Sunday, June 27, 2021

2021 Manhattan EMG Garden Tour

ProfessorRoush seems to have slipped comfortably back into his continuing role as the unofficial photographer of the Extension Master Gardener's Manhattan Area Garden tour, albeit with a break during the skipped tour last year due to the pandemic cancellation of the Tour.  I won't comment here on the folly of canceling a GARDEN tour in a time when more of the population would have attended then ever, but that's all rain clouds and opportunities missed. 

Most importantly, I had planned to share in this blog what I thought were the 6 best photos from this year's tour, however, as usual, I'm failing miserably.   It's fairly easy, among 609 photos taken in 4 hours today, for me to weed out all the pictures with identifiable people in them since I shouldn't/can't post people without permission.  And my best intentions to catch a bee in the act of nefarious nectar collection went awry several times today; it was cloudy for most of the tour and the camera shutter speed just wasn't up to catching them as a still life.

It is more difficult than I anticipated to choose the best from the 50 or so daylily pictures and the various vignettes of gnomes and garden ornaments and from the delightful plant arrangements that were everywhere.  Ego aside, many of the pictures are quite good, despite the overcast and early start to the day.  My goal of  posting six photos became a battle to narrow down from 50, and then from 20, until I settled on these 8.   Well, on these 9 if you count the last wanna-be.  Who, anyway, could resist this bronze heron sculpture at the K-State Gardens in the middle of the created wetlands? 

Every photo here is unedited, just as I took them.  Normally I would have cropped them for the blog, maybe removing some of the blurred green space at the top of the picture of the fancy echinacea at the left, and perhaps reducing their size, but I thought you'd like them in all their vivid detail.  Point and click if you want to see them larger.  I apologize, in advance, for the multi-megabyte nature of this blog entry, but most these days don't have the limitations we used to have on download speed, do they?  I hope not.

Trains seemed to be the "thing" for the day and model railroads were laid out at two of the 6 gardens on the tour.  ProfessorRoush perhaps didn't fully appreciate their contribution to the garden, but the many children on the tour certainly enjoyed them.   I just kept thinking, "Okay, that's cute, but after a few times around the track, what would I do with it then?"   To each, their own tracks, I suppose.

With the garden tour a few weeks later in the year than normal, the daylilies were blooming everywhere.   I thought the prettiest daylily photograph that I took was of the pair shown at the top of this blog, but for a single entry, this yellow and purple-eyed daylily was too perfect to ignore.  

There was plenty of wildlife in the gardens today, with one garden featuring a box turtle enclosure with a half-dozen unfortunately photo-shy turtles.  I couldn't share the picture of one owner calling to her turtle, and a soundless still photo wouldn't do the moment justice anyway, but I can share these two sister felines who were intently hunting and torturing a vole in a garden.   Their actions seemed to dismay the garden owner, but then, cats will be cats, won't they?

I loved this quiet pathway fork, lit by the Japanese Maple on one side and shadowed by the 'Forest Pansy' redbud that hung above it all.  I was quite captivated by the light coming through the multi-colored leaves of 'Forest Pansy' and so the tour will cost me in real monetary terms since I'll have to seek one out now.  This was a hard area to catch without people walking through it, but thankfully, if you can identify the legs of the two ladies taking the fork on the right, then you're far more observant, or intimately knowledgeable of these ladies, than I am.

I'll close with this almost-picture of the Monarch butterfly on milkweed.   When the Monarch landed within reach of my lens, fluttering it's wings as it settled for a snack, I was adamantly sure I was about to get the perfect photo for the day, the crowning jewel of my efforts.  For a brief instant, I was still, waiting for this beauty to open its wings so I could capture that instant of miracle, of life and ecology in a single picture.  And then a nearby bumblebee came in like a Stuka dive bomber and the butterfly was gone, beyond my reach,
before my reflexes could trigger the shutter.   Such are the disappointments that come hand-in-hand with these many glorious photos.  Maybe next year.  Or the year after.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Earth's Bounty, Garden's Beauty

ProfessorRoush hasn't blogged, he knows, for quite a while during this busy June, but while the blog may suffer, the garden is never far from my mind.  Nearly every morning and evening I'm there, watering or worrying, watching and waiting.   Watering the new plants, and sometimes old, as we settle in to a very dry summer.   Worrying about that struggling new Rugosa hybrid and watching diligently for the first Japanese Beetles.  Waiting for the daylilies to bloom, for the rain to come, and for the heat to break.

