Sunday, November 15, 2015

November is Chambourcin Month!

"Polite bottles:" That's what Doug calls my purchases when I buy a Chambourcin instead of a Norton at a Missouri winery. For the past 14 years I've collected Oregon pinot noir, and, since 2004, Missouri Nortons. If a winery makes a Norton not to my taste or out of my price range, I will invariably buy the Chambourcin, the Traminette, or, more regularly, the winery's Chambourcin-Norton blend. Chambourcin is not my second favorite grape by any stretch, it's quite nice, this French-American hybrid planted across 150 acres in Missouri, but I collect Nortons for my rack. Nortons can generally age longer than Chambourcin and often carry a heavier oak component than its lighter bodied dry red partner, Chambourcin. Nevertheless, I buy a bottle or a glass (if the bottles are too expensive or not that great) at every winery I visit. Because of that, I usually go home with fabulous Nortons, but also end up with lots of bottles of drink now-Chambourcin or, the extreme of the polite bottle, random fruit wines for which I have found very specific occasions for serving. Behind me as I type tonight is a bottle of a very good jalapeno-Granny Smith apple wine that I picked up several years ago, and a bottle of tomato wine. Unlike my daily reds, these two bottles will require a very specific cuisine to highlight their very specific qualities. But these non-grape wines merited purchase and will be consumed at some point. I respect winemaking as a craft, a skill, so I respect these wines that I purchased even though they're not my 'go-to' wines for drinking while I comb through my email.

Meanwhile, the list of Missouri wineries making incredibly supple wines out of the Chambourcin grape continues to increase. For those of you less familiar with the grape, Chambourcin is a lighter-bodied dry or semi-dry wine, often bottled in a pinot noir-styled bottles and used often in blending. I'm particularly fond of Chambourcin-Norton blends, or Chambourcin-Cabernet Franc blends, but regardless I treat Chambourcin like a pinot noir, using a French pinot noir Riedel glass for consumption. Unlike Norton, Chambourcin does not have its own glass. But Missouri and surrounding states are producing fantastic Chambourcin wines which are often less expensive than Norton, perhaps thanks to the larger grapes and more available juice, but equally supple and full of flavor. Chambourcin is lovely, a fantastic wine and perfect for the holidays. Light like a pinot noir but full of flavor like a Norton, Chambourcin is the ideal wine for a wide variety of meals.

I have enjoyed Chambourcin aged in steel, American oak, Hungarian oak, and French oak; my favorite is the French oak cask. While I prefer my Norton aged in American oak, preferably from barrels made with staves created from white oak logs harvested from Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest, Chambourcin is really quite nice in French oak. The French oak barrels impart a more subtle oak overtone which highlights the grape's natural fruitiness. Chambourcin is bright, a light red wine with high acidity that not only blends well but also stands alone as its own varietal. The King of Chambourcin, Herr Heinrich of Heinrichhaus Winery outside of St. James makes wines of meatier heft with the Chambourcin grape. He's the annointed King of Chambourcin. I realize that meat and heft are not wine terms, but Heinrichhaus Winery makes heavy Chambourcin, and he has been named the King of Chambourcin. When I visit Herr Heinrich, I purchase his Cynthiana with my limited budget. But his Chambourcin is certainly award-winning.

As Thanksgiving comes in, I'll bring my obligatory bottles of French Beaujolais-Nouveau, a few bottles of Missouri's Nouveau which is made with Chambourcin and a few other grapes, and a Norton for the day after Thanksgiving, a meaty wine to go with chocolate. Chambourcin is a lovely white meat wine. Because the Wine and Grape Board has declared November as Chambourcin month, local retailers are offering great sales on fabulous bottles of wine for the Thanksgiving table.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mast production

I spent a small part of my Tuesday morning listening to stories of squirrel eradication. Surrounded by folks interested in preserving, protecting, and restoring the natural world, I was a bit surprised by the number of folks at the table who admitted to shooting, trapping, and drowning squirrels to protect their backyard plants and birdseed. While I recognize that there are few natural predators left in the natural world, if squirrels dig up my bulbs or snip off my kale seedlings or decimate my gourds, isn't that part of life of living in a natural setting? Apparently not, according to the folks who think it's perfectly acceptable to shoot the squirrels who threaten their bird feeders. Harsh punishment? Sure, death is definitely a punishment for hitting up $20 worth of sunflower seeds intended for Northern cardinals. Not in my yard. My native woodland setting is full of squirrels in the canopy, in the shrub layer, at the base of my birdfeeders. I set out watering stations for squirrels. I get upset when a careless fast driver on my street recklessly kills a squirrel. I end up throwing the carcasses in the abandoned lot next door so they don't turn into disgusting messes for my dogs to sniff.

