"Easy to mix them up!" Kelly Kindscher holds up two cuttings of common prairie plants. On the right is grass-leaved goldenrod. On the left is slender mountain mint

“Easy to mix them up!” Kelly Kindscher holds up two cuttings of common prairie plants. On the right is grass-leaved goldenrod; on the left is slender mountain mint.

“My work is about plants and people.” – Dr. Kelly Kindscher

Kelly Kindscher is a Senior Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey and a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Kansas, where his students call him “Kelly.” Many Kansans know him as “Mr. Prairie.”

A lifelong Kansan, Kindscher is a founder of the Kansas Land Trust, a statewide conservation group, and KU’s Native Medicinal Plant Research Program, which bio-prospects for medicinal compounds in native prairie plants. Somewhere in there, he found time to map coneflower populations in Wyoming; study wetlands in New Mexico; chart the plants in Kansas’ state parks; and publish dozens of papers and two books: Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie (1987) and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie (1992); both published by the University of Kansas Press.

Kindscher propagating native plants in the greenhouse.

Kindscher propagating native plants in the greenhouse.

In 2006, Kindscher and University of Arizona ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan published Renewing the Native Food Traditions of Bison Nation, a manifesto calling for the large-scale restoration of free-ranging bison to large tracts of the Plains, and the renewal of food traditions unique to the region. Immense herds of bison modified the prairie landscape for thousands of years, creating rich habitat for many plants and animals, which in turn provided highly nutritious food for Native Americans–a population now plagued, like much of the nation, with diabetes.

Kindscher knows full well the wealth of the prairie. Thirty years ago he and a friend walked across Kansas, a 70-day trek in blazing summer, tracking the changes in vegetation.

Prairie turnip (Psoralea esculenta), chokecherries, lambsquarter, wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), prickly pear cactus, leek-flavored Yucca blossoms and wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa; “The best prairie mint.”), were once used as food and medicine by Plains natives. Kindscher is powerfully fond of lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), a quinoa relative weedy enough to infuriate gardeners. He cooks big pots of it with olive oil. “I wish more restaurant chefs would catch on to lambsquarter,” he says. “It’s a hearty, flavorful green, a sweeter version of chard, and it grows wild everywhere. It gets a nine out of ten for flavor.

Kindscher in the field.

He also favors the puckery chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), once a dietary staple of Plains tribes, combined with bison jerky to make pemmican, the native American equivalent of a mega-energy bar. In the creek-laced woods are leafy stands of LINK pawpaws (Asimina triloba) with green, oblong fruits with a golden, custardy pulp that mingles tastes of pineapple and banana. “The pawpaw is the only tropically related fruit that has made it this far north,” Kindscher notes. He praises the buffalo currant (Ribes odoratum), especially “Crandall”, a Kansas cultivar prized by rural jelly-makers. “Jelly and preserves are a great way to capture phytonutrients,” he adds.

The wild prairie is abundant in edible roots, bulbs and tubers rich in complex carbohydrates–a trade-off for their often subtle flavors. “Most native root crops–prairie turnips, hog peanuts, Jerusalem artichokes–are too bland for modern palates,” Kindscher observes, “though they generally offer superior nutrition. You have to choose between healthy food and junk and sometimes that means different tastes.”

The wild tomatillo, Physalis longifolia.

The wild tomatillo, Physalis longifolia.

The concept of food as medicine looms large in Kindscher’s work with the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program (NMPRP). The NMPRP was granted a U.S. patent in 2012 for the discovery of new chemical compounds in the wild tomatillo (Physalis longifolia), a prairie fruit significant to the Indian diet. “Dried, they taste like sweet cranberries,” says Kindscher. The compounds in wild tomatillos also show promising anticancer activity in melanomas, thyroid and breast cancers, and certain leukemias.

The NMPRP’s work on the lonesome prairie has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream. In spring of 2013, Kindscher was contracted by Kellogg’s “to prospect prairie plants for healthful cereal products,” he says, “looking specifically for fiber and protein.” Someday there might be a taste of the wild prairie in your breakfast bowl.

Kindscher’s knowledge of prairie plants takes him to the classroom and the field, the kitchen and the community pot-luck, the laboratory and the dais, the courtroom and the publisher. “I’m a jack-of-all-plants,” he laughs. And how does a jack-of-all plants unwind at home at the end of another flora-filled day? He tends a vegetable garden that most people would call a small farm.

Flower of Physalis longifolia, near Cimarron, Kansas.

Flower of Physalis longifolia, near Cimarron, Kansas.

