identity; it's the right height and early enough in the season that the red coloration is yet hidden.   Both are long-term garden survivors for me, 'Arthur Branch' planted in 2000, the second summer of my garden, and 'Brilliant' in 2001.   I already knew, even in those early years on the prairie, that sedums would stand the test of time and carry me into winter, and so they have, each year.  I have 8 or 10 varieties that take the flowering place of the fickle fall mums in my garden.

It seems easy enough to understand how 'Brilliant' got it's name, but I'm at a loss to explain 'Arthur Branch'.  It seems sure to be named after a gardener, but Google has failed me in my quest to find an origin, providing only a criminal in New York and the fictional Law and Order character played by Fred Thompson, the latter possible since Law and Order first aired in 1990, but neither very likely or satisfying as provenance for a plant name.  My library isn't helping either, Alex Pankhurst's Who Does Your Garden Grow? and other sources failing me.   If anyone knows of the naming source, please let me know so I can add it to the other useless brain tracks in my ever-active curiosity center.  

Sedums aside, I essentially put the garden to bed yesterday, removing peony stakes and garden markers, draining and putting away hoses, sweeping out the garage for winter, pulling up weedy grasses in the garden beds, and finishing last-minute chores such as repainting some peeling trim on the barn.  If it snows tomorrow, I'll be unperturbed, my garden secure and ready for the moment.

In fact, I think all of us, brother and sister gardeners on the planet, are ready for 2020 to end.  The pandemic, the endless election twattle and sports much-ado-about-nothing, all combining to create an early fatigue, this year preceding the color change of leaves.  The death of RBG this week can only make it all worse, the din of both sides in an endless cycle of accusation and reprimand.  Even the sun has dimmed here in Kansas, yielding to the pollution from the relentless California wildfires, 1500 miles away.  Normally, ProfessorRoush laments cold and snow, dreading the onset and the duration, but right now, a little brisk, clear Artic blast seems like just the right prescription to put 2020 out of our misery.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Confusion and Mass Hysteria

French Lilacs blooming in September?  Syringa hyacinthiflora?  I'm not talking about new, fancy reblooming lilacs, mind you, I'm talking about as lilacs as old-fashioned as old-fashion gets.  This is exactly what we should expect of 2020, of course.   As best stated by Dr. Venkman in Ghostbusters (played superbly by Bill Murray), "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"  What's next?

I had watched nervously as this lilac, 'Maiden's Blush', suffered from an attack of drought and mildew in early August and lost all its leaves.  Many of the other lilacs in the same row did just fine, shiny dark green foliage standing up to the worst of summer.  I had even, at one point, taken a picture of the National Arboretum's 'Betsy Ross', three doors down, which looked just as pristine and healthy in August as it did in May.   Since 'Maiden's Blush' had retained its tight, brown buds, I was only a little worried, but I really had no doubt that it would come back next year, tough as a prairie hedge apple tree.  I was certain right up until it rained in early September and this poor, confused relic opened those buds into new light green growth worthy of spring.   Nothing is certain in 2020.

Ever more concerning, today my precocious little beauty bloomed, offering two diminutive panicles of light lilac color and perfect fragrance, a gift to September that should never occur.  I fear greatly for it now, this twenty-year old lilac, fear that it will not be able to muster enough growth before October to allow it to survive into spring.  This unnamed cultivar of Syringa vulgaris beside it (pictured at the right) also lost its leaves early, but has so far had the sense to pack it up for winter, no real sign of breaking those buds.  Still, I appreciated the gesture, the fragrance of lilac in the middle of September, even as a dying gift from an old garden friend.

There's nothing I can probably  do for 'Maiden's Blush', but even so I'm going to try.  If a simple lilac bush can break all the rules of nature, I can break my own rules and spray these young leaves for mildew and fertilize the bush right now, hoping to give it the best chances I can to form more new buds for spring before the frosts steal its strength again.  New buds, I pray, for the spring of 2021 when we all hope this wacky world rights itself and normality returns to the garden and our lives.   

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Summer's End, Spring's Promise

I was mowing yesterday, wilting on the John Deere seat in the summer-like high 90's temperatures and seared by the blazing sun, but the garden was whispering to me a different story, a story of nearby endings and further beginnings.  Hot though it was, the lightened foliage of the garden hinted everywhere at change, lush deep greens of spring and summer yielding to the lighter yellow-greens of fall at a frantic pace.  These warm days will doubtless soon end, the summer of 2020 passing away at the speed of dying light. 

Clues of change are evident everywhere I look now; roses on their last legs, like 'Snow Pavement' pictured at the left, blushing deeper pink with the onset of cooler night air and hastening her hip formation, seeds and stored life created to bridge past the long cold days to come.  Other rose hips turn red and vibrant, tempting animals to consume and spread the seed, enticement enhanced with color, sugars, and vitamins as rewards for service.  Who cultivates whom?  The plant enticing the birds and mice to distribute its genes, or the fauna that benefits from consuming the fruit? 

We are perhaps biased by Linnaeus, captive to his branching diagrams of phylogeny.  Is the intelligence really in our higher branches or is the higher intelligence in the roots predating our arrival?  Or maybe my thoughts are just influenced today by a recent read of 'Semiosis', philosophy and ecology disguised in the veil of science fiction.