While I do not conduct scientific surveys on Missouri's mast production, I can attest to a bumper crop of acorns in my immediate vicinity. Massive bur oak acorns, thousands of black oak, Northern red oak, and chinquapin oak acorns cover my yard. And the squirrels and blue jays are going crazy with them. I was told at the table yesterday that "I don't shoot fox squirrels, they can stay, but all the rest must go." One person shoots squirrels and throws the lifeless carcasses into his yard to "feed local foxes." I have learned that squirrels who mature to three years or greater will begin to forage on non-acorn food, which means that the squirrels eating my green tomatoes and snipping off my kale leaves are older individuals. I live in a city, a very urban area, but a city full of big trees and unkempt yards. I do appreciate knowing that the plush Gund toy-look-alike squirrels in my yard may be old natives, and, hopefully reproducing. I have both fox squirrels and gray squirrels inhabiting my yard. They have as much of a right to the yard's food production as the black-capped chickadees, blue jays, cedar waxwings, cottontail rabbits, and yes, even the hawks that prey on the crummy Eurasian sparrows who hang out in my brushpile.

The spring months were incredibly wet, wetter than normal for April and May. Vegetation is rank in my yard these days, and seed production is high. The white-throated sparrows are gorging on the seeds of Silphium perfoliatum. Black-capped chickadees and Northern cardinals are enjoying the seeds on the goldenrods, asters, and cedar berries, which are plentiful this year. Reports from the area claim huge numbers of acorns for wild turkeys and white-tailed deer. If we can only have a drier spring--not too dry!--the Northern bobwhite quail population may be able to rebound. The climactic changes that may seem imperceptible to folks not trying to implement prescribed fire, or trying to plan a farm planting, or trying to track phenology of wild plants are very real. The ideal burn days that once happened all November just don't occur anymore; humidities are too low, winds too high, fuel moistures too low. Weather events are more erratic, increased moisture has directly impacted wildlife, namely ground nesting birds and others are surely documenting the whole natural web of life.

So I have my yard. I don't shoot squirrels. I feed birds, I burn my yard, I have brushpiles that infuriate my local neighborhood association, and I don't have control over external forces and it's frustrating. A cold front with no rain is moving through tonight. High winds, predictions of 40 mph which may impact my old growth trees but hopefully not. I can't go outside and look at the windsock and feel the crunch in the leaves and call it a good burn day anymore. And I will never kill squirrels.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Natural Integrity

Not too long ago, after I had become trained to recognize landscape degradation while under the wing of scholars in the field, I migrated to the good places, the sites with a high level of ecosystem functioning and integrity. Few and scattered, these sites include my first jobsite in Missouri, an area in the Niangua Basin that I truly thought represented all of the Ozark Highlands. How abysmally wrong I was, of course, but even today in the darkest hours I return there, I hike the trails and go cross country to witness nature on a landscape scale, one without signs of degradation and human impact. I go there like a pilgrim rubbing a damned stone or coin for faith: the rest of the world is doomed ecologically, but we'll always have this place.

The past week, while surrounded by natural history experts, I thought often of visiting this place, the one place I know where I can always go to see a functioning system on a landscape scale, one managed with properly applied prescribed fire. It seems that in the past five years every field visit I've taken results in either a prognosis that the woodlands are doomed from a deer overpopulation problem, a feral hog problem, an exotic species out of control problem, or that most woodlands in Missouri are so out of context with their historic character and an artifact of overgrazing and fire suppression that nothing will bring them back to a level of natural integrity. So I go here, to the Niangua Basin country with stunted post oaks, landscape-scale fire regimes, high quality forbs and grasses and with no exotics. High quality systems with functioning fire regimes generally don't have exotic species problems. Exotic species generally take hold in damaged systems, areas of soil disturbance or where there is no competition by the strong native flora. The only exotics here exist on roadsides or where the powerline easements are maintained with less-than-ideal management regimes.

