Field of Science

How can you trust non-gardeners?


Can you trust someone who has never gardened or even grown a plant?  It takes a certain amount of mental and emotional maturity to appreciate something as subtle as a plant (which one colleague suggests explains some zoologists), and it takes a good deal of patience and care to nurture a seed into a plant that flowers and eventually produces fruit.  It is no surprise to many of us that there is nothing quite like a garden-ripened, sun-warmed, fresh-picked tomato.  Tomatoes from most groceries, and those served in your average restaurant, are merely similar in color and shape.  How many of our politicians, largely rich, urban folk, would know a good tomato if they ate one?  In addition, some of them, being mostly lawyerly, might even argue that good in this context doesn’t matter.  But it does because it says a great deal about their values and discernment of subtleties!  A really good tomato is something the little person can have, can grow, for themselves, something better than the 1% have, something the 1% don't even know about.  So why trust someone who can’t accept even such a simple truth as a ripe tomato?  Could our current president even recognize a tomato plant?  Does he even eat tomatoes that have not been turned into ketchup?  So why trust this guy with any of the many more important decisions that need to be made?  TPP hazards to say that gardeners are a largely ignored demographic, and gardeners should rise up and oppose putting such ignorant people into office.  Perhaps a gardening quiz can be administered to test for fitness to hold office and make wise decisions about things that really matter, like when things need pruning (sorry Chauncey, Being There). What’s the best tomato you’ve ever eaten?  How do you grow nice lettuce? It matters; now answer the question!

Friday Fabulous Flower - Peony Peony

A front rolled in this AM early announced by thunderstorms and an alarmed cat alarm (scared of thunder). So after nearly a week of quite warm weather, it seems quite cold outside (50-ish), but we got an inch of much needed rain.
So very good thing TPP took this picture of a new peony taken in trade for something else.  It took the division a couple of years to get going, and then adjust to a new location that made it very happy. Voila!  The plant is fairly tall and stands up straight, a bit unusual for herbaceous peonies, although this one is assisted by a wire cage.
Not sure what variety of peony this is; the flowers are the anemone-type of double where stamens are transformed into staminodes that have petalloid colors. Not at all natural but quite attractive.  It's only about 4 feet from the Aachen Elf iris from yesterday. 

Elfine Iris

Mrs. Phactor likes Iris, and while she exercises considerable patience in their cuture, she appreciates a good Iris as much as the next person. In this instance "good" means easy to grow, reasonably trouble free, floriferous, and attractive.  This is a dwarfish variety that fills the bill and it's variety is named Achen elf.  No idea what it means, but it has a home, several actually, in our gardens. This is a clump growing along the sidewalk of our front gardens, a semi-tough place to grow, and it looks very good this spring.  It has a bit of an old timey quality to the color combination.

On the primacy of doubt in an age of illusory certainty

While reading the news, TPP noted that it is rumored that the President will appoint a non-scientist, someone wholly without scientific credentials to be under secretary of the dept. of agriculture and in charge of a great deal of research.  Nothing good ever comes of such appointments.  The title above comes from a blog recently posted by a fellow Field of Science Blogger at the Curious Wavefunction and for a short time it probably appears at the top of this page.
Many people fail to understand science: some thinking  it's just a body of knowledge with no notion that science is really a way of knowing where being skeptical is a useful and necessary attitude.  TPP studies, when time and money allow, rainforest trees, and he well remembers a Lincolnland legislator wonder aloud what good that did the other citizens of our state. Of course, there's the interconnectedness of nature, which tends to pay very little attention to our semi-arbitrary political boundaries. Basically this was interesting research, poking into the unknown, satisfying a primal urge to explore and exercise a curiosity, and that kept you going, kept you at a difficult pursuit, and it grabbed the attention and stimulated a certain number of students to learn science the only way it can be taught, by doing science, and that is what TPP was hired to do. Not "train students for the workforce of Lincolnland", a dreary prospect of a goal for a university.  Not educate, but train. Sit. Speak. Roll over.  So pop over and give Ash's blog a read. 

Avoiding the unpleasant

It's human nature, so we all do it.  And a steady diet of unpleasantness begins to depress TPP.  In terms of nature, 2017 has been great, a good spring. But the news, mostly from Washington DC has been most depressing. How does somebody so remarkably unqualified in so many ways become president? The answer itself is also depressing; it means qualifications don't mean a damn, and the 'Mercan public is poorly prepared to evaluate candidates using the various forums provided.  Presently our duly elected President is doing his best to demonstrate how poorly qualified he is and in so many ways to occupy a position of power and responsibility.  All these demonstrations connect back to his peculiar narcissistic personality, his lazy, untrained intellect, and his history as a privileged rich person.  And even more depressing, his term has another 3.5 years to go! TPP takes small pleasure in the most obvious fact, which is having the office which he coveted does not seem to giving our President great satisfaction because the job is much harder, much different, than he thought, and his gaffes provide everyone with opportunities to criticize his performance, something someone so thin-skinned doesn't like. Our President actually generally predicted that many such errors would take place, but not by himself, but by his opponents.  To bad he is incapable of learning from his own criticisms.  So sorry world, we knew his budget stuff would be bad, we knew his healthcare stuff would be bad, we knew his administrative style would be bad, but that was before his foreign policy and diplomacy kicked into gear. So many potential disasters and all in a little more than 100 days!  And sane people keep asking, how bad could it get? 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Oyama magnolia


