Sunday, April 16, 2023

Magnolias in Mind

'Ann' Magnolia
 ProfessorRoush is trapped indoors once again today, by wind and cold in the boorish 4's; 40 mph wind gusts and 40º temps.  The temperatures are quite a change from the 80º temperatures of the middle of the week, but the wind has been ravaging the countryside all week.  Thank heaven, however, that the cold was accompanied by some welcome rain Friday night and Saturday morning, and the forecast shows more rain coming this week.   Needless to say, it's about time.

'Ann' in the garden
The warm temperatures of the past week, however, made the magnolias suddenly pop.   Feast your eyes on my magnolia harvest for the year, both 'Jane' and 'Ann' going into full bloom almost overnight.  Now if those thick petals can just stand the wind for a few days so I can enjoy them!  'Ann' pictured here first, is the darker pink of the two, while my 'Jane' is a little older, larger, and less vibrant. Particularly in the photos of 'Jane' and 'Yellow Bird', you can appreciate the storms swirling around in the Kansas skies.

'Jane' Magnolia
'Jane' and 'Ann' are two of the so-named "Little Girl" series bred at and released by the National Arboretum.  The vision of Dr. William Kosar and Dr. Francis de Vos, they were were crosses of Magnolia liliiflora and Magnolia stellata cultivars and were released into commerce in 1968.  They are cold-hardy to -30ºF and were flower about 2 weeks after Magnolia stellata, giving northern american gardeners a chance to enjoy some of the fragrance and beauty that the south takes for granted.  They also are said to tolerate "heavy clay soils and dry areas", so they were seemingly tailored for my Kansas environment.    


'Jane' in the garden
I first wrote "fragrance and grace" in the sentence above, but upon further thought, "grace" hardly describes the thickness and weight of the magnolia petals.  The fragrance of most cultivars, also, is less than graceful and more like being hit with a sledge; hardly subtle at it's best moments but I am happy to get lost in it every spring, overdosing on the sweetness that is so strong it's like inhaling honey.

'Yellow Bird'
There were actually 8 "Little Girls", but I never see 'Betty', 'Judy', 'Randy', 'Ricki', 'Susan', or 'Pinkie' offered for sale.   As much as I enjoy and appreciate 'Ann' and 'Jane', I should search out the others.  'Betty' seems to be the darkest pink-red, and 'Pinkie' almost white, but the images of the others are almost indistinguishable to me.

'Yellow bird'
And out there in the garden, just beginning to bloom, is my beloved 'Yellow Bird' Magnolia.   Normally about two weeks later than my other magnolias, 'Yellow Bird' is opening at a slower pace, but it also was stirred into action by the warm winds.  It normally opens it's blooms aloneside it's foliage, but this year the flowers seem to be in more of a hurry than their green backdrops.  And the first few are a little frost-damaged or rain-damaged, or something.  Ah well, they are still so perfectly, so lightly, yellow that I can hardly breathe in their presence. 

P.S.  In the "Jane in the garden"  and "Yellow Bird in the garden photos, the blurring of the backdrop was a happy accident, created by placing my iPhone camera in Portrait mode and then selecting "Stage Light" as the lighting filter.   Pretty neat, eh? 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Pack Rat Purgatory

(fair warning;  long and lots of pictures and links to previous blogs)

If there is a Hell, ProfessorRoush is convinced that it is populated primarily by pack rats, and somehow I must have gone on into the afterlife, because I am living right in the midst of it, a pack rat purgatory.  I know, I know, my war on these little furry demons is a recurrent theme on this blog, but this is serious, this is Armageddon with rats riding the 4 horses.   You all know that I nearly lost my farm tractor to the fiends, that I've burned out a juniper and a spruce and eliminated an entire hedge of boxwoods in major tactical moves, that my 'Red Cascade' was overrun by the vermin in one skirmish, that I've created an alliance with local rat predators in a failed attempt at pack rat genocide, and that, at times, the evil hellions even attempt to invade the house and porch.   Heck, I have had to cement the base of every downspout where it meets the drainage tubes because the little monsters were chewing into the plastic drains and ruining the runoff from the house!

A couple of years ago, I even allowed myself to dream that I was winning the war, but I either let my guard down recently or the malignant spirits of my garden have simply outflanked me.  It all started last fall when I noticed that my wire tower of Sweet Autumn Clematis, so beautiful in its youth, was looking, pardon the pun, a little ratty (top right).  It was evident that the pack rats had built a nest in it, hidden by the vining clematis and the wire, and had established a beachhead in my back yard again.   I resolved initially to deal with it this spring, plotting to burn out the nest at the time of our spring burns.