We looked once more for the Asplenium hybrid between A. platyneuron and walking fern, but to no avail. Both parents are there, existing on the sandstone cliff, but all of the A. ebenoides have been collected to the point of extirpation. I'll keep checking for the cross, and if it shows up I will not collect it. While I understand the value of herbarium collections, there is also value in allowing the natural crosses to exist on the landscape. This is the same location where compass plant crosses with prairie dock, both species of Silphium and they intergrade here. No, I haven't collected it but it has been documented in literature.

As daylengths shorten to a ridiculous degree, dark by 5:30 and the tennis court lights coming on at 5, camping season draws to an uneventful close. It's no fun to camp out when darkness comes so early, especially after a long summer of going to bed in the tent at a 9:30pm sunset. This is the season for buckling down and actually analyzing all of that data we collected this summer, of writing the reports, and planning for another growing season coming soon.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Hog Bomb Explodes

Two years ago, in early November, I set out for a backpacking trip into the interior of the St. Francois Mountains. We pitched camp near Devil's Wall and explored the successive igneous dome landscape for three days. Two years ago, the remnants of the May 2009 windstorm were still quite prevalent, making traversing areas of the mountain range a slow and calculated process. However, it was great to be in the interior with no sign of other hikers or even illegal ATV use. The abandoned logging roads were showing great signs of healing, with no notable traffic. But that was two years ago.

By the time we pitched camp at an early sunset of 5:30pm with the long shadows and low light casting its fall glare, I also felt confident that we would not have wildlife visitors at my camp; with such diffuse backpacking in the region and development miles away, imprinted wildlife was not a threat. I was right that night and weekend--we encountered no signs of feral hogs, black bears, mountain lions or even racoon or opossums. The winds that whipped off the top of the igneous dome were more forceful than any of the wildlife threats posed to us.

I have returned to the St. Francois Mountains on multiple occasions in the past two years, mostly for day hiking. Sadly, ATV use is rampant in the valleys between the igneous knobs, and the old logging roads have been resurrected, reconsecrated with regular use into the once-secluded interior of the mountains. But a worse threat, above all others, is the feral hog situation, aided and abetted by all the access points. On a visit there a few weeks ago, I see that the hog situation is absolutely out of control. Every igneous glade and surrounding natural community has been rutted by feral hogs. The upland flatwoods that exist on the level plain, areas with a seasonally perched wetland and stunted little trees, have been obliterated by feral hogs. So long, those ancient populations of Rhexia. To add insult to injury, the old logging roads that had been healing and essentially decommissioned when I backpacked there in 2013 are now arterial. So, no more pitching camp in any area with an old road nearby. (Similarly on gravel bars--I won't pitch a tent on a gravel bar that has a road leading to it and a connection to a well-trod and populated area. I'm not much scared of wildlife but of other people.)

Trapping efforts are ongoing in the area, but I am unclear if the root of the problem has been addressed. Trapping and removing hogs would seem to be a terrific solution if no more hogs were being regularly released. All of the ATV use, the old logging roads with traffic, this incredibly rugged and precious landscape, the oldest geologic formation in the Ozark Highlands with suites of rare plants and animals, is being seriously degraded by feral hogs.

In 2008, I spent my early November backpacking trip in Oklahoma's Charon Garden Wilderness at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, an area often referred to as the St. Francois Mountains on steroids. Bison and elk roam across two million acres or more and backpacking into the wilderness area requires a permit, once much sought after. They have waiting lists for backpacking permits so that the camping pressure and human influence will not damage the wilderness character and naturalness of Charon's Garden.

I have only backpacked at Wichita Mountains once and it was the first time I encountered natural communities that looked like a rototiller had dug them up. The rooting, digging, wallowing and sheer destruction of the wilderness landscape by feral hogs in Oklahoma was shocking. I wrote to the refuge, encouraging them to manage the hog situation or, at the very least, alert backpackers of their presence. (This was the trip where I saw a line of 30 hogs coming over the hill to my campsite and I overturned my pan of lentils to bang on it with a wooden spoon so they would go away) I received no response from the staff and since then, other friends have commented that the collared lizard population is not "what it used to be," and the area has been significantly damaged. Threats to naturalness and the wilderness character from backpackers? Try the Russian wild boar bomb that exploded since 2008.