Ripe fruit of Physalis longifolia. The fruits were eaten raw, cooked and dried by the Zuni, Hopi and other Native American tribes

Ripe fruit of Physalis longifolia. The fruits were eaten raw, cooked and dried by the Zuni, Hopi and other Native American tribes

Egyptian orchard and cereal cultivation at Sennedjem-deir-el-Medina. Image unknown.

Egyptian orchard and cereal cultivation at Sennedjem-deir-el-Medina. Image unknown.

“When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.” – Betty Bender

Antirrhinum majus 'La Bella Bronze & Red Series' in the Solar Garden at Great Dixter. Photo Maggie Tran (see below). Click image to link to "A Year at Great Dixter."

Antirrhinum majus ‘La Bella Bronze & Red Series’ in the Solar Garden at Great Dixter. Photo Maggie Tran (see below). Click image to link to “A Year at Great Dixter.”

A splendid last planting (but not the last post)
One of the jobs given to me in my last week at Dixter, was the delightful task of planting up The Solar Garden, which was more than I could ask for. I have seen it through many phases, from planting tulip bulbs, to pea-sticking over a hundred antirrhinums in which Leo Böhm joined me in this painstaking task.
Maggie Tran: A Year at Great Dixter

The Good-for-Nothing Garden
The grass is a hint: The garden at Federal Twist is meant to be a prairie — or a prairie masquerade. It is an ecosystem that most likely never existed here on the edge of a shaded woodland. …Mr. Golden has sowed native plants by the thousands. But he is not restoring a pristine habitat.
New York Times

A Visit to Rotary Botanic Gardens
Last Wednesday my friend and fellow plant geek Jess and I traveled to Rotary Botanic Gardens in Janesville, WI.  While she’d been there a number of times, this was my first time.  I was thoroughly impressed at how great the gardens looked, even this late in the season.  I’m not putting a lot of words into this one, just LOTS of images:
Confessions Of A Plant Geek

Woody Plants for Shade Part 9
Ashe magnolia, M. macrophylla ssp. ashei, is a subspecies of the bigleaf magnolia, or maybe it is its own species, but the important thing is that it only grows to 15 to 20 feet tall with a similar width. The specimen at the Scott Arboretum is 10 feet tall after 20 years. It has the same spectacular, tropical-looking 24′′ leaves. The huge 10′′, highly fragrant flowers are pure white with a purple center spot and bloom in early summer.
Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

Red Flyer Mallow
Cerise flowers as big as soccer balls? In May and June, I’ve still got my pride.  But by September?  Bring ’em on. ‘Red Flyer’ is a perennial hibiscus that—despite the name—will be the peak of your pink-friendly garden.  And I mean peak: the plant can reach twelve feet!
Louis the Plant Geek

Clianthus formosus
The brilliant flowers were as noisy as parrots and pulled me in from 50 yards away. I was guessing some kind of erythrina. Up close I could see that the leaves were as subtly beautiful as the flowers were flamboyant. The foliage had the typical, finely cut stamp that all members of the pea family possess, such as lupins, but grey and fuzzy like Dorycnium hirsutum. Offhand, I can’t think of another plant that combines flowers in the colors of the tropics with leaves that would look at home in any Mediterranean landscape.
A Growing Obsession

Deutzia gracilis
Slender deutzia is a dense, rounded, deciduous shrub with slender, broadly spreading to arching stems. Typically grows 2-4′ (less frequently to 5-6′) tall and as wide. Tiny, fragrant, bell-shaped, white flowers (to 3/4″) appear in spring in numerous loose racemes (to 3″ long) which cover the shrub for about two weeks. Opposite, ovate to lanceolate, deep green leaves (to 3″ long). No fall color.
Missouri Botanical Garden

Persicaria/Falopia/Polygonum Growers Please!
I am hoping one of you will educate me about the final word on the nomenclature for the japanese knotweed family of persicaria, falopia, polygonum.It is sooo confusing!!

Persicaria polymorpha
I wanted it very badly. Unfortunately, it was a Knöterich—a knotweed—and knotweeds being what they are, I figured it was bound to be one of those horrors that would swallow up the garden in a single season and then proceed to colonize the entire continent, resulting in complete ecological collapse.

