Tuesday, February 25, 2020

(Not) Killing Peonies!

A few weeks ago, on a partially random internet purchasing foray, I came across How Not to Kill a Peony; An Owners Manual, a 2018-dated paperback by a fellow Hoosier, Stephanie Weber.  Consistent with the wonders of modern shopping, a simple "add-to-cart" click made sure that I wouldn't forget it, and I included the book in a recent order of other items.

I've read several garden-oriented books this winter, but none better than this one.  Ms. Weber wrote a simple and entertaining narrative of her experiences growing and selling peony divisions in Indiana, the rural Indiana of my boyhood home, and she is true to the frank and plain spoken nature I expect of Hoosiers.  Early in the text, she detailed the important factors she used to choose among varieties of peonies for growth and sale, and then related how she and her husband planted 1200 peonies of roughly 40 different varieties in 2006 on a half-acre of good Indiana farmland  to create a "drop-in" peony nursery.   TWELVE HUNDRED PEONIES!  Now that, my friends, is taking a leap of faith reminiscent of Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade!  Well, except for the Indiana placement of the nursery, because I'm well familiar with the productivity of northern Indiana soils.  Borne in them, you might say.

'Red Charm'
How No to Kill a Peony is a delicious, straightforward, and sometimes snarky 98 page read that quickly brought me to understand the many useful things I never learned about peonies from Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall's massive Peonies sleeper.  Ms. Weber quickly explains why heirloom P. lactiflora peonies flop, describes the contributions to peony genetics of each of the 4 major species that led to modern peonies (including the contribution of red pigments from P. officinalis), and she sprinkles valuable information on planting, care, harvesting, and storing peonies through the book.  Every important fact about growing peonies is covered, and covered in straightforward fact.  And the most important advice?  Plant peony varieties that don't flop!  Who knew?

'Scarlett O'Hara' in 2019
 As a testament to its engaging prose, I read How Not to Kill a Peony in a single setting, learning more in an hour about how to choose between peonies than I did in my previous lifespan. As a testament to its entertaining nature, one need only skim section titles such as "How Floppers Infiltrated the Landscape,"Days in May That Cause Dismay," and "The Importance of Eye Candy."  There are hundreds of beautiful peony photographs, and lurid descriptions of popular varieties.  Popular 'Red Charm' receives a proper promotion, and 'Prairie Moon' gets her due attention. Coral-colored 'Flame' is described as "like the quiet, nerdy girl in your math class who you one day realize is gorgeous."  Red single 'Scarlett O'Hara', one of my personal favorites, is "a sleeper, like a granny car with a turbo engine."  Bicolored 'Mister Ed' "has been on acid since the 1950's."

Need I go on?  For early and experienced peonyists (a self-coined term that sounds vaguely lewd and improper but it is the best I can think of), I've never seen a better presented "How-To" that will help you grow peonies that are the envy of the neighborhood.  Now, darn it, where did I leave that Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery catalog?  I just don't have enough peonies in my front yard....

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Gardening? What's That?

Like an exile without a country, ProfessorRoush this week was a gardener without much of a garden.  Cold brisk weather and a little snow combined to drive me to indoor gardening, the latter a topic for the future, but I wandered outside a little here and there just to assess the premises.

And to feed the donkey's!  Several weeks ago, I occasionally began supplementing Ding and Dong's forage of the remaining stubby prairie with a little store-bought grass hay and they've quickly become accustomed to these little treats, hanging out on the weekends where I'll see them if I come out.  They've also come to expect apples during these visits, and yesterday seemed quite disappointed when I only showed up with hay, sending me a disdaining donkey look as only these apple-starved pair of prima donnas could.

Western Slender Glass Lizard
In a traipse around the back yard, I also came upon a new prairie citizen, at least new to me.  I think this frozen creature is not a snake, but a Western Slender Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus) missing the end of his tail as they often do.  They are named because their tail breaks off easily to aid in escape from predators, but I'm going to have to concentrate to make sure I don't remember this as a "grass" lizard rather than "glass" lizard, being a prairie creature and all.  In coloration and skin pattern, he resembles the skinks of this area, but this guy was about 2 feet long and didn't have legs.  I don't know what he was doing out of his burrow laying upon a layer of snow, but I'll bet he regretted that decision.  In fact, I wasn't sure if he was alive or dead, but I was not about to bring him inside and warm him up to find out, possibly subjecting both the unaware innocent lizard and myself to the wrath of Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  I lifted him carefully with a snow shovel, carried him over to a straw-mulched bed, and placed him beneath a 6 inch layer of straw on the unfrozen ground.  There, he'll either be safe from hawks and other predators and thaw and survive, or he'll join the straw as eventual compost.