It's been hot, friends, hot like late July, far too early now in June to see the ground crack and the forsythia wilt.  And a month since significant rain, a drizzle here or there, dried on the cement before I can don my shoes.  I water strawberries and tomatoes, petunias and pots on regular rotation, pouring hope onto the soil carried gallon by gallon from the house to the garden.  But nothing grows at temperatures over  100ºF.  Tomatoes don't bloom, daylilies drop buds, and the roses, oh the roses, pout like the garden prima donnas they are.  The garden is static, in summer stasis, waiting on cool September to save it.

Still, there is beauty in the garden, and bounty to find.  Some plants, like the Prickly Poppy (Argemone polyanthemos) at the right, defy the heat, producing these impossibly delicate blossoms in defiance of the searing sun, the poppies of heaven, set down on earth.  Here is the beauty for me to behold, a wild weed given a home for my pleasure and a grocery for the ungainly bumblebees wallowing in the petals.  That bumble in the top photo, a plump glutton of industry, is surely going to please his friends, bearing baskets of pollen to feed the hive.  The luscious blackberries in the second photo, they're for me, first, and then perhaps Mrs. ProfessorRoush if any of the purple pleasures survive the walk to the house.  It's a dicey thing, showing up at the house with stained empty hands, purple mouth, and a smile, one's life spared only by inches and whim.  But that the photo of the blackberries makes you want to reach into it and fill your hands, doesn't it?  Imagine how good they were out in the garden, fresh off the bramble, warm and juicy, the taste of sunshine in every drupe.   Any just jury would stay my execution on the promise of a future handful.

There is, too, in the garden at many corners, feasts for the soul, saving sights for sun-seared eyes.   My gentleman rabbit comes calling, a cheerful lily over a concrete shoulder.   Blanc Double de Coubert, jealous of the angelic pristine poppy, attempts a second bloom cycle, not quite as white, but more fragrant and visible against the dark green foliage.  Panicled hydrangeas begin to bloom, Russian sage forms a mound of airy blue, and everywhere grasses stretch to the sky.  

Blood-red Asiatic lilies have budded and bloomed, giving way now to Orientals and Orientpets.  And yet, I wait still on the daylilies, the main event of the Kansas summer, aliens become dominant in an unforgiving landscape, every view become a fleeting festival of color, a riot of shapes and sizes.  They're beginning to pop up now, a yellow note here, a purple there, a symphony sure to come as summer has arrived.   

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Lavender Days and Rabbit Plagues

Yesterday was Garden Day in ProfessorRoush's world; a full hot day in the sun to relish the feel of sweat and sore muscles and honest labor.  I cleaned the garage and weeded and watered and mowed and trimmed and mulched and took a break to help a friend load some estate sale dressers and just generally spuddled around from morning to supper.  I stayed hydrated and didn't mind the heat at all.   And yes, "spuddled" is a word, my new favorite word, an obsolete southwest English word according to Wiktionary, that means "to make a lot of fuss about trivial things, as if they were important."   Removing that extra-long holly branch from the path, throwing away old baling strings that I saved for when I needed them (which is never), and combining partial bottles of Grass-B-Gone spray, all of those and more were spuddling at its best.  

I did take time to admire my short row of lavender however, a 10 foot row of several varieties that thrive in the full sun of a raised limestone-edged bed.  They take absolutely no care or thought from me; every winter they stand stiff and brittle, dead from tip to bottom, and then all those dead stems come alive in June and produce luscious light blue flowers with that awesome scent of savory sugar clear through the heat of July.  The bees are flocking to the lavender (photo at left) in masses these days, feasting on the tiny bits of pollen clinging to each flower.  The iron chicken that stands among them finally looks like it belongs, a hen among a lavender forest.

