Saturday, March 28, 2020

Quarantined Quiet

ProfessorRoush was captive in a circle of solitude this morning, smothered by a silent world generating its own form of isolation for me, a blanket of clouds held low to dampen motion and moment.  Riley County has declared a two week minimum "stay-at-home" period, effective tonight, and the entire state of Kansas added its own, effective Monday, so the fog is a perfect partner to events local and afar. We are battening down the hatches here at home, anxious but able, resolved and ready.

I'm ready for this time, this transition to tomorrow.  As you can see from the photo at right, there is plenty to do here.  These few bags of mulch are a small fraction of those pre-placed around the house, ready for spreading as soon as the predicted winds diminish.  As the quarantines were announced, I ran out for straw and mulch and project supplies to substitute for activities that soon cannot be.  For some time to come, I'll be mulching instead of dining out, renewing pantry shelves for Mrs. ProfessorRoush instead of watching movies, weeding instead of worrying.  More fortunate than most, I still have work too; as a veterinarian there are always sick animals to care for and as a teacher there are always lessons to prepare.   And it never hurts ones ego to be designated as "essential personnel," however true the reality of it.

For this morning however, it's pleasant, the fog, and the privacy it imposes.  Invisible birds sang as I took these photos, a morning choir unseen but heard, at hand, but also away.  Neighbors and their houses have vanished, foretelling the next few weeks, a safe "social distance" seemingly mandated and enforced by Nature itself.  The mysteries deepen ahead of us; concerns for health and loved ones, uneased by change, disquieted by the quiet.   God-willing, as the fog lifts into sunlight, so our lives will climb from this uncertainty to normality, not the normal of before, but a new normal to travel onward.  Stay healthy, my friends.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Apricots and Pack Rats

One might think that apricots have little to do with packrats, however both are currently pressing subjects on the mind of ProfessorRoush.

This is the shining annual moment for my apricot tree, a 'Sunglow' variety.  Always the first tree to bloom, it often beats the redbuds by a full week or two.  I enjoy it most in the evenings, when it is back-lit by the Western sun as viewed from the driveway, although mornings when the sun lights up the front of the tree are also satisfying.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush thought so as she messaged me at work early one morning this week with a picture of the tree, asking if it was an apple.  No, apricot, honey, APRICOT.  I can't say, however, that I ever get much fruit from it.  Fruits are small at best, though colorful, and the yield is devastated most years by late frosts.  It is a nice ornamental, however, adding some soul-needed color above the still-dry prairie grass, while admittedly not very life-sustaining as a nutrient source.

On the other hand, as evidence of the trials and tribulations of gardening on the Kansas prairie, I give you these two pictures taken of our small corner deck with its two-seater glider and gas grill, along with this newly formed pile of greenery.  The pile of semi-green sticks and leaves are the recent activity of a pack rat, endeavoring mightily to make a home right beside the back door.  I suppose it is a nice spot for a damp cool spring, roof above, sheltered from the north and east winds, the brick behind it warmed by the sun in the afternoons. 

Astonishingly, however, if you look closely at the greenery, you'll see that it is mostly holly, Japanese evergreen holly to be exact.   I do have holly in the landscape, but the nearest bushes are all on the exact opposite corner of the house from here, around two walls and on the north-east corner.  One by one, this industrious little rats (or family of rats) has trimmed these off and pulled them completely around the house, exposed to attack either during a long trek of 30+feet across the cement garage pad or an even longer trek across the back stamped-cement patio, up a few stairs, and into the corner.  To get here, the rat has also trekked numerous times by at least three poisonous bait traps, but I guess when you don't have a home, gathering food may be low on the priority list.

However long the construction work took, I demolished this semi-erected rodent domicile in the blink of an eye, letting a brisk wind last Sunday carry the debris to the four corners of the world.  As an added measure, I also purchased a large spray bottle of rodent repellent and used it.  I've never thought the pungent pepperminty spray was worth using, but I do believe in hedging my bets against my de-hedged neighboring rodents. 

