Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Growing anything but grass...

The best thing to grow on the prairie is grass.  Grass as far as you can see.  I've lived on the northern prairie for 31 summers and I can tell you, it's the best place ever for growing grass, but try to plant a shade tree or a rosebush and you're just asking for frustration.  That doesn't mean it won't work to grow something besides grass out here, but there will be frustration.  Always.

The Northern Prairie is harsh country.  It is said that our average annual rainfall is 11 inches.  It's hot in the summer -- often into the 100s -- and freezing cold in the winters -- going well below 0 degrees F.  Not only are the temperatures extreme, but the winds are too.  There is hardly a day that goes by without wind, and you know what they say about measuring the wind speed on the prairie don't you?  If you hang a logging chain on a fence and the chain is sticking straight out, it's a pretty strong wind.  Native prairie grasses can take a wind-whipping, but not so much begonias, rose bushes, tomato plants, and lettuce.  Just last night I went to look over the garden after a hot day of 98 degrees and a harsh wind.  The tomato plants and lettuce leaves were shriveled.  The edges of the leaves of every plant were curled and burnt looking and the plants, though well-watered, struggle so to overcome the elements.  I don't know if I'll get a ripe, homegrown tomato out of my veggie patch this year or not.  Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose out here, but that doesn't mean I'll give up.  Each summer is a summer to try.  I only have so many summers left, you know, so I'll keep on planting tomatoes and all manner of vegetables and flowers in hopes of getting something out of the deal.

I planted a ground cover rose a year or two ago, and it is one tough nut!  I'm telling you, this beauty just grows and blooms like nothing else.  I'm sure when I bought it that it was on sale, and I didn't even know what variety it was.  You know how sometimes the plants at the discount stores are disheveled and mismarked at the end-of-the-season sales?  Well, this one had a shrub rose look to it or I wouldn't have picked it out to take home.  I don't even know it's name, but it's a "rose among the thorns" out here.  I think I'll have to look for some more like it.  I know that "ground roses" can't compare to the beauty and scent of a lovely English Cabbage Rose or a Tea Rose, but to me, it's the most beautiful thing ever.  It was so thorny when I went to pick it that I had to use the scissors to handle it to put it into my jar.  The ground cover rose does well, I think, because it is similar to our wild prairie rose which hugs the ground and doesn't stick it's blooms too much into the wind.

Back when my mother-in-law was alive, she tried to grow roses.  She planted Mr. Lincoln, Peace, Barbara Bush, and a few other varieties of tea roses.  Some years they made it, and most years she lost a rose or two, but that didn't stop her from trying to grow roses.  I think she almost relished the idea of buying a new rose to replace one that died the year before.  There was always the chance that a rose might survive.

I am a flower lover too, and I can hardly wait for spring so that I can begin enjoying them.  I have found that for me, the first flowers of the growing season are the best.  Tulips and hyacinth seem to flourish here.  They need the freeze and heavy snows of winter, and they can hack a heavy spring snowstorm too.  This spring my tulips came up, but because we had almost no snow cover last winter, very few of them flowered.   The other types of flowers that I tend to grow with success are those that are similar to the wildflowers of our prairie:  larkspur, prairie coneflower, blue flax, black-eyed Susan, wall flower, California poppy, sunflower, and a few daisies.  I have had success with columbine, bleeding heart, and some lilies too.  This summer all of the flowers have made an appearance, but like the tulips, the blossoms have been very minimal.  No amount of hose-watering can compare with rain from the heavens, and when we have a hot summer like this one with day after day of 90s and 100+ degree temps, it's hard to be a flower on the prairie.

The poor shade trees are struggling this year as well.  The shelter belt right next to our house has been flourishing these past few wet years, but this year the leaves are curling up and falling already, and we have the hottest months ahead of us.  Once again, it reminds me that the prairie is the prairie because it is meant to grow grass, not trees.  If we can get trees to grow, we count ourselves blessed.  If they don't grow, we know why.  The Creator knew what He was doing when He put things where they are, but I can't help trying to surround myself with a little bit of Heaven by planting a few flowers that I like around me, even if they only last a year or two.