But I had not anticipated the damage they've caused this winter.   Just look, above left, at the damage the little bas@#$ds caused to the Juddii viburnum next door.   And look close, here, at the tunnel leading underneath the clematis tower, doubtless to an underground condominium filled with rat feces and urine and young vermin.

At the same time, last fall and all winter, small piles of rat turds began building up each week just to the right of the front door on the porch. It was definitely an "in your face" move if ever I saw one.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush and I were disgusted and angered. We tried traps and killed several, I have rat poison out everywhere, and I was spraying commercial rodent repellants in the area by the gallon.   And still the turds came, deposited at night, silently and blatantly right near the welcome mat.

As the past two days and one day last weekend were nice enough to work in the garden, I've been outside, clearing and cleaning the garden, planning a nice summer with flowers and calm.  Here, in a gentle scene, is the walkway leading to the front door, flanked by two 'MoonShadow' euonymus that I really adore.  Isn't it lovely, even before the growth flush of spring?

That euonymus on the left?   Here's a closeup.  Another new pack rat condominium, right under my nose and in one of my favorite evergreens!  Now I know where the rats were living!

Worse yet, this hole you see at the left  is just to the left of the last two stairs into the house, just a few feet from the rodent bathroom area and 6 feet the other direction from the euonymus.   You can't see it, but the hole leads right into the drainage tube from the downspout cemented into the stairs.   They not only created a tunnel from their house to mine, they connected the tunnel to the downspout, their own Autobahn in my front garden! 

The last thing I did today was tear apart the rat home in my euonymus, fill the rat hole with a plug and then soil (dumping a few cubes of rat poison in first), and then I doused everything with the rodent repellent and I added a special brew of my own that has been effective in repelling deer.   If they're going to pee on my house, then I believe I have the right to pee on theirs.   I feel that I'll win this round, but I'm reacting defensively and likely losing the war, like the Spartans against the Persians at Thermopylae, or, more recently, Ukraine against Russia.  I need to think about offense.   Miniature intelligent robots, or an army of hyperaggressive terriers, something has to work, doesn't it?

I will never surrender.  This is only a setback.  Keep telling yourself that, ProfessorRoush.....

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Minor Miracles

It is, in fact, still a world where miracles can occur, as Spring has finally begun here in the Kansas Flint Hills.   A very late, dry, and windy spring, but still, I'll take it.   Yesterday, ProfessorRoush inhaled his first ever-so-faint fragrance of this Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata), which finally began to bloom only 3 days ago and which is not wasting a moment of our temporary warm spell.   No redbuds, no forsythia, no other life out there in the garden yet, but where there are magnolias, there is spring.  

How late is it?  Well, this Magnolia stellata is two weeks behind 2015 and 2010, and almost a month behind 2016. On the other hand, it's about 4 days ahead of last  year so I suppose I should count it as a blessing.  At this point however, I don't care that its behind, I just want warm days this week to draw out that deep musky fragrance so that I can overdose while I putter in the garden proper.  And warm days to bring on the rest of spring. 

The Puschkinia have joined in at last.  The short white and blue flowers are one of Mrs. ProfessorRoush's favorites, so I'm adding this picture to send some love her way.   The poor woman is on extended grandmother duty this month, in Alaska, tending to our 1 and 5 year old grandsons and feeding chickens through 2 feet of snow and the under threat from moose that frequents my son and daughter-in-laws backyard.  Pray for her since she will miss spring in the Flint Hills completely this year.  Heck, perhaps pray for Alaska, which may never again be the same.

I witnessed a second miracle yesterday, as I shopped the local Home Depot to see what poor decrepit boxed roses they had shipped in.   No April Fool joke, I was surprised to find these badly-paraffined and undoubtedly rootless shrubs in stock there, terrible specimens, but important genetic varieties if I can nurse them into health.   Among all the doomed hybrid teas and floribundas were a few precious (to me) Canadian roses, 'Rugelda' and, low and behold, a 'Roseraie de l'Hay rugosa'!   Commercial big-box rose offerings are so strange in these days of post-Knock Out hysteria!    So I left with the rugosa, two 'Hope for Humanity', two of the aforementioned 'Rugelda', a 'John Cabot', a 'Morden Sunrise', and a 'Zephirine Drouhin', ten roses all destined to fill in some spots from my Rose Rosette losses.   I also spotted, for those interested, 'Morden Blush' and a Buck rose, 'Prairie Princess'.   So if you run quickly to your local Home Depot and if you know what you are looking for, you may get lucky.  Leave the hybrid teas and junk for the unwashed masses, but grab up those Canadian roses while you can!

P.S. Almost forgot, Home Depot also had 'Therese Bugnet'!!!   I left them for you since I have plenty!


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