While The Cat’s Away
I rushed into the house to get my camera and he obliged by remaining there. I got in touch with my neighbor and my gardening friends and I quickly got the message that we needed to deal with this. It was going to be very dangerous to try to garden if he was still around. Unable to raise anyone over the weekend David decided to go though the garden and check any place he might hide.
Rock Rose

Arise, Ye Wretched
Poor Jane Austen: how could she have foreseen the changes in denotation that would make a straightforward description of her heroine, young Catherine Morland, who at age 15 “began to curl her hair and long for balls,” ridiculous?
American Spectator

How Titanoboa, the 40-Foot-Long Snake, Was Found
Fifty-eight million years ago, a few million years after the fall of the dinosaurs, Cerrejón was an immense, swampy jungle where everything was hotter, wetter and bigger than it is today. …The lord of this jungle was a truly spectacular creature—a snake more than 40 feet long and weighing more than a ton.

"Chrysanthemum" by Piet Mondrian, 1908

“Chrysanthemum” by Piet Mondrian, 1908

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” – Lily Tomlin

This clarifies everything. Click image to link to The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

This clarifies everything. Click image to link to The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

Two inches of snow fell last night in Goodland, Kansas, in the northwestern corner of the state. Click image to link to Finger on the Weather in Wichita.

Two inches of snow fell last night at the NOAA station in Goodland, Kansas, in the northwestern corner of the state. Click image to link to Finger on the Weather in Wichita.

It was a normal season for this Kansas garden: nipped by late freezes, flooded through June, parched by summer drought, contorted by wind, blistered by the prairie sun, devoured by insects (mainly flea beetles and grasshoppers), set back by 60-degree nights in August, wilted by Verticillium, flattened by storms and now mauled by nut-caching squirrels. And it looks like we’re in for a hard Winter.

If the only food plant I could grow was okra, I would be fine with that. Easy, tough and delicious. A thick patch of Clemson Spineless planted in a rubber stock trough was standing in rainwater for 10 days in July, despite daily bailing. I didn’t punch holes in the tank when I planted because it stands 40 inches high and holds 150 gallons. It seemed a shame to damage such a useful object. Okra’s spreading roots go down about eight inches, leaving nearly three feet of soil below. I threw in a deep layer of gravel for bottom drainage and figured only a monsoon could fill that tank. Wrong again, and hard evidence to support my theory that there’s a strong whiff of masochism in gardening–the way I do it, anyway. The okra pulled through despite inundation and I enjoyed excellent succotash for a month or so. Next year I’m growing rice in that tank.

Photo Chris Paulk. Click image to link to Foodista.

Photo Chris Paulk. Click image to link to Foodista.

Greens do well here in Spring and Fall and unusually cool weather in June and July prolonged the first season. Southern Giant mustard, a heat-tough Lollo Rossa lettuce, and a third-year selection of an exceptionally crunchy and unknown strain of Oak Leaf lettuce finally bolted in early August (bitter about three weeks before), but I’m still picking arugula and it carries quite a sting. The arugula planted at the end of September will be sweeter in cool weather. Nasturtiums are roaring back as the temperatures drop. Every part of that plant is good to eat. The leaves and flowers are succulent and peppery (orange flowers best), the stems add crunch in stir-fries, and the large, green seeds are pickled and marketed as capotes, giant salad capers.

I planted three dozen robust starts of Siberian kale in March–half in part-shade, to see if that might help them to cope better with summer heat–and the rabbits really enjoyed them. And still I refuse to fence my greens.* Masochism.

Verticillium wilt of tomatoes. Photo via Ontario Crop IPM.

Verticillium wilt of tomatoes. Photo via Ontario Crop IPM.

In July, I watched vigorous, four-foot-high, fruiting tomato plants succumb to Verticillium wilt-a common fungal problem in northeast Kansas gardens. Conditions were perfect for Verticillium to flourish in early Summer: prolonged cool–moderate temperatures and wet soil. Verticillium affects most of the Solanaceae–tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers–but the peppers growing next to the afflicted tomatoes stayed healthy and productive. Why? The peppers were F-1 hybrids (Red Knight), bred and crossed to resist a variety of diseases and insect predators; the tomatoes were open-pollinated heirlooms, much less resistant. To my palate, heirloom tomatoes have an obvious flavor advantage over most hybrids (though “JetStar” is good eating). Growing heirlooms next year will require more raised beds or more containers, affording a fair measure of control over soil conditions. To grow tomatoes in-ground next year, I’m restricted to hybrids.  Well, there’s always “Sungold.”

Flowers did better than food this year and there were many floral “firsts.” Winter-sown Patrinia scabiosifolia from Nancy Ondra at Hayefield yielded a dozen healthy seedlings. Now there are five, thanks to the litany of environmental grievances listed above, but The Five look healthy and strong: deep-green rosettes of ovate leaves in full Kansas sun thriving on low-to-moderate water. Tough plants. Next year, fingers crossed, they will send up scapes three to six feet tall with panicles of bright yellow, hermaphrodite flowers that hum with all sorts of insects.

Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants supplied seed of Balloonflower, Platycodon grandiflorus “Sentimental Blue,” which also yielded about a dozen sturdy plants. The rabbits enjoyed them as much as the kale. They also liked the Talinum paniculatum “Kingswood Gold,” the dainty, chartreuse-leaved Jewels of Opar. One plant of each remains, relatively safe in pots, and both are blooming now, stock for next year–if they make through Winter. The Balloonflower blossoms are stunted on my straggling specimen, barely two inches across, of a clear French blue. Opar’s blossoms are tinier still, a half-inch of single pink petals with a boss of bright yellow stamens and minuscule orange fruits.

Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com. Click image to link.

Polygonum orientale. Oh, those excessive and romantic Victorians! Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com. Click image to link.

Last year I read up on annuals popular in the Victorian era. This year I grew Polygonum (Persicaria?) orientale, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate. The knotweeds–Polygonums/Persicarias/Fallopias; whatever they are called todaygenerally do well here, often too well. A flamboyant patch of escapee Polygonum/Persicaria bistorta, has taken over a wet ditch by the North Lawrence pumping station, and the tough but delicate-looking Virginia knotweed, Persicaria virginiana, long ago made itself completely at home in the Burroughs garden.

Of the eight seedlings of Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate set out in Spring, only two survived, contorted by wind and storms. The weakest went to seed at a mere two feet; the survivor is five feet tall by three feet wide and the flower bracts have maintained their hot pink color for two months. Polygonum reseeds easily and I’m hoping for sturdier offspring next year, as in the photo above.

Three more annuals, all new to this garden in 2013, did very well in spite of difficult conditions: Bidens aristosa, Tickseed; Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear; and Ipomoea sloteri, Cardinal Climber. Granted, all three are generally known as tough, vigorous plants; rampant or invasive in some areas.

Bidens aristosa borders in full glory at Sweetbay in North Carolina. Click image to link. Photo Alicia Maynard.

Bidens aristosa borders in full glory at Sweetbay in North Carolina. Click image to link. Photo Alicia Maynard.

The Bidens seed came from Alicia Maynard’s garden at Sweetbay in central North Carolina. Her Bidens borders are spectacular: billows of two-inch flowers–which, though two-toned, read as a clear, medium yellow–on sturdy five-foot stems of dark green, pinnate foliage. Bidens species bear close resemblance to their relatives, Cosmos and Coreopsis. I scattered seed in Fall of 2012 (seed needs cold stratification and light to germinate), in three different exposures of the garden: full sun, all-day dappled light and afternoon shade.

The shaded Bidens required little supplemental water, grew to three feet and bloomed willingly, if sparsely, from mid-July to late September. The plants in full sun needed weekly watering but were bushier and grew to four feet, flowering profusely in early August through early October. All the plants were swarming with honeybees; Bidens makes a fine, dark honey.

While at least a hundred species are native to the Americas, Bidens are listed as invasive or weedy in some parts of the country, wetlands in particular. Not surprising, as a single plant can produce up to 6000 seeds. I’ll keep a close eye on volunteers next Spring but Bidens aristosa is a plant I’d like to see full-time in the garden.

Leonotis nepetifolia reaching for the sky. This plant is commonly referred to as either "Lion's Ear" or "Lion's Tail." From my research, "Lion's Ear" generally refers to L. nepetifolia; "Lion's Tail" usually means L. leonurus, the most widely distributed species (naturalized in California and the South). To see more, click image to link to Strange Wonderful Things.

Leonotis nepetifolia reaching for the sky. This plant is commonly referred to as either “Lion’s Ear” or “Lion’s Tail.” From my research, “Lion’s Ear” generally refers to L. nepetifolia; “Lion’s Tail” usually means L. leonurus, the most widely distributed species (naturalized in California and the South). To see more, click image to link to Strange Wonderful Things.

Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear, a member of the Mint family, elicited the most comments from garden visitors this year. At eight feet tall, with medium-green, heart-shaped leaves and stacked whorls of tubular, bright orange flowers (the lion’s “ear”), it is indeed a remarkable plant, friendly and somewhat coarse. Native to Africa and hardy to Zone 9 (an fast-growing annual here in Zone 6a), Leonotis nepetifolia germinates readily at warm temperatures, the seed lightly covered.

