Vintage Gardens – Farewell

Modern Roses twelve lists something over 30,000 named cultivars of roses.  Of those, considerably less than one percent can be found at the local nursery or big-box store.  Perhaps not more than ten percent can even be found in commerce around the world.  The great embarrassment of riches in the variety of roses that have been built up over centuries of work by rose breeders is reduced immeasurably by other factors.  With its catalogue of roses running into the thousands, one of the forces fighting the disappearance of good roses for more than two decades is Vintage Gardens Roses.

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Preparing for Bare Root Roses

Not a week ago the overnight low temperature was 4F, and the daily high was 23F. Today, though, the high will be closer to 60F and the low will be just a few degrees below freezing. It’s not yet time for spring planting, but it is definitely time to get prepared for it. The first thing to happen in the garden here is the arrival of bare root roses and fruit trees in early March. If there were just two or three of these, preparations could be very modest; but this year it looks like I will have more than four dozen rose plants and close to a dozen fruit trees. So we’re talking five dozen holes. That’s a lot of holes to dig in a day. Or in three days.

The problem with digging too many holes at once is that one gets tired. Then the quality of the hole suffers. And the plant gets off to a bad start from which it may never fully recover. Sometimes plants remember insults better even than friends or family. If I dig the holes at a rate of three or four per day for three weeks, there is a hope that I might do a good job of it and the new plants will thrive. The soil here is not very rich in organic matter, so part of the task is to amend the soil. I will be adding a mulch/compost mix at a rate of about 1/4 bag per hole. With seven bags on hand I’m about halfway stocked in this item. It’s crucially important, but it’s certainly not enough.

I also intend to provide some starting nutrition for the plants. But the problem is that it is well known that strong fertilizer can burn the roots of new plants. So my plan is to buy “Nutri-Paks” from A.M. Leonard. They are small plastic bags of balanced fertilizer designed so that the fertilizer leaches through the plastic bags and into the soil at a fixed rate. This means that there isn’t much of it available at any one time, but that the fertilizer is available in useful amounts over the course of a few months. My belief is that this will give the new plants a nutritional boost without any chance of damaging the roots.

I will be adding mycorrhizae to the holes, too. Here, again, there’s a method that makes measuring and delivery easier: little bags of the stuff which can be tossed into the hole right on top of the roots. Some garden writers scoff at the idea, declaring the mycorrhizae are already in the soil. But I suspect that some soils that are poor, dry, and almost devoid of organic matter are unlikely to be good at inoculating new roots.

The mycorrhizal tea bags and the tiny bags of fertilizer are on order. So, too are the plants. The weather is perfect for this kind of gardening right now. I better get digging.

A Clean Start – Soil Solarization

One of the most difficult and unpleasant jobs in gardening is dealing with weeds in a newly planted area of the garden.  They pop up everywhere.  And they keep doing it.  Some weeds one can just pull up.  But others tend to linger.  The easy-pull weeds tend to be easily eradicated from the garden, but the ones that you pull up over and over again tend to be a real aggravation.  Perennial grasses are an example.

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Queen of Denmark

In 1816 James Booth introduced Konigen von Danemarck (Queen of Denmark). It slowly spread across northern Europe, picking up new names as it went along. Among them were “New Maiden’s Blush,” a reference to its kinship with albas, and “Naissance de Venus,” literally, birth of Venus.  Because people propagate roses even after forgetting their original names, or because the original name sounds awkward in one’s native tongue, roses accumulate new names.  A rose’s popularity is generally related to the number of names it has picked up.  And this one has picked up at least seven or eight names.  ARS members rate it 8.6, which puts it among the twenty highest rated old garden roses.  So it’s popularity seems to be based on merits that are widely evident to rose gardeners in the US.

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A Better Solution to Mildew and Blackspot on Roses

There are gardeners in bits of the country who find that the air is always so dry and the sun so bright that any rose they plant will thrive and not be touched by any fungal disease. But not all of us can live where the air is dry.  After three years of living in the mountains of Arizona, where the relative humidity hovers around 20 percent through most of the growing season, going up to about 60 percent in July and August, I know that even here it is important to be effective at battling fungal disease. Continue reading

Knock Out Rose and Beyond

Knock Out provides a new punch to the garden.   It’s a super-vigorous, disease-resistant, repeat-flowering, cold-hardy rose that grows into a head-high shrub inside of two years. Since its introduction in 1988 it has taken the eastern half of the United States by storm, leading millions of gardeners who had ignored or abandoned them to grow roses. In its first year alone it sold 250,000 units, and it has been about as popular ever since.  But for all their popularity, Knock Out and its close kin have been ridiculed by the most serious of the rose faithful.  Why?  Partly because they are not hybrid tea roses, and as such they don’t conform to our expectations for what a rose ought to be.  Partly because they have become common, or faddish.  Partly because they are not fragrant.

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History of Roses: Part IV

Full Circle

David Austin’s work revolutionized rose breeding. Even rose breeders who once might have believed that the only rose they could ever sell would be a high-centered hybrid tea style rose came to understand that cold hardiness, vigor in cool summer climates, and resistance to blackspot and mildew had all become necessary qualities in commercially successful roses. The form of the plant became important, too.

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History of Roses: Part III


With so many new things happening at once near the turn of the twentieth century, it’s very difficult to characterize the progress of rose development or of rose gardening very simply. It was developing on many fronts. Hybrid tea roses were being developed. Hybrid perpetuals still ruled the show benches. Climbers and ramblers were being planted widely in Europe and the US alike. Polyanthas and shrub roses popped up in gardens and parks across Northern Europe.

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History of Roses: Part II

New Forms, New Colors

As the ninteenth century wore to a close, the destiny of roses had been changing for some time thanks to new forms and colors. One of the early tea roses, Safrano, was blessed with an unusually elegant form in bud. It is the high-centered bud that we associate today with the most photogenic of the cutting roses. Most tea roses have the same form in bud. And most of the hybrid tea roses released into commerce today have that too. For more than two decades around the middle of the ninteenth century tea roses remained distinct from hybrid perpetual roses – partly because interbreeding them is fraught with difficulties. In any case, the breeding of new tea roses would continue along a parallel path through the first several decades of the twentieth century.

La France, the first hybrid tea rose.

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