Some will argue that during the age of open range grazing following European settlement, hogs, sheep, goats, cows all roamed freely across the Ozark dome. Because of the very destructive age of open range grazing, we can't even measure what we've lost because there are so few reference condition landscapes left in Missouri. To boot, we're dealing with fragments today, highly threatened fragments that lack a predator-prey relationship, natural processes on a landscape scale, and deer numbers far exceeding the carrying capacity, and now another invasive species threatening biodiversity. Species richness does not readily accrue once the natural community's intact soil profile has been damaged. If it did, we would not be left with a legacy of trashy, low diversity woods and a rare plant list that continues to grow. Playing Johnny Appleseed and "creating ecosystems" is not the answer. Throwing seeds of Mead's milkweed or other rare plants on an igneous knob after the hogs destroyed the fragile soils and microbial components with their rutting is also not the answer. Conservation efforts must look at protecting and preserving our intact native ecosystems. Feral hogs are yet another threat to the longevity and sustainability of our natural heritage.

Friday, October 09, 2015


The sugar maples and fall wildflowers are ablaze this week with salmon-colored leaves and goldenrods still shining in the sun. With the cicadas and katydids officially quiet at night, I'll welcome fall and the sweet, timid chirps of crickets who now fill the night air. Sadly, even the most gentle brush against rank vegetation still results in massive slugs of seed ticks, thousands of tiny ticks on the landscape still active in the second week of October. Unfortunately, they remain the bane of fall hiking and will likely persist until the first frost.

Shorter days translate into less time outdoors as we march towards those days of pitch black nights starting at 5 o'clock p.m. It's not as much fun to pitch a tent when nightfall comes so early in the winter months so I'm using my tent every opportunity I can this fall. And there are still so many awesome plants in flower these days, including downy gentians which must possess the richest blue in all of nature, on par with my dart frog from Surinam.

This weekend I will begin preparing my Halloween costume. I wanted to buy a creepy vintage 1950s Collegeville costume from an Etsy seller, a fortune teller or a drunken clown, but I was scolded by not only my secretary but everyone else that it is imperative that my costume is homemade. And pertinent. With the black bear population on the awesome increase in Missouri, and a great source of fake black animal fur on sale at my local craft store, black bear it is. Bear presence awareness is becoming necessary throughout much of the Ozarks, which is spectacular. Now if the mountain lions would reproduce to a degree to control the out-of-context deer overpopulation problem. So many signs of deer overbrowsing, especially on high quality forbs, and few even noticing. Well, botanists notice, but there aren't many of them these days, are there....

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Boom and Bust

I recall April of 2007 very well. I remember that late frost that literally nipped Missouri's grape harvest in the bud -a well-advanced bud at the time- and the same frost that turned all of the fresh spring green in the canopy into rustling immature black leaves. Walking through the woods in late April was reminiscent of mid-October with leaves falling all around and crinkling in the wind. For a while in spring of 2007, there was a huge flush of understory production under the canopy impacted by the very late hard, killing frost. I remember the Carex socialis that served as a lush, an unnaturally occurring carpet in the Bootheel's bottomland woodlands I was stationed in that spring, all thanks to that late frost and the newly available sunlight. I recall asking professionals if the frost would damage the hickories which had already leafed out, or if the frost would impact acorn production that year or in 2008. There may have been some lasting damage to trees, shrubs and woody vines that year, and I know for certain that it is very difficult to find a Missouri-grown 2007 vintage of Norton, with the grapes having been set back significantly because of that frost. But I was never really given a sufficient answer about the short-lived or lasting impacts of that killing frost to our natural systems.

Fast forward to the drought of 2012 which ravaged the Midwest and the entire Ozark Highlands of Missouri. We had summer wildfires that August, huge wildfires that threatened to move into storm damaged areas, a 100 mile swath in the Ozarks that witnessed massive straight line winds that swept through the region on May 8, 2009. All of the drought-cured downed wood, the dense flush of woody sprouts and understory components including highly flammable warm season grasses and rank forbs were in the line of wildfires. The extreme weather event in 2009 undoubtedly caused lasting impacts: in 2011 I worked on a landscape-scale bird survey in areas impacted by that May derecho, (a new word for most of us, coined by the folks at NOAA, the Spanish word for a bow-echo effect resulting in straight line winds at hurricane force) where I surveyed bird response to areas impacted by the wind event compared to control units, areas that did not see the winds in excess of 100mph. I hired the best botanist in the Midwest to help with the vegetation component in an effort to compare areas impacted by the wind event to those that had seen only regularly occurring fires for 25 years. But I won't get into that study here, though it was very interesting and a fun project, barring the hours and hours of busting through the thankfully unsalvaged woods, a whole landscape of beetle food, an impenetrable network of downed trees and a ridiculous flush of understory plants and associated bird populations. Yellow-breasted chat and prairie warbler city.