Like all mints, it revels in water but my plants in amended clay were surprisingly drought resistant. Four plants were placed in full sun, two in afternoon shade. The shaded plants languished, barely reaching three feet with no bloom, so give Leonotis nepetifolia plenty of sun, even Kansas sun. Despite their thick, square stems, stand-alone plants were soon toppled by wind and required emergency staking. I stake as little as possible. Next time, I’ll grow them closer together in clumps for additional support. The base of each flower contains a tiny reservoir of sweet nectar that attracts hummingbirds.

Cardinal Climber mingling with Thunbergia alata and honeysuckle. Click image to learn more at Gardening From The Ground Up.

Cardinal Climber mingling with orange Thunbergia alata and honeysuckle. Click image to learn more at Gardening From The Ground Up.

If you wish for serious hummingbird action in your garden, a must-grow is the Cardinal Climber, Ipomoea sloteri, another plant with confusing nomenclature. Dave’s Garden lists the synonyms Ipomea x multifida, Quamoclit multifida and Quamoclit sloteri. The common name, too, is often misleading–Cardinal Climber is frequently referred to as Cypress Vine, Ipomoea quamocliteven by seed companies. Both plants are similar in flower but the foliage of the Cypress Vine is finely cut, like asparagus, while the leaf of Cardinal Climber depends more on the standard, heart-shaped form of the Ipomoea clan and is deeply incised, looking feathered or fingered. Both plants are attractive, but I find Cardinal Climber to be fuller, healthier and more floriferous–hence the crowds of hummingbirds.

An old-fashioned vine, perhaps too pedestrian for fashionable gardeners, Cardinal Climber is one of the most attractive, reliable and easy-going plants I’ve ever grown (in five gardens to date, ranging from Zones 5 to 11). Officially hardy to Zone 9 or 10, depending on position; an enthusiastic annual everywhere else. Given the right conditions–full sun, occasional water in dry times, and a structure to climb–it can reach 20 feet in one season. Cardinal Climber reserves it’s one-and-a-half-inch, deep scarlet trumpets until late August but the profusion of blooms and hummers that follows is worth the wait. The flowers are similar in color to those of Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, another hummingbird attractor, and they pair well together.


* Three years ago, to defend against rabbits, nearly every plant in the garden was caged in chicken wire. A friend came to visit one day and as we sat and talked in the garden he casually remarked, “I imagine the garden at Alcatraz looks like this.”

"The Botanist"; sculpture by Emil Alzamora. Click image to link to his remarkable website.

“The Botanist”; sculpture by Emil Alzamora. Click image to link to his remarkable website.

Seeds of Dipsacus fullonum aka Teasel sprouting within the seedhead. Photo by Maggie Tran. Click image to link to her blog, "A Year at Great Dixter."

Seeds of Dipsacus fullonum, aka Teasel, sprouting within the seedhead. Photo by Maggie Tran. Click image to link to her blog, “A Year at Great Dixter.”

“Go see gardens. Every garden you can. Absorb from them what seems pertinent. Take home what works, and do better.”Deborah Silver

How to Pronounce Botanical Names
Relax! The good news is there is NO “correct” way to pronounce them! You may pronounce them any way you wish, and you will be just as “correct” as any Ph.D. botanist.
J. L. Hudson, Seedsman

Saving chilli pepper seeds to grow again
To ensure the best chances of obtaining viable seed, you must ensure that the pods selected have fully ripened, before harvesting the seed. It may take several months for a pod to mature.
The Chileman

Creating a New Kind of Night Light: Glow-in-the-Dark Trees
San Francisco-based entrepreneur Antony Evans has come up with a radical idea for curbing power usage: “What if we use trees to light our streets instead of electric street lamps?”

Why Don’t We Just Kill All the Mosquitoes?
Don’t have type O blood, don’t be a large person, don’t exhale, don’t exercise, don’t get hot, don’t be pregnant, don’t drink even one beer, don’t have parents who got a lot of mosquito bites when they were your age, and don’t wear bright clothing or otherwise call attention to yourself.
The Atlantic

One Plant, Three Seasons: Patrinia scabiosifolia
Is it possible for any gardener to have just one favorite plant? For most of us, I imagine, it’s tough to get closer than a top 5 or top 10. But if you asked me that question at this time of year and insisted on one top pick, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Patrinia scabiosifolia.

When Lettuce Was a Sacred Sex Symbol
Lettuce has been harvested for millenia—it was depicted by ancient Egyptians on the walls of tombs dating back to at least 2,700 B.C. The earliest version of the greens resembled two modern lettuces: romaine, from the French word “romaine” (from Rome), and cos lettuce, believed to have been found on the island of Kos, located along the coast of modern day Turkey.