My forsythia is finally blooming forth today, bright, yellow, and only a few days later than average.  The specimen pictured is 'Fiesta', one of the better varieties in my garden.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Bloomin' Beginning

A couple errant warm days this week startled spring into subtle splendor, this leafless, stiff and formless shrub leading the way  on the east side of the house with a cheerful display of yellow capable to rival the daffodils that are blooming in clumps elsewhere in the garden. 

I only wish I knew exactly what it was!  I had previously written about this shrub as Genista lydia, but I'm currently having doubts about its identity.  Genista lydia blooms at the right time, but it should have more legume-form flowers.  However, the only other yellow shrub-like plant that I have recorded in this bed is Diervilla sessilifolia 'Butterfly', the Southern Bush Honeysuckle, which should bloom much later and blooms in clusters.  Regardless, this thing is ungainly, incredibly invasive, decidedly unattractive when out of flower and barely tolerable in flower, but it is the absolutely earliest thing to bloom in my garden each year.  Even so, I occasionally get tired of finding it spreading in and around other plants in this bed and I've tried more than once to grub it out.  It persists despite my best half-hearted efforts. 

I'm happier about the bloom of Abeliophyllum distichum 'Roseum', the Pink Forsythia.  A rare shrub in this area, it never really looks healthy, but it also persists, and each year gives me a slightly better display of these briefly pink flowers that quickly fade to white.  About two weeks ahead of the more showy yellow forsythias, it smashes those later and brassier namesakes this time of year by being incredibly sweet-scented, a light and delicate bouquet that draws me in whenever I pass nearby.  The bush itself is a bit spindly, and I try each summer to give it a little special attention, more than its fair share of fertilizer and water, but she never seems to respond as I'd like.  With Pink Forsythia, I suppose I should just shut up and be happy it survives here at all.

The most anticipated of all my early blooming shrubs, however, is the welcome arrival of the Star Magnolia bloom.  Despite my earlier pleas this month, this first bloom opened 3 days ago, followed by an explosion of about 30% of the shrub's blooms the next day, immediately thereafter placed and now held in suspended animation by a cold front that swept through.  This is the flower I most wait for every spring, carrying the heavy-scented musk fragrance that I could and would happily drown myself in.  It may be cold outside, and these blooms near frozen, but bring them inside and they warm up and exude pure pleasure in a few minutes.  Forget Old Spice and Brut, I think men would attract more feminine attention if our aftershaves smelled like Star Magnolia rather than cloves.  Are you listening, Aromachologists?  Let's bottle it and put some Star Magnolia aftershave on Walmart's shelves and perhaps the pandemic and quarantine won't be quite so lonely for any of us.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

SWMBO Minimality

I have spoken before, tongue-in-cheek, of She Who Must be Obeyed, easier abbreviated as the acronym SWMBO, in reference to the beautiful and home-ruling Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  Imagine my surprise then, while google-navigating across the Washington DC landscape the week before last, when I saw "She Who Must Be Obeyed" pop up on the google map on my iphone a few blocks from where I was at the time.  Feeling a sense of unease at my prescient phone and wondering why my wonderful spouse might be stalking me halfway across the country, I decided to meander innocently in the direction the map indicated, fully prepared to explain why I had wandered from the conference that I was supposed to be attending.

Eventually, I came across this somewhat enigmatic modern sculpture by Tony Smith which is titled, you guessed it, "She Who Must Be Obeyed."  It sits innocuously on the plaza lawn of the Department of Labor building (the Frances Perkins building) near the east wing of the National Gallery of Art, hidden from broader view by the buildings around it and unvisited by the art-unwashed like me.  My personal tastes in art, as described before, trend to figures recognizable as tastefully nude humans or cuddly animals, not abstract geometry.