The only moving creatures in the garden beside the donkeys, Bella, and myself seem to be the ever-present deer.  I checked one of my new trail cameras yesterday and I'm quite happy with the results.  The pictures are much better quality than my previous camera, the shutter speed is faster and catches more animals, and the deer don't seem to notice the new camera around, or at least they aren't coming up to be nosy about the red light coming from it.  I expect a lot of more "candid" shots over the next few months, although many will not be perhaps as risque as the deer in the background which is depositing some fertilizer near my 'Yellow Bird' magnolia while in the view of another white-tailed voyeur.  I've even already captured a snap of a coyly cantoring coyote (below), the first that I believe I've gotten with a trail camera.   My garden seems to have a better night life than it's gardener!


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sunny Satisfaction

ProfessorRoush did just exactly what he said in last week's blog as he skedaddled last Sunday out into a rare, warm early February.  I chose to tackle the back garden bed surrounding the patio, a choice made on the basis that it is the south-facing bed and was bathed in sunshine all afternoon.  I wanted those golden rays on the back of my neck all day and blessedly received it!

On a day where the local temperatures reached 70ºF, I quickly shed first a down sleeveless vest and then a flannel shirt, baring maximal skin for Vitamin D production within minutes after starting.  Short sleeves in February?  Oh, yes and loving every minute, as was the grass-rolling and sunshine-crazy Bella, joining me in the joy of a pseudo-Spring.  Sheetbarrow II and I launched into full antic mode, respectively holding and pulling load after load of daylily debris, rose cuttings, and other leavings down to the trimmings pile, to be burned along with the prairie when spring really arrives.

It was a great weather day for great accomplishments and at the end of a few hours, I had cleaned up the entire back perennial bed and the smaller daylily and peony bed near the deck.  I know that some fastidious and flaky gardeners  don't consider this "clean," as it is certainly not raked to bare ground, but this is as close as my garden ever gets to spring tidiness.  ProfessorRoush removes the vast overage of last summer's growth and if a few leaves and old mulch are left behind, so much the better to put new mulch upon.  At least nothing is impeding the sprouts of daylilies and daffodils as they push up from the cold earth.

The rebirth of life is, in fact, already starting in my garden, the tranquil and healthy daffodil sprouts in the first picture above uncovered from within the dried remnants of last years leaves.   You can see before and after pictures of both beds both above and here.  Pick over them to your heart's content, because the next time you see pictures of these, the edges and debris will be covered in green.   Since winter returned this week, with the highest daytime temperature only reaching the 50º mark and that on a brisk windy day that felt 30º, I can only pray that it will come soon.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Super Sunday!

Don't get mislead; ProfessorRoush cares not even a minuscule portion of his bones that it's Superbowl Sunday.  Well, perhaps a few deep cells of his bone marrow care that it is the last REAL football game until August, and it is one of the two sports I still watch enough to know who's on top (tennis is the other), but only when I'm entirely bored and stuck in front of a TV (which seems to be "never" these days, by choice).

No, what I do care about is that it is the second day of February, it is beautifully sunny outside, and my local temperature is predicted to be 66ºF at 2 p.m.   Right now, writing this, it is 57ºF outside and the back yard looks like the photo above, taken a few minutes ago, so I'm only here for a brief second.  Garden beds and sunshine are calling my name.

As you can see from the temperature reading on the second picture on this page, the temperature this winter hasn't always been nearly so nice, but that didn't keep the critters away.  I looked through the winter's selection of game camera photographs today as I removed my old game camera, and among other deer, there was a pretty nice stag rambling around at some point.  I'll have more fauna-captured photographs this spring and next year since I replaced my old camera with two newer and better game cameras.

Today is another milestone perhaps more important than the Superbowl to those of a superstitious bent. Today is, of course, 02/02/2020, a rare global palindrome and the only one of my lifetime.  The last such palindrome was 909 years ago (11/11/1111) and the next is 101 years away (12/12/2121), so forward or backward, I can't really hope for a life expectancy of 161 years to see the next one.  02/02/2020 is also a palindrome day of the year (the 33rd day) and a palindrome of the days left in the year (333 since it's a leap year).  And evidently, Las Vegas is promoting marriages today on the basis that if you married today, your 2nd anniversary would be 2/2/22, all symbolizing the pair-ness of monogamous marriage.   Myself, married some 37 years already, I'll just say goodbye to date palindromes like this deer turned tail and said goodbye to my game camera.

In other notes, I spent some time this morning searching for a word to describe the group of people who are over-stimulated by math like today's palindrome and along the way I was sidetracked by the discovery that there are "weird" numbers  (of which 70 is the first) whose proper divisors sum to greater than the number, and "happy" numbers, of which 1, 7, 10, 13, and 19 are the first 5 happy numbers of base 10.  Interesting to know, but none of this made me happy in base 10 or any other numeric base because I couldn't find the word I was searching for.  Anyone know a word to describe "math nuts"?  I'd spend more time looking myself, but I, and the lovely Bella, are out of here!   


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