Is there anything better than having a cool magnolia flower in your garden?  Magnolia sieboldii, Oyama magnolia, is pretty near its cold hardiness limit here in the upper Midwest, and worse, it doesn't handle late frosts or freezes very well, so this year TPP was expecting the worst from a not so late freeze, but earlier warm weather had pushed bud development along.  Still things turned out well. This year its flower buds survived unharmed and the result is quite nice, especially as it flowers later than most of the magnolias. Our plant is fairly young, planted in 2013, and it's basically a shrub having been frozen back a couple of times. The flower buds end up looking almost like  hard-boiled, shelled eggs hanging from the end of a branch or twig. The tepals are quite white, and the pendant flower has a cup-like shape, so look up.  Inside the flower sports a helix of red anthers.  Appropriately ours is located in a Japanese garden bed with lots of other Asian species.  Dr. Chips has a nice one in his yard if you happen by his place, and there is a nice specimen at the Morris Arboretum that usually flowers for Mother's Day.

Pretty prairie perks

Conducting prairie research does have a few perks.  It's still pretty early out on the prairie, and not too much is going on in terms of flowering, but the prairie does have a few spring ephemerals, plants that sprout early and flower before the canopy closes over them. In this case the canopy is only about 2 meters, but if you only have a rosette of leaves, that's plenty tall. These shooting stars, Dodecatheon meadia (Primrose family), are among everyone's favorite plants because of their nifty looking flowers that can range across quite an range of colors from almost white to quite fuchsia. This is one of the densest patches TPP knows. 

Another plant that favors patches is the wild hyacinth, Camassia scilloides (lily family).  Many people never see these because they don't venture out into the prairie until much later in the year. If TPP doesn't get out there just after it has been burned, the permanent plots would never be found (and if truth be told, a few are still missing and that effort is waiting until the semester ends). 

Too busy May and a Cinco de Mayo remembrance

It's Cinco de Mayo, and already the month is shot, and for a retired botanist, TPP is too busy.  The kitchen garden is coming along and lettuce is ready to eat.  Field work is a shambles of weather related disasters.  The rest of our gardens are in pretty good shape, mostly because Mrs. P has a bit more time to work around the estate. As TPP writes this she's digging out one of several large bush clematis, C. heracleifolia.  Who wants a hunk?  A yellow landscape rose waits to take its place. An overly aggressive, under performing fragrant sumac got the ax, so to speak, just a few days ago, and TPP survived a late pruning job on the knock-out roses. Late April and early May have been coldish and very wet, so your actions are limited.  Quite a few people have been by to wander our gardens, when weather permitted. Two late Magnolias remain to flower, the rarest one, an Ashe magnolia, will have just one flower, and it's only a meter tall in it's 2nd season. Hopefully it will appear in this spot soon (a coming attraction). 
Missed May the forth be with you completely. Couldn't get the Kentucky Colonel mint for tomorrow's mint julips and had to settle for mojito mint; counter girl could not under stand the context and importance. And so, behind in everything including blogging.
Here's a brief remembrance: Lastly, but not leastly, May 5th is etched in TPP's memory as the day in-armed anti-war protesters were fired upon by the National Guard at Kent State killing 4 students and wounding several others. So will T-rump tweet about that?  It happened 50 years ago, and that seems impossible, until TPP checks the birthdays.  Students across the nation went out on strike to protest the killings ending the semester and academic year early, and you could not help but be involved.  Our campus still had weeks until the end of the semester, and with graduation and graduate school in the offing, TPP has  to cross picket lines to attend a couple of classes run by holdout professors, it was a tense, difficult time and culminated with an evolution exam that took nine hours to write, a real learning experience when almost no one else had exams at all.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - made in the shade, Neillia


The Phactors' gardens are sun challenged because of all the big trees, so shade gardens it is.  Shade loving ephemerals, don't actually love shade, they deal with it by growing in the brief window of spring sun time before the leafy canopy above closes. Then most of them die down, their season being over.  So then what?  In the search for shade-loving and shade-tolerating shrubs, TPP discovered Neillia sinensis, Chinese neillia, (KNEEL-lee-ah cy-NEN-sis) at the Missouri Botanical Garden. It was growing at the back of a garden and no one could find the label. However, the flowers had a large tubular hypanthium, and with the double saw-toothed leaves, it was clearly a member of the Rose family. Then it was a not too difficult task to figure out what it was.  Ours loves its shady post, although it takes some space; the shrub is just over 6 feet tall with elegantly arching stems, and it does tend to spread so you either give it a lot of space or continue to spade out the new shoots.  However at the beginning of May these lovely drooping racemes of pink flowers appear that really make this shrub worth having.

May oneth - just a day

Today is May oneth, and truly TPP cannot get worked up about the various causes associated with that date. The weather has been quite awful and both gardening and field work has suffered from the windy, coldish, very rainy weather, yet we got off on the light side, no tornadoes or severe winds, inches of rain, but mostly handled by nature (and it helps living on a rise), and no frosts, freezes, or snow.  But grass and lawn weeds have been growing way too well, war will be waged on certain fronts, when the rains stop.  Reading somewhere that today is Loyalty Day in the US, but when our current president says it, it doesn't mean what he wants it to say.  Of some note, over 150 different plants have flowered in our gardens already.  In particular the flowering dogwoods and azaleas have been great. The yellow tree peonies has just started and so missed getting pounded by heavy rains, and that always makes TPP happy.  So TPP remains loyal to plants, to our best freedoms (sorry, but gun freedoms always seem in infringe upon others), and to clean air and water, real basic freedoms, folks. But the absolute, and totally best thing about today was having fresh rhubarb pie for breakfast.