Sunday, August 28, 2022

My Blue Heaven

Gardening is, alas, a long series of regrets, hopes dashed, and dreams dimmed.   ProfessorRoush, for instance, remains Meconopsis-less, the Kansas climate rendering him completely unable to grow the Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopis betonicifolia) he has desired for so long.  My shriveled soul aching only for a blue flower to match the blue sky, of Kansas, I am forever blocked by 100ºF days and arid surroundings from Meconopsis.

There is, however, Morning Glory to partially fill the void, in this case what are possibly now-wild offspring of a 'Heavenly Blue' (Ipomoea tricolor) I once planted, or it may be the Kansas native Ipomoea hederacea who snuck in as a pretender among the seedlings. I kind of lean towards the native species as the actual imposter here, but perhaps solely because I've been watching too much 'Homeland' on Netflix and have spies on my brain.  It's a little garden intrigue that keeps my interest alive in the waning days of summer and I don't wish to spoil it by resorting to botanical identification.  And so I cultivate the mystery alongside the rest of the garden.

Whatever it's true identity, however, these blue blossoms are otherworldly in the early morning, shining from the shade (here at right) and much less audacious in the bright sunlight (below left).   The sky-blue color does match the Kansas sky and it evokes the calm id, the quiet soul of the poet.  All the while draping itself over every other living thing in sight.  At times, it seems tempting to stand still for a moment, and the gardener himself may disappear, finally part of the garden rather than its master.  Watching the hummingbirds visit these flowers, I wonder if I, just once, could become the visited, if only a prop for the interplay of bird and bloom.  

 I know I shouldn't let this vining villain proliferate freely among the daylilies and roses, but here and there, I stay my weeding, allowing small seedlings to become smothering carpets, to smooth the garden structure into an untextured vista of green and blue. The daylilies don't seem to mind, exhausted as they are from their July rush to bloom, and the roses regardless return each spring.  Morning Glory needs no water, it demands no care, it asks only to be allowed to grow wantonly without interference or intervention.   And each August I indulge that request, letting sun and earth bring forth blue, and harvest pleasure in the process.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Waiting for the Grass to Dry

Hemerocallis 'Blue Racer'
This morning, as often happens during the seasons of warm days and cool nights, I'm waiting for the dew to dry from the grass so that I can poorly attempt mowing.  Poorly attempt, I say, because the lawn has barely grown, only a few aggressive weeds sticking their heads above the carpet, and the border edges of the lawn forming seed heads, encouraged by the greater runoff of waste water from the driveway.  I intend only to swing the mower around the edges, leaving the weeds alone until the cooler and wetter days of fall reawakens more general growth. 

Hemerocallis 'Cosmic Struggle'
This day, a beautiful day is promised, coming from a low of 61ºF last night to a temperate high of 85º forecast.  I certainly find no fault with that, beckoned outside by sunlight and calm winds, chased from the indoor shadows by duty and commitment.  Lawn work for ProfessorRoush is a self-imposed obligation to be civil, to join in the continental-wide community of mown yards and tasteful homes.  My lawn is reluctantly mown, its owner a slave to convention and sometimes resentful of it.  The haphazard and naturally-grown flower beds of my garden are for me, a better representation of the inner self, the solitary and less-restrained id.

Hemerocallis 'Rocket Blast'
This week, the colors of the hills and grasses are changing fast; drier, yellower, heading towards their autumn tones and hinting of cooler days to come.   Vegetative growth slows while the frantic formation of fruits feverishly continues and accelerates.  The imperative to complete procreation, to ensure the passage of genes is upon every living thing, the products of sunlight and rain passed to the next generation as darkness falls.

This season, I enjoyed the days of daylilies, the hot colors of summer exploding into view, but as I've often found before, the season's favorites were defined by a certain hue, a new appreciation for some daylily palettes that I've overlooked before.   It seemed this year to be the "wines", the purple-reds, who replaced my previous fascinations with the oranges of last year, or the yellows of the year before, or the reds of three years past.   With some exceptions made, of course, for the occasional fiery orange or pastel perfect bloom whose beauty can't be so easily overlooked in any year.

This year, my garden and I have been easy friends, neither too demanding of the other, the garden accepting the little care I chose to provide and I happy with its parade of beauty, the sequence and progression of growth and species.  A balance and agreement made, I hope, for the future, of societal expectations ignored, and personal wishes granted.   My garden is not Eden, and far from perfect, but it returns the time I give it and I appreciate the gifts it gives me. 
This life, I'm content with, happy each morning and grateful each night for the day and daylilies that have graced me.  It's enough to welcome the rains as they come, to feel the warm sunlight on my skin, to accept love from outside, and to provide care in return. It's enough to see life flourish, from me, around me and within me, as the years go past.   It's enough to be part of it all, a cog in the wheel or a puppeteer of the play, it matters not, it's enough just to be here, present in the day.    

Saturday, August 13, 2022


ProfessorRoush woke up to a quandary this morning, a perplexing puzzle presented to him by the morning sunlight.  To wit, the question was whether he should pull the white-headed weed photographed to the right, or should he leave it be in its self-chosen spot, a fine display of green and white contrasts in the hot summer garden?  There is rarely enough color in a summer garden in Kansas and this single, debatably undesired plant (marked in the picture below by the arrow) is the most noticeable plant in the garden this morning, at least from my bedroom window.  Oh sure, there are a few spots of Russian sage around and a panicle hydrangea or three hanging out in the background, but nothing else so clean and white as this Euphorbia marginata, also known as Snow-On-The-Mountain, although I tend to refer to it as "Snow-In-Summer" before I think and correct myself.

