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.


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