By the way, we had an itty bitty rain a couple nights ago.  Two tenths of an inch!  Not much, but it felt nice.  Just down the road from us, some ranches got a gully-washer that measured full inches in their rain gauges!  I'm just thankful that somebody is getting some rain.  As soon as the sun goes down tonight, I'm going out to water the vegetable patch and sprinkle some water on my pots and flowers.  Oh, the moss roses are thrilled with this heat.  I'm glad something is!  I used to think I wanted summer to last forever, but I'm actually looking forward to

This hot July I'm reading the book,  Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman.  The story starts out with Katherine, a young woman of 16 from Boston, being sent by train to a ranch near Calgary, Alberta in the depths of winter.  She mentions it is 40 degrees below zero while en rout.  She takes a bobsled to her Uncle John's  (in -40* weather) where she is to recover from pleurisy.  While there, Katherine falls in love with Sgt. Mike, a Canadian Mounty, who marries her and takes her 700 miles by dog sled to the northern most parts of Canada to Hudson's Hope where he is stationed.  Let's just say it's a "refreshing" read out on my lawn chair in the middle of July!


  1. My sister told me about Mrs. Mike, but I haven't read it. I should! I remember last summer when I mentioned Christmas, you said, "No, not yet!" So I wasn't going to mention it again, but now that you hinted that today you are looking forward to winter, I'll tell you that I am, too. I love the time off from school, but I think fall and winter are much cozier. Our heat is a bit oppressive and hard to enjoy without a pool in the back yard!
    My front garden is nice but the back is struggling and Bill said if the weeds aren't pulled by the time he gets home, he's getting out the weed killer. I pulled a few this morning and I'll pull a few tomorrow morning, but I'm just not that excited about my back garden because it doesn't thrive. I might need new dirt.
    Okay, I am now going down to the cool basement to exercise on the old Nordic Track. I've been sitting around way too much. Too bad I can't help you with some of the ranch chores, Jody.

  2. Aw Mrs Mike, Yes, I have read it and I think it is a good story and I admire Mrs. Mikes energy. That is all I will say though. What about Willa Cather? As I was reading your post that was what I thought you sounded like describing the prairie.
    Or maybe my other favorite, Bess Streeter Aldrich. I think of you out in that prairie and wanting flowers and I think of the first women who left the east and went to the prairie and had to learn to cope with the wind and the sound of silence.
    Did you ever read that book about the first women who loved the Canaries? I wish I could remember the title, and it told the story of how one family found a tiny little bird in the grandmother's things because it must have helped her through the hard times and it was her friend. I always think of that.
    Or maybe Green Grass of Wyoming. I love all of those books and I loved this post because it touched me like all of those books have.
    I like that you keep trying to grow flowers. Never give up. It is why I grow sunflowers, they can take the heat and the lack of water. I don't have the wind though.
    Thanks for sharing, I love your flowers in your blue jar.

  3. Pom Pom,

    I think you would enjoy Mrs. Mike. I think I like it because I appreciate how much Katherine wants to know and love the wilderness that her husband knows and loves so well.

    Sometimes I am not ready for Christmas because I get frustrated with how "long" the season lasts. I like the quiet more than commercialization, you know?

    This heat makes it hard to keep a garden thriving. I hope you can enjoy what you have.


    I love all of those authors and books that you mentioned for the very same reasons -- the women learned to cope in a foreign, harsh land which ends up becoming their beloved home. Have you read Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stuart? Another good read that is very endearing to me. I grow sunflowers too. They're tough and sometimes I need to grow a flower that doesn't require as much work to keep alive.


  4. I have read Mrs. Mike several times --it's a great book. In high school I had to read Giants in the Earth, about the Scandinavian settlers on the prairie. It's not really a HAPPY book, but it has stuck with me all these years. Keep planting your flowers:)

  5. This summer has been something, hasn't it? We're getting our first rain in two months today -- not counting that super derecho that came blowing through with a teeny bit of rain. Our trees are dropping leaves like crazy too -- it's very sad. I loved your line about only having so many summers left -- I think about that a lot lately -- only so many Christmases, vacations, whatever it is that's being counted. I don't want to wish my life away, but I'm looking forward to the fall -- summer is my least favorite season.