What makes a plant a weed?   Some would say a weed is any plant that is in a place where we don't want it.   Others berate the character, the less-cultured characteristics of the plant or flower.  Always the gentleman, Emerson defined a weed as a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.  Well, I've discovered the virtues of Euphorbia marginata.   It grows practically on every broken piece of ground in the area, and I've often pulled it before, especially when it was smothering or obscuring a plant that I wanted.   However, in certain places, like this spot where I have nothing else growing at present, I  practice tolerance and acceptance, as I've written before, and I will continue to do so in the future.   Snow-On-The Mountain has virtues, and virtues plenty.

Obviously adapted to my climate and thriving in the hottest and driest portions of summer, welcoming E. marginata into my garden is the very definition of minimal gardening.   It's large enough to make a vivid garden display even in a large garden (the books say 12"-40" tall but most here reach 4 feet and sometimes 5 feet).   It's compact, doesn't spread by sucker, well-mannered for its neighbors, flowers for months and it is beautiful in appearance.  Drought-tolerant, insect-free, disease-free and able to stand up to Kansas winds; exactly what else could I ask of it?   Snow-On-The-Mountain is also easy to pull where it's not wanted, the entire root coming up from any ground that isn't so dry as to actually form concrete.

Okay, I will admit that its milky latex-like sap can cause skin irritation in people with less thick hide than mine, but the only irritation I get is the agitation I experience trying to wipe it off my hands onto my jeans.  Cattle won't graze it because of its bitter taste, and it can be poisonous to them when dried as hay, but I have few cattle wandering my garden and, most importantly, deer won't eat this bitter plant either so it's one less plant I have to worry about when the furry rats raid my garden.   It's not edible, its sap may be carcinogenic, and its medicinal uses are few.   Historically it was crushed and made into a liniment and used as an astringent, and to treat leucorrhoea, which involves putting the liniment somewhere that would seem more likely to cause discomfort than healing wouldn't it?  

I'm not personally expecting a bout of leucorrhoea, but since I should always be prepared (even if I wasn't a Boy Scout), and the plant's presence and it's sap doesn't bother me and the deer won't bother it, I'm resolved to leave this clump right where it started, an affirmation of the value of native plants and a positive sign of my evolution as a gardener.   I'll still pull it from my strawberry patch, however!  

Monday, August 8, 2022

Please Don't Eat the Pretty Things

Sorry everyone, ProfessorRoush has been absent from the blog a couple of weeks.  I was deserted by Mrs. ProfessorRoush for the first week after she made some weak excuse about needing to hold grandchildren and then promptly left Bella and I to fend for ourselves.  Last week, missing both her cooking and mere presence, and tired of Bella moping around the house, I tracked Mrs. PR down in the wilds of Alaska, spent a few brief days myself holding the grandchildren while being sick alongside everyone else in the family, and then I dragged her back to Kansas.   

No, we didn't get COVID during 19 hours of travel getting there and another 23 hours returning (and yes, all of us tested negative for the virus), but we did catch what seemed to be a plain old common cold from our germ-growing grandchildren, the traditional route to pneumonia and demise for old folks.  Such is the cycle of life, but my little microbe-factory descendants didn't count on grandpa having a robust immune system bolstered by plenty of sunlight and clean living and I survived to garden again.  

Unfortunately, we spent most of our time in the Alaskan territory either in airplanes or cuddling indoors, my journeys outside limited to one short hike, during which we came across the showy specimen of Amanita muscaria pictured at top, delicious in appearance and full of hallucinogens and toxins too numerous to name.   Potentially deadly but beautiful, the internet tells me that this species is likely safe to nibble on if I wanted a different type of trip, but I'm not tempted in the slightest.  Near the Amanita, I was able to capture the more typical Alaskan lakeshore scene above, just to prove to naysayers that I was certainly out of Kansas.   I was, in fact, hiking in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, on a short trail near the visitor's center. 

In another brief venture outside the plague house, I was quite happy to find a neglected Rugosa growing by the front steps, pictured above, here, and below, undoubtedly 'Scabrosa' and if it wasn't that variety, it's surely a Rugosa worthy of cultivation.  Those deep magenta single blooms are nearly the size of my hand and look at all the healthy deep-green foliage!  Here near a coastline, in cool temperatures, nearly daily rain, and partial shade and a USDA 4A climate, this rose is completely defiant to the elements.   Hardy is as hardy does, or so an Alaskan Forest Gump might say.

Not even the weird insects crawling all over this bloom seem to disturb it, merely, seemingly, just present to carry pollen from flower to flower.  Drawn here, certainly, by the heavy scent of this rugosa or by the enticing color, they are a bit disturbing at first encounter, somewhat revolting to find amid the golden stamens, but they are likely harmless sycophants of the glorious flower.   Heck, I don't blame them a bit for I'm a Rugosa syncophant as well and one that could, shrunk down to the right size, easily get lost in the majesty of a cluster of these blooms.

We returned yesterday, my reluctant empty-armed bride and I, transported from the 60's of Alaska to a 101ºF day of early August in Kansas and, arriving home, were immediately greeted by this spectacular clump of Naked Ladies Surprise Lilies right out front in their full bare-stemmed glory.   It was so hot that I was afraid that Mrs. ProfessorRoush might want to join in their carefree display so I ushered her into the house before she created any kind of neighborhood gossip.  Anyway, now you know what I've been doing these past two weeks, busy from sunup to sundown, from sneezes and sniffles to nose-wipes to naked ladies.   It's been a good two weeks here in my world.


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