While I was humbled that a statue was named after my lovely wife, this minimalist rhombus does not look anything like her, nor does it do any justice to the feminine figure of Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  The statue does have a mildly disapproving air about it, but that is as far as the resemblance goes.  I am further a little bit angry at the artist for the flippant naming of the structure, likely to cause confusion and anxiety in any married male who comes across the statue in a blissful moment of hiking across the D.C. mall.  Shame on you, Mr. Smith, for this monochromatic miscreation.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Quarantine Is Real

Friends, ProfessorRoush wouldn't be blogging again quite so soon, but he noticed an interesting little fact after he finished Saturday's blog.  While checking the statistics for Garden Musings, I was astonished to see that blog traffic from Italy had risen to 2nd place over the past week, behind only the United States.  You can see that depicted in graphic splendor on the map on the right, the prominent medium-green boot under Europe.  Welcome, my Italian gardening amici and amiche!

Since this blog started, a decade ago, Italy is in 7th place all time in blog visitors, behind the United States (always #1!), Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Canada, and France.  I would like to believe that the massive increase in interest from Italy has occurred because I've recently written some stellar Tuscany-relative plant potboilers.  However, the hard truth is that I am forced to conclude that there are at least a few incredibly-bored gardeners in Italy who have quarantined themselves and, having exhausted Netflix and AmazonPrime, decided the next best time-occupier is to read the blog of some gardening weirdo in forgotten Kansas.

Yes, I know 174 visitors from Italy may not push me across the edge to stardom as the next great garden prophet, but from another perspective, compared to the numbers from the U.S., Italy normally is about 3.5% of the U.S. total.  This past week those numbers are 50% of the U.S. total!  It has to be coronavirus quarantine-driven, doesn't it?  Please though, don't ask me to speculate why the numbers from Turkmenistan are up.  I can't even find the latter on a map.

My beleaguered Italian friends, I hope you stay well and can get back into your own gardens soon, whether that garden is the small balcony planter that I imagine hanging over your ancient cobblestone streets, or it is an entire square mile planted with lavender, laurel, and rosemary surrounding a country villa.  If it helps you pass time reading of roses and forsythia in Kansas, if you are amused by pitched battles against Japanese Beetles, rose rosette disease, and sun-scorched drought, then please keep reading away.  In the end, if my small script in life was to help you keep off the plague-ridden streets, then I'm content that I've served in this smallest of ways.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Waiting Game

Spring began in Manhattan while I was away in D.C., as I came home to this very first daffodil blooming on March 10.   We had enough weather in the 50's this week to advance others so that today I have several clumps blooming well and even a few Scilla siberica and giant crocus coloring the back beds.  It's raining however, and going to be a cold week, so I expect that the developments of spring will be on hold for awhile.  I checked my records and that first daffodil is early by about 10 days.  They almost always bloom on March 19th or 20th in this area, at least for the last decade or so.  I think winter is going to have a last gasp and reset the clock to normal this week.

On the other hand, the yellow forsythia and my Magnolia stellata are already later than average.  I have no forsythia bloom yet, although I expect it any day, and the Magnolia buds all look like the picture at left, half-born into the world, but afraid to open.  Please little Maggy, just stay there until the forecast settles down.  The forecast is highs in the 40's & 50's and lows in the 30's & 20's for next week, not favorable for a baby Magnolia bud.  We also have 4 days of rain in the near forecast, and I really don't want the musky fragrance muted nor to have to mourn for brown-edged petals as they open. 

Looking at the bright side (there's always a bright side to a gardener, isn't there?), the mornings have been spectacular.  I haven't seen them or enjoyed them myself because the blasted time change shifted my work departure back into darkness (#$%#!$%^*&#!!), but Mrs. Professor Roush took this picture one morning this week from our bedroom window, as well as the video attached at the bottom.  What a gorgeous morning, wasn't it?   Turn up the volume if you want to hear the birds.  And there I was, slaving away at work and unable to enjoy it because the idiot politicians of our Republic think that it is within their purview to mess with our biologic clocks on a semi-annual basis.  I'll say it again; ProfessorRoush will vote for any politician of any party who abolishes the time change and makes daylight savings permanent.   But kudos to Mrs. ProfessorRoush for her videography.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Gardening Away

ProfessorRoush was away from his garden this week, key time lost in the prime, "not-too-hot and not-too-cold" spring clean-up period, but I was gardening frequently in my mind and occasionally taking a little sojourn from the conference I was attending to visit better environs.  Can you guess where I was from the picture at right?