This morning, I was quickly reminded how lucky I am to have a garden at all, a triumph in the face of furry pestilence that seems more prevalent this year.  I knew that there were rabbits about, an occasional admiration for the tiny bunny living in the front garden or a glimpse of the far-off larger bunny in the grass near the lower garden, but I had not realized the sheer numbers of the horde that has descended here.  Looking out the window at breakfast, I spied this lone brave lagomorph in the freshly cut lawn, but after watching a few moments longer, I realized this bunny wasn't a bachelor, but a trio, all within a few feet.  Can you spot them?

In the photo at the left, I've blown them up and added arrows to help you find the half-hidden one behind the iris at the bottom and the long ears of the one hidden in the prairie grass above.   None of these three are the baby bunny that I know lives in the front.   And now I'm wondering what kind of idiot ProfessorRoush is, because it probably is not one, but several baby bunnies in front too.   What exactly am I running, a garden or a feeding farm for rodents?

Thankfully, the rabbits don't bother the lavender, and, truthfully, I seldom recognize any bunny damage beyond some nibbling on the first few daylily shoots that venture out in Spring.  They may be out there plotting to kill off my favorite baby roses, but it's more likely that I benefit from all rabbit manure than they damage something important.  I won't begrudge them their short brutal and timid lives, because I know the coyotes and snakes will clean up the garden before winter.  It's a simple fact of gardening life; where there is a garden, there are rabbits, and where there are rabbits, there are predators, be them wild or man.  Or wild professors.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Plant Pets and Plant Zoos

'Hope for Humanity'
I was stunned speechless, stopped instantly in my tracks last week, by a random statement in a column by Ann Wareham.  In the column, Ann, a British garden writer, was pushing back against the societal pressure to change our gardens into more ecologically-sound, "pollinator friendly," "sustainable," "drought resistant" or "rain" gardens.   Ann threw the following statement in an early paragraph as one of the many reasons why it is difficult to start a new garden:  "Given that most people treat plants like pets and are reluctant to kill any apart from those rather arbitrarily defined as ‘weeds’, it is truly hard to imagine how any of these clean slate, ethically sound gardens are supposed to emerge."

People treat plants like pets!  Of course!  ProfessorRoush treats plants like pets!   I nurture them, I feed them, and I water them; I'm thrilled when they grow and perform well and I'm disappointed when they crap in their beds.  An epiphany, like so many others, right before my eyes the entire time.   Here I am, veterinarian and gardener for a lifetime, and I've never realized that so, so many of my plants are pets.  The rose, 'Hope for Humanity', pictured above and at left, blooming so perfectly red and bountiful, is a favorite of my treasured plant pets.   So is the 'Blizzard' mockorange below, covered in white and perfuming the garden.  And the fringed and crazy 'Pink Spritzer' peony, a wild Klehm creation, seen at the feet of the mockorange and in the closeup at the bottom of this blog.  Inside the house, a collection of different Schlumbergera and a few pet orchids make up the indoor garden.

'Blizzard' Mockorange
In fact, as I take my new pet-colored vision further, I now realize that I don't have a garden, I have a zoo.  ProfessorRoush's garden isn't about having just a few treasured and well-cared for companions, it's about collecting the uncommon or unusually beautiful, a thousand individual specimens to draw my attention and time.  There are few repeating plants in my garden; repeating families or genus's perhaps, but few cultivars that I divide and spread in repeating waves.   A few daylilies perhaps, particularly vigorous and worthy, and the rampantly suckering 'Dwarf Pavement' rose have multiple locations in my garden, but where some have a single viburnum, I have 6 or 8, all different species and versions.   How many different peonies or daylilies or roses do I really have?   I've lost count. 

'Pink Spritzer'
ProfessorRoush's Garden Menagerie.   Come take a horticultural safari with me, my friends, as we stroll in the evening around the garden.  Knautia macedonia has made the front bed a burgundy pincushion, soon ready to pass the torch on to Orientpet (notice the group name?) lilies.   Roses are fading from their first flush of flowers and peonies are dropping petals everywhere in the back garden, while the daylily buds stretch towards the sky, soon to dominate the scene.  Three different Mockorange's are in bloom now, in three different beds, and the Russian sage and the Persicaria polymorpha are demanding attention from viewers.  Grasses and sedges aim for fall, biding time and withholding flowers until the heat of August forces them out.

Plants as pets.   Gardens as menageries.  Maybe not so socially-conscious, but satisfying and educational at every turn.   That's my style.


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