What was notable in the years following both of these "natural" events is the lack of monitoring and research. Here we have a perfect laboratory of natural systems in the Ozarks, most of them highly damaged by years of grazing, logging, and fire suppression, but still wooded landscapes with some semblance of what folks in other fields call "ecosystem services." Birds, bats, mammals, insects (including the pollinators!), thousands of species of life exist in our damaged Ozark natural communities. So one would hope that teams of scientists are measuring how extreme weather events are impacting not only vast suites of wildlife, but also the fragile flora, the last remnants of our biodiversity that has managed to persist through 200 years of extraction. I work with some folks who work in research and I have personally not learned of much research being conducted on the impacts of weather events in recent years. I'm probably out of the proverbial loop and perhaps I'll catch a lot of flak for even questioning the integrity of our researchers in the Ozarks. I would love to be called out....with valid proposals with valid questions and true science in hand. I just don't see much of that, of Science, being practiced in Missouri, even in our fancy universities. A classic Caesarian recusatio:I won't write here about how shameful it is that organismal biology is being shown the door, that herbaria are dissolving, or that students wanting to conduct research continually fail to make contact with experts in the field in which they aspire to become an expert and therefore produce shoddy work. No, I won't talk about that here.

So, wildfires from the drought of 2012 left a scorched landscape and I have not yet seen or heard of any vegetation monitoring occurring on these areas. But let's fast forward to spring 2013 when I am driving down Hwy. 54 between Eldon and Camdenton and I see a roadside covered in pale blue flowers. I had never seen a blue spring wildflower on this route before, and I travel Hwy. 54 at least once a week and have done so since December 2005. I pulled over at Linn Creek next to the post office exit and take a look: a vicious plant, hundreds of them on the roadside, robust plants with millions of little threadlike thorns surrounding pretty blue flowers. Viper's Buggloss, once listed in Illinois as a noxious weed akin to today's sericea (Lespedeza cuneata) in Missouri. One report from Illinois in the 1960s suggested that Viper's buggloss would "take over" every natural system. I had never seen it before spring 2013. And I haven't seen it since.

Was it a response to the 2012 drought that latent seeds of this weed germinated in the otherwise bare ground? Is it still there? I don't see it. I've pulled over at the post office again to see if I could find it to no avail. Now that we're in a somewhat normal rain pattern, barring June's daily rain tally, typical roadside weeds have shown their normal colors of typical thick, rank, weedy roadside vegetation. No Viper's buggloss. However, on the same route, princess tree is skyrocketing--Paulownia, a major invader of southeastern states, has appeared almost overnight on Hwy. 54. I have never seen it outside of the Bootheel, and here it is in the Niangua Basin, which is scary.

Similarly, take Gaura biennis. During the drought, roadsides around Salem and the surrounding Current River country were flush with the pale pinkish blooms of Gaura, a real pretty thing, but highly weedy, low C value of 0 or 1. I haven't seen it in robust populations since the drought. In fact, it's hard to find Gaura on roadsides in 2015. It's even disappeared from my yard, even though I know exactly where it was in 2012.

Drive Western Ozark roads this month and witness an amazing explosion of sunflowers with a profusion of blooms. Who doesn't like roadsides with wildflowers, especially nice -and native- sunflowers with persistent blooms? But is it a result of our unnaturally wet and rainy June followed by a dry August? Are the weather extremes are directly impacting vegetation? My observations are anecdotal, but anecdotally I can attest that I have never seen so much Helianthus on Ozark roadsides as I have this year. Is anyone measuring the impacts of weather events and patterns on vegetation? Granted, I'm mostly mentioning roadsides, but also anecdotally I can attest to a flush of woody shrubs in high quality, burned, nice woods. Is this a natural event or is the woody flush, the crazy sunflowers on the roadsides, the thick populations of Asclepias stenophylla on glades a result of extreme weather events? The predictability of nature and natural events is gone, and in short order.