Stone Age Farmers Showed Sophisticated Use of Fertilizers
As early as 8,000 years ago, Stone Age farmers across Europe were working their crop lands intensely, irrigating and strategically applying manure, according to new research published in today’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings also call into question previous estimates of how much protein in the Neolithic human diet was derived from animals rather than plants.

Griffith Buck Rose Chart
I spent most of yesterday working on a talk I have to give in late September at the annual Extension Master Gardener state continuing education conference, and I put together a handout listing the Griffith Buck roses that I’m pretty proud of. …It lists what I think are all the roses (99?) bred by Griffith Buck and introduced to commerce either prior to or after his death.
Kansas Garden Musings

Living Fences: How-To, Advantages and Tips
A living fence is a permanent hedge tight enough and tough enough to serve almost any of the functions of a manufactured fence, but it offers agricultural and biological services a manufactured fence cannot. For instance, it provides “edge habitat” that supports ecological diversity. As more species (insects, spiders, toads, snakes, birds and mammals) find food and refuge in this habitat, natural balances emerge, yielding, for example, a reduction of rodents and crop-damaging insect populations.
Mother Earth News

Diversity Does Not Mean “Native Only.”
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that pollinators are drawn to areas with a diverse variety of flowering plants they enjoy dining on. The National Academy of Sciences recently released a report on the matter, and the findings further underscore the importance of plant diversity for encouraging pollinator subsistence and survival. However, some have seen fit to take this evidence and create a causal relationship that the research conclusions do not: plant only native plants, as if ‘diversity’ and ‘native plants’ were one and of the same. They are not.

Are Weeds Healthier Than Farmed Veggies?
…The same wild edible plants that we call weeds tend to be loaded with phytonutrients—the “arsenal of chemicals” that plants synthesize to fend off “insects, disease, damaging ultra-violet light, inclement weather, and browsing animals.” Recent studies suggest that eating phytonutrients helps humans fend off four of what Robinson calls “our modern scourges”: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia.
Mother Jones

Tales of the Alhambra
25 years ago I made my first pilgrimage to Spain, and that was largely due to my desire to visit the Alhambra. This place was built to be extraordinarily beautiful, melding man, nature, and art in to a heavenly abode.
Jeffrey Bale

Top Five Regrets of the Dying
A nurse has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and among the top ones is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’. What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life?
The Guardian

Catbird and Parthenocissus, William Sprague, American illustrator.

Catbird and Parthenocissus, William Sprague, American illustrator.

you're not deep

A Hopi Elder Speaks

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.

Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.

And there are things to be considered:

– Where are you living?

– What are you doing?

– What are your relationships?

– Are you in right relation?

– Where is your water?

– Know your garden.

– It is time to speak your Truth.

Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

A field trip to Louisburg with garden ally Shelley Nunnelee last Saturday, to visit his cousins in their new home and garden. Louisburg is about 40 miles due south of Kansas City, essentially a bedroom community, home to the locally famed Louisburg Cider Mill. Mulled cider corrected with spirits is a popular winter drink in these parts.

We pass the Cider Mill on Main Street, drive through the industrial district and then onto a dirt road for a mile or so into the country, pulling up to a massive, medieval-looking gate. Shelley punches the entry code, the gate swings open and we head down the drive, past an acre-sized pond, to this:

house from pond looking west

Aime and Kevin Bybee rented this property in January of this year, looking to get out of the city and expose their three young sons to the joys of country living. They got a great deal on the rent but this winter’s heating bills were staggering. The house and grounds came fully and handsomely outfitted. The owners built this place as their dream home but eventually moved on, leaving, it seems, everything but their clothes.

house weeping willow

The house sits on 60 acres, heavily wooded with a lot of oak. There’s plentiful water on the property, several creeks and springs, and the ground around the house is often boggy–hence the happy weeping willow.

1drive court

The drive court with island of spruce and box. Blue slate on the roof.

2front door

The front entry gets scorching afternoon sun but there are 30-foot oaks on the other side of the drive. Once the trees leaf out, the entry will be mostly shady and cool. The ivy on the wall might be a mistake in the long run–it can tear up shingles–but the foundation plantings have good bones. I wouldn’t do much here but prune and clean up, take away the planter boxes (too much watering), and plant something low and chartreuse along the walkway, maybe Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia “Aurea,” or miniature Hosta. The Hosta is Kansas’ unofficial State Plant.

3carriage house

I’ve never seen so many urns in a private garden, starting with the pair flanking the portico. Some hefty, ball-clipped box would play well off the arched braces and all the straight lines.

animal alpaca paddock & greenhouse looking north

Looking north from the drive. The paddock on the right used to house alpacas, but what’s that on the left? Oh, yes indeed.


