Monday, June 8, 2009
Here at Breakwind Farm, which is just west of Boston, in Carlisle, Mass., June is the month my roses begin to bloom. I can't tell you how rewarding it is to pass by your own bed of roses, to admire its varied splashes of color--some subtle, some gaudy--and
to have its perfume-like fragrance blow into an open window. Roses are the most generous of flowers, and while they require attention, they are not the hothouse lilies they're sometimes reputed to be.
...I do not want to pass myself off as a rose expert. I'm not one, plain and simple. That's the point, really. You don't have to be an expert, or even have much of a green thumb, to grow beautiful, fragrant roses. All you need is the interest and a small, sunny plot of land.
...Our plot is right in front of our porch, south facing, and somewhat protected from the winter winds. It used to be an evergreen hedge, until I decided to tear the hedge out and replace it with the rose garden pictured above. That was about ten years ago. Roses have come and roses have gone--I probably lose an average of one bush every winter. But they are easily and inexpensively replaced, and the occasional new face in the rose garden is invariably a source of delight. Let me introduce you to my favorites before unmasking a few myths about roses.
....This dew-covered beauty is a hybrid tea rose known as a Mr. Lincoln. A velvety deep red rose with a luscious fragrance, it is probably the most dramatic single-stemmed rose in my garden, and has proved hearty enough to twice survive transplanting. There are 35 petals per bloom, which open up far too quickly for my liking. Just 36 hours after the first picture was taken, the weather turned hot and this is what Mr. Lincoln looked like: Had I cut the bloom and brought it inside, it would have lasted longer. But as it was my garden's first rose of 2009, I couldn't do it. Another 24 hours, and all 35 of the petals were on the ground.
....I find it far easier to take cuttings when the rose garden is in full bloom, as it will be in the next few days. But early in the season it's nice to see as much color in the garden as possible. My worries are over once my most productive rose bush takes off, which may or may not be named Irish Beauty. Early on, I didn't write all the varieties down, sadly. All I know for certain is this bush is some kind of floribunda, which unlike the hybrid tea rose, bears its flowers in clusters rather than individual blooms. My Irish Beauty literally explodes during its June blooming, with dozens and dozens of blossoms opening within days of one another.
The cuttings don't last long inside--a couple of days at most--but they have a scent that reminds me of the memory of my grandmother's perfume, which was almost overpowering in its sweetness. The individual blossoms are reddish-pink with a gold hue at the base of the petals, rather like the colors in a tequila sunrise.
It is a gaudy, prolific flower in both sight and scent, and my one regret is that I don't have it planted in the far corner of the garden, for it is an overpowering neighbor to its cousins nearby.
....On the other end of the subtlety spectrum is the pale pink blushing hybrid tea called Pearl Essence. You would do this rose a grave disservice by planting it near the Irish Beauty, or a similarly gaudy cousin. I took this picture this morning, and it loveliness speaks for itself.
...There are seven groups of roses in all, one of which is the "climbers and ramblers". I have two climbers,which you must train to climb whatever it is you want them to climb. This doesn't take much: a trellis or some wire, a ladder, and some string. I love the color of this rose, which is called an Autumn Sunset Climber.
The cuttings from the Autumn Sunset Climber don't last long in a vase, so I just let the petals open up and fall to the ground. I wish they did, however. An individual flower blossom is simply stunning:
My other climber is called a Climbing Blaze. It starts out small and rather shy looking, hiding behind its trellis:
And within one season, if all goes well, grows into a rose of staggering elevation, climbing toward the sun like some sort of magic stalk:
If it dies back, as mine did last winter, it just starts from the ground up again. The scarlet-colored blaze of flowers look spectacular against our yellow house.
Another rose group is the miniatures, which we use to front our hybrid teas, climbers, and floribundas. We have some white ones, and pink ones, but my favorite is the Scarlett Meideland: incredibly prolific all summer long, and an eye-poppingly scarlet hue:
My only challenge with this rose is to prevent it from getting leggy. It is supposed to be a miniature after all, and not block the view of the taller roses behind it. So I prune it aggressively, and the pruned blossoms last for days in water. So it's win-win.
...Now to address a few myths about the difficulty of tending roses.
1) Myth: You have to spray roses all the time.
Fact: I probably spray my roses twice a summer for insects and mildew spots. I hit them at the first sign of insect damage, and keep an eye out for any recurrences. But I don't have them on any sort of regular pesticide program. You do, however, have to spray them. You are kidding yourself if you think, as a hobbyist, you can keep roses without the use of an insecticide.
2) Myth: Roses are fragile
Fact: Most modern roses have been bred to be cold-weather tolerant and disease resistant. This isn't true of all breeds of roses, of course. But your local nursery should stock roses of all colors and shapes that are hearty and easy to care for and appropriate for the climate in which you live.
3) Myth: Roses take a lot of work
Fact: Roses take more work than most flowers, but they also give back more. And a couple of hours a week is all I spend on mine. I feed them with Miracle Gro once every couple of weeks, which takes about fifteen minutes. I dead-head the blooms to encourage them to continue blooming. I water them if it hasn't rained in a couple of days. And I weed them. This is by far the hardest part of keeping roses, in my experience: controlling the weeds. I've tried mulching with cedar bark; with pine bark; with leaves. I've tried hoeing the weeds away. I've tried ignoring them. All with limited success. Right now I'm allowing some sort of ground cover that I don't know the name of to come in and take over. It isn't crabgrass and isn't offensive to the eye, and my hope is it will keep the crabgrass and dandelions from moving in, while not detracting from the roses. Of course the best solution is to have a very short, very nimble fingered, very cheap illegal alien to do the weeding for you. But this is Massachusetts, not California.
(One word of caution, if you're considering putting in a rose garden. The landscaper I hired to do the initial prep work on the garden talked me into putting in an underground hose, one of those deals with a thousand little holes in it used for watering the roots of a plant. That way, in the middle of the day, when the heat is searing, you can do the watering without damaging the leaves of the plant. Problem is, the weeds grow their roots in and around the underground hose, and you have to pull them all up by hand. Any back-saving hoe-like tool will rupture the underground hose, rendering the whole system useless. Better to forget the underground watering system and water the roses in the traditional way, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and use your hoe to get out the weeds.)
4) Myth: In order for a rose to survive a Massachusetts winter, you have to cover your garden with six inches of straw.
Fact: It wouldn't hurt, of course, but the truth is snow cover--and we almost always have snow cover from December till March west of Boston--is a brilliant insulator for a rose bush. To prepare for winter, if I'm really feeling industrious, I'll dump leaves over the bed of my rose garden. But that's really more for mulching purposes the following spring. Last winter I did nothing. It was a cold winter. And every rose bush survived.
...The payback? From June till late September, we'll enjoy looking at blooms such as these:
Posted by E.M. Swift at 4:07 PM