Notably, the species that are spreading, growing robustly and reproducing and thriving are generally low quality plants, barring a few exceptions (such as the A. stenophylla). The weedy generalists are doing just fine with climate change, if that's the cause of the boom and bust, but the conservative and loyal to high quality soils and systems are not. Instead, the high quality species are being predated by deer overpopulation, misapplied herbicide, lack of appropriately placed prescribed fire or prescribed fire out of prescription, or just plain neglect. Biotic homogenization is occurring more rapidly than any of us could have ever imagined.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Passing the Weed Inspection

Several years ago, my landlady sent me a nasty-gram email from the city with a little smiley face attached to her note: our address had been cited by the Office of Neighborhood Services for a Weed Violation. It was noted by a city official that there were "weeds in excess of 12 inches" growing throughout the property. At that time, my landlady (now a resident of Los Angeles, California) alerted us that she had received weed violations in the past, and tried, in vain, to work with local officials to recognize that her "weeds" were beneficial to pollinators, wildlife, and so forth. She battled with them for several years, even secured an interview with the local NPR affiliate about her struggle. So, when the weed violations ended up in her post office box in California for the property that she owns in Missouri, she wasn't too concerned. Her note to us was "work on this ASAP. I know the yard isn't full of weeds!" But the threat of the city mowers brush-hogging all of the yard and sending her the bill for it wasn't very desirable either.

It must have been almost four years ago that the first Weed Violation came in during our tenure at our present residence. At that time, I had amassed a plant list for the yard of 125 vascular plant species, none of them planted, all having been volunteers from our regularly occurring prescribed fire events. We live on a flatwoods, a classic Missouri River Hills landscape with a massive old growth chinquapin oak and scattered walnuts and black oaks. The vegetation isn't of the highest quality, of course, having been mowed and grazed and treated like a lawn for many years. My house was built in 1906 and has had only two owners and lots of careless renters who parked their cars on the "lawn," damaging trees, but no real maintenance of the yard (or the knob and tube wiring, our appraiser has kindly told us for insurance purposes). So the Weed Inspector himself came to the house after we showed up at his office with a plant list, an insect list, a map of the trees, and a detailed plan of the regular ecosystem management we conduct on an annual basis.

At that time, the Weed Inspector went through the yard, truly impressed with the biodiversity, all the legumes and long-lived perennial wildflowers, and asked that we post a sign that lets passers by and other civic officials recognize that the area is not overgrown from benign neglect, but is being managed as "habitat." Quickly, we posted metal signs issued from the National Wildlife Federation proclaiming our property as a "Backyard Wildlife Habitat" project. Not weeds. We didn't hear from the Weed Inspector for years. Until early August. Same routine: the Office of Neighborhood Services sent a Weed Violation to my landlady in California. She forwards her scanned letter to us two weeks later, giving us five days to "clean up" the yard or show up for a hearing. We spend three days trimming by hand, pulling the grape vines from the fencerow, deadheading the Echinacea that I had planned to leave for the wintering chickadees, and we make an appointment with the Weed Inspector two days before the hearing before City Council.

Maybe the city officials know us? Maybe when I called a week in advance to make an appointment to "discuss the weed ordinance" they took the time to come by the property themselves? Regardless, I showed up at City Hall with my my notebook of plant and insect species, as well as a vasculum of plant specimens from the yard that might be considered "weeds" because they are "tall." Helianthus hirsutus, Silphium perfoliatum, Desmodiums, native Lespedezas, all native flora from the yard. The Weed Inspector came out to the lobby and didn't even show us to his office. "I went by your house. I saw your sign in the yard. I can tell you don't have weeds, you have native plants. It's your neighbors who are the problem....." Success without the litany of the benefits of "gardening for wildlife" and so forth. Two weeks later, the yard is still in tact, the city's brush-hogger mowed the abandoned lot next door, all covered in rank fescue and thistle. My Helianthus hirsutus is about to start blooming, the ageratum is in full bloom, the Desmodiums are in bloom, and for at least one more growing season, the yard is in tact.