The property lay vacant for six years so things are looking a little rumpled–a look I mostly like. This area certainly needs some editing and clean-up, particularly inside, but to my eyes this is a beautiful sight to behold.

greenhouse cold frame

Magnolia, juniper and box around the cold frame.

greenhouse outdoor shower

Outdoor shower? Of course.

greenhouse planter box

A nice place for dwarf lavenders.

greenhouse chandelier 2

Think of how this looks at night.

pool & greenhouse

The greenhouse from the north side of the pool. I count five urns in this view and there are two on plinths behind me. Turns out, there’s a method to the urn madness. They act as visual barriers to the unfenced, 10-foot drop to the recirculating moat below–essential, as the owners did a lot of entertaining. As I hate to see a good urn go wasted, I’d plant each of these with a single  Sporobolus heterolepis, our native Prairie Dropseed, whose fine-leaved, two-foot mounds would echo the surrounding landscape and require infrequent watering. A strong mid-green in spring and summer, airy flower spikes in late summer, golden color in fall and their moptops mounded with snow in winter.

pool pots pond

This is an infinity pool, merging seamlessly with the pond in the distance, carefully thought out and beautifully executed. Hardy rosemary in the pots would look like miniature versions of the Eastern Red Cedars, Juniperus virginiana (not a cedar at all), dotted throughout the woods. Most of the pots and urns around the pool currently contain Sedum spurium “Voodoo,” a very useful plant.

pool & pond

Pool and pond.

pool urn of sedum

I enjoy the irony of a groundcover in a massive urn–in such cases, the urn is the subject, not the plant. But as this urn stands on the stairs between patio and pool–a heavily trafficked area with morning sun and dappled afternoon shade–it calls for a small, fragrant shrub. No thorns.

wisteria arbor looking north

How’s this for a Wisteria-proof arbor? Wisteria sinensis, I believe, but the cultivar remains a mystery  until bloom. The curved box hedges need a touch up next winter and the roses, identities unknown, are a bit shaggy, but this solid and restrained arrangement perfectly complements the house and has a nice patina of age.

wisteria patio

The lower level of the patio. The Rhododendron at left is swelling in bud.

wisteria patio fireplace

Fireplace and grill on the upper patio level.

wisteria garden ornaments

Garden ornaments on the patio sideboard. Behind, the pergola in the side yard.

side yard

Lots of plants coming up in the side yard where the ornamentation is heaviest, the remnants of a wedding hosted by the owners many years ago.

side yard rose & box

Side yard looking west to a grove of red cedars.

side yard urns

Curly parsley would echo the box and amp up the green, blue-flowered Browallia americana would cool things down and coral-orange Coleus “Sedona” would grab the eye but those plants require frequent watering. The Bybees are a family on the go and the full-time gardening staff was dismissed when the owners departed. Perhaps the best bet would be to fill the urns with soil mounded slightly above the rims and transplant some of the abundant native moss, yellowish olive green in color, that grows under the red cedars in the woods. Tuck in a few small bulbs–pale blue Ipheon uniflorum; species tulips in many shapes and colors; tall and wiry Tritelia “Rudy” with white flowers pinstriped in violet; or fall-blooming Crocus sativus, the source of saffron–for close-up viewing and discreet patches of color.

side yard urn & box 2

For the centerpiece, if there is enough sun, a cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, a relative of the artichoke. Or a tall and arching grass suggesting a fountain. A purple grass might read somber in this shady copse, but a shimmering, slender-leaved grass–Miscanthus sinensis “Morning Light” comes to mind–might fit the bill, extending the “grasses in urns” theme established by the pool. We need to be wary of the prairie-gobbling Miscanthus clan in Kansas but there are many grassy options–blue-leaved Panicum virgatum “Heavy Metal,” for example. If too shady for cardoon or grass, perhaps a hardy Acanthus with deeply incised, dark green leaves and tall summer stalks of purple-spotted, silvery foxglove flowers.


The pond is stocked with largemouth bass, crappie and catfish.

dock ben fishing

Ben, eight years old, is a catch-and-release angler.

vegetable garden

An eight-foot fence surrounds the 14 beds in the vegetable garden. This property is paradise for deer.

animal coop

This, my friends, is a chicken coop. Look closely at the fence on the porch.

animal coop fence

Detail of coop porch fence.

front loader

As essential as a shovel in a garden of this scale.

animal barn bridge

The bridge to the barn spans a deep gully.

animal barn

Inside, the barn doubles as a regulation basketball court. Horse stables and a paddock rich with aged manure are on the north side.

