Milk and beards

We had a few mild days with little wind between storms this week, so I made a trip out to the nature center to see what was happening there. The answer is, not much. It demonstrated once again that, of all the fifty states, Kansas likely has the lowest ratio of native plant species to total area. According to my guidebooks, what few interesting plants there are that grow in the state are concentrated in the eastern corners. Out here in the middle of flatland, there is very little to catch the eye. The milkweed and penstemon were the standouts.

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More yellow

One of this year’s experiments started blooming this week. Mentzelia lindleyi is a hardy annual from California that I seeded outside in early March, along with poppies and Phacelia1. The flowers are about two inches in diameter. They’re supposed to open in the evening and close in the morning, but these have done the opposite — not that I’m complaining. The plants are about a foot tall and probably will grow taller, though I doubt that they’ll reach the three feet that some sources claim. The leaves are long, thin and deeply lobed; they look skeletal, and the plant overall is scrawny. Should you grow it in your garden, I suggest giving it leafier companions.

Mentzelia is a genus of the Loasaceae, a family known for fine flowers and stinging hairs.2 Mentzelias don’t bite, but they do have barbed hairs that can cling to fabric and fur. The stems and leaves feel like sandpaper.

Mentzelia lindleyi is supposed to be heat- and drought-tolerant and bloom for two months3. Summer is nearly here. We’ll see how it does in Kansas.

Four months in four days

Thursday it was March outdoors, chilly, windy and wet. Yesterday it was a much milder April. Today it’s May, warm and breezy. Tomorrow, if the weatherman is right, will be a hot June day.

Despite the meteorological shenanigans, the plants in my garden continue to thrive. The first California poppy opened today. Phacelia campanularia, probably the most intensely blue flower one can easily grow in Kansas, has been blooming for a week now. There’s much more coming soon.

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The purple onion

The Allium christophii I found at Walmart last October are now blooming. The flower heads are supposed to get eight inches in diameter, but these look like they’ll max out at about five. They’ll be followed shortly by another variety of allium, and then peonies and an early lily. The phacelia, poppies and other annuals will start blooming shortly.

My lilac — something I haven’t been able to say since I was fourteen — put on a fine, fragrant show despite years of neglect.

When I lived in Wichita, I didn’t have a proper yard. There was a plot about the size of two postage stamps out front where I could grow a few things, plus a strip maybe eight inches wide along one side of the house. Now I have a quarter-acre lot. Mowing that much grass every week is tedious, but it’s worth it for the buffer zone between me and my neighbors (who are actually mostly nice people). The main garden south of the house alone gives me about four times as much room to work with as I had in Wichita. I’ve also established three small beds on the north and west sides. This year I’m relying on annuals for color, but over time the perennials I’m putting in will establish themselves and take over. In a few years, the gardens will need little maintenance beyond weeding, watering and occasional fertilizing.

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X marks the spot

California poppies have distinctive forked cotyledons, and seedlings look like little green X’s on the ground.

Winter is leaving at last — I hope — and I can finally start rehabilitating the badly neglected quarter-acre on which I now live. Posting will continue to be light as I prune, rake, dig, cuss, plant and dig some more.

There are two garden centers in town. Both are inconveniently distant, and neither has much of what I need. Fortunately, there are a Walmart and a Home Depot within easy reach. I’ve had better luck with them, but it’s still often frustrating. Walmart, for instance, has a surprising good selection of neatly packaged perennials for seemingly excellent prices. I found Eryngium and two kinds of Tricyrtis, neither of which I’ve ever seen in any Wichita store. However, they’re Walmart quality. If the package says it contains three roots, expect two. If it says two, one will be small and the other just a fragment or missing entirely. It’s not entirely a bad deal; these plants typically cost three times as much from online sources, and if they survive, they’ll put on a good show — eventually. But unless you have more patience than money, look elsewhere for your plants.

Catalogued

I recently received the White Flower Farm Spring 2022 Garden Book. As gardening catalogs go, it’s relatively dignified, with a University Roman flag, text that emphasizes accuracy over hyperbole, and no exclamation points. WFF prices are at the high end of the range, but in the past the plants they shipped were of consistently good quality. I might order a few items from them.

Nevertheless, the catalog was disappointing. Years ago the “garden book” was valued as much for the text as for the selections. Written by one Amos Pettingill, it had a degree of personality missing from other catalogs. Although the bulk of the text was devoted to describing the merchandise, he often digressed, as in his discussion of Exbury azaleas.

Lord Lionel Rothschild, a member of the famous banking clan and extremely rich in the days before the Great Depression and World War II, was not only a great banker but a great gardener. He was no dilletante; Lord Rothschild not only worked over every detail in the development of his lovely estate in Exbury, but he also worked diligently on breeding Rhododendron — and Azalea, a very close branch of the Rhododendron family. He spared no money in this huge breeding program, for he had started it late in life and knew it could be successful quickly only through massive expenditures. He once employed 225 men, 75 of them professional gardeners, to care for this estate of 250 acres. By working with tens of thousands of crosses, instead of thousands, Lord Rothschild used his wealth to telescope time…. Money, people are inclined to forget, is a very useful thing — whether we go to the moon or piggy-back a fine strain of plants with it.

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Winter yellows

The unusually mild weather this fall fooled some of the bulbs I planted back in October into sprouting leaves. Some daffodils apparently don’t need winter chilling to bloom. I found the above in my garden this afternoon. There is no such thing as normal Kansas weather, and out-of-season flowers are not unprecedented here. I’ve picked roses as late as a week before Christmas. After the February freeze, we can use a mild winter. Still, it’s odd.

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Five months early

Fall here so far has been mild and warm. It’s fooled the lilac at the corner of the house into blooming, and some of the bulbs I planted last month have already popped up. There may be some frost this weekend, but otherwise it looks like winter will hold off a little longer.

There is finally some decent fall color around town, the best from maples such as this one near my parish church, below.

There are more pictures here.

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