Saturday, April 30, 2022

Fun, Disappointment and Home

ProfessorRoush has been away this past week, away from still cold and windy Kansas, to...well, I'll let you guess.  Where, might you guess, have I been this week?

Wormsloe Allée

If you guessed the South, you're correct, and some of you know of the Wormsloe Plantation ruins and its live oak allée.  You perhaps even recognized the statue photographed at the right.   I've been to Savannah Georgia, enjoying a few days traveling to new places with Mrs. ProfessorRoush while at the same time lamenting that I was missing the peak bloom of my lilacs back home.  The statue, for the unknowing, is Bird Girl, a bronze creation of  Sylvia Shaw Judson made famous by the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  At the time the book and the movie were famous it was located in the Bonadventure Cemetery of Savannah, but it is now exhibited in the Telfair Academy, an art museum we visited this week and where I took the photo.

Owens-Thomas garden and Enslaved Persons Quarters
Don't, please, think for a moment that ProfessorRoush is an aesthete, or that I, in fact, have any knowledge of art or appreciation thereof.   Most of art is lost on me other than the thought that I'm looking at a "neat painting."   We ended up at the Telfair Academy by accident, as the ticket is combined with entry to the nearby Owens-Thomas House (garden and enslaved persons quarters pictured above), which we DID want to see.  Although the art museum was lost on me, I did enjoy viewing the Bird Girl and I allowed myself to covet it for a brief moment for my own garden.  

Gardenia jasminoides 'Daisy'
I hoped to visit Savannah at the heart of the garden season, but I must admit I was sadly disappointed in the garden offerings there.   I missed by three days (although tickets sold out last November) the annual charity tour of private home gardens, which was probably spectacular, but the public gardens of Savannah were surprisingly few and far between and nothing to travel for.  The Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) were in bud everywhere, but not yet openly blooming.  There is a small, poorly labeled "Fragrant Garden" in the world-famous Forsyth Park where I took the Gardenia jasminoides photo at the right and enjoyed the vining jasmine and a nice blooming but unlabeled specimen of 'Zephirine Drouhin'.  However, honestly and without the slightest hint of humility, I have to say my Kansas lilacs and garden here rival the best that Savannah could produce for fragrance.  There's no place like home.

I had hoped to finally see, in person, a few Hybrid Noisette roses in their native south, or at least a good display of other roses in a warmer, wetter and kinder environment than Kansas, but I was completely disappointed everywhere we went.   I spied here and there a few barely-surviving English roses and some ugly Drift and Knockout roses.   But even the Savannah Botanical Gardens had a less-than-inspiring collection of a few straggly Hybrid Teas, barely surviving in too much shade.   It was at the SBG that I took the completely appropriate picture at the left.   The label says "Iceberg, Possibly Best Floribunda Ever," and the fact that the actual rose is completely absent here sums up my feelings about 'Iceberg' after I've tried several times to grow that overrated bush unworthy of being called a rose.  

One highlight of the trip, however, was a turn off the main road made on a whim to the Pinckney Island Refuge, which we happened to drive by as we came home from Tybee Island.  There, we saw this rookery of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, socially nesting safe above the alligators waiting below in the pond.  I was tickled by the three fuzzy little egrets sticking their heads up in the lower right corner of the photo.   Click on either photo to blow it up to full size!

Now that I've mentioned both birds and magnolias, I'll close with photographs taken today of my 'Yellow Bird' magnolia, just past its blooming prime, and of my "lilac row", also past prime.  When we left, not a single bud of 'Yellow Bird' had opened, yet six days later I return to find that I almost missed it blooming this year; an unspeakable tragedy narrowly avoided.   Since the wind here has blown in gusts of 30-40 mph all day today after a thunderstorm and tornado watch last night, I expect another day of vacation would have left me missing the show.  If I can't see magnolias in Savannah, at least I've got them here.

