Sunday, August 29, 2021

Red August

Here in the furnace of August, with the grass dry and crumbling beneath my step, my garden glows red in the hot sunshine, concentrating and sending back the searing rays towards the cloudless skies. While the garden bakes in the heat, some plants thrive and bloom, sneering back their indifference to the heat.  All seem to be either red or white and today, I'll feature the red.  Next week, perhaps the white.  Or another week.  White is always there in the garden, but seldom noticed, isn't it?

'Centennial Spirit'
Always 'Centennial Spirit', pictured above and at left, blooms this time of the year, a crape myrtle that returns reliably in my climate, every year nearly the brightest red in my climate.   Brighter in the sunlight, as in the photo above, this particular shrub has survived two fires this year, for it lives in the garden bed that was caught in this year's spring burn, literally rising from the ashes of April to shine brightly as always, blooming right on time.   I rely on such specimens at this time of year, regular beauties to distract from the general lack of bloom when the heat soars.   And 'Centennial Spirit' never disappoints me.  

I carefully wrote "nearly the brightest red" above because the Canadian rose 'Champlain' never allows itself to be outdone by a plant that only blooms in August.   'Champlain' is nearly always in bloom, a shorter shrub rose than most to be sure, but all the more prolific with its blooms despite its dwarf size.  'Champlain' is blooming its head off right now, defiant to the bleaching rays of the sun, bright red and healthy until it's petals drop.  I have two 'Champlain's now, both survivors of Rose Rosette and both blooming cheerfully every day through the summer.  This photo of 'Champlain' also made me realize that somewhere along the line, Apple must have improved their camera's handling of red tones.  I can't ask for a better red than this from my photos.

'Cherry Dazzle'
Other reds are out there in the garden, less red than 'Champlain' or 'Centennial Spirit' perhaps, but red never-the-less.  'Basye's Purple rose' has had a rough couple of years, losing large canes while gaining others, but its normal deep purple blooms take on a more red tinge in the heat, the yellow stamens struggling to stand in the low humidity.   And then there is another crape myrtle that draws attention from my bedroom window, the very short and red-of-another-mother 'Cherry Dazzle'.   Every year, I worry that it will return from the dry sticks that mark its presence in winter, yet every summer it puffs up and blooms  a more-near, slightly-pinker echo of the larger 'Centennial Spirit' down in the garden.
Basye's Purple Rose

'Midnight Marvel'
I'll leave you, envious no doubt of the red fires in my garden this fall, with this closeup of 'Midnight Marvel', a bright red hibiscus with burgundy foliage that is still blooming a month after it started.   The largest flower in my garden, 'Midnight Marvel' is often the size of a dinner-plate, drawing bees from acres away to feast on this stalk of pollen.  And drawing my eye from across the garden, a "stop sign" planted to make me stop and admire its scarlet beauty.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Flawed Beauty

ProfessorRoush is polling today (or is it trolling?) with a troubling question for my blog readers.  

Gardeners, do you prefer the captured images of beauty in your garden au naturel, or touched up to hide the blemishes and traumas of living?  Should the photographs we bloggers take of our gardens be posted unaltered, or should they be released onto the internet as posed and filtered and airbrushed as Cindy Crawford on the cover of Vogue?  Are we ready for the naked truth of our gardens, for the blatant blemishes of foliage or flower, for the ravages of wind and sun and rain?  Is the Venus de Milo an ageless perfection in marble or merely one more damaged chunk of rock?

Nearly all of the photos that ProfessorRoush posts here are unaltered except for some cropping and for a few taken after I pulled the surrounding forest of weeds  and only then "snapped" the photo (do we still "snap" photos or do we just focus and tap?).   Is pre-pulling the weeds a mortal sin of nondisclosure of the truth of my garden or merely a permissible act of vanity and understandable attempt to avoid embarrassment for my gardening sloth?   I'm facing the question today as I post the nearly perfect combination of white 'David' phlox and the 'Alaska' Shasta daisies displayed in the top photo and the unaltered reality here of the vista at the left.   I took the left photograph before removing the dead and brown spent flowers from the area and posing the top photograph.   Yes, I could have done even better if I had cut the unobtrusive bare stems away, but which is really the better photograph?  Nature in all its raw glory at left or the gussied up and primped "Still Life of White Flowers" at the top?