Well, if that wasn't a big enough clue, how about this picture at the left?  Better?  The first is the front entrance of the US Botanical Gardens conservatory building in Washington DC, the second, of course, the US Capitol building, the latter taken a few short hours ago as I was wasting time after the conference and before I had to skedaddle to Reagan International.  I'm writing this from the airport at the moment, hoping to finish before my flight.

Spring is earlier here in DC by a week or two from Kansas.  No cherry blossoms here yet, but this Star Magnolia (left) on the south end of the Capitol building was in full bloom, and there were a number of other early magnolias shivering but trying to open (right).

I highly recommend a side visit to the US Botanical Garden if you can tear yourself away from Arlington, the monuments, and the Smithsonian.  Years ago, I was able through sheer luck of timing to attend a great peony lecture by Roy Klehm at the USBG, and this week, the Garden is highlighting its orchid collection (right).

A wander around the USBG is a pleasant change from the cool damp Washington spring.  I was tickled at the inventiveness of the USBG staff in placing "dinosaurs" into the foliage of their Primeval Garden, and I re-acquainted myself with old friends like this enormous Angel Trumpet in the Southern Exposure Garden (right).  I even took the time to search out a non-flowering Titan Arum on display in the Tropics area of the Garden (below, the spotted trunk with the umbrella canopy).  According to one display, the USBG has 24 specimens of the corpse flower in its collections, a wise move since the rare bloom of each draws visitors like flies to its flowers.

Titan Arum
Open 10 a.m to 5 p.m. every day including weekends and holidays, the USBG Conservatory is a often-missed but indispensable stop for any gardener visiting DC, and you should also not miss all the outdoor gardens surrounding it.  Right next to the US Capitol, 365 days a year; find it, walk it, and enjoy!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Grape Vines and Checklists

'Reliance' before pruning
Saturday, Leap Day 2020, was moderately windy, but otherwise a marvelous day on the prairie, February fleeing into the past with sunshine licking at its heels.  Another warm Saturday for Bella and I is now behind us and the aching to get outside ProfessorRoush got good and achy.  My garden muscles need a little bit of training yet this season.

I had some errands to run in the morning, so it was nearly 1:30 p.m. yesterday when I ventured outside.  I immediately realized that cleaning the front bed was not going to be feasible in the high winds, so I turned to other spring chores.  First and foremost was washing out the garage floor to remove the tons of mud carried in from the gravel road this winter on the cars.  There were actual dry mud piles stuck to the garage floor at each tire, and I removed a full three gallon bucket of soil from the floor before I turned the hose on the floor to wash out the rest.  I had it all done before Mrs. ProfessorRoush arrived home from her own errands, and nearly 18 hours later my loving spouse has yet to notice or acknowledge the improvement.  Next time I just wash the side where my car sits!

'Reliance' after pruning
I had been eyeing the asparagus patch for several weeks, knowing that I need to remove the dead growth, and that is where I turned next, readying the patch for those first green sprouts.  Next, I decided to check pruning the grapes off of my springtime bucket list, since pruned twigs won't blow into my eyes in the wind.  You can see the "before and after" shots here, this old massive 'Reliance' grapevine visibly relieved from several years of unpruned growth. 'Reliance' is our favorite grape around here and this vine produces well, at least during years I pay proper attention to it, 

One of ProfessorRoush's many failings is that once I rouse my slothful soul to start a project, I really hate to stop before I'm done, so I didn't prune the 'Reliance' and call it a day, I pruned ALL the grapes.  We have about 8 living vines, and you can see another line of vines I attacked with pruneers in the final picture, now readied for the rapid growth of early summer.  In my renewed determination to garden right or give up, I promise to make sure that this year they get sprayed at the proper times to prevent mildew and other fungus.  But that will be much later on in the year and today beckons right now, predicted to be warm, sunny and windless.  Garage, check. asparagus bed, check. Grapes, check.  Maybe I'll get another crack today at finally cleaning those front beds. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...