'Yellow Bird'


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Finally, Spring

Lilac 'Betsy Ross'
At last, Spring has arrived in Manhattan, Kansas.  It is and was a long-awaited, miss-conceived, desiccated Spring, but I'm declaring Spring nonetheless.  I have to, for if I waited any longer, I'd be in mid-summer and sweltering. This is no longer  a Spring of a few wee annual bulbs now, this is full-blown everything growing Spring.   No spring rains yet, but hopefully the ground will get re-saturated before July steals it all away.   There is plenty of wind blasting past, however, wind that kept me awake all last night and wind that has kept my roof from being repaired for over 3 months since the December gales that lifted a few shingles.   And frosts galore, frosts that ruined my annual celebration with Magnolia stellata and has dampened the impact of purple 'Ann' this year.

'Betsy Ross'
I was struck, two mornings ago, by the morning light and beauty of my awakening back yard.   Color drew me out to take the photograph above, pastels and spring pinks, a cool morning but sufficient to celebrate the collage of spring colors in the back yard; volunteer redbud in the foreground, occasional blush of magnolia in the borders, my red peach in full bloom in the back.   And the houses on the ridgeline south, across the golf course, visible now, but invisible to my inner eye which still sees the bare hilltops I used to see here.

My primary focus this morning is on my lilac line, the end of the garage pad at the house, beloved pink and white 'Annabelle' at the back.   Some are in full bloom, some just partially open and others yet to start, but a mere whiff of air on that side of the house saturates you with lilac and converts every racing thought to a lazy dream.  The "Most Spectacular" award this year goes to Syringa oblata 'Betsy Ross', a  2000 U.S. National Arboretum introduction from the 1970's breeding program of Dr. Donald Egolf.   My 'Betsy Ross', planted in 2013 and photographed this cloudy morning.  She is certainly now well worth the Andrew Jackson photograph I traded for her when she was a small plant.   Perfect white panicles, non-damaged this year by frost, wind or rain, and as fragrant as a bottle of perfume.   I can't ask for more.

It is, in fact Spring outdoors and indoors right now.   This rare (I think) yellow Christmas cactus is now blooming for the third time since November, and the colors are even more rich and deep than it's first bloom.  Fully 80% of my Christmas cacti are still cycling bloom, months and months of delicate color to fill the sunroom.

I leave you, this cloudy morning of Spring, with the last of the daffodils that live in the coldest, darkest, northern exposure of my landscape.   Last to bloom, they are protected there from wind at the least, perfect blooms and cheery faces to remind  me they will be back next year again.   Yes, we've had a few sprinkles this morning to brighten them up, but the ground beneath is bone dry, crying for moisture, for the re-quenching rains that should come with Spring.   Is that still too much to ask for? 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Dabs and Dribbles

'Cole's Red' Quince
Spring, this year, is a fight within our witness, a struggle by life to leave behind the cold winds of February and March and move to sunlight.   There has been no knockout blow, no sudden blitzkrieg of either heat or snow to change the fortunes of garden and man, but the to and fro, the feint and parry, of the seasons continues with no easy end in sight.   We will not see spring, I fear this year, in broad strokes of pastel color, but in dabs and dribbles, slowly meting out its glory in smaller packets of pleasure.

'Betsy Ross'
It is both dry and cool now, continuing the pattern of past weeks and it seems, promising the weather for weeks to come.   The sky has not provided enough moisture to yet ignite the irrepressible forces of life, nor has the sunshine been overly generous with its sustaining energy.   It benefits me little to blame the cheerful weatherpersons for the slow strides towards summer, nor do I deign to fret over the millions proclaimed to be in severe weather danger each day, not while I'd happily risk bad storms to quench the thirst of the ground.  I wait instead, patiently, for these pictured buds to open and clothe the garden and world with beauty.

