Sunday, May 31, 2020

Can You See Me Now?

I took Bella out the front door last night for her nightly squat, flipped on the lights, opened the front door, and followed her slightly rolling butt to the end of the concrete steps, Looking out into the breezy night beyond the lights.  As I turned around to give her some privacy in her eliminations, I glanced at the 'Stained Glass' hosta that I just purchased and planted last week, every the watchful gardener.  And then I looked closer.  Can you see it?

Now can you see it?  Just the body and one ear of a little bunny, frozen under the hosta leaves and desperately hoping that no one would see it.  I got a little closer to make sure it wasn't a pack rat, thought about picking it up, but ultimately decided not to make its little heart pound any more than I'm sure it already was and I left it alone.  I called Bella back inside, making sure to stay between Bella and the rabbit as my chubby love bounded past me to the door, and then I walked back in, plunging the baby bunny back into darkness and safety.

That bunny was hiding much better than this Gallica rose, screaming "I'm Pink!" for all the world to see.  No photo editing here, this little bright spot in my landscape is exactly as you see it, the brightest, most perfect pink you could ever ask for. 

Now if I only knew what this rose was named.  On my notes, this is the 'York and Lancaster' rose, which I obtained as a sucker from the KSU rose garden during pruning one year.  Only it isn't because 'York and Lancaster' is a striped or variably colored Damask and this rose only blooms bright pink and I'm pretty sure it is a Gallica.  In fact, my bet is that it's the Apothecary's Rose, or Rosa gallica 'Officinalis', a rose I have no written record of, but seem to recall obtaining at one time or another and must have found somewhere.  It has the right size semidouble blooms, is low-growing, and suckers like crazy.  I do have Rosa mundi, which is a candidate for the original 'York and Lancaster' rose, in another bed for sure. 

Regardless of its identity and provenance, it is certainly PINK.  And easy to care for, if I pull up the suckers from where I don't want them.  And disease free, although if you look very closely you'll see that the rose slugs started on it before I found them and intervened.  Some years it doesn't have quite the overpowering pink that it does this year, and it seems more vigorous and floriferous this year, but I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth.  Pink is good, pink is happy, pink is pretty.   

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Perfect White Roses

'Madame Hardy'
Finally, finally, finally.  At last, in this garden year of dry winters and late freezes and cool dampness, when so many spring flowers have failed to appear or, worse, were prematurely ended in full flower, something beautiful appears.  I thought it would be the peonies, full of buds and promise, to lift me at last but three days of rain have lowered their foliage, lowered my expectations, and left sodden mopheads of their blooms.

'Blanc Double de Coubert'

No, it's my roses, timidly opening one by one, who are exceeding expectations this spring.  Ravaged by rose rosette disease, unpruned and sawfly-stricken, they are nonetheless defiant to the elements and demanding of my worship. 

'Madame Plantier'
We are going to play a game my friends, you and I, a little voting game where you pick the most beautiful of the white roses blooming this evening in my garden.  I took all these photos as dusk fell, beneath brooding skies on the third day of intermittent rain that has totaled now over 5 inches.  White roses, white Old Garden and shrub roses, normally don't respond well to long periods of moisture, browning on the edges of their petals and balling up into mildew.  This year, however, their raiment is unblemished, their virginal purity perfect and perduring.

'Sir Thomas Lipton'
So which is it, your favorite of these unsoiled white maidens?  'Madame Hardy', divinely arrayed around her center pip and lemon-scented, just the slightest blush to her cheeks?  'Blanc Double de Coubert', proclaimed by Gertrude Jekyll, according to Michael Pollan, "the whitest rose known," but also a thorny and untidy jewel?  'Madame Plantier', button-eyed mimic of 'Mme. Hardy', a slightly less fragrant rose on a better-foliaged bush?  Does rugose 'Marie Bugnet' capture your soul, her ample double blooms drawing you across the garden with virtuous allure?  Or might one prefer the gentleman of the group, scandalous Sir Thomas Lipton, lanky and tall, adorned in alabaster?

'Marie Bugnet'
For me, today, the wiles of  'Marie Bugnet', a tough and suffering dame in my garden, have most captured my attentions.  What does the legendary Gertrude Jekyll know of my Marie anyway?  Jekyll was nearly blind in her gardening prime and herself planted 30 years before 'Marie Bugnet' was introduced.  'Blanc Double de Coubert' normally crumples into brown paper with extended moisture and has fewer and flatter petals.  'Madame Hardy', normally my favorite, is a close second tonight as the slight pink tone she carries when damp is unbecoming of a true lady.  'Madame Plantier', however gussied up, is still but a cheaper pretender to the throne of purity.  And 'Sir Thomas Lipton' may be a fitting companion to the likes of 'Madame Plantier', but he remains a rough scalawag, unrefined and rowdy in the garden.