A lengthy tour, I admit, but much remains to be shown. Future trips will document the changes in this fine garden. Thanks to Aime, Kevin and the boys, and Aunt Sharon, for a delightful field trip, and to Shelley for making it happen. The best picture was saved for last:

animal mess of kittens

A mess of kittens on the dining room porch.

It’s usually a half-hour walk from my front door on Learnard to 9th & Mass (Massachusetts Street, the heart of downtown Lawrence), but it’s easy to dawdle and mosey. These photos below are from a few walks in April down an oft-taken path: the south end of Learnard Ave north to New York & 15th, past the Sunrise Nursery, then up New York to 9th and east four blocks. I took the pictures with a cheap cellphone. Captions are below the pictures, plant links at the bottom of the post. As you’ll see, we grow a lot of Yucca in Lawrence.

1quince 2

The front of the house. The flowering quince is going to town, the Yucca has a flower bud, the daylilies are waking up and the Euonymus surges anew. Those box in front of the porch will soon be transplanted to proper spacing, the clumps of lamb’s ears divided and interspersed with Munstead lavender, Gaillardia “Burgundy” and Sedum “Voodoo,” hopefully a somber peppermint stick effect. More catmint goes by the Yucca.

2mahonia neighbor

This Mahonia in my neighbor’s yard, plastered against an elm, has never bloomed better. Much more water than last year so far. Neighbors on both sides are gardeners.

3water garden learnard

This fascinates me–a serious water garden, not meaning a pond but a drainage filter. The photo doesn’t depict it accurately, but I’ll get better angles on the progress of this garden on future walks. Above the drainpipe is a berm that drops down three or four feet on the other side, frequently flooded this year. The basin is planted mostly with prairie grasses and native forbs–plenty of Rudbeckia and Echinacea with some clumps of Chasmanthium latifolium now taking prominent roles. A vegetable garden on the left of the house benefits from directed runoff. The mulched bed in front holds a message etched in ground phlox. I’ve had brief and friendly exchanges with the gardener, a woman I’m guessing to be around my age, late 50s. A sign by her driveway says “War Is Not The Answer.”

4bulb house learnard

This garden is a primary reason I favor this route in Spring. At this point, the the orchestra is just tuning up. More to come.

5stone wall learnard

A fine stone wall, a drizzly day and catkins.

6secret magnolia learnard

Early Spring in Lawrence, Kansas has three dominating flower colors: white from Bradford pears, and thankfully more and more from Viburnum; yellow from Forsythia and daffodils; and pink from redbuds and Magnolia. Here’s a tucked-away Magnolia giving thanks for the water.

7forsythia fence 15th

Forsythia is maligned these days–ubiquitous, color-harsh–but it is a sure harbinger of warmer weather. This one is particularly enthusiastic.

8blue tree ny st

The Blue Tree that stood here until a few years ago was a carefully pruned dead tree, painted the same color. It rotted so the sculptor across the street carved a new one.

9zen center ny st

The entrance to the Kansas Zen Center, two doors down from the Blue Tree.

10bamboo house ny st

I walk all over this town and I’ve only seen this big-leaved bamboo a few times from the sidewalk. Cursory research indicates it might be Indocalamus tessellatus. Nice box hedge working in front of the fence.

11dripping magnolia ny st

Airing the rugs under the dripping Magnolia.

12rock wall liebert house ny st

Steve Liebert, a top-notch craftsman, built this house and dry limestone wall on New York street. Exceptional work. He said the wall was harder than the house. My favorite part is the curb treatment, that long granite line topped with two brief steps. Steve lives in Belize now.

13art house ny st

I always look forward to walking by this yard.

14limestone fenceposts ny st

Limestone is plentiful in Kansas, easy enough to cut. Settlers ran hundreds of miles of limestone and barbed wire fence, still common sights on Kansas backroads. This is another favorite yard, casual and smart, though some of the current plantings are threatened by shade.

15yews ny alley

A quick side-step to the alley between New York and Connecticut streets to tip the hat to these noble yews. I don’t see this as the best setting for these fine trees but they are vigorous, healthy and nonchalant.

16church house ny st

This neighborhood chapel was converted to a rental residence more than a decade ago. From here, a five-block skip to the heart of downtown.


Back home. The Euonymus is out of control this year. The north side of the house is a jungle, six feet up the walls. Once the compost is spread, extermination begins. Euonymus fortunei “Coloratus” is listed as an invasive species in Kansas.

18pink silos

View east from the front porch. The camera didn’t pick up the sunset pink of the silos rising above the rental Legos just right of center. Some evenings it looks like Disneyland.