Saturday, April 25, 2020

Tulips and Tail Wags

This morning's blog is brought to you through the photographic artistry of Mrs. ProfessorRoush, the exquisite sunlight of the Flint Hills, and the antics of my beautiful bestie, Bella.  Credit also should be given to the tulips, standing bright and bold in a harsh land, and to their benefactor, a colleague who brought me these all the way from the Netherlands.  Yes, these are real, authentic Dutch tulips!

I had been anticipating the opening of these beautiful tulips for more than a week and had taken a few early snapshots as they began to bloom, but had captured nothing in fading evening light that I thought worth sharing with you.   Evidently, however, I was not alone in my vigil.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush posted these photographs on Facebook this week, taken in the morning sun as I slaved away at work, and I was so proud and envious of them that I just had to re-post them.

There was a little shower that day to make the foliage glisten.  I think the golden sunlight on the bright tulips, each against the backdrop of the dark post-storm Western sky, makes for the prettiest picture one could possibly imagine.  Nice work, Mrs. ProfessorRoush! And the tulips: white and purple, yellow and red, these travelers grace our front walk near the entrance, greeting the mailperson this week with cheerful colors and fringed edges.  Spring personified in each perfect petal.

Then again, perhaps it's the curious Bella, photo-bombing the background, that make the pictures sing.  She's a busy dog, nose always to the ground, tracking every warm- or cold-blooded creature daring to enter HER garden. They are emerging from winter, Bella and Mrs. ProfessorRoush, like butterflies from their chrysalis, venturing out on warm and still days for walks and Frisbee, socially-distanced from all but the donkeys.  And at the end of the day, I can count on them fighting over Mrs. ProfessorRoush's favorite chair and the first evening nap.  Guess who won this time?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Back to Winter

And.....winter again.  Just as ProfessorRoush was hoping to put the seasonal losses behind us, spring whimpered out of the way and let winter's lioness roar back in full bloodlust.  We had two very unfortunate anti-garden nights this week; a hard freeze on Monday following a strong north wind that shook the house and then a dusting of snow and another brief dip to freezing temperatures Thursday night last.  Only this fake steel rose near my front walk seems to be impervious to the damage.

If you can't bear to look, then turn away quickly, but let me show you what a hard freeze does to asparagus.  I looked at these growing, stiffening spears on Sunday and thought about picking them, but decided another couple of days would get me a more filling harvest.  Now here they are, limp and broken, their tumescence and potential gelded by an icy maiden.  I'm sure this picture is an apt metaphor for some other issue that vexes old gardeners, but I can't recall anything like it at present, just another incidence of déja vu that will come to me later.

What will become of the snow-kissed peonies, like the ones pictured at right?  Or the daylilies and young roses, prematurely coaxed by the warming sun into rapid growth and now slapped down for their exuberance?   I have hope for the peonies yet, frost-resistant as these sensuous beauties can be, but some were beginning to bud, and I may yet harvest only a crop of small black buttons from the early peonies.

 In the two days since the snow, I've re-examined the daylilies and most may recover; leaves wrinkled and a little brown on the edges, but they may recover.  ProfessorRoush, however, is retreating for a time back into his COVID-quarantined lair, suckling his thumb in the darkness.  I'm tempted, knowing that the lowest forecast temperature for the next 10 days is 47ºF, to uncover the greening strawberries, but I just don't trust Kansas.  If I lose the strawberries, I lose all hope, and so I will change the oil in the lawnmower and sweep out the barn, and nurse the surviving onion starts, but I will not offer the strawberries in sacrifice to please the fickle gardening gods.  Hear me, Priapos, god of vegetable gardening?  You will not get my strawberries!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Behold the Lamb

Easter arrived at last, a rebirth of spirit and earth that is long overdue this year.  March came in like a lion, went out like one, and winter continued into April here in Kansas, more overnight freezes in the forecast and a chance for snow predicted tonight.   The closest thing to a Lamb evident in my garden this week was the small, peaceful concrete fawn that graces my viburnum bed.  I found it last week, half-buried under a year of debris, and laid it on this nice new bed of straw for comfort.  There perhaps, watched over and aided by the last daffodils of the season, it can tempt the weather to act more like springtime before the furnaces of summer fire up.

We began to at least pretend it was spring here this week by burning the prairie, our annual ritual here of welcoming warmer weather and clearing the fields for growth.  My neighbors and I got together Friday and burned in mass, teams spread out on the periphery to protect the town from our exuberance and teams within to protect our homes from ourselves.  This year's burn started out on a cold morning at 35ºF but rose to 60º temperatures by midday and it was a fine burn, windless when we were burning the edges and a mild breeze when we wanted the fire to sweep across the barren grasses.  You can see the result here, a few piles of donkey dung continuing to smolder long after the fire was out elsewhere.  Donkeys repeatedly pile their digested offerings in discrete places rather than sprinkling it over the area like bovines, so theses piles often burn slowly into the night, appearing as stars glowing on the dark prairie during windy times.  Sometimes we combine the prairie burning ritual with a sacrifice, usually of a random shrub, fruit tree, or 4-wheeler caught in the fires, but this year we got away almost clean, with the only casualty a late-afternoon singeing of a bridge at the neighboring golf course.

I was pleased, during my rounds of the grounds after the fires, to see that my secret small grove of redbuds in the bottom had not suffered the late freezes of the ones adjacent to my hilly home.  This little group sprang up volunteer a few years ago in a low area protected by the upwards slope to the south and the temperature-moderating pond just to the north.  I encourage them yearly by mowing down the grasses to limit competition and very controlled burning of the area to eliminate the cedar invaders.  Despite their precarious exposure to the elements, the deer, and rodents, they've done well, and I appreciate their kindness by blooming here in this little hidden world of my heart.

