As I sat down to dinner with my friend Jill this week, she felt compelled to explain the presence of a chartreuse hedge apple lolling alongside a vase of lavender spider mums and Russian sage on the kitchen table.
"It's the first one we spotted this year, so to me it's the first harbinger of fall," Jill said. "I just love the color."
Fall is Jill's favorite season, so she couldn't wait to bring the first sign of it into her house, which is decorated mainly in reds and golds. I shared her joy in the chartreuse folds of the apple, but the sea-blues and pinks of my house betray a lover of summer not quite ready to let go.
Fortunately, the month of September, always a bittersweet foreshadower of change, holds several events to keep gardeners looking ahead not only to more pleasant temperatures but to planning successive growing seasons. It also holds an important departure for Wichita — the retirement of the city's park and recreation superintendent, Tim Martz, and a public farewell for him — that you can help me mark next week.
Garden railway tour
The Wichita Area Garden Railroad Society is having its free annual tour a week early this year — Sept. 11.
Claudia Rollstin has one of the whistlestops on the tour, in the back of her shop dedicated to model railroads for the garden. The shop, in the bottom floor of a house at 1425 N. Broadway, is called Garden Railway Gizmos, and Claudia has two business cards to cover it — one for adults and one for children. I can't think of a business that would have more of a cross-generational reach.
Claudia has been a garden railroader for a long time, and she's building up her layouts at her relatively new North Broadway location. She has lots of space in the backyard for expanding, which she plans to do.
Inside her shop, she has rooms dedicated to adults who are shopping for trains and track and villages, and another for children that has one wall dedicated solely to train books. Something that caught my eye was a Thomas the Tank Engine box featuring coaches named Clarabel... and Annie. This is the kids' room, this is the kids' room, I told myself.
The tour will have eight stops this year, in Wichita, Augusta, Derby and Newton. One, at 844 N. Westlink, is new this year. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 11, rain or shine. The tour is free, but donation jars will be set out to collect money for the railroad society's community displays.
Maps of the tour are available at area garden centers, hobby shops and at each tour stop: 1425 N. Broadway, 844 N. Westlink Ave., 2434 N. Amidon, 2015 E. Blake and 6356 N. Seneca, all in Wichita; No. 2 Belmont Court, Augusta; 7145 N. Blueberry Lane, Derby; and 200 S.W. Second, Newton.
The weekend of Sept. 11 and 12 will also be a great one for people who love native plants.
* The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve north of Strong City will have a Native Plant Weekend of programs showcasing the fall plants and wildflowers of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 and 12, there will be bus tours of wildflowers, conducted by a member of the Kansas Native Plant Society. There is no charge, but seating is limited; for reservations and more information, call 620-273-8494.
Other activities and presentations will include nature hikes, prairie restoration tours, paper making, seed collecting, interactive displays, and information on tallgrass prairie ecology and the cultural uses of native prairie plants. There will be children's activities related to little bluestem, the recently named Kansas state grass. Demonstrations will include fabric dyeing and jelly making.
Events and activities will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days, with jelly-making demonstrations on Sept. 11 only.
On weekends in September and October, people will be able to visit the one-room Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse on the grounds. From noon to 4 p.m., National Park Service volunteers will explain the role the school played in the early days of education on the prairie.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is two miles north of Strong City on Kansas Highway 177 (the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway). For more information or to make group reservations, go to the preserve's website at www.nps.gov/tapr or call the preserve at 620-273-8494.
* You can buy native plants for your own yard during the annual FloraKansas Plant Sale at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston next weekend.
"Our fall plant sale has two benefits," arboretum director Julie Torseth says. "The first one is for the gardener who wants a low-maintenance landscape but needs help deciding which native and adaptable plants work best for a particular location. The second benefit is for the wildflower enthusiast who wants to establish a Kansas prairie garden but is unfamiliar with native plants.
"Establishing the garden in the fall gives the roots time to grow in soil that is still warm. In the spring, established plants will have a larger root system, vigorous top growth and blooms that will attract many butterflies to the garden."
Hours for the sale will be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 11 and noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 12, and then Sept. 13 to Sept. 17 by appointment. For more information, go to the website dyckarboretum.org and click on FloraKansas and Plant Info. A members-only sale will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
The city landscape
Tim Martz, the city's park and recreation superintendent, will retire Sept. 16 after 35 years with the department. His mark is all over the city landscape, and his leaving coincides with cuts in the city budget that have already resulted in parts of our landscape turning brown.
I've heard from some people who are disturbed about the dead plants, and I would like to hear from more — people who have noticed changes in our surroundings, and people who have a story or would like to pay tribute to the work Tim has done over his long career. E-mail me at email@example.com or drop me a line at The Wichita Eagle, 825 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS 67202.
The Wichita Hosta Society will be hosting hosta hybridizer Bob Solberg of Chapel Hill, N.C., for a talk from 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 12 at Botanica. He'll be talking about keeping hostas alive through a drought (not that we would need to know anything about that or anything), and will also have plants for sale. His hosta introductions include Guacamole. The talk will be free and open to the public.
A special rose show
Rose growers of national repute will be in Wichita on Sept. 18 when the Wichita Rose Society hosts the 2010 Central District Rose Show and Convention. The public will be able to view the roses in the show from 2 to 4 p.m. that day for free at the Holiday Inn at 549 S. Rock Road.
After this rough summer, a couple of classes to be offered at the Extension Center seem particularly well-timed. The first will be landscape tree selection, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 23. Class size is limited to 30, and the cost is $5. The second class is tree planting and maintenance, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 12. Class size is limited to 45, and the cost is $5.
To register for one or both classes, contact Kae Bowles at 316-660-0144.
Labor Day at Botanica
Botanica will offer a reduced admission price — $3 — on Labor Day this Monday.
The gardens will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a hot dog lunch will be available for purchase from Friends of Botanica from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.