Tuesday, October 6, 2015

God is the better Gardener

On a recent trip to Colorado for my son's wedding (hurrah for he and the new missus!), we took a side trip to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  In truth, I am normally so cynical to the depths of my soul that most natural wonders that wow others often leave me unimpressed and underwhelmed.  For instance, I find the important Kansas landmark, the World's Largest Ball of Twine, to be less than inspiring, especially considering the desecration of it by many local visitors, but Garden of the Gods was different.  For a simple backyard and frontyard gardener, Garden of the Gods is a humbling experience in what a Greater Power can do with the simple forms of rock and earth.  Don't go by Colorado Springs without stopping there.

Garden of the Gods (GOTG from here on out) is a public park funded by Colorado Springs and the proceeds from its own gift shop, but it entirely free if all you want to do is visit and wander the park.  There's a paved drive that you can take if you're just in the mood to pass through, but you can also bike or hike a number of various paths around the park.  If I lived in the area, I believe it would be a constant weekend outing for me.  It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1971.

The rock formations at GOTG were created by an upheaval along a natural fault during the uplift of the Rocky Mountains.  Native Americans considered it a sacred place, unsurprisingly, and the Ute's, in particular, incorporated it into their creation stories.  Early Spanish and other European explorers began visiting the area in the 16th century.  The public park was created when Charles Eliott Perkins donated 480 acres of land containing part of GOTG to the city in 1909, and William Jackson Palmer later donated his Rock Ledge Ranch which contained the remaining formations.

The primarily sedimentary beds of red, pink and white sandstones were eroded during the Pleistocene Ice Age into the present forms, including "Balanced Rock", a fascinating formation that is now,  stabilized in place by concrete lest it move and crush the adoring public around it. Although it is unlikely to topple over without a major earthquake, I was still a bit nervous driving between these two pillars.

 Although the park is free, don't overlook the very excellent Visitor and Nature Center across from the park entrance.  The center contains many well-done and informative displays about the parks formation, ecology, and history and offers some excellent scenic views for family photos.

Of course, being a gardener, one of the things I found most fascinating about the park was the way that life chooses to cling to every small patch of lousy soil that exists in whatever wind-swept cubbyhole it accumulates in.  Whatever your interest, geology, botany, paleontology (the park has its own resident dinosaur species Theiophytalia kerri), or anthropology (Ute petroglyphs are documented in the park), there is something for everyone in GOTG.  Rock climbing is permitted, for those who are crazy enough to test Death on a daily basis, and even the non-exuberant birders will relish the 130 bird species that exist there.   See it, when you can, and prepare to be amazed.  My mother, who shares my hard-to-impress nature, was practically bouncing off the car windows as we rounded each formation to view the next.  That entertainment alone was sufficient reason for a trip to the park, and the natural formations were just icing on the sedimentary cake.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Neglected Grass

To live in blessed harmony on the Kansas prairie, every gardener must, of necessity, learn to grow and appreciate ornamental grasses, and even rose-crazy ProfessorRoush is no exception.  I have long been an ornamental grass devotee and I grow a number of Panicums, and Calamagrostis, and Miscanthus to fluff up my autumn garden.  I have however, until now, been somewhat neglectful of giving full appreciation to Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' as a garden necessity.

I've had this clump of 'Hameln', and one other, for 5 or 6 years, and I never felt that it deserved the accolades it receives from the sales catalogs. Monrovia raves on it, calling it an "attractive grass highlighted by fluffy, buff-colored plums....terrific contrast among shrubs...foliage turns golden-russet."  My experience is more like that of "Chataine" from Rose City Texas.  On davesgarden.com, Chataine wrote "It gets huge--easily 4 feet tall and 5 feet across. It’s a water hog. It self-seeds prodigiously. It grows in ever-widening concentric circles around a dead center. It’s a great hotel for fire ants. It laughed at the grassy weed killer I poured on it. I finally had to dig them all out, and am still recovering from the whole experience."  In the next review on davesgarden, "Kilizod" from MA, put it more bluntly, saying, "I think this grass looks like a weed early in the season."

My clumps were divisions from established clumps at the KSU gardens, gifts gratefully received from the garden director during fall cleanup in the garden.  Admittedly, I give them no extra attention or water, and barely remember some years to throw a little fertilizer on them.  And they responded to such loving care by being fairly unremarkable, a moderately low clump of grass with a few uninteresting fall seedheads.  One clump, in fact, shriveled up in last year's drought and then refused to return this spring.  But this year I finally understood the draw of 'Hameln', or alternatively my 'Hameln' finally decided to quit sulking in the Kansas sun.  Like many of the native prairie grasses, it responded to this year's ample rains by growing to its heralded potential and flowering with unusual abandon.  And I love it. And since the rain nearly drowned out my roses this year, I needed something out there to make up for them.  If it has to be 'Hameln', and not to be roses (get it? "to be or not to be?"  "Hameln?"...chuckle), I guess I can live on that till next year.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I've Stooped So Low

'Carefree Sunshine'
My ongoing battle against Rose Rosette disease, and the annual Kansas summer scorch, has led to a few casualties over the summer, with a corresponding number of empty spots in my garden.   "Beggars," as they say, "can't be choosers," and consequently when a good friend generously offered me several established 'Sunny Knockouts" that she was planning to discard, I decided to take them for filler.  