It's 'Marie Bugnet', on this gloomy evening, that brightens the darkness, fans my fires and summons my smile.  I'm captured by her beauty, and enthralled by her immaculate peignoir.  Don't you agree?  Pray with me now, please, for her safety, for her glory, to shine forever in my garden.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Baptisia Musings

Baptisia australis
One of the most common and visible flowers on the spring and early summer Flint Hills prairie are the Baptisia sp, otherwise known as the wild indigos.  If you look at the picture of one of my hillsides at the bottom of this blog entry, taken just two days ago, you can get an idea how common they are.   I watch for them every year, heralds of spring on the prairie and my own personal seasonal time-clock for the onset of warmer temperatures.  I've noted the Blue Wild Indigo, Baptisia australis, as early as April 26 (in 2004) and as late as May 20 (2013) over the years.  This year, I saw my first on 5/10/2020.   As I've noted before, I'm not sure what all my "first sightings" mean in relationship to climate change. 

Baptisia bracteata
True indigos, from which indigo dye is derived, are a different genus (Indigofera tinctoria) and are not native to the prairie, but the Blue Wild Indigo is so named because it's sap turns purple on exposure to air.  Another very common false indigo is the Plains Wild Indigo, Baptisia bracteata, which is earlier to flower and lower to the ground than its blue cousin.  Where B. australis stands tall and stiffly resistant to the prairie winds, B. bracteata is seen hugging the ground, creamy and bright against the ground.

Baptisia var ProfessorRoush
My real Baptisia interest this year was in the color variations that I happen across on my prairie walks, and in particular, the return of this pretty pink Baptisia, which I first noticed in the same spot last year.  I marked the spot to see if it returned true to color this year and here it is again, pretty and pink on the prairie.  This year, I'm going to try to collect seeds from it and hope that I can grow them and propagate this color.  I doubt I can become rich off of introducing a pink Baptisia to the market, but B. australis var. ProfessorRoush doesn't sound half bad, does it?

Baptisia alba
Finding one unusual Baptisia, of course, initiated a quest for others.  This beautiful white Baptisia alba grows not far from the pink one in my backyard and I've also marked its location for seed collection.  There's just no substitute for pure white in the way it can stand out from the emerald green prairie, is there?

Unknown NOTBaptisia
I thought I'd hit the Baptisia jackpot with this pink and yellow flowering plant on a neighbor's acreage and I got all excited about its subtle shadings, but on a second look, I don't think this is a Baptisia.  A vetch, perhaps, or some other member of the Bean family, but there are so very many legumy-things on the prairie that I can't keep up.  Alas, I'll have to count on B. australis var ProfessorRoush to lend my name to gardening prosperity.  And I'll end here, wallowing in my delusions of Baptisia grandeur here in the Flint Hills on this blessed Memorial Day.  Stay healthy, everyone!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Catchweed Annihilation

Occasionally, mundane gardening chores, such as weeding, watering and spraying, impolitely intrude on the more interesting tasks of pruning, deadheading, and the really barn-raising "watching paint dry" feeling Professor gets while waiting on that new rose or peony to flower.  Such chores are easier if one imagines they are on search and destroy missions deeply behind the front lines, engaging and destroying the enemy wherever and whenever found.  While distasteful, the slaying of garden invaders cannot be long-delayed, else a gardener finds oneself overrun and demoralized, and subsequently retreats into the shadows of the house.
My enemy this year seems to be a world-beating crop of Galium aparine, commonly called bedstraw, catchweed or goosegrass, that is spreading like a wildfire on the prairie before a wind.  I tried to ignore it, then placed it on my list of "Things To Get To" rather than confronting the shiny horde, but there came a time when I could no longer turn my head from the onslaught.  I've always seen a little of it around, wisps here or there trying to hide beneath daylilies or consorting with cosmos, but this year it seems to be searching for its own Lebensraum, living space, poking up through every green perennial or shrub in a bid for world domination.

Like many gardeners of my era, when I want to fight back against Mama Nature's most recent attempt to return my garden to an evolutionary laboratory, I hear the wise words of Hannibal Lector to the fledgling Agent Starling in the movie Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkin's voice in my head, quoting Marcus Aurelius, "First principles, Clarice, Simplicity...Of each particular thing, ask What is it in itself? What is its nature?"   With catchweed, its simple nature is to stick; to the plant it seeks to smother, to the gardener, to itself.   ProfessorRoush, ever the aspiring garden Ninja, recognized this year that the destruction of catchweed lies in its own innate velcro-ey nature.  

My weapons; a simple pair of cheap cotton garden gloves.  You'll notice the difference between the right faded and left, newer glove?  Not surprisingly, as a lefty, I wear out several left gloves before the rights, with the result that I have a surplus of decently intact rights and the surviving left gloves are usually full of holes and ready to disintegrate.  But they all still work as allies in catchweed obliteration.  I simply start pulling up a clump, the catchweed grabbing onto the soft glove, and then, keeping the catchweed in my hands, I let the catchweed pick up and tear out its fellow soldiers, massively clumping together in a lemming-like rush to removal. 
It's satisfying watching that stringy, clingy weed disappear from my garden.  I cleared it two weeks ago and I'm only just now seeing a few wisps from stragglers try to stealthily emerge from the shadows.  I find it much less daunting to reach down and pluck out a few stems here and there as I pass by a bed than it is to confront a vast multitude of creeping contagion.  Take it from me, attack your weeding head on, because Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement doesn't work any better in the garden than it did in history.  Better for us, now as before, to follow Churchill's advice, " wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us...(our aim is) victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be."