  6. Angela,
    I don't think I've read Giants in the Earth. Perhaps I ought to. Most of those pioneer type books aren't "happy" but show us how very hard life was. There was a lot of good mixed in though, I am sure. Planting flowers, I will do always. Thanks for stopping by.

    We sound like we are in the same boat (or drought). We've had nothing since end of May as far as rain goes. Wind, yes. Rain, no. It's sad to see the plants and trees suffer. The livestock does too.

    I don't want to wish my days away either. I like to think that I "live in the moment" but sometimes a human wishes for something other than heat and dry....yes? I'm looking forward to fall too. Fall rains (I hope)!


  7. I admire the endurance it takes to live on the prairie. I'm wondering how I would survive. I'm glad you find joy in all you are given...
    Glad you got that rain!

  8. I'm going to put Mrs. Mike on my library list--thanks for the recommendation!

    We have had a hot summer and many of the gardens around here are struggling. It was super hot while we were away, but our garden thrived because our fine neighbors worried about it, and I think it was getting watered two or three times a day by different folks.

    I would very much love to grow roses, but am not there yet. Right now I need easy flowers that do well on their own. I also need to do a better job of planting in the fall the seeds that need to overwinter. There are flowers such as sweet william and columbine that don't do well in our summer heat, but love the spring.

    I loved Letters from a Woman Homesteader and may put that on my library list as well, since I'm pretty sure I gave my copy away.

    Stay cool, my dear!


  9. Love love Mrs. Mike. Read it in high school and own a cheap paperback. I pull it out every couple of years and re-read.

    Love moss roses as well. They adore our heat and dry climate. I always have a pot or two here and there.

    Like you I am ready for fall and ~glup~ dare I say winter! Can't believe I am even thinking that...but I am sure the heat is having an effect on the way my brain is working.Ha


  10. I love Mrs. Mike. It's an old-fashioned book that has stood the test of time. We finally got rain last week. It was wonderful. My third try at a rose variety died this week. Our harsh mountain valleys are not good for hothouse flowers. I'm with you...bring on cooler weather.

  11. Such a nice post. I've always been fascinated by the pioneer women, and your description of your land makes me admire those women even more.

    Your flowers are beautiful.

  12. I wish I had your perseverance and tenacity. I think I give up much too easily. Being born and bred a city girl I'm too used to instant gratification so 'waiting' and patience are 2 things I need to work hard on. I love reading your posts about life in the prairie... makes me think about Little House on the Prairie.

  13. I hope you get more rain soon, inches and inches! We have had rain and our lakes are all up, but now we have that algea bloom thing and the water is disgusting. We also are seeing that zebra muscle problem and they are pondering what to do. It is one expensive problem to have! Where does your drinking water come from? Do you have a well?

    I love reading a good Alaskan adventure (or Russian gulag tale) in the heat of summer. No better time, right? Didn't you say there was a sequel to Mrs. Mike? I need to get that.

  14. I blog hopped over and really enjoy your site. Although I know live in the Black Hills, I grew up on the prairie. Love your posts and your photos.

  15. I blog hopped over and really enjoy your site. Although I know live in the Black Hills, I grew up on the prairie. Love your posts and your photos.

  16. You must get your grit from the land you live in!!! This is a hard summer. For you one reason me the opposite. Will our gardens survive?? Let us keep our fingers crossed xox Clarice

  17. I like Mrs. Mike. I just read it again last year. A Woman of the Polar North is a good one about 'way northern climes, and Letters of a Woman Homesteader is one of my all-time favorites, but my all-time favorite about a woman who has to draw on all her personal resources to keep alive and care for her child through a frozen winter is O Rugged Land of Gold. I think it's time I read that one again, too.


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