'Carefree Sunshine'
I already have a 'Carefree Sunshine', or 'RADsun', in my garden, a lone rose placed in my "peony garden" in the shade of an Oak tree.  It survives, barely, and gets absolutely no care including a lack of pruning.  'Carefree Sunshine', for those who know it, was bred by Bill Radler before 1991, and is a light yellow shrub rose with semi-double blooms that form in clusters.  In my garden, it has reached about 3 X 3 feet in size, and it remains there, shaded almost out of existence, but clinging to its square foot of soil without being a nuisance.  It seems to be reasonably resistant to blackspot and is cane hardy throughout most winters here.  I originally planted it to please SHE-WHO-PREFERS-HER-ROSES-NOT-TO-BE-PINK (Mrs. ProfessorRoush), and despite that knock (sic) against this Knock Out cousin, I would like the rose more if it had more petals and shined a little brighter.

'Carefree Sunshine'
'Sunny Knock Out', or 'RADsunny', is a different rose than RADsun, a paler yellow, and single (4-8 petals).  Also bred by Radler, it was introduced by Conard-Pyle in 2008, a yellow addition to the Knock Out rose family.   I chose three plants from my friend, which are now planted in several prominent spots in my garden, spots that I will probably regret if both the roses, and I, survive the winter to come.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate my friend's generosity, I just don't want to admit that I've sunk to such depths of despair.  

I am consoled by the thought that these roses, like many of the Knock Out family, are probably overly susceptible to Rose Rosette and will succumb to that decrepit virus, so that someday I will be as likely to find a Dodo in my garden as a 'Sunny Knockout'.  Just yesterday, dropping my daughter at her apartment, I noticed that one of three fully grown 'Knock Out' roses outside her front steps was badly infected with Rose Rosette and likely to spread to all the others that adorn her entire apartment complex.   Given my usual fortune, my new 'Sunny Knock Out' bushes will likely survive however, and thrive to brighten Mrs. ProfessorRoush's days for years to come, while I loathe their presence every time I pass them.  Such is the plight of the desperate gardener.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sugar Tip Rose (of Sharon)

Wow, ten days since my last post?  Time flies when my attention drifts and life runs quickly.  My wandering affections for the garden were jerked back in line yesterday as I was mowing, however, by a glimpse of this little bush, a beauty shyly screaming for attention against the prairie backdrop.  Stopped the mower short, I did, and jumped off just as quickly to snap an iPhone picture or three.

This is Rose of Sharon 'America Irene Scott', otherwise known in the nursery trade as Sugar Tip®.    I bought her at a big box store this spring as a filler for the center of a new bed.  I was actually a little reluctant to purchase her, not because of cost or condition, but because I rarely like the flower colors that are commercially available with variegated foliage in many species.  One of my many pet peeves (which should be distinguished from the peeved pets that are my patients) is that breeders so often ruin a great flower trying to "improve" it by adding variegated foliage.  I was also afraid that the pink tones of Sugar Tip® would be a bit pale and uninspiring.  I brought her home, nonetheless, hoping that the deer would leave her alone despite her appetizing appearance.

I was, I now think, flat wrong this time to cynically doubt the marketing savvy of the horticultural world.  She's a small bush at the end of her first summer, only 2.5 feet tall and a little more slender, but Hibiscus syriacus Sugar Tip® is blooming her young limbs off, and the double blooms are sufficiently pink to perfectly complement the green and cream foliage.  I can't wait to see her in full bloom at her mature stature of 8 feet X 6 feet.  The petal color is of that demure, embarrassed pink tone best seen in the early spring in roses such as 'Maiden's Blush', otherwise known as 'Cuisse de Nymphe'.   The French should market this variegated Althea as  'Cuisse de Nymphe Dans la Dentelle';  "Thigh of a Nymph in Lace".  Qui, Mon Ami?

'America Irene Scott' was patented (US PP20579 P2) in 2009 by Spring Meadow Nursery Inc.  Hardy to -20F, 'America Irene Scott' was discovered, according to the patent, in a controlled outdoors nursery by Sharon Gerlt of Independence Missouri in 2001 as a natural branch mutation of 'Lady Stanley'.  I was, unfortunately, unable to learn more about Ms. Gerlt or why she named the plant 'America Irene Scott', but The Plant Hunter, a blog by Tim Wood of Spring Meadow Nursery, indicates that Ms. Gerlt may be an "amateur plants-person."   If she is indeed an amateur, she has a great eye for plants.

Please, Lord, make me as lucky in my own garden.


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