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Lessons in Tenacity

When it comes to survival, our cultivated gardens and the wilder nature around us can, if we watch for them, provide many lessons in hanging on.  I was reminded of that this week when I passed by this incredibly tenacious tree, seemingly growing out of the bedrock.  It stands on the edge of a ridge leading from my backyard to the pond.    The primeval seabed of the Flint Hills is exposed by erosion and time on these ridges and, in places, the rock itself becomes porous with holes as the lichens eat them away.  Often, those holes become pots for the germination of wind-blown plants who trade the inconveniences of the cramped position for protection from prairie fires.  This tree has been growing here for a decade, untouched by fire after fire, until it has now filled the hole that birthed it.

I feel, in this time of quarantine, a kinship with this tree, a bond forged by the urge of life to grow and expand despite the constraints around it.  My adherence to stay-at-home edicts from local "authorities"  suffers from both my lack of paranoia about catching the virus and my lack of faith in those authorities.  I do wear a mask in public, despite knowing the science and all-the-time wondering why I bother.  Running "crucial" errands, the number of which expands exponentially with my cabin fever, I often think of the quote on my office refrigerator at work, purportedly from Marilyn Monroe, which reads "Ever notice that 'what the hell' is always the right answer?"  Yes, I recognize that subscribing to guidance from a woman who tragically passed away in the fullness of life may not be the wisest choice. It is, however, more satisfying, and soul-serving than listening to nonstop gloom and doom from the news.  

Yes, I'm running risks daily, but I, like this tree, know instinctively that every day of life brings risks that we must face in order to flourish.  A deep core of fatalism helps me in that regard. I might catch coronavirus today and die next week. I might also get broadsided by a semi-truck on my way home from work.  Neither is really that likely.  I've watched this tree, an elm, grow for years, steadfast in the face of wind, fire and storm.  To have grown this tall, this broad, it must already have once pierced completely through this layer of rock, allowing the roots to reach more fertile soil around it.  Now it faces another challenge and I'm intrigued by what happens next for it.  Will the tree die, girdled by the constraints of its environment?  Will the rock yield, split or dissolved by the irrepressible forces of life? 

Time will tell, both for the tree and for us.  Will we wither now, paralyzed by fear of the world outside our holes, or will we grow on, breaking the barriers and pushing against the sky?  Me, I'm betting on life and the spirit of this tree.  Staying in the hole is not an option.  

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Guilty Gardening

ProfessorRoush is embarrassed, embarrassed I say, by his own recent display of poor taste.  I blame it on perfect product positioning, I blame it on a weakness for impulse purchases, I see it as a culmination of  poor life choices.  No, forget those, it is surely all due to the coronavirus quarantine.  Wants have replaced needs and frivolities have replaced necessity in the service of boredom.

For whatever reason, I have twice recently succumbed to the wiles of blatant consumerism.  The first was when I spied this plastic Zen Flamingo during a grocery run for milk and eggs.  I did not ask myself why a large grocery would be selling garden statues in the middle of a pandemic.  I did not ask myself where I would place it in the garden or more importantly WHY I wanted it.  I did not remind myself that I hate fake flamingos in the garden and in the past have poked fun at every pink plastic abomination I've seen.   I simply looked for the price and, of course, found it on sale, marked down to acceptably-priced luxury from its original fictitious retail level.

And then, later, there was this over-adorned solar garden lantern that I came upon while dodging the gauntlet of coronavirus-ridden zombies at Walmart.  I picked it up and put it back thrice before my weakened soul surrendered to its siren song and I came back to my senses as it was being placed into the back of the Jeep.  It is rather unique and a focal point in the garden for those moments when I choose to admire the garden while stumbling around in pitch darkness, but its rechargeable solar nature does not outweigh its garish construction, nor that I suspect it will barely last a season before disintegrating into worthless rust and plastic.  I apologize in advance to the Seventh Generation.

The worst part of these narcissistic indulgences is that my guilt for breaking every self-imposed rule of tasteful garden practice has not yet caught up with the internal endorphin release from their purchases.  Fresh from the damage of late spring freezes and snowfalls, a dispirited gardener has no apparent limit to shame.  I would argue that the garden lantern is, after all, quite pretty in a faux-Vegas-glitter sort of way.  Moreover, the Zen Flamingo makes a fitting partner to my long beloved Totally Zen Frog, don't you think?  Two small echoed passages joining in the symphony of my garden?

Alternatively, I could just own up to a complete collapse of any sense of decent garden style and refinement and place all the blame on COVID-19.  Surely, that sounds much better than "I lost my mind during quarantine."


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