This is the time of goldenrod and grasses, seedpods and tassels everywhere in the landscape of the deciduous climates, each grain a bid to the future.  Even as I mow, this red Rose of Sharon fades in the foreground, blistering under the sun while the goldenrod behind it gathers and reflects the yellow sun, relishing its highest moment.  I despair at the loss of these delicate August flowers, unrelieved by the few that struggle to blossom, false idols of beauty in the midst of a dying landscape.  The goldenrod, too, will brown and pass on, leaving behind its brittle stems and summer's growth.

I couldn't ask for a richer tableau than these last clusters of 'Basye's Purple', and yet with their glory comes sadness at their hopeless future.  A few more fleeting weeks of moderate temperatures and one night all the new pointed buds will inevitably be silenced in a freeze, the annual slaughter of innocence by ice.  I grow tired and discouraged, the gardener reflecting the weary garden, a summer of toil behind and colder days ahead.

And yet, mowing further, I'm encouraged by hope, buds of tomorrow hidden deep in the shrubbery.  The fuzzy promise of Magnolia stellata tells me a different story, that spring is just around the corner and life is waiting, ready to bloom with vigor and fragrance, seeds of another spring hidden from the eyes of winter.  I rested well last night, tired by the sun and work and quieted by the Star Magnolia, dreaming of her heavy musk and waxy petals, calmed by the sure knowledge that the Magnolia believes there will yet be another Spring.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Let There Be Columbines

Last night, letting the vivacious Bella out the front door for her evening attempt to apply liquid fertilizer to the buffalograss, I was taken by surprise to see a previously-barren corner turned green.  This particular corner of my front border is almost entirely shaded with the house and garage on the south and west sides, and it was previously occupied by a boxwood, whose massive overgrowth and cat pee stink every spring right outside the dining room finally induced me to eliminate it in April.  You can see the stump of the boxwood at the upper center of the picture below.

Earlier this summer, I had tried to replace the boxwood with a rather expensive willow, one which promptly got eaten by rabbits or pack rats or some other such ravenous rodent and then, encased in chicken wire (too little, too late) its fragile regrowth shriveled in the late June heat.  Resigned, I decided to wait until fall to try it again, and I promptly put this space out of sight and mind for the summer that has past.

But here, last night, I found that the dry sterile mulch had brought forth baby columbines!  "Behold," the Lord said "Let there be columbines, and there were and it was good."  Well, columbines and a couple of thistles, which might not be so good, but I can take care of that bristly interloper. And a common dayflower or two which will take a little more effort to eliminate.  I'm still grateful for the gift, however.  All that time that the boxwood grew and dominated the area, these seeds collected and hid in the mulch and waited until the day they could grab enough sunlight and nutrients to grow.   A miracle of three-lobed glory.

I'm thrilled to see the columbines.  You know that I'm partial to the self-sown blue and purple columbines that dot my front landscaping, and I can't wait to see what these bring next year. There is no chance whatsoever that I'm going to scratch these out.  Next year, I'm going to have a sea of columbines and the joy of a wave of blue to ride into a new gardening year.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Unsettled Skies

This morning, as I was walking from the bedroom to let Bella out, I glanced out the southern windows of the house, seeing dawn slowly bringing the landscape to life, and noticed that the tree branches were swaying.  Pleased that a predicted cool morning would also bring some cool air into the house, I opened the garage door, stepped out, and was greeted with this odd sight of a column of pink blessing the hills to my west amidst a gray sky.

I turned around to look at the rising sun and, of course, it was there shining as always, ready to wake the earth and all its inhabitants in Manhattan, Kansas.  The breeze, however, was still shifting and I could only conclude that a either completely unpredicted but likely gentle rainstorm was upon us from the northwest or that aliens were beaming up my neighbors in a pink column of happiness.

The answer of course, was available on my phone radar app, and just as I downloaded this image, the sky began to growl as well.  Not thunder, not visible lightning, but an audible low growl.  I sedately followed Bella as she bolted for the house from her morning mid-squat stance.  Bella is afraid of thunder, but rain is always welcome to me and I am ever pleased when I don't have to defend against an alien horde before I've had breakfast.

Unsettled skies have been the norm all summer, likely a metaphor for society's woes this year if I were only bright enough to connect it.  Unpredicted showers, winds that sweep across without a storm behind them, clouds come and gone without warning.  I really shouldn't complain because, thankfully, there has been enough rain to keep the grass growing all summer, it has never reached 100ºF in Manhattan yet this year, we haven't had a single tornado warning in the area all season, and fall is clearly on its way.

It unnerves me, however, after years of watching the local radar and weather patterns, to see the skies tossing about in disorder.  The other night, I watched two rainstorms as they split around us from about an hour to the north-west, one gentle moving to the east and south, the other, a nasty little blob of purple, moving forcefully south-west.  I commented to Mrs. ProfessorRoush that, in all these years, I had never seen that happen.  Storms don't move to the south and west here and I watched it with some trepidation until it was obvious it wasn't going to change direction.

I'm not unhappy, however, about the beautiful skies of this summer and I'm thankful for every morning to wake with the sunrise.  The panorama above is my view to the south three mornings ago, sun rising in the east, storm moving in from the west.  The panorama below is my north view just moments later, unsettled skies from the west moving back to the gentle protective light from the east.  Who couldn't feel comforted by skies like these?


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