Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Growing anything but grass...
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 winter........today.
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!