The quince alone is fully open and meeting my lust for rusts and reds, Chaenomeles japonica ‘Coles Red’ in this instance, pictured at the top.   I appreciate quince but it struggles here, the prairie a smidge drier than it likes, the winters and deer a little harsh for its full comfort.  Stronger for us are the lilacs, but they are still biding time this year, afraid perhaps to fully commit lest a late snow or freeze catches them in full exposed blossom.  It would not, of course, be the first time I've seen snow on lilac panicles.  Naked and afraid, 'Betsy Ross', above, and 'Annabelle', here, are providing only a glimpse still of the promising maidens they could become.  One night in the next 10 is presently predicted to be below freezing, so I am content in this instance to indulge their teasing and patiently await their full exhibition.
In similar fashion, the red horsechestnut leaves remain tightly furled, the rough, prehistoric texture safe from frost and marauding deer, and my beloved red peach is mightily trying, but failing, to become a beacon of spring for the neighbors.   It is covered, as you see below, in buds, but yet to glow, the cloudy skies and brisk winds battling against its nature, its reason for survival, those buds to become seeds, those seeds to be trees.

Red Peach
And so, I wait here, still wait this Easter, for the annual rebirth, the rebound of the world.  With Easter comes promise, a guarantee of life's return, a revival, not promised this year perhaps in trumpeted herald, but softly spoken in dabs and dribbles.  Regardless, I close singing in full voice along with Sara Evans, her lyrics:  "Hallelujah, a little revival....amen to love."

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Excuse My Untidyness

Finally, finally, finally, a small start to spring.   I found this first Magnolia stellata bloom on April 1st, and today on April 10th the bush is starting to look at least midway to peak bloom.   Late, but luscious, I inhaled all the musky scent this flower could give me as I dreamed of more to come.

You'll have to excuse me for the straggly appearance of this brazen forsythia, in full flower finally today on April 10th.  I have at 5 different cultivars of Forsythia out in the garden ('Spring Glory', 'Meadowlark', 'Show Off', an unknown gift shrub, and several 'Golden Tines') and this single 'Golden Tines' is the only one to bloom with any show this year.  Why this one?   The others are straggly at best, almost barren at worst, so thank God for this front and center golden jewel.    Yes, I didn't trim it last fall, didn't remove the long shoots of late summer, for I planned to bring those inside and force bloom this spring.   Obviously, the cold and winter doldrums kept me from following through on that well-intentioned plan.   And I'm ashamed of the unclean bed around the forsythia;  I just haven't gotten even the front landscape bed ready yet for spring.

While I do hope for a bold yellow forsythia bloom each spring, I'm never surprised when the "pink forsythia", Abeliophyllum  distichum ‘Roseum’ blooms only sparsely and briefly,  This year it lived down to my expectations, barely attempting any blooms and showing none of its usual pink blush, white fragility in the flesh.  I've had this shrub for 13 years, so it is hardy here, but certainly not vigorous and it hardly provides any show, early bloomer that it is.   It was already at peak bloom here, on April 1st this year, and already nearly barren as it yields to the rest of the garden.  Sweetly scented if you get close, Abeliophyllum is a distraction for me, the earliest shrub to flower and the only one until the M. stellata gets going.  I keep it for that reason, something for my soul to grasp onto as I desperately wait spring.

Despite my earlier whining, my Puschkinia finally did bloom, shown here in a front bed near the edge where it begs you to bend over and look closer.  Alongside the Scilla, it raises my spirts for a few weeks as I drive home for work each day, right by the garage pad where it can catch my glimpse and welcome me home.

Closeup 'Abeliophyllum distichum'
Outside today, it's warm at least, climbing about 70ºF, but yet I'm not outside clearing beds or doing useful work.   The wind, a southern wind, is moving along at a brisk 20mph pace and I just don't feel like fighting it with every step I take.   No, I'll stay mostly inside today, waiting fitfully for the lilacs and redbuds to begin the real spring season.   My redbuds are slowly showing some color in their buds, but they are reluctant to join in yet to the seasonal celebration.  For reference, in my seasonal notes going back to 2004, the daffodils and Puschkinia were behind this year, while the redbuds are even with some years, behind others, but only in the very cold spring of 2008 did they definitely bloom later than this year.   So, I'd say that we are late, but catching up.   Too slowly, however, for my taste.  My father always says it won't be spring until Easter and with the late Easter this year, once again, he's right on target.


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