The broad question vexing me today is so simple in essence but has so many permutations in practice.   The aforementioned Cindy Crawford is a beautiful woman, but famous as well for the flaw in her beauty, the melanocytic nevus we commonly refer to as a beauty mark.   In fact, google "beauty mark" and a picture of Cindy will pop up alongside the listings, an icon for that concept of a minor flaw perfecting the person.   Does that same concept extend to our gardens?   Is the picture at the right of this Knautia macedonica blossom struggling up through the phlox somehow more beautiful than that of the simple and pure virginal white phlox in the photo below?   As garden photographers, do we need to add mouches to our perfect photos to make them yet more perfect?

ProfessorRoush is so full of questions today, eh?  So deeply troubled about photographic nuance and so immersed in disturbing philosophical discourse unbecoming of a cool and sun-lit Saturday morning here in the Flint Hills. I know that many come to this blog for entertainment and answers and yet here I am, the snake bound to ruin Eden and cast you out into uncertainty and unease.  I leave you today only with my questions, a complete dearth of assuring answers, and my hope that this photo of the clean and white 'David' phlox will soothe the disturbance of your soul.     

Friday, August 6, 2021

Spiritual Prairie Union

 "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handywork." Psalm 19:1.  

If a gardener knows any scripture at all, it should be this phrase.  ProfessorRoush has been witness to the wisdom of this Psalm every morning this past two weeks as I drive past a gorgeous heavenly display of two common prairie forbs sharing the same space, purple Western Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii) and white and green Snow-On-The-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata).   There are few times when I see such showy native plants so wild, yet so perfectly sited to contrast and enhance each other that I can only stand and marvel, jealous of the Gardener who arranged them in combination.

Western Ironweed
I took the picture above in the worst possible conditions for photography; sun setting behind the subject, light rain on the horizon, dusk settling into the valleys.   And yet the beauty of the prairie shines forth from this chance clumping, this union of the blooms of August each drawing in their late pollinators, offering last seasonal meals in exchange for stirred chromosomes, the dance of wildflower and insect continued in another year.

Neither of the colorful perennials above are rare on the prairie.   Western Ironweed, so drought tolerant and tall in the heat of summer, is a common pasture weed on the Flint Hills and difficult to eliminate from my garden beds.  This member of the Asteraceae is shunned by cattle for its bitter taste, who thus help it to spread in overgrazed pastures, eliminating its competitors while letting it grow.  Snow-On-The Mountain, a poinsettia relative, is also found here in nearly every disturbed spot of ground, popping up randomly in my garden beds next to grasses and roses, and anywhere else it can find a bit of moisture and sunshine.  In contrast to the ironweed, this euphorbia pulls easily from the ground with bare hands, and although it's bitter, milky sap is said to be as irritating as poison ivy, I seem to be impervious to its toxic nature.

The ubiquity of these wildflowers might suggest that their serendipitous adjacency has occurred by mere statistical chance, but I refuse to tempt disaster by agreeing.  ProfessorRoush, not normally disposed to quote scripture, nonetheless feels here a higher design, a greater Hand in this natural combination.  Maybe you have to be here, at this spot, with the waning sunlight and smell of rain in the air to appreciate this moment.  Better yet the sight is simply spectacular every morning with fresh sunlight and cool breeze and living prairie all around as I drive to work.  All I know for sure is that these two plants, every day, brighten my morning, the gift of living made manifest as my day begins.  And I am thankful for it and for my life shared with the prairie.


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