Within the house, spring is at least trying to overcome winter.  Appropriate for Easter, this white orchid began to bloom in our sunroom this week.  I apologize for the reminder of winter in the still-blooming Christmas Cactus behind it, but the purity and beauty of the orchid embraced by the warmth captured by the south-facing windows tells me that Easter, as always, foretells rebirth and the arrival of more tranquil days to come.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Interesting Times

I was mowing the other day, my commonplace first mowing of the year that consists more of whacking down precocious weeds than cutting actual green grass, and as my mind was wandering during the interminable yard laps, I was mulling over the COVID 19 pandemic and my mind recalled the phrase "May you live in interesting times."  We've probably all heard that backhanded blessing in the past and not thought much about it, but right now, in the midst of "stay-at-home" and global economic and human catastrophe, my immediate thought was "What adrenalin-junkie, world-class ADHD nutball authored that statement?"  Benjamin Franklin?  Edgar Allan Poe? Rasputin?

Curious, as I'm sure you now are, I stopped the mower, whipped out my trusty iPhone, and quickly google-searched my way to the conclusion that "may you live in interesting times" is widely regarded as the English translation of a traditional Chinese curse.  Isn't that just all kinds of ironic, given how and where this pandemic started?

I don't think I need a national poll to find out that none of us really want to live in interesting times.  We don't really want to go through pandemics or 9/11 terrorist attacks or foreign wars or Recession or the Challenger explosion.  I'm pretty sure we just want to live our lives, love our parents, spouses and children, be productive and kind to others, and leave the world a little better.

I've been so engrossed in the "interesting times" that it took me until yesterday to realize my Redbuds haven't bloomed this year.  Last week it appeared they were getting close, but they have done nothing yet and my other magnolias have also not followed up on the beauty of my Star Magnolia this year.  Tonight, I took a closer look at the flower buds on the Redbuds and saw, as you can see from the two pictures above, that the cold dip into the 20's of last weekend has killed the buds, all but a very few who will likely get smashed by the cold snap and late snow coming this weekend.  This 'Jane' Magnolia was also quite damaged.  She's struggling to come back, but if you click on the picture and look closer you'll see three brown buds for every mangled blossom that has managed a little color.  I'm not even going to talk about the damage to her sister 'Ann'.

I don't know how I'm going to tell Mrs. ProfessorRoush.  She might not even notice the magnolia didn't bloom, but the redbuds are special in her heart and their bloom a special time for her and she will miss them dreadfully this year.  Daylilies and hollyhocks, beautiful as they are in mid-summer, just won't fill that void for her.  Interesting times?  No, she will just see it as disappointment.

I'm really concerned at present that the flowering crabapple blooms at top, and my just-opening Red-blossomed Peach, will be walloped this weekend, further victims of this lost springtime.  Interesting times, my posterior patootie.  Oh yeah, and these wormy web-things are now active.  Why doesn't the intermittent freezes kill them?  I want a beautiful garden, not one of "interesting times."

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Cleaning Celebration

It's a frigid Saturday here in Kansas and ProfessorRoush has been indoors nearly all day, quarantined and safe for the most part.  Okay, in full admission, I did venture out a bit this morning for a post-office posting and then one errand led to another and then another.  I suppose thinking if I must allow a little exposure that a little more won't matter isn't the best stay-at-home attitude, but I'm counting on the fact that community spread has not yet happened in this area.   I also have to admit that Manhattan without its normal hustle and bustle is a fantastic place to live; no traffic, no lines, no hassle.  Although I surely wouldn't want to lose half the population in a permanent manner to our current plague, there are some advantages to the 30-40% less travel we're logging as a community as long as the infrastructure doesn't collapse.  Such a fine line there is between civilization and chaos!

It was warm enough a couple of evenings to work outside this week however, and I did get some necessary garden chores done.  The straw and mulch got mostly spread, and I finally tackled the multitude of my ornamental grasses.    A "before" picture above, and an "after" picture to the left of the last grass clump, the latter also exposing my burn pile of the previous cuttings, doesn't begin to relate how nice it felt to unclump my ornamental grass clumps, creating an overall orderliness to several beds and removing a lot of the remaining brown foliage.

Next to that last grass was also my garden suckering champion, a slowly-disintegrating Purple Smoke Tree that has needed desuckering all winter.  Once composed of several strong trunks, only one trunk now survives the repeated ravages of our Kansas gales, but it has been suckering ceaselessly for several years.  I wrote about a mysterious cavern that opened up at its base before, but I never did find out who or what lived there and the hole has disappeared.  A short visit with the loppers the other night was uneventful and this mess now looks less messy. I fear, though, for the survival of that last trunk, standing at an angle and exposed to the elements.

Spring continues to dribble in by fits and starts.  My Star Magnolia was at peak bloom on Thursday evening, the previously frost-browned early blossoms obscured by the main display.  As the forsythia starts to fade, other Magnolias are coming on line, pinkish "Jane" and dark purple "Ann" trying to open despite the cold.  Best of all, I was able to harvest those first few spears of asparagus and Mrs. ProfessorRoush banished them fresh to the oven, pre-basted with a little olive oil, salt, and Parmesan cheese.  There is nothing like fresh asparagus, straight from garden to oven, to bring those first fresh vitamins and sunshine into the house.  Hopefully, no virus will ever break through our asparagus-